Kelli Williams (as Dr. Gillian Foster) and Tim Roth (as Dr. Cal Lightman) in Lie to Me. Photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of Fox
IN Beat the Devil, the spring premiere of Lie to Me, Cal Lightman plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a brilliant, charming psychology graduate student whom Lightman identifies as a psychopath. When nobody believes him, he sets out to prove the doubters wrong and catch the psychopath before he kills again. Complicating matters is Lightman’s former mentor, a renowned psychologist who, also fooled by the charismatic young man, is protecting him for personal and professional reasons. Meanwhile, Loker and Torres travel to a small town to look into a UFO sighting. Lie to Me returns on Monday, June 7th @ 8:oo p.m. EST/PST.
Last Wednesday, series executive producer Shawn Ryan spoke with myself along with other journalists on a conference call about the latter half of the show’s second season. The following is an edited version of our call. Enjoy!
Shawn, could you philosophize a little bit on the role of lying on drama. It seems like lying usually is the best thing for drama. It worked wonders for The Shield, which was, essentially, always about the lies that the main character was acting on and so forth. Is it an important part of drama, and is it kind of weird to be doing a show where one of the people can tell when you’re lying?
SHAWN RYAN - Yes, I would say that lying goes hand-in-hand with secrets, and secrets are often times the key to drama. That was something we talked about a great deal on The Shield, which was about who knew what, who didn’t know that, and who was keeping secrets from who. In this case, to have a show that’s about secrets as well as lies and is really, really fun. The initial instinct is, well, Jeez, if you’ve got a guy who can just tell when people are lying, doesn’t that make it simple? But what we’ve tried to do on the show – and this was something that Sam Baum, who created the show, initiated right from the beginning - is that a lot of times it’s not enough to just know that someone is lying. You need to know why they’re lying, what they’re hiding, what’s the motivation behind their actions. That, often times, is what leads us to a full hour of television. I think I saw an ad for a movie within the last couple years where everyone had to tell the truth and I thought to myself, “Well, that’s going to be a tough one to tell.” It’s much more fun when you can have your characters deceive other people, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad.
What was your reaction when they said you’re going to have new episodes during the summer? What did you think of that?
SR - My first reaction was grateful that they were picking us up for a back nine, because we were told at the same time, OK, we want nine more episodes but because our schedule is looking pretty full right now, we’re going to save them until summer. It’s mixed feelings because traditionally, in the past, that’s been a burn-off spot, but when I was told that they were pairing us up with The Good Guys, which I knew was an important element in their schedule, and they had been talking for a while about really making a true commitment to year-round programming, I chose to look at the glass half full and say, well I guess they want us to be pioneers for them in that regard and see if we can get an audience there.
Also, it was a very tough time slot that we were in on Mondays at 9 p.m. in the fall. We had Dancing with the Stars along with Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory and Monday Night Football and we were holding our own and doing OK in the ratings. But now we have a chance to hopefully attract some audience attention and get some eyeballs that maybe were tuning into other things during the fall. So I’m definitely looking at it as an opportunity more than a punishment.
I’m wondering with this back nine, were you able to map out a road towards any sort of a season finale cliffhanger that we’re going to get this summer?
SR - Yes, is the short answer. A lot of episodes are standalone so I wouldn’t say that we crafted a nine-story serialized arc, but we did get to plan for some things, and it did allow us to look at the episodes after we finished them all and to decide in concert with the network and the studio what would be the best way to air them. And we think we’ve got some really strong last couple episodes that will launch the show into the third season fall schedule.
There’s an episode coming up where Cal (Tim Roth) check himself into a psych ward; what can you tease us about that?
SR - That is true, and it’s during our very special Shield reunion episode where I brought back six of our actors from The Shield and had them co-star in it. I don’t have the schedule in front of me but I have a feeling that’s like the fourth of fifth episode to air. It’s called Pied Piper, so if anyone else on the call has a schedule, they might be able to tell you the specific date (August 16th). I know it’s in the middle of the run. Yes, for a good reason, Cal has his motivations, but he does check himself into a psych ward and maybe fits in a little too well.
Will the potential romance between Cal and Gillian (Kelli Williams) be explored further during the back nine? And the same question for Loker (Brendan Hines) and Torres (Monica Raymund).
SR - What I would say on the Cal/Gillian front is that the relationship deepens and gets explored, but there is a character that comes in between them, played by Melissa George, for a few episodes. And we certainly leave – we have a back nine but it’s actually 12 episodes that we still have to air, that we’ve made, so in those 12 summer episodes, we’re going to learn a lot more about Cal and Gillian and how they came together. We’ve got an episode that shows in flashback how they first met and what they mean to each other, so I don’t necessarily want to label it “romance,” but their relationship deepens in a way that I think the audience will find satisfying. As for the Loker/Torres relationship, we definitely get some advancement on that front.
Do you enjoy playing with the audience with these kinds of relationships? Do you enjoy bringing the characters close and then ripping them apart again?
SR - Well, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m some bemused God up in the skies toying with the audience, but we like thinking about what these characters would actually do in these situations if they were to occur. Certainly in the Torres/Loker case, you’ve got two attractive people working in close quarters, dealing with each other a lot. They have different styles and they get on each other’s nerves, but there’s also an attraction there. On the Cal/Gillian front, there’s just a really, really deep bond, and we were very interested in finding out where that came from. That’s something that was written from the beginning of the series but I also think it’s just something that naturally plays between Kelli Williams and Tim Roth. They really like each other a lot in real life and have a lot of respect for each other, and there’s something on-screen that plays. As a writer, when you see that playing in the editing room, it’s a great inspiration for stories going forward. It’s less to do with sort of playing with the audience, dangling it out and pulling it back, more than just trying to be realistic to the situations.
Working with Tim Roth, I would think he has a very distinctive face, a very distinctive style and a very distinctive set of acting skills. I’m wondering, are there paths that you have gone down, things that you can do, that you can say we’re doing this because of him, because you think he can handle this, because he can pull this off, because he looks this way, that maybe if you had another actor in this role, maybe you couldn’t do. What is it specifically about Tim?
SR - Yes. Tim is a real live wire, very, very smart actor, a very instinctual actor, and someone who really likes to be challenged on a scene-by-scene basis. I would say that his instincts fall in line with an audience. He doesn’t like to play just straight ahead procedural scenes. He likes to find a different new angle in the scenes, which is a real challenge to write, but it’s very satisfying once you meet that challenge.
So Tim is someone who has a range that not a lot of other actors have so it’s an unspoken contest in the writers’ room. What kind of fun situation can we put Tim into, whether it’s role playing, whether it’s acting more outraged than he really is, whether it’s going to be spy in a certain scene trying to detect something while flying under someone’s radar, or as was previously mentioned, checking himself into a mental ward to get access to someone there but knowing exactly the right buttons to push with the doctor to get himself admitted. Those are the kinds of things that are our challenge. One thing I’ve found in all the shows I’ve worked on is the better you know your actors in real life, the better you’re able to write for them. So one of the keys to writing for Tim is just spending a lot of time with him, on-set, just hanging out, having meals, talking to him, getting that voice in your head, which is interesting because obviously I’m an American and obviously he’s English and so my natural speech rhythms are not the same as his, so that was a challenge for a lot of the writers to write him authentically British. But I think we managed to do that and we also had a ringer British guy on staff that helped with that.
Cal can be kind of a jerk a lot of the time. He’s abrasive and arrogant, and yet we still like him somehow. How do you walk that line between having somebody who’s actually quite irritating on a day-to-day basis, and yet we’re still in his corner.
SR - I think, ultimately, honesty can be the ultimate pain killer. Oftentimes, while being a jerk, Cal is also being honest and that’s something that we can appreciate because a lot of us feel we don’t get enough honesty in our lives, and feel like people are hiding things in disguise and things from us. There’s a scene in an upcoming episode that’s, once again, in this highly-touted Pied Piper episode, I believe, where he makes a very strong accusation towards someone, the actor Benito Martinez in this case, and coming on very strong and very much like a jerk because he has an instinct that Benito is hiding something. And then Cal learns pretty quickly that he’s not hiding something and immediately reverts to a very apologetic state, which is a pretty comedic scene, I think. Cal has self-awareness of when he’s being a jerk, and will acknowledge it, and then in this case, apologize for it. I think that buys you some interesting behavior if you know that A) his motives are pure, he’s trying to get to the bottom of these various mysteries that he’s assigned to, B) he ultimately wants the right thing by people, and C) a lot of times his jerkiness is because he’s interacting with an outside world that is not being honest. Now is that to say that he still doesn’t occasionally act like a jerk? He can, but those major things, I think, buy a lot back from the audience.
Jason Dohring is going to be guest starring in an upcoming episode as a psychopathic grad student; can you talk a little bit about him and his character and also some of the other upcoming guest-stars that you have for the rest of the season?
SR - OK, I’m going to have to go off memory so you’ll have to be a little patient with me, but that character is evolved in story where Cal Lightman believes, through his research and through his instinct, that he may be a very, very bad person. And yet, the other people in his life feel like he’s reaching, like there may be an ulterior motive for Lightman’s feelings, and he may be off base. So it becomes an episode about Cal trying to prove his theory, either right or wrong, and obtaining a great nemesis in the process. That’s about all I’d want to say about that character in that episode.
In terms of other guest-stars in the season, I know I’m going to space on some names, but we have in that very same episode, Howard Hesseman as a teacher who’s gotten himself into a jam because he claims to have seen a UFO. He’s a teacher in the school and the school certainly doesn’t want a crazy, delusional person teaching their children. The firm is employed to try to figure out if he’s telling the truth about this.
I mentioned that we have Melissa George for a few episodes and she did great for us. Jennifer Beals is back for a couple more episodes before I hijack her to my new Fox show. Max Martini, who was a series regular for us on The Unit, plays a recurring role as someone who, in the same way that Melissa George comes in between Cal and Gillian, on Cal’s side, Max Martini plays someone who comes a little bit between Cal and Gillian on Gillian’s side. And he’s in three or four episodes, I believe.
I think we did a pretty good job guest casting the show. Enver Gjokaj, who was on Dollhouse, also has a really, really great guest performance, in an episode about an Iraq war soldier who comes back and is having some mental problems from that experience that threatens his family, and Cal takes it upon himself to try to solve these problems. Those are the ones that are off the top of my head, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple of big ones. But that’s one of the fun things to do on this show that I didn’t always get to do on The Shield or The Unit was to really bring in a guest star and just give them some really meaty, fun stuff to do in just one episode.
Since you’ve steered Season 2 of Lie to Me, and then you’re going off to your other projects, how does it feel to pass the show off to somebody else? Is there any kind of parental feeling that you might have about that?
SR - Yes. When I came in, Sam Baum who created the show, asked me to join up and try to help with some internal leaks on the ship and get the ship righted, and I feel that I, with a lot of help, did my part in doing that. At the time, I had some things in development but nothing was a go, and as you all know, it’s very difficult to get something on the air. After we started working on the show, I was unlucky enough to get two shows on the air. The show Terriers for FX that’s going to premiere in the fall that we’ve been making episodes for, and then just recently my pilot, Ride Along, got picked up, first the pilot and then the series.
So it became obvious in the last couple months that it was going to be too much work for me and I really do care a lot about Lie to Me and its future and its success. I realized that it would be better if I went to the studio and said I can’t finish this but let’s work out a transition together. We had developed what I thought was a very good team and a team that really picked up a lot of slack for me when I was in Chicago making my pilot. They proved to me that they were ready to accept a lot more responsibility. So there are a few writers from last year that are staying on and taking over the reins of the show. I really have complete faith in them. I’m in the position that I’m in now because Kevin Reilly and Peter Liguori… had a lot of faith in me to make The Shield when I had no experience to indicate that really I was capable of it.
So I feel like it’s a situation where there are a couple of writers, Alex Cary and David Graziano on the show, who certainly have more experience that I had when I started The Shield, who I think have a really great grasp of the show, who have a lot of fantastic ideas for Season 3. They went and pitched the network on how they saw Season 3 and it was an impressive enough meeting that I think it had an impact on the show getting picked up for a third season. I’ve been trying to help them, sort of grandfatherly-advice style along the way. They drop in my office two or three times each week and update me on what’s going on with the transition and what’s going on with staffing and hiring and ask me some questions and I give them some advice, some of which they take and other of which they ignore. It’s really nice to see guys I like who I think are really talented writers getting this opportunity. I think they’re going to do a really, really great job.
As noted above, photo by Adam Taylor and copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!