In the first of two interviews for the new series Leverage we had the pleasure of speaking to Gina Bellman. Gina has had a string of high profile and highly acclaimed roles on British television. Best know for playing aloof Jane Christie for four series of Coupling she also showed she could deftly handle drama in the 2007 BBC show Jekyll. Now audiences in the U. S. are lucky to see her in the new TNT series Leverage. Enjoy this interview and check back Thursday for our interview with series producer Dean Devlin.
PCZ: You are a very successful British actress. What steps lead you to being on Leverage?
GB: Step one of any project is reading the script. I’d done Coupling where I played a real high comedy character. Then a couple of years ago I was on a very dark show called Jekyll. When I read Leverage what I loved about it, apart from conceptually, was that it sort of married both those girls, the comedy and the drama, and it would be a real challenge for me. I hadn’t really come across a TV script that did those as successfully as this script. I knew that it was Dean Devlin’s project and I knew that he was known for big production values so I knew that it would have that element. Then I heard that Timothy Hutton was involved and then it was a no-brainer.
PCZ: Would you say that the character of Sophie Devereaux follows the pattern you’ve had of the quirky, offbeat, non-mainstream characters?
GB: Yeah, I mean I think the most interesting characters are the sort of outsiders and the people that surprise you. My character in Jekyll was supposed to be this generic wife character in the beginning and then she was the surprise element. But in terms of playing quirky, I don’t think you can ever play quirky. I think that’s a mistake. If you start playing kooky then you’re kind of cheating the audience, I feel. So, I don’t think I’d put Sophie in those terms. I think she’s funny in her behavior, but she’s incredibly serious about what she does. She’s very professional about grifting and stealing and she’s ambitious and wants to be the best in the world at it. Then she has this massive payoff and needs to find a different thrill and a different sense of excitement. When Timothy’s character recruits the team she’s curious about what that would feel like, to help people and feel less mercenary.
PCZ: It seems like it would be an interesting challenge in that you have to play Sophie as herself, Sophie acting badly and Sophie acting as several different characters to do whatever scam the team has going on. Do you have a chart to keep track of which facet you’re playing?
GB: No, I don’t even have a chart to keep track of who I am! Again, Sophie thinks she’s a great actress because she doesn’t know she’s terrible. There’s one episode where the gang have gone to see her in a play and they’re all just completely paralyzed with fear about what to say to her. No matter how they phrase it, she takes every comment as a compliment. She’s so overexcited that they loved her performance and thought she was terrific when actually what they’re really saying is it was completely unpalatable. What I love about the character is she doesn’t see any difference between when she’s pulling off a con brilliantly or when she’s playing Lady MacBeth and that was a lot of fun to play.
PCZ: Along those lines have the other characters, or even the audience for that matter, seen the real Sophie?
GB: I don’t think we ever see the real Sophie in the first season. We see elements of her. We don’t even know if that’s her name. The characters don’t even know if that’s her name. What’s terrific about this season apart from the different cons is the fact that it’s self contained and a different movie every week. What I love about the series on top of that is these characters only reveal themselves very slowly. They take one step forward, one step back. They’re all sort of orphans in a way. They sort of reveal themselves to each other, they start taking on each other’s skills, it becomes an exercise in trust really. The characters reveal themsleves through the writing instead of us having a template of who they are.
PCZ: Your character and Timothy Hutton’s character obviously have at least encountered each other in the past.
GB: They definitely have a history. He’s been chasing her for years. He knows her next move before she even knows it herself. But we all made a conscious decision, we didn’t want to rush into any resolutions with any of these characters. What really develops between Tim’s character and mine is a friendship in the first season in the sense that they can’t trust each other. She’s a criminal and he’s been on the moral high ground for so long investigating criminals. She’s been running from him for so long and has been so mercenary for so long. We haven’t taken it to a really formulaic place where they’re suddenly involved in this very passionate romance, instead we’ve taken it to a much more interesting place where they’re exploring trust and friendship. That has its problems, too. There’s quite a few sparky confrontations between them also.
PCZ: Is this your first American television production?
GB: It is.
PCZ: How different is it than doing British television?
GB: You know, I haven’t found it that different actually. I’m having an amazingly positive experience because I’m working with Dean Devlin’s company who are very familial and supportive. Also, TNT are incredibly encouraging. They haven’t put us under any kind of pressure or given us lots of notes and that’s very similar to the way we work in England. I feel incredibly lucky to be in an American production where we have a lot of creative freedom and we feel really supported. I thought I would associate working in American television as being under incredible pressure, being nervous, getting lots of viewpoint and opinions, changing things all the time and there hasn’t been any of that. It’s been really liberating.
PCZ: Is it the same sort of shooting schedule?
“It’s really hard to think of your character subjectively, it’s kind of like analyzing yourself a bit.”
GB: No, you guys work much, much, much harder than us! We’re used to long lunches, short days and afternoon naps. We shot six hours of Jeckyll in the same time that we just did twelve hours of very high production film. So, it’s already double.
PCZ: As the series progresses are you able to use more of your comedy background?
GB: Yeah, I do a lot of…well, I hope it’s comic anyway! I do a lot of great characters in the episodes. Like we were saying earlier, Sophie’s not a goofball and as extreme as Jane [from Coupling]. She has her fun moments where she’ll…you know, it’s really hard to think of your character subjectively, it’s kind of like analyzing yourself a bit.
PCZ: How do you intentionally act badly?
GB: Yeah, it’s difficult, especially when you’re doing it in front of an Academy Award winner. You have to just leave your ego at the door. You think “Ok, I have to act badly in this scene in front of my contemporaries and a huge crew!” I think you just leave your ego at the door and you get on with it. I’m a bit more worried about one episode where she finally has to act well and everyone’s so astonished because they expect her to be terrible, but actually she’s really quite good. I’m more worried about that, what if I didn’t act well in the scene where I’m supposed to act well?
PCZ: Well, that’s all the time I have. Thank you very much for your time.
GB: Bye, thanks a lot!