Thursday, July 10, 2008
PTR On Set: ‘Saving Grace’ - Ready for Round 2
PTR Senior Staff Writer
“How cool is it that TNT is willing to invest in women over 40 – can we just talk about that for a moment?” asks Lorraine Toussaint, who plays Captain Kate Perry on the TNT series, Saving Grace.
When a unified “Amen!” breaks out from the assorted group of journalists assembled to visit the Saving Grace set as part of TNT’s press day tour last month, she instantly knows she is preaching to the choir.
And we encourage her to continue.
"We get so much more interesting and fascinating when we hit 40. That’s when we’re sexiest, when we’re braver, when we don’t give a f***, when we step out there, when we stop worrying about how everything looks and falls and fits. To have a network that says not only [do] we [not] care [how old your lead is or that she is a woman], but we’re going to support [it], we’re going to celebrate [it] and we’re going to really focus on [it] … that [has just been] really thrilling.”
You’ve got to hand it to TNT. They do know drama.
Really well, in fact.
In recent years, they’ve set a new standard for drama excellence with shows like Saving Grace and The Closer, and they were seemingly the first network to actually acknowledge that people would watch shows that have actors who have been around the block once or twice.
Not on a scooter or big wheel, either.
One thing is for certain: no matter what my issues were with the first season of Saving Grace - namely, that it seemed as if the premise was just being repeated over and over, with Grace never moving beyond being out of control and, subsequent to that, she had no redeeming qualities to make one want to care one way or the other if she was “saved” – I did dig the fact the show focused on a woman who had some mileage on the life odometer.
And to hear the passion the Saving Grace cast has for their show is equally as inspiring. In having the opportunity to speak with all of the series regulars during our set visit, I came to learn they are quite a tight knit group. They know they’ve followed in the footsteps of the success of Kyra Sedgwick and Co. over on The Closer, and they consider it a compliment.
"I think when one show gets popular, it sort of [sets a] trend,” says Leon Rippy, who portrays Angel Earl. “I’m glad to see it because there was a shortage of it for a long time. I like to see flawed, female characters.”
“It was such a struggle for so long,” adds Laura San Giacomo, who plays Rhetta Rodriguez, the ever-faithful best friend to Grace. “Now, everywhere you turn, [there are] really great, strong, sexy, fabulous, crazy, mixed-up, competent, intelligent, conflicted women. They are multi-dimensional [and] all over the TV landscape.”
And thank the heavens for that, eh?
Perhaps none are more crazy, mixed-up and conflicted than Grace Hanadarko, who blurs the line between … well, just about anything and everything that involves a line. The woman who portrays Grace relishes the freedom that has come with the ground-breaking role. But, when I asked her where Grace ranks among all the characters she’s portrayed in her illustrious career, Holly Hunter says she has a hard time ranking any of her characters.
"I just couldn’t compare them,” says Hunter, who also serves as one of the show’s executive producers. “I wouldn’t want to compare them. There’s a clutch of characters that I’ve played that are permanently imprinted into my immediate sensorial self. Like, if I watch Broadcast News, I am Jane Craig. I feel her, you know, because it’s such a true portrait of characters that [director] Jim Brooks was into [to which] I was a benefactor. The same could be said for [director] Jane Campion. It’s such a deep truth about human nature that I can’t help but immediately be Ada McGrath again [and] feel her again when I see [The Piano]. But, I [also] feel there’s a deep truth about Grace.
“It’s kind of a dream come true to get to play somebody who doesn’t have normal limitations,” Hunter continues, “who doesn’t place normal limitations on her own self, doesn’t censor her own needs, her own desires. I loved the episode last year where Henry, the coroner, lost his cat. He had a great investment in his cat – his cat was kind of his family. And when his cat died, Grace had sex with him. That was like a perfect example – a perfect gesture in a way – of who she is. There was something healing in [that] gesture. [And so], I find her [to be] healing or extraordinarily generous. It’s not just all [about] narcissistic fulfillment. It’s kind of an extreme desire to fulfill others’ needs, or to help them. It’s an interesting, complicated portrait of someone.”
Hunter agrees that the cable frontier has allowed for that complicated portrait to completely take shape – even if it pushes the envelope to the fullest extent.
“This thing with cable,” she says, “I keep thinking it’s going to be over soon. It feels a little like the Wild Wild West – like anything’s possible. It’s still a little crazy, like nobody’s quite got a handle on it, yet. My great fear is that the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] is going to find a way to wrangle [it] into submission. And I feel, like, I hope that [doesn't happen] because it’s allowed writers, and of course actors, to explore a broader realm of what it means to be alive - and that includes women over 40. I feel as much alive now as I have at any other point in my life. And creatively, I didn’t feel like I reached a zenith at 30-something. I keep living, and I keep wanting to express stuff.”
And, as we know, what gets expressed on Saving Grace runs the gamut from OMG! to WTF? It has offended some, invigorated others. There were times last season where I, for one, just did not get the point of what the show was doing, or where it was trying to go. But, it seems both the writers and show runners like to challenge the audience in certain way – whether that be over the top or along more subtle lines. And again, being at home on a cable network allows for a freer exploration of certain themes.
“There’s a certain amount of freedom we have just by being on cable,” says Toussaint. “[Creator and executive producer] Nancy [Miller] and [co-executive producer] Gary [Randall] pretty much take the heat. I know Nancy goes to the mat, and I know Holly goes to the mat [for us] in terms of we can/can’t do. You know, [this] ain’t Touched by an Angel - and that’s a good thing. I think a show like [this] is really pushing the envelope – questioning spirituality, the responsibility of the church and religion to us in this day and age. We’re moving forward, and the church has got to keep up with the ideas of what is God, who has God, who doesn’t – all of that stuff has to be busted wide open, and I think [the producers are] enjoying the provocativeness of what they’re bringing out.”
"TNT has definitely given us a long leash,” says Bailey Chase, who portrays Detective Butch Ada. “We’re able to make the show we want to make. As actors, we’re able to say things we wouldn’t be able to say on network television, [which] makes it interesting for us. [And] week to week, we don’t really know what we’re going to get. Whereas Law and Order is a great show, there is certain [formula whereby] you pretty much know what you’re going to get. The names and faces are going to change in terms of the guest cast, but SVU is SVU. Saving Grace is more a show about life, and life is messy. It connects, but it’s not a straight line. It’s all over the place.”
And it usually falls upon San Giacomo’s Rhetta to keep that all-over-the-place-ness in one place - if possible. She is the the glue, the touchstone, as it pertains to keeping Grace somewhat together.
"I do know there is a certain part of Rhetta – a certain aspect to that character – that is not experiencing a hurricane like everyone else,” says San Giacomo. “She’s just waiting to catch people as they get spun out. I mean, it’s all about Grace – it’s all about loving Grace, Grace’s life …”
“… for me, too,” adds Rippy.
“… and that’s the thing that we have in common,” says San Giacomo. “I feel like I’m working here on Earth, and [Earl is] working on the other levels. But we have the same job in essence. You know, weird and horrible things happen to people every day. They [have to] live with [it], and [life's] a challenge. What Grace has experienced in her life has been weird and horrible, and we get to watch her live that.”
Part of that living comes in having an affair with her married partner, Detective Ham Dewey, portrayed by Kenny Johnson. In coming off his tenure on FX’s The Shield, where he portrayed a far more hard-charging cop, he made a brief stint as a recurring love interest for Detective Lilly Rush on Cold Case (which … ahem … some of us still wish he was given his character of Joseph was the only decent guy Rush ever got her hands on, the cloning of The Closer's Fritz Howard notwithstanding). Suffice it to say, it’s been a good challenge for Johnson to dial it down from his arse-kicking days on The Shield, yet step it up a notch from his time alongside Kathryn Morris on Cold Case.
"[My character on The Shield] had a conscience about what he did, but yet he constantly broke the law. Here, it becomes a little more real. [Ham] doesn’t cross that line as much. I can drink, I can kind of get out of line, but [it’s only] to a degree. It’s much more to the book. [And when I came here], I’d never played a leading man [alongside] a female ever in my career. I did a little bit of it on Cold Case, but for me to play opposite of a female [character] that I have this complete feeling for [both] as a partner and as a human being is definitely touching a lot places I didn’t previously explore. There are a lot of layers going on that I didn’t have to deal with on The Shield [but of which] I’m dealing with here.
Adds Hunter: “This [show] is written by a woman, and [it’s] created by a woman. So, immediately, you have a woman’s sensibilities that [have] permeated [into the show’s make-up]. You have an iconic female lead in the form of Grace Hanadarko. And she is iconic; she’s not 'slightly other.' The Shield was a real exploration of men bonding – male bonding – in a way that soldiers do, in that way where people who are involved in illegal activities have to bond. It’s a totally different exploration on [our show]. [It] is much more of an adult relationship that Grace and Ham have ...”
“ ... incredibly intimate, too, in a lot of ways – for me, at least,” adds Johnson. “It’s naked with feeling.”
And the effect the show has on its actors is a direct result of yet another collaborative environment that exists with the show’s creators, quite similar to what exists over on The Closer.
“We had wonderful meetings at the beginning of this season with the writers,” says Toussaint. “In terms of our input – where do we see the characters going and where do they see the characters going this season. They took a lot of our ideas, and we heard a lot of their ideas. A lot of it is really being fleshed out.”
Adds Chase: “Just [going] back and forth - it’s cool when they really listen, and they’ll infuse it in the show.”
For Bokeem Woodbine, who portrays death row inmate Leon Cooley and of whom is also in need of Angel Earl’s guidance, the creative process has been one of the best parts of being on the show.
"I was never really the kind of actor who thought he would find himself as a series regular. So, for me to really be enjoying it as much as I am is because the writing is great, and the cast is really, really great – not just as talent, but as people. The producers are hands-on and effective, but also, they’re creative individuals. [That] is kind of a rare dichotomy to have a producer be efficient [but also] have sort of a creative mindset about stuff.
“To come to work and have this great material all the time,” continues Woodbine, “and to be able to work in a character that has some type of longevity [is a great experience]. You know, I’m [the] kind of person [that] gets in, does the job, gets out. But when you work in series television, and you’re on a show for couple of seasons, your character has a longer life. You’re not just there for a couple of months, people aren’t just seeing you one time and in one context. You get to show more range when you have an opportunity like this, and that has been really great for me.”
But the challenge of the second season still remains in the forefront of everyone’s minds. Gregory Cruz, who portrays Detective Bobby Stillwater, feels as if this season might even be better than the first.
“It’s easy to get complacent, [but when] we got here [for] this second season, [the] look in everybody’s eye was like, ‘Let’s do it, man.’ Because now, we’ve got a season under our belt, now people know what we can do, [so] let’s show them what we can [really] do. So, I think it’s going to set you up [nicely]. The writings [are] even tighter – if that is possible. People are really eager to get what’s been written and really [make it good]. I think that the episodes are even better than last season.
“The best part of this show,” continues Cruz, “is that I’m learning what I’m learning from the people that I’m working with. The experience on this show is profound for me personally because of the topics, because of the people I’m working with, because of where I’m at, because of the timeliness of it. All of that wrapped together, I take stuff from here and just go, “Wow!” It’s that kind of atmosphere around here. The show has such an effect on me in my own personal life. It’s been great.”
And how. Get ready for round two - looks to be quite the humdinger.
Our great thanks to the cast of Saving Grace for taking some time to share their thoughts on the show as well as our friends at Turner publicity. Saving Grace begins its second season July 14th at 10 p.m. on TNT. If you missed out on any of the first season, be sure to check out the show’s official Web site to catch up on all-things Grace Hanadarko.