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Liar, liar, lab’s on fire; Could Marley Shelton of The Lottery be preparing for politics?

- August 17th, 2014

Marley Shelton, episodic one, The Lottery

Marley Shelton’s character lamented in a recent episode of The Lottery that she actually had to go on national TV and lie.

Um … clearly Dr. Alison Lennon, played by Shelton, has never heard of politics. Isn’t it more newsworthy when someone isn’t lying on national TV?

But we’ll cut Alison some slack, because she’s a scientist and a medical researcher, not a politician, and she understandably doesn’t want to give people false hope. The Lottery – which airs Sundays on Lifetime – is set in 2025, and the human race has not produced a baby since 2019, when only six of them were born.

“For me it’s so tangible, because (in real life) I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and they’re still in that phase where they’re very dependent on their mother and we are really tight,” Shelton said. “Having that incredibly intense bond is so instinctual. The drive to populate and keep the human race going forward, it’s just so in us. It’s in our DNA.

“To be in a society that’s stripped of that, and with the implications of that, there is so much hopelessness and despair. More than anything, there’s the moral ambiguity. What are you living for if there’s no future?”

Well, if that were the case, some of us would be partying like it’s 2099. But Dr. Alison Lennon is not like that, thankfully for humankind. In the early episodes of The Lottery, Alison had a major breakthrough by somehow finding a way to fertilize 100 human eggs. But she immediately was booted from her own research by government operatives with questionable motives.

As the story progressed, circumstances brought Alison back to the job, but with conditions and side deals at play. Hence her reassuring but fake performance on national TV, encouraging healthy women to register for the lottery that will determine the birth mothers for the fertilized eggs. As she spoke, Alison had no real idea why the fertilization of those 100 eggs was successful, and she didn’t know if she’d ever be able to repeat the process. When she said a cure was close, she didn’t know for sure.

“What’s interesting about Allison is that she was adopted, she was an orphan,” Shelton said. “This drive to solve this particular issue comes from basically being abandoned at conception. It really is in her to devote her entire life to solving the fertility crisis, trying to right the wrong, maybe on a subconscious level.

“She has intimacy issues. We saw even in the first episode, when she was trying to collect sperm (by having sex with a stranger who allegedly had decent prospects for fertilization), that was like a laboratory experiment for her, really clinical. It was not about sex or even about wanting to impregnate herself. It was about figuring out how to solve this crisis.

“And then after the breakthrough, she had that mother-bear instinct, like, ‘Give me my embryos back!’ ”

The Lottery films in Montreal, and Shelton said there were some funny moments due to the challenges of depicting an essentially childless world.

“We were shooting a scene where the President (played by Yul Vazquez) is giving a press conference in a park,” Shelton recalled. “Then while I was giving my speech to the press, a school bus drove by behind us, and we had to cut, because it was a real school bus filled with children.

“It’s tricky when you start to think about what would be gone, the subtle things.”

Subtle or not-so-subtle, The Lottery certainly deals with heavy issues. Shelton took a lighter view, though, when asked what her frame of mind would be if she personally were living in a world that stopped having children.

“Let’s see, I would be an actor, presumably,” Shelton said with a laugh. “So I’d probably be too worried about getting my next job to worry about a world crisis.”

Either way, don’t be surprised if we see Marley Shelton running for elected office someday. After all, through her character in The Lottery, she already knows how to lie convincingly on national TV. That’s pretty much half the battle right there.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Go beneath the Sheen; Masters of Sex star urges fans to peek under the covers, literally and figuratively

- August 10th, 2014

Michael Sheen as Dr

Masters of Sex and Mad Men have more in common than merely an era.

Both series are filled with rich scenes in which the subtext is so thick, you could slice it with scissors. And I’m talking more about the early seasons of Mad Men, which were set in the early 1960s. Masters of Sex – which airs Sunday nights across Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central, and on channel-of-origin Showtime in the United States – is inching up to 1960 in its current second season.

Masters of Sex tells the story of real-life sex researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, respectively. Partly due to the era, partly due to the deftness of the actors, partly due to the subject matter, and partly due to the blurred lines between professionalism and personal feelings that existed between the main characters, just about every scene in Masters of Sex is saying way more than it actually says.

“Sometimes we have to be directed to play less subtext, because we’re so aware of what’s going on underneath,” Sheen said. “We have to be careful that we don’t do too much of that. We have to remember to bring it out on the surface.

“By this point we know these characters pretty well.”

At first glance, Sheen’s Bill Masters is a big ball of repressed tension. He is so emotionally shut off to his poor wife Libby (Caitlyn FitzGerald) that if it were any other era where divorce wasn’t such a stigma, I think she would have left him a long time ago. Bill responds to Virginia, with whom he is having an affair in addition to their stop-and-go professional relationship, with a complex combination of desire and guilt, attraction and condescension. He really is one of the most complicated characters on TV today.

“It depends on what you can see,” Sheen observed. “I can’t really take any responsibility for what people are able to see. You bring your own humanity to what you watch. You see as much as you’re aware of in yourself.

“Some people, I think, see the vulnerability (in Bill). Things don’t have to be on the surface for you to be aware of them. One of the things I’m most interested in about this character is how vulnerable he is. The most defensive, guarded, prickly people are the ones who, on the whole, I find are guarding their vulnerability so much, because they’ve been so hurt in some way, or they’re so scared. They’re the most frightened people.

“I think, I hope, that audiences are a bit more sophisticated than just accepting what they’re presented with on the surface.”

On the one hand, Bill Masters craves respectability, and he wants the admiration of his peers. But while many people in that era would take a conservative, safe path to those goals, Bill also wants to be renowned. He is obsessed with his controversial sex study, largely because he feels the work is groundbreaking, which he hopes will get him the respect he craves through an alternate and more impressive door. He wants to be both respected and famous. And for Bill Masters specifically, the puzzle of what is driving him is what Masters of Sex is all about.

“We’ve heard him say a number of times he wants to win a Nobel Prize, so there obviously is ambition that’s driving him,” Sheen said. “And this is an area of research that was open to someone who was pioneering and leading and wanting to make a name for himself.

“Even though (the sex study) is obviously risky, it isn’t like he wants to be on the margins. He wants to be an establishment figure, he wants to be mainstream, but he knows that he has to take a risk. And on a personal level – certainly the character I’m playing, I don’t know about the real man – he’s driven by all kinds of unconscious things as well.

“There are no easy answers to those questions. Hopefully it will take six, seven seasons to answer them.”

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Jonah from Tonga finds Partners and Mistresses at The Knick; TV must-sees for the week of Aug. 3

- August 3rd, 2014

The Knick cast, with Eve Hewson as Lucy Elkins, centre rear

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Aug. 3

1 The Knick
Debut: Set at a New York hospital in 1900, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) becomes chief surgeon but quickly is pressured by benefactors to hire a black assistant, Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland).
When: Friday on HBO Canada

2 Partners
Canadian debut with back-to-back episodes: On a bad day for both of them, community lawyer Marcus Jackson (Martin Lawrence) meets unscrupulous corporate reject Allen Braddock (Kelsey Grammer). An unexpected alliance forms.
When: Thursday on Global

3 Jonah from Tonga
Canadian debut with back-to-back episodes: Chris Lilley revisits one of his characters from Summer Heights High, but this update caused a lot of controversy in Lilley’s native Australia earlier this year.
When: Friday on HBO Canada

4 Bachelor in Paradise
Debut: Twenty-five of the franchise’s most controversial contestants, both men and women, are back again, still looking for love. It all begins in an isolated romantic paradise in Mexico. Hey, what doesn’t?
When: Monday on ABC, City

5 The Strain
A secret autopsy demonstrates the bizarre progression of the mysterious virus, while Ephraim (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro) race to find the father of the youngest victim of the plane tragedy.
When: Sunday on FX Canada

6 Halt and Catch Fire
First-season finale: Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Joe (Lee Pace) prepare to transport the Giant, but a suspicious defect threatens the partnership and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) takes control of her future.
When: Sunday on AMC

7 Perception
When an FBI agent is found dead, Pierce (Eric McCormack) must face the one case he never solved. It could mess him up mentally, but he agrees to help Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook) anyway. What a guy.
When: Tuesday on Bravo

8 True Blood
As Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) close in on Sarah (Anna Camp), Adilyn (Bailey Noble) finds refuge with Violet (Karolina Wydra). Um, don’t trust her.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

9 Unforgettable
Al (Dylan Walsh) becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a parolee he helped put in jail, forcing Carrie (Poppy Montgomery) to conduct an off-the-books investigation to prove his innocence to Internal Affairs.
When: Sunday on CBS, CTV

10 Mistresses
April (Rochelle Aytes) worries her past is coming back to haunt her after receiving a shocking phone call, while Savi (Alyssa Milano) reaches out to her long-absent dad. Hey, could it be Tony Danza?
When: Monday on ABC, CTV

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

The Killing, The Quest, Sharknado 2 and Hell on Wheels; TV’s must-sees for the week of July 27

- July 27th, 2014

Sharknado 2

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of July 27:

1) The Killing
Debut of fourth and final season: Sarah (Mireille Enos) made a really questionable decision at the end of season three. She always has been really tough, but is she tough enough to live with what she did?
When: Friday on Netflix

2) Sharknado 2: The Second One
Debut: It’s fin-tastic. See it with a chum. More bite for your buck. Something to chew on. Give it a hand. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid are back to battle double shark storms headed for New York City.
When: Wednesday on Space

3) Hell on Wheels
Fourth-season debut: Awaiting the birth of his baby, Cullen (Anson Mount) toils under the thumb of The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), while Durant (Colm Meaney) feels the chill after an icy miscalculation.
When: Saturday on AMC

4) The Quest
Debut: This sounds like a reality-competition series for Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings geeks, as 12 contestants are transported into an imaginative realm, with ogres and dragons and a dark lord.
When: Thursday on ABC, City

5) Running Wild With Bear Grylls
Debut: Bear leads actor Zac Efron on a survival journey into the Northeast Appalachian mountain range. But then Zac dances his way out of it, dammit! Take that, danger! East High forever!
When: Monday on NBC, Global

6) The Bridge
Marco (Demian Bichir) gains a new ally while discovering that cartel leader Fausto (Ramon Franco) has a wider reach than anticipated. Meanwhile, a disruption at a local bank provides new intel.
When: Wednesday on FX Canada

7) The Leftovers
A hate crime tests the resolve of Laurie (Amy Brenneman), while Kevin (Justin Theroux) turns down an offer of assistance and Matt (Christopher Eccleston) brings his pulpit to the street.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

8) Masters of Sex
When Bill (Michael Sheen) delivers a baby with ambiguous genitalia, he encourages the parents not to surgically assign a gender. Meanwhile, Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) learns about Bill’s troubled childhood.
When: Sunday on The Movie Network, Movie Central

9) Under the Dome
After a bad plan by Big Jim (Dean Norris) and Rebecca (Karla Crome) leaves the town divided, Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) takes over as leader of Chester’s Mill. But that’s not actually a paid position any more.
When: Monday on CBS, Global

10) Masters of Illusion
Debut: Hosted by Dean Cain, this series features illusionists performing everything from sleight-of-hand to great escapes, all in front of a live studio audience. I watched it. Or did I?
When: Friday on CW

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

 

Liev and let die; Schreiber lets his actions do the talking in gritty drama Ray Donovan

- July 26th, 2014

Capture liev blog

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – When Liev Schreiber talks about Ray Donovan – both the show and his title character – it’s an exercise in both reticence and eloquence.

Schreiber’s responses sometimes can be clipped. He seems to prefer answering questions that way. For example, here are some of the exchanges that occurred during a recent scrum with several reporters at the Television Critics Association event:

Q: Has the success of Ray Donovan changed how the entertainment industry perceives you?
Schreiber: “I don’t know. Probably.”

Q: This character seems very different than you are in real life. How do you get into it?
Schreiber: “I put on the clothes.”

Q: Does the darkness of this series affect you sometimes?
Schreiber: “Yes. Yes.”

Q: How do you get over that?
Schreiber: “I stop. When the season is over, I get to go home.”

Q: But then is it hard when a new season begins for those character traits to re-emerge?
Schreiber: “Well, they have to. For my job.”

All-righty then.

But the funny thing about Schreiber – whose series currently is airing its second season, Sundays on The Movie Network and Movie Central in Canada, and on channel-of-origin Showtime in the U.S. – is that when you do happen to catch him with a question that piques his interest, he can be very engaging.

The drama series Ray Donovan tells the story of Ray, whose job is to make problems disappear for the rich and famous in Los Angeles. But the biggest complication of all for Ray is his dangerous wildcard of a father, Mickey, played by Jon Voight, whose re-emergence continues to shake the Donovan family to its core.

I asked Schreiber, “Is there an avenue out of this life for Ray? Do you see an avenue for him to get out?”

“I hope he has an avenue out,” Schreiber said. He paused. Then he added, “And I hope it’s not fatal.

“But he’s deep in. He clearly is a really, really damaged, really, really hurt character. That kind of pain is hard to recover from. It’s a lifetime of pain.

“I, as much as anyone else, wonder how you unravel something like that. And I think that’s sort of at the heart of what this show is. How do you unravel your pain? How do you open yourself back up to the world?”

With a lot of difficulty and violence and misdirected anger and acting out, if the series is any indication.

“I have some things in common with Ray,” said the 46-year-old Schreiber, an acclaimed stage and screen actor whose television exposure was comparatively very limited prior to Ray Donovan. “I love my kids. I’d do anything for them. I just think that Ray is put in slightly more extreme situations than I am.

“I’m not a violent person and I think Ray is a violent person. I’m not a hyper-sexual person and I think Ray is a hyper-sexual person.

“But he looks like me.”

There we are, back to the one-line quips.

Notably, it sounds as if Schreiber exhibits much the same personality with his cast-mates. Schreiber directed one of the upcoming episodes in season two of Ray Donovan, and the way he described the endeavor, it turned out to be something of a “getting to know you” project.

“The outstanding experience of (directing the episode) was the way in which the cast and the crew came to my rescue,” Schreiber said. “I never felt so supported, so appreciated, and so lucky as I did during that week and a half working with this cast and crew.

“I’m sort of a quiet person at work. When I’m playing a character, I stay kind of in the boundaries of the character, and I don’t talk a lot. So you don’t get to know people.

“But when you direct, you really get to know people. You really know where they’re coming from, and I was very moved by the support of my peers on this one. It was a very special feeling, because I could tell immediately that they all wanted me to succeed.”

Success comes in many forms, and actions speak louder than words. Both cliches, yes. But all things considered, wherever the middle is between reticent and eloquent, that’s where Liev Schreiber of Ray Donovan resides.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv