I recently spoke to screenwriter/director Richard Levine about his new feature film EVERY DAY starring Liev Schreiber, Helen Hunt, Carla Gugino, Eddie Izzard and Brian Dennehy, as well as took a look back at his work on Ryan Murphy's groundbreaking dark drama series NIP/TUCK with him - NIP/TUCK also having recently been released as a complete series boxset. From casting some of the most accomplished thespians onstage or on screen - all five can frequently be seen on Broadway and off, as well as in film and television - to his favorite NIP/TUCK episodes and thoughts on GLEE, Levine offers forth his insight and experience. Given that EVERY DAY focuses on a writer on a sudsy medical drama that wallows in the shocking and prurient, perhaps art isn't too far from life after all. EVERY DAY is in selected cities now.
Minor, Everyday Surgery
PC: NIP/TUCK was so groundbreaking in so many ways. It really proved the old adage wrong: you really can do anything if you are smart enough about how to pull it off.
RL: Oh, I'm so happy to hear that.
PC: Some of the storylines you were credited with on the show - the Sharon Gless storyline, for instance - were so unbelievably awesome and dramatically innovative.
RL: Wasn't Sharon just totally outrageous?!
PC: Stuffing a teddy bear? Unreal - but, real, somehow.
RL: Yeah. She was so great doing it and I loved that story.
PC: Is the writers' room depicted in EVERY DAY in any way reminiscent of the NIP/TUCK writers' room?
RL: Well, I like to think so.
PC: Oh, you do? It's not that flattering!
RL: (Laughs.) Well, of course, it's my having fun with it!
PC: Of course.
RL: EVERY DAY is its own thing, but there are elements.
PC: Tell me what a Ryan Murphy writing room is like.
RL: The NIP/TUCK writers' room was very intimate. We were the same five or six people for the entire run of the show. We had a real sense of comfort and familiarity. And, it was really amazing because Ryan really let you think outside the box and really try to find original, dramatic twist. But, really, most of the stories we found and adapted were based - somewhere - on fact.
PC: How interesting. I read about the couch-lady in Season 3 being a true story.
RL: Right. Exactly. We might finesse it or twist it or change aspects of it, but the majority of the stories were somehow, somewhere ones that we read about.
PC: Some of the dramatic twists on the show were so surprising and perfect - the Carver's identity, for instance. Did you know you were going to end up with that individual as the killer? And who would be his sister?
RL: No. We didn't know. I think that whenever it looks really good on the show it looks like we did, but most of the time it just evolves and you try to not get too far ahead of yourself because you are not sure - from the outset - what is going to work and what isn't. Plus, sometimes performers will bring something to it that will surprise you and lead you in a totally different direction.
PC: Or one of the other writers.
RL: I think Ryan is such a brilliant master of coming up with original twists and turns. I think we were also a really solid group that he assembled that had fun coming up with original surprises.
PC: GLEE has been filled with them, as well.
RL: It's great, it's great.
PC: Kathleen Turner and Rosie O'Donnell both told me how much they absolutely adored working on NIP/TUCK
RL: They were both so fabulous.
PC: The Kathleen Turner storyline was so interesting since it utilized her unmistakable voice - a phone-sex operator wanting her voice made an octave higher.
RL: She was so great. It was such a brilliant combination of part and actress.
PC: And no one can ever forget Rosie's Dawn Budge!
RL: Never forget Dawn! (Laughs.) She's so, so nice.
PC: With all the theatre actors that appeared on the show over the years, I have to assume that was intentional? Or, is that just where the best talent pool is?
RL: We had such an amazing group of guest stars. It was such a pleasure for me - because I come from New York and a theatre background myself - it was such a pleasure to work for someone who really loved the theatre - like Ryan does - and really gravitated towards these great actors. And, also, recognized that they were an untapped reservoir of amazing talent.
PC: The process continues for Ryan with GLEE and you in EVERY DAY: you have two of the very best stage actors alive - Liev Schreiber and Brian Dennehy.
RL: I know! I know! I'm so lucky.
PC: Did you set out to get them specifically from the get-go?
RL: Yes. I really wanted Liev. I just heard him in my mind. I had seen him onstage and seen him on film and I was floored.
PC: What are your favorite performances of his?
RL: I loved him in WALKING & TALKING and A WALK ON THE MOON. He early stuff was so great - all his stuff is so great.
PC: What struck you about him the first time you saw him act?
RL: He reminded me - in a way - of Dustin Hoffman.
RL: Endearingly awkward and intense and so emotional. (Pause.) Especially onstage, he could do anything. I just knew he would be a great center to this movie.
PC: How did you convince him to do the speedo scene?
RL: (Laughs.) Well, that's actually really interesting! He trusted me. He wasn't sure about it - but, he trusted me.
PC: He's in great shape! He shouldn't worry about it.
RL: You know, it's funny, because at most screenings he takes off the towel and, you know, people laugh - because they are supposed to - but, at the majority of screenings it's exactly the right kind of laugh. He's just uncomfortable and it's just the right kind of discomfort and it's like, what pool are you getting into?
PC: Carla and Liev have such wonderful chemistry in that scene and elsewhere.
RL: Don't they? I was so blessed.
PC: I wish Carla's character was explored even more. She could have her own sequel!
PC: She's sort of like Eden on NIP/TUCK all grown up, now that I think about it!
RL: Exactly! Oh, my God - exactly. Although, the thing is that Eden always seemed evil to me - you always knew that she was like a venus flytrap.
PC: Unforgettable character. But, back to EVERY DAY.
RL: What Carla does that is so great is you get sucked into thinking, "Does this woman really sort of have the answer?"
PC: She seems to be having fun.
RL: Right. It's: has she figured out what works? (Pause.) Then, the fun is that we find out that she has this dark underbelly of neuroses that are revealed.
PC: That's even more fun. Where did she come from?
RL: I think the genesis of her character and everything is that she planted the seeds of discontent and she made the grass look greener to him. And, what better place to have the grass look greener than across the table from him in the writers' room?
PC: Liev's performance is so perfectly pitched - especially in the car scene when he picks up his son. Tell me about the falling action after the whole situation at Carla's character's apartment and how you got him to maintain that pitch for the those scenes that come afterward.
RL: The primary emotions for the character that I wanted him to explore were guilt and his having to lie to his son, on top of the fact that he feels so guilty for what he just did at Robin's [Carla's character] apartment. I do think that is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. To see the reservoir of unspoken lies between them and that they both sort of know that they other isn't telling the truth and, then, the way it evolves into some sort of deep felt gesture of love on Liev's part. I think he did find the perfect pitch for it.
PC: Was it the dopamine from the punch or from the cocaine?
RL: (Laughs.) I'm not sure! Either, neither, or both!
PC: You filmed the whole movie in 3 weeks? 23 days?
RL: Oh, the shooting schedule? Yep.
PC: Was there much cut? I know you used to cut a lot from NIP/TUCK because some of the deleted scenes are on the DVDs!
RL: I ended up cutting a lot of scenes, but, had I known they would be cut, I would have enjoyed having more time working with those great actors.
PC: What was cut that was painful to lose?
RL: There were a couple of more fantasies that I really loved, but we didn't ultimately have the time or budget to shoot it. We did have another storyline with the gay son in school and a romance that formed, but as we went on I realized it didn't belong in this movie.
PC: Is the time right for a film about families addressing gay children?
RL: I absolutely feel it is. Part of it is personal for me because my older son came out at fourteen, so that was something I really wanted to address. He's so exemplary and I so admired him and his lack of shame and I actually surprised myself because I was less comfortable with it than I would have anticipated. I wanted to really explore that.
PC: It is depicted rarely, if at all - particularly in a film like this.
RL: It is something I wanted to see addressed. I feel like, you know, my son is college now and I remember when he was in high school he went to a fundraiser and spoke about marriage equality in front of this prominent group of gay and lesbian writers and they were so, so moved to see this new generation of gay people that were so comfortable and felt so good about themselves. They didn't feel the shame and misery that they remembered feeling when they were his age. So, that was something I really marveled at and wanted to get out there.
PC: You and Ryan Murphy are changing the landscape between the Jonah character in this and Chris Colfer's character on GLEE.
RL: He really is. They are. Thank you, though. I appreciate that.
PC: Define collaboration in terms of EVERY DAY.
RL: (Long Pause.) Instinctively, I would say it is the art of listening.
PC: Do you find that there is not enough listening in a writers' room?
RL: I think that our writers' room at NIP/TUCK was really, probably the most usual writers' room that, certainly, I have ever experienced!
PC: Why so?
RL: Because it was so collaborative and it was so intimate. It was so much fun, too. It was very egalitarian - the best idea always won ouT. Ryan always wanted the best idea. There was such a free flow of ideas and it was so personal. That is a very rare experience.
PC: Favorite NIP/TUCK scene, looking back? Most outrageous?
RL: It's actually not the most outrageous - it's actually the scenes most in keeping with this movie!
PC: Which ones?
RL: There were a couple between Sean and Julia in Season 3 and 4 that I loved writing and I loved watching them perform - really, for the same reason I think I loved doing this movie - is because they had the ability to say one thing but visibly be feeling another.
PC: Please write a movie for Helen Hunt and Joely Richardson! They'd be fantastic!
RL: Oh, God! Wouldn't that be just great? That's a great idea.
PC: What's next?
RL: Nothing specific, but I do have a couple of movies in different stages of readiness that I am excited about.
PC: And the NIP/TUCK Complete Series Box Set available now!
RL: Yes! God bless you! (Laughs.)
PC: What's next for EVERY DAY?
RL: It's at the Beekman Theater in New York and it is going to expand wider following that.
PC: I loved EVERY DAY and I loved talking to you today.
RL: I am so appreciative, Pat! I loved your energy and enthusiasm and questions. Thank you so much. Bye now.