The Light from the TV Shows: Chatting with Natalie Zea about “Justified” (with a little bit of “Dirty Sexy” talk, too)

FX’s “Justified” continues to be one of the best series on television, with a lot of the credit for its success rightfully being attributed to Elmore Leonard’s original source material and the love and respect series creator Graham Yost and his writers have for Leonard’s work. Lest we forget just how important the cast is to the success of the series, however, I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with at least one of the actors from the ensemble after they wrapped the “Justified” panel at the January TCA tour. As there’s such a wealth of talent to choose from, I’m sure you’ll believe me if I assure you that it was complete coincidence that I just happened to end up talking to the most gorgeous one of the bunch.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t entirely coincidental. Look, I’ve been smitten with Natalie Zea since she first crossed my radar as part of the cast of ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money,” and I had the chance to talk to her in a perfectly legitimate capacity. So sue me.

Also, just so it’s out there, I should probably also mention that I sound like a complete doofus a couple of times, responding to her responses by simply saying, “Really?” I’m not usually like that, but, hey, this is what happens when you’re blindsided by a beautiful woman…

Bullz-Eye: So what was it like when the cast gathered back together for the first table read of Season Three?

Natalie Zea: We, uh, don’t do table reads. [Laughs.]

BE: [Surprised.] Really?

NZ: Regretfully. I think they’re very handy. I think it’s that Graham (Yost) is not a fan of table reads. I’m not sure why. So, yeah, you kind of get thrown back into it on the first day. My first scene of Season Three was a love scene. And it’s, like, “Oh, hello, haven’t seen you in six months! How are you doing? Great! Let’s get into bed!” [Laughs.] And then, y’know, after the first 15 minutes, it’s like I never left.

BE: There’s at least a slightly different dynamic with your character this season, owing to her pregnancy, but you indicated during the panel that you’re not planning to play her a whole lot differently.

NZ: No, I’m not. Also, in regards to the pregnancy, what I realized but didn’t say is… We’re not really talking about the pregnancy as much as we are the baby. So I think probably Winona’s pregnancy is going quite well. [Laughs.] She’s having a really easy time of it. Which I like. I think…y’know, if there are concerns with viewers – and I think there would be, given the nature of this show – that it’s going to turn into this, like, “Baby? Pregnancy? I want ice cream and pickles! My feet hurt!” [Laughs.] It’s not happening. The pregnancy almost never gets addressed. But the issues…the outcome and the issues regarding the outcome, those are discussed. Because it’s life. And you have to discuss it.

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Breaking Bad 4.13 – Lily of the Valley

In last week’s blog, I wrote of Walt sitting poolside, “We see a man who’s spinning both his firearm and his wheels, waiting to figure out how little future he has left. When the pistol spins toward one of the potted plants, however, it’s clear that Walt has gotten an idea.” If only I’d recognized that plant as a Lily of the Valley, I could’ve been a hero among my peers. Damn my insufficient knowledge of botany! Damn it all to hell!

Ahem.

When we first see Walt this evening, he’s making a mad dash through the parking garage to remove the bomb from the underside of Gus’s car, which he promptly carries into the hospital and up to the waiting area. It’s an unabashedly slapstick moment when the magnet on the bomb sticks to the elevator door, followed by a hilarious back-and-forth between Walt and Jesse about the decision to bring the bomb with him (“What, was I supposed to leave it on his car?”), but things get serious immediately thereafter, with the ABQ police showing up and requesting an audience with Jesse about his statement. As the boys with badges walk away with Mr. Pinkman, Walt looks positively pale. Is it just from being in close proximity to the cops?

The conversation between Jesse and his new friends is predictably tense. “We’re just talking.” “So if I get tired of talking, I can get up and leave?” Sure, that’s how it always works. Jesse’s being seriously grilled over the fact that he offered up a very specific poison as what was causing Brock’s illness. His explanation? “I musta seen it on ‘House’ or something.” Awesome. Time to call Saul, but there’s so much shredding going on that his secretary can’t hear the phone when he calls…or when Walt calls, for that matter, as we discover when he busts through the bottom pane of the front door in a desperate effort to find Saul. It’s an unexpectedly hilarious scene between Walt and H.T. (as Saul dubbed her last week), particularly when Walt is initially completely oblivious to the fact that the $20K pricetag for the repairs ain’t nothing to do with repairs. Okay, so it was a little slapstick-y when Walt left the office the same way he came in, but that didn’t keep me from laughing, anyway.

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Breaking Bad 4.12 – No More Prolonging the Inevitable

To call last week’s episode of “Breaking Bad” intense is to undercut the utterly traumatizing effect it had on the show’s regular viewership. This week attempts to start off with a similar level of tension, showing a pair of vehicles pulling up outside the White house without immediately identifying them. Within seconds, however, we confirm that what we’re witnessing is the arrival of the DEA agents who’ve come to put Walt, Skyler, and Walt Jr. into protective custody.

Wait, scratch that: Walt’s not going.

“All that matters is that the rest of you are safe,” Walt tells Skyler. “And that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” Ever the naïve one, she can’t quite grasp that being under the watchful eye of the DEA isn’t enough to keep everyone protected, but Walt knows better, just as he knows that he and his family are only being included in the DEA’s protective of Hank because Marie has demanded it.

“There’s got to be another way,” sobs Skyler.

“There isn’t,” Walt says, matter-of-factly. “There was. But now there isn’t.”

And so Walt steps outside and calls Hank, playing his brother-in-law like a fiddle with the suggestion that Marie has a history of overreacting, and assures him that somebody’s got to keep the car wash up and running. Hank isn’t thrilled, but he doesn’t sound suspicious, even when Walt’s voice cracks with emotion as he tells him to keep his head down. The look on Walt’s face as he says goodbye to his infant daughter is heartbreaking, if only because we know that, in his mind, he believes this could well be the last time he ever sees her…but, y’know, you can’t really blame the guy for thinking that, can ya?

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Breaking Bad 4.9 – Eye of the Tiger

Oh, man, not another intense-violence warning! Which of Gus’s friends, acquaintances, and/or employees is getting killed this week?

I don’t mean that as a spoiler. Indeed, when I wrote that sentence, I didn’t know whether I was being facetious or not. I was just playing the odds, baby…and when the first thing we saw this week after the aforementioned warning was a broken pair of glasses and droplets of blood falling onto a hardwood floor and the toe of a shoe, you’ll forgive me if I felt relatively confident that those odds were in my favor. As it turned out, I was right: someone in Gus’s camp did bite the dust. It just wasn’t anyone we particularly cared about. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hank is positively giddy at the thought of heading over to Los Pollos Hermanos to pick up the tracking device and see where Gus has been driving for the past week…so giddy, in fact, that he’s crooning Survivor’s signature hit pretty much all the way to the restaurant. Walt, however, is more than a little bit antsy about being on the premises, refusing even to step inside the establishment, telling Hank, “We’ll grab something from the drive-thru.” When they get back to the house and check the device’s history, however, Hank is pissed at the “chicken-slinging son of a bitch,” dismissing Walt’s suggestion that maybe he might be innocent, declaring, “A guy this clean’s got to be dirty.”

Leaving Hank’s house, Walt runs into Gus’s right-hand man and makes the remarkably ballsy decision to call the cops on him right in front of him. Anyone think this is going to come back to bite Walt in the ass? Yeah, me, too. Then when Walt pulls up outside the SuperLab and gets into conversation with Jesse, he endeavors to make small talk, smoking cigarettes and talking “Ice Road Truckers,” though it’s clear the only thing he really wants to know is the status of Operation Fringdown. “Don’t you have enough cancer already?” snaps Jesse. “Look, I said I’d do it. I’ll do it.” “What does it matter?” asks Walt. “We’re both dead men, anyway.”

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Breaking Bad 4.8 – Sangre por Sangre

The fact that this week’s episode presented us with the same pre-game warning as the season premiere – “This program contains intense violence which may be unsuitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.” – should’ve served as a tip-off for just about everyone that there was no way we’d make it to the closing credits without getting some sort of “holy shit” moment, but, holy shit, what a moment. Hell, even without the violence, this was an intense episode all around.

We begin the proceedings with a flashback to Episode 3.8, which took place in the wake of the Cousins’ attack on Hank. What we didn’t see at the time, however, was Gus’s visit to see the Cousins’ uncle, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, and tell him of their fate, saying, “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector.” And then we get a shot of the viscous red substance in question, floating through a swimming pool. If you’re like me, you were already thinking, “Oh, this is gonna be good,” and if so, then surely you weren’t disappointed by episode’s end.

Hey, what do you know? “Breaking Bad” finally takes time to acknowledge that Walt is still being treated for cancer. This scene really underlined how much he’s changed since his initial diagnosis, however. So Walt’s living his life as if he’s in charge, huh? Yeah, he talks big, instantly dismissing the fears and concerns of the poor bastard who’s sharing the waiting area with him, but the second we see him back in his usual environment, he looks completely lost and mostly hopeless…which is, at least momentarily, a look he shares with Gus when the latter gets a phone call to pop ’round the ABQ police department. With Walt, though, I have to wonder if he got a report on a cancer that he wasn’t expected. But we’ll get back to that.

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