The intense new Starz series Flesh and Bone (all episodes are available On Demand and on Starz Play, starting on November 8th) follows a young ballet dancer named Claire (Sarah Hay), who joins a prestigious ballet company in New York while running from her hauntingly troubled past. It is an unflinching look at the dysfunction and glamour in the world of ballet while also exploring the very personal journey of an emotionally wounded, sexually damaged and, at times, self-destructive young woman.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, show creator/executive producer Moira Walley-Beckett and real-life ballerina Sarah Hay, who stars on the show, talked about representing ballet in this way, why this is such a rich world with a lot of stories to tell, the daunting challenge of finding the perfect Claire, balancing the drama and the dance, the dark journey of the story, and the very easy and comfortable environment on set.
Collider: Sarah, what’s it like for you to be representing dance, in this way?
SARAH HAY: I really enjoyed it. I think this show has a lot of potential to teach people about the dance world, in good ways and in bad ways. There are a lot of things kept under wraps that are going to be shown. We don’t pay attention to how beautiful the art form is, a lot of the time, and it’s a shame that the audiences aren’t bigger. So, having the television audience is a blessing, to show people the art form.
When you were approached about this TV show, what was your reaction?
HAY: At first, I kind of ignored the invitation because I thought it was a reality show. At the time, a lot of dance reality shows were happening, and I don’t have any interest in doing something that’s not authentic. I saw the script, and then I saw some of the producers’ names. I saw Lawrence Bender, who is a [Quentin] Tarantino producer, and now a TV producer, and I love Tarantino, so I was like, “Okay, maybe this could be something really interesting.” And then, I saw Moira’s name and didn’t know who she was at first, but I looked it up and saw that she’d done Breaking Bad. It would have been ridiculous for me not to try out for it.
Moira, how did this show come about?
MOIRA WALLEY-BECKETT: I have a dance background, so I figured it was a pretty rich world and I had a lot of stories to tell. I felt really at home, creating this. When you have a personal experience with personal stories to tell and you’ve actually lived it, it gives you a certain amount of credibility.
HAY: If she hadn’t used real dancers, I wouldn’t have wanted to do this. Having a dance double definitely works, to a certain level, but having the real emotion and real performance, and being able to see the actor’s face when they go through that, is so unique. It’s beautiful.
Moira, as time went on and you couldn’t find your lead, did you ever think that it might not happen, at all?
WALLEY-BECKETT: Yes, I had a deep, dark moment of despair for a little while. I saw some extraordinary dancers. I saw some very famous dancers in the dance world. We did a huge international search and I just couldn’t find her. We had these other dancers that were great. We were ready to go, but I was not going to do the show until we found her. And then, we [found Sarah] in Germany. I remember that day, after that audition, we were both in our separate hotel rooms across town. Sarah got the job and I called her, and we were having a cocktail by ourselves, in our hotel rooms. We were just so amazed that we’d found each other. I was amazed that I’d found her and she said yes, and Sarah was like, “Oh, my god, I said yes!” I was very enthusiastic about my choice.
Sarah, did you know how desperate they were to find their lead, when you went in for the audition?
HAY: I had no idea that they were desperate. It just so happens that while I was reading the first episode, I was thinking, “Wow, this seems like I’ve lived this before. This is so weird.” It was super exciting when I actually read the article that there was this hunt happening and they couldn’t find anyone. Half-way through my audition process, I read that article and thought, “Okay, if I get this, that means it’s really meant to be.”
How did you put this group of characters together? Did you wait to see who you’d be able to cast before fully developing who these characters would be?
WALLEY-BECKETT: No, I had written the pilot before we started casting. I met with all of these people in a seedy hotel room in Albuquerque while I was shooting Breaking Bad.
No wonder this show turned out so dark.
WALLEY-BECKETT: I enjoy dark. It suits me.
HAY: It’s so funny, she looks so sweet.
Moira, did you want to make sure that you always had a balance between the drama and the dance, and that it didn’t lean too heavily one way or the other?
WALLEY-BECKETT: Absolutely! And I tried to remember that, to a certain degree, dance is a character too. Unless we’re dancing in service of the story, we’re not dancing. It’s all about story for me. We’re never just like, “Here are our dancers dancing, for no reason. Let’s just watch them dance.” It’s always to tell story.
Were you concerned that just because these dancers could all dance well, it didn’t necessarily mean that they’d be able to dance well together?
WALLEY-BECKETT: It was a very compatible effort, actually. I think everybody was really excited to work together. They’re phenomenal people, and (choreographer) Ethan Stiefel is so respected. I think everybody came to the set looking forward to how cool it was going to be and they worked together like a company.
HAY: Because there was no competition, it was an easy environment. A lot of people remained friends after. If you look at their Instagrams now, they’re all hanging out together and working together. A lot of them were freelance dancers and they’re doing different projects together, which is really nice. It’s rare to have that environment in the dance world.
Sarah, was it ever strange to be pretending to have such intense competition among the characters while you guys all had such a great comradery together?
HAY: Some of the confrontational moments between me and other dancers were weird because I never do that. I really don’t. I can’t. I don’t feel that being mean to people really does anything to me, so I try to just be really nice to everyone, as much as I can, depending on how mean they are to me. So, the situations where I was put against another dancer, verbally, was very challenging for me.
There are some really intense emotional moments in this show. How were those scenes to do?
HAY: I’m a very sensitive person, by nature. Things move me very easily, like music or videos on Facebook, and I feel for people. If I had to portray an emotion, I just had to think about something that moved me, and then translate that into how the scene was going.
WALLEY-BECKETT: She also did a lot of really deep exploration about Claire and her background and her motivations. We would talk through what a scene was going to be, and Sarah would be like, “Now, I know what it is.” She really inhabited the character and did the deep work. She went to the really dark, scary places that I asked her to go.
Just how dark and torturous does this story get?
WALLEY-BECKETT: I guarantee that you can expect the unexpected. It’s not a dance show. It’s a very twisted, emotional show. Everybody is pushed into the biggest challenges they’ve personally faced.
Watch all episodes of Flesh and Bone On Demand and on Starz Play, starting on November 8th.