Saturday, June 25, 2011

Necessary Roughness - Interview with Callie Thorne

***Note - Pardon the lack of direct quotes from this interview but I'm writing from my notes in lieu of a transcript and I don't want to misquote.

Callie Thorne is no stranger to the USA Network after making memorable guest star appearances on Burn Notice, White Collar, and Royal Pains. She started in TV with Homicide: Life on the Street in 1997 and is best known for playing Sheila Keefe on Rescue Me. Necessary Roughness will be her first lead role in a TV series. It premieres on USA Network at 10/9C on Wednesday, June 29th after Royal Pains. The USA Network synopsis:

Dr. Dani Santino (Callie Thorne) is a Long Island psychotherapist whose personal life unravels when she finds her husband cheating. Diving fully into her work, she takes on the challenge of rehabbing a bad boy professional football player (Mehcad Brooks) whose off-the-field antics threaten his career and the team franchise. Underestimated at every turn, she succeeds beyond expectations and soon finds herself as the most sought-after therapist for high-profile clients. Athletes, entertainers, politicians and others living in the spotlight clamor for her unique brand of tough love therapy during their moments of crisis. Although her career is reenergized, it wreaks havoc on her life as a newly minted single mom of two teenagers. Recognizing her ability to change people’s lives, she’s determined to strike a balance between both worlds.

Coming off as a genuinely warm person in the interview, Thorne was eager to talk about her new role and give credit to all the talent that made it happen. She first became interested in the show because it is loosely based on the real story of Dr. Donna Dannenfelser, a former mental health clinician for the New York Jets. Thorne enjoys stories based in truth because they are automatically more rich and layered. She flew through the script and was attracted to the honesty in it. Having Dannenfelser on set during the pilot and in the writers room was an added plus. Thorne describes her as having an amazing energy that fills up the room and makes everyone around her feel safe, which made Thorne less nervous about telling her story. Even though Necessary Roughness is not a documentary, meeting with Dannenfelser allowed Thorne to soak up her spirit. It is important to Thorne that Dannenfelser feels good about the show. Still the show is only inspired by Dannenfelser's life, opening Thorne up to putting her own energy and personality into the mix. She describes it as a trust between the producers, writers, and actors and they urge her to bring her own quirks to the character. Although she has not been in Dannenfelser's shoes, her own experiences tap into her character's feelings in the situation.

Being a TV show lead comes with certain challenges, especially when combining comedy and drama within the same story. Initially worried about a dramedy format, Thorne found it to be a smooth transition which she credits to its true story roots. Now it's harder to remember the boundary between therapist and client so she doesn't play the role too maternally. She also deals with the transition of being lead instead of an ensemble cast member. Thorne thrived in the ensemble arena so taking the lead made her very nervous. One of the biggest changes she faces is being there from sunrise to sunset instead of doing her scenes and leaving. She frequently shoots one episode while preparing for another which left her scrambling a bit in the beginning but she thrives on it now. She credits what she learned watching Denis Leary in Rescue Me as a big help.

Mostly though, Necessary Roughness still has an ensemble feel for her. She describes her scenes as "so rich with other actors" and gives a shout-out to the casting department for taking great care in casting every character from those recurring to guests. While Dr. Dani has many balls to juggle in her life, each scene is given equal weight so all characters feel important to her. Even in short scenes, the writers develop the connections between characters so every scene feels like an "A" story instead of a sub-plotline. She praises Marc Blucas, Scott Cohen, Amanda Detmer, and others for bringing their various experiences in all forms of acting to create an energy where everyone is ready to explore. Patrick Johnson and Hannah Marks, who play her teenage kids, also earn rave reviews. Despite never auditioning with them, she finds them "incredibly gifted" and way beyond their years. Their excitement to be on the show makes her scene work with them spark.

The whole cast sounds incredibly close, possibly from shooting in Atlanta. Thorne is familiar with shooting in out-of-industry towns because Homicide: Life on the Street was shot in Baltimore. For Necessary Roughness, they had 1.5 months to shoot the pilot which gave everyone time to get acquainted. The schedule was perfect to work really hard on the story they wanted to tell instead of being rushed. Since no one had family in Atlanta, the cast hung out a lot at night, which Thorne believes shows up on screen. She also hung out with Johnson and Marks on set and cops to giving them unwanted advice. She doesn't have children of her own but finds herself going into Momma mode around them. When the series got picked up, Atlanta felt like coming "back to our own little playground."

As a character, Thorne connects mostly to Dr. Dani's ability to persevere. She encourages people to trust their instincts and keep trying. It's all about the attempt. Dr. Dani also needs these characteristics to handle the changes in her own life. It's a daily exercise Thorne relates to. Dr. Dani thought she had a stable suburban life but going through divorce has her scrambling to keep it all together. She has to navigate her way through new challenges and Thorne thinks the audience will connect with that. Of course, all this turmoil leaves Dr. Dani needing to lean on others for the advice and support she gives her clients. To that end, she still flounders and the audience goes through the experience of figuring it out with her. Her best friend Jeanette is a rock for her and there is potential in her romance with team trainer Matthew, although they have not progressed far enough in their relationship yet. It may also turn out that Nico, the team's mysterious Fixer, will be a confidante. In fact, some early reviewers wonder if a love triangle between Dr. Dani, Matthew, and Nico is in the works, but Thorne says not at this time. Who knows about the future? Right now there is a lot of flirting with Matthew but Dr. Dani always tries to get Nico, played by Cohen, to crack his cool demeanor. Thorne loves trying to get Cohen to break character and smile during shooting too. One thing is sure though. Dr. Dani will not be turning to her mother for support. Played by Concetta Tomei, Angela is an "off her rocker" gambling addict and a lot of fun for the audience. Rounding out the cast are Dr. Dani's clients. Although she works with professional skateboarders, poker players, and of course football players, Terrence "TK" King has a special place in her heart. As her patient in the pilot, he will be a recurring character.

Even though Dr. Dani has a complicated life, she is a far cry from Thorne's most famous role, Sheila Keefe on Rescue Me. Thorne sees nothing of Sheila in Dr. Dani's character which is one reason why she likes the role so much. she calls the characters "photo negatives of each other." Sheila is a desperately lonely megalomaniac who only wants to take. Dr. Dani wants to give. Although the characters are so different, Thorne feels they have an equivalent complexity. "Playing stability is equally as hard as playing instability." One similarity between Rescue Me and Necessary Roughness though is the willingness to allow the actors to improvise. Rescue Me had a lot of improvising, especially in the firehouse scenes. In Necessary Roughness, the writers and creators are open to new ideas and changing lines. "They trust us as a troupe to create." However most of the time the actors don't want to ruin the rhythm of what the writers create.

Necessary Roughness airs on Wednesdays at 10/9C on the USA Network. The premiere date is June 29. Don't miss it!

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