Q&A: Peter Tolan

The man behind 'Amanda' brings his wry style to film direction

Peter Tolan has applied his sardonic touch to "The Job" and "Rescue Me," the darkly comic TV shows he co-created with Denis Leary. Now, Tolan has a trio of new projects brewing: the ABC pilot "The Unusuals," which he is executive producing; the Showtime pilot "The End of Steve," which he is co-writing with Matthew Perry; and his semi-autobiographical directorial debut, "Finding Amanda," which hit theaters last Friday.

The Hollywood Reporter: "Finding Amanda" is a movie about a former alcoholic and drug dabbler who burns much of the money he earns as a television writer-producer on the races -- would it be misleading if they re-titled it "The Peter Tolan Story?"
Peter Tolan: [laughs] The original character name was Taylor Peters, and I ended up changing it to Taylor Mendon because I thought, 'I'm being a little obvious here.' I have been known to gamble in my day. I'm not a drinker, and I've never really taken drugs, but I wanted to make myself appear a little sexier.

THR: What about the nature of the niece character, Amanda, who is making a living in Vegas as a 20-year-old prostitute? Is that pulled from your actual experience?
Tolan: My wife did get a call a couple of years ago from a family friend who had a child who was in trouble in Vegas. And in that moment of my wife saying, "Maybe Peter can go to Vegas and try to help out," I thought, 'Hey great, I get to go to Vegas.' In that moment, I thought, 'You are just a complete sick bastard.' That's how far into my own head I was with the gambling. In the next instant I thought, 'Well, that's a movie -- a guy who's that messed up.'

THR: In what ways was finally directing your own material a more pleasurable Hollywood experience after all of the hired-hand rewrite jobs you've done?
Tolan: You don't control your studio work. You get rewritten, and you're not there saying, "Boy, I would do it this way... ." Nobody really wants to hear that. As a result, things go out with your name on it, and I think after a while people go, "Oh, he writes that." So I felt like I really had to make a movie and re-establish -- as the kids would say today -- my street cred, in terms of who I was in features. And I was completely energized by it like I hadn't been in years.

THR: Does it feel as if you're at a turning point in your career?
Tolan: I would like there to be a new stage. I'm actually doing well writing these days. I'm going through a fertile period. And I feel good about my writing -- where I get into situations and I go, 'I know how to fix that.' As a result, I'm five seasons in on "Rescue Me," and this fifth season we're just on fire. The first six episodes are some of the best stuff we've ever done.

THR: Do you feel like it's trending upward or downward in terms of the mechanics of getting good shows on the air and having control?
Tolan: Well, if you work in cable, it's fantastic. But the networks have gotten a lot more restrictive. And there are much fewer hours available for scripted programming. So the odds of getting on the air and staying there are much worse than they used to be. It's a real battleground.

THR: Do you think it ultimately balances out?
Tolan: Yeah, cable has taken the mantle of that, especially in drama. Or drama of note. And I guess this is what the networks were meant to be -- they're meant to be all things to all men. Which was a great model that worked when there were three networks. Now it's just not possible anymore, and they're clinging to that idea. So you get very accessible programming that doesn't challenge too much. If you want to be challenged as a writer or as a viewer, you go to cable.