Interview Date: 05/23/2010
Run Date: 06/18/2010
Timothy Hutton’s success as a film actor was secured in 1980, when his very first film – “Ordinary People” – earned him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, but the process of transitioning to television is one that’s taken some time. He first made the jump to the small screen in 2001, playing Archie Goodwin in A&E’s series adaption of Rex Stout’s “Nero Wolfe” mysteries, but the show only lasted for 27 episodes; a few years later, he found himself part of the cast of NBC’s “Kidnapped,” which aired only three episodes before the axe fell. Fortunately, the third time proved to be the charm: Hutton subsequently took on the role of Nate Ford in TNT’s “Leverage,” which is celebrating the premiere of its third season. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to chat with Hutton in conjunction with this monumental event, and he spoke to how the series has evolved over the course of its run, how the chemistry of the cast changed for the better when the show began filming in Portland, Oregon, and whether Nate’s ex-wife, Maggie, will turn up again.
Timothy Hutton: Hi, Will!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Timothy, it’s good to talk to you. You and I met briefly at one of the TCA tours, when “Leverage” first kicked off. I don’t expect you to remember. I’m just sayin’.
TH: (Laughs) Is that the thing out there in Pasadena?
BE: That’s the one. Well, I’ve been a big fan of the show since then, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to check out the season premiere.
TH: Oh, good, thanks! What’d you think?
BE: I really enjoyed it. It was a nice way to kind of resolve the way of Nate being in prison and set up his state of mind for the new season. Now, obviously, the writers are the ones who had the idea to go this way with Nate, but what was the reaction of the cast when the idea came about?
TH: Well, I think it’s something that John Rogers and Dean Devlin always wanted to do with Season 2. They had this idea that…I remember hearing it very early from John Rogers, I think, who actually quoted the line to me when we started Season 2. He said, “I really want to get Nate to a place where he says, ‘My name is Nate Ford, and I’m a thief.’” And that became the last thing said in the finale last year, so, of course, that presented this idea, “Okay, he’s surrounded by these FBI agents, Sterling wants to take him down, he’s going to go away, he’s sacrificed himself for the team, they leave on a helicopter. So what’s a great way to open Season 3? He’s in jail.” And the team’s trying to get him out, but he has his own ideas about how that’s going to happen. I think it’s a nice way to start the third season, and what we’re all trying to do…and I think we’ve pulled it off so far…is to come out of the gate really strong. Everyone feels great so far, we’re filming the ninth show right now, and we all feel that it’s amongst the best that we’ve done. The team is fiercer than ever, and Nate Ford is a man on a mission.
BE: Just to jump back to the beginnings of the show, how quickly did the chemistry come together for the cast of “Leverage”?
TH: Oh, the chemistry is one of the great appeals of the show. It’s something that everyone hopes for, but it’s something you can’t necessarily cast for. It’s either there or it isn’t…and it was here instantly. We were in Chicago doing the pilot, and the first day that we all met, we just had a rapport with one another that’s been there ever since. We all genuinely like each other, every day we get to show up and see one another, and we’re happy to be there with each other. Everyone’s very supportive of each other, we all watch out for each other, and…onscreen, it’s this team of hitters, hackers, thieves, etcetera, and on the set, it’s this team of actors who just work really well together.
BE: So how was it, then, when Gina (Bellman) had to step out for awhile and Jeri Ryan had to step in? Did she adapt pretty well to the group dynamic?
TH: Oh, yeah, Jeri Ryan did an amazing job. It’s a very difficult situation to come in and to suddenly be a part of this team, and I thought she just did a great job. It’s a difficult situation for everybody involved in the show because, y’know, nobody saw it coming, and we had to suddenly go in a different direction for Season 2, but I thought it all worked really nicely, and I though the inclusion of the Sophie character throughout and the way the writers dealt with that worked out really well.
BE: Will we see more of Maggie in the new season, especially given the change in Nate’s mindset?
TH: Well, I’m hoping…and I’m sure that everyone else is…that Kari Matchett comes back, but, y’know, she’s doing another show. So far, she’s not able to, but I’m sure we’ll see her again. Something will be worked out. I just don’t know when. I know a little bit about some of the direction for her character, but, uh, I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it. (Laughs)
BE: Fair enough. Which of the members of the ensemble do you wish that you got more onscreen time with?
TH: Oh, that’s an interesting question. Y’know, I feel like I’m able to… (Hesitates) Y’know, every time I read one of the new episodes, I’m always happy to see, like, “Oh, great, I’ve got a scene with Hardison here, I’ve got a scene with Sophie here, a thing with Elliot here and with Parker here,” so I feel like it’s pretty well balanced. The writers have all of us paired off and working with each other in a very nice way, so I can’t really say there’s anybody. It’s a really good balance. I like working with all of them, and I also like the scenes…the five-handers, we call them…where we all get to be in a scene together.
BE: Plus, they’re a good excuse to run down the mission statement of that episode.
TH: (Laughs) Yeah.
BE: Do you have a favorite guest star who’s appeared on the show thus far?
TH: Favorite? No. Favorites, yes. I mean, we’ve had some great people. We had Wil Wheaton, we had Griffin Dunne. Richard Kind was great. This year, we have Giancarlo Esposito, Michael O’Keefe did a part, Bill Engvall did a part, Clancy Brown…we’ve just had some terrific people. There was Lauren Holly last year…or was that the first year. I can’t remember! (Laughs) But, yeah, we’ve really had some wonderful people.
BE: What were the difference when you moved from filming the show in Los Angeles to Portland?
TH: Well, you know, the thing about Portland is that we all spend a lot of time with each other off the set. We have dinners together, and on weekends we hang out together. In Los Angeles, it was very much a thing where, on Monday morning, everybody would be saying, “How was your weekend?” Here, you don’t say it, because you spend your weekends with everybody. (Laughs) But I think it actually kind of translates to the screen. I think there’s a real benefit to working outside of L.A. or New York. We felt it on the pilot, when we were all spending time with each other away from the set. So I think it’s been really good for the show, and it’s a great place to film. There are so many interesting locations, the architecture is wonderful, and the place where we have our studio works out nicely. We all liked being in L.A. filming and everything, but I think there’s an appreciation for how close we’ve all become as a result of being away from where most of the people live.
BE: Now that you’ve been doing this show for three seasons, do you find that you can see the cons coming earlier in the scripts?
TH: Well, yes and no. I mean, we all kind of know the cons before the scripts are written, so when we read a script, we’ll go, “Oh, okay, this is the Memphis music biz one, where it’s the evil producer, and…oh, yeah, here it comes!” And then you turn the page, and, “Oh, that’s nice the way they did that!” (Laughs) We’re always wonderfully entertained and surprised by how the writers have pulled off the plots and the cons.
BE: Are you happy with the way that the show has evolved over the course of its run? Because when we first talked to you during the TCA tour, you’d only filmed the pilot, and you had high hopes for how it would progress, but…
TH: Yeah, I like very much the way it’s kind of moved along, and I feel like the writers have given most of the characters…the actors, rather…things to play within their characters. We’ve really learned interesting things about the Elliot character, the Sophie character, Parker’s character, Hardison’s character…and, of course, Nate’s character as well. Y’know, “Leverage” isn’t just one thing. You can’t just call it a drama only. It has some very funny, odd, quirky elements to it within the drama. I like the balance that they’ve struck for the show, and it’s a really fun ride to watch it. So, yeah, I’m very happy with the way it’s evolved. I feel like we’re not doing light fare, and we’re also not doing some heavy drama, either. We get to be involved in these scenes of great conflict, scenes of great adventure, character connection…it’s a really nice balance.
BE: I just wanted to ask you a couple of quick questions about other things you’ve done.
BE: When I mentioned that I was going to be talking to you today, one of the first things a friend of mine asked me was to see if you had any stories about working with George C. Scott on “Taps.”
TH: Oh, well, that was great, working with George C. Scott. He was working on something else at the time, so the only way they could get him to do the part in “Taps” was if they shot all of his scenes in…I think it was a 3-day period, maybe 4 days. So the schedule was changed in such a way as to accommodate that, and George came in. We met briefly on the set, and then later that afternoon…we were all staying at the same hotel, and we had finished filming for the day, and I got a call from him. But I didn’t know it was him at first. (Adopts a George C. Scott growl) “Timothy.” I said, “Yeah?” He said, “It’s George.” Now, I didn’t know it was George C. Scott, even though I’d met him. It just never occurred to me. So I said, “Uh, George…?” “Yeah, it’s George.” “Who is this?” “George!” Finally, he just had to say, “It’s George C. Scott, dammit!” (Laughs) So I say, “Oh! Sorry, sorry! Yeah, hey, hi! It was great meeting you today!” “Yeah, yeah, never mind all that. You play chess?” I said, “Uh, yeah.” I mean, what was I going to say, no? So he said, “Room 306.” And he hangs up the phone! So that was my invitation to come and play chess. So I did, and he kicked my ass, and that was the beginning of a wonderful three days and maybe 20 chess games over three days. And did I ever win? No. (Laughs)
BE: And…did I hear you say a second ago that Giancarlo Esposito is going to be on “Leverage” this season?
BE: He was in “Taps” with you as well, correct?
TH: That’s right!
BE: Is this the first time you’ve worked together since then?
TH: No, no, he was in the “Nero Wolfe” show that I did on A&E.
BE: Oh, that’s right. I’d forgotten about that. Well, I know, we’re up against the wall, so I’ll just close with this one: what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
TH: (Laughs) Oh, geez, there’s a couple of those! I thought “Lymelife,” most recently, and I would go back to “Q&A.” I’d put “Daniel,” an early movie I did with Sidney Lumet, “Made in Heaven,” a movie I did with Alan Rudolph. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of those.
BE: Were you happy with the way they wrapped up “Kidnapped,” given that it had to be done so quickly?
TH: Well, no, I don’t think anybody on the show was happy with the fact that…I think we were on for three episodes, and then they pulled it. No, I mean, “Kidnapped” was such a blur to me. Dana Delaney and I were just hired to do the one year and play the parents, and if that show had gone on, every year it would’ve been a new kidnapping, and the constant character would be the Jeremy Sisto character. No, I don’t think anybody was happy with the way that all happened, but, y’know, the show didn’t catch on. The writing was great, the directors that we had on the show were incredible, but…it’s just one of those things. You never know. The show, perhaps, took itself way too seriously, and I think that that might’ve pushed people away. It was sort of this really heavy, awful thing that happened in pretty much the first scene of it, so either that pulls people in and they’re invested in it, or they’re not. And for some reason, it just didn’t quite work.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Timothy. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the season unfold.TH: Thank you!