Â Warning: Spoilers Ahead
I suspected that Showtime’s Ray Donovan panel at their summer TCA presentation would be great (but, they all were) because I knew I’d be getting some great scoop right from the source. Series stars Liev Schreiber,Â Paula MalcomsonÂ and Jon Voight, season two guest stars Hank Azaria and Wendell Pierce and executive producers Ann Biderman and Bryan Zuriff discuss new challenges, new characters and what to expect this season.
How are we supposed to see Mickey? Is he a sociopath? A destructive force of nature? A man who believes he’s doing the right thing and that people might not have bad reactions to what he does?
Ann Biderman:Â “Yes is the answer. He’s a little of all those things, which is the challenge with Mickey, with writing that character. Jon needs to speak for himself in terms of how he interprets it and plays it, but he has all those qualities. So I think that’s what we like about him, that he’s dangerous, and I’m mindful of keeping him dangerous. He’s also human and loves his family truly.”
Jon Voight:Â “I think you defined the character. In a nutshell, he is all those things and that’s what makes him so surprising and so entertaining. Many different levels of things are going on. He’s a danger to the family, but he loves his family too. So I have that complex mix going on.”
How do you guys see Abby’s character evolving in this season?Â What’s her arc?Â
Ann:Â “I don’t think it’s just about Ray this year. It’s about both of them and I think she has a much stronger and bigger arc. Their marriage is at stake and that story is told over this whole year in depth.”
Paula Malcomson: I think Abby’s tried a lot. She’s banged her head up against a wall for quite a number of years. This revelation about sexual abuse has come up and I think she believed that that would give her some answers. When it doesn’t, she looks elsewhere for comfort.”
Jon, you’ve had a more interesting awards ride than most. You won an Oscar as a young man and a Golden Globe earlier this year. Now you’re nominated for an Emmy. What’s that like?
Jon:Â “I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have had so many wonderful experiences as an actor and I’m really deeply enjoying this family that’s making Ray Donovan. It’s almost like I earned this role over years of struggling and failing and experimenting and succeeding and finding different ways to express certain kinds of things in my work. When I look back at my early days, I had good fortune. I’m still essentially the same as I was then. Actors are always looking for a good job and something that they can dig into and go to work on and I had those opportunities early with great people then. You have to appreciate the times when they come, and I do, especially at this stage of my life, that I’m getting a little bit of attention.”
In the first 2 episodes of the season, we see Ray and Abby in therapy. There are some strong similarities here to The Sopranos. Ray’s in therapy, like Tony. Abby’s complicit in her husband’s crimes, like Carmela. Are the parallels coincidental or intentional?
Ann:Â “I’ve been thinking about [The Sopranos], but [it’s] certainly not deliberate. No one’s in therapy for too terribly long in this show. It’s not a conceit that we’ve carried over for any length of time. It’s important in the storytelling. It doesn’t carry through in any particular way that’s very deep. Any time you do a story about a family and a relationship and a marriage and crime or criminal aspects, there’s going to be a complicity on some level between someone and somebody else.”
Hank, can you talk about playing this character?
Hank Azaria:Â “One of the fun things about this show is nobody is one thing and almost every character, no matter how big or small, gets to display that in a variety of ways. It was fun peeling back the layers on this guy. Each week you saw a little bit more of him and it was fun to really tease that out. I was a big fan of the show before I joined the cast. Everybody’s pretty much many shades of gray in this show and this character is no exception.”
Wendell, can you talk about your role this season?
Wendell Pierce:Â “As people have mentioned before, there’s complexity to everyone and there’s a moral ambiguity to everybody in this show. So the ebb and flow of being at the top of his game and off his game is a constant for my character. It’s because of that weakness that Ray Donovan has that ability to get to his Achilles heel and become the puppet master that Ray Donovan is. It’s the investigation of people’s hubris that I love about the show and the flaws of people.Â He isÂ good at what he does and he’s also a ne’erâ€‘doâ€‘well when it comes to his personal life. It’s because of that flawed nature that he is manipulated throughout the season for RayÂ Donovan to fix those things he needs to fix. To work with this cast, it’s been like a master class, really. I’m reminded every day. Jon is a consummate creator. He’s always thinking about what is going to fuel the scene, what is going to fuel his character. So you never take things for granted and it’s been a pleasure to work with an entire company that way, from the producers and writers to all the actors. It’s a world of creation. So it’s great desire.”
Ann, how many episodes will you be writing this season? and if there anything that happened in season 1 that you’ve had to course correct?
Ann:Â “I always write the first episode and the last and usually a couple of others. I try to write as many as I can. The way we work in the writers’ room is that I don’t kind of assign episodes and a writer goes off and writes them. We work very intensely together to plot out the year and the arc of the show and all the episodes. We all work on all the episodes and then the writer goes off and comes back and we work again on it. So I feel we’re all in the scripts and my voice is hopefully in them, if that’s a good thing. But I write as many as I can, certainly the first and last, and I was lucky enough to write the episode that Liev directed, which was a wonderful experience. It’s so gratifying seeing my work translated in that way. It was really, really moving. We’re still working on the music as we speak, but I’m so proud of it and it’s great to have him direct it.”
HowÂ was directing an episode this season?
Liev Schreiber:Â “It was really intense. I underestimated how difficult it would be to be acting at the same time I was directing. Ray doesn’t say much and is a relatively straightforward character. So I thought it would be kind of easy.”
How much Ray and Mickey content is in that episode? Can you talk about directing Mr. Voight?
Liev: “The outstanding experience of episode 7 was the way in which the cast and the crew came to my rescue.Â I never felt so supported, so appreciated and so lucky as I did during that week and a half working with this cast and crew. When I’m playing a character, I sort of stay in the boundaries of the character and I don’t talk a lot. So you don’t get to know people, but when you direct you really get to know people. You really know where they’re coming from and I was very moved by the support of my peers on this one.”
Is there anything that happened in season 1 that you had to course correct?
Ann: “It’s not so much course correction, it’s more that you see how good everyone is and I wish I had more real estate for everyone and could do more with every character. I worry that people don’t get enough and that I’m not using their brilliance enough. I could do a spin-off on every single one of the characters, quite frankly. I feel so inspired by the acting. So it’s just a question of deciding what the themes are for the year and atomâ€‘breaking and getting to it that way. I don’t think I’m the kind of writer who can write every episode. I’m not Aaron Sorkin. That doesn’t work for me, but I do feel the way I run the room is so specific that I feel like my voice is in them, certainly. It’s not a total democracy, I’m very clear about what I want. But no specific course correction. It’s just, again, seeing what works and what you love and trying to do more of it and better and get better at the storytelling.”
I’m fascinated by your emotional relationship with Lena. You’re very close to her.Â There’s an element â€‘ I know it’s not sexual â€‘ but what’s lacking in your marriage, you have with her. Can you talk about Katherine Moennig and where that’s going?
Liev:Â “We just played a scene in [episode] 12 that I was very grateful Ray and Lena were allowed to have another moment together. I think Ray has a hard time expressing himself and being open about his feelings. I can only imagine this, with Ann’s help, but I imagine that he met Avi and Lena and sensed immediately that their pain at some level, or their experience at some level, resonated with his own and he felt safe. He felt secure with them. Part of what makes him feel so safe with Lena is she doesn’t need to talk about it and everyone else insists on talking about it. Everyone else insists on digging up the pain and exercising it, where Lena seems perfectly content to move through life without addressing any of her issues. I think Ray admires that and I think while he’s worried about her, because she has some issues herself for violence and failed relationships, there’s definitely something odd. I’m very grateful that you picked up on it, because it’s one of the things that I like about this ensemble. Something odd resonates between Lena and Ray. We don’t need to talk about it. We don’t need bloodletting. So you punch someone every once in a while. Big deal.”
Can you talk more about Steven Bauer and Katherine?
Liev:Â “I think it’s a similar shared history with Steven’s character. Avi, we know, is some kind of Israeli operative who has clearly been through some very heavy stuff and is now living in America. We can only imagine his history, but I’ve done that, and I think probably Katherine’s done that, too, to some extent. There is a real intimacy between the three of us. I think Ray has probably more interpersonal issues than they do so they’re able to be social with each other in a way that I think Ray’s uncomfortable still. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a question for Ann. I feel like it is a sort of little secret society.”
Will Sheryl Lee Ralph be back? There is such great chemistry in her relationship with Mickey. Jon, can you talk about working with her?
Jon:Â “Sheryl Lee has this dignity that we’re all impressed with on the show. Something regal about her and it makes me feel, as Mickey and as Jon, very proud.”
Liev:Â “Dating the queen.”
Jon:Â “I’m dating a queen. That’s exactly right. There is that dynamic. The casting of this show, I must say, has been remarkable. When we get a character written, we’re interested in who is going to fill that and inevitably we find someone who we fall for. We just think, ‘Oh, that’s the greatest casting for this particular role.’ This is my love affair. I meet Sheryl Lee and we get along immediately. We had fun. She’s very professional. She’s surprising and there’s nothing ordinary about her casting or her person. There’s something very warm about her, something kind of zaftig and lovely. We learn a little bit every time we work together, so we’ve been growing and understanding of each other, but always from the beginning she’s playing that character and I’m playing my character and that’s how we communicate. So it’s interesting that we have gotten a side of Sheryl Lee that other people haven’t seen. It’s a very powerful, very beautiful performance. She’s one of us. She’s a character actress and she’s bringing Claudette to life this way.”
Can anyone attest to the accuracy of some of the crazy storylines on the show? Has any one of Ray’s jobs struck you as something that’s happened in the past?
Bryan Zuriff: “It’s just fun stuff that Ann thinks about in the writers room and we’ve all had a little bit of a past, so there’s stuff that we can draw on in the writers room that we can have some fun with.”
Ann, where do the most recent storylines comes from? The gossip mill or your imagination?
Ann:Â “I was rather obsessed with the Whitey Bulger story and Sully was, in part, inspired by that last year. Then bizarrely, after we started writing about it, that became one of the big stories. He was caught in SantaÂ Monica. It’s quite odd. So it wasn’t pulled from the headlines, but it was pulled from my brain and certain preoccupations in terms of crime and fame and celebrity and all that. I’ve pulled articles through the years. I have a file, but it’s no one particular thing. It’s kind of an amalgamate of traits that I’ve been collecting and things that I think were amusing about the town or horrifying or need fixing. No one particular place.”
Edited for space and content.
Ray Donovan airs Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime.
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