big love

Wingman Wednesday

Douglas Smith

Smith with Matthew Shear in “The Alienist.” Photo by Kata Vermes

Being a fairly young television enthusiast must be a bit like being a fairly young Boston sports fan… you only know winning! In this Golden Age of TV, the amazing content being pumped into our homes is unlike anything we could have imagined 20 or 30 years ago. Even when something is not your particular cup of tea, it’s hard to argue that it’s not still quality tea.

Such is the case with TNT’s ambitious new series “The Alienist.” Based on the novel by Caleb Carr, the 10-episode crime drama set in 1896 looks and plays like a movie, further advancing the creative maturity of television as a storytelling medium.

We recently sat down with series star Douglas Smith to discuss how he views the small screen awakening, how he approached his performance in “The Alienist,” and the memorable advice Bill Paxton gave him.

TrunkSpace: “The Alienist” is such an ambitious show and certainly reflective of how far television has come in recent years. As an actor working in this Golden Age of TV, is it still exciting to see really high-end storytelling like this being developed or is it kind of expected now?
Smith: I think both. I think audiences have come to expect the best storytelling to unfold on their TVs, but it’s still exciting. I audition for every type of thing. I’m auditioning for indie movies that have no budget. Then next week, I’m auditioning for a sci-fi, CGI thing. I’ve done my fair share of both. I’ve done indies. I’ve done Blumhouse horror movies. I’ve done visual effects-heavy things that are higher budgeted. And so, when you get a chance to work on something that is both well-budgeted, so they can really realize their vision, but it’s also rooted in a gritty, detailed world, you’re able to go into a place that’s maybe not so safe. It’s fun.

I just think people come to expect really great things to show up on their Hulu, or their Netflix, or their Amazon Prime. It’s interesting. Hopefully it keeps going. I hear people wonder what the future will hold, and I don’t think anybody really, truly knows. I know that I definitely waste a lot of hours watching stuff on my various platforms when I should be doing other things ‘cause of how good the stuff is that’s out there. I’m sure you’re the same.

TrunkSpace: Guilty as charged! What’s interesting is that not only do we park ourselves in front of the television way more than we should, but we go into every new show with expectations. There’s a sense of everything needing to be A+ storytelling now.
Smith: Yeah. Well, there’s also this nostalgia side of TV, where you almost expect it to not be that way, and that has a place too. I think that’s why you still see procedurals of the more generic nature still on your television and still getting lots and lots of love from people. I mean, I sometimes feel that way. I sometimes wanna watch that kind of stuff, like “Law & Order” reruns. I’m a huge “Quantum Leap” fan.

TrunkSpace: Great show! Ziggy!
Smith: I discovered that a couple years ago. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll put on an episode.

TrunkSpace: Imagine what they could do with that show now?
Smith: I would love to see an update, but you have to find an actor with Bakula’s charm. Bakula, he still has the charm. He could definitely be in it, but, he’s busy on “NCIS: New Orleans,” though.

TrunkSpace: Procedurals still have those extended seasons. A 22-episode season tends to have a lot of filler. On something like “The Alienist” where you’re doing a 10-episode season, what’s great about that for the viewer is that every second counts. That must be true for the performer as well?
Smith: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. I think that you don’t have to retread, and you can really pick your valleys. At least, I did this privately and collaboratively with the different directors that I was working with on the show. We were engaging in a pretty constant conversation… ’cause my character Marcus is very confident and very matter of fact about what they’re doing – kind of cocky and doesn’t seem overly emotional about the killings of the first victims they’re dealing with, as well as the corpses of those five boys who are being analyzed years after their death. That was the way I chose to play it, and that was the way that Jakob (Verbruggen) agreed with. And then moving forward, talking to Max (Frye), one of our writers, we realized that there’s a point where it does go and hit closer to home for Marcus, and we were able to sort of pick that moment a little deeper into the show. It’s around the midpoint of the show.

I was just doing ADR for that scene, and I was really happy with the way it came about. It was like a multi-person dialogue about when does it get too close to home for someone like Marcus, ’cause he grew up in a really dangerous, disgusting neighborhood. I didn’t think it was the right choice for him to be as affected by these grisly murders as somebody like John Moore (played by Luke Evans), who came from a much more sheltered, high society, although I didn’t want to play it like he’s this depressed guy. That wasn’t the vision of the character that was set forth by Caleb Carr in the novel. He was always very strong, and moving forward, especially at the end of the book when Marcus and John go off on their own together, to sort of question people. It’s always John who’s the narrator in the book, who’s reticent and worried, and then Marcus is just like on the side of the building. He’s doing this. He’s doing that. And so, I felt like that was the right move.

When I started reading the scripts as they started coming out, they really kept that. They’d go deeper into Marcus’s home life than the book does, which was also a welcome thing as an actor. Jakob was there throughout the filming of the whole 10 episodes, even though his name is only on the first three. He was actually a shepherd for the whole thing. When I would be working on later episodes, he would still be walking around and he would be shooting something from the earlier episodes later that week, or he’d be in the editing room. We had countless conversations just passing in the hall before I walked into the stage to, let’s say, film a scene from a later episode. “Hey, what do you think about this? Is this right?” Same with Jamie Payne, who directed the last two episodes. He was there the entirety, as well. We were left alone to the point where we could come up with our own ideas, but there was a lot of support to sort of question if those ideas were wrong. There were a few times where the idea was wrong. I remember a pretty specific moment when one of the writers was like, “No, you don’t wanna do that because of this, this, this.” And I was like, “Oh, fuck. You’re right. Okay. Yeah.”

Smith with Matthew Shear in “The Alienist.” Photo by Kata Vermes

TrunkSpace: Do you approach your performance differently on something like “The Alienist” when you know it is a period piece? Just in terms of how people held themselves, presented themselves, etc.?
Smith: Yeah. That was a long ongoing conversation. The first sort of things were just meeting Matthew (Shear) and being like, “Hey, this is my idea. How did you play it in the audition?” And he’s like, “I kinda did it like this.” And I was like, “All Right. That’s kinda how I did it. We must be on the right track, ’cause we both got cast.” And then, I think the day we landed in Budapest, they had us meet with the dialect coach, Rick Lipton, and we spoke with him. That night we all met at a wine soiree thing, and that was like my first question to Max. Then, we watched some documentaries that sort of analyzed the New York sort of way of life. There was this really great little movie called “Hester Street” that’s kind of about Jews in New York around the turn of the century. It stars that woman from “Annie Hall,” Carol Kane. Then, we watched a documentary called “If These Knishes Could Talk.”

So, we had an ongoing sort of debate. I don’t know if the debate ever really fully ended. We just were like, “Okay, let’s put on the clothes. The clothes are pretty restrictive. Okay. That’ll sort of inform the performance.” But, we didn’t want to be charactery and so stiff, ’cause I really think there’s a malleability and a certain urgency that the Isaacsons bring to the scenes that they populate, and I didn’t really want us to blend in. I don’t think they blend in when I read the pages of either the book or the script. I think they really stand out like sore thumbs in most of the environments that they find themselves in. And so, I wanted to embrace that rather than fight against it.

TrunkSpace: The series plays out like event television in the sense that, you don’t want to wait until it’s all available to stream. You want to show up each week and see what’s going to happen next. Did it have that sense when you first read it?
Smith: I knew it was a week-to-week airing experience, which I know a lot of people like to do. “Stranger Things” came out and most of my friends finished it in a weekend. I’m a little more traditional. I like to spread things out when I like them. I didn’t really think about that though, to be perfectly honest. I kind of knew we were doing a show that was going to be on a network that aired it week after week, and didn’t dump all the episodes at once, but that’s really not a thought that comes into your mindset. I’m there just kinda spending more time talking about what you were talking about, like, “Okay, how do they walk? How do they feel? Like, how many suits do they own?” We sort of decided that the suit you see them in is pretty much the only suit they have. I think we changed outfits once, halfway through, and we’re like, “This is their summer suit.” But they really only own two suits. Even that felt like, “Would they even have two suits?” Maybe. Probably one, maybe two. We were thinking about these kinds of things. And then, thinking about, “How many times have you seen a dead body? How many times have you had sex with a girl? Marcus is not a virgin.” Things like that. “Has Lucius ever had an experience with the opposite sex?” It’s these sort things that you try to focus on, because that’s what’s gonna affect how you do the scene.

I knew we were doing the whole book, which I was happy about. I didn’t think it was the right decision to stretch out the book in more than one season of television. I think that’ll make for a really satisfying experience for people. So, I was happy about that. That’s one thing I didn’t know when I got the job, because I only got the first two scripts when I got the job.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on so many projects, and obviously a lot of great television going all the way back to “Big Love.” As an actor, what projects taught you the most about the craft, even though you’re probably still learning on your journey?
Smith: Very much still learning. I learn something on every job. I learn stuff on good and bad jobs. The most valuable thing I ever learned was Bill Paxton telling me not to eat too much before my closeup when they break for lunch in the middle of your scene. It may sound weird, but true. You could spend all day doing your character bio or doing sense memory or something, but we’re sort of practical workmen. Basically he saw me… we were doing a scene, a pretty deep father/son scene. They had to break for lunch after we’d done the master and Bill had done his closeup, but they were saving my closeup. They had to cut for lunch and he saw me piling a huge amount of apple crumble onto my plate. He was like, “Ah, bud…” He sort of did like a little cut gesture. He used to do this kind of cut with his hand across his neck. “I’d cut that out, man. You’re way out of the scene. You know what I’m talking about, brother?”

Smith with Paxton in “Big Love.”

I really always remember that on any job I’ve ever gone on. You do a lot of doing nothing on a set, but you have to be very careful with how you do nothing. You have to be very careful about how you hit the craft service. You have to be very mindful in the way you occupy this body of yours that needs to be ready to perform and access any emotion at any time.

The Alienist” airs Mondays on TNT.

read more
Wingman Wednesday

Sarah Jones


Set in the American heartland during the 1930s, USA Network’s new drama series “Damnation” is prepared to show just how many shades of gray a person can represent at any given moment. Times may change, but human nature does not, which means questionable decision making and life-altering conflict stretches all the way back to the presidential tenure of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “Damnation” is looking to shine a spotlight on that complicated period in American history, all while taking viewers on a wildly entertaining ride.

Series star Sarah Jones is no stranger to entertaining television. The North Carolina-born actress has worked on countless long-running pop culture mainstays, from “Big Love” to “Sons of Anarchy,” and recently appeared as Alison Kemp in the Hulu series “The Path.”

We sat down with Jones to discuss the dissection of a period piece performance, her incredible costars, and why she’s thrilled about the current creative state of television.

TrunkSpace: Your new series “Damnation” premieres in just a few short weeks. The trailer paints an intense, dramatic journey for your character. What was the personal journey like for you in terms of finding who she was and then bringing her to life?
Jones: (Laughing) It was an intense and dramatic journey. The research and inspiration of who I drew from to relate to Amelia was the easiest and most enjoyable part. To come to terms with what Amelia and I have in common, how women have historically been viewed and treated by society, and the amount of work that still has to be done to maintain a fair balance in how women are viewed and treated by society—to acknowledge all of that, and to use that in a productive way without allowing a cloud of resentment hanging over my head was a little trickier. Of course the current political and social climate seems to intensify the experience, but I couldn’t be more grateful to have this kind of outlet in working on this show and playing Amelia to work through it all.

TrunkSpace: “Damnation” is a period piece. Does that add a different layer to a character when you have to not only find who she is inside, but also what that particular period meant to people in terms of how they presented themselves in public and in private – basically, how society influenced who they were?
Jones: Yeah, of course there are added layers when you’re looking at common mannerisms and societal pressures of a specific era and how that would relate to a particular social class, but I think in terms of how we present ourselves in private and public really hasn’t changed. I mean, isn’t that what social media branding is all about? And it doesn’t matter whether someone is trying to create a personal brand or not, they present themselves in a way that they feel will garner the attention they want. Societal influence may have evolved and given us more ‘options,’ but the pressure to fit into a mold that is deemed worthy of a person’s perceived character or values is still very much alive and well.

TrunkSpace: What is an aspect of the series that you feel will surprise viewers? Is there something tonally about it or story-wise that isn’t reflected in the trailer that is a big part of the “Damnation” experience?
Jones: I don’t know if this will surprise anyone because I think it just makes for great television, but the characters’ decisions and conflicts are full of grays. It’s messy, and complicated, and raw, which represents a very real human experience.

TrunkSpace: The series is stacked with this great cast of character actors who always seem to steal a scene regardless of the project that they’re in. In your opinion, how does this cast compare to other shows you’ve worked on in terms of pure talent on-screen?
Jones: I have to agree with you 100 percent on how talented this cast is. Wow, what a cast, right?! And I love that you brought this up, there are no ‘stars’ or ‘names’ in this show. We’re working class actors—we have to hustle for our jobs that we actually get (no one sees all the jobs we don’t get), stretch and save what we earn because we don’t know when our next job will be, and prove our worth every time we show up on set. There isn’t a single actor on this show that doesn’t arrive fully prepared and invested. We’re grateful to be here and tell this story, and that makes for an inspiring group of actors to be around and a highly creative and engaging environment to work in. That doesn’t take away from some beautiful experiences with other cast members on other shows, most everyone starts at the bottom, but from day one there’s been a sense of solidarity between us that’s felt really special and exciting.

DAMNATION — “Sam Riley’s Body” Episode 101 — Pictured: Sarah Jones as Amelia Davenport — (Photo by: Chris Large/USA Network)

TrunkSpace: Television is stacked with incredible, character-driven content these days. How exciting is it for you to see such a shift in the medium over the years, and at the same time, is it also a little intimidating knowing just how much competition is out there, all of which is vying for the same set of viewer eyeballs?
Jones: I saw this coming years ago when I worked on “Big Love,” and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love the intimacy that storytelling through television brings. It’s like you’re inviting these characters into your home every week or hanging with them for a full day or two depending how you watch a series. And I can imagine that contributed to the shift in the way that shows are made now. You’re not gonna invite someone over to your house every week if you don’t want to spend time with them. In terms of all of these fantastic series coming out, I’m not intimidated by the notion of ‘competition’—there’s not another show like “Damnation” currently on the air, and if this show is considered to join the ranks of shows with ‘incredible, character-driven content,’ it’s because everyone involved in creating it worked hard for it and the viewers connected to it. I also think network executives, as far as cable is concerned, pick up a show with the intention to let it breathe and give viewers a chance to invest in it. Some shows are overnight successes, others are a slow burn with a major pay off of a dedicated following and a loyal fan base. (Laughing) I have zero control over any of it so I just try to focus on the work and hope for the best! But I really dig the viewer/content relationship, feedback, and conversation that television has created when it comes to its series.

TrunkSpace: Another big change in the way that television is being rolled out is in the number of episodes being produced each season. And while that means there’s less story to tell, more often than not, those series with fewer episodes feel richer and more character-driven than their 22-episode counterparts. What are your thoughts on shortened seasons from a storytelling/character point of view?
Jones: I support it completely! And I agree with your sentiment—it does feel like a quality over quantity situation. On top of that, writing, shooting, and editing a series is done so quickly that too many episodes will not only burn out everyone involved in making the show, but I think it’ll eventually burn out the audience too. Especially with all of the other shows out there.

TrunkSpace: Is there a part of your job or of the experience of what you do that still feels new each time you set out to do it? What still excites you as much as it did the first time you set foot onto a set?
Jones: I’m always excited at the prospect of who I’ll connect to and collaborate with, and when it comes to working on a TV series, I’m always excited when a new episode’s script comes out.

TrunkSpace: Going back to that first time you set foot onto a set, we’re curious, how much of your personal journey – the jobs and experiences you’ve had within the industry – have directly impacted your acting? Is the performer we see now completely different from the performer you were then due to the projects that came between?
Jones: God I hope so! If my work hasn’t improved and my life hasn’t evolved over the years, I need to take a hard look at what I’m doing with them. I’d like to think that my performances and my personal life have a symbiotic relationship of being fed by the experiences of living.

Jones with Thomas Jane in “Texas Rising”

TrunkSpace: We all change as people as we get older as well. How much of that personal growth impacts what you do? Does it alter your point of view regarding your take on a character or specific choices you’d make for a character?
Jones: I don’t see how it couldn’t. I find the advice, ‘don’t take it personally,’ ironic when it comes to working as an actor. That’s the only way I feel I can take on a character or job—whether I get the opportunity to play it or not, which of course leaves me vulnerable to disappointment. But I’ve figured out how to move through it instead of around it, and I hope that raw and exposed space translates to something deeply personal and honest on screen. That’s a skill that’s taken years to build and I have yet to master it. And that example is just scratching the surface in regards to how personal growth impacts what I do with the work I get.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared in some very memorable series over the years that have left a lasting impact on the world of pop culture. Are there any characters, even short-lived guest spots, where you wished you had more time to explore and see where that particular person’s journey was going?
Jones: Yes and no. I’d hate to think I might’ve missed out on playing certain characters because I wasn’t available for them. Walking away from a character feels a bit like a break up—sometimes you’re relieved, sometimes your heart aches, or maybe there’s a combination of both, but ultimately it all works out the way it’s supposed to. And, of course, sometimes embracing that mentality is easier said than done! (Laughing)

“Damnation” premieres November 7 on USA Network.

Featured Image By:
Photographer: Logan Cole 
Hair/Makeup: Travisean Haynes 

read more
Wingman Wednesday

Melora Walters


She wowed us in films like “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” and kept us glued to the television with her turn as Wanda Henrickson on the HBO series “Big Love.” Now, Melora Walters is taking on the taboo subject of adultery in the new comedy “The Lovers” from writer/director Azazel Jacobs.

We recently sat down with Walters to discuss how she falls in love with the projects she takes on, having to walk away from them when she wraps, and how one of our interview questions is now only the second time she has been approached about her appearance on “Seinfeld.”

TrunkSpace: “Magnolia” is one of our favorites here and your performance was an extremely underrated one.
Walters: Thank you.

TrunkSpace: It was a such a dramatic, heavy role. Was it a difficult character to tap into and inhabit?
Walters: Well, it was for Paul Thomas Anderson and he’s basically a genius and to be able to have an opportunity to work with him in any capacity… it’s not about what it takes to get there, it’s about the opportunity to work with him. For me, I would just dive to the bottom of the ocean for that man.

TrunkSpace: And you have worked with Paul Thomas Anderson on multiple films. What is the experience like working with the same director on different projects? Does the relationship change?
Walters: Well, I only worked on three films and I think I sang on a fourth one, but it’s not like I work on every single film with him. Again, Paul, as far as I’m concerned, is the most amazing writer/director and it’s just like being in these moments of time where everything stands still. I don’t know how to describe it.

TrunkSpace: The types of movies that he makes don’t seem to be as prevalent in theaters today as they once were, especially as so much of what is being released is based on some other preexisting material.
Walters: I don’t even know how to comment because…

People are making films all the time and whether the general public has access to see them or knows about them, I mean… there’s just tons of films being made for no money. There are beautiful films everywhere and they just might not be distributed. But I think filmmaking is really an art. It’s an art form and so people are constantly creating. Yes, they are remaking. Yes, there are a lot of comic book movies. But at the same time, there are so many interesting films being made.

TrunkSpace: “Magnolia” was such a great dramatic film and you’ve had such a diverse career in the world of drama, but we’d have to imagine that you’re approached just as often for something you did in comedy, which was a very famous episode of “Seinfeld” called “The Hamptons?”
Walters: You know, very few people know that I was on “Seinfeld.” I’m not approached about that at all. I think I was approached about it once and it was last fall and it was when… (laughter)… in an airport going through security. One of those guys who checks your ID and ticket, he was like, “Hey, were you on ‘Seinfeld’?” And that’s the only time anyone has ever said anything to me. My daughter was mortified.

TrunkSpace: Wow. That’s really shocking considering how the show has remained in a perpetual state of airing due to syndication.
Walters: No. I’ve only been approached once by it. Nobody knows I’m on. I’m surprised you’d know I’m on it. You must have looked at my IMDB page. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We didn’t, but apparently we know far too much about pop culture.
Walters: (Laughter) That’s funny.

TrunkSpace: Well, we touched on drama and comedy, but it seems like your new film “The Lovers” is a sort of mix of the two in that it’s a comedy, but the subject matter is pretty heavy. Is that accurate?
Walters: Yes!

TrunkSpace: Where does your character Lucy play into things?
Walters: Well, Tracy Letts is married to Debra Winger in the film and he’s having an affair with me and she’s having an affair with the lovely Aiden Gillen. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And then they start having an affair together? The married couple?
Walters: Yes! Which is oddly lovely. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: So one could assume that it takes their outside affairs to make them realize that they missed each other?
Walters: I don’t want to give anything away, but I think that’s something that people will walk away from seeing the movie and discussing. Because, in one sense it’s terrible, but in another sense it’s like, “Well, it makes them love each other again.” I think Azazel, the director and writer, is really amazing. He also, I think, is brilliant. I think he captured something that’s very human and very true in relationships. Not that everybody has affairs, but the elements of it… the essence of it. I think he has really captured something of relationships and what it is to be human. And I really hope people walk away questioning this because it’s interesting.

TrunkSpace: Well, and that applies to so much in life… that “grass is always greener” concept. People can apply it to jobs, family, friendships, etc. The problem being, it’s not always green on the other side of the fence.
Walters: Exactly. Exactly! And in the end you’re faced with yourself and you have to look at yourself in the mirror and maybe stop projecting on different people. That’s difficult.

TrunkSpace: “The Lovers” is opening opposite a box office behemoth in the form of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Do you ever concern yourself about an opening weekend and what a film you’re starring in is up against or is it more that once you’re done, you step away and let fate take over?
Walters: I just walk away from it. I’ve done so many films that nobody has ever seen. For me, I love acting, so it’s about having these opportunities. And in “The Lovers” it was really an opportunity to do something that I’ve never done and a role I’ve never done and be involved with these amazing people like Azazel and Tracy and Debra and Aiden. Everybody. It was like a gift. For me, I go in and basically do my job and I love my job and then I’m done. I don’t think about the other stuff at all. I didn’t even know that until you told me. In my boring life, it just doesn’t mean anything. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that there were movies that you have done that nobody has seen. Was there one that you wished more people had seen?
Walters: Well, to me when I commit to a writer or director or film role, I put everything into it. My job is to bring a character to life… someone’s vision to life. That’s what I’m suppose do. So each time I go into something, in a way, it’s like I fall in love with it. I have no control over any of the other stuff. But every project I’ve worked on I’ve basically fallen in love with the project and the role. They all have lives of their own. I love them.

TrunkSpace: Is there one of those lives that you’d like to revisit from a performance standpoint?
Walters: No. Never. (Laughter)

MAGNOLIA, Melora Walters, 1999, (c)New Line Cinema

TrunkSpace: Is part of that the joy of being able to slip into the mind and body of different characters as opposed to playing the same character?
Walters: Maybe. I don’t know. That’s an interesting question. Maybe that’s my defense mechanism kicking in. I like to go in and leave and never go back. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You were raised in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands. From an acting standpoint, does having experienced different cultures and different people benefit you in terms of discovering new characters?
Walters: I think maybe what it did was make me an observer because I never fit in anywhere. I didn’t belong to anything or anyone. So you become the stranger… the observer. And maybe that helped, as an actor, to not judge anything. Maybe. I don’t know. And to know that there are vast worlds and people and in the end we’re all just human beings trying to find meaning.

TrunkSpace: People can travel. People can experience. But living places… going behind the scenes of those cultures and societies… it must open the door a little further in terms of understanding.
Walters: Right. But on the other hand, everything is relative I think. I haven’t experienced what you’ve experienced, so I think… I think it’s all relative.

You’re asking very interesting questions!

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) Sorry. We like to dig deep and peel back the layers.
Walters: Yes, I see that. (Laughter)

“The Lovers” arrives in theaters this Friday.

Walters also wrote and directed the film “Waterlily Jaguar” due to be released soon.

read more