From the set: Executive Producer Kevin Dowling talks NECESSARY ROUGHNESS season 2
As a part of the trip we took to Atlanta last month to tour the set of NECESSARY ROUGHNESS, we had the great opportunity to chat with Executive Producer Kevin Dowling, as well as series stars Mehcad Brooks, Scott Cohen, and Callie Thorne.
What did you fine tune from season one to season two?
I think more than fine tune. I think it’s a pretty big decision to focus more on our team, on the Hawks family. I mean there’s always been this parallel theme of Dani’s nuclear family and how it gets affected by taking on this new, this new family and the fact that there are pressures that put all kinds of uh you know demands on the original family and what does that mean? But we only sort of cursorily got into what happens behind the scenes and what we found is people are writing on the net and talking on the web all the time about we’d like to see more of what happens behind the scenes with athletes and we’ve always felt that you know movie stars and athletes in our country are our royalty. So it’s like, what we all want to know what’s it like for them. Is it really like what we see in the newspapers all that, so we’ve tried to keep it based on reality and based on stories that we know but also weave that into the fictional Hawks you know family in our sort of story, so TK has a lot more to do I think if you’ve seen the first episode. You know, we’re going to see a lot more of TK. We’re going to see more of Nico. We meet Pittman finally and he’s a surprise I think.
That was great.
I don’t think that’s what people were expecting. So I think they were someone more like Mark Cuban or somebody like that and I think this pulled off a surprise for us. So and I know Evan, I actually gave Evan his first job in New York.
I’m not even going to tell you how long ago. [LAUGH] But it was long, some people here weren’t out of diapers yet.
When I first heard that, I thought Dodgers. How much of that scenario plays out this season?
Um, that is going to play out quite a bit over the first half of the season uh absolutely and certainly the Dodgers helped to, to inspire some but I think the writers have gone even beyond that. To a whole new level, some strangeness between our main couple but uh, Gabrielle will be back and we get to see a whole bunch of high drama between them. And Nico of course gets in the middle of all that and we don’t know where his allegiances are and we get to question those things. We’ll see a lot more of him and then uh Matt also gets caught up as, as well. So he’ll have new things to do as well for the Hawks there as the season goes on, so that’s all going to play out.
Can you tell us a little about guest stars coming to the show?
Terrell will be back for sure. Um Charles Barkley is uh certainly a friend of the show. We’d love to have him and we’re trying to find ways to have him come in. Um unfortunately his schedule is insane even though he’s here all the time. The insanity is we like see him in restaurants and stuff but can’t find like a day to bring him in but literally Terrell came in last week to shoot a scene with Mehcad and went out the same day you know because he has the same kind of crazy schedule, so. But the two of them I guarantee the scene that you’re going to see between them will be one of the favorites because the hardest part was keeping the crew from laughing. [LAUGH] I will only give the hint that they have a food fight at one point. [LAUGH] So it’s, it’s just fun to watch the two of them together and the whole clash between all of that. But I think, I don’t even remember, do you see in the first episode that, TK’s apartment? Which is right above us here.
No hot tub anymore.
No hot tub, that’s true. It was hard enough to get up there. We had to get an engineer’s report to make sure it was safe because I forget how many hundreds of gallons we have in there. It’s a lot of water weight so literally there was some question as to whether because it’s a second floor. We built it as a second floor because we wanted to have that sense of expanse and a really nice urban you know condo but then we hadn’t considered, we did not know at that point that there’d be a Jacuzzi in the middle of it so…
Was he really naked?
You know, that’s funny, a lot of people ask that question.
For shock value, you would think he would get out.
Let me put it to you this way, Mehcad would not uh be shy about that, let’s put it that way. And the plan was for him not to exactly be naked but the plan didn’t necessarily get followed. So some of the reactions you’re seeing are definitely real. Interestingly more on, I think, Mark’s part than on Callie’s. Mark is like okay … Callie was fully prepared you know dealing with Mehcad a whole lot more so… That, that was certainly a fun thing but there’ll be a lot more of TK and what happens in his private life and how that’s all going to work between them.
Were you always going to do a bit of off season?
Liz and Craig are incredible planners as far as story arc goes, so they always had a sense you know that we would do this to find a way but I think it became more intense and it stretched out a little longer than maybe initially thought. I mean now we really go the whole summer season on USA. We’ll be the off season move after playoff and the winter season we’ll take us into the season again, so um. But it gave us lots of you know ways to approach things because we really do get to go to the training facility more, see what that’s like. See what it’s really like if you have an injury and try to come back from it. All of the psychological parts of that, and, and it also allows for Matt and Dani to work closely together which people seem to like.
How much research went into the post traumatic stress story line?
Quite a bit actually. Uh two of the writers were sort of full time on that for quite a while and of course we have our original Donna Dannenfelser who this is all you know inspired by her life story so, as she’s our psychologist advisor so she had treated lots of people, uh with that both um, uh crime victims and some veterans and so on so she had, she was a big resource there. We had a real advantage in having her in the writer’s room all the time because she can say hey, we would do this, we wouldn’t do that and all that kind of thing. And I think we’ve pretty much followed, we’ve tried to make it as authentic as possible and not, not violate the therapeutic community. The only thing we have done is put jelly beans in the therapeutic room which the real Dr. D absolutely hates. [LAUGH] She came on and she said you can’t have jelly beans in the therapy room. But the, but the how it worked is that what we learned very early on is that Mehcad had some in, in addition to his great acting talents and his amazing presence, he had some unusual talents and one of them is being able to almost throw anything up in the air and catch it in his mouth. [LAUGH] So while we were rehearsing the scene in the pilot where he first comes in, he uh, there happened to be uh, uh a dish of candies at the hotel where we were rehearsing and he kept throwing them up and it was really annoying Callie. [LAUGH] It was perfect between them and he said could I have that in the room so I pulled Donna aside and I said, look Donna you can either have a great scene between these two people or you can have it without the jellybeans, which do you want? And she chose, she made the right choice, so.
Does having the off season story open more sports related stories?
Yes, that also certainly part of it, too. You know because we always try to balance you know sort of the A story where we’re going to go roller derby, we’re going have um bull riding, we’re going all over he place with a lot of different kinds of sports stories and even some outside the sports world. You know, we’re going to expand a little bit more this season and knock on wood hopefully even more next season to non-sports things while still keeping our sports family. You know, we’re not shy about the fact that we are, you know a football based show and um because initially you know we’d get some feedback saying well, you have to do more of the family for women and you know, not enough of the football for men and I was like that’s an incredibly sexist assumption. [LAUGH] 42 percent of the NFL’s fan base is women and women are more rabid fans generally. They travel more from their home uh cities to see away games than men do and so what we found out is that uh, a lot of our female audience really love the football part as well. So we didn’t want to go on the sexist assumption some people were making so…
Who are some of the other patients Dani will be treating?
Sure um, I’m thinking right now of the ones right here. Well, there will be a bull rider and I can’t even tell you too much about that because that’s not done. Um and uh we think there may be a spelling bee uh champion who has their own unique problems um and um I’m trying to think other sports. I said roller derby we’ve already done then we’re back to the Hawks. One of the things we uh are doing this year is that this is football, it doesn’t go outside it but we wanted to see a combine which even a lot of uh pro football fans don’t know about you know after you get drafted, you think oh everything’s fine. You just sign up, get your $7 million and you don’t have, have to go through this, this incredibly grueling you know test of all kinds of endurance so we’re going to show one of those that a lot of people haven’t seen and it’s kind of cool. We shot that in the dome and then let’s see. I’m, I’m, it’ll come to me as I come, as I come along and I will, and I will think of some others but definitely we’ll be expanding to other sports as well. So there’s some talk about gym, gymnastics, skating whether that’ll be figure skating or ice hockey, hard to say at this point, but we definitely will go all around the place to place. We’re doing baseball.
Baseball, that’s at this time of year.
So um and, and of course all of these present interesting challenges like with roller derby, how do you find people who do it? It so happens that there’s a great roller derby group right here in Atlanta so a lot of the people who are on the team in the second episode are from the Atlanta based team. Um, but it’s not so easy to go and just jiggle out, put out a call for oh actors with roller derby experience. [LAUGH] You know, it just so happens that we got a very athletic actress to play the main part in that particular story and then had really great success with these roller derby ladies who were quite photogenic and really were great on film. It was a lot of fun to do.
Where’s Dani and Matt’s relationship heading?
Oh, I can’t tell you that. [LAUGH] Let’s, let’s put it this way, their problems are not entirely over. I will definitely guarantee you that.
Will their secret stay secret for a while?
For a little, yeah, but that, that much I could tell you and eventually the kids like all kids know more than their parents ever you know, like when they get around to telling them it’s like yeah right, sure. We already knew, that type of thing. And the kids play a, a pretty much a bigger role this year as well. We’ve been really pleased with how Patrick and Hannah have come along and their characters have developed and I think that Liz and Craig and Jeff really want to take them in a different direction so they’re obviously will be getting ready to go to a higher grade. Eventually they’ll go off to camp and school and college and all that stuff so Dani will have to deal with that so.
Will we get to see other Hawks players? Like the one that was injured by the mascot?
Yes, right. [LAUGH] And we saw the Hawks’ mascot. Yes, there is actually we are filming right now uh, a linebacker with a weight problem and try to deal with all of what that means, how it affects his relationship, what, what it means if you are you know, we always think of these huge guys as football players but if you’re 310 when you’re supposed to be 280, that’s a problem and that’s essentially what we’re dealing with right here. There’s a, there’s a guy who’s about 30 pounds overweight as, as training begins and how, how is that happening and why is that happening and he doesn’t understand it and there’s a surprise is my guess is why that’s going on. [LAUGH] But yes, um we’ll definitely expand with the Hawks, there’s quite a bit more coaches around, quite a bit more um how Matt will work his way up in the Hawks role, take place, but we also will deal with other players as well. Much as we did, you know there was also a lineman last year, the third episode was about a lineman and that was one of my favorite episode I really thought he was terrific so.
Is Dani and Nico’s relationship going to be explored more this season?
Most definitely, yes, there are surprises to come between the two of them. Um it’s interesting, early on Nico is seen as a tangential character and I always felt particularly after we cast Scott Cohen because he’s so terrific. I always call him the New York Steve McQueen you know because you have this character who you know it’s sort of a male ideal. He’ll take care of things and he’ll look after you even when you don’t know he’s looking after you and, and above all things he keeps his word you know. When he promises in the pilot that he’ll take care of Dani’s problem and not to worry and then you see it play out and she doesn’t even know how he did it but he gets rid of the P.I., that’s pretty much their relationship for a while but eventually that also is going to morph and get a little more complicated, so and that will probably play itself out. I think that will reveal itself by the end of the first half of the season, for the first portion of the season, so you’ll see more of it.
How are you staging the first versus second story arc?
Story arc wise, you mean physically or just … ?
Are you going to leave a cliffhanger?
Yes, yes, there will be two cliff hangers this season because of the, you know the gap. The interesting here with USA is you have this one season and then we have sort of a mini season that will play out during the actual pro football playoffs in January so um we’ll play concurrently with that and, and we actually have changed everything. There was, my original concept for the visuals of uh the pilot and the first season was what we call perpetual autumn, you know it was always autumn and people would go well, but you get to the end of playoffs and it’s like November and I was like forget about that. It’s what you have in your mind about football season. It’s like not the autumn of things dying but the autumn of you go back to school, you go to work, the air is crisp and your mind is clear and, and we play football. So it was kind of idealized during the off season, it’s sort of an idealized spring/summer in that we took pictures of Long Island at its most beautiful with azaleas and hydrangea and all the thing that you see. In fact I’m going up next week in a helicopter to do all the aerials of Long Island in spring. So we’re trying to let that, that sort of infuse with the theme of what off season is about and, and then we’ll return to autumn in the second half.
It seems to lose momentum when you take a break like that.
That has been a big source of discussion for Liz and Craig and the writers and I think they come up, this is one another one where they’ll kill me if I reveal it, but I think they’ve come up with a great solution which is to sort of have cap it but leave a little space but not so much that you feel like it’s stale when you get to it. That we really will come into a new and there are several different story arcs will come into it a new mini season when we come back to it. So because I’ve seen that, I’ve seen it with several other shows where you’re sort of like, where am I? What is this? I don’t remember any of this.
Without a long review, the viewer won’t remember the story arc.
Right, right and then you know you get a 30-second recap to try to make that up. And it doesn’t work, yeah so…
This is an unusually serialized episodic show.
Well that’s the interesting thing I mean initially when USA picked us up they said you’re going to have to find a way you know, to be every story is its own story and all of that. But the more they’ve watched response to the show, the more they’ve seen stronger response to the serialization part so in fact we’re going more in that direction which is the direction Liz and Craig and I always wanted to go in from the very beginning but thought well there’s no where on television that does that anymore. I mean I, I think sort of executives got into their head, that was the only way you could make successful television and then things like “Lost” and “Heroes” and other things came along and they went oh, hmm, maybe there’s another way. Maybe the audience is more intelligent and can keep up and follow and actually enjoy that so and I, I think a lot of the successful series over the last few years have been that. You know, it’s not so easy to follow “Game of Thrones” unless you watch it. [LAUGH] It may not be easy anyway.
But they blast that straight through.
Exactly, exactly, that’s true, that’s true so.
What other locations do you plan to use in Atlanta?
Well, Clark, Atlanta is our training uh area and that’s been a wonderful relationship with them because um we’ve been able to support some of their programs by obviously with our locations fee and also and, um we’ve been able to use a fantastic you know set essentially there which is what they use for their training and the irony of it is they took a lot of pictures of the Jets uh, New York Jets’ original uh training facility on Long Island. They, they used to train at Hopstra [PH] much to the dismay of most New Yorkers. They moved it way upstate which we all think is a mistake but they have the right and Clark, Atlanta looks almost identical to the original, the only difference being that its colors are red and the Jets colors were green, so the seats were green at that facility so and the Astroturf that was put in for the Olympics this is at Clark, Atlanta is in better shape, was in better shape I should say than the Georgia Dome. The Dome just changed its uh, its uh turf so it’s all new. And the Georgia Dome has been incredible. I mean it’s this, this is something we could not have done really in New York I don’t think because one, the Georgia Dome is so cooperative and so welcoming as far as our, our filming and what we have to accomplish and they understand it and they, they really work with us. I think it would have been much harder in the New York area to do, to do that not only to mention that here you have the dome and when it rains you can still keep filming and a giant stadium, that wouldn’t have been possible so we also considered originally you know for the series Chicago, a couple of other places but a whole lot of reasons Atlanta made better sense. For, for one thing, what’s interesting too is if you take photographs of Buckhead or Brookhaven here in Atlanta, it looks remarkably similar to all kinds of places along Long Island so that was another thing. When we looked for Dani’s house I had photographs of several places near Manhasset of Long Island and there were whole neighborhoods that you could have just transplanted, you know, a couple of different trees here and there. You know southern trees as opposed to northern but the basic feel of the neighborhood and the basic visuals were really the same. I mean really easy to do. The other thing we’ve discovered um is you know with TK’s new uh plot line, he goes back to his old neighborhood. That’s not so easy to find in Atlanta. You know, Newark’s still a pretty tough town and has some pretty tough neighborhoods and Atlanta’s reconstruction has been pretty substantial so when things have been sort of decrepit they’ve been knocked down and you know but we found a couple of blocks. [LAUGH] And you know what, as long as it’s what you film, it’s not what’s actually there so we went down to you know the Auburn Street area right near the highway where there are things still you know pretty old style you know early 20th century buildings that have maybe not been kept up all that well and we used that area and then our art department which is brilliant has done some great things. They had to create an old hot dog place that uh TK went to and uh they, they go to visit that and they truly recreated something that looked like it was out of the 1960’s in Newark so and hasn’t been changed since and that’s funny because again in Atlanta it’s a newer city that’s been revitalized entirely, there weren’t, we had to build that. We couldn’t actually find a place quite like what we were looking for so you know there were a couple of soul food places, there were some old diners but there wasn’t quite what you would find you know like a White Castle on the corner so… [LAUGH]
Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t know. If you’ve eaten at White Castle, maybe it’s fortunately, so… [LAUGH] But we, we really see I mean, a lot of possibilities all around Atlanta. It’s a very vibrant scene and you can see you know there’s 12 productions here right now. There, there will be more as it goes along and that’s partially because Georgia has you know done the tax credit and welcomed the film industry but it’s also because they’re a great location here. So we’ve been able to do a lot with that and even when we’ve needed to film Manhattan there’s a few blocks. That’s, that’s harder you know but um down, you know down in the sort of downtown area near the federal buildings and so on, that looks a little like downtown Wall Street of, of Manhattan, we use that quite a bit so.
How do you deal with the heat here?
Oh my God. [LAUGH] Well it’s funny having been on location in a lot of places like New Orleans and Australia and so on, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I can’t say that’s true for the poor actors. We thought we were blessed like a week ago you know I was like a nut. I came to set when it was like 38 degrees and I said I don’t want to hear anybody complaining it’s cold. [LAUGH] Don’t say that out loud. Um, we, we only, we’ve committed to this year because we film to the end of August that pretty much we’re going to be indoors either in the Georgia dome. We’re not going to be at Clark, Atlanta for the last three, four weeks because we almost lost a few, in fact last year when we did the golf episode, we lost eight crew members that day.
Two to the hospital and six to the medic. And it wasn’t because we weren’t prepared. I mean we had Gatorade, so much Gatorade we looked like a commercial. [LAUGH] And we had you know, those cold things that go around your neck. If you wanted one of those you could put things, it, it was 105 degrees. We were out in the open on a golf course for 14 hours, so. We’re going to try not to repeat that one this year. As dramatic as it was uh we’re going to try not to lose anybody this year.
Will the conditions be harsh when you film at training camp?
That definitely will be dealt with both in story and also for us behind the scenes. [LAUGH] We have cooling tents, we have all kinds of things and we have double medics this year, you know we definitely have had to deal with them. We were hoping this wouldn’t happen quite so soon, it’s like April. [LAUGH] No, you said it would be okay in July, it didn’t quite work out. There are, there are a few things that we do have to work out in Atlanta. That and stink bugs. That was the hardest thing to try to explain uh to Callie. She was like they look like little ladybugs. You know, they’re not ladybugs. They’re really terrible little bugs.
Do they smell?
Uh, if you hit one it will, yeah and if they get on you and you flick them too fast, they also smell pretty bad. They must have like a truly scientific name. I’m sure they’re not really called stinkbugs in a biology class. But what’s weird about them is they come in clusters just like ladybugs. So I haven’t, I didn’t look them up but I have a feeling they’re related but they’re not the nice relatives. [LAUGH] They’re the ones you don’t want visiting. Exactly, so, they may serve a good purpose, too like ladybugs do. You want ladybugs they eat aphids and all that stuff.
Well they’re lucky.
Yeah exactly and they’re lucky. I don’t think stinkbugs are lucky. I’m pretty sure.
Are we going to see more about Dani and her ex-husband?
We would love to, we love Craig Bierko so much and we love that reunion show last year. Um, it’s been hard, we have so many plot lines going now um and also Craig’s uh schedule. We’re all, if we could do it in the second half, we definitely will but it’s hard, you know we’ve got TK and everything’s happening to him. Dani and the kids, Matt and Matt, coach, and you know and the A story it’s like, at a certain point we’ve been editing things going what has to go and it gets painful after awhile so um but we’d love to have Craig Bierko back, he’s fantastic so. And, and the cast that came in the pilot, that, that was, I really wanted somebody because that part is so unsympathetic. I think what Craig brought to it is he has such a great you know sort of persona.
That you, you hate to hate him. You hate him anyway. But he makes it hard to do you know. That scene in the garage where he has these lame excuses, it’s so ridiculous and yet somehow you don’t hate his guts. That’s what, that’s what I was out for because I didn’t want to make it into you know heroes and villains and make it less complex than it always is.
I’m excited about Evan Handler. How much of the season will cover the divorce?
It lead, it goes on for a good portion of the first part of the season and even, even after he leaves, um the repercussions of it go on from there. But Evan plays a major part in these first six episode, five episode. And then I’m not sure how it will go on from there when we’ll see him again but he has major, the one that we just finished editing 203 is, a big part of it is his plot line.
So and he’s really, he has some very great surprises coming at you.
How does Gaius Charles impact the story this season?
Yeah, Gaius was, was sort of the question of you know another player you know he hadn’t become a Hawk yet but he’s headed in that direction and we all loved in him so much on “Friday Night Lights” but the real problem was Gaius is not a big guy, you know despite his name. Um he, he’s like 5’10” and a half and there aren’t that many wide receivers, most are Mehcad’s height you know that, that sort of size. So we looked up and of course there was Welker and there’s been a couple, DeShawn and a couple of other people who were and we kind of wrote it for that specifically and some of those issues will continue to, to go on. But um, he gets introduced in 203 and he’s in a, a current episode we’re about to shoot and we’re hoping that he’ll come back as a recurring character. Because he, he’s just different. It’s so interesting to see somebody I mean literally I stand in the middle of everybody at the Georgia Dome and feel like a midget. You know, I’m looking up. I don’t usually direct looking up. Um but at least with Gaius I can actually talk to him. Oh, I could play football, too. I could play football. The only difference is he’s in really good shape. [LAUGH]
Did you find athletes from real teams?
Well, this has been one of our great blessings here is been to find Mark Ellis who’s our sports coordinator who we just call coach. Um he, when he did this initial audition I had no idea how would I approach it on a pilot and once I talked to Mark, he said it’s just like regular football. We’re going to have tryouts and we are going to find people. And I said look, you have to find people who can also act some you know um we’re going to have to have doubles who can do things where they move the same way particularly for Mehcad. We have two exceptional doubles for Mehcad because he even though Mehcad is game to do some of his stunts, the studio’s not game on his stunts. [LAUGH] And, and the same with Mark, Mark’s a former athlete so it’s easy for him to do some of that stuff again, studio’s not so wild about having one of their stars you know do any kind of dangerous stunt but I think the big surprise you know we had 180 people try out for to be a Hawk and you know they’re former pro players. Former college players, some arena players and we really have been very lucky in finding people who uh act very real. There’s going to be two friends TK’s going to have two regular friends now and both of those are, are athletes that we hired originally to find it so that’s one of the great, nice surprises and then to have Terrell come on, you know we didn’t know what was going to happen on the finale but we knew we had incredible presence but he, and well you know you hear the bad boy image and you sort of go great, incredible presence, will he show up? Um or how will he behave when he got there. He was amazing. I mean he arrived with such serious intent. You know he said I’m here you know to be an actor to do this part. He you know sat on set, he did not go back to his trailer. He watched Mehcad, he watched Callie and he really learned a ton and then you know he, he actually put it to use and you really see it in the scene you’re going to see this year because you’ve already seen growth as an actor you know. And then he has that, you know secret weapon, that 1,000 watt smile. Everyone on the set’s just like wow. Hopefully we’ll keep doing that you know. I like the idea of using real athletes as much as possible um but obviously there’s the challenge on the other side you know we have actors who spent their whole life training to be actors who really know what they’re doing and we have to balance that out you know with Gaius being smaller, we wrote it to him because he’s such a phenomenal actor that uh but I think if he had fallen out of the range, if he’d like been 5’7” and 120 pounds we wouldn’t have done it. He was at least in range of what a pro football player could be. The only difference is you know he’s this height and he’s in great shape, he’s probably not as built up as Welker or DeShawn or somebody like that you know. The, the amazing thing you find out is those guys weigh like 30 or 40 pounds more for their height and yet they are like, like that and that’s all in here. In fact, this year, Mehcad came back in better shape than ever which is hard to believe.
I remember in the pilot he took his shirt off and I was like, you’re kidding me. [LAUGH]
I heard Amy Sedaris is going to be on the show.
She is. We’re thrilled to have her. And yeah, I figured it’s, it’s the kind of thing we would you know also be a part that recurs but um we’ll have to see. For now, it’s a one off but we’re really thrilled to have her. She and Callie have been friends forever and love working together, so.
They play …?
Yeah, I can’t tell, that’s what I can’t tell. [LAUGH] Sorry. That’s, you know there’s certain ones where like Jeffrey, Liz and Craig are like no. No, you can’t do that. But it should, it’ll be fun, I assure you that.
Will TK ever have to meet the shooter in court?
That’s coming up.
He’ll have to face the shooter?
Probably. [LAUGH] The shooter we will see again, let’s put it that way. I mean, you saw him, you saw him sort of you know, the deal with him. Yeah he goes to him at, at the fan convention. But we are, there, there is a whole plot line that’s going to deal with that.
Keep reading this week and next for more insight from the set of NECESSARY ROUGHNESS!