Tate Donovan Interview: Damages’ Number Two Chair Speaks!

Damages Tate Donovan Interview EclipseMagazine.com Hollywood Insider 

One of the strongest legal shows in years features an utterly ruthless litigator named Patricia Hewes. Damages, which has its first season finale tonight [FX, 10/9C], is a drama that has gotten more and more twisted with each passing week. Recently we were fortunate enough to join a teleconference with Tate Donovan who plays Hewes’ number two man, Tom Shayes.

I was wondering if you know or have a sense when you’ll know about whether or not Damages is going to have a second season? 

Currently the word is, is that FX doesn’t let people know shows known until after all of the episodes have aired. But we’re hoping. We’re definitely hoping.

Okay. And I know you obviously can’t reveal too much but can you kindly of give us some hints as to who the killer is? 

Which killer? You know, what I’m saying? I have to say it makes total sense like they’ve been sort of laying this sort of plot for a long time. And when you’re – when you find out who th killer is you’ll be like, “Oh, wow.”

I have to say the – when I first reading the final script I was like so impressed how they set up the second season – if there’s going to another season. They’ve set it up in a way that you’re just like you cannot wait to see next season. It’s really cool what they’ve done.

What did you pull on? What did you – what sort of influences did you get from to play your character? 

Well, I have an uncle who’s a corporate lawyer. And I spent a couple of days with him and I actually brought Rose Byrne with me to his law firm here in New York. And she got a couple of days with a female partner.

And so, I mean while personality wise they’re not very similar my uncle and Tom Shayes. Just to sort to get the sense of how corporate lawyers has spent their day and what they do, how they talk, how they relate to each other and their client. He helped me out quite a bit.

I have a couple of things I wanted to address. One is throughout the series to this point Tom has been more or less the “go-to” guy who is not the number one chair. And he pretty much jumps when, you know, Patty Hewes says jump – but at the same time he also has the confidence to bring different points of view to the discussions they have and he’s not afraid to back his point. Where did you draw from experience to handle a character who has such shadings? 

That’s a good question. Let’s see. You know, I don’t know. I mean it’s just sort of like co-working with Glenn Close, you know, she’s a pretty formidable actress. So, to sort of listen to her and I think that she has said something that’s, you know, completely correct and a bit of sort of a legal genius is pretty easy to do.

So, I think Tom really, really respects almost more than anybody. Patricia Hewes is sort of certain legal mind. And so that’s easy part and I think Tom himself is a very bright guy. And, you know, so he’ll know when to sort of step up and defend himself or – but overall he really has a great allegiance.

And I think he’s just deeply impressed with Patty Hewes. And he’s never sort of met anybody like her or I think he just recognizes that she has just an extraordinary mind.

And, you know, in the legal world it’s the smartest guy in the room wins, you know. So, he’s definitely able to put aside his – let his ego go to listen to the smartest guy in the room even if it’s a woman.

The second thing I was wondering, I mean you’ve got an all star cast here with Glenn Close and you, and Rose Byrne… 

Ted Danson.

…and Michael Nouri. You’ve got recognizably A-list TV directors like – I’m not sure how to pronounce it – I think it’s Greg Yaitanes… and Mario Van Peebles. 

Uh-huh.

It’s such a wonderful situation, How did the role come to you? 

I just like, you know, everybody else just audition, you know. And thank God they picked me. You know, they picked over like some actors that I am sure I would never beat out.

But it was – I just feel very fortunate, very lucky to be part of this whole group. It’s really right down the line from the procedures to the crew and the whole cast is pretty A-list I’ve got to say.

Damages Tate Donovan Interview EclipseMagazine.com Hollywood Insider

I was going to ask you questions about the October 2nd episode sort of like the family.There was a phone number on Ellen’s voicemail and I actually decided to call it. 

You’re messed up, man. [laughs] You’ve got a problem.

What it does it actually links – it takes me to like Hughes & Associates voicemail thing like for a real company. 

Come on.

I’m serious. It’s all set up through FX. I was just wondering if the cast… 

That’s brilliant!

 …knows about this stuff? 

No. We had no idea.

That’s really cool. You just check it out. You want the number?

Yes.

212… 

Yeah.

752-4708. 

That is – how did you figure out the number? You just heard it?

It’s – yeah, you can hear it. Plus if you go to the official website on Sony… 

Uh-huh.

…it’s listed right there. It’s like the company’s phone number. 

That’s outrageous!

What’s the story behind Uncle Pete? 

I know, isn’t he a mysterious character there?

He only gets more mysterious, by the way. The final episode you’re just like, “Oh my God!

That ties into an online blog thing I saw, because whoever writes that has this really interesting theory about him. You should go check it out. 

All right. I will. Yeah. I mean that show definitely brings up a lot of theories. A lot of people, I mean people come up to me with most crazy theories about what they’re going to, you know, what Tom is up to. It’s so funny.

Basically, I’m thinking Uncle Pete is Patty’s cleaner if you know what I mean. 

Maybe… or dirtier actually I think.

The storyline has just been so intricate woven throughout this first season and it’s reallybeen an amazing thing to watch. And one of your co-stars Peter Facinelli it spoke to thefact that as an actor it’s really as exciting to read the script as has been for us the viewers to watch the show. I was just curious some if you agree with that or how you felt your (frame) was with respect to that? 

Yeah, it’s been kind of a very sort of freeing experience. You know, it’s sort of like, you know, we have no idea what, you know, what our characters are going to be doing next. And they don’t talk so it is secretive they just sort of, you know.

These guys are really bright and they have, you know, few ideas in mind and they literally come up with stuff. Sometimes the, you know, the morning of we’re going to shoot something …and they’ll literally e-mail the pages to the set and then we’ll get them and then we’ll have to, you know, memorize and then do them right there.

It’s kind of – it’s an amazing experience. It’s sort of like you really let go of like thinking you’re in control of your character… and you just react and do the best you can and just give it up then it’s kind of fun actually.

I just wondered, I know you got a chance to direct an episode and I was just curious, how is that for you when you’re directing a show in which you’re also the star? Does it make it easier? Is it harder? What’s kind of the most challenging aspect of wearing kind of both those hats? 

Well, actually I haven’t done it on Damages. I’m hoping to do it next season.

Oh, I’m sorry… 

Yeah. I did it on another television show it was called the O.C. But hopefully next season I’ll be doing. I can’t really answer that question.

Oh. 

But basically, you know, it’s surprising that directing really helps your acting and I think acting really helps your directing. It really, you know, you just – the more you know as an actor for me is the better. So it’s not as hard as I think a lot of people think. I mean there are people who watch the monitor, you sort of set up the shot with them standing and then you… go and do it and you have it feeling because you’re there. And also, you know, people behind the monitor sort of you trust and the producers are there. And it’s not as difficult as one would imagine.

 If you would look back on the first season, what do you think you’re going to really take away with most? Or is there one thing that you’re really going to really remember the most about it for you personally and professionally perhaps? 

Oh, gosh. Yeah. You know, we just finished last night at 4 o’clock in the morning…

 Anything that sticks out maybe an experience or one particular episode you really enjoyed or just working like that. 

Well, I had a great episode like I think it’s episode four or five where I, you know, it was a lot about Tom and that was a great experience to sort of have the show be about Tom and…You sort of got under his skin and thought, you know, what he was going through. And I really – I loved shooting that. I was really – so I just, you know, and I hope that there’s just more episodes like that, you know.

So that was my sort of favorite episode. And, you know, just working with such a good group of people they really are – the procedures are – I’ve never really worked with producers like these that are so sort of bright and so sort of inclusive. And I don’t know. They just work so hard. You just admire them so much.

I think that’s what I walk away with the most. It’s just admiring the producers so much.

Great. Well, let’s hope for a second season.  

Yeah. I know, say a prayer.

You said that they don’t really let you know in advance, you know, where the story arc is headed, what you’re doing? 

Yeah.

I’m curious. How do you prepare for that, like, how do you as an actor get ready to be able to fly by the seat of your pants? 

You just let go, you know. I think when we first started we were really like, “Where am I going? Am I good a guy? Am I bad guy? What do I do? You know, why am I lying to Patty or, you know.”

And then you just sort of go, you know what that, you know, sort of like life itself, you know. You just… like, there’s a plan for me I’m not necessarily sure what it is but I’m going to do my best. I’m going to just be as good as possible in the scene. From what I know this is where Tom is going. So I’ll try to do my best to create it.

And it’s very – it’s an interesting – it’s very Zen like experience, you know.

 As an actor I’m sure you’ve done stuff where you did know the complete story arc and  where you didn’t. Is there one way that you prefer over another?  

Well, I think, you know, you like to know the story arc, I mean, you know. But, you know, I’ll tell you this has been one of the best experiences in my life.

I think ultimately you just want to know that the people who are in charge are really bright and really good.

And these guys are really are super bright and really good at what they do. So this is tremendous. You have a trust in them, you know… it’s sort of like, well, like, you know, I know that they’re going to come with something great. So it’s just great to be part of it, you know.

As someone that’s starred in, you know, drama and comedy and animated stuff, is there one genre you like more than another? 

Not really, you know, it’s funny because I always try to add a little comedy to the dramas and I’m always adding a little drama to the comedy. I guess that you sort of my instinct is to pull it in the opposite direction and it’s going, you know. And I’m always on the set. I’m always trying to, “Hey, it would be funny if I did this.” You know, like, “Hey”.

It’s not really about being funny. You’ve got to like this plot here. I mean I think there’s like one laugh in the entire season of Damages. I’m proud to say that I think it’s me. You know, this is, you know, in the pilot.                              

But there’s just, you know, I guess I sort of my instinct is to sort of poke fun or try to find some sort of levity in the serious situation. Because I found in my life that in the most serious, dire of circumstances there’s always humor.

In touching on something you mentioned before, I’m wondering what it is like to play characters that are up against some such strong women like Patty Hewes or Julie Cooper? 

I don’t know. I’m used to it. You know, I just was raised I guess in the family where women were very strong. And I just – it doesn’t come as some sort of odd surprise or, you know, below to my ego or something like that, you know. I’ve always sort of seen women as authority figures or, you know, some of them can be.

Damages Tate donovan Interview EclipseMagazine.com - Hollywood Insider

So, you know, in show business is still. There are really powerful women. So it hasn’t really been that big of a deal. I mean she’s – (some) are great actresses like both of them that you mentioned. It’s pretty fun, you know.

Right. This is a show that really plays loose and free with morality and I’m wondering then if you view Tom as evil or he’s just sort of humanly flawed. 

I, you know, it’s so funny. I have to say I’m shocked by how people see me as evil or awful and terrible and – I’m kind of personally are taken aback. I see Tom as a very, you know, a guy who’s really just trying to do the best he can in pretty precarious world.

And I think he’s an – he’s a good father. He’s a good husband. He’s a good employee. He’s a good partner to Ellen, I mean, to Patty and I think he’s treated Ellen for the most part really well.

I mean he’s sort of, yeah, he had a moment of weakness. But who doesn’t, you know? And he’s lied and he sort of fudged the truth and he’s sort of gone beyond people’s backs.

But it’s a pretty tough competitive world out there. And yeah, I see Tom as far more sort of, you know, good or understandable than I think a lot of the audience.                                                                                                                                      

Well, I’m hoping in the 11th hour he’s going to be to our hero and, you know, spring Ellen from jail.  Also finally speaking, I’m just wondering if there is a second season of Damages where you would hope that the producers and writers take your character? 

Oh, gosh. You know, I would love them, you know, there are two kinds of lawyers, you know, I read this great book by – oh, God, it’s called “Letters to a Young Lawyer by – oh, he’s such a good lawyer and really famous lawyer, but I just sort of spaced on the name.

But anyway I read this book and he said there are two kinds of lawyers: one who want everyone to like them and the other doesn’t care at all and maybe in prefers to be disliked. And Tom is definitely a guy who wants to be liked.

So I think it would be fun to take Tom into maybe the realm of politics. And, you know, that sort of world where being liked is super important. And he can use his talent of as affability, you know, towards that.

But, you know, it’s really up to them as long as I have lots to do I’m a happy camper. They want to make me the mass murderer, that’s fine with me. If they want to make me a hero that saves people in the end, I’ll take it, you know. I just like to be in the mix.

We kind of see Tom going from being Patty’s lapdog to standing up for himself and making sure he’d became partner and what not. So how important has this growth over the season been and finding out how it happens and the pieces coming together in the last episode? 

How important is Tom’s growth connected to like what happens to the end of the episodes?

I don’t think it has much to do with him. But I could be wrong, you know. Maybe, you know, sometimes you can’t see your character as clearly as the audience or as producers can see it so.

But to me it always has nothing to with the finale.

You don’t know, for sure, that you’ve been picked up or not for next year. But does FX know that Jimmy Cooper or like that Tate, you’re written off the show or don’t make it after the finale that, you know, ratings could drop like 20% like the O.C. did? 

I don’t know but you should let them know that.

How’s the season finale coming to an end? Is it pretty much completely wrapped up or will it kind of rollover into next season? 

What’s pretty cool is that they, you know, really answer a lot of the major questions. I mean really certain big mysteries are wrapped up. You know, you find out who kills David. You find out what happened to the Frobisher case.

Damages Tate Donovan Interview EclipseMagazaine.com Hollywood Insider

The big central sorts of mysteries are solved. But what they’ve done is they set up a dynamic for next year that is fantastic. I mean when I finished reading it I was like, “That is so good”. It totally makes you, you know, satisfied and then it totally makes you go, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to check out next season because that’s going to be amazing”.

Was Tom in on the firing or not? 

You know what, is so funny. I can tell you that while we were shooting it the answer was no.

But, you know, I asked them that and then the producers like, “No”. Tom has no idea he’s getting fired. He has no idea about Ellen and in that scene in the stable I am telling the truth.

I just thought – I literally was talking to when the producers yesterday and he’s like, “Well, you know, Tom knew about the firing and he knows why she hired Ellen”. And I was like, “Honestly.Yeah, you guys switched that because in the pilot we talked about and there were like…” “Yeah, you know, we switched”.

So it really – the answer is both. While we were shooting the pilot we thought one thing. And I think as the year goes on I think a lot of people don’t realize that actors and just as, you know, the schedule also the same influence the story. And, you know, the writers sort of just come up with stuff and insert it and hope they can get away with it.

And it’s not like it’s all laid out, you know, in the pilot and we all know where we’re going. I think a lot of this stuff is sort of changed and switched and changed in editing and with performances and stuff like that.

Another question with the pilot because there’s just another one that just kind of bugging me and I just want to get your thoughts on is when you paid off Uncle Pete… 

Right.

…for killing Katie’s dog. Did he know what he was paying off over there was he… 

Tate Donovan:      Tom?

 …hurt as well? 

No. He had no idea.

I’d like to know about shifting from a network show and moving into a cable series like Damages. Is that a challenge for you? Like what do you find different about it? What do you enjoy more/less?  

What is a lot more freedom, you know, there’s a lot more. You know, the notes that you get sort of handed down from the network or whatever are far more, you know, interesting. And, you know, working for a, I mean FX is a pretty amazing network. I mean the guys who run FX are extraordinarily bright people..

It’s not that the people who move out run Fox aren’t really bright. But I’m – they’re just – I don’t know I’ve been sort of really impressed with them. And they sort of let the shows go a little bit more than I think other networks. And that’s kind of freeing and fun. And the only thing is that you don’t get paid as much. But, you know, it’s worth it to be on a good show.

You know, it’s kind of a mystery – the whole season has been a mystery and everybody watching it and trying to figure it out. Were you in the cast as on edge and trying to figure it out and it surprises – the shocking ending or, you know, as intrigued as the audience might be, were you as involved and trying to figure out the mystery as we are? 

I would say more involved. Yeah. I mean, you know, we’re all like, you know, “Is it me” you know, like we all want to know what, you know, we were heavily involved.

Absolutely and, you know, it’s always sort of like you want to ask the producers a lot of questions. But you also like don’t want to bother them all the time, you know.

So, it’s always like trying to find the right time or like, “What’s going on with this? And why is that happening, you know?” And so, it’s always sort of like because those guys are just – they just work so hard. You know, you don’t want to like annoy them with questions. But trust me, yeah, we were deeply involved of what’s happening.

Anyone figure it out before the final script? 

No. Not at all. Although when you find out who, you know, who kills David, it makes total sense, you’re like, “Oh yes, of course”. But they’ve been very quietly laying down the track for that for a couple of episodes.

But it’s great. You’re going to enjoy it, I guarantee.

I was wondering if you could give us some insight as to what it’s like to behind the scenes from the show, like did you guys joke around a lot, did you hang out much? What’s that like? 

Yeah. Yeah. The set of course is far more fun than the sort of, you know, when you watch it. You know, I mean Glenn is – she’s giggly, she’s funny. She tells really good stories, you know.

Damages Tate Donovan Interview EclipseMagazine.com Hollywood Insider

Rose Byrne by the way is like one of the most fun, you know, relaxed, cool people I’ve ever worked with. I mean she really – she’s from Australia and she is just so kicked back.

Ted Danson is hysterical. We’re all just cracking up and saying totally inappropriate stuff, you know, and making fun of the show. You know, it was very like I’m sure it will be a really good gag reel,  if you know what I mean.

You mentioned earlier that you were surprise that some of the actors you beat out for the role. Can you name names or is that just not cultured? 

Well, yeah, you know, I guess it’s not cultured. I don’t know.

One of the theories that I have going in was that did Tom have a little bit of a crush on Patty. And I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that if there’s, I mean sort of romantic interest that you had towards her. 

Well, that’s interesting. I think Tom had a crush… definitely had like a legal crush on her. You know, like I think Tom is truly in awe of the way she – her mind works.

I mean she’s three to four steps ahead of everyone. And I think he really admires that. And I think that, you know, that sometimes especially when you’re working together that can sort of, you know, turn into some sort of romantic ideas.

But in terms of like actually expressing them, I don’t think Tom has ever thought about it. I think Tom is pretty happily married guy. And – but I do think he has at least a professional crush on Patty. Yeah.

I’d like to revisit your statement that your doing this show has been a fairly freeing experience in that you pretty much leave things in the hands of the writers and pages pop into your hands. You know, just before you’re starting to shoot an episode sometimes… that sort of thing.  

Uh-huh.

And I was just wondering with that kind of situation how much influence do you have on the development of your character? And if you could give us any examples of where something that you’ve thought or said to someone has, you know, born fruit in terms of you performance, or in the way the character was written henceforth? 

Well, you know, there’s certain like little tiny specific things like they know I’d do triathlon and I ride bikes a lot. And so when I – they did an episode of more about Tom they started out with me on a bike, you know, that kind of stuff. Very simple, you know, stuff that they know I can do.

But in terms of the major arc of Tom, I’m not too sure. You know, that’s more of a question for them. You know, like I’m not too, you know, you’ll never really know how you influence somebody, you know. I’m not too sure whether I influence my part in it at all.

If you could have a conversation with Tom or tell him one particular thing what was that be? 

That’s a good question. Let’s see. If I could have one conversation with Tom…

It would be advice or just maybe, you know, shoot the breeze. It doesn’t matter. Just curious what you would say to him. 

You know, this may sound kind of odd but, you know, it’s sort of like I don’t really feel sort of a huge difference between Tom and I, you know. I mean – so I guess, you know, I try to be a little bit more honest and more upfront than old Tom.

But then again, I’m not in world where this kind of stuff is going on, you know. I just make, you know, films and television and theater and, you know, trying to have, you know, a decent, nice relationship every once in a while.

But, you know, it’s sort of like, you know, he’s in an entirely different world. And sometimes being a little underhanded like, you know, I think I’m far more naïve than Tom. I think Tom is far more jaded and is in a tougher world than me.

So I think he probably have some advice for me. Like, “Hey Tom, why don’t you talk to the producers and, you know, get your own show, you know.

I think Tom would have far more advice for me than I would for Tom.

 Okay. That’s great. Thank you.

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