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FX gets a big-name lawyer: Glenn Close

Category: Therese Raquin News (Archived)
Article Date: July 15, 2007 | Publication: Los Angeles Times | Author: Matea Gold
Source: Los Angeles Times

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The actress makes a long-term commitment to 'Damages,' and the network hopes audiences follow suit.

New York WHEN Glenn Close started production this spring on "Damages," the new FX legal thriller in which she plays a wily, high-priced litigator, the veteran performer felt an unfamiliar bout of anxiety.

"I found it very, very difficult, because there was no end," Close said of diving into the television series. "In theater or movies, there's a beginning, a middle and an end. And you own your character; you do your research, within the universe of that. Well, you can't do that with something like this, and it's really giving up something that in the beginning was making me feel very insecure."

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For help, Close turned to acting coach Harold Guskin, an instructor she's consulted throughout her career, who advised her to think of the series as "kind of like life: you just live the moment, and you're up for whatever the writers give you." "In a way, it was very freeing," said the 60-year-old actress with a relieved smile during a break between scenes at a Brooklyn soundstage on a recent afternoon.

Close may now be more relaxed about the show, which premieres July 24, but FX executives are still contending with their own pre-launch nerves as they wait to discover whether "Damages" will deliver the network a long-overdue water cooler hit.

The stakes are high: The basic cable network, known for its array of idiosyncratic dramas, has yet to match the success it found with "Nip/Tuck," which averaged 3.88 million viewers last season and beat out its cable rivals in the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. The war drama "Over There" and the Andre Braugher crime series "Thief" were both canceled after one season. The network's newest offerings "Dirt" and "The Riches" have been renewed, although neither was a breakout hit in its freshman year. And next year, "The Shield," FX's first signature show, is concluding its run.



FX feels growing pains

PERSUADING viewers to regard FX as more than a purveyor of provocative niche programming is key to the future of the network, a lucrative piece of the News Corp. empire. Although FX generates substantial revenue for its corporate parent with a projected cash flow this year of $322 million, up 7% from 2006, according to Kagan Research it's still trying to shed its reputation as the poor man's HBO.

"I will admit that this is a work in process, this expansion and definition of our brand," said John Landgraf, president of FX Networks. "We're trying as a channel to reach maturity."

Landing Close as the lead of "Damages" will help speed that process, executives hope. "It's really important to have people like Glenn who can lead a broader audience to FX," Landgraf said. "We are 'The Shield,' and I'm proud that we are, but we're more than 'The Shield.' Every form of genre and character is being explored."

"Damages" is the first television series she has signed on to do for more than one season and represents a substantial commitment by Close, whose work in films such as "Fatal Attraction" and "Dangerous Liaisons" garnered her five Oscar nominations in six years.

As Patty Hewes, the controlling attorney at the heart of the program, Close plays a woman whose ruthless maneuvering keeps everyone around her guessing, even as she struggles with her own vulnerabilities. The character echoes the kind of fierce, conniving women that helped define her career early on.

"Ultimately, the chance to play a character like this at my age, a woman in power, is kind of rare," she said as she perched on a rolling chair on the set of her corporate office, legs crossed under her gray pencil skirt, appearing surprisingly delicate and soft-spoken. "I'm always kind of seduced by new experiences and decided to jump in."

Close brings with her a cinematic heft in keeping with the ambition of the series. In crafting the serialized legal thriller, the writer-producer trio that created the show brothers Todd A. Kessler and Glenn Kessler and their longtime friend Daniel Zelman said they drew inspiration from film directors like Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann and Roman Polanski as they sought to explore the cost of power.

"It's really much closer to a film than television," said Todd Kessler, whose credits include "The Sopranos." "We're very interested in exploring the intricacies and nuances of character. You're not entirely sure who's good and bad."

The characters are awash in gray tones, their motives elusive particularly Hewes, who employs underhanded tactics in the name of justice. FX was "very encouraging of certain ambiguities that, in our experience, network television doesn't necessarily allow for in the storytelling," Zelman said. "They never started from a place of asking the question 'Is she sympathetic?' "

Perhaps that's because "Damages" fits in neatly with FX's efforts to create a brand of provocative anti-heroes. "We don't do genre in the way other networks do genre," Landgraf said.

FX's version of a medical drama is "Nip/Tuck," a moody take on the culture of plastic surgery. Its resident cop show, "The Shield," is known for its gritty exploration of police corruption. "Rescue Me" portrays a group of New York firefighters tormented by personal demons.

Keen on finding its own iteration of the legal genre, the network snapped up "Damages" when its creators pitched the concept, and the show sped through the development process in six months. "A show that works on our air is both very broadly commercial and grippingly entertaining," Landgraf said. "We felt that the Kesslers cracked that code."

"Damages" may technically be a legal drama, but it is built around cliffhangers rather than the tidy resolutions of crimes that mark procedurals like "Law & Order." It's a risky approach, considering the spate of complicated serialized dramas that failed last season, done in by the sizable time commitments they demand of their audiences.

In the first few minutes of the pilot, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) is seen stumbling through the streets of New York, wearing only a blood-drenched trench coat and lingerie. The events that triggered the episode will not be clear until the end of the season, which uses flashbacks to trace the story of Ellen, fresh out of law school, as she joins Patty's firm. She's immediately thrust into a class-action suit Patty is mounting against Arthur Frobisher, a billionaire chief executive played by Ted Danson, a case that extracts steep personal costs from the young attorney.

"It's a potboiler," said Danson. "You have this kind of old-fashioned 'Can't wait to turn the page to see what happens next.' "

The 59-year-old actor jumped at the chance to play the show's putative villain, a role he said "almost feels like falling into a nice warm bath."

"Mostly I've been doing comedy, certainly recently, and I think part of me was happy not to be doing that particular dance again," Danson said. "Comedy is hard. This is outrageous fun."

Byrne, 27, an Australian native who has been in films including "28 Weeks Later" and "Troy," said she was attracted to being part of an unorthodox television program. "To have a successful film, you've got to really do a formulaic, homogenized thing that's for the masses, whereas TV is really pushing the boundaries," she said.



Close takes the plunge

FOR her part, Close was not looking to take on the rigors of a television series she doesn't even watch much TV. "My husband and I haven't set up the TiVo situation," the actress said ruefully. She has signed on for short-term television roles in recent years, including a season-long stint as Capt. Monica Rawling on "The Shield," but she has largely limited her work on the small screen to television movies, such as Showtime's "The Lion in Winter."

Nevertheless, Landgraf persuaded her to listen to a pitch from the show's creators, who spent three hours in her Manhattan apartment detailing their ideas for the series. Their vision of Patty Hewes persuaded her to take the leap.

"The character is really rich, and already they've brought to the table things I never would have predicted," said Close, who called Patty "a cipher." "I can't explain her behavior because I don't know. And I think it's part of this rather amazing journey we're all on. I'm totally in the hands of the writers."

If "Damages" takes off, Close will have plenty of time to learn more about her character: She signed a six-year commitment with FX. As part of the deal, the network agreed to shuffle its production schedule so that she would have summers off after this year. (The actress and her husband, biotech entrepreneur David Shaw, who married last year, spend most of the season in Maine.) She also plans to fit in film work, most immediately "Therese Raquin," Charlie Stratton's treatment of the Zola novel, set to begin shooting this fall.

Still, Close said she was a bit daunted by the potential life of the series. "You have to say that you'll make yourself available, but it seems so unbelievable to me right now that I can't even think about it," she said. "I have a husband who I adore and who I want to do things with, so, you know, nothing at this point comes without cost."

At least there should be some resolution along the way. The show's creators, who have already begun to map out the second season, promise that by the end of the first 13-episode arc, viewers will "understand who did what and why and how," as Zelman put it.

Still, after the broadcast networks' sour experience last season with serialized dramas, many of which failed to attract large audiences, Landgraf admits he's nervous. "But I don't think we have any choice," he said. "I can't see us making a show about an irascible lawyer who's this tough, ballsy woman who gets the innocent person off every week. I just think procedural dramas are inherently less good than serialized ones. We're boxed in. We're going to make shows that aspire to greatness. And it's either going to work or it's not."

 


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