Lone Star, a sophisticated and provocative drama set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, premieres its Pilot episode this Monday, September 20th, on Fox. From Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman, writer Kyle Killen and directed by Marc Webb, the compelling series stars newcomer James Wolk as a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can't break free. He's caught between two very different lives and two very different women.
Hey Jim. I just wanted to make sure I was clear on the technical details here. You went to North Farmington High, is that right? And your Dad's store was in West Bloomfield, is that right?
James Wolk: That's right, yes.
And what town did you actually grow up in then? What town did you live in?
James Wolk: I grew up in the beautiful Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Alright, okay. Cool. So what I wanted to ask you is you had experience like working in your Dad's shoe store and then later on being a DJ when you were at college and in New York. Kind of tell me how that might have shaped or given you this ability that's similar to Bob, that ability to talk to people, yes.
James Wolk: Yes, well, to answer your question, I think the two things that those two jobs have in common is an ability to connect with people and to make people feel comfortable and to make people believe in you because no one's going to buy a pair of shoes unless they feel comfortable with the person that's talking to them. No one's going to get on a dance floor or feel like they want to be part of a function unless they feel comfortable and at home. So to translate that to Bob, Bob wants to make people feel comfortable. Bob - his greatest tool as a conman, one of his greatest tools, is to make people believe in him. And so, yes, of course, I get to borrow things all the time.
That's cool. And one other thing, just tell us kind of when you first really realized you liked to do this, that you liked to perform and so forth.
James Wolk: I was about ten, nine, ten, and my parents used to sit me down in front of old Jimmy Durante movies or Rat Pack movies and I used to watch these old movies and there's an energy that came off the TV that I knew I was attracted to. I mean I wanted to watch that one. I wanted to watch cartoons, and I eventually wanted to kind of give that out, whatever that is, that study of a person, that bringing someone into a different sort of a world and got attracted to it at a young age.
I wanted to ask about David Keith and Jon Voight, and James, since you are a relative newcomer to the scope of a show like this, I'm curious if they were people that you relied on in terms of seeking counsel or them offering counsel in working on the show.
James Wolk: Well, you know what the great thing is about those guys is that they're always there. They're always present on set. They're generous people and so it's a real honor as a young actor to be in scene with them. I mean this wholeheartedly for no other reason than this is where most of the counsel comes from. It just comes from being in the moment with them and them looking into your eyes and giving you all the material that you need to react and act. You learn a lot just by osmosis, just by being around people who've done it for a long time, and I think it's wonderful to be on set with those guys. They're very kind people, too, very generous people.
And Amy, how important was it to you that this role go to someone that wasn't well known?
Amy Lippman: Well, I think our feeling was well known or not, you just need someone who's really right for the part, and the only interesting thing about the way James came to the part is that it was conceived as an older character and when we met him, we began to rethink the character because we thought he had so many of the qualities that were really, really important to us. He had like a warmth and a directness and a charm and a charisma that made us rethink what it meant to have an older actor in the role. And I have to say I do think that we are really advantaged by the fact that people will discover him, that they don't bring other roles that he's done into the mix. He's a new face. He's a new talent, and he can inhabit this character without other people thinking, I've seen him do this or I've seen him do that. So I think it's actually there'll never be this moment in time for him again where people don't know who he is. I think we're going to take advantage of it as much as we can.
James, when you were in Chicago earlier this summer with Eloise, we talked about how Bob has sort of a lot going on and the show has this very cool thing that I like where there's his relationship with his two father figures, his father and then Jon Voight's character. He's got the two loves and the two lives, of course, but I was wondering what do you find the most challenging in the role now that you've sort of lived in it a little bit longer?
James Wolk: That's a really good question. I think the most challenging thing for Bob is of course being everything to everyone, and we touch on that. It's more difficult than one would imagine to fully live two lives. I think that's Bob's greatest challenge is to give his all to these people and really, he can't. He's in two different worlds.
Amy Lippman: Also, if I can jump in having seen Jimmy Wolk's work on the show, that I see how conflicted he is about hurting people just as a person, just not as an actor, but as a person. So what I see as being a challenge for him is to actually inhabit the role of someone who is selfish or deluded or has put his own need to have a real life ahead of the people who sort of comprise that life in some way. And it's an interesting struggle that all of us have in sort of conceiving of the show is what is that balance? What is that balance between him truly being a sympathetic character and wanting the best for the people around him and at the same time having, really being responsible for putting himself in a position where everyone could potentially lose?
Yes, yes. Well, and James you said this summer something about how he - now it's just completely gone out of my head what I was going to say. How he--
James Wolk: I remember we had a great conversation. I remember that.
How he said that he's sort of filling the holes of what he was missing growing up and everything.
James Wolk: Well, that's right, yes. These girls, while he does believe that he's in love with them, he never had wealth as a child growing up and the Thatcher family and Cat are this luxurious posh lifestyle. And so in some respect, even if he doesn't know it, it certainly is filling something that he never had. And with Lindsey and her family in Midland, that is an American family. That is backyard barbecues, and as one can see when they watch the pilot episode and when they find out about Bob, Bob didn't have that growing up either. So there are voids in him that he's trying to fill, and that is, while he does have a big heart and he is, like Amy said, there are things that; he is flawed in some respects. And there are screws that are a little loose, and I think he is certainly somewhere deep down trying to fill these voids as well.
Alright. And then the last thing for Amy, I was wondering, the one thing I'm curious about after having seen the pilot, which I really enjoyed, was how long can you keep the con going and keep it sort of realistic and stuff?
Amy Lippman: Well, that's really the challenge of it. That's what's giving us grey hairs and keeping us in the story room very, very late at night. I think what you will find is that there's lots of intrigue in the show. There are sort of overarching cons that may last the season. There are smaller cons that he is forced to participate in to keep his two lives going and separate. And we are trying to balance that with a realism, and even though he has two of them, each marriage needs to have issues that don't necessarily relate to the deception that I think we will be successful if we can interest an audience in what goes on in each of those marriages. What goes on between those two father figures that isn't always related to a secret or lie or a con that's being told. And it's very intriguing. It's a very complicated premise, and he's certainly the most complicated character we've ever written because he's got a lot of demons. He comes from a very dysfunctional past. He's striving for a really honest, functional future and, in the present, extricating himself from one world to be free to go into the other is very, very - it's difficult. The good news is it's really dramatic and emotional. Hopefully, that is what will bring an audience in is they will like him and both want him to succeed at this and feel for his conflict because it's a genuine conflict about what he's doing.
Alright, and James, have you met Clooney yet?
I thought it was curious about Bob and in playing Bob, is he essentially playing two different characters in himself in the two different worlds?
James Wolk: Bob is, it's a good question.
blod|Because there's a line in there where they say you made the mistake of playing yourself.
James Wolk: Yes, when David says you've made the mistake of playing yourself, that means that you've exposed yourself. You've opened yourself up to these people. It's hard to con people and walk away from people when you have made a real emotional connection with them, and that's what Bob's father, John, is great at doing is holding very little emotional connection so he's able to walk away from his cons. And that's what Bob's, one of his faults is that he opens himself up to these two girls in these two worlds, and so he's played himself. As far as the character, he is himself in both places. He is himself in Midland, and he is himself in Houston. Now, he does tailor the way he interacts with people in Houston. He has to demand the respect of an oil company. He has to demand the respect of a man like Clint Thatcher, played by Jon Voight, and as anyone knows to demand respect of Jon Voight, you've got to hold yourself up high. So he has to carry himself with a certain self-respect as he walks through the office of Thatcher Oil. When he's in Midland, he can take more of a breath. He can relax, or so he thinks at this point, but he is himself altered a little bit in each place in order to get what he wants, in order to make these people believe in him and go with him on this journey.
And Amy, I was kind of curious - and I'm not being flip or anything on this, but what came first in this in the creation of the show? Was it the setting or the characters?
Amy Lippman: Well, I--
Because the setting is very important, I think.
Amy Lippman: Yes, you mean Texas?
Amy Lippman: Well, Christopher Keyser and I didn't create the show. Kyle Killen did.
Amy Lippman: And he himself is from Texas and speaking for him, I would say that the idea evolved over time. I think there were various versions of it where Bob wasn't a con man, and then he immersed himself in some Texas history and looked at these oilmen who were profiled in books like "The Big Rich," which is a really interesting book. You look at a character like H.L. Hunt, whose success gave him a kind of confidence to lead double lives. He had three families. I think two of them knew about each other, but he was just a very bold about it. It gave him a kind of carte blanche, the success he had, to just take what he wanted. I think Kyle Killen started with that and then kind of opened it up. So I think it was always a Texas setting because he was interested in the history of the oil business and those kinds of characters. I think as he began to work on it and as we became involved, our goals were to really make that character very rich and figure out how someone in this situation can be sympathetic. How can you root for someone who's doing this? That was the trick of it, and I think it's what he handled really, really well in the pilot is that you are on the side of someone who is doing something that's really amoral.
What are some of the challenges that you face producing this series?
Amy Lippman: What are the challenges? Well, I'll tell you the - it is - immediately, there're just practical challenges. It has a huge scope this show, and we are - the writing staff is in Los Angeles, and we are shooting in Dallas. So practically speaking, it's difficult to be far away from production, and we go back and forth a lot. That's a huge challenge. Creatively, I would say the challenge is to do two things. It is to tell really dynamic, intriguing, kind of fantastic stories at the same time as you don't want to get too far away from reality. Early on before people began to see the show, there were a lot of questions asked about us being a soap. What were the comparisons to a show like Dallas? And I think the more people see the show, they understand that the difference between sort of a traditional like Texas soap that you might envision is this man's character, which is, it's tragic, it's compelling, and there's a certain degree of realism to it. He's not all bad, and he's not all good. And for us, the challenge has been to sort of walk that fine line as we move through stories; that he is not all sympathetic and he's not all evil. That he is human and flawed and to find a way that you can continue to root for him even when he does things that are kind of despicable, but with good intentions. So, it's the practical difficulties of distant production that have been challenging and figuring out how to walk this line between a character who is both good and evil is kind of where we find ourselves right now.
Okay. James, is it harder to play Bob or Robert or does it matter? It's just a different take?
James Wolk: Yes, one and the same. It's the same guy. It's the same guy, and it's a challenge, but it's a wonderful challenge.
How are you coping with things like headlines calling you one of the sexiest stars of the new season? How much are your mates taking the mickey out of you?
James Wolk: Say it again? How am I coping with all that?
How much are your friends teasing you?
James Wolk: Yes, well, I have a room now and I just put the headlines up. And the room is full of mirrors and headlines, and so I go between them. No, I don't. To be completely honest with you, when I hear things like that, it's very kind and you smile and you take it with grace, and that's all you can do. You can't take it too much to heart one way or the other. But if someone wants to say it, hey, I'll take it.
James Wolk: I would say that's exactly right, Amy. I would say that I don't even see the headlines.
Amy Lippman: I would just say when are you looking at headlines? You're on the set. We're throwing scripts at you. You're heavy in every episode. It's hard to imagine when you would have really time to sort of rest on your laurels. That'll happen eventually, I hope.
James Wolk: That's exactly right.
You need to work him harder, Amy.
Amy Lippman: He's working very, very, very hard. Yes, I just sent him an e-mail last night saying I don't know how you're doing this. It's very hard.
James Wolk: It was a very sweet e-mail.
So apart from the fact that Amy doesn't allow you any time to sleep and she's working you ridiculously hard, how different is your life since the show, since you started working on the show? What were you doing before? What are you doing now that's different?
James Wolk: Yes, well, I was eating and sleeping before and now I don't do either of those things. It's hasn't changed all that much in the respect that - and Amy Lippman's really speaking the truth when she says that the hours are wonderful, but they're long down there. So, all the headlines and all the things that you're referring to, I really am not around. Working so hard down on set, we're talking long, long days. It's not like I'm out amongst the crowds of people and there's pointing and any of that.
Amy Lippman: But are you getting recognized now? Excuse me, to ask him that question. Do people say like you're on that poster? Is that happening now?
James Wolk: Well, I came down my elevator the other day and a guy really stopped me and he just looked me in the eyes and he goes, "I want you to know man, I love that lifestyle." And I looked back at him and I just said, "Well, thank you." You know? It's few and far between, and it's very funny when it happens. I'm sure when it airs, maybe we'll be having a different conversation.
James, I wanted to know - or Amy, you can answer this too - as a con man or a schemer, why does Robert/Bob keep his Midland identity with Lindsay when his Houston life seems to be like the bigger score for a con man?
Amy Lippman: Well, I'll answer it in terms of how we writers understand it and that is that Midland was a fluke for him. That it was never his intention to fall in love with someone, and I say this because at the moment Christopher Keyser and I are embroiled in an episode that will reveal the origins of both of those relationships. So, he always - he had Cat in his sights as his mark and then made the mistake of falling in love with her, and in the course of, he's not initially working for Thatcher Oil. It was a long con. He met her. He knew he wanted to get into the family business, but in the interim, before they welcomed him in, he had a life that he needed to maintain. And he did that by going around doing these smaller cons, and Midland was one of them. He sold these oil and gas leases, these natural gas leases in Midland, and in the course of selling Lindsay's parents on this con, he met her and fell in love with her. So, Lindsay was - is - she was just a glitch in a way. It was not his intention. I think it speaks to how vulnerable he was to the life that Lindsay had to offer him, which was simple and uncomplicated, far less citified if that's a word. And he was drawn into it and then couldn't extricate himself. So Jon's argument, certainly through the pilot, is you could've gotten out clean. We had a goal. You are now in. He only gets into Thatcher Oil in the pilot, but the truth is that's probably been two or three years in the making. And Lindsay was just a detour that he made because he couldn't help falling in love with her.
I wanted to ask both of you if you'd talk about the experience of actually filming in Texas, what that brings to the texture of the show and the experience of it. And also, why Dallas and not Houston, where it's actually set?
James Wolk: So just, as for filming in Texas, I think that gives us a lot. I think anytime that you're down in the state and in the place that you're filming it gives you a texture of what it feels like down there and a very logical sense. We get great backgrounds. We get great sets. We get beautiful ranches. We get old buildings, old Texan buildings, that you wouldn't have, that aren't authentic in other places besides Texas. So, from a logistical standpoint, you get that. And as an actor, I enjoy being down there. One because you just get a feel, whether it's the humidity, whether it's the air and the heat, which there's plenty of, you just get a feel for what it would be like to be in Texas because you're in Texas. And it's also great to not be distracted down there. In Dallas, I think each and every one of us knows less people than we would in L.A. I can't speak for the crew because we have an amazing crew of people who are from Texas, but for many of the actors, it allows us to focus on the work.