[06/15/09 - 12:09 AM]
Interview: "Weeds" Creator Jenji Kohan
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

The fifth season of Showtime's series "Weeds" returned last week with heroine Nancy Botwin (multiple Emmy nominee Mary-Louise Parker) using her new pregnancy as a way to keep herself alive in the dangerous world of dealing drugs and immigrant smuggling, businesses run by her baby's father, Esteban (Demian Bichir). Nancy's not the only one with compelling stories, though. The supporting cast � played by Elizabeth Perkins, Justin Kirk, Hunter Parrish and Kevin Nealon � are expectedly up to various levels of trouble and pot-induced hilarity. While this half hour series walks the fine line between comedy and tragedy, helming the ship is creator Jenji Kohan, who shared her thoughts on the 'anti-hero' label, the fear of changing what's not broke and where her thoughts are when that final episode comes with our Jim Halterman.

Jim Halterman: Regardless of the sometimes-bad things that Nancy does, we still root for her. How do you strike that balance so the audience stays invested in that character?

Jenji Kohan: Well, I think first of all it's Mary-Louise and just how fucking great she is. Just those big brown eyes. [laughs] That's a huge part of it. But I think people identify with deeply flawed characters because we all are; it's universal. So when you're able to identify with the fuck-ups and the messes I think you feel sympathy because she's trying. She's trying. And she's trying to do the right thing. She didn't set out to do bad things. And I think, in a way, it's a relief to see real repercussions for her bad behavior as well as her good behavior. The black and white of protagonists on televisions - I think it's a little weary. Nobody is completely a villain and nobody is completely a hero and, in general, we all try to do the best we can and I think people buy into it because it's a universal experience.

JH: Would you consider the character of Nancy to be an anti-hero? That's such a big thing with television characters these days.

JK: I really hate all these labels, I really do. She's a character. She's a person. She's flawed. Antihero? I don't even know what that means, honestly.

JH: At the beginning of season four when you uprooted the series from the suburbs of Majestic to Southern California, was that a scary place to be in creatively or were you confident the change would work?

JK: It was scary and it was exciting for us because it felt very invigorating to switch it up. It's always scary because people grow attached to characters, to environments and it's sort of been an unwritten rule of television that you don't mess with something that is working but we want to grow the show. We want to be a new show every year and it was just sort of where we felt we needed to go to keep ourselves interested and engaged and brimming with stories and I figured why not take the leap? This is our opportunity.

JH: Obviously it worked.

JK: Yeah, and, also, I do have confidence in our writing staff and myself and all the people who work here. It's not a different show. The tone is the same. The feeling is the same. Our people are there but it's not about the place.

JH: In the first few episodes of this new season, you touch on the one-sided love that Andy (Kirk) has for Nancy. Is that story going to progress?

JK: I don't think so. I'm sure Nancy has a lot of feelings but she's invested in her baby-daddy and, as she's demonstrated over and over, she's a danger junkie and she likes the excitement and she doesn't take Andy seriously. She loves Andy but not, as he says in one episode, not in the good way and I think that's sort of his cross to bear and his journey this season and how to deal with feelings that aren't reciprocated in the way he had hoped.

JH: And Celia (Perkins), she is like your personal whipping post!

JK: She's just great... and Elizabeth takes so much abuse and loves it and jumps right in.

JH: In the first few episodes, she's separated from the rest of the cast for various story reasons...

JK: ...she'll be coming back. We're getting her back in the fold.

JH: The show also uses big name guest stars so well. Jennifer Jason Leigh is currently appearing and Alanis Morissette is coming. How do you fit them into the show seemingly with such ease?

JK: You hire really great actors and that's their job to become these characters. It always starts with the part. It never starts with "What can we do with Albert Brooks?" or "What can do with Jennifer Jason Leigh?" We've got this actor who would be great playing this character. You just hire amazing people who inhabit these characters because they're great at what they do.

JH: The scenes with Kevin Nealon and Justin Kirk are always full of such fun banter. Is any of that improvised or is it all in the script?

JK: It's all in the script though Kevin will occasionally have the opportunity to go off towards the end of the scene and sometimes we do end up using his stuff. Almost everything is scripted.

JH: Do you miss the "Little Boxes" theme song since you stopped using it after the third season?

JK: I miss the covers of the theme song. I miss all the different versions of it and getting really excited about the musicians who are doing it. But I kind of like our little openings now and it gives us much more time for the show. It's more relevant, I think, for what we're doing now and I mourn the passing of "Little Boxes" but I think we've found a good alternative.

JH: Who does the music for the show? The songs are always very well placed.

JK: We have two entities that do our music. We have Brandon Jay and Gwendolyn Sanford, who are our composers and sometimes will write songs for specific things. And then we have two guys who are our music supervisors, one of whom is my husband [Christopher Noxon]. It started off on the pilot where we happened to be cutting the pilot in a building where he had an office and we were literally said, "Download stuff off your iTunes for the pilot. We don't have anything." From then on, he's just sort of been my source. He's really into music and now they've expanded. They're going to do "The United States of Tara." They did a pilot last season called "The Middle" and then it's become this whole thing.

JH: Regarding the kids, especially Shane Botwin (Alexander Gould), who is definitely growing up, how do you approach that so you don't turn people off?

JK: It's a fine line but also it's a fine line in terms of just the kids themselves in wanting to protect them on set. Sometimes we'll shoot their half of scenes and then send them out of the room for the other side. I don't think we're pushing anything out of the realm of possibility with teenagers so I think it's just a matter of what people can stomach and that's an individual thing. It's a self-selecting audience and I don't think the material we have for the kids is so wildly far field from what's going on.

JH: Not that we want to see the series end anytime soon, do you have an idea where you'd like the series to end up?

JK: I tend to just go season by season. I really focus on a season as a whole and then I take time off and then I worry about it when I'm back so I'm not looking too far ahead. I like to know that there's gas in the tank for the next season but beyond that I have some vague notions, which I would never commit to out loud. But, really, I focus on the season at hand and find small batches maintain the quality... like cookies.

"Weeds" airs every Monday night on Showtime at 10:00/9:00c with multiple re-airings throughout the week.

  [june 2009]  


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