Emmys: Drama Creators Beau Willimon, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and More on Challenging Scenes and Strange Fan Interactions

Gould_Gilligan_Willimon_Split - H 2015
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Gould_Gilligan_Willimon_Split - H 2015

The men behind 'Better Caul Saul,' 'House of Cards' and 'Downton Abbey' field questions about their nominated shows.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan
Creators/executive producers, Better Call Saul

Biggest misconception about the show:

GOULD The original misconception — or the conception we worried people would have — was that the show was about Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad. Luckily, people accepted the show was about Jimmy McGill, who eventually becomes Saul Goodman.

GILLIGAN Folks invariably tell me, "I really like Jimmy McGill, but I didn't really like Saul that much." Especially women. Jimmy seems to be catnip to them.

GOULD Go figure!

Most challenging scene to write:

GOULD Toward the end of season one, the show didn't go in the direction we expected. We really thought Jimmy McGill would change his name to Saul Goodman by episode 10. What that meant was that a lot of our plans had to go out the window, and usually when that happens, there is that moment of panic because you have all these set pieces and scenes you're working toward, but the characters aren't ready for them. That was the hardest part but also the most rewarding part. It was an organic struggle.

GILLIGAN Not to sound like we are complaining. We are over the moon that people are watching. It's worth the pain.

GOULD Vince has a phrase: "The pain fades, but the glory remains."

GILLIGAN Director Rob Bowman on The X-Files used to say that all the time. He also said, "Chicks dig scars." We always tell ourselves that when things get tough in the writers room.

Characters from the show we'd most like to drink with:

GILLIGAN Easy. Kim Wexler [Rhea Seehorn] if I was single. No question.

GOULD I don't think she'd have time.

GILLIGAN Probably not. Actually, Jimmy would be fun. Would you drink with Mike [Jonathan Banks]?

GOULD I don't know. The conversation wouldn't sparkle. It might be kind of meditative, except for the fear of being punched in the throat.

Gareth Neame
Executive Producer, Downton Abbey

Biggest misconception about the show: That it's a gentle comedy of manners. People enjoy the brilliant repartee between the characters and the wonderfully subtextual ways they express themselves, therefore it's always a shock when the story takes a sharp turn. Whether it's Matthew's sudden death or Anna being sexually assaulted, shocking twists are a big part of the show.

Most stressful showrunner moment: They are always trying to re-up everyone's deals and making sure you can always retain the cast. In recent years, we've gone beyond the initial contracts, so that's probably the most stressful point. We just finished shooting the final episodes. That's a whole different kind of challenge from creating and running a new show. You become such a part of the establishment, and the risk [with ending a show] is that people will become disappointed. You have a duty of care to make sure that you continue to satisfy the millions of fans across the world. That's my biggest responsibility.

Character from the show I'd most like to drink with: [Maggie Smith's character] Violet Crawley. I mean, look at all those dinner scenes over the years. You just know she would be the best.

Strangest fan interaction: I met a lady a couple of years ago in Los Angeles who named her two cats Charlie and Elsie, after Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. I thought, "Well, that's taking it to an extreme."

Beau Willimon
Executive Producer, House Of Cards

Most challenging scene to write: When Doug [Michael Kelly] turns the van around to take care of Rachel [Rachel Brosnahan]. For most of the season he was going to let her go, but I realized the only way for him to come back into the fold of Team Underwood was to do this act [and kill her]. Michael said, "Oh man, people are going to hate me." I said, "Maybe." And he said, "But we have to do it." We filmed with the knowledge that if we changed our minds, we could maybe take that scene out. But once we saw it, we knew it was the right choice.

Most stressful showrunner moment: The day before the first day of production. You spend months working on this story, getting all of the pieces in place. It's been a while since the cameras have rolled, and you just have this moment of utter terror, thinking, "Did I forget how to ride this bicycle?"

Coolest fans: President Obama and Michelle watch it on Air Force One. It's thrilling and terrifying to know the most powerful couple in the free world is spending their time watching it.

What I need in order to write: Less than four hours of sleep.

Writers room I'd love to jump to: Orange Is the New Black — because [creator] Jenji Kohan is a genius — or Silicon Valley. I'm a huge fan. Comedy is beyond me.

If I win, the Cards character I'd like to deliver my speech is: It's so obvious: Frank Underwood. He's way smarter than I am.