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With the Occupy movement still going strong, Showtime on Sunday officially unspools House of Lies, its dark comedic look at big business and management firms.
Don Cheadle stars as Marty Kaan, a top consultant at mega-firm Galweather-Stern, who with the assistance of his “pod” — Jeannie (Kristen Bell), Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson) — is sent to help the rich get richer when big businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place. While weekly half-hours will feature a case of the week, it will also explore Marty’s complicated personal life as he balances a complicated relationship with his ex-wife, Monica (Dawn Oliveri) and their cross-dressing/gender-questioning son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.).
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with executive producer Jessika Borsiczky to discuss the timing of the series, breaking the fourth wall and what viewers can expect from Marty and company. “It’s very much about relationships, the characters and the world we’re living in much more than it is a lesson in Management 101,” she says.
The Hollywood Reporter: The timing for House of Lies, with Occupy Wall Street, couldn’t be more perfect. Was the show created partially as a statement to big business?
Jessika Borsiczky: I planned Occupy Wall Street about 10 months ago just for this purpose (laughs). It definitely was; it’s an arena that’s never been looked at in mainstream film or TV. The project started coming together after the financial collapse in 2009. This is a subject that for a long time has preoccupied me, and when I first read Martin Kihn’s House of Lies book about seven years ago, I was interested in this world and the puppet strings being pulled by the financial sector and Wall Street in our country. I felt like that was a bit rarified at the time and not really something felt excited to talk about.
In the interim, the country pretty much collapsed because of the misbehavior and allowances that happened behind the scenes. It suddenly felt like every single person from a Wall Street stockbroker to a waitress at diner would have a connection to this idea. That’s a part of telling the story; I don’t think you have to know about Wall Street or how the financial system works. Hopefully watching the show will make you stop and think, “What would I do if I was offered $1 million to help rich people get richer at the expense of regular, everyday working people.” I don’t think the answer is that clear. It’s very tempting to become part of machine instead of resisting the machine. We’re not kind to it but we’re also trying to be provocative. I don’t think we’re trying to take a very single-minded look at it.
THR: What would you do in that situation?
Borsiczky: (Laughing) I work for big corporations in my own professional life. I started out with and always have a lot of ideals about changing the world and what we can do. You end up working on things to make a paycheck and to keep alive and in every business it’s hard to stay relevant. In the entertainment industry, you always have to be on pulse of what’s commercial and what’s wanted. There are a lot of moments where you face selling out and I certainly look back on times when I feel like I did work that didn’t have the most integrity. But at the same time, this is a perfect example of being able to take a theme and be entertaining with it and hopefully make a difference in how people think. Hopefully people watch the show and have a slightly better understanding of the mortgage meltdown. Hopefully that will change things. I’d like to think that everybody involved in show is getting that across a little bit.
The last show I did, FlashFoward, thematically really resonated for me. It was about personal action, whether you could change your own fate or destiny by living your life a different way. That’s something that I always thought was interesting because we don’t always stop and think about it, our lives move so quickly. For me, I always do try to approach projects that have some relevance and something provocative about them. This show is certainly really provocative.
THR: The show opens with Marty noting that people don’t understand what a consultant does when he breaks the fourth wall and breaks it down directly to viewers. Will the show appeal to non-biz school folks?
Borsiczky: The show does stop and take a moment for Marty to explain what’s going on to the audience. Part of that, as title suggests, Marty is quite a liar. When Marty is looking and talking to audience, it’s the one time we’re 100 percent certain he’s being honest. It’s important part of the story telling above and beyond getting across some of the dictionary definition. It also allows him to wink at the audience and acknowledge that the world of business has their own lexicon that it’s somewhat ridiculous and insular and tells audience about it. The concepts are universal: it’s about trying to keep job, trying not to get fired, trying to kiss ass, stuff that we can all relate to that in the business lexicon has its own jargon. As the season progresses, the way we break that fourth wall will also evolve and we’ll have fun with it in different ways. It’s not always going to be a way to define things for audience, but it is always going to be a window for Marty.
THR: Marty’s at the top of his game professionally, but personally can’t seem to make things work and seems to flourish in the insanity of it all. Which is the biggest challenge?
Borsiczky: His personal struggles are his cross to bear. His damage and twisted skin works wonderfully in business and management consulting and has gotten him very far. In his personal life, it’s very destructive and he’s sitting amid the scorched earth a fair amount and that’s the heart of the show: Where does this person’s soul lie and how much can it bear?
THR: Marty is very protective of Roscoe, his cross-dressing, gender-questioning son, Roscoe. Is this Marty unfiltered?
Borsiczky: I think it’s going take more time with Marty to know 100 percent when he’s unfiltered and not unfiltered. He genuinely loves his son and his father and there are other characters that populate his world, including his pod that he cares for. Unlike you and I, who might put those feelings first at all times, he’s always operating. It’s interesting to watch the choices he makes and living in the consequence of them.
THR: The premiere sets up a love-hate relationship with his ex-wife. What more will viewers learn about Marty’s back story?
Borsiczky: One of the threads of the season is that his work life does begin to come undone and we get to see a more desperate and panicked side of him that’s interesting. He’s going to face some betrayal and some moments where he has to be valiant for them, and that’s an uncomfortable skin for him to wear. We’ll see him in his family situation have to live with the consequences of having made some mistakes and he’s going to have to fight harder for his family than he has in the past. We’ll also see him explore some potentially deeper romance as opposed to the woman in every port philosophy he’s had up until now. He’ll have that tested. We’re going to go on a very twisty ride with Marty.
THR: Beyond being members of the same pod, Marty also has a unique relationship with Jeannie. How will their relationship as colleagues evolve considering Marty’s romantic pursuit of her?
Borsiczky: Their relationship goes beyond the Sam and Diane chase of will they or won’t they. Both Jeannie and Marty have sex with so many other people, it’s less about sex and more about two people who truly know each other and see each other in a real light. In Marty’s case, we really see him at times feel comforted by having that relationship with Jeannie, other times it causes him to retaliate against her. Some of the more surprising things we’ve seen him do are toward her. In her case, she wants to please and impress him but also doesn’t want to let him off the hook. It’s interesting to see how much does that count in their lives and what they do with one another in their professional choices; how much does that caring count?
As the season goes on we realize that Jeannie has several very big secrets. She cares about Marty, will she or won’t she put that caring first is always a question but she definitely puts her own advancement and her own goals ahead of anything. She’s one of the guys; she’s ruthless.
THR: How much more of Jeannie, Doug and Clyde’s back stories will we get?
Borsiczky: It’s one of the fun challenges of the 27-minute show, we have a lot of story to tell with them having new cases each week. We’ll learn a fair amount about all of their lives. We’re going to go to Jeannie’s hometown at one point. For Season 1, I think we’ve tried our hardest to set up a great world, great characters and hopefully we’ll have a chance to get to peel away the onion layers of Clyde, Doug and Jeannie much more as we go.
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