Richard Short Talks Mary Kills People’s S1 Finale and Hopes for S2 [Exclusive]
[Warning: Includes spoilers for tonight’s two-episode S1 finale.]
Mary Kills People wrapped its six-hour first season this evening with a twisty, turny finale that kept us out of the loop until the final act, when all the pieces fell into place and Mary secured safety for herself, her family, and Des. Friday afternoon, I had the chance to chat with Richard Short about bringing the complicated and funny Des to life every week.
Short has a career that spans screen and stage and Mary Kills People marked his longest continuous TV role to date. He enjoyed getting to dig in for a little bit, and appreciated the comparatively short TV shoot vs. a tradition 13- or 22-episode run. The series also block shot, which meant they could be shooting multiple episodes in a day as they took advantage of available locations.
“I like this tempo. [You] get a five- or six-week period to just throw it all out there. I think this is a nice trend,” he says. “The BBC does stuff like that. I think it works better in today’s market. There’s probably at least 20 shows you could watch now that you haven’t started. From a writing perspective, it keeps it tighter. Look how fast it goes. [Each episode] just clips along.”
He was immediately intrigued by the idea for the series when he read the pilot script. “I got an e-mail asking if I was interested. My first words were, ‘This could be really good if we do it right.’ I had this connection to it,” he recalls. I made a tape and shot it off and next thing I know I’m killing people with the girl from Hannibal. When I got to set, we got the scripts for all six episodes.”
“I’ve done five episodes before on an ongoing thing, jumping onto a moving vehicle, as it were, where everybody already knows each other. This is the first [series] from scratch,” he explains. “It makes a massive difference. Your opinion means more, that’s for sure. The creatives are so open to us sitting down and making suggestions. They’re so, so warm and open that it felt really collaborative.”
“They wrote an Englishman’s voice very well…with real English witticisms. I can deliver that, and would deliver that and would say it myself. Personality-wise we’re different. It’s important to keep the distinction. I agree with his thoughts on assisted suicide as well.”
One of the most emotionally wrought scenes of the series comes in episode 5, when Des can’t go through with wearing a surveillance wire and wordlessly raises his shirt to show Mary what he’s done. They both start to tear up about the betrayal, and it’s incredibly powerful to watch so much happen with so little dialogue.
As it happens, that was Short’s very first scene opposite Caroline Dhavernas. “We had been for drinks and had dinner together but we hadn’t been on set acting opposite each other. [Producers] Tassie and Amy [Cameron] and [Director] Holly [Dale] were like, ‘Well, we know Mary and Des are going to be alright. That’s a 50% chunk of the show right there,” he says.
“It was insanity to schedule that [first], but I get that there are greater things at play when you’re trying to block a TV show. We jumped right in. I looked at her and she looked at me and then we just lost it, and it was gone and the trust was broken. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be quite good.'”
While they wait to hear definitively on a second season, Short has his own wish list for where Des might go from here. “I think he’s had his slip. I’d like to see him stay strong this time. It sounds soppy and unconnected to assisted suicide, but I wouldn’t mind him finding love,” he says. “I think he needs it because he’s a troubled, lost soul. I think he’s essentially, inherently a very, very good person. I think they both are. I think that’s why they’re fascinating characters, to be honest.”
He also hopes a second season casts more light on each patient’s backstory. “I’d very much like to see more on the patients if we continue. I’d like to investigate their story more, because it’s when you start to feel sorry for them you start to understand why it could be a necessity for them and shouldn’t be taken off the table as an option, as a choice. We got glimpses of that. I’d like to see a little more development. Maybe we take two or three eps to discover each patient and [see] them at home.”
He adds that each of the guest cast were just phenomenal to work with and one of his personal highlights of the first season. “They came in and crushed it. On days like that, you know you have to sit and take a backseat,” he explains. “Some days, it’s all on you, and on the days they come in, [you think] ‘OK, I’ve got to be a little quieter today and I get this privileged front seat to watch their performance and let them have the spotlight,’ and you hope they grab it run with it.”
One of the things Mary Kills People did really well was balancing serious subject matter with touches of humor, and a lot of that levity came from Des. “The humor’s so heavy at the beginning, and it’s laid on and it’s nice that it dissipates. [Later] there’s no room for it. [Des] is not in any frame of mind for it and nor should he be,” he points out. “It comes in, a little tangentially, shows its head in the door, and [you see that] the clean, sober guy is back. That’s kind of nice. It was good that they got rid of it for a while.”
“It’s a very fine line, emotionally. Embarrassment, shame, hurt, pain and then laughter or enjoyment. A lot of people laugh inappropriately. They laugh at funerals. There’s a thin dividing line that you can skirt. Sometimes people want their ribs tickled a touch and it helps instead of being morose. Hopefully that’s what we do.”
Episode 5 was a showcase episode as Des spirals until and after his betrayal of Mary. “[It] was my favorite and it was rough to shoot. Physically, emotionally, and all that. Obviously the betrayal is tough,” he says. “Falling off the wagon was tough to shoot. It looks genuine. You can see the work there. The camera’s on your upper lip like a dodgy mustache.”
“I’d spent so many nights learning [the technique of] how to shoot up, so it was all worth it in the end. There are days where you’re in tears. You’re chatting with people in Narcotics Anonymous and things like that. You seeing the real weight of it, not just the physical,” he says.
“You have the [mechanics} of ‘don’t hold the needle so close to your face that you pull focus’ and the layer of ‘don’t forget to be honest and real because there are people doing this every day.’ When you remember that, you realize how heavy that is and what it means. Fortunately, [Des] doesn’t do it every week, or it wouldn’t be as powerful.”
The last few years have had Short onscreen more than on the boards and he’s starting to miss it a bit. “I miss the theater because it feeds me more creatively and emotionally but it doesn’t literally feed you more. It’s a slice for dinner,” he laughs. “It’s been a few years. It’s the longest period of my career that I’ve gone without doing a play.”
“Wherever the work comes, I’m happy to have a job. I like period things. I like the distance it gives you. When you get to work, you put on a persona with the clothes, and the set is dressed to such an extent that it that doesn’t look like reality or the real world. It’s so much easier to have the disconnect from Richard to who you’re playing. You can just be the character. It helps. You can immerse yourself.
Next up, he’s doing reshoots on a British horror movie, The Dare, and hoping for more Mary Kills People, but for now, he loves the way they wrapped with Morgan’s Viking funeral. “It was a visual treat. It’s a great end of series 1,” he says. “I’ve got my fingers crossed.”
So do we!
Mary Kills People repeats overnight tonight at 2:05 am/1:05 c on Lifetime.
Update 8/6/22: All three seasons of Mary Kills People are now streaming on Global TV in Canada and Roku Channel in the US.
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