Meet Our Damages Insider: Josh Payne

May 7, 2012

Josh is the ultimate insider. As one of the writers of Damages, he’s intimately involved in the show’s creation and has exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the set and the stars. Every week in this blog leading up to the premiere of the final season on July 11, he’ll share interviews, production photos, and insider scoops you won’t find anywhere else.

But first we wanted to hear a little more about him and what it’s like to write for the show The Hollywood Reporter has called “the best drama series on television.”

Before Damages, you worked at Saturday Night Live. What did you do there?

I was a talent coordinator. The talent department books SNL hosts, schedules auditions for cast members, and organizes the after-show parties, among other responsibilities. I served as a liaison between the hosts and the show’s various departments—taking the host to photo shoots, costume fittings, read-through, and rehearsals. I also booked special guests, dancers and extras.

How did you get into TV writing?

When I moved to New York after college, my goal was to write for television. A few years later when I knew more about the industry, I realized I probably should have moved to L.A. since that’s where most shows are written. By that time I was married and couldn’t just pick up and leave. I still wanted to write, so I went to graduate school for journalism and worked as a reporter for three years. A friend, who left SNL around the time I did, knew Damages was looking for a writers’ assistant and that I still wanted to write for TV. I sent my résumé and was called for an interview a week later.

How did you land your job as a staff writer for Damages?

I was hired as a researcher/writers’ assistant after Season 1. The producers knew I wanted to write and generously gave me opportunities. I wrote an episode for the fourth season and was promoted to a staff writer during the show’s fifth and final season.

What’s the atmosphere like in the Damages writers’ room?

Casual, but thorough. All ideas are welcome and then subjected to a healthy debate. At times it’s like math. You’ll have a suggestion for a plot move or character story. It is then plugged into every other story equation we’re discussing to determine which combination of elements gives us the best story. There are also a lot of dried fruits and nuts in the writers’ room. And hot sauce.

We hear you have a Damages bible. Please tell us more.

I wrote it when I began working on the show, after Season 1 ended. It’s a compendium with episode plots broken down into paragraph form, character descriptions, timelines, continuity details and research. From season to season, it’s amazing how you’ll forget small details, so it’s helpful to have a reference guide.

We know you’ve done research on the cases that the show covers. Which case has personally interested you the most and why?

Probably the Tobin case in Season 3, which was inspired by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Madoff was based in New York and would have run in the same power circles as Patty Hewes. The Madoff case and the financial crisis were unspooling in the news as we were writing that season. At one point we created a character who had worked with Tobin to quietly stash the money he swindled from investors, only to see a very similar development reported on the news a few weeks later.

Not everybody gets to work with a celebrated actress like Glenn Close. What does it mean to you personally and your career?

It was an honor to write for her. With an actress of Glenn’s caliber, you really don’t want to let her down. That’s always in the back of your mind. Before sending a scene or a script up the chain you definitely re-read it and ask yourself if it’s the best you can do, if it lives up to her talent. Hearing Glenn deliver lines I wrote was always a thrill. We were always aware of how fortunate we were to have Glenn anchoring the show.

Tell us about seeing Rose develop as an actress from Season 1 when she was still relatively fresh on the scene to now, Season 5 and all the acclaim that came with Bridesmaids?

In a way, Rose’s development mirrored Ellen’s. Rose had already been in a few movies and TV episodes when she landed the part of Ellen. But she hadn’t been the lead in a series or gone toe to toe with an actress as accomplished as Glenn Close. She was a little nervous at the beginning of Season 1 and she used it to inform her role. Ellen, fresh out of law school, was also green when she took the job with Patty. As the series progressed, Ellen endured more traumas and manipulation than most people ever will, and it toughened her. Meanwhile, Rose became more confident. What I didn’t realize until I saw Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids was that Rose is a gifted comedienne.

Do you get input or suggestions from the cast regarding changing a scene?

Before each season, KZK [Damages creators and executive producers Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Glenn Kessler] met with Glenn and Rose to discuss the upcoming story. At that point there was room for input regarding a character’s arc for the season.

Does the cast have any room for improvising? With four seasons under Glenn and Rose’s belt, I assume they have grown to know their character and how they will react to certain situations.

The plot is tightly constructed, so once we begin shooting there isn’t much room for improvisation in terms of changing the direction of the story. But line changes aren’t a problem. If Glenn or Rose found a line of dialogue to be awkward or out of character, the producers would work with them to change it.

What are you looking forward to the most on the final season?

I can’t wait to see how it’s edited. I know the story, so the only remaining surprise for me will be how it’s assembled. Often, KZK will rearrange story lines during post-production, so it’s possible a scene or story line written early in the season will show up in a later episode. Given the intricacy of the plot you wouldn’t think those types of changes would be possible, but KZK has pulled off some impressive editing maneuvers in prior seasons.

This is the final season. What’s next for you?

Hopefully working on another show as rewarding as Damages has been.

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Ryan Phillippe Talks Damages: Our Exclusive Interview
Damages Pictures: Exclusive Set Photos of Ellen’s Office
Damages Guest Star Profile: Ted Danson as Arthur Frobisher