PRODIGAL SON Post-Mortem: Lou Diamond Phillips Breaks Down Directing 'Face Value' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

PRODIGAL SON Post-Mortem: Lou Diamond Phillips Breaks Down Directing ‘Face Value’

March 2, 2021 by  

Prodigal Son Lou Diamond Phillips directing

Lou Diamond Phillips on the set of PRODIGAL SON. (Phil Caruso/FOX)

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the PRODIGAL SON midseason finale.]

PRODIGAL SON’s Ainsley (Halston Sage) may have been kept in the dark by her family for much of the season, but she was able to pull one over on them in a major way.

Though Ainsley showed up at her brother Malcolm (Tom Payne)’s home at the end of the last episode covered in blood with seemingly no memory of how it came to be, it was really just a trick: thanks to some pig blood, Ainsley faked another blackout to attempt to force Malcolm to be honest about her being the one to kill Nicholas Endicott (Dermot Mulroney).

Now that Ainsley knows the truth—and isn’t a two-time killer—Sage things the family will be able to move on from the deception. “Ainsley knows that her family was trying to protect her and so she doesn’t hold them accountable after she gets her revenge on Malcolm,” Sage says. “So, once she tricked him into telling her the truth, she is able to forgive them and move on with her life.”

Also attempting to move forward with her life is Jessica (Bellamy Young), who decided—after her sister tried to pen a book about the messy Whitly family—to take her story into her own hands and write an autobiography/tell-all.

“I think it’ll be a rocky road for Jess,” Young said during the virtual TCA panel. “Any time you [put that many] skeletons into one tiny closet and you pull the door open, an avalanche falls at you. There will be some sorting to be done. Ultimately, the truth will always sets you free. Particularly the episode we’re filming right now, it leads her into a very dark predicament…if she can face what’s out there, she can move forward.”

The episode itself was a big one, as Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Gil) stepped behind the camera to helm the Fox drama’s midseason finale. Here, he breaks down “Face Value,” from bringing the split-screen into the PRODIGAL SON world to being the one to introduce Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alan Cumming into the show…

You have a good number of shows under your belt, directing-wise. Was this something you approached the PRODIGAL SON showrunners about or did they come to you?
The guys were very aware that I directed before they actually cast me in the show. And there were some conversations actually last season, not only with the guys, but with [executive producer Greg] Berlanti and his company, about me directing in the first season. Especially when we got picked up for the back nine. But we decided to go ahead and put it off until this year and make sure everybody had good solid footing.

What made it a lot easier is that I’d actually directed LONGMIRE from Warner Brothers, for Peter Roth, and I directed a FEAR THE WALKING DEAD for AMC when [now-Fox boss] Charlie Collier was there. So when my name got run up the flagpole this year, it wasn’t fortunately out of the imagination of anybody.

You stepped behind the camera on LONGMIRE significantly deeper into that show’s run. Is there a difference in directing on a show you star in six seasons in versus in its sophomore season?
Even though this is second season, everybody is firmly established. I would have felt just as confident having done it last year, because this is just such an accomplished cast. Top to bottom, every single one of our regulars are amazing, and know their characters inside and out. And had been perfectly cast. So there isn’t anything to adjust or massage or anything like that. It really is just about giving the cast a platform and an environment where they can do their best. The scripts are so solid to begin with, that it’s just about making sure you hit those mystery beats.

And it’s something that I’m used to having done, not only having been on LONGMIRE, but directing LONGMIRE, and doing some writing myself. Making sure that each one of those little nuggets of information gets treated in the way that it should be, so that you’re leading the audience, giving them what they need, without hitting them over the head with it.

And this crew, once again, it’s just just wonderful. I could make a suggestion. And what I got was ten times cooler than what I told them to do. [Laughs.] For instance, I wanted to use the Birth of Venus in the plastic surgery group, and [production designer] Adam Scher just took it and ran with it. He created banners and part of the branding. The funny thing is, to get past standards and practices, we had to cover up Venus’ nipples. [Laughs.] You don’t think of these things when you’re thinking of the classic art!

This is your first—and hopefully last—time directing during a global pandemic. How did the COVID-19 restrictions change your approach?
You end up being not nearly as hands on, which in some ways is great. [Laughs.] We had all of our meetings via Zoom, and I could do them from home. So I think even moving forward, we’re going to start looking at how we do things, maybe a little bit differently.

It certainly requires you to do your own homework, you cannot spitball in the room the way that you might if you had three hours to sit down with the cinematographer. You have to have your ideas, and because it’s a Zoom meeting, you tend to pitch in to move a lot quicker. But they were incredibly efficient. We were able to have massive production meetings with every single department head in these Zoom meetings, including the writer from Los Angeles, including either [co-creators] Sam [Sklaver] or Chris [Fedak] in any given time. And it really helped in the preparation.

Now, location scouting and stuff like that, is very much old school: We had to go there, we had to look at it. But the transportation department had to rent a few more vans—things were a little different in that respect.

But it underlined something that should be a matter of course, and that is doing your homework, making sure you’re very prepared. Because you’re going to lose X amount of time during the day because of COVID restrictions, because of moving crew and cast and everybody else in and out to safe zones. Even the final looks process of the touches of makeup, and hair and wardrobe and all that stuff, you know, are slowed down because you have to do it one at a time, whereas it used to be an army of people could descend on you. So it just required a bit more of preparation and patience.

You penned a book, “The Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira,” that was released last year. How did the experience of writing that change the perspective you may have had while directing?
It was the first time directing since I finished the book. Maybe in having a grander worldview, just bringing a little bit more imagination to. Which is something that I would hope to do to begin with.

A lot of times, when I direct, it’s not just…the crew gave me a wonderful phrase that was a high compliment: You’re a director, not a collector. You can shoot shows, but whenever I direct, I like to bring a little bit more to it. And that is a design, a certain feel to it. This one owes a lot to Hitchcock and Kubrick. It just had some old-school sensibilities to me. And so I applied a lot of that, which owes a little bit more to my study of film than it does to to the literary aspirations. But having been so immersed in world-building and creating a bigger picture for everyone, perhaps did expand my palate and made me think about not just performance, and not just plot, but the overall look and feel of the show.

[With] “The Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira,” Yvonne [Phillips] did 30 brand new illustrations for it, it’s absolutely gorgeous. And we were blown away, because the reviews have all been fantastic. It’s topped a couple of the Amazon charts in different categories, and continues to sell well. And the audiobook is doing big guns, as well; I think the hardcover sales surprised the publisher. So just so gratified by the response. And a lot of the reviews said that they love this world, that they would go back to this world. So I’m working on the sequel already. [Laughs.] I’m 140 pages into that. And just like the illustrations that Yvonne came up with that were the inspiration for the original book, Yvonne came up with the plot, with the storyline for this second novel, and I’ve been working on it for like four or five months already. So it’s kind of amazing.

There were a few really unique shots in “Face Value.” Was there one in particular that was your favorite or you were most proud of?
There’s a lot of little Easter eggs in there. The Hitchcock, Kubrick thing, some really lovely crane shots.

The one thing that I pitched to the boys that I was worried about not getting into the show was the split screen sequence. We hadn’t done that yet. We hadn’t introduced that into the language or the vernacular of the show.

And in television, that’s what you’re doing. If you’re not the guy who did the pilot, you’re basically going, all right, here it is, here’s my language. Here’s what the show looks like. Here’s what it feels like. And you don’t reinvent the wheel. But you do try to bring something new to it [when you direct beyond the pilot]. And maybe some flash in a different perspective.

And to me, the split-screen just seemed obvious, because not only going off of the whole kind of Hitchcock, retro feel to it, which is a big Gil Arroyo thing, but the fact [is] that Malcolm, the entire episode is so split brain. He’s having to deal with the crime, but at the same time, he is constantly, part of him is with Ainsley, and what’s going on there, how do I protect her? And so a phone conversation where he’s juggling different demands at the exact same time, it just seemed that split-screen was the perfect metaphor for that. And the guys were so cool, and said, “Yeah, man, show it to us. Hopefully, it’s going to work.” And they were thrilled with the results.

You also used close-up as Ainsley and Malcolm discussed his lie to her about Nicholas’ death and he confronted her about faking her recent bout of amnesia. How much of that was planned and how much came together in post?
It was by design. The interesting thing is, it’s the difference between doing an independent film and doing television: you’re on such a tight schedule, it’s so structured, 42 minutes, then act break, and everything else—you kind of can’t figure things out in the editing room. I, personally, think you have to have a plan going in. And one of the keys to directing, I think, is letting the material tell you how you should see this. Like, we were talking about the split-screen sequence.

That [confrontation] was one of the most clear scenes to me. The funny thing is, if you look at it carefully, it is really only two shots. It is it’s a medium shot that pushes into a close-up on both of them. On the day, the camera department says, wow, you’re not going to do any more coverage? And I said, nope. This is what the scene is about. It is about a confrontation between Malcolm and Ainsley. And it is all about them, and all about performance. So I wanted to set up a shot that just let them go and allow them to have as many takes as they needed. And I think the result is pretty fantastic. But even from the beginning, when we had our tone meeting, Chris Fedak, said, “Yeah, that’s going to play in close-up.” So I knew not to gild the lily. It didn’t need a wide shot, it didn’t need to two-shot. It needed a frame that captures what was going on in both of their eyes.

You also were the one to help introduce Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alan Cumming into the PRODIGAL SON world. What was the biggest priority in that?
I was, thank goodness, able to meet Catherine, before we actually started working. If it had been a film, we would have gone to dinner, we would have had rehearsals, we would have conversations. [Laughs.] That’s not how it works in TV.

The guys, Chris and Sam, obviously did an amazing job of pitching her and telling her where this was going, and giving her the broad strokes of the character. And, please, she’s working with Michael Sheen. Part of me literally just said, “Just make sure you shoot it well; I’m not going to get in there and philosophize or lecture with the two of them.” Point and shoot and make sure you shot them well.

But there is a certain amount of design there, because there’s a new character. And introducing them both, they bring such stature and such presence that you couldn’t just have them walk through the door, it has to be something special.

The first scene with Catherine and Michael, hopefully, subtly, what you get is a real Kubrick approach, where Catherine is covered very closely, but I cover Michael a little bit more from a distance, which diminishes him, size-wise. And all of a sudden, there is a more forceful presence to Catherine’s character, which evens out as the episode goes along. But just right off the bat, visually, she has the upper hand.


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