Monday, January 23, 2017

Lisa Edelstein returns with season 3 of Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce... both in front of the camera, and in the writers' room

l-r, Bloomingdales Fashion Director Brooke Jaffe;
GG2D's star Lisa Edelstein, EP Marti Noxon and
costume designer Cynthia Summers; designer Ramy Brook
Just as the Television Critics of America (TCA) semi-annual tour finished in California, Bravo had saved a special treat for last.  On Thursday, Bloomingdales in Century City hosted a panel for its scripted series Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, bringing together star Lisa Edelstein and executive producer Marti Noxon with the show's costume designer, Cynthia Summers, and one of Cynthia's favorite designers, Ramy Brook.

In what may be the start of a new trend in TV, Girlfriends' Guide is now airing its third season, and the first of a three-season pickup leading to the series' finale.  Seasons 3, 4 and 5 of the show will consist of 19 episodes, to be filmed now (thru April of this year) but to be split into three small "seasons" that will air into January of 2018.  (I say this multi-season pickup may be a "trend" -- at least within NBC Universal --because NBC announced last week its own pickup of two more seasons of its freshman sensation, This Is Us.)

Before the panel, I got the chance to sit down with Lisa and Marti for a talk about where the show is going in its upcoming seasons, and through to the finish line -- and what they'll be up to next.

Must-Hear TV:  You have an end date now.  How rare is that in television, to get a three-season notice of the end?

Lisa Edelstein:  It’s nice to have.  Because you end up telling a half story otherwise, or rushing because you find out you’re being cancelled and you have 2 episodes left to wrap up the whole thing.  So yes, it’s really nice.  We had a long time to tell what story she wanted to tell.

MHTV:  Was there always a 5 year plan, or was it variable?

Marti Noxon:  No.  The plan was for as long as they’d have us.  But when they said they wanted to do  19-episodes, broken into seasons… I had always kind of had an idea where I wanted to end, so that was great.  I wanted the plane to land.

LE:  It’s kind of nice.  I feel like sometimes shows, there’s something that happens at around year 6…

MN:  Fatigue!

LE:  It’s more than fatigue.  I remember year 6 of House I was driving to work, and I was like, “Oh, I see how people say, ‘I’m ready to move on.’”  You can’t imagine that as an actor, and probably as a writer, too, that you’d ever get tired of something.  But there is something that happens.  But on this show, season 3, this moment, the moment we got this extended experience, was such a perfect time for it.  Because all the actors really felt confident and knew their roles so well, and the writers knew the actors so well, and so these three last seasons have just played out in such a beautiful way.  So to get that opportunity at the exact moment that we did was really comfortable.

MHTV:  Before you got tired of it?

LE:  Before we got tired of it, and while there were rich stories to tell, and at that moment where everybody knew everybody’s voice.  So the writing is very specific to the people who are inhabiting those roles.  And you can really feel it on set.

MHTV:  You wrote an episode as well.  In fact, it’s the episode airing this week as the third one of the third season, “Rule #188: Mind Your Side of the Plate.” [Airs Weds. Jan 25 at 10 PM ET/PT on Bravo]

LE:  I did!  Marti is the best boss in the world.  Last year, I asked, “Can I co-write an episode?” And I co-wrote with her.  This year she let me write an episode, and it was an amazing experience.

MHTV:  Is that a different muscle to exercise?  How did you do it?

LE:  The culture on our show is really group-think.  So you go into the writers’ room and everyone is breaking the whole season, and each episode that happens in that season, and each scene that happens in that episode.  So by the time you as the writer go off, you’re sort of writing the outline of what everybody came up with.  It’s not like I came in and was like, “Well, this is what’s going to happen.”  So I couldn’t do anything bad to anybody else.  I couldn’t make their characters die.  I couldn’t make them lose their voices.

MN:  “Weirdly, I have all the lines in this episode!”

MHTV:  “And everybody else’s line just says how beautiful I am!”  Did you get it all out, or do you want to write more as we continue?

LE:  I really do want to write more. 

MN:  She’s really super talented and multi-faceted…

LE:  I wrote when I was young.  And then I had a terrible friend who was very destructive.  As sometimes we do.  It really made me not trust that aspect of being creative.  When I left House, I started writing this thing, and I realized I miss this relationship with expressing myself.  And so, Marti as a boss is very generous and supportive, and really open to the enthusiasm and excitement and ambition of the people she hires.  That’s not something you see all the time.  A lot of times you get somebody who’s like, “This is my show.  Please be quiet.” But in this case, as soon as I learned that about her, it became an opportunity for me to really grow, at a time in my life where, like anybody who’s been doing something for 25 years, you hope you would get the opportunity to grow.  So I feel very blessed.

MHTV:  Is there something specific about the episode you wrote thematically that that’s the one you chose to write?

LE:  I didn’t choose.  It chose me.

MN:  We have to do it around schedules.

LE:  I needed to be able to write before I start shooting.  But I will say there’s a lot of body image stuff in this episode.  And Abby’s relationship with food and her body, and her relationship with Retta’s character Barbara.  It’s a very sensitive topic.  It’s something that we don’t talk about enough.  In fact, Marti’s got a movie coming out this weekend…

MHTV:  Serendipitously, your film, To The Bone [with Lily Collins portraying a young version of Marti, struggling with anorexia], is about the same topic.  It’s premiering at Sundance this weekend, right?  Right at the time of the Women’s March there.

MN:  I’m doing the March and then Sundance.

LE:  I’m doing the March in DC. 

MHTV:  How important is it to you both to speak out?

LE:  It’s a moment for people to gather and recognize how many people are activated to make sure that women’s issues remain in the forefront of our minds.  And that after the march, we then need to go home and talk to our local representatives and make sure they know how important it is.  I think these marches are just like “Yeah, we’re doing it” – and then you’ve got to go do it.  The march is awesome, but it’s what happens after the march that is vital.

MHTV:  Do you think it will get people more involved in standing up for civil rights?  I think seeing that there’s such a critical mass will probably be inspiring.

LE:  I’ll tell you, when Obama had his first inauguration, I got to go, and it was an extraordinary, powerful, incredibly emotional moment.  Trying to get in to where the inauguration was, we got trapped in this tunnel in the purple section – and people will talk about it if they were in the purple section.  We were in the yellow section, but we had to go through the purple tunnel.  And it was very frightening, because there were so many bodies.  But everyone was so happy and joyful, even in this moment where we were body to body and no one knew what to do.  It was really something.  So being around that energy is very powerful.

MHTV:  Will politics dictate anything about the show?

MN:  I did write into the first episode that aired last week a joke about Madame President.  But I did it in a way where we could cut it if we needed to, thinking, “We won’t have to.  Maybe this is a good omen.”

LE:  We did one take where we didn’t say that.

MN:  I think that the show already was taking on, in the way that we do, issues that are important to gender equality, but in a way that’s sort of palatable and fun.

LE:  And fashionable.

MN:  And everyone looks fabulous doing it.  But now we have jokes about living in a different kind of political climate.  So it has changed a little bit.

MHTV:  Are you doing a Mad Men where you’re going to make all 19 now, and they just air over 3 years?

MN:  Yes, that’s right.

MHTV:  So as they air in seasons 4 and 5, if the apocalypse has happened, you’re already in the can.

MN:  If the apocalypse has happened, I hope people will not be watching TV.  I hope they’re in the streets.

LE:  They could still stream our show. It’s fine.  Make them happy.

MHTV:  They could watch in the bunker.

LE:  Why not?  It’s so good!

MHTV:  I know you can’t spoil it, but what can you tell us about the evolution of Abby and all the other characters over these seasons, now that you have the luxury of time.

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce star Lisa Edelstein
and executive producer Marti Noxon
LE:  We’re sort of calling season 3 the “Girlfriends’ Guide to Freedom.” In seasons 1 and 2, Abby has continuously slammed herself against the same brick wall.  And I think the foundation of that brick wall is her not wanting to deal with life on life’s terms.  And still holding on to fantasy, thinking the world is one way when it’s not.  Having sex with a hustler and being surprised she got hustled.  Stuff like that.  But she hits bottom at the beginning of season 3, and this is now time for her to start really picking up the pieces, and really discovering who she is and how she wants to be in the world.  And there’s a lot of interpersonal relationships with the girlfriends, and her relationship with Barbara gets very close.  She finds a new love interest – James Lesure is amazing.  Malcolm-Jamal Warner is amazing.

MHTV:  So what’s next after April?

LE:  She’s doing 8 million things.

MN:  [Marti’s HBO adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s] Sharp Objects goes into production in late March, and then for [new AMC series] Dietland, we start the writers’ room in February.  And the movie is done.

LE:  The movie is amazing.  And I am developing a project.  But this is my first time doing it, and it seems to be a very long, slow, grueling process. And other than that, I really don’t know.

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