[04/22/09 - 07:00 PM]
Live at the Paley Festival: HBO's "Big Love"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: As always, due to the Paley Festival's policy of not allowing electronic devices during the panels, I won't be blogging the event "live." Plus, I don't want to be the douche with a laptop clicking away when everyone's trying to enjoy the show. In any case, look for my handwritten blog - how 20th century - to be transcribed and appear around 11:00 PM PT each night. And if I'm feeling adventurous, you might get a few tweets from the after parties.]

7:00 PM - Tonight's very amusing legacy clip comes from a 1986 episode of "L.A. Law" in which a group of women realize they're married to the same man - but can't bring themselves to leave him.

7:06 PM - Paleyfest I'm-running-out-of-nicknames Craig Hitchcock welcomes us to night 12 of this year's event, noting this is actually his favorite show.

7:09 PM - Craig brings out tonight's moderator, Mary McNamara from the L.A. Times. She notes we'll be seeing a brief clip package from this past season.

7:22 PM - Mary returns to bring out the panelists: Matt Ross! Grace Zabriskie! Harry Dean Stanton! Ginnifer Goodwin! Oops, Mary mistakenly thought she was here. Chloe Sevigny! Jeanne Tripplehorn! Bill Paxton! Mark V. Olsen! Will Scheffer!

7:26 PM - Bill notes they should all do a "Big Love" movie as the show looks so good on the big screen.

7:27 PM - Mary says she has three big questions: Is Roman really dead? ("I've gotten more response to this series than anything I've ever done practically," Harry notes. "Except a couple hundred other movies. I'm very famous, I'm a legend." Mark and Will nevertheless confirm, "Dead is dead on this show.") Is Rhonda really gone? ("She's a gal who makes her way around," Will says.) And where the hell is Teenie? (Will remarks she's been shuttling between camp and Barb's mom's house. "Don't you think the writers have an obligation to explain that on camera?" Will adds sarcastically.)

7:33 PM - Matt on Alby's arc this season: "I was very happy to see that I had some interaction with Chloe, she humanized Alby a little bit. I think I made some effort to do that last year, which was probably cut out by Mark and Will. [Laughs.] I've actually never discussed that with them."

7:36 PM - Grace on her character's attempted murder of her husband: "That was one of my favorite scenes of all the seasons because in this one, even when I'm practicing with the plastic bag to see how it feels... They actually kept what I thought was my little tip, little fabulous thing at the end which is I finally take it off and I check the toaster and [fixes my hair]."

7:39 PM - "I get all the great zingers," Chloe admits about Nicki. "And look at these legs!" Harry exclaims.

7:40 PM - Chloe on this year's revelations: "I had known that I was married previous[ly] but the rest of the family didn't know. [The producers and I] had talked about that when we had spoken of my backstory." Mark adds, "I had always assumed that the family knew you were married. What they didn't know, you spun it, 'Oh it was wonderful, it broke up amicably!'" Chloe however did not know that Nicki had a child. "The joy book scene actually was a big scene. The art department had asked me to get a picture of myself as a teenager to bring in and that helped with the tears... looking at myself as a teen. It was very easy!"

7:43 PM - Mark on why the joy books are filled with pictures of calves and feet and teeth: "The basic premise we had was what do you want to know if you're buying a good horse? You want to check the teeth, check the legs..." Will adds, "Yes, really it's true." Everyone is officially creeped out.

7:45 PM - "I think the writers' strike certainly changed the way we get our stories," Mark says about the real-life events that occurred during the hiatus. "We knew we had to acknowledge what happened in Texas... When we began the show we would say constantly we're presenting the material, we're not passing judgment. We're presenting the material but we're agnostic on this material. And I think we believed that and I think we were for the first couple of years. But after working with this material you start to develop a point of view on it and it's hard not to let that into the show. We felt like we could do that this year. And we did."

7:46 PM - Will adds: "There was like the distinguishing factor between the suburban polygamists - the good polygamists - and the bad compound. But you can only deal with that for so long without saying this is actual stuff that goes on in the compound, this is the kind of mentality there is there, this is the kind of immorality that goes on there in the name of some sort of morality. So you have to start to like kind of find a way to play those things and still keep it interesting... but I think we had grown into that at the point. And some of these stories, the compound stories were already in place before Texas. We had lived with the material long enough as Mark said that we knew we had to get more of a darker reality of the compound polygamy into the show."

7:50 PM - Mary asks if Jeanne thinks Barb is happy. "It is a good question," she responds. "I just can't wait to see what is ahead for this family, for Barb. Really, I'm so excited to start shooting again in August because I have no idea personally where Barb is going to go. I have a feeling that the Henricksons, you know, are starting, are truly starting their own faith and I hope that Barb takes a real active role and embraces this new faith."

7:51 PM - Harry's response: "What about me, I'm dead!" This quickly becomes a recurring refrain by Harry.

7:53 PM - Bill on his one episode marriage to Ana: "If I hadn't pressed her on those tips, she might still be with us! [He] didn't know when to stop, you know, he pushed her too far." He goes on to list the various trials Bill has gone through this season: "The litany is unbelievable. I have a twitch I got. [I thought] I'm having a stroke but I have this twitch. [I had to wait] after the show wrapped to get rid of it. I'm not winking at you. It was exhausting, it really was."

7:57 PM - "Jeanne asked two questions after the first table read," Mark shares. "'Am I going to play cancer all year?' and 'Is Branka really coming into the family?'"

7:58 PM - Bill notes that he didn't quite think the audience would buy the scene in which he professes his love for his wives in front of both his mother-in-laws. "I already had a foot on a banana peel, now I've got one on a roller skate too! [But] it came out in the wash." Jeanne adds: "It was the craziest season. We were all [like], 'How is this going to work?' I remember, you know, talking and saying, 'I just don't know that the audience is going to keep up with this. I can't keep up with this!' And I could not have been more wrong. It was the best season we had. I was so concerned that we were going to lose people just based on every hour."

7:59 PM - Harry's response: "But you're still alive, I'm fucking dead!"

8:00 PM - Mark and Will reveal they had a hard time breaking the last two episodes. "Up until about episode seven, there was a wonderful kind of Pythagorean theorem [for] all these stories and laying them in and when to dip in and out," Mark says. "But the real headache began in the last two episodes. Like, what the hell do we do? How do we carry all these threads? How do we sustain them and give answers to these stories that are meaningful but not necessarily plot heavy. There were major headaches trying to crack those last two episodes, to carry all of this forward all the way through the finale."

8:01 PM - Will adds: "I think Mark drove us all as writers to really make bold choices. If we're going to do something in the sixth episode, he was like let's do it in the third episode. You know, just kind of the driving force behind this season last year Mark wanted to just for the bold all the time and then worry about what's going to happen on the other side."

8:02 PM - Mark gives the overall theme for the past season: "What do you do when the fundamental stated purpose of the family begins to implode?"

8:04 PM - Jeanne reveals the cast and crew actually went on a road trip for the sixth episode. "Chloe and I we rode in my little Prius. And then Peter [Friedlander] drove the Playtone van. And Amanda and Ginny..." "And their two cats," Chloe interrupts, followed by a crazy signal. Jeanne continues: "And we had walkie talkies and... it was the greatest time." Bill adds they rocked a local El Torito "like it's never been rocked." Chloe also notes that "Entourage" got to go to Cannes, they got to go to Sacramento.

8:09 PM - So what about the theme for season four? "One of the things we're exploring is - not that we haven't explored this before - but the subjugation of women," Will says. "But I think we're going to do it in a deeper way. And there's some connections in that that are fresh and new." Mark adds: "I think one thing that we're looking at, I think we've found in the writers' room so far is finding a story, a single story that brings in all the family to it."

8:10 PM - "What about Roman?" Harry barks. "Roman's presence on the show is huge next year," Will responds. "From the grave he's still creating, all these things are coming to light that were hidden... things are coming up to attack Bill from the past, from the grave."

8:12 PM - Mark also teases they have a pretty big story in mind for Lois: "The last line she spoke, I believe it was in episode two last year, where she went up to Wanda and says, 'Might you tell me from where you made the purchase of that bird so if I might want one for companionship I would know where to procure one.' That's the hint."

8:16 PM - "You know what I love," Jeanne shares. "I just have to say I love women and power tools on this show."

8:20 PM - Mark on his annual experience with the show: "I usually, I can kind of clock a breakdown I'm going to have each season, like a tantrum, an extended five-day tantrum of 'I'm exhausted, I'm tired, what is the point?' It happens every year. And every year it's the same thing that brings me back... we go into the editing room and seeing these performances... sometimes it zaps me how beautiful it is."

8:24 PM - Mark on wrestling with faith on television: "It was something that we in the writers' room, we were afraid of it the first year... It seemed like faith and religion were the third rail. It was strange that we were dramatizing the lives of a family where the central underlying tenant of that family was faith based, but we didn't want to go there. We didn't really want to own that territory. And I think by the end of the season we realized that we had made a mistake on that, that we need to embrace that. And we have since - we're really giving these people that spiritual background, backbone."

8:26 PM - Harry being Harry: "We're holding the mirror up to nature... that's our job as actors. What we're getting into here is the whole belief system on the whole planet. You've got Buddism, Taoism - which is the same - the Kabbalah, Jews use Kabbalah as the same thing. The Jews don't believe it, not all of them, nor the Christians. We've got all of these religions which are macrocosms of the ego. When man thought he was a separate individual with a separate soul created by one's situation." I can't keep up.

8:28 PM - Mary opens the floor to audience Q&A.

8:29 PM - Someone asks if we'll see more of how the children perceive the parents' polygamy. "Absolutely," Will says. "That's gold to us."

8:31 PM - A fan suggests that Mark and Will must have Mormon backgrounds since they "get" the faith he was raised in so well. Not so says Mark. "Number one I love research. Number two I love American history. And I like biting off big chunks of both. Coming out of the gate first year we felt we really had to prove our Mormon bona fide. We couldn't mess that up. And I'm pleased to report that from sources in Salt Lake the only thing we got wrong was the pronunciation of [mermaids]. And that was about it."

8:34 PM - How many years do the guys have planned out for the show? "The problem is the show we started out to write, the original six-year agenda, we finished that [the] end of [the] third year. We started galloping through story and the stories change. So we're constantly looking... [but I think] the show has more depth and more life than we ever imagined."

8:37 PM - Someone asks the veteran actors about working with newbies on the show. Grace has the best answer: "Normally when you go on location... everybody gathers in the bar, maybe the first day, everybody comes and sure enough, somebody elects themselves cast asshole."

8:44 PM - A fan asks Chloe about her clothing line.

8:45 PM - Will notes they just lost their only Mormon raised writer on staff - Dustin Lance Black, who's gone on to win the Oscar for "Milk."

8:46 PM - "How are we going to end this?" Harry muses. Insane or awesome, you decide.

8:47 PM - The guys credit former HBO executive Carolyn Strauss for coming up with The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" as the theme song.

8:49 PM - Matt on Alby's closeted homosexuality: "For me, it wasn't clear in the beginning. We never talked about it, it just sort of evolved. It's one of those things - you participate in a longform narrative... you're reading and 'Oh!' [Laughs.] It's great, it deepens him so much."

8:50 PM - A fan gives Bill props for his work on "Aliens" and Harry for his work on "Alien." "I'm proud to have that on my resume," Bill notes. "That Harry was in 'Alien.' Boy, I remember seeing that in Times Square - on acid." Harry suggests he perform a citizens' arrest.

8:51 PM - Will on what's ahead for Margene: "If Bill permits her, there's a chance she could become the queen of the QVC."

8:53 PM - On that note, it's a wrap! We're in the home stretch - see you guys tomorrow!

  [april 2009]  


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