Producer: Improvising OK for US actors, Brits ‘freak out’
LOS ANGELES (AP) — American actors don’t always stick to the script the way their U.K. counterparts do, but that’s OK, according to two top writer-producers.
British actors “really freak out” when given the freedom to change their lines, Lee Daniels, executive producer of Fox’s hit drama “Empire,” told a Hollywood Radio and Television Society panel discussion Wednesday in Beverly Hills.
During production of the 2013 film “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” veteran British actor Alan Rickman, playing President Ronald Reagan, “was married to the word,” Daniels said.
“I said, ’You don’t have to say the word. ... And he was like, ‘No, this is the word,’” Daniels said.
He’s willing to acknowledge that his scripts have room for improvement and that actors can add nuance to the characters they know so well, Daniels said.
Taraji P. Henson, who plays matriarch Cookie Lyon in “Empire,” will “add a line or word that makes it sparkle,” he said.
“The Affair” producer Sarah Treem agreed with his assessment. Treem, a playwright whose other TV credits include “House of Cards,” produces Showtime’s drama series with a cast that includes American actors Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson and, from England, Dominic West and Ruth Wilson.
“British actors really like the text. ... They practice the text, and they’re perfect on the text,” she said. In contrast, Tierney is a “genius” at improvising, Treem said. That’s prompted the script supervisor to ask if the actress should be told to refrain.
″‘No, let the woman speak,’” is Treem’s reply. “She’ll come up with something that is honestly more instinctive and more natural than what’s on the page,” the writer added.
She noted another national difference, this involving America and France. Treem said that “hate mail” was posted online after she gave a U.S. interview in which she questioned whether monogamy can hold in a long-term relationship.
“I was on the phone talking with somebody from France about the show and they had this totally different perspective. It’s great talking to the French,” Treem said.
In the event that included producers from CBS’ “The Good Wife,” FX’s “Fargo” and Amazon Studios’ “Transparent,” the panelists were asked about a dream writing project they have yet to pursue.
“I haven’t been afraid since ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or ‘The Exorcist,’ Daniels said. “And I don’t think there’s been an African-American horror movie that’s really got me to the bones. I think I’d like to tackle that.”
Lynn Elber can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.