The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Jack Davenport (“Smash”)

Jack Davenport may not formally qualify for the descriptor “television staple” in the U.S, given that the majority of his Stateside series have lasted a single season or less, but between “Swingtown” in 2008 and “FlashForward” during the 2009-2010 season, he’s made enough headway on the airwaves that, when coupled with a U.K. success like “Coupling” and a recurring role in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, he’s at least in possession of a face that inspires people to wonder, “Wait, why do I know that guy?” Davenport creeps ever closer to a more immediate recognition level as he continues onward with the season season of NBC’s “Smash.” I was fortunate enough to chat with him for a bit during the January edition of the Television Critics Association press tour,  and although we didn’t get into too much detail about his current work on “Smash” (mostly because the interview took place before I’d seen any of Season 2), we still ended up discussing a fair amount of his small-screen work, along with a few stops on his cinematic efforts.

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Bullz-Eye: Your character on “Smash” is regularly described in reviews as “difficult but brilliant,” and even on the NBC website they sum him up in a single sentence by calling him “one of Broadway’s most brilliant, yet arrogant, director-choreographers.” Did you have to pay people off to get the word “brilliant” out there so prominently?

Jack Davenport: Probably, yeah. [Laughs.] You know, the way the character’s written is the way people generally refer to him, and you are to believe that the man has half a dozen Tonys, probably two musicals that are international franchises, but that also makes you cocky. Also, in the real world of show business, no one refers to anybody as talented or brilliant. But when you’re doing a show about show business, weirdly, you do have to point that out on occasion. Not too often, but it’s sort of… Otherwise, you’re not really setting the scene properly, I don’t think.

BE: True enough. A few adjectives can save the writers from having to come up with a complete back story right off the bat.

JD: Oh, yeah. And as for “difficult,” I think that one speaks for itself. [Laughs.]

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Melissa George (Cinemax’s “Hunted”)

Those with a soft spot for Australian soap operas may forever think of Melissa George as Angel from “Home and Away,” but they’re doing both her and themselves a disservice by maintaining that mindset, because George has handily proven over and over again that she’s a far cry from being just another soap opera actress, be it by her Golden Globe nominated performance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” her work with David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey”), or her despicable turn as Lauren Reed on ABC’s “Alias.” With her latest small-screen endeavor, Cinemax’s “Hunted,” George is returning to the spy side of things, but trust Bullz-Eye when we tell you that “Hunted” is on a completely different level of television than “Alias.” We talked to her in conjunction with the series’ premiere – 10 PM tonight and every Friday night for the next several weeks – while also quizzing her about a few other past endeavors, including working with Heath Ledger on “Roar,” getting the shaft on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and just barely missing out on being part of one of the most notorious sitcom flops in NBC history.

Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Hunted”? Was it an audition situation, or did they come looking for you specifically?

Melissa George: They were very strict about making people read. Some jobs, not so much, they know who they want. But “Hunted” is (being produced by) HBO and BBC together, and they were both having to choose and decide, so we had the English with the Americans, so that’s why the audition process was so long.

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I was walking on the West Side Highway in New York, and my phone rang. It was my agent saying, “I’ve just read the most dynamic role for a woman, it’s as complex as what you played on ‘In Treatment,’ with a bit of action, which you’ve done before. It’s shooting in Europe, it’s really good, it’s written by Frank Spotnitz, it’s an English and American production…you’ve got to get it.” That’s kind of what he said. And I hate when they say that, ‘cause that means no sleep for me. Because, y’know, of course if it’s that great I want to play it. And I was then shooting a movie with Julia Stiles in Los Angeles (“Between Us”) and I was busy with that, and I had a video camera set up in the hotel room, and I put together a scene. They asked me to do three scenes, but I just did one. It was the one where she confronts her ex in the apartment. Very emotional. And I remember I was just so choked up…and I was recording myself, not speaking to anybody, because I didn’t have an actor reading with me. And I was, like, “Oh, my God, I really love this part…” And I cut, printed, and sent it. I couldn’t do any more scenes because I was really upset. I felt really strongly about this woman. And I waited. I didn’t care, because I was shooting a movie.

Then I got a call saying, “They want you to meet with Frank and read a scene.” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” There were so many freaking people in this room. [Laughs.] So many people! I thought it was just going to be me. Every actor thinks that when you’re asked to read, it’s just gonna be you. But it was a lot of people, and I was on my own. But I met Frank, and he said to me later on, once I’d gotten the role, that he knew from when I put myself on tape, and when I went in to read, he said, “I just feel really connected to her.” But that was it. I didn’t hear for awhile after that, so I was, like, “Ugh, this is gonna be one of those jobs…” And then S.J. (Clarkson), who’s directing, got onboard, and…the director has a big say, so Frank’s got his choice made, BBC and HBO made theirs, but now I have to wait for S.J. to make hers. So I had to meet her. They fly me from New York to L.A. to have lunch, and all we do is talk about film, and then…I was the only girl, but I had to read with lots of guys. And none of the guys I read with got it. [Laughs.] But I was the only girl they were using, and yet still hadn’t told me that I’d got it! And I was, like, “What’s going on here?”

But I was so convinced that I was onboard that I went around convincing everyone else around me that I was. I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be playing this role in a few months…” But I hadn’t heard anything, and I was going, “This is ridiculous! They’re going all over the world looking for this actress, every single country, and I’m, like, “Well, does she have to be from a particular place?” “No, they don’t care where she’s from, because she has to play so many nationalities, so many different languages and accents.” So I waited while they went around the globe, reading hundreds of girls, and they were losing me, because I was going, “Well, if they wait too long…” And then finally everyone was, like, “C’mon, S.J.!” So that’s the story. And it was so funny on set, because while we were filming in Morocco, S.J. would come up to me and speak French, then she’d say, “Oh, sorry, wrong actress.” Like she’d found a girl in France that she really liked. I was, like, “Shut up, I know you didn’t find anybody!” [Laughs.] It was one of those things where the joke went on forever. Like, the whole season of the show. “Sorry, what’s your name?” So I don’t quite know what happened that made it take so long to decide, but I know that when I seize on something, man, I’d better get the job. Because I was honestly delusional. I was, like, “Yes, I’m shooting London in a few months,” and everyone was, like, “But have they said ‘yes’?” “No. But I’m going to be shooting!”

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The Light from the TV Shows: Sneaking a Look at USA’s “Common Law”

When you’re a TV critic, sometimes the coolest opportunities come up at the very last second, and you’re put in a position where you have to scramble to take advantage of them. Such was the case on Monday of last week, when the boss-man of Bullz-Eye forwarded me an email and asked, “Is this something you would be interested in?”

In this instance, I was being offered the opportunity to fly to New Orleans, visit the set of the upcoming new USA series, “Common Law,” be among the first people to view the pilot for the series, and meet and participate in roundtable interviews with a few of the cast members. The only catch: the trip was taking place on Thursday.

Rationalizing that I could surely finish up all of the assignments on my plate before my departure, I said, “Sign me up!”

As it turned out, I could not finish up all of the assignments on my plate before my departure. In fact, I didn’t even come close. I ended up having to finish one of them late on Thursday night, after having had a couple of Abitas, a couple of glasses of wine, a bourbon and ginger ale, and a Pimm’s Cup. That was possibly not my best work. Then I woke up Friday morning and finished two more assignments. And in the midst of the set visit, between roundtable interviews, I finished the last of the deadlines that had to be completed before the weekend. Of course, I still had two more that had to be finished by Sunday night, but I finally just had to say, “Screw it, I’m in New Orleans, that shit’s gonna have to wait ‘til I get home on Saturday.”

But I digress.

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