The star and the creator of the NBC series talk about the second season
Life is winding down with its second season finale that's set to air on Wednesday, April 8 at 9 PM ET on NBC. Series creator Rand Ravich and series star Damian Lewis, who portrays eccentric detective Charlie Crews on the series, recently held a conference call where they discussed this second season. Here's what they had to say.
I was wondering what's it been like working with Gabrielle Union?
Damian Lewis: She's - Gabrielle is fantastic. Hang on, I'm trying to work out how to take you off speakerphone, give me a second. It's been great, you know, big shoes to fill coming in in Danny Reese's place and finding a new partner for Crews. She comes with a different dynamic, a different - a different set of objectives and aspirations and she's - it was a fun, fresh new character and Gab was a pleasure to work with.
What do you find continues to challenge you about the role as Charlie Crews?
Damian Lewis: I think more often than not it's usually the second of the two most - it's the least obvious choice I should say. When you think of an emotional response to something or how we or one might respond in a situation, Charlie probably finds a different way to respond to it I think. It's in a strange way he is kind of counter-intuitive, which of course is what opens up different portals for him, if you like, than it does for your average human being or your average cop because by choosing the, you know, the least trodden path, you know, he discovers things that others don't. So it's just staying vigilant with that and being disciplined about making choices that aren't always the obvious ones.
Why do you think people continue to tune in and watch the show?
Damian Lewis: Well I think - I think - there's a lot of procedural cop drama. We're a cop show that has a bit of difference to it. It has themes which are a little bit more ambitious than your average show to do with transcendence and second chances. I think people respond to the Zen Buddhist element of it because it's not laid on heavily, it's done playfully but it's interesting for people to watch. Then I think - I think the show is constantly conflicted with itself, you know, there are opposite opposing magnetic forces in the show within the main storyline and within each character. So I think there's just a bit more for people to get their teeth into and that's why they stay - stick around and watch it.
Rand, I really enjoy the show. I'm hoping to see it return in the fall. What's your gauge on that at this point?
Rand Ravich: They're being very Zen about it. You know, it's a, you know, it's a crazy time in television. NBC is kind of figuring itself out. And those questions are certainly above my pay grade. So - but I do feel - I do feel like I've always felt like I do feel that creatively we get tremendous support at the studio and network. But I think they will - I think they've got pilots coming in honestly and I think they'll see - they'll judge us with everybody else.
Damian, what can you tell us about the season finale?
Rand Ravich: He ends up on Mars.
Damian Lewis: That's what I can tell you about it, yeah. We all go to Mars. Well finally we've managed to work in some time travel into the show which we've been dying to do. So - well I think - well that's a question for Rand as much as it is for me. But things - plot lines that people have followed the whole way through in terms of Charlie's own story come to a very satisfying conclusion on the one hand whilst one or two of them are left unresolved also in a satisfying and tantalizing way on the other hand. And with the - in fact the last show concentrates almost entirely on that element of the story. There is...
Rand Ravich: Right, we did what we did last year. We did what we did last year is that we don't - certainly last year we didn't know whether we were coming back as well. And so this episode leaves us at a very satisfying place I think emotionally and plot-wise for all our characters where if this were it we would not feel - we would not feel frustrated as an - I mean, I as an audience viewer would not feel frustrated. So there's still plenty of room to go on, there's still plenty of doors to open but we do resolve more than a few things. And really Crews's journey inward about searching for himself and searching for what happened to him opens him up to relationships with others. So he - I mean, he finds something on the inside and something on the outside in this episode.
I wanted to kind of add to that question a little more if I could. If - let's say you come back for another season is the show done when Charlie finds out everything that put him behind bars or does it...
Rand Ravich: No the show is done because what happened to him - and really we've gotten back to that - what happened to him on that day 12 years ago and what happened to him in those 12 years of prison. And perhaps we did stray a little from that in mid-season but those are things that will be with him forever and he will take that into every single situation. And the conspiracy, the exact things that set him up and set him there are resolved on one level here but it does go beyond that. And so in an immediate mechanical sense the conspiracy itself can go on certainly from this. But also what happened to him will go on forever, I mean, everybody, I mean, and we thought this, you know, from the first season - the first show is that people go through events in their Life that change them forever on a daily basis. And so no absolutely not, when he finds out what happened he's got to deal with it and he's got to integrate it into his Life. And that's why I very feel like it's a gift to get that character because it does keep growing.
Okay and I know obviously you haven't heard yay or nay yet from NBC but is there any sort of conversations as to how things might work in their sort of brave new world where..
Rand Ravich: NBC paradigm?
Rand Ravich: I think we're going to play as like little tiny 30 second spots and like - in between Leno and Good Morning America.
All right, thanks.
My question is actually for Rand kind of another question about Gabrielle Union. I had read, you know, before it was announced she was coming on you guys were thinking about trying a series of guest stars for that. Are you still planning to do that? Is the plan to keep her on, you know, assuming you guys come back?
Rand Ravich: Well we loved her character. I mean, we loved her, you know, on set and on camera because what she was - every character on TV doesn't have to be messed up. You know, everybody doesn't have to have a dark secret. Everybody does not have to be dealing with tragedy. And there are people who are happy and adjusted and are, I mean, it can be different and quirky and have their own - certainly their own character. But, you know, there are people on the police force and your Life who are happy. And she brought that breath of fresh air to the bullpen. She's off shooting her own pilot so just for the (consistencies) of broadcast television we don't know whether she will be available to us. I mean, she came on for - she, you know, we were very lucky to get her for these four episodes when we found out Sarah was pregnant. But that being said, the Sarah/Crews dynamic is the heart of the show, you know. And every time we sit down to write a script that's what you have to remember is that, you know, he's got - Crews has to deal with prison and coming out of prison and the conspiracy and who got it. But, you know, like a marriage in a moment to moment dynamic - energy of the show it's Crews and Reese tumbling around - over and around each other that gives it the energy. And that's something I would want to go back to as soon as I can.
So you don't expect to bring on other people?
Rand Ravich: We'll have to see about the state of Sarah's pregnancy. It's a very strange - it's a very strange thing, you know, because it's not a purely creative choice. It's Gabrielle and her pilot, it's Sarah and her pregnancy. Ideally I'd like, you know, I don't - ask my wife, I don't like change. But I'd like to go back to the way it was. But we'll have to see over the next couple - if we get it pick up initially we'll have to make that decision so we're not sure yet.
Could you talk about how Sarah's pregnancy affected the storytelling you planned on doing this season versus the storytelling you actually did?
Rand Ravich: You know, Sarah's pregnancy got us to the same place where we were going to, but we just had to take a different path to get there. We'd always, I mean, if you watch 21 it's - we'd always intended on ending up in this place, with these characters, in these positions, acting out these emotional arcs and with this energy, anticipated in this way. But her being pregnant we just had to sit down very quickly and figure out a different way to get there. So - and, you know, it was really a - it was an opportunity and it allowed us to, you know, once that drops on your plate you kind of throw a lot of things out the window and it allowed us to shake things up a little bit and be a little more free-thinking. But it only changed the, you know, it only changed the production in the structure of it. I mean, the show was different if she had been in, you know, in a non-pregnant way. But the overall story and the overall direction stayed the same.
And could you talk about how you feel about this season's sort of mix of narrative and episodic storytelling rather or the serial rather and episodic storytelling?
Rand Ravich: Good question. It's, you know, it's a challenge; it is a challenge because you have to, you know, you have to - you have to keep track of everything. And, you know, you know, we have to, you know, it is episodic television so, you know, and that has a definite form and you have to solve a week and you have to have a case a week. And then you have to find, as cases, you know, sometimes cases are bigger and we - and the serialized elements get squeezed to the end and sometimes they're smaller and we can weave them in in a more organic way throughout the acts. And those are certainly the most enjoyable episodes. So it is - it is a challenge. When it works I think it is incredibly powerful and incredibly fun because you bring your - you bring, you know, you have a lovely morning with your wife or a fight with your wife and you bring that to work and it's there with you all day. Or you bring your work home and that's when your Life, I mean, your Life is totally integrated in that way. And when our 42 minutes and 30 seconds work like that when the home Life comes into the office and the offices comes into the home Life and the conspiracy comes into the bullpen and the bullpen comes into - when all that is working I think - and we're firing on all pistons like that I do think it's tremendous. I just think it's a very difficult challenge to get that going on a weekly basis.
I'm from Philadelphia and I'm just wondering I know you give a lot of shout outs to Haverford College, I'm wondering when Solomon Schechter is wondering when they're going to get their chance.
Rand Ravich: Oh my god, you've really done your research. That's third season. I'm running out of Haverford names.
Rand Ravich: Schechter - there will be a Schechter, as god is my witness there'll be a Schechter in the third season if we come back.
Okay I was wondering also if you were thinking of combining, you know, some producers combine various projects. If you thought of the real killer being Chuck Barris, bringing him back from the Confessions of a Dangerous Mind...
Rand Ravich: Oh I'm afraid of Chuck, you know, he's never denied that he was not an actual hit man. So, yeah, but you know, you know, the reason why I love that character, you know, I read that book and it's that thing I was just talking about, it's your personal Life and your professional Life and all, you know, and when like - when you're doing one and the other one blindsides you from a 90-degree angle that's when, you know, when we did the (fall out) in Crews's house - he's working on the conspiracy and his father shows up or he's working - he's talking to his dad and the (unintelligible) shows up and his head comes down the stairs. When all those different strands of you Life come together in a way you hadn't expected that's, you know, they're fun to write and they're fun to watch.
Okay do you believe in second chances? Do you believe that there is such a thing as a second chance in Life?
Rand Ravich: I know I've had them so I would have to save empirically yes although I would, you know, yes I would have to say yes just because I've experienced them.
Do you find sometimes it's difficult to weave him into the narrative in a way that doesn't sort of make it seem like Adam's off in his own little spin-off?
Rand Ravich: Yeah, you know, honestly absolutely, you know. And I do feel as a writer and as a human being I feel a little - I wish I could find more time for Adam and I wish I could find more time for Ted. And that's going back to that question of episodic and serialized going together. It's that, you know, you have just, you know, just by the demands of the structure you have the A-story and then you have the Crews story and if a story falls out of that satellite - sorry, out of the orbit it's very hard to bring it in. And so, you know, Adam is such a blast to write for and every second he is on screen is a delight. And so, yes, it is difficult to reach that far away from the center of the story. And we are always looking for ways to weave him in more organically.
And in a related area you've been teasing the return of Christina Hendricks for a very long time now. Now that Ted knows that she's in Italy is there a chance we might see her?
Rand Ravich: Yeah, third season absolutely.
Will we be seeing any resolution to Charlie's ex-wife in the finale?
Rand Ravich: In the finale no he's - I would say that his resolution with his ex-wife has temporarily as of I think episode eight or nine this year, you know, it was that thing of are we still in love? Was it just sex? Was it not just sex? And I think they came to a certain conclusion in their relationship. And, I mean, that is an orbit that is going to come hopefully in the third season will come back around with more power. But at the moment I think he's - I mean I think it's all about where - if you've watched the end of the last episode it's where is my partner? And we have to deal with that.
You know, having just completed the season, you know, what was the thing that sort of stood out most in your mind as something that you really want to achieve with this character that you haven't had a chance to at this point?
Damian Lewis: There are - there are so many - Crews is so multifaceted. He actually - that it's actually pretty satisfying playing him as it is. I think the more he is able to journey inwards, as Rand was mentioning earlier, and be at peace with himself then there might be opportunities for, you know, some kind of more long-lasting human connection with other people because he's pretty - he's a pretty peripatetic kind of character; he doesn't settle in one place for too long. And I think it's always important just to keep revisiting, you know, the darkness of his character, the impact of the experience of being 12 years in a maximum security prison. We have a commitment on the show to keep it light entertaining with a comedic touch. And that's worked fantastically and it's a lot of fun to play. But keeping those moments alive I think would be important. Otherwise, you know, I just - I have great fun with it as it is actually.
I mean he's such a great character, such an unusual personality. Do you find that there are elements of his personality that you have taken home with you?
Damian Lewis: Yes and it's one, you know, it's one of the curious - one of the curious elements - things about acting and the nature of acting is you bring parts of yourself to a role and you allow those things to rub off on you. And somewhere in that sort of symbiotic process, you know, the character is realized, you know, along with - so it's, you know, at its best it's a real collaboration between personality of the person playing it and the words that's written by the writer. So, yeah, art imitates Life imitates art, you know, daily for me. And, you know, that happens only when the writing is strong obviously. And so it does happen on this show, yeah.
Rand, creatively what were some of the challenges getting Life off the ground? And second part of the question how were you seeing the show grow and develop as it's gone on?
Rand Ravich: Creatively I have to say - creatively there were very few - once - there was a - it happens very rarely but there was a great moment in my Life where that character of Charlie Crews appeared. And I think everybody saw him the same way I saw him and as long as people realize that he was - that he was not static, that he was (failing) at them; that it was about the contradiction of transcendence and revenge. I think everybody immediately thought I understand that. And it was a really blessed process right from the start. The challenge has been, honestly it's been kind of the reverse of the question. The challenge has been being true to that and, you know, not getting ground down in the week to week machine of episodic television which I love. But, you know, and remember that that's what the show is about. Because I do think that with Crews and with the good fortune of Damian Lewis I don't think there's - I think there are so many places to discover - to explore the human condition with those two - with that character and that actor. And so I think it's remembering - and we do this when we sit down to write we remember who Charlie Crews is and what's great about it and what we love about him. And so - and keeping open to where he would go. So it's less about - it's less about taking him to new places and it's more about remember who he is to begin with.
And Damian, just a couple of general questions if you don't mind? Did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up or did you have other professions in mind?
Damian Lewis: Yeah, I wanted to run bingo halls. And - but I ended up acting. I always acted. I always acted at school, school productions, that kind of level. I wasn't a child actor, I wasn't a performer, you know, anything like that. In fact the kind of schools I went to would suggest that, you know, that would not be the path one would take. But no I, you own, I suppose my heroes and my aspirations lay in theater because I grew up in London where, as you know, our theater is traditionally very strong. And it didn't really involve film and TV. And the more I really worked into film and TV is when I came to appreciate it. And, you know, love doing both now; love having that opportunity to be able to, you know, fly backwards and forwards between the two.
I certainly don't want this question to come off as pessimistic but, I'm sorry, Damian, have you thought about - well are you sad at the thought that you might not be playing this character again next season? And have you given any thought to, you know, where you might go from here or are you still holding out hope that there's going to be a last minute save?
Damian Lewis: Three of the major studios are currently in a holding pattern waiting to hear about this.
Rand Ravich: We're taking this to Branson. We're going to do a dinner theater version of Life.
Damian Lewis: He offered me major contracts. No I, yeah, you get attached; you get attached to characters you play. Obviously the longer you play them the longer you get attached. Working in network TV is - completing a season of network TV is a huge accomplishment whether it's good or crap as far as I'm concerned. It's an enduring test and it's also - you have to fight very hard just to create a little bubble around yourself just to give yourself enough space daily in which you can be creative because there is a constant clamor around you if you're the writer/creator like Rand, you know, you're never left alone. Similarly if you're, you know, the star of the show you're never left alone. There are people in your face all the time. And you just - you have to work very hard just to create that little bubble of space around yourself. And that takes as much energy as it does actually then just doing the work. So I feel a huge sense of achievement and accomplishment from doing two seasons. I'm extremely proud of it. And I'm very attached to the character. I'm very attached to all the people I work with. It's, you know, it's been a, you know, it's been an intimate experience. And at the heart of, you know, the commercial machine, you know, the beast. And that's quite difficult to achieve. But it's been hugely enjoyable for that reason.
Rand, I wanted to ask you kind of more of a creative question along the same topic is how much does it hinder you in the creative process with the kind of up in the air feeling of whether you're going to be back again next year or not? I know you kind of dealt with the same thing last year in the storytelling. But are you able to tell this story that you want to tell or do you kind...
Rand Ravich: Yeah, yeah, any - I have to say any deficit to the storytelling are not engendered by the tenuous nature of our pick-up. It's all from my desk. You know, it's - we're telling the story - we may not be telling the story we want to tell that's only because we're not, you know, we're not pushing as hard as we can. But it's not - we're not - I don't think we're hindered by not knowing, you know. Every week we sit down to tell the best story we can and we're trying to tell the bet story overall and we're trying to be true to Crews's character. And we're trying to be honestly a little Zen-like about it. But, you know, we did - who knows, you know, who knows what's going to happen so we, you know, we always intended on having a season finale that would leave us - we always try to write for what we watch - it would leave us satisfied. So we would have come to this place anyway.
Damian, for you, you know, talking about playing this character and being attached to this character. Where do you see creatively, you know, from an actor's perspective how far Crews has come from where we were, you know, at the start of the series to now? And how far do you think it could go if the series does continue?
Damian Lewis: Well there's the - firstly I should say I'm not attached to this character. That's for Rand.
Rand Ravich: Thank you, Damian.
Damian Lewis: Secondly...
Rand Ravich: And I do love when he quotes me.
Damian Lewis: Secondly it's just to prevent Rand from quoting himself. Well there's the obvious development in the conspiracy thriller element of the show and that Crews has made certain discoveries. There's an obvious - there's been an obvious sort of evolution in the way he and Reese operate. They've found a real respect, admiration for each other whilst acknowledging that they're very different people. There have been developments in his house just in terms of his slow reintegration into the world, his re-entry if you like, the odd bit of furniture that has started to slowly appear. And in terms of where it can go, if the house is a metaphor for Crews's own spiritual well-being, you know, the more Crews is distanced from his experience and heals which will be ironically probably as he starts to discover who put him away so we have that - again that conflict, that yin and yang that is at the center of the show - that as he heals spiritually and finds calm and peace he must commit one last act of vengeance in order to find who did it. And as he fills up spiritually his house will fill up or the other way around, as his house fills up I think it will be an indication that Crews is finally emerging like a chrysalis into this brave new world that he left behind 15 years previously when he was sent away to maximum security prison. So there's lots of places for him to go. There's a lot of metaphors we can follow through with it. But, you know, as always I think Rand would agree, the fun stuff is the nitty-gritty of relationships...
Rand Ravich: Yes.
Damian Lewis: ...and the connections between people. And that's very important for Crews because he's a loner; he's a long gunslinger. He's the cowboy out on the range and he's looking for peace and some inner stillness. And hopefully he'll find it by Season 7.
If I could follow-up on what Damian was just saying about Crews being the lone gunslinger. One of the things about the show that always strikes me is Damian looks very convincing with a gun in his hand in a way that a lot of actors don't. And you give him a lot of opportunities to do that in the course of, you know, even multiple times an episode. So I'm wondering, first, Damian, did you have any kind of weapons training that allows you to do that? And, Rand, is it something you sort of picked up and tried to play to?
Damian Lewis: Well firstly the only reason the gun looks real in my hand is because I asked for water to be put in it so it's actually a water pistol. I feel much more confident that way. No I've had some weapons training. I've done some projects previously where I've had to handle a lot of weapons; obviously - most obviously Band of Brothers. And so I, you know, that's one of the great things about acting - being an actor is, you know ,if you choose your projects well you get an education as you go along and you acquire certain skills. I'm really not that much of an aficionado about handguns and stuff. But I can get in and out of one, unload and, you know, and reload and put it in smartly and pretty quickly. And I enjoy that, you know, if you're going to look convincing you need to learn how to do it, so. And why Rand likes me holding a gun is just because I think he sees him holding a gun when he sees me.
Rand Ravich: No I see you holding the gun, Damian. No but seriously I mean, there's - I think there's no more singular (anti-spin) objects than the handgun. I mean, it really - it's so powerful that object; it's so not Zen, it's so about - it's so about anger and it's so about explosion, it's so about out of control and being ballistic. And to put it in Charlie Crews's hand and let him fail at Zen or let him channel it, I mean, it's, you know, it's such a great image that when we can use it and when it calls for it it's something very powerful to be employed.
Rand Ravich: I like watching you hold the gun, Damian and that's just a deeper issue.
Damian Lewis: Rand that was a really good answer.
Rand Ravich: Thanks.
Damian Lewis: That was actually one of your better ones.
Rand Ravich: All right, thank you Damian. I'll see you next season. I'll come around tomorrow with my potted cream.
The second season finale of Life airs on Wednesday, April 8 at 9 PM ET on NBC.