Janet McTeer is an accomplished stage and screen actress who’s made a name for herself on both sides of the Atlantic. Her role in Albert Knobbs earned her numerous award nominations. It also gave her an opportunity to work with Glenn Close, who introduced her to the producers of Damages. In Season 5, Janet plays Kate Franklin, a former colleague of Patty’s who becomes Ellen’s new associate. Josh Payne catches up with Janet for an exclusive interview.
JOSH PAYNE: Both you and Glenn Close have worked extensively on the stage. Is there a big difference between preparing for a stage role and a television role?
JANET MCTEER: Depends on the piece. For this [Damages], I had very little preparation. It’s modern. They sort of write it as they go along. So it’s more like an improvisational piece of work. For Albert Nobbs, we prepped for ages, sort of on and off and in our heads, and then had the physical transformation. We rehearsed for a good couple of weeks. Albert Nobbs was more like rehearsing a stage play in the sense that you’re really creating a character and you’re creating something that is very different from yourself that you then bring more or less defined by the time you start doing it. This [Damages] is kind of as it happens. Character unfolding as it happens. You have limited knowledge at the beginning and then thereafter. In that sense it’s very different. Of course, if you’re doing something on stage there are the more technical things of voice, movement and all that kind of stuff.
JP: Was it frustrating or, in some ways, liberating that you couldn’t do much in advance before coming to work on Damages?
JM: It’s just a different kind of challenge. You are on your toes in a way because you haven’t had time to prep. So you can have a day where you have lots of lines that you’ve literally gotten the day before. You enter into it like, “Wow — here we go.” It’s a bit like snowboarding. In that sense, it’s fun and challenging. It keeps you on your toes and there’s lots of adrenaline and I think that’s good when you’re filming something for a long time. It’s fun. It’s just a different challenge, but it’s not more challenging.
JP: What’s the toughest aspect of working on Damages?
JM: The schedule. Seriously, if you have a family life and you don’t live in New York, it’s the schedule. It’s very hard to plan. You don’t know when you’re working or if you can plan to fly home. That’s the toughest part.
JP: Have you worked in television before?
JM: I’ve done television in England. This is the first time in the United States.
JP: How is it different here?
JM: England’s very small. You finish work, hop on a train, and you’re where you need to be two or three hours later if you’re not filming at home. So it’s not that big a deal. Whereas here, the distance is much bigger. So that’s the only pain in the neck.
JP: What do you find most interesting about Damages?
JM: One of the reasons I love this show is it reminds me very much of “The Godfather” principle, which looks like it’s plot driven but actually it’s character driven. At the beginning of The Godfather, when Michael Corleone describes his father’s criminal life he says, “It’s my family. It’s not me.” But then over the course of the work he becomes it. To me, it’s essentially “MacBeth.” Watching Ellen become Patty slowly throughout the course of the thing and wondering if she’s going to be corrupt is my favorite aspect of the whole show. Also, in Season 4, there’s a character that you think is one thing and becomes something so totally other. Dylan Baker‘s character. Suddenly he’s having this sort of midlife crisis and wants to leave and save this kid. And all along you thought he was this assassin. Is this kid his son or what? It’s so out there. And I love that the red herrings they leave you are just brilliant. Characters are allowed to be complicated on this show, and it’s wonderful.
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