Danny Peary Talks To… ‘One Mississippi’ Star John Rothman
(from DansPapers.com 6/22/17)
JUNE 22, 2017 BY DANNY PEARY
I have been extremely appreciative of character actors since I first saw the films of great directors like Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, as well as classic Hollywood musicals. Just out of the spotlight, those versatile, familiar actors and actresses provided each film with personality, humor or menace; voiced opinions, rules, threats, moral codes and concern; and established and embodied the worlds that the leads ventured through. If a film, be it a comedy or western or melodrama, had splendid supporting players, then it had a huge advantage over its competition. Fortunately, future generations of filmmakers tried to emulate their idols and populate their own films with skilled supporting players.
One of my favorites has long been John Rothman, and if you look him up on IMDB.com, you’ll recognize his face and be astonished to find that since 1980 he has 126 movie and television credits, and that’s not including his multiple appearances on several television series. And not including all the theater he has done. I’ve wanted to interview the New York-based Rothman for years, and almost did it when he played one of the ill-fated passengers in United 93. But since I didn’t have the mettle to see Paul Greengrass’s intense 2006 9/11 film until 2007, I had no choice but to wait for the ideal time to come along before approaching Rothman.
That time is now. The Baltimore native has left an indelible mark on major films for decades, but I think it’s safe to say that in the last couple of years his career has reached new heights. He has been everywhere: He was part of a brilliant cast when the Actors Company Theatre did a revival last fall of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer on Theatre Row; in an elaborate, widely-seen commercial for Optimum Online, he made a distinct impression as the diplomatic president who brings together two siblings that can’t agree on which TV shows to watch; in Laurie Simmons’ offbeat My Art, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival, he had one of his best and biggest movie roles as a lawyer who is succumbs to the acting bug, and played it to perfection. Also, there have been guest roles on TV shows and more plays. But surely the most exciting development is that he got the role of his career, playing Bill, the stepfather of deadpan comedian Tig Notaro, in her must-see semi-autobiographical Amazon series, One Mississippi. He’s not only a regular, but one of its stars. Impeccable casting!
The premise of One Mississippi is that “Tig” (the show’s fictional version of Notaro), having survived a devastating intestinal disease and a double mastectomy, loses her mother Caroline in a freak accident, breaks up with her girlfriend in L.A., and has her witty radio commentary show canceled there. Much of this story might be familiar from Tig’s famous stand-up set at Largo in L.A.., but it is only the jumping off point for One Mississippi. In the series first season “Tig” returns to Mississippi to live in the house where she grew up with her totally uptight stepfather Bill and underachieving brother Remy. Tig was a heroine in need of a “heel”—more accurately, an antagonist who is unable to convey his kind feelings—and Rothman, having time to create and develop Bill under her auspices, has come up with an individual unlike any I’ve ever seen on television or anywhere else. I can’t imagine anyone else in the part.
The Season 1 trailer:
In the pilot, Bill seemed like a quick study, but during the six-episode first season, he kept confusing us by revealing different aspects of his personality. In fact, I was so fascinated by his unusual behavior that I keep trying to figure him out—and I can’t wait to see where his character goes in Season 2, tentatively scheduled for the fall. I believe Notaro deserves many statues come Emmy time for the bold and very funny One Mississippi, and I hope John Rothman gets the same kind of recognition for his vital contribution to the show. It would be a tribute to all the talented character actors out there who are waiting for their dream roles to come along. I told him this when I finally sat down with him recently, over breakfast at the Washington Square Diner in Greenwich Village.
Danny Peary: After four decades as an actor, are you suddenly being recognized on the street more because of One Mississippi?
John Rothman: I just walked here down Waverly Place and a doorman or porter at the Washington Square Hotel jumped out and said, “How are you doing? What are you doing next?” I said, “Well, I just wrapped the second season of One Mississippi.” He said, “Oh, then I’m going to tell everybody to watch it on Amazon.” Obviously people have seen the show, but you don’t get an immediate audience response about it as you would in the theater, so I really enjoy being recognized because of it.
DP: Before this show, were you recognized mostly for particular movie roles in your past, or a recent movie, or your entire body or work?
JR: I have been acting for a long time, so being recognized happens fairly frequently, especially in New York, but I don’t completely know the answer to that. I can say that when I’ve been a guest on a TV show like Law and Order or Elementary, suddenly people recognize me all over the place. Also, I have more than 100 credits for movies and television, and because of cable they’re on all time, even the little indie movies. I had almost completely forgotten about a movie in 1987 directed by Frank Perry, Hello, Again, with Shelley Long. But fans remember it.
DP: By the time you made your first movie, Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, you were already 30. Did you try to get into movies earlier or were you thinking of being a theater actor?
JR: I was actually thinking of becoming a theater director. I had done some acting at Wesleyan as an undergrad and then graduated from Yale Drama School in 1975. But frankly, the first year I came to New York I was intimidated and wasn’t sure I really wanted to be an actor. I took a directing workshop with Nikos Psacharopolous at Circle in the Square, which was very exciting. I directed a production of Streetcar Named Desire and produced Christopher Durang’s first commercial production, Titanic, with Sigourney Weaver. They were both classmates of mine at Yale. I also commissioned him to write Das Lusitania Songspiel, which went on to become a signature piece for them. Then in the summer of 1976, I was an assistant director at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I also worked on Nikos’s production of The Three Sisters there, running lines with Blythe Danner. That’s when I was thinking of becoming a director. But then I realized that wasn’t my passion and decided I really wanted to be an actor. So I came back to New York and focused on acting. I got a job to support myself, as a weekend desk clerk at the Chelsea Hotel. That was the era of Sid Vicious, Joey Ramone and Viva. Meanwhile I was taking any role that came my way. I did a play at Ensemble Studio Theatre on West 52nd Street. A great agent, Jeff Hunter, saw the play and took me out to the Russian Tea Room and said he wanted to represent me.
DP: What were your acting ambitions then—to be a leading man or a character actor?
JR: I was sort of wanting to be a leading man, but I recognized that I was a character actor. In fact, Bobby Lewis, my teacher at Yale, actually said, “You’re a character actor.” Today I’m delighted to call myself a character actor, but at the time I thought there was something dismissive about calling me that. Anyway, I was working at the Chelsea when a guy came in named Dan Mason. He ran the Van Dam Theatre downtown and told me that Michael Murphy was directing Rat’s Nest there, and had lost one of his actors. So I took the very funny part of a liquor salesman at a dive bar. Woody Allen came to see it because he and Michael were best friends. When I met Woody for Stardust Memories, we talked about his having seen the play.
DP: Did Woody Allen offer you a part after seeing the play?
JR: Yes, and it turned out to be a fabulous job. I was wanted for 24 weeks, the whole picture and reshoots, playing the boyfriend of Jessica Harper. I knew Jessica from when we did theater at Wesleyan, and now she is my sister-in-law, having married my brother [film executive, Tom Rothman]. When we were shooting, Woody and Jessica were good friends and sometimes went to Elaine’s for lunch when we were shooting at Filmways on 126th Street, and she would tell me to come along. Then I did Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo with him.
DP: And Radio Days, from which your part got cut.
JR: That was hard. People were telling me that I was part of his company and would be with him forever. So I thought I’d arrived. I believed it when I got my scenes in advance for Radio Days and he’d written a very funny part for me, a radio actor. But he cut that part and gave me another very funny part as a pretentious actor in a company doing Chekov on the radio. That part was cut too, except for one scene in which his radio play is interrupted by the announcement that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. So there was not much of me left in the movie. Radio Days was my last film with Woody, but in 1996, I was in one of his plays, Death Defying Acts, off-Broadway, playing opposite Valerie Harper in his “Central Park West” segment. A couple years ago, I understudied seven roles in Woody Allen, Elaine May and Ethan Cohen’s Relatively Speaking, directed by John Turturro, actually going on in five of them; and for a week I took over for Richard Libertini as the drunk rabbi in Woody’s play, Honeymoon Hotel. My motto as an actor is “It is never too late,” so I really hope to do another movie with Woody someday. (I hope he is reading this!)
The 80s was a very exciting time for me. New York wasn’t the film mecca it is today, but I was doing a couple of major films each year here, and back in the day they paid good residuals. Juliet Taylor, who did Woody’s casting, also cast me in movies by Mike Nichols and Paul Mazursky, as well as Big. Karen Rea cast me in Ghostbusters. I also did Alan Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice with Meryl Streep, another friend from Yale Drama School. So I had a pretty nice career going.
DP: In the 90s, you were in such films as Anthony Minghella’s Mr Wonderful and Copycat with Sigourney Weaver, in which you had a substantial part, but you also did several TV movies, most notably Gettysburg, and made many appearances in regular series and mini-series. You were even in your only other series prior to One Mississippi, Birdland with Brian Dennehy.
JR: It wasn’t until the mid-90s, when there were few feature films made in New York, that I’d have to go out to L.A. to work, and like everybody else, try to get a TV pilot. On my first foray in Hollywood, I had a ticket to come back to New York but during that two-week window I went to network at ABC and I got that series. I had fun playing someone who ran a hospital and working with Brian and all the great character actors who were brought in. It was a highly anticipated mid-season replacement beautifully produced by the legendary Walter Parks and Laurie MacDonald. The great screenwriter Scott Frank wrote the pilot but then, for whatever reason, he was no longer in the writers’ room and the scripts suffered. It was a very expensive series so it was pulled after only seven episodes. That was my only regular role in a series prior to One Mississippi, but I also had a recurring role in which I was in every episode of a terrific show called Feds with John Slattery, Dylan Baker and Blair Brown. It was shot in New York and dealt with white-collar crime, and unfortunately it was the rare Dick Wolf series that was short-lived.
DP: Since 2000, you have appeared in a number of significant films, including The Devil Wears Prada, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I Heart Huckabees, United 93, Reservation Road and Welcome to Mooseport, as well as many popular TV series. Did your ambitions change?
JR: No. I always just wanted to get better at acting, whether it’s being in plays, television shows or movies. Acting always interested me. I love good acting and like to promote and encourage it. After Yale Drama School, I studied with Michael Howard and Austin Pendleton, and I’ve continued to study acting and work on the craft ever since. I’m a lifetime member of the Actors Studio and am involved in The Actor’s Center Workshop Company, where for 20 years I have had the tremendous opportunity to work with great master teachers like Ron Van Lieu, who is the former head of at acting at Yale and NYU and is now at Columbia.
DP: What is an ideal year for you as an actor?
JR: A decent role in a feature film, a couple of episodes in a television series, a couple of commercials, and a play or two. That’s what I normally have done almost every year, before also doing One Mississippi to stream on Amazon. Almost every actor that I know has had long periods when they can’t get work, but I’ve been extremely lucky and worked consistently. I’ve actually never had a long time when I’ve been out of work and had to question what the hell I was doing.
DP: As a New York actor, I know you appeared in a few soap operas going back to the early 80s, but did you ever desire to become a regular?
JR: No, absolutely not. I admired many of the New York actors who did soaps in the day and theater at night, but it could be a trap for some. I wanted to have time to do movies and other things. I am grateful for having been in soap operas, but I found them incredibly difficult to do because I’d be coming into a long story that I didn’t really know and the dialogue I’d be given was usually very expositional. The longest job I had was every couple of weeks one summer: I’d play a brain surgeon on As the World Turns, or whatever soap it was, and he’d have to explain to whoever came to see to him about the memory loss of the main character. It paid well, but it was so boring. It is a unique subculture, but the few soaps that remain tape in Los Angeles. I was in Guiding Light in 2007 and 2009, when they were suddenly shooting with digital cameras. They stopped having rehearsals and it was a bare bones operation. It was the end of an era.
DP: For most films, do you have to audition or do directors or casting agents give you parts based on your past work?
JR: It’s a combination. I don’t mind getting a good audition when I get the script in advance, think about how I’m going to do it and meet the director. What helps me psychologically at auditions is that I always think I’m going to get the part. I don’t think about the odds or who I’m up against, I always assume the miracle will happen. It’s a constant hustle.
DP: One really good recent movie role you got was in Laurie Simmons’ My Art, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival. I really like that unusual movie and think you’re terrific as one of her artist character’s suitors. We don’t like your character, a successful lawyer, when they go out on a date. But he surprises us and we get to like him when he agrees to act in her recreations of classic movie scenes.
JR: You think he’s a jerk, but he falls in love with acting. I have to say that my father was a trial lawyer who wanted to be an actor and helped found Center Stage in Baltimore. There’s a wonderful scene, in which my character talks to her other suitor, played by Robert Clohessy—after they do the Jules and Jim running scene with Laurie—and asks himself why he didn’t always act because it’s so great. I was totally channeling my father.
DP: How did you hear that Tig Notaro was going to do a semi-autobiographical series that was going to stream on Amazon?
JR: It was one of those things that make you believe in higher powers! A week before I heard about the show, I was sick at home looking for something to watch on television. I chose to watch a documentary on Netflix about her called Tig. There is actually another documentary about her that I also saw. In Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro, she goes around the country doing stand-up in people’s living rooms, basements and backyards. I had done an audition to play Desdemona’s father, Brabanzio, in Othello in Washington, D.C. Afterward, I was sure I got the part. My agent called me on a Friday afternoon and said, “Sorry, he’s hiring an English actor that he’s worked with umpteen times before.” So I hung up the phone feeling really disgusted. Then the phone rang and it was Bryan Walsh, a savvy young agent I didn’t know from my agency’s office in L.A. He asked me, “Do you know who Tig Notaro is?” I said, “It’s funny you should ask. I do know because I just watched two documentaries about her.”
He said, “Well, she is going to have a television series on Amazon and I got you an audition, that is, they would like you to self-tape an audition. He emailed me the script and the sides. There were five or six scenes with Bill and a description of him being a totally repressed guy who had “a temperament between room temperature and sleet.” Frankly, I thought I was completely wrong for this, being kind of an emotional guy. But my wife reminded me, “You’re an actor.” She meant I’d have to figure out how to tap into that part of myself. I got the script on a Friday and went to the Tape Room on Monday. I wanted it to look good, so I went to a professional studio.” An actress I knew, Kellie Overbey was working there and having her do the scenes with me was very helpful.
A couple of weeks went by and then I got a call saying, “Tig loved the tape and wants to meet you.” At the time Louis C.K. was going to direct [as well as be one of the executive producers], so I went to Pig Newton Inc., his production company in New York, to meet Tig and do the scenes with her. Tig’s wife, Stephanie Allynne [who plays Kate the sound engineer at the radio station “Tig” is attracted to in Season 1] and the casting director Gayle Keller were also there. My son, Noah, who is a manager, advised me very strongly to go in character. Tig’s real stepfather, Ric, appears briefly in her documentary, so I got glasses to match his, and was in character, playing him with a temperament between room temperature and sleet. I did all the scenes with Tig and at one point I apologized for needing to look at the script, and she said, “You don’t need the lines, you are Bill.” So when I left, I believed she was going to want me for the role. Yet I was competing for a part many actors wanted—and Tig told me they’d seen hundreds of actors, including some I knew—and Louis, Amazon Studios and FX Studios had to sign off on me. Fortunately Amazon is known for giving the creators of their shows their way, and Tig wanted me. Pretty soon after, I was told I got the role by my agents. When Louis dropped out as director two weeks before we started shooting the pilot—and Nicole Holofcener stepped in, which was fantastic—I was already cast.
DP: Were you thinking you had to do the show in New Orleans?
JR: Yes. The pilot was done there, and the other shows were done in L.A. and Galveston, Texas because Gulf Coast Galveston and Mississippi are very similar. None of the scenes in the first season took place in New Orleans. For Season 2, however, in May we shot in Pass Christian, where the real Tig grew up—Bill, “Tig” and Remy are supposed to live in the fictional Bay St. Lucille, Mississippi—and in New Orleans, where some of the story takes place.
DP: After the pilot was shot, were there already scripts for the other five episodes of Season 1?
JR: No. The pilot was completed in September, if I remember correctly, and the pickup was not until November or December. There was a long break. They hadn’t written the first season, just the pilot and an outline for the rest of the shows. They went back into the writers’ room again in January. Meanwhile Trevor Nunn asked me to be in Pericles, but the Theatre for a New Audience wouldn’t let me do it unless it got a letter from Amazon saying I wouldn’t be needed for the show until after the play’s final performance. Louis’ chief producing partner, Blair Breard, whom I love, actually went to Amazon and got a letter saying we wouldn’t go into production until after March 26. So I was able to do the play while they were writing the rest of the scripts. My wife and I read the scripts for Season 1 on the plane out to L.A. where there would be a table reading for Amazon and FX, before we started the season. They were some of the best scripts I ever read, and we were both weeping at the end.
DP: Well, at the end of Episode 6 Bill says nice things to Tig on the phone after she gets a cancer-free diagnosis, and she is so touched that she puts his name in her phone as a contact person. I got misty-eyed.
JR: Me too. I read that in the script, but because Bill is in Mississippi and “Tig” is in California in that scene, I didn’t actually see her put his name in until I watched the series.
DP: Tig and Diablo Cody were credited with co-creating show, but Tig had a number of women writing with her in Season 1.
JR: This season there were six writers working on One Mississippi. Tig said, in an interview I did with her for Vulture, that people encouraged her to write the whole thing herself. She said she is glad that she didn’t. Having a writers’ room gives her the distance she needs. Kate Robin is our showrunner. She was the head writer on Six Feet Under and has written scripts for The Affair. She is such a good writer, and Tig and Stephanie are a really good writing team. The other wonderful writers this season are Cara DiPaolo, Zoe Jarman and Rebecca Walker. Tig has said that the pilot was about 80 percent from her real life and by the time we get to the sixth episode it was only about 30 percent. In Season 2, I think we’ve created a world that is now only loosely based on ” the facts.” The world of One Mississippi is expanding.
DP: An almost rhetorical question: Do you think One Mississippi has always been a catharsis for Tig?
JR: Yes. There are a lot of difficult themes in Season 1, so it must have been hard for her. But Tig and Stephanie have adorable twins now and she seems like a very fulfilled and happy person. I think she’s really loving doing this.
DP: When you went back to shoot the full first season, did you still feel you had to stay in character?
JR: At first I wanted everyone to believe I was this guy who wasn’t social, but at a certain point I didn’t feel I had to do that anymore. So I could be myself.
DP: Did you still feel you weren’t at all like Bill?
JR: I was doing a SAG Foundation Q&A, and telling the story about how I got the part and my reaction, and one of my best friends, the actor Philip Casnoff, was there and he said, “You know, I don’t think it’s true. I know you very well, and in many ways you are just like Bill.” I think he isn’t wrong and I have discovered aspects of my personality I didn’t know I possessed.
DP: I find Bill so fascinating because there’s no one quite like him and I’m constantly trying to figure him out.
JR: People have told me, “He doesn’t exist in television.” There’s a line in one of the episodes: “He’s not normal.” Why can’t he do this or that? Because he’s not normal. I love that and it’s great finding the ways that he’s not normal.
DP: We grow fond of him because we see his genuine affection for “Tig.”
JR: Right. But I think it’s really part of my job as an actor to defend my character and his actions. I think Bill’s highly defensible. I’m fine with the parts of him that aren’t normal because that makes him so interesting. Playing him, it helps to be a father and remember how I wanted my children to follow the rules I had laid down for them and the frustration I felt when they didn’t.
DP: In the pilot, the fictional Bill makes the strong point that “Tig” isn’t his blood relative. In the final episode, Bill tells her, “You’re like a daughter to me.” So it’s a 100 percent reversal. But looking back, do you think that in the pilot Bill already thought of her as his daughter but was unable to tell her that?
JR: Yeah. But there is a reason they’re estranged as they are, which comes up obliquely during Season 1. In Episode 5, directed by the brilliant Ken Kwapis, Bill tells her to get over the past because the man who molested her when she was a girl has been dead for 30 years. He tells her she has to let go of it. “It’s the past.”
DP: Bill has a strong responsibility regarding his family, so this was his great failure.
JR: Right. There’s a scene in Episode 5, when Bill and “Tig” have a confrontation. He tells her defensively, “Caroline and I didn’t know. How could we have known?” What happened after they did find out? Just think about one thing in regard to Bill’s character. “Tig” has come back to Mississippi to live with him. If she didn’t have a caring relationship with him, she wouldn’t do that.
DP: Even as we grow fonder of Bill, we continue to think there is something odd about him. I think you could go back to his youth for some answers as to why he is like he is.
JR: I said part of my job is to defend my character. It is also to create his back story. His biography is my secret. I did some research into compulsive disorders, what they’re about and where they come from. It has really helped me understand Bill. I think the compulsions he has are the result of anxiety, his cover and his way of handling the world. He tries to make his world ordered, clean and perfect because there’s something really scary in his world he doesn’t want to face, even if he perhaps doesn’t know what it is.
DP: I read in an interview that you use Bill’s glasses as a mask, but I think you really get into your character by having a straight posture. There is a stiffness to how you stand and move.
JR: When I said I had to do work in order to be Bill, I had to change my physicality and come up with that body language. It has evolved. Tig did an amazing Moth Radio Hour in which she talks about Ric and says she thought of him as R2-D2, except that R2-D2 had a heart and he didn’t. So when Bill is walking and talking, I am thinking of a robot—although I don’t want it to be too much. I also had this image of him being a good soldier, and his trying to get through his grief of losing his wife by soldiering on. So there was a military bearing that I added. Things happen the second season that allow him to relax a bit—he has a love affair—but I didn’t want to lose how I played him before because that’s who he is. Even if he “loosens up” a bit, he doesn’t change his body language.
DP: “Tig” has visions of Caroline that are onscreen. Does Bill have such visions offscreen?
JR: There’s a moving moment when Bill lies in bed and longingly puts his hand on his late wife’s pillow, but no he doesn’t have visions of her. He doesn’t want to. He’s pushing that away. Part of how he deals with his grief is to not go there. That’s why he tells “Tig” and Remy to get all the furniture out of the house. He wants to get rid of everything that reminds him of her.
DP: A lot of times, we look into Bill’s face and we see what we think is frustration but if we look closer we can detect a bit of anguish. Is he feeling hurt or pain?
JR: Both. I admire Tig enormously and think she has a killer sense of the truth as well as an absolute killer sense of humor. (My god, the woman is so funny—witty actually. I really think she is a comic genius.) From moment to moment, she is in touch with what’s going on, and what she’s feeling and what other characters are feeling. I find that I am in character most of the time when I’m with her and we’re going to do a scene. There’s a discomfort there. And though I’d like to be closer to her, that is so helpful to me in playing Bill. In their relationship, Bill can easily be hurt. For example, when he invites her to dinner and she doesn’t show up, I totally identified with that and found it very hurtful. And even if he accepted Caroline having an affair, I think there’s a lot of hurt in there. Yet, he’s managed to be an extremely successful businessman and a pillar in his community. He has his own world, and he’s figured out a strategy that allows him to get up every day and do his thing. But he can’t allow himself to think about it too much. He has to put one foot in front of the other and make sure all the ducks are in a row.
DP: Another word I want to ask you about in regard to Bill is “lonely.”
JR: He’s incredibly lonely. That is actually a theme in the second season, when women realize there is this well-off, eligible guy and come after him. He’s lonely but he has his world, and does he have room to let anyone else in other than “Tig” and Remy?
DP: Does “Tig” recognize his loneliness?
JR: Not really, because she has her own things going on. She knows who he is and has expectations. Sometimes he foils her expectations and really surprises her, but typically, it’s just, “This is just Bill being Bill, don’t pay any attention to him.”
DP: We see that Bill really cares about “Tig,” that he loves her, although he can’t express it. That’s his redeeming quality.
JR: And he loves Remy. Bill and “Tig” have that fight I mentioned in which he pushes her to stop thinking about the past. The next time they speak, on the phone, he says he has to apologize. But all he can apologize for is wrongly accusing her of opening the door and letting his cat run away. That’s extraordinary writing.
DP: It’s as if he’s saying “I want to apologize about the cat” and then in parenthesis, “and everything else.”
DP: Because Bill is unable to physically express affection for “Tig,” was it hard doing her fantasy scene at the end of Season 1 in which she returns to live in the house and he gives her a big hug?
JR: No, that was really great. It was the last scene in the sixth episode and it was also the last scene we shot in Season 1. I’ll tell you something funny. I wear a shirt and the costume designer wanted it to be a softer shirt in the fantasy scene. I was fine with that. And Tig said, “No. You can’t be in that shirt, because he would never wear it under any circumstances.” She was so precise in what she wanted. In one scene, Bill was supposed to say something like, “Are you finished?” or “Are you done?” and Tig said, “Bill would never say ‘done.’”
DP: Did you think your character changed or revealed himself more as Season 1 progressed?
JR: Yes. For the upcoming season, I got the scripts in advance and read everything multiple times. There were times I’d question Bill saying something in the script and suggest an alternative. Ninety-nine percent of the time we would go back to what the writers wrote. Tig and the writers were almost always right about the smallest things. The degree of refinement and polish in the scripts is extraordinary.
DP: How could you play Bill wrongly?
JR: By relaxing. And being myself. The directors are a key for me. They all seemed to have had a sense of who Bill is, and if I wasn’t doing Bill, they reminded me to get back on track. Bill has a friend this season played by a fabulous actress, Sheryl Lee Ralph of Dreamgirls on Broadway. She was heaven to work with. Our English director, Minkie Spiro was just amazing directing us. She had directed many episodes of Downton Abbey—and I told her I thought there was a whole lot of Carson, the stern butler, in Bill. She’d say to me, “You’re Bill, but I want you to remember to up the Carson.”
DP: Do you think that Bill and Caroline had a platonic relationship?
JR: No. Bill is alive in there, I just have to remember that this is his story, not mine. It is hard to find Bill sometimes, especially in the heat of passion. Bill doesn’t react in the normal way. Bill is something else.
DP: Although Bill is not normal, as you say, and doesn’t always say or do the best thing, he truly loves “Tig” and wants to protect her—maybe because he didn’t when she was young.
JR: Absolutely. I just can’t wait till people watch their relationship in Season 2 because it goes in fascinating directions. I’ve managed to maintain his degree of complexity and internal conflict in the second season. I was given fabulous opportunities.
Danny Peary has published 25 books on film and sports, including Cult Movies and Jackie Robinson in Quotes.