Damages has always cast big-time Hollywood talent to play leading roles. The upcoming season is no exception. Ryan Phillippe joins the impressive list of Damages guest stars as Channing McLaren, the founder of a controversial website devoted to government and corporate transparency. (Think Wikileaks.) Our Damages Insider, Josh Payne, caught up with Ryan to see what he has to say about his Damages character, Rose Byrne’s accent, and what attracted him to take the job in the first place.
Josh Payne: What was it about Damages that made you come back to TV after working in features for years?
Ryan Phillippe: Well, at the beginning of my career I did a soap for six months. Before I got my first feature role I did a couple guest spots on shows like Chicago Hope, but I’ve never really done a series to this extent in my career. And I hadn’t really considered it too much except once I got on the phone with KZK [Damages Creators and Executive Producers Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Glenn Kessler] and they mentioned Julian Assange, it just hooked me. I wasn’t obsessed with him but I read absolutely everything I could from the first time I heard what his mission and place within the world was. So the idea of getting to explore him or a version of him was really interesting to me. I had not seen the show. I’d heard about it, of course, and seen it win awards but it wasn’t until after I took the job that I started watching it. But I knew before then about its pedigree and that it was an intellectual show. It wasn’t just mindless, regurgitated TV stories.
JP: So the Assange character was the hook?
RP: Yes. That idea got me excited about playing with the notion of Asperger’s [syndrome] and socially inappropriate behavior and people unable to read moods. People often say you can find in great minds like Shakespeare or Bill Gates that sort of dysfunction. I had said to KZK in the first phone call that it was interesting to me.
JP: Aside from reading up on Assange, did you do anything else to prepare?
RP: Yes. There are a lot of online videos of Asperger’s, with people who have it, family members talking about it, and lectures on the subject. My girlfriend’s little brother is autistic and I’m fascinated by that realm of brain health because there’s such a unique aspect to it. People [with autism and Asperger’s] think differently. They just do. They don’t operate on that same level of connection that tends to be labeled as “normal.”
JP: Had any of your films prepared you for the McClaren character?
RP: With a few exceptions, I’ve tended to gravitate toward material that makes you think, that’s of some substance and that had some message or original story at its heart. In that way, Damages fits with the choices I’ve made. With each job I do, once it’s over I immediately let go and tend not to use it. It all falls under the umbrella of experience, of course, but I don’t relate one project to another.
JP: How has it been working with Glenn Close? Have you worked with her before?
RP: I haven’t worked with her before, and she was one of the reasons I wanted to do this show. And I’ve done two scenes with her in 10 episodes [laughs]. And Rose is great too. She’s certainly the workhorse of the show. I think she has the most dialogue. It’s dense. It’s full of legalese. And the fact that she pulls it off with, I think, the best American accent done by a non-American is amazing.
JP: Does Rose maintain the American accent between takes?
RP: No. And I’m a harsh critic of accents both ways, whether it’s an American using a foreign accent or vice versa. But Rose is one of the best.
JP: You’re based in L.A. Did you like shooting in NY?
RP: Oh, yeah. I started my career here and I’m from outside Philadelphia. It was nice being here. The weather in L.A.’s better [laughs], and my kids are there. But I’ve enjoyed being in New York.
JP: You’re a Philadelphia Phillies fan. Any predictions for this season?
RP: I don’t know, man. It’s hard. You’re always prepared to be disappointed if you’re a Philadelphia sports fan. Last year, having the best record and collapsing in the playoffs was pretty disappointing, so we’ll see.