NBC’s Life is all about second chances. So will the TV show get the second, or technically, third chance it needs with a renewal to come back next season? Mum’s the word from the peacock net, but star Damian Lewis and Creator/Executive Producer Rand Ravich sure hope so. Fancast spoke to the duo during a press call and got all the goods on Wednesday’s season finale which could potentially be their last show. Which raises a million and one questions like whether Damian Lewis’ character Charlie Crews will ever find out who falsely put him behind bars for 12 years, and what happens when he does; what’s going on with the missing-in-action Danni Reese (the actress Sarah Shahi is on maternity leave), and what will happen to her fill-in Gabrielle Union when, and if, she returns? Luckily for us, Damian and Rand were on hand to help answer those questions and more. Now if only we could adopt Crews’ Zen take on life and the anxiety of waiting for a pick-up would go over so much easier…
Damian, how has it been working with Gabrielle Union?
Damian Lewis: Gabrielle is fantastic. It’s been great, you know, big shoes to fill coming in in Danni Reese’s place and finding a new partner for Crews. She comes with a different dynamic, a different set of objectives and aspirations and it was a fun, fresh new character and Gab was a pleasure to work with.
Rand, Before Gabrielle was announced as joining the show, there was speculation you guys were thinking about trying a series of guest stars for Crews’ replacement partner. Are you still planning to do that? Or will you try to keep her on assuming you guys come back?
Rand Ravich: We loved her character. I mean, we loved her on set and on camera, because every character on TV doesn’t have to be messed up. Everybody doesn’t have to have a dark secret. Everybody does not have to be dealing with tragedy. And there are people who are happy and adjusted and can be different and quirky and have their own character. And she brought that breath of fresh air to the bullpen. She’s off shooting her own pilot so just for the consistencies of broadcast television we don’t know whether she will be available to us. We were very lucky to get her for these four episodes when we found out Sarah [Shahi] was pregnant. But that being said, the Sarah/Crews dynamic is the heart of the show and every time we sit down to write a script, what you have to remember is that, Crews has to deal with prison and coming out of prison and the conspiracy and who got it. But, you know, like a marriage in a moment to moment dynamic, the energy of the show is Crews and Reese tumbling around and around each other giving it the energy. And that’s something I would want to go back to as soon as I can.
So you don’t expect to bring on other people?
RR: We’ll have to see about the state of Sarah’s pregnancy. It’s a very strange, because it’s not a purely creative choice. It’s Gabrielle and her pilot, it’s Sarah and her pregnancy. I don’t like change. But I’d like to go back to the way it was. If we get picked up we’ll have to make that decision so we’re not sure yet.
Damian, What do you find continues to challenge you about the role as Charlie Crews?
DL: I think more often than not, when you think of an emotional response to something, or how one might respond in a situation, Charlie probably finds a different way to respond to it, I think. In a strange way he is kind of counter-intuitive, which of course is what opens up different portals for him, than it does for your average human being or cop because by choosing the least trodden path he discovers things others don’t.
So it’s just staying vigilant with that and being disciplined about making choices that aren’t always the obvious ones.
Why do you think people continue to tune in and watch the show?
DL: I think there’s a lot of procedural cop drama. We’re a cop show that has a bit of difference to it. It has themes which are a little bit more ambitious than your average show to do with transcendence and second chances. I think people respond to the Zen Buddhist element of it because it’s not laid on heavily, it’s done playfully but it’s interesting for people to watch. Then I think the show is constantly conflicted with itself. There are opposite opposing magnetic forces in the show within the main storyline and within each character. So I think there’s just a bit more for people to get their teeth into and that’s why they stick around and watch it.
Rand, what’s your gauge on the show returning for a third season this fall at this point?
RR: They’re being very Zen about it. It’s a crazy time in television. NBC is kind of figuring itself out. And those questions are certainly above my pay grade. But I’ve always felt that creatively we get tremendous support at the studio and network. I think they’ve got pilots coming in honestly and I think they’ll judge us with everybody else.
What can you both tell us about the season finale?
DL: We all go to Mars. Well finally we’ve managed to work in some time travel into the show which we’ve been dying to do. So that’s a question for Rand as much as it is for me. But plot lines that people have followed the whole way through, in terms of Charlie’s own story come to a very satisfying conclusion on the one hand, whilst one or two of them are left unresolved also, in a satisfying and tantalizing way on the other hand.
RR: Certainly last year we didn’t know whether we were coming back as well. And so this episode leaves us at a very satisfying place I think emotionally and plot-wise for all our characters where if this were it, we, as an audience, would not feel frustrated. So there’s still plenty of room to go on, there’s still plenty of doors to open but we do resolve more than a few things. And really Crews’ journey inward, searching for himself and searching for what happened to him, opens him up to relationships with others. He finds something on the inside and something on the outside in this episode.
If you come back for another season, is the show done when Charlie finds out everything that put him behind bars?
RR: No, the show is done because what happened to him – and really we’ve gotten back to that – what happened to him on that day 12 years ago, and what happened to him in those 12 years of prison. And perhaps we did stray a little from that in mid-season but those are things that will be with him forever and he will take that into every single situation. And the conspiracy, the exact things that set him up and set him there, are resolved on one level here but it does go beyond that. And so in an immediate mechanical sense the conspiracy itself can go on certainly from this. But also what happened to him will go on forever. And we thought this from the first season. People go through events in their life that change them forever on a daily basis. And so no absolutely not, when he finds out what happened, he’s got to deal with it and he’s got to integrate it into his life. And that’s why I very feel like it’s a gift to get that character because it does keep growing.
Rand, how did Sarah’s pregnancy affect the storytelling you planned on doing this season versus the storytelling you actually did?
RR: You know, Sarah’s pregnancy got us to the same place where we were going to, but we just had to take a different path to get there. We’d always intended on ending up in this place, with these characters, in these positions, acting out these emotional arcs and with this energy, anticipated in this way. But her being pregnant we just had to sit down very quickly and figure out a different way to get there. Once that drops on your plate you kind of throw a lot of things out the window and it allowed us to shake things up a little bit and be a little more free-thinking. But it only changed the production in the structure of it. I mean, the show was different if she had been in, in a non-pregnant way. But the overall story and the overall direction stayed the same.
How do you feel about this season’s mix of narrative and episodic storytelling rather?
RR: It’s a challenge; it is a challenge because you have to keep track of everything. It is episodic television and that has a definite form and you have to solve a week and you have to have a case a week. And sometimes cases are bigger and the serialized elements get squeezed to the end and sometimes they’re smaller and we can weave them in in a more organic way throughout the acts. And those are certainly the most enjoyable episodes. So it is a challenge. When it works I think it is incredibly powerful and incredibly fun because you have a lovely morning with your wife, or a fight with your wife, and you bring that to work and it’s there with you all day. Or you bring your work home and that’s when your life, I mean, your life is totally integrated in that way. And when our 42 minutes and 30 seconds work like that, when the home life comes into the office, and the offices comes into the home life, and the conspiracy comes into the bullpen, and the bullpen comes into – when all that is working I think – and we’re firing on all pistons like that I do think it’s tremendous. I just think it’s a very difficult challenge to get that going on a weekly basis.
Some producers combine various projects. Have you thought of the real killer being Chuck Barris, bringing him back from the Confessions of a Dangerous Mind?
RR: Oh I’m afraid of Chuck, you know, he’s never denied that he was not an actual hit man. But the reason why I love that character, you know, I read that book and it’s that thing I was just talking about, it’s your personal life and your professional life and when you’re doing one and the other one blindsides you from a 90-degree angle that’s when all those different strands of you life come together in a way you hadn’t expected that’s, you know, they’re fun to write and they’re fun to watch.
Do you think Richard Kimball would get a special kick out of this show?
RR: The Fugitive guy? We don’t have a one-armed man but I was definitely a big fan of that show growing up so I do think it has weaved its way into my head a little bit.
Rand, do you find it’s sometimes difficult to weave the character Ted into the narrative in a way that doesn’t sort of make it seem like he’s off in his own little spin-off?
RR: Yeah, honestly absolutely. And I do feel as a writer and as a human being I wish I could find more time for Adam [Arkin] and I wish I could find more time for [his character] Ted. And that’s going back to that question of episodic and serialized going together. Just by the demands of the structure you have the A-story and then you have the Crews story and if a story falls out of that orbit it’s very hard to bring it in. And so, Adam is such a blast to write for and every second he is on screen is a delight, but it is difficult to reach that far away from the center of the story. And we are always looking for ways to weave him in more organically.
You’ve also been teasing the return of Christina Hendricks for a very long time now that Ted knows that she’s in Italy. Is there a chance we might see her?
RR: Yeah, third season absolutely.
Will we be seeing any resolution to Charlie’s ex-wife in the finale?
RR: In the finale no, I would say that his resolution with his ex-wife has temporarily, as of I think episode eight or nine this year, it was that thing of are we still in love? Was it just sex? Was it not just sex? And I think they came to a certain conclusion in their relationship. And, I mean, that is an orbit that is going to come back hopefully in the third season with more power. But at the moment I think he’s more, where is my partner? And we have to deal with that.
Damian, having just completed the season, what was the thing that sort of stood out most in your mind as something that you really want to achieve with this character that you haven’t had a chance to at this point?
DL: There are so many – Crews is so multifaceted. It’s actually pretty satisfying playing him as it is. I think the more he is able to journey inwards, as Rand was mentioning earlier, and be at peace with himself then there might be opportunities for some kind of more long-lasting human connection with other people because he’s a pretty peripatetic kind of character. He doesn’t settle in one place for too long. And I think it’s always important just to keep revisiting the darkness of his character, the impact of the experience of being 12 years in a maximum security prison. We have a commitment on the show to keep it light and entertaining with a comedic touch. And that’s worked fantastically and it’s a lot of fun to play. But keeping those moments alive I think would be important. Otherwise, I have great fun with it as it is actually.
Do you find that there are elements of his personality that you have taken home with you?
DL: Yes and it’s one of the curious elements about acting, and the nature of acting is you bring parts of yourself to a role, and you allow those things to rub off on you. And somewhere in that sort of symbiotic process, the character is realized. At its best, it’s a real collaboration between personality of the person playing it, and the words that’s written by the writer. So, yeah, art imitates life imitates art, daily for me. And that happens only when the writing is strong . And so it does happen on this show, yeah.
Rand, starting out, what were some of the challenges getting Life off the ground? And how has it been for you seeing the show grow and develop as it’s gone on?
RR: Creatively I have to say, it happens very rarely, but there was a great moment in my life where that character of Charlie Crews appeared. And I think everybody saw him the same way I saw him and as long as people realize that he was not static, that he was (failing) at them; that it was about the contradiction of transcendence and revenge. I think everybody immediately thought I understand that. And it was a really blessed process right from the start. The challenge has been kind of the reverse of the question. The challenge has been being true to that and, you know, not getting ground down in the week to week machine of episodic television which I love. But remember that that’s what the show is about. Because I do think that with Crews and with the good fortune of Damian Lewis, I think there are so many places to discover and explore the human condition with those two – with that character and that actor. And so I think it’s remembering who Charlie Crews is and what we love about him and keeping open to where he would go. It’s less about taking him to new places and more about remembering who he is to begin with.
Damian, are you sad at the thought that you might not be playing this character again next season? And have you given any thought to where you might go from here or are you still holding out hope that there’s going to be a last minute save?
DL: Three of the major studios are currently in a holding pattern waiting to hear about this.
RR: We’re taking this to Branson. We’re going to do a dinner theater version of Life.
DL: He offered me major contracts. No I, yeah, you get attached; you get attached to characters you play. Obviously the longer you play them the longer you get attached. Completing a season of network TV is a huge accomplishment whether it’s good or crap as far as I’m concerned. It’s an enduring test and you have to fight very hard just to create a little bubble around yourself just to give yourself enough space daily in which you can be creative because there is a constant clamor around you if you’re the writer/creator like Rand and you’re never left alone. Similarly, if you’re the star of the show you’re never left alone. There are people in your face all the time. And you just have to work very hard just to create that little bubble of space around yourself. And that takes as much energy as it does actually then just doing the work. So I feel a huge sense of achievement and accomplishment from doing two seasons. I’m extremely proud of it. And I’m very attached to the character and all the people I work with. It’s been an intimate experience at the heart of the commercial machine, the beast. And that’s quite difficult to achieve. But it’s been hugely enjoyable for that reason.
Rand, how much does it hinder you in the creative process with the up in the air feeling of whether you’re going to be back again next year or not?
RR: I have to say any deficit to the storytelling are not engendered by the tenuous nature of our pick-up. It’s all from my desk. We’re telling the story – we may not be telling the story we want to tell and that’s only because we’re not pushing as hard as we can. But I don’t think we’re hindered by not knowing. Every week we sit down to tell the best story we can and we’re trying to tell the best story overall and be true to Crews’s character. And we’re trying to be honestly a little Zen-like about it. Who knows what’s going to happen so we always intended on having a season finale that would leave us satisfied. So we would have come to this place anyway.
Damian, from an actor’s perspective, how far Crews has come from where we were at the start of the series to now? And how far do you think it could go if the series does continue?
DL: Well there’s the – firstly I should say I’m not attached to this character. That’s for Rand. Secondly it’s just to prevent Rand from quoting himself. Well there’s the obvious development in the conspiracy thriller element of the show and that Crews has made certain discoveries. There’s an obvious sort of evolution in the way he and Reese operate. They’ve found a real respect, admiration for each other whilst acknowledging that they’re very different people. There have been developments in his house just in terms of his slow reintegration into the world, the odd bit of furniture that has started to slowly appear. And in terms of where it can go, if the house is a metaphor for Crews’s own spiritual well-being, you know, the more Crews is distanced from his experience and heals, which will be ironically probably as he starts to discover who put him away, we have that – again that conflict, that yin and yang that is at the center of the show – that as he heals spiritually and finds calm and peace he must commit one last act of vengeance in order to find who did it. And as he his house fills up, I think it will be an indication that Crews is finally emerging like a chrysalis into this brave new world that he left behind 15 years previously when he was sent away to maximum security prison. So there’s lots of places for him to go. There’s a lot of metaphors we can follow through with it. But, you know, as always I think Rand would agree, the fun stuff is the nitty-gritty of relationships and the connections between people. And that’s very important for Crews because he’s a loner; he’s a long gunslinger. He’s the cowboy out on the range and he’s looking for peace and some inner stillness. And hopefully he’ll find it by Season 7.
Damian does look very convincing with a gun in his hand in a way that a lot of actors don’t. Did you have any kind of weapons training ? ?
DL: Well, firstly, the only reason the gun looks real in my hand is because I asked for water to be put in it so it’s actually a water pistol. I feel much more confident that way. No, I’ve had some weapons training. I’ve done some projects previously where I’ve had to handle a lot of weapons; obviously – most obviously Band of Brothers. And so that’s one of the great things about acting. If you choose your projects well you get an education as you go along and acquire certain skills. I’m really not that much of an aficionado about handguns and stuff, but I can get in and out of one, unload and reload and put it in smartly and pretty quickly. And I enjoy that. If you’re going to look convincing you need to learn how to do it. And why Rand likes me holding a gun is just because I think he sees him holding a gun when he sees me.
RR: No I see you holding the gun, Damian. No, but seriously I think there’s no more singular (anti-spin) objects than the handgun. It’s so powerful, that object; it’s so not Zen, it’s so about anger and explosion, it’s so about out of control and being ballistic. And to put it in Charlie Crews’s hand and let him fail at Zen or let him channel it, I mean, it’s such a great image that when we can use it and when it calls for it it’s something very powerful to be employed. I like watching you hold the gun, Damian and that’s just a deeper issue.
DL: Rand that was a really good answer.
DL: That was actually one of your better ones.
RR: All right, thank you Damian. I’ll see you next season. I’ll come around tomorrow with my potted cream.