Talking THE CLOSER with creator James A Duff

So you guys know that I love THE CLOSER, right?  That it’s the highlight of my week when it’s on, and that I think it’s funny and dramatic – a show that totally makes me laugh out loud and cry my eyes out?  Tonight’s all new episode, “Dead Man’s Hand”, Mary McDonnell is back as Captain Raydor, and this time she’s back under very different yet familiar circumstances.  The episode is done so darn well, and the chemistry between Raydor and Brenda is genius.

In celebration of tonight’s episode, I had the chance to speak with the creator and executive producer James A Duff.  We talked about what’s coming up, how he plans out these mini seasons, and what to expect tonight!

Hi James how are you?
Fine…How are you?

I’m doing really well.  I am loving this season of the Closer.  This “mini” season that we are getting.
Oh thank you…

How do you write, knowing that you are only going to have this three episode bridge between seasons or is it something that you just kinda of have to hope it happens or do you plan for it?  How does it work?
No, we knew.  They tell us how many episodes the island (we call it the island) in the room and we know how many episodes the island is going to be and we know pretty much what we are going to use it for.  We tend to use it to do…you know things that we would not do in the summer.

I read one of your blogs in TV guide that said that exact same thing.. You know with more about relationship and character this island as you call it [here’s where my phone cuts us off]  We were talking about the themes that you have for these next three episodes, or one last episode.  What  you were thinking about vs. what you did for a summer season? How do they differ?
I can’t remember where we left off but actually we do more character stuff in the mini season because we know we are playing mainly for our ‘hard core” fans and we want to give them character stuff as much as we can.  You know we want to open up the characters and to make the stories almost as much about the characters as they are about the crimes and in this last episode for example we have been very coy about Provenza’s first name and no one ever uses it and Ian never used it.  We used it for the first time and we learned a lot about him.  We went to his house for the first time, inside  his house, we’ve been to his house before but not inside, and normally we just don’t do those things.  You know in our regular series we stay very close to Brenda and the crime and we just try to see during this whole mini season how far the show can go in any one direction because it is not our regular season, we are not on in the summer, we are not held to the same standard in terms of what we have to do to keep an audience

I notice that your show is a show that can handle that.  It is not a show that suddenly three episodes that deal more like character doesn’t feel as off the wall as another show trying it might.
No…because we flip it in as we go along.  We have a lot of that during our regular season but it is never done .. It is almost always the crime.. The crime is dominant and Brenda is dominant.  Either the crime is dominant and you have a little bit of character along the way or Brenda is dominant but very seldom do we have an episode like this where neither the crime nor Brenda is dominant.  The show is really about Brenda and Provenza… and mainly Provenza in this last episode and we ended with him.  We never end with him.  We always end Brenda, almost always.  So that was something that  we were just seeing if the show could do that and if people would like it…and that for us, that is the purpose of the island.  It is can we do a lot more character stuff and will the audience see, for example in the episode I just directed, you don’t even see the dead body in a legal sense anyway except a flash back until about the 4th act.  There is no murder until the beginning of the second act. And that is very unusual for our show.

Talk a little bit more about that episode that is coming up Monday 12/21.
There are two things that are very interesting about this episode.  One is that the crime, we begin investigating the crime before it happens and that is unusual.  There is a reason for that.  And then, it is also unusual in that a lot of people say that Fritz is too easy on Brenda.  And now we in this episode we sort of take that issue on.  Is that true? If so why?…and will it continue  and…you know I’ve always thought there was a very good reason for Fritz to be so easy on Brenda and then it was perhaps due to his work and his past.  But we have never really discussed it and dramatized it and said it out loud and this time we are doing that.  And we are seeing things may not be so…we may see that  he may not be so easy on her in the future. He may make demands on her.

We started to see it a little bit here and there too so it’s nice we are kinda of seeing more of that come out because, I am one of those people who is like “come on” your letting her get away with it again…
Yeah.. It is, you know Brenda is one of those people who think that her job performance makes up for everything else and it doesn’t.  And you know it just doesn’t.  Your job performance doesn’t make up for you missing Christmas or you not being around on Thanksgiving.. Or not paying as good of attention to the needs of the people you love.  Those are not, work is not a good excuse for that…but we all do it. Especially in her job when you are on call all of the time.  And, you know so he kind of does that in the same world, still….  You know…

We have Captain Raydor coming back…how is the dynamic different this time around for Brenda vs. maybe other episodes we have seen her in?
Well, this time she has to be one of Raydor’s people and that has never happened before and Raydor is extremely uncomfortable with it… and also it is one of her best detectives.. It is sort of a reversal of what happened with Sergeant Gabriel in the episode we met her…

Your show does really well with guest stars…you are not just bringing people in, you know for just any reason.  It is because it serves the story…like Beau Bridges last night. It serves the story to have someone who can handle it in there..
OH MY God yes.  First off, we generally shy away from casting people, especially like, there was a period you know where people jokingly said like if you watch “Murder she wrote” you could watch who the guest stars where and you could tell who the murderer was from who was the most famous guest star..

I’m guilty of that when I watch a lot of other shows…
We try to avoid that and we want, when we go out for an actor we are looking for someone who we need.  Especially who could hold their own weight, who can hold their own with Kyra…that is serious stuff.  Fortunately the Los Angeles area is filled with amazing, wonderful talented actors and you know I have been watching Mary McDonnell.  Of course I’ve been a big fan of hers forever, but I have been watching her in Battlestar Gallectica and as soon as that show finished its run I was like “Can we get her for this part?”  I wrote the part, I collaborated on that part with Mary, to create it.  And that was like, that’s another thing why we sometimes have accesses to actors that don’t do a lot of guest starring on television is because we collaborate.  We collaborate with them intensely.  TV is a collaborative medium and that is part of the fun of it and you want to create these… I mean these are great actors…Beau Bridges is a great actor!  You just want to have someone there who you want to be able to create something that he really wants to do.

That makes perfect sense.  I mean you hear that too, even with actors on a show.  If your writers aren’t willing to collaborate on the character that you are playing for 8 years… then how does it remain interesting?
Well it doesn’t…then it becomes a drudgery and also it creates bad feelings and it’s different…  JK Simmons comes to me and says, “this doesn’t sound right.”  I should listen to that.  JK Simmons is fantastic..  He is a genius.  I am lucky to be working with him on a weekly basis and I say weekly basis, but I only see him about twice a week.  Because usually that is how long it takes for him to do his scenes.    He is an awesome awesome actor and when he has a note I should listen to him. Which often he has a note and I should listen to him…  if Kyra Sygrick brings up something to me you know it’s a collaboration and it’s part of what makes the show I think work as well as it does is how invested in how capable and how excited the actors are about being there.

I agree with that completely..  Knowing that and hearing you say that I can appreciate the show even more than I already do because I know that that is happening.
I mean the actors come to me with things and suddenly they become stories.  GW is the one that told me the story about this original story that we did with Beau. It did happen to a friend of GW’s.

I knew that you had said it was not something that was fake but it was your story.  I didn’t realize that it came from someone you knew so closely..
Oh yeah  we know the person…   It’s as real as a heart attack…

Do you have season six plotted out or do you have a plan going into the summer season or is that something that gets worked out over the spring:
I’m on vacation….[laughs] I’m on my last day of vacation…  I can tell you that we are going to have new permanent sets, because LAPD moved because they are not at Parker Center anymore so we actually moved, too.

OH excellent, that is exciting!
So that will be different.  Provenza will not be happy about it…

I can only imagine…
But that is all I can tell you right now.

I love the show.  I am so excited when I see that there is something new coming from the Closer because it is one of my favorite on TV.  Anytime I get to tune in or talk to anyone on the cast I am thrilled!
Well thank you so much for that and we appreciate .. I want you to know who much we appreciate it.. We love our audience.  We have such respect for them and when they talk back to us and let us know how they feel.. When they give us a shout out or they ask us a question about what we are going we take it seriously.  We really do..  We feel like the people who watch the show are actually almost like a part of the show.  We wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for them.  So it is great.  One of the greatest things in my life, and I am so lucky that I have gotten a chance to experience it.. Is modern and new relationship that you actually get to have with the audience and we don’t take it for granted.  Let me promise you that…

That is great to hear and I am sure that the fans appreciate that too for sure!