ABC will debut Season 1 of its new series Pan Am on Sunday, September 25 at 10 PM ET, which takes a look at the "Jet Age" of the 1960s and the stewardesses of the most popular airline of the day, Pan Am. Star Christina Ricci and executive producer Jack Orman recently held a conference call to discuss this new series. Here's what they had to say below.
The pilot made me remember as a kid in the '60s dressing up to go somewhere on an airplane. Now people fly in sweatpants. Not to sound like an old fart but do you think we've lost something over the years, forgotten how remarkable this concept of air travel is?
Jack Orman: Absolutely. Part of the draw of the show is the glamour of the jet age and the really interesting element for me is that they got it right the first time. Transcontinental commercial flights started in the late '50s and we really haven't gotten any faster. People tried the Concorde but that didn't really pan out as a commercial enterprise but there was a certain element of air travel where the journey was as important as the destination. And part of I think the appeal of Pan Am as a brand is the idea that traveling was fun and glamorous and entertaining and in a more innocent time certainly before all the security and all the rigmarole that you have to go through to get through the airport. You could buy your ticket on the plane back then.
True, and I don't suppose we'd want to wear nice shoes if we're going to have to take them off and go in a box.
Jack Orman: Exactly and it was new to a lot of people but yeah, I think people take for granted how quickly we can get around the planet and it was much more of an event back then.
Christina, what was it about the premise of this show in general and about your character in particular that blew your skirt up, made you want to do this?
Christina Ricci: Well, I just thought the concept of the show was so different and something that as an avid television watcher myself, I couldn't think of anything that it really reminded me of. It just seemed like something that would be totally different and new. I also loved this particular period in history. I've always been fascinated by it and the idea that we could go back and revisit certain really big historical moments of this era was really exciting to me. And then, you know, I really, really loved the character that Jack has written for me. She's great. She has such a strong voice - and her kind of journey and story is something that I certainly relate to and I think a lot of people can relate to. And touches on the American dream in a lot of ways of wanting so badly to be something and that if you really want something and try hard enough and work hard enough in this world that you can turn yourselves into it, at least that's what the American dream's supposed to be.
Christina, I just want to kind of get a concept about the uniforms. First, how does it help transform you mentally into Maggie or a Pan Am flight attendant of the era?
Christina Ricci: Well, we have these undergarments that we wear, a girdle and a long-line bra, and the girdle keeps you from being able to do anything boyish like run or jump or step onto any or take any large flights of stairs.
So taking place in the early '60s allows for some callbacks to that decade's pop culture which everyone of course loves. It's endured for 40 years. What's your personal favorite bit of '60s-era culture and how do you also balance the show that you don't just turn it into sort of take jokes at those days but also work it into the pilot in an organic way so we're not laughing and saying hey, there's the Beatles or there's the Rolling Stones Satisfaction playing?
Jack Orman: Well to answer your second question first, I think that the thing that we're trying to remember in the writing of it, it was all new to them so they have a perspective, you know, that we don't have with the benefit of history so they didn't know Bob Dylan was going to be a superstar. We picked 1963 for a very specific reason. One is that obviously with the time of Camelot and there was a transition in American politics in government to a new generation and we thought that the jet age again which was this new exciting time of forward-leaning thinking would be a great time to jump in. But in a lot of ways, 1963, there was still a lot of '50s sensibility and the '60s in earnest as we know them hadn't quite happened yet so we wanted to start at a time where we could travel our series and our characters through a tremendous arc of change so '63 was in the summer of 1963 you had Kennedy's trip to Berlin. You had Martin Luther King's speech. You had certainly in November the Kennedy assassination and yes, the Beatles, you know, came in February of '64 and because we're a global show, because Pan Am only flew internationally, our characters and our show get a global perspective of that time so we do have a brush with history as an element to this show. But when we do it, again we kind of tell it on the ground so to speak from our characters' perspective and without the benefit of history. They're just living it.
Christina, what's your personal favorite bit of '60s pop culture that you're looking forward to either being on the show or just in general?
Jack Orman: Well, I do confess that I'm looking forward to writing the Beatles episode because that's very specific to Pan Am. They came over on a Pan Am airplane. If you see those pictures of them landing, Pan Am's everywhere so it's great when you can actually tie a very specific cultural event to your franchise.
Christina Ricci: Yeah, I think we're all looking forward to it. I can't wait for that episode.
Christina, is there another bit of '60s music or film or anything that you're a particular big fan of?
Do you have any sort of strategy to pass the time or do you have a habit that you or a ritual that you go through when you fly?
Jack Orman: Well for me I have to say when I have a lot of work to do, it's like the Concorde. I get up, open the computer and we're landing so I'm starting to try to time my flights back and forth from New York to when I have to buckle down and do some writing.
Christina Ricci: I used to tell people when I got on the plane that I had really horrible OCD and if I didn't finish the book I was opening, by the time I landed that I would have like a panic attack as a way of avoiding having to talk to someone really irritating next to me. But then it actually became true so now I actually have to finish - I sit down, I open a book - I have to read it, the entire book before we land or else I'm not happy at all.
Jack Orman: What if you don't like it? What if you don't like it, you know, 20 pages in?
Christina Ricci: I have to finish it. I try to choose my books really wisely at the little bookstore at the airport.
Can you tell me what the research process was like for the series and Christina did you do any research of your own?
Jack Orman: Well, the research process and in all areas. For me it started once I came on and Sony told me they had the rights to the Pan Am name and logo. It was about focusing the show more than anything else because it's the show that can go anywhere. But Nancy Ganis who is an Executive Producer on the show was a Pan Am stewardess and she was able to gather about 20 Pan Am stewardesses of that era in a conference room for me and we just started telling stories and talking and they were a really interesting bunch that helped me get my head around the mindset and how these women approached and viewed the world. And then we did the same thing with pilots so fort of anecdotal, you know, tangible personality elements was where I started and then once I had story that was specific to Pan Am, then I did specific research like Cuba, what happened to the pilots where Pan Am goes in and flies out a bunch of pre-Cuban prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion actually happened so then I got those details. But when we got to production, there was an extensive amount of research. We had to recreate a Boeing 707 from scratch which meant a lot of pictures, a lot of digging around the California desert for pieces of galley and cockpit and whatnot and certainly from a production design prop and costume point of view, every episode now is heavily, heavily researched for the time. It's a lot of fund. It's a huge challenge but it's a lot of fun in many ways really. Christina can elaborate but I think people really embraced that element of the show.
Christina Ricci: Yeah, every time we find out where we're supposed to be going next, you know, in hair and makeup they start pulling-up images of wherever we're going next and what people looked like at that time in, you know, Monte Carlo or Rio or Berlin and, you know, it's a whole new things of showing pictures around and people going like ooh, I like that hairstyle. Let's see that one or, you know, so it's fun but it is like every week more research and more images and more, you know, so it is constant, ongoing research.
Jack Orman: Yeah, the interesting thing is a global open exterior show and yet there's a real attention to detail.
Jack you produced TV series such as JAG and ER. Should viewers expect the same dramatic punches so to speak?
Jack Orman: Yes, I mean, I'm a big fan of ensemble drama and the multiple storylines and how these multiple storylines can weave in and out and bounce off of each other and really one of the big litmus tests for me whether stories belong together is whether they can impact each other. I think that it's a craft, an art form that I really enjoy. I think that what people may be surprised at when they come to see the series is that there's a male element to the show. We have two pilot characters. They have conflict with each other and with the girls and with the external world. There's as you can see from the Cuba sequence there is a dose of testosterone as well. Yeah, story drive is key and it's fun. The show is structured in such a way that we can tell stories on the ground and in the air and have a, you know, strong storyline.
Lately all the main characters in the TV series are women as in Pan Am there are four strong women. Do you think that women are taking over for the TV series because we have the main characters of Pan Am are four women and then we have some other TV series where the main character is a woman so why is this change?
Jack Orman: Well, I don't know about your house but in my house, the woman controls the remote control dial but no, seriously, women do drive television. They're faithful viewers of television. They enjoy nuance of story which is the type of story I like to tell. You know, men are a little more ADD for series television. I think most, you know, obviously that's a broad characterization but I think that it does seem to be a trend. I do need to refer to my last answer though. There is a male component to this show. I think the show will appeal to men in a surprising fashion.
In the pilot we saw the Bay of Pigs. There's going to be more historical events in the new episodes or historical events are going to be part of the episodes?
Jack Orman: Yes, there are historic but like I'm calling them brushes with history. They're there. Sometimes we build a whole episode around them, for example, a couple of episodes in, there's an episode that takes place in and around the time that Kennedy visited Berlin in June of 1963.
Was there anything Jack that when you were creating this that you thought to yourself here's something that I actually want to avoid. You were being asked about pop culture references earlier and the ones that you like. Were there any of the things that you looked at and you said to yourself I think that is a 1960s cliché and I really want to stay clear of that and for Christina was there anything that you thought to yourself going into this, you know, I think this is a 1960s cliché either for, you know, for women or whatever and I really hope that they don't make my character do this?
Jack Orman: I think that one of the things that - I know this is minor - but I think it speaks to authenticity is typically the cars are all really clean in the '60s it seems to me in a '60s movie and you go into...
There was no mud in the '60s.
Jack Orman: Yeah, exactly, and you go into people's houses and apartments and it's all decorated in exactly the type of furniture that came out that year, you know, and the truth of the matter is people have furniture that was from the late '40s or early '50s in their houses. I mean, my house has 10-year-old furniture and I think people have a tendency to grab, you know, production designer around, you know, what came out of magazine that year and I think to make it feel real, you need to bring some of the other decade into it.
Christina I know your mom was a model in the '60s. Did she like has did that help inform you at all in sort of what you know of the era? Going into this do you know, you know, more about this era perhaps than maybe other people your age just because of that direct connection with it?
Christina Ricci: Well, I think I'm more familiar with the images of beauty and with associating certain styles with ideas of beauty whereas someone who's more accustomed to modern ideals might look at some of the older looks and think ooh, that's weird looking. I am immediately comfortable with them, with the older looks and the older kind of styles and, you know, I've always associated all of these looks with the ultimate kind of feminine beauty ideals so for me it's just very natural and something that I'm very happy to embrace so it's kind of great.
What sort of misconceptions are there about hostesses in the '60s and how does Pan Am challenge them?
Christina Ricci: Well, I think the misconception would be that whole idea of them being just sort of these like pretty women that we just there to, you know, that whole coffee, tea or me thing and really, with the girls on Pan Am they were really they had to be college-educated. They had to speak two languages for what long trip the head of Pan Am really needed from his stewardesses. They had to be these intelligent, gracious hostesses who could be these kind of emissaries in a way and I don't think I realized that and I think that a lot of people won't realize that until they watch the show.
What is the most difficult part of playing Maggie?
Christina Ricci: Sometimes the clothes are a bit uncomfortable and the long hours in the clothes are difficult but other than that, it's really great. The experience so far has been really wonderful and I have to kind of search to find something to kind of complain about. I mean, I have nothing.
Last year we see lot of Hollywood stars play in TV series. What's the reason of this? What was your motivation?
Christina Ricci: Well, I think that right now there's just a much better variety of material and choice on television and I think also some of the best writing is on TV, some of the best talent is on TV, there's just so much more to be found in television, much more material and as I said, just some of the best talent in every department is on television right now.
Christina, why don't you tell us a little bit about the main characters in Pan Am that's your fellow cast members?
Christina Ricci: Okay, well there is Karine Vanasse and she's plays Colette and Colette is our French stewardess and Colette has been described as she is the romantic of the group and she is sort of the wisest - I would say she's the wisest of us - and had, you know, been through a lot in her life and is sort of looking quietly looking for love and connection and then there are the sisters. There is Margot Elise Robbie playing Laura and Kelli Garner playing Kate and their sisters and Laura joins up - runs away from her marriage - she joined her sister and joined Pan Am and it's sort of her first year and she's such a beauty that she is photographed for Life magazine as the face of Pan Am and all of a sudden she sort of rises very quickly in the ranks. And so she's very new and very wide-eyed and seeing the world for the first time and relying very heavily on her sister and also Maggie my character kind of takes her under her wings. And then Kate, Laura's older sister, has always sort of kind of has always kind of lived under the shadow of her sort of beauty queen younger sister but in our story is actually recruited - I can say this, can't I, Jack?
Jack Orman: Yes.
Christina Ricci: Okay, is recruited to actually recruited by the government by the CIA to spy and she'd be a spy under the cover of her job so Pan Am is finally her chance to show her value as an individual and how special she is above and beyond her sister so that's my take on the characters.
Jack Orman: It's that in a nutshell, yeah.