Judd Hirsch Talks Damages: Exclusive Interview

July 30, 2012

Patty Hewes knows ALL the right people. Some are fiercely loyal life-long friends (Think Uncle Pete) and some are like Bill Herndon, whose reasons for helping Patty are not immediately apparent. All we know is: he drinks; he’s connected to the CIA; and he gets the information Patty needs. This mystery is exactly why the Emmy Award-winning actor Judd Hirsch took the part. He played the character so well, the producers had to bring him back in Season 5. Not bad for a former engineer who started acting as a hobby.

JOSH PAYNE: What led you to sign on to Damages?

JUDD HIRSCH: It was the kind of part I was going to play. They wanted a kind of loser who becomes very helpful [to Patty]. And I thought, “Ah, loser. Yeah. There’s always something to build from there.” I didn’t know how they’re going to write the guy, and I didn’t know what they had in mind but I loved the mystery of it. He’s an unestablished magic-bullet kind of person who comes up with something. All I knew going in was that he drinks. I love the way we started it. He’s a down-and-out loser at a bar. And I thought, “Ooh. Where do we go from here?” That’s good. If I’m going to get up to that office [Hewes & Associates] in any way and be one of these outside helpers who’s connected to the CIA in the past, that’s interesting. He has a great past—so we could draw on it. So that’s the invitation: “Let’s do that guy and let us now see how he gets through.” Which is kind of like writing from the hip.


JP: Had you watched Damages before you signed on?

JH: I watched a few episodes when it was on another channel. But I hardly ever watch television, especially the stuff I’m in. I had to get the whole Taxi series on tape.


JP: You never watched Taxi when it was on?

JH: Hardly ever. I was never home. It was on Tuesday night…or was it Thursday? Well, it was on two networks. One ran it Tuesday, the other ran it Thursday. I know what we did, obviously, and when it would have been on. But I didn’t watch much.


JP: Have you worked with Glenn Close before?

JH: No. Never met her before.


JP: How has it been working with Glenn? Aside from your TV and film work, you’re both stage vets.

JH: And that’s the great part. She’s like this wonderful receiver. She’s like me. We do the same thing—affect the other guy. Do something because you heard [your costar] say something. That’s what acting’s all about. Whatever the other person says, you have to do something about it.


JP: You did a TV movie/miniseries called The Law, which took an unflinching look at the city’s legal system. How do you feel about the current state of legal shows?

JH: Broad brushstroke of the underbelly of Los Angeles criminal justice. I remember describing The Law that way. That’s what it was based on. A lady judge who keeps a gun under the bench and completely favored the prosecution. And Gary Busey played my client. I was introduced to TV through that movie. I had never done anything before.


JP: That was your first TV job?

JH: Yes. I was in New York doing Off-Broadway. I didn’t expect to do anything more than that. I was kicking around, a latecomer to the whole business because I graduated college as a physics major and worked as an engineer for a while. But then one day I decided if I can do this [act], it could be interesting—if I can make people believe me.


JP: So you began theater more as a hobby?

JH: More or less. It was like going to night school. I had a menial job during the day so I could perform and take acting class at night. And then I got absolutely fascinated by it. But I kept the job, even after I got my first Broadway show. I was the third replacement telephone man in Barefoot in the Park.


JP: You’re equally at home in drama and comedy. Do you have a preference?

JH: You know, a lot of people say comedy’s harder. It’s not. It’s harder if you’re not very good. But as far as I’m concerned, they’ve got the same process. The more you believe, the more human the character—the funnier you can make it. Europeans know that, by the way. They do human comedy. People struggling to be real. If you struggle to be real it’s laughable. It’s very funny. Against the odds. It’s always against the odds. Taxi was based on that. It was a show about people struggling against the odds. They will never get out of that place. It’s the River Styx. I’m not saying Taxi was the greatest show ever written. But everyone was inspired by the writers, the producers and the actors. If it sounded like they wrote for the actors, well, they had to. The personalities were so strong there. I think everything is tragic comedy. Shakespeare knew it. Even in his grossest plays there’s always an idiotic thing happening.


JP: Did you base your Damages character Bill Herndon on anyone?

JH: No. Not really. Of course you do in some way, but you don’t know who you’re doing. Depends on how you want him to come out. You want him to come out so he’s someone sympathetic, you base him on one type of person. You want him to come out like a boor you base him on another kind of person.


JP: Do you have any favorite Damages scenes?

JH: The beginning. When my character was introduced. Meeting Patty. I had to play it drunk in a bar. But there had to be something there to suggest what he would do once he wound up back in Patty’s firm.


JP: What do you find interesting about Damages?

JH: I love the fact that it’s so current. They’re always talking about something that’s very, very current in our particular military-political sphere. That’s what I think the shows about. The exposé part. It’s so smart. I was in a show called Numbers, also written by very, very smart people. And it was so smart that it probably wouldn’t last. But the people who watched it loved it because they couldn’t figure the math out. I think Damages is the same way.

Related Content:
Damages Guest Star Profile: Judd Hirsch as Bill Herndon