Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Actors like to dabble. It’s how Ron Howard went from Happy Days to feature-directing greatness. So it’s no surprise that those who have the opportunity take the plunge to write and direct for TV. Historically, actors have had their share of Emmy good fortune, most recently including comedy writing wins for Tina Fey (30 Rock), Garry Shandling (The Larry Sanders Show) and Ellen DeGeneres (Ellen) and drama series nominations for Denis Leary (writing, Rescue Me), Laura Innes (directing, The West Wing) and Steve Buscemi (directing, The Sopranos). We caught up with five such multi-faceted souls who will be submitting for Emmy consideration this year in categories outside of their performances. They discussed what it is that inspires them to move to the other side of the camera.
(Star of AMC’s drama Breaking Bad, directed the Modern Family episode “Election Day”)
“You wind up using a different set of muscles directing than you do acting. I didn’t go in there trying to change things. My job was to get the things I needed to get to satisfy Steve Levitan. I went in with a list of what I needed to get and a secondary one of what I wanted to get — and then a third one in my back pocket of what it would be really cool to get. I was able to satisfy all of those things. But it involved a certain amount of anxiety. I just marvel at guys like James Burrows who are so calm and make it look so easy.”
WILLIAM H. MACY
(Star of Showtime’s dramedy Shameless, co-wrote the series episode “Can I Have A Mother?”)
“My ulterior motive for writing at this point, in all candor, is to craft myself a really nice part. I don’t really write stuff that’s just sent off for other people to act. My writing partner Steven Schachter and I were able to write some very sweet stuff for me, like Door To Door (which earned Macy a pair of Emmys in 2003). I love the process of creating with Steven. It’s that part of knowing the beginning, middle and end and then putting in all of the connective tissue that I find such a joy. And I have to say, I love television. I truly believe we’re in a golden age right now. One reason for it is that audiences … demand surprises and love good writing and insist upon it. With the demise of the indie film market, TV is really now the place to be.”
(Creator/star of HBO’s comedy Girls, the 26-year-old also wrote and directed the majority of episodes)
“People probably think I’m a control freak. But honestly, since I come out of an independent film background, multi-tasking is just what I do.” (She excuses herself to tell a cab driver to turn right.) “My head is just naturally in a million places. But the reason I direct is, if I’ve written the material I’m probably the best person to be in charge of getting my message across. … The key is just surrounding yourself with people who will be totally honest with you, from the DP to the producers to the costume designer. … The fact is, making a movie is making a movie. It’s easier to do it with 55 people than with six people. But the challenges and joys remain the same.”
(Star of Showtime’s comedy Californication, directed the series episode “The Way Of The Fist”)
“It’s easier to direct myself on the show than in a movie, because at this point I pretty much understand my character and his motivations. But I see acting and directing as very much connected. It’s all making entertainment and telling stories. But sometimes I have to push myself to stay in the moment while directing. I tend to get very excited when other actors are doing well and forget that I’m actually in the scene with them. I’ll quietly start to celebrate on the inside that they nailed it, and it’s tough to stay focused myself. But when someone does something surprising or wonderful in a scene you’re directing, well, this business doesn’t get any better than that.”
(Regular on AMC’s drama Mad Men, directed the series episode “Signal 30”)
“It’s such a different experience from being merely one of the players. You’re really the one who’s responsible for telling the story. Matt (Weiner) has a very specific view of the show and an idea of what he wants, and he translates that to you. I know he has the reputation for being controlling, but he wants you as the director to put your stamp on it. And I just love directing. It takes considerably more time than does acting alone. But it also allows you to see how you are, warts and all, which is a good thing. It helps you to get over yourself: the way you look, the way you stand, the way you speak. You just become another element that you’re editing. That’s ultimately a good thing for your self-image.
(Photos: Getty Images)