[03/25/08 - 01:00 AM]
Live at the Paley Festival: FX's "Damages"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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7:05 p.m.: A surprisingly thin crowd - the Level 2 admitants were all invited to sit down below - welcomed tonight's session which kicked off with an archival clip from the 1984 TV movie "Something About Amelia" starring Glenn Close and Ted Danson.

7:12 p.m.: And with that the Paley Center's Barbara Dixon once again takes the podium to introduce tonight's moderator - Variety's Stuart Levine. He in turn brings out "Damages" co-creators Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman. In lieu of an episode, they've assembled a clip package of the show's signature scenes.

7:48 p.m.: Stuart returns to bring out tonight's panel - Anastasia Griffith (Katie Connor)! Noah Bean (David Connor)! Tate Donovan (Tom Shayes)! Zeljko Ivanek (Ray Fiske)! Ted Danson (Arthur Frobisher)! Daniel Zelman! Glenn Kessler! Todd A. Kessler! And of course, Glenn Close (Patty Hewes)! Rose Byrne unfortunately could not attend - she's off filming in her native Australia.

7:52 p.m.: Todd on the show's genesis: "Glenn and I have known each other for a long time, we're brothers. And Daniel is kind of like, we have a third brother, but Daniel is kind of like our fourth brother that we've known for over 20 years. And the three of us really wanted to work together on something that we could bring ourselves entirely to and tap into some personal experiences and we came up with this idea for in many ways a story about two women and power relationships and a mentor and a mentee. And obviously we're not women but we were able to put a lot of things that we'd experienced in our lives both professionally and personally into these two characters. It really started with that relationship between those two characters."

7:53 p.m.: Dan adds: "The idea for the show didn't start with the law at all. It started with our interest in... being in the entertainment industry we have had our own experiences with people who have big egos and a lot of power." Tate quips, "Like who? I just want to know. I'm just curious." Dan continues: "And we were very interested in, we had our own experiences being young people, ambitious, sort of entering this world where you sort of... you know all young people sort of feel like it's going to go a certain way, you have your own idea about how things are going to go for you and then you enter the world and you can't believe people behave that way. And you learn the hard way that it's pretty rough and tumble. But we had no desire to write about the entertainment industry itself, it was just that we had had some of those experiences where we were very very interested in power and the social dynamics of power especially in the workplace. And so that's really where the show began. We also knew we wanted to explore that through women as opposed to through men because it just felt more, it felt like more of a particular prism through which to study that. There's been a lot of that obviously studied with men and there's that whole kind of, you know, like male power hazing thing but it felt there hadn't been much discovery through female characters. So then we really thought to ourselves, 'Well, what is an arena in the world where very powerful women could have an incredibly power job, have a huge influence over very powerful spheres in America - be it corporations, corporate America or the entertainment industry or the pharmaceutical industry?' And we realized that there are in fact very powerful female attorneys and the law was an area through which a woman in our society could gather a tremendous amount of power."

7:55 p.m.: Todd dovetails in: "And in terms of distinguishing 'Damages' from other legal shows, we haven't done fully our homework on this but our legal has basically one half of one scene in a courtroom in 13 episodes so our desire was not to... there had been so many great shows and great movies with courtroom scenes, but we were really trying to look at the scenes in the legal profession that you normally don't see. And in high stakes litigation that last thing any high stakes litigator wants to do is actually go into a courtroom and have all of their work judged by 12 jury members."

7:57 p.m.: Glenn on coming back to television: "[In] TV you can get a fantastic rhythm going. And if you're with a great team it's just, it's actually thrilling. It's a wonderful acting exercise because you don't have the luxury of kind of thinking too much." She adds she wouldn't have done "Damages" if it wasn't filmed in New York. "I could not be away from my husband and my daughter. 'The Shield' [was] an amazing experience but it was five months away from home because I'm based in New York."

7:59 p.m.: Ted on how he got involved: "I guess I heard about it shortly after Glenn [signed on]. And so my interest was I knew that Glenn had picked great material throughout her career so I was really interested in seeing what this was. And then I got to go to New York and meet with these three guys and Allen Coulter and read it and like a lot of things in my life I backed into some of the best things... I knew I didn't want to do [a] half-hour because I felt like I kind of stayed at the dance too long and I was not amused by myself. So if I can't make people laugh maybe I can go the other way." As far as his character: "I think he was narcissistic and way over his head, you know? He made a bad decision and then started making one bad decision after another because he was scared. And wouldn't you be? I think the neat part of about this was, yes he did bad things, he's a bad guy. But the writing was so complicated and interesting that you didn't have to play a bad guy. You just had to show up and be a little narcissistic. You notice how I keep coming back to that word? More questions for me please!"

8:03 p.m.: Glenn Kessler on what he was looking for from the actors during the casting process: "One of the great things about the cast we were able to assemble is, what's starts to happen is you see things you didn't realize was in the script. You see colors, you see ideas, the actors are bringing things to it and all of a sudden it's living - bigger and broader than it was on the page. I think that's really more than anything, I'm speaking for myself I guess but I think we're more or less on the same page, it's just looking for life. You want, you know, there are some times when actors come in to audition and they're very good, they're very competent but it feels, it still feels like they're reading a script or something like that. But there are, when the actor comes in and it just feels like it's inhabited in a way that it feels like life, that's what gets us interested. Both Anastasia and Noah they really, we were so thrilled to find both of them because those two roles for some reason were very, very difficult to cast. And they both came in toward the very end and it really felt like just a tremendous relief for us because we're sort of like, 'Where have you been all this time?'"

8:07 p.m.: Tate on how he came aboard: "I had a funny experience in that the assistant to my agent called me and he called with such enthusiasm. His name's Nick over at Bob Gersh's office. He's now a full-time agent by the way. But he called me with such enthusiasm, he's like, 'Listen, you've got to go in there, read the script and you've got to go in there and get this part. You've got to this!' And I'm like, this is the assistant to Bob Gersh? 'Okay, alright. I will.' And you know, I got it, I read it and I loved it and I was like, 'Yeah, I really want to go.' He's like, 'No! Just go in there and get this! Seriously!' I was like, 'Jeez, what's gonna happen if I don't get this?'"

8:09 p.m.: Stuart asks about the origin of Zeljko's accent ("It's Tennessee Williams on steroids," the actor jokes). "We had a sense, we wanted to because it's a legal show, we weren't going into a courtroom necessarily but we wanted to set Patty Hewes in contrast to Zeljko's firm as well as there's another attorney where Ellen first interviews for a job," Glenn Kessler shares. "So we wanted to in the strata of law offices, we wanted to set up three very distinct law offices. And we had a thought of Ray Fiske, which is the character played by Zeljko, that here's a man who had been here and you find out he's actually been in New York since the '70s but has done nothing to lose his accent because he's a showman. And a lot of these guys are, it's all about the persona, it's all about how they walk into a room. So there were flourishes we wanted to bring to that character to set him in contrast to Patty." Todd cites Gerry Spence, who continues to wear his trademark cowboy jacket.

8:12 p.m.: Glenn on her "Shield" experience: "[There's] a lot of testosterone on that set. But the smart thing they did was they didn't have me take over until the third episode. So the actor was able to kind of become at home and check out the place and check out everyone as the character was doing it. And it was really funny because the woman that I really said, 'I'm just gonna be you' is Theresa Shortell, who the only female commander in all 76 precincts in Manhattan. She's now since been promoted. She's phenomenal. And I asked her, I spent a lot of time with her, and I said, 'What is it about the job you find most difficult?' And she said, 'Being a woman and not letting it matter.' And when I went into that set, even though it was a set and we were all actors, I knew exactly what she was talking about. Because your instinct is to be apologetic, not to forceful and not, not take the power. And so that was something that I was also able to grow into."

8:14 p.m.: Glenn on her character, Patty Hewes: "I think one of the great privileges in our profession is basically we are students of human behavior. And you always want to know why people behave the way they do. And a lot of times it's a secret that the audience might never know but the actor does. And it informs your performance in a way that it draws people in. The difficult thing I found, and it's still of challenging but it's fun - I came to think of it as fun, is that I still don't know where I come from in this show. I don't know who my mother and father were. And that's like 101 when you're preparing a character... But it's interesting because I understand, I kept on saying to the guys, 'I can write my backstory.' They said, 'Don't. Just do us a favor - don't.' But you learn how to... for me it was literally not being intimidated by Patty. So I had to go through this process and I'd done it before with [her acting coach]. I took that scene that you saw of her saying, 'Don't have children, they'll ruin your ambition.' I thought that was kind of the core scene for that character... You have to say it's an exercise of literally living in the moment. There are certain parameters about the character that are clear and you work with the writers about it in a scene but then you say, 'Bring it on! Just bring it on and we'll do it.' But I think we did try to have a pact that if there was anything in an episode that might be impacted by something a couple of episodes in the future that they would try to tell me so that behavior would be consistent."

8:16 p.m.: Todd on how they see Patty: "Glenn, Daniel and I don't think of her as someone who's evil or someone who's a bad person. We don't come at it from that angle. And if one is in need of an attorney there is no better person to have defend you or take up your cause than Patty Hewes. She may not be someone that you necessarily want to work for but in working for her you will be made better, there is no better person to learn from than Patty. And so by holding onto those things and she has a marriage and a son and we'll continue to explore that in future seasons. But we're not starting from a place of 'Oh, let's like create this villain lawyer.'" Glenn Close adds, "I think once you put a woman in power everything changes. It's very different from a man in power. And I still think that subliminally or maybe not so subliminally people think that's slightly aberrant to be told what to do by a female. I think it's been happening for thousands of years. That's why Elizabeth I was so brilliant. She never gave into marriage because all they want to do is marry her off so they can work through a man. And she never allowed that to happen. She never gave up her power. But it was considered against biology."

8:20 p.m.: Glenn Kessler on balancing the show's timeline: "We didn't have the luxury in this first season of writing the scripts, putting them down and starting to film them. So we were figuring it all out along the way. And we had kind of tentpole events throughout the season where you knew ahead of time we were going to get to. But it became very improvisational in terms of moving back and forth in time and how much can you do and still let the audience know where they are. So it was a pretty big challenge."

8:24 p.m.: Tate on acting with Glenn: "One of the best things [about] working with Glenn is that she's got the guts to ask really good questions. You know like when you're in school and you sort of like read the assignment but maybe something happened, you weren't totally clear on it. You didn't want to ask the question and seem like an idiot. Well she's fantastic because she asks all the questions and you're like, 'Yeah, yeah, what is that about? That scene is unclear to me too!' It's like, thank God she asked that question."

8:26 p.m.: Stuart asks Zeljko when he learned his character's fate. "I got clued in somewhere around the third or fourth episode," he admits. "And I knew [his] story was basically going to stretch out for one season and that no matter what I was going to be finished at the end of that. I didn't think I was going to be so spectacularly finished."

8:28 p.m.: Dan on why the stalker storyline never went anywhere: "To some extent I would say there's only so much time, there's only so many pages in the script, there's only so many scenes you can fit into 40 minutes, whatever it was. And so to some extent it had to fall off a little bit but at the same time we did always know that was ultimately going to be a red herring in the first season. So it wasn't like we, there wasn't some great conclusion to that story that we decided to excise." Glenn Kessler adds, "One of the great things that went on as the season went on was that people started to, the audience in a very exhilarating way for us starting to become paranoid so that they were looking for connections. The debates about whether Patty hired that woman to break up that marriage or whether or not there's a car crash story with Ted and Ted pays off the family. People started to voraciously make connections in the hoping of figuring things out so that Patty was pregnant by Frobisher and it was exciting."

8:30 p.m.: The producers note that for various reasons, the crime scene around Noah's body was reshot multiple times. (I actually recall a notation in the pilot screener that said that scene would be different in the final aired version.)

8:32 p.m.: Noah on how he viewed his character: "David to me was sort of like, he was kind of the moral center... In a world of gray where everybody has all these ulterior motives, David was clear cut and he was decent, honest... and paid the ultimate price."

8:33 p.m.: Glenn Kessler on why Glenn and Ted's characters were kept apart for so long: "What we ultimately wanted to do was create a hunger in our audience to see that. And put it off as long as we could without any kind of deflation... And then we had a lot of debate when we finally did have them meet, it turned out to be a dream sequence so that when they finally did meet you could almost experience it twice." The producers add that the 14-page deposition scene was rewritten the night before they were about to shoot, much to the chagrin of Ted and Glenn.

8:37 p.m.: Audience Q&A time. Someone asks, considering most of the panel is dead, what we can expect in season two. "Part of the design for the show is that eventually every character dies except for Patty," Todd jokes. "We're beginning the writing process [for season two] and there are going to be a least three new characters and then continuing storylines from the first season and our desire is to give people who have watched the show and have liked the show in its first season very much the appreciation that we have for you as audience members to continue to storylines and threads and also introduce new storylines and threads moving forward. But there will definitely be a continuation as well as new actors and new stories."

8:43 p.m.: Glenn Kessler on the show's twist and turns: "Probably the most fundamental answer to that is we had, as I said, kind of tentpole events that we knew. We knew that the case was going to settle. We knew that we wanted to reveal who killed David. We knew we wanted to reveal who tried to kill Ellen. We knew that one of the main characters was going to commit suicide. It was a question [then] of what episode these things would happen in. What we did for instance, we knew things were going to happen along the way. For instance, who tried to kill Ellen - we had several different ideas that we kept afloat for ourselves which is why things like the stalker comes into play. You know, you keep these things alive because in a mystery or in a thriller you want options. So it wasn't so much that we ever abandoned the plan, it wasn't so much that we didn't know where we were headed. But we had three or four different options [at] different kind of crucial forks in the road. And we knew we wanted to start them early, keep them alive and then make the decision [about] what would best serve the story when the time finally came."

8:46 p.m.: Glenn Close on the choices she made about her character: "I didn't want her to become a psychopath. I had done that... I think what we're all very interested in is what will keep us from becoming a cliche. Because you're already on that very fine line because she's powerful and everybody will call her a bitch no matter what. And then the idea that she's ruthless could easily dip into cliche... And that's what I'm most excited about in the season coming up because I think what happened [to these people] will have real repercussions, real repercussions psychologically and where they are when we start the second season." This causes Dan to bring up Michael Chiklis's character from "The Shield" and the double standard people hold against what he did - kill his partner - in the pilot versus what Glenn did. "It was Chiklis who called me up after the pilot. He said, 'I killed my partner but you killed a dog!'"

8:51 p.m.: Dan on why the characters don't always come across as sympathetic: "I think a lot of that derives from us not wanting to do certain things that are always done on television shows. And maybe that was to our detriment at times. For example, we didn't want necessarily to have that scene where like the young lawyer proves how good she is or proves how this she is. Our tastes just always brought us away from scenes that felt very pat to us. On the other hand, we always knew, we always knew we were going to flip Ellen's character around by the end of the season... and we felt like, 'Well, you can't do that unless you live through a period of well, she's this way first and now she's this way.' So we wanted to protect where we were going in the show and we took a risk therefore early on in the show and you know... we did probably alienate a few people on the way there."

8:55 p.m.: And that's it! Only three more nights left!

  [march 2008]  


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