[01/07/09 - 12:48 AM]
Interview: "Damages" Star Glenn Close
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

After a stellar first season, a plethora of Emmy nominations, two Emmy wins for co-stars Glenn Close and Zeljko Ivanek and a two-season pick-up, "Damages" has everything going for it as it launches its new season tonight on FX. Close, along with creators/executive producers Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, shared how they prepared for season two, the construction of storylines in different timeframes and the reuniting of Close with William Hurt.

Close talked about the jumping off point for season two by revealing, "we really begin where we ended. And the truth is [Patty's] been highly, highly traumatized. I think the Ray Fiske (played by Ivanek) suicide spun her into a place that she'd never been before; she lost control, she put a hit out on Ellen, there's a lot that she regrets, and you have to take that into consideration. People do not easily recover from that, and it actually, informs, I think, the entire second year."

Zelman added, "I think the one thing they should know is that that story line that we started at the end of last season, with Ellen going to work with the F.B.I. as an informant, is going to be ultimately the spine of this season as we watch that relationship evolve and come to a climax in the final episode."

With multiple timeframes being part of the "Damages" narrative during the first season, is the same device going to be used in season two? Between the first and second seasons, Todd A. Kessler said, the producers, "all got together and thought about what we really liked about the first season and figured that this was very much kind of a signature to the first season of having these two timeframes and that no one else is really quite doing that in storytelling right now. And it's something that continually challenges us and inspires us to work in two different timeframes. So what started as a way of just telling stories in the first season in a significant way has emerged as a signature to our storytelling for 'Damages.'"

Close talked about how this current season has been less taxing on her than the first season of the series. "I feel much easier with Patty, actually. I'm much easier with the process... [and] just technically speaking I feel that I'm more free in it. It's a lot of fun; it's hard work and it's intense, but it's fun. And I think that kind of informs Patty in a way. It's just such a great character to play and I feel I've lived in her skin for a year, and coming into it for a second season I feel more comfortable in her skin."

One aspect of the series that influences how she approaches her role is that producers have kept Close in the dark as far as a complete picture of who her character is, which often puts her in the same position as the show's viewers. "There are certain aspects of my back-stories that I still don't know about... I don't know if there was some defining event that set her on her path or if it was an accumulation of certain events. So I'm learning about the whys of what I do along with the audience. It doesn't mean that I don't believe in them, but I know they're there." She added that the lack of detail to her character's past is a positive for her acting muscles. "As an actor it's an incredible exercise. It's a great mind game; I think all my brain synapses are in very good health. And it's a great luxury to have a 13-hour movie where you can develop characters in a way that ends up being extremely satisfying and really good entertainment."

Academy Award winner Hurt joins the cast this season as Daniel Purcell, Patty Hewes's latest client. Of working with Hurt again for the first time in many years, Close gushed, "It was just great. It was great. It was kind of a gift to have a character introduced that Patty actually has a past with and for me, as the actor, to also have a real past with Bill. We started out in New York together in theater and then, of course, our big connection was doing 'The Big Chill' and that bonded us for life. So to have him come back, and he's such a fantastic actor, it was like skating on very smooth ice. I loved it."

Knowing a thing or two about getting acclimated to the pace of television production with not only "Damages" but also the season she did on "The Shield," Close knew what Hurt was going through with his first foray into a regular role on series television. "I have to give it to Bill because the process is very demanding and we work very fast. And because our writers are not writing in any kind of formulaic way it's a very organic process, so a lot of times you'll get something the night before or even the day of that's been refined. And for Bill, who is used to having a little bit more time to prepare, it was a hard thing to get used to and it was very difficult. And I really understood, because it was something that I felt last year. But to see him ultimately embrace it and start to really have fun in it was kind of an extra perk for me."

The producers also talked about the storylines that dominate the "Damages" landscape in season two. Glenn Kessler offered, "although we came to a resolution on all three of those different story lines [in Season 1] we also proposed a pretty huge story movement that led us into the second season, which was that Ellen (Rose Byrne) was going to return to work really in an effort to bring Patty down [and] return to work working as an informant for the F.B.I. We knew we were heading there in the second season, and that's a very significant part of the second season in terms of what Ellen is up to within the firm and outside of the firm. So as I say, we try to lay down some tent pole events, but then it's really about surprising ourselves and surprising the other writers. It's about keeping this thing; the thrill ride that's very important to us and the entertainment value of telling a story within the legal genre is very important to us, so it really is a pretty high degree of flexibility and improvisation as we move through the season."

The producers also shared the challenges of writing Patty Hewes, a character that often moves her line of morality to get what she wants. "I think that there's a sort of guideline we go by with Patty," Zelman states, "which is that the one constant with her is that she really genuinely hates bullies. Her compass is sort of always attuned to where the bullies are in society, and she's always looking to stand up for the weak against the bullies. That's something that we feel is genuine to who she is and genuine to her experience in life; we never think of her as being heroic or not heroic."

"We're going to see much more of Patty's personal life," Todd Kessler added, "her relationship with her husband, Phil, and her relationship with her son, Michael, her relationship to Uncle Pete, who is played by Tom Aldridge, who is a man that probably she has known for longer than anyone else in her life. We're going to explore all of that."

In talking about the differences between working on the networks and cable, Todd Kessler said, "In a way there's no comparison. From my experience one of the most fantastic things about working in cable, pay cable or basic cable, is that the networks support a singular vision, and it's not really creation by committee. And in addition, you deal with the heads of the network, in this case John Landgraf, who has just been such a tremendous supporter of what we want to do with the show, helping to put the show together because of Glenn's work on 'The Shield' and the relationship that she had with him, which led to us meeting her for 'Damages.' And it's a very hands-on managerial style that in every possible way conceivable helps support what we want to do as storytellers."

Finally, Close compared her role of Patty Hewes and "Damages" with one of the great writers of literature. "For me it's like living a novel; I feel like we're kind of a 21st Century version of Dickens of what Dickens was in the 18th Century, 19th Century. And so that's where the excitement is; I think we're on the cutting edge of this new, what I really think, is an art form."

"Damages" airs on FX every Wednesday at 10:00/9:00c beginning tonight.

  [january 2009]  


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