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Shonda Rhimes has brought longtime director (and sometime actor) Tom Verica in house at Shondaland.
Verica, who’s worked closely with Rhimes since the third season of Grey’s Anatomy, will serve as the company’s head of creative production. In the newly created advisory role, Verica will help translate Rhimes’ creative vision across all Shondaland productions, be they Netflix series or digital productions. He will report directly to Rhimes.
“Tom’s proven passion, creative instincts and innovative spirit have tremendously contributed to Shondaland’s success over the years,” says Rhimes, “and I’m thrilled to have him officially join our team during this time of continued expansion and growth.”
Verica, who’s been dispatched to both New York (for Inventing Anna) and London (for Bridgerton) over the past 18 months, is expected to oversee the company’s director mentorship programs and educate new showrunners on how to maintain the Shondaland look and feel. He’ll also contribute to the producing strategy for the company’s non-TV content, which includes fare from its editorial vertical Shondaland.com and Shondaland Audio’s roster of scripted and unscripted podcasts, and untraditional efforts like potential virtual reality fare.
Having starred opposite Viola Davis as her onscreen husband, Sam Keating, on How to Get Away With Murder, Verica is no stranger to the Shondaland audience — though the bulk of his collaborations with Rhimes have been behind the camera. In addition to his directing work on Grey’s, he served as a producing director and executive producer on both ABC’s Scandal and legal drama For the People. Once Rhimes moved her business to Netflix, Verica added producing credits on Bridgerton, Debbie Allen doc Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker and Rhimes’ upcoming Anna Delvey drama, Inventing Anna.
Verica talked with The Hollywood Reporter about their 16-year partnership and what his new role entails.
You’ve been directing projects for Shonda Rhimes for nearly two decades now. What has been the draw?
I started with Shonda about 16 years ago — so, yeah, a lot of chapters. And that beginning chapter was exciting because Grey’s Anatomy had just come on the scene and it exploded. When I came aboard, it was really the beginning of my directing career and I came in season three and I didn’t know her yet. What I quickly learned is that she’s very focused, knows what she wants and is very powerful. So, it was a bit intimidating, but I was drawn to her clarity and her process. She has very specific ideas about the stories that she wants to tell and she articulates them to me, and then she trusts me to go off and do it. And that doesn’t always work with directors, but there was something that just clicked between us. And I got to know Betsy [Beers, her longtime producing partner,] too, and there’s just an ease and a very different kind of energy [at Shondaland]. We were able to talk about bigger picture things and it felt seamless to be a part of the group, even as limited as it was back then. And it feels like a natural progression to where we are now, and so I’m thrilled to be a part of the team on a larger scale.
You referenced her clarity. I’m curious, what does that look like? Or rather, how does it present itself?
It’s contagious. We had tone meetings early on, on specific scripts, and it’s hearing her speak about the moments. And it’s not about a precise “this is exactly how it is”; it’s about hearing her passion about what this moment is, and the subtlety and the behavior of the characters. There’s a specificity, and I think that’s where she really shines. It’s not just writing things that sound great and a situation that’s great; there’s a heart and a specificity in what happens between people that she will talk about. And that’s exciting as a filmmaker, to be able to find ways to [manifest] that in a visual sense.
In the new role, you’re suddenly working across an entire slate. What has that shift entailed thus far?
To suddenly be dealing and navigating all these different projects was a bit overwhelming at first. But the communication between all the departments is phenomenal and there’s a real excitement building with the website and the podcasts. Like, we have some phenomenal podcasts coming up that I’m very excited about, and it’s an area I hadn’t played in before. And those things could have a life after as series potentially. So, it’s all encompassing. And then there’s this kind of silent understanding with Shonda, where I know when she starts talking or when she gets excited or wants to focus on something, she gives me a couple of buzzwords and I know exactly what it is and I’m off and running.
What are those buzzwords?
Oh, I can’t share those. (Laughs.)
Then tell me this: What does it look like when Shonda gets excited about something?
I’ll get a call and she says, “You’ve got to come down right now. I’ve got something I really want to talk about.” Or if I’m on set, it’s, “Can you come between scenes?” And usually I just go right away. There have been numerous examples, but, yeah, I know when I get that call and I hear the tone of her voice that she’s got something that she has to get out and it’s infectious. It’s like, “We got a live idea — let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”
You worked on Bridgerton, which was Shondaland’s first foray into streaming. Having worked on several shows at ABC with Rhimes, how did this one differ?
Everything was bigger. It was bigger in the storytelling and the costumes and the sets. You just felt that those fences that normally keep you to a limit, not only with shooting days, but with budget [came down]. There was real support and a real interest to tell the story as you want to see it without those restraints.
I have to admit, I watched the show and couldn’t help but think, “How are they going to shoot a second season during COVID-19?” All those crowd scenes …
I know! As a director, I’m facing that now with Anna Delvey when we’re filming crowd scenes. We’re getting creative with lenses and situations, and the writers have been great in assisting us on things that are really challenging. But there are certain necessities that we need, where they just have to be bigger pieces, so we’ll tile it as I’ve done many times before. So, it’s nothing new, it just becomes more work and more time. You can’t spit out eight pages a day, that’s not happening anymore.
My last question for you: Is she going to lure you back onscreen, or are you too busy now?
(Laughs.) I was doing the finale of season three or four of Scandal and, again, I got one of those calls, “You’ve got to come in here right now. I got to talk to you.” I’m like, “All right, I wonder what this is about.” I hadn’t been acting in quite some time, but she says to me, “There’s this role, I think you got to play it. Would you be interested in playing Viola Davis’ husband on this new show?” And I’m like, “OK, you really got me with this one. I was not expecting that. If I have time to do it, because I got to do this finale — but of course I would jump at it.”
It was supposed to be two or three episodes, just in flashback of her previous thing before this thing. But it turned into six seasons of on-and-off-again and just a phenomenal partnership with Viola Davis. She and I had such a tremendous time playing this tumultuous couple who really went at each other. It was fraught with so much drama, so much heaviness, but we really had a lot of lightness and good times behind the scenes. And it was incredibly gratifying work, and again it was Shonda making that happen. And so these are the numerous ways in which we work together, we collaborate. But also why I’m forever grateful to her for the opportunities she’s provided me. And she does that for everyone. She provides those opportunities for people to really blossom and grow.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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