Day 1: September 25th, 2007
I know what you're thinking. "Nip/Tuck? Isn't it time for this aging show about plastic surgery to get a facelift?" Indeed it is.
When last we saw Dr. Sean McNamara and his partner Dr. Christian Troy, they were standing at the foot of the Hollywood sign having just moved to Los Angeles from Miami. After a shocking season four finale, the guys up and relocated their plastic surgery practice to Malibu. On October 30th, we will finally get to see the consequences of that move.
Once big fish in a small pond, the two surgeons are now but tiny specks in the plastic surgery capitol of the world. This has brought a whole new freshness to the controversial FX series. The actors, writers, and producers have been offered an opportunity to go in a whole new direction with the show's style and subject matter. It is the true rejuvenation of an American classic. And the cast is quite happy about their season five transformation.
To use a giant cliche, Nip/Tuck has itself gone under the knife, much like the guest stars on its show. That theme has become one of the underlining metaphors this season. Even when you change your outside appearance, your true self still shines through. And that is evident here. Though some of the characters' attitudes have changed, they are still the same people beneath the skin. Five years into its run Nip/Tuck is still proving to be a shocking expose on the triumph of the human spirit.
Part of the renewal process included a giant overdraft of the old sets. They have been changed and upgraded drastically, improved upon in both space, comfort, and mobility. Where the old stages were cramped and hard to maneuver within, these new sets offer total freedom. Especially in terms of setting up that perfect shot. I was recently invited down to Paramount Studios to take a look at the remodeling of McNamara/Troy and to chat with the actors. I also got to sit in on a few crucial scenes from an upcoming episode of this new season.
Stepping onto the studio lot I was greeted with a friendly, "Fire in the hole!" This was followed by a loud cannon blast. Surely I was walking into a World War II reenactment. Nope. On the lawn just outside of the Nip/Tuck sound stages sat a mall store Santa and a bunch of elves avoiding aggressive gunfire. I couldn't quite get a lock on whether or not it was for this week's episode of the show. It actually looked more like a department store commercial with a twisted bit of violence.
Vice President of Media Relations Scott Seoman, otherwise known as "Lord God King", greeted my in the reception area of the production offices. He passed off the Santa shoot as something quite ridiculous, "Oh, who knows what that is for." He then walked me over to Stage 4. Christian Troy's Malibu condo. "Today, we are shooting episode nine. What you will be seeing is a scene where Sean and Christian are in an argument. Sean has hired Gina Russo as the new receptionist. She is played by Jessalyn Gilsig, and she has a long history with the show. She always refers to Christian as 'Hey, Asshole'. I think that's actually her first line today."
We walked into the soundstage; "Dylan told me that he couldn't possible shoot another scene in his kitchen." We entered the waiting room of McNamara/Troy. Two very long couches lined the wall. Scott pulled a dust cover off one of the couches, "I'm not really a fan of this color." It was too dark to get a good grasp on the fabric, "I think its teal. These new sound stages are enormous. They are the size of a football field. They are not so limited. Not so defined."
We then walked into Sean McNamara's office. In the middle of the floor was a huge fish tank. It used to sit behind Sean's desk, but has been relocated in the set schematic to twist the flavor a bit. I ask about the fish. Who takes care of them? Do they live in here all of the time? "Let me tell you. Those fish are treated way better than the crew people. They were relocated in the move. Everybody always asks about the fish."
Scott took me on a mini-tour of the surgical compound. The scrub room was quite spacious. There were real Omniwell X-ray machines and other items that had been purchased from an actual medical equipment warehouse. The back wall was an illuminated cabinet full of real drugs, "Most of the good ones have already been consumed." Scott showed me an empty space on the wall, "In the first couple of episodes, there was a basketball hoop here. It was used to sort of show a passage of time. That no one was coming into their new practice. But business is good now. They've had to take it down to accommodate the procedures."
Below this empty space was the crowning jewel of the operation room. The Bang & Olufsen. A state of the art sound system that acts as a key prop in every surgical procedure scene, "When Liz waves her hand over the Bang & Olufsen, that's your cue to turn away. That's when you know it's going to get bloody." I am then walked through the rest of this area of the set. There is a prep room recovery station. "It's for people who have maybe just had a facelift and aren't ready to go home."
Next to this area is the break room. We turned the corner just as Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh's stand-ins were preparing to map out an upcoming shot. This is where we would be watching them create the magic. Scene 29: Sean and Christian argue over the fact that Gina has just been hired. Scott handed me that day's sides. He pointed to the WARDROBE section of the front page, "See where it says 'modesty covering'? That's what they call it when there is going to be nudity. That's usually a closed set." It is explained to me that Julian likes to refer to his 'modesty covering' as a cock sock.
A grip walked into the break room. Everyone in the area broke out into copious amounts of applause. "It's appreciation day. The crew picks out someone to appreciate, and when they come onto set they get applause." Charles Haid, the director of episode nine, took this moment to turn away from his monitor to acknowledge me. He gave me the once over, then nodded without an expression on his face. He turned back to his monitor. "That's Charlie. He calls himself the oldest director working on the hippest show."
Haid asked, "Are you a blogger?"
"No, sir. I don't blog."
"I keep hearing about these bloggers. What is that? I don't understand it. People keep coming in here, and introducing themselves as bloggers. When I was younger, we didn't have blogging. We had girls." Charlie pointed to the monitor, "This is a very stylish show. They are very rational about it. It takes forever to light."
The actors stepped into frame. I could see both Dylan Walsh and Julian McMahon gearing up to shoot the scene. They went through their motions, rehearsing a tiny bit. But not very much. They already had their dialogue pretty much locked down. Haid continued, "They brought me on for a few shows last season. They wanted me to bring a stylistic change, add a little spin to it. They wanted me to Hollywood it up. There are a lot of notes to classical literature in the show. It is like a Greek tragedy, instead of doing these small stories. This is not a kitchen sink drama. That sort of lets us justify our material. Bad things happen to bad people. We are taking shots at our own genre, and our own writers here. Characters in most procedural dramas don't make-out. Marcus Welby never made-out."
A crewmember tapped Haid on the shoulder. He quickly turned away from me, pulling on his headphones. The first take of Scene 29 was a go. The shot is "almost" perfect. The actors are flawless in their delivery. A tiny nod or facial gesture from McMahon has Charlie squeezing his fist. He knows when the scene is a lock. He's been doing this since Gunsmoke was on the air. "Take it again!"
Take 2. We get a two-shot, a close-up, and an over the shoulder shot all in one precise move. Jessalyn Gilsig as Gina Russo is supposed to catch a set of keys that are being flung at her face. She flubs her line. Haid tossed the headphones on the floor and screamed, "What!?!" He hopped off his chair, his demeanor hard to read. He seemed to be joking. Yet, he's a little too serious all the same. He hurried into the break room, "What the Hell is this! I was an actor myself once! I could get it right!"
He disappears for a few moments. When he comes back, it's obvious that he is joking. He isn't mad about the blown take. He mutters something about working on Gunsmoke, but I don't quite understand the gist of his statement. He's a funny guy. Take 3 is completed. And the actors nail it perfectly. It's a slightly bizarre moment. Sean McNamara exits the screen, and seconds later he comes walking through the door in front of me. Its as if this character has materialized from the antimatter of television snow. Actually, it's kind of spooky. I feel like I'm sitting at the mouth of a portal that has opened up inside the McNamara/Troy facilities. It's a moment that any true fan of the show would literally die for. It's the kind of moment they give to Make-A-Wish kids. Ones with cable, whose parents are bold enough to let them watch this overtly gratuitous show.
The actors do Take 4. Perfect. Then Take 5. Haid's face lit up. This was the one. He called cut and ran into the break room to reset the scene for coverage on Dylan Walsh. Julian McMahon would not be participating in this particular shot. Scott called him out of the room. I soon found myself shaking hands with "the" Christian Troy, also know as Victor Von Doom to a whole other audience of faithful devotees. Julian McMahon walked me into the surgery room. He wheeled a scalpel tray over and sat it between us, for the microphone...
We visit Julian McMahon and Guest Star Jessalyn Gilsig for a look at the show's fifth season
Interview: Julian McMahon (Christian Troy)
So, can you tell me a little bit about the scene that you're shooting today?
Julian McMahon: The scene you were just watching? You know that Christian and Sean have their little tiffs throughout the year. They always have them throughout the entire season. Are you familiar with the show?
I watched the first season, but then I lost my cable.
Julian McMahon: Lost your cable? For three years you lost your cable? That's a good excuse. I like that one. Anyway, every season we always have our tiffs. We have our rouse against each other. And this is our midseason row. Where we get a little pissy with each other. I have started a relationship with his (spoiler). And he's not very happy about it. So he's decided to hire a bunch of different people who are going to egg me on in different types of ways. The first person he hires is this very beautiful, large breasted receptionist. And that sends me on my merry way of unfaithfulness. Then he hires Gina, a character that has been around for a long time. Her and I have always had issues and problems. This, what your seeing today, is the start of that. We are shooting with Jessalyn, who is playing Gina. She has been on the show since we started. And this is basically about us getting pissy with each other.
Do you feel rejuvenated as an actor, having the show switch locations from Miami to Los Angeles?
Julian McMahon: Absolutely. It's funny, because you do the same television show for a while and things get stale. I get bored. You keep coming back to the same sets and you keep hammering out the same stuff. For us, it was really coming back to these new sets, which are three to four times the size of the sets we had before. We are shooting right now in our surgery suite, which is at least double the size of the surgery suite we used to have. And these other rooms we have were never anything like this. And the lobby is just enormous. There is this feel of changing things over. It gives you an injection of newness. Which is difficult to do in the sixth season of a show. So, there is that. And it's exciting for the writers and the actors, especially in regards to the new characters and storylines. Because the topography of Los Angeles offers up something different. It's a different city with a different clientele. There are different kinds of characters, and a different orientation. There are just a whole bunch of things to work with.
What are some of the challenges your character is running into, being the small fish in the big pond?
Julian McMahon: Well, like you said, he is the small fish in the big pond. It's that kind of thing. Its not like Miami was a small pond. It was a different kind of pond. My character doesn't really understand it. Christian has always had this ability to charm his way through things. And use his looks and style to intimidate people. That kind of stuff. He comes to this city and finds out that he is not as good as other people at it. That's difficult for him, and he goes through a lot of different phases trying to rectify that.
How much push do you have in developing your character?
Julian McMahon: I don't do anything. You know, I wouldn't want to. They have a cool job, those writers. What am I going to do?
I was told to ask you about the "cock sock". I think it's you that has named his "modesty garment"?
Julian McMahon: Yeah, well, the "cock sock" is something we made. I'm sure its been made before. Our design is a little specific. It's just a thing that we use. I am supposedly naked a lot. And we have this little thing called the "cock sock" that comes out. It comes in this beautiful leather case. It's well traveled. It's just something that we have a bit of a joke about.
Well traveled? How often does this thing get washed?
Julian McMahon: No, once it's used a new one comes in.
Oh, so you don't have this one immaculate "cock sock", like a lucky "cock sock" that you have to use?
Julian McMahon: No, no, no! You mean like the golden "cock sock". That's not a bad idea.
Yeah, that's what I was thinking. That it was like a lucky pair of underwear.
Julian McMahon: If we had a golden "cock sock", we would never use that one. We'd have to put it up on a plaque , or something. That is a good idea. I just might have to do that.
Now, what kinds of problems are you going to be encountering during your fifth season?
Julian McMahon: I really only know up until what we are currently shooting. I don't really pay attention to what is going on. Sometimes I don't even pay attention to the stuff I am doing.
From what I understand, you have some great guest stars coming up. Sean's ex-wife is in a relationship with Portia de Rossi?
Julian McMahon: Yes. Absolutely. We also have Oliver Platt, Bradley Cooper, Lauren Hutton, Rosie comes back. Who else do we have? Do you know of anyone I'm missing?
It seems like there was one other big one that I'm not remembering right this second. Is there anyone you are particularly looking forward to working with?
Julian McMahon: You know, they've all been great. People come here and they have a pretty good time. We have a pretty free flowing set. People come here to enjoy new characters that they haven't had an opportunity to play before. Particularly, it's been fun working with Oliver and Rosie. They've just meshed together in this relationship, and its pretty ridiculous. It's hysterical.
What do you think of all these new sets?
Julian McMahon: I love them. You've got the general kind of feel, like you are in a bigger place. And a better place. It's just kind of in the character of the place. Just more so, there's a lot of room to move around in. There are great places to do great shots. There's a lot of movement you can do in the scenes, and you can do more with it. It gives you the ability to have that much more of an expanse. I enjoy that immensely.
Now, I was taken through one of the apartment sets. Is it your character that is currently living in Sean's guest room?
Julian McMahon: No, Sean is living in my guest room in Malibu.
Does he have any plans to move out? How is that arrangement working out?
Julian McMahon: Who knows? But it is fun. It has made for some pretty fun stuff.
How is it working with this director, Mr. Charles Haid?
Julian McMahon: I love him. I am a huge fan. We started working together last year. And I just love him.
Mr. Haid was telling me that he has changed the style of the show considerably.
Julian McMahon: Yeah, the style of the show has changed a lot. The style is very performance orientated now, as opposed to before. When it wasn't quite that. That has been one of the big things that Charlie has brought along. He gives you the ability to play around a lot more. We are using shots that we haven't seen before. We are using the material to its full advantage.
How do you think the series would have gone had you stayed in Miami?
Julian McMahon: Geez, who knows? That requires too much thinking from me.
As an actor, do you think you would have been bored?
Julian McMahon: I was already bored. Yeah. Just a little, you know? You can't help what TV is. It's a consistent medium, and you churn it out. You know what I mean? That will come into play at all points when you are doing a TV series. This is a reinvigoration, and it's a good way to enjoy it.
Excellent. Well, I will let you get back to work.
Thanks. Nice talking to you.
McMahon headed back to his designated place on the set. I went and took my seat next to Charlie Haid. We watched the reverse shot of Scene 29. It's a reaction shot from Dylan Walsh. He sits, eating yogurt. The lines are ran through twice. The first one is perfect. Haid has them do it again for prosperity, "Great. Really good." Dylan smiles. Haid jokes, "Why can't I have the same results when the camera isn't on you?" Lunch is then called. Jessalyn decided to postpone her lunch for fifteen minutes so that she could talk to me. Once again, we went into the surgery center and did the interview from a scalpel tray...
Interview: Jessalyn Gilsig (Gina Russo)
So, you are the guest star on this episode, number nine of the fifth season?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yes. I play this character named Gina, and she has popped in and out over the years. And this is her return. We get to see her big move out to Hollywood. And she is causing more trouble. I always cause trouble. I normally refer to Christian as an asshole. Since the first season, I have always called him that. That's my little pet name for him.
What is a little bit of the back-story on you guys?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Basically, we met in the first season. We met in sexoholics anonymous. I offered to be his sponsor. At which point, he immediately invited me for a drink. At which point, we immediately went to bed together. And then I got pregnant. I decided to keep the baby. And he sort of became attached to the idea of becoming a father. He supported me through the pregnancy, and actually delivered the baby. When the baby was born, he was black. So it became decided that it was not his child. Over the course of the years, we have dealt with the custody of this baby. It's not his biologically, but he is attached to him. And he now has Wilbur in his custody. I was considered to be an unfit mother. So I couldn't keep him. But I love him, so I do get to see him.
Now, are you going to be sticking around for a couple of episodes?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yes, I am going to be doing a few more after this. I don't know how many episodes I will actually be doing though.
So, are you like the other actors on the show, where you don't really know what you will be doing week to week?
Jessalyn Gilsig: I don't really know my story arc, but Ryan likes to give you little hints about things. Sometimes those ideas happen, sometimes they change. I think what is nice about the show is that its so organic. I have to wait to see what happens to my character. They wait until it's on the screen, and then they write in different directions. When I was first on the show, I was initially only supposed to do two episodes. And now I have returned for every season. The writers are great. They get inspired by different things. And they keep writing for you.
Now, what do you think of all these new sets?
Jessalyn Gilsig: They are beautiful. They are gorgeous. The sets are amazing, and kind of intense. It is such a cool idea to move the show. And put it into a new culture. It's awesome. They've told me that they really enjoy it, because it has added a lot of new dimensions for them.
Your character originally lived in Miami, right?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yes, and now I have moved to Los Angeles. Because he has my son. Wherever my son is, I am going to be there. And Gina is absolutely in love with Christian, and convinced that they are meant to be together. She is a bit like a stalker, I guess. She will never leave him.
How different is this show from some of the other shows you are currently working on?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Well, you know that I am working on Friday Night Lights right now. This is very different. Friday Night Lights is very stylized. Well, both shows are very stylized, but they are such different styles. Friday Night Lights is almost shot like a reality show, or a documentary. It sort of happens, and the camera sort of chases you. It is shot very, very fast. There is a lot of energy to it. This show has a very clear esthetic. It is very hard to find that esthetic. They are really at two ends of one spectrum.
As soon as you are done with this, you have to fly out to Austin, right?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yeah, that's where I'll be shooting Friday Night Lights.
Are you also going to be heading over to the set of Heroes soon?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Not soon. I worked on Heroes last season. I played the cheerleader's mother. I think I am coming back this season, but I haven't been told officially. I hope so. They called to tell me that they want to bring me back. You just never know.
In the one scene we were just watching, you had to catch Julian's keys in every single take. How difficult was that just now?
Jessalyn Gilsig: (Laughs) I was very athletic as a kid. No, it was fun. Julian threw those keys great. That was such a great little button for the scene. That he would toss those keys at me. And try and diss me. That's what's fun about Gina. She always gets the last word on him. I always think of her as if Christian had to deal with himself. It would be Gina. She sort of mirrors him a little bit. And it is so incredibly annoying to him. Which I love playing.
Now, how is working with the director, Mr. Charles Haid? I noticed there was a little flub up in the line.
Jessalyn Gilsig: He is so sweet.
When he saw you mess up the line, he was like, "Arrggghh!"
Jessalyn Gilsig: Oh, was he? (Laughs)
Yeah, he seemed really serious at first, but then I got the gist that he was kidding around. I hope he was just joking.
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yeah. He is so nice. He knows that it's my first day back. I haven't been here for more than a year, and that I have a little bit of the jitters. He seems wonderful. It's interesting, because in TV you have new directors all the time. I was just saying to Ryan, actually, that I thought this director really fit into the fabric really nicely. Everyone seems really comfortable with him.
When he got up, he looked very angry, but then when he started talking I could tell that he was joking around. Is that at all intimidating? You've worked with Charlie before, right?
Jessalyn Gilsig: No, I haven't worked with him before. This job has been very interesting for me because I've been coming back and forth for so many years. It's like coming home. No one really gets mad at you. Everyone is just trying to do the best that they can. I made a little mistake. He was perfectly nice to my face. He wasn't upset.
Well, I'll let you get to lunch.
Jessalyn Gilsig: It was nice meeting you.
Yes, it was very nice meeting you, too.
And with that, she was off to lunch with the rest of the crew. You can catch all of the excitement when Nip/Tuck premieres its fifth season's new skin on Tuesday, October 30th, 2007. Only on FX.
Dont't forget to also check out: Nip/Tuck