Timothy Hutton and Beth Riesgraf Interview LEVERAGE

     December 8, 2010


The TNT crime drama Leverage returns on December 12th with its remaining episodes for Season 3. The hit series follows the adventures of a highly skilled team – made up of former insurance investigator turned con-man Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton), grifter Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), retrieval specialist Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), gadget and technology wizard Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) and professional thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf) – who are out to settle scores against those who use power and wealth to victimize others.

With a holiday episode and a two-part finale left, the stakes reach an all-time high, as Nate and the team must finally encounter the big bad (Damien Moreau) that the entire season has been leading up to. During a recent interview, co-stars Timothy Hutton and Beth Riesgraf talked about how much fun they have playing such challenging roles, the outrageous stunts they sometimes have to do and how their characters compare to them in real life. They also gave some hints about what viewers can expect from Season 4. Check out what they had to say after the jump.

Tim, why do you think people continue to tune in to this show?

TIMOTHY HUTTON: I think the show is fun to watch and participate in, for the viewer, week-to-week. You go along on the ride that these five characters go on. And, the writing has been really terrific throughout. The character development has been a nice mix of drama and comedy. The stakes have been very high, at times, for all of the characters and the situations they’re put in. Over the first three seasons, and continuing with these three shows that are airing in December, I think audiences are getting to know different sides of each of the characters, and there’s some nice surprises coming up. I think that’s what keeps people interested. Just when you thought you knew who or what a character was, there some unexpected turns, especially in the three episodes coming up, with the principle characters.

Beth, after three seasons, what keeps you challenged with your role?

BETH RIESGRAF: Physically, there’s some challenges, depending on what types of stunts are called for in each episode. For the most part, it’s about keeping the growth of the character going at a steady pace and working with what they give us. We’re going into a fourth season, and it still feels pretty fresh. You want to keep it exciting and fun. So far, everything’s been laid out pretty well and I think it’s been pretty fun.

A lot of holiday episodes can come off as corny or forced because they try way too hard. What would you say makes the Leverage holiday episode different from what we’re used to from most shows?

HUTTON: Well, here you have the Leverage team infiltrating this mall for the sole purpose of saving Santa’s reputation, and it makes for a great show. It’s about things that are sacred, in people’s minds, in regard to what the season is about, and everything gets trampled on. The team comes in to restore that and it ends up that they do it as another case without any sentiment. It ends up being a nice twist, where they get pulled into the holiday spirit, in a way they didn’t expect. It’s one of my favorite episodes.

Beth, since Parker’s socially awkward, how does she handle the holidays?

RIESGRAF: She loves the holidays, depending on which holiday it is. One of the great things about Parker is that, at any moment, she kicks into little girl mode and gets really excited about things. And, in the holiday episode, you get to see that side of her. Just like when she zones in a heist or on a con to break into a safe or whatever, her mind is very one-track, like that’s all she focuses on. And so, I think that with Christmas and her enthusiasm about Santa Clause, there’s some pretty great stuff in that episode.

Tim, how does Nate handle the holidays, after everything that he’s been through, especially with the death of his son?

HUTTON: Oh, I think he’s miserable, when it comes to the Christmas season. For that reason, because of the loss of his son and the break-up of his marriage with Maggie, and just the whole idea of people celebrating, all that stuff makes him absolutely miserable and he wants to just be alone. I always love it when Beth and I have scenes together. It just becomes fun, and it’s so easy to make her laugh in the middle of a scene. Whenever we’re with Beth in a scene and the camera is on her, any little thing can get her going. Anyway, the episode starts off with this really nice moment with Parker and Nate, where Parker is so into it being Christmas and the holidays, and Nate is just not. He wants to be left alone, and Parker is just bugging him with the Christmas spirit. It was one of my favorite things that I read. But, in those situations, Nate would rather just be somewhere else, but around a lot of people.

Season 3 has been leading up to the encounter with your big bad, Damien Moreau. What else can you say about the season finale? What are some of the things viewers might be learning about the characters and their relationships?

HUTTON: I would love to answer that in a very direct way, but we’ve been asked not to speak about what happens in the final moment of the season finale. But, there’s something that happens. It’s more of a visual than anything else, and there’s going to be a need for follow-up in Season 4. For one of the five of us, it is revealed that there are a few secrets and a few associations that are rather disturbing. And, the adult Parker sometimes becomes four years old in just a split second, which wonderfully makes an appearance in the holiday episode. Those are just a few things. But, it’s safe to say that Season 4 is really when there’s going to be a lot more understanding. The show sometimes goes into flashback mode and we learn, in a little snippet, what Hardison was like, what Sophie was like, and what Eliot, Parker and Nathan were like. I think there’s going to be more of that, and we’re going to learn about these peoples’ backstory, in a fun way, while they’re on a con.

How did you guys like working with a season-long sub-plot this year, with the Damien Moreau story?

HUTTON: It’s been great because we didn’t have that in the first or second season. In keeping the stakes high, the team has to be on their toes. Every single character that you met along the way, in the third season and the finale, ends up having some kind of pointed relevance, as to what the teams needs to do to get to Damian Moreau, or their mission isn’t going to be complete. That gave us all something. Each episode of Season 3 had its own specific goal, but there was this larger goal, that always had twists and turns, that finally gets realized and comes to this amazing place in the final two episodes, where there’s the confrontation with Damien Moreau and the web that he’s cast across everything, everywhere.

Beth, after a few years now of playing a thief and picking pockets, and having received guidance from experts, how adept have you gotten at that?

RIESGRAF: For real, I can get away with some little things, here and there, but I’m definitely not a highly skilled thief, at this point. Most of my time is spent working out the beats of the scenes we’re doing. On my off time, I try to practice the things I’ve been shown. I’ve had some help from Apollo Robbins, who has sent me a lot of videos. He’s a very busy man, but he’s always there when I have questions. I try to stay involved with it as much as I can, but for the most part, it’s what’s written in the time that we shoot. We don’t have a ton of time, in between episodes. Actually, we go one right after the next, so I focus on any tricks or moves that I have to do for that show. I wouldn’t say I’m going to be a master thief, at any point, in real life.

HUTTON: To be honest, she’s stolen quite a few scenes, if that counts.

In practically every episode, Parker is dangling from some high place, or scaling the side of a building, or doing a daredevil jump. How much of the physical acting do you get to do?

RIESGRAF: That’s a very good question. Sometimes I do things that I probably shouldn’t. No, I’m kidding. I don’t know. If it’s written and it’s something I can do safely and there’s time for me to do it, obviously I’ll do it. But sometimes, because we’re shooting so fast, they’ll have to have a stunt double do something that maybe I could have done. But then, there’s definitely stuff I cannot do at all, so she fills in. There is some fun stuff that I got to do in the finale, and some other things I got to do that I hadn’t done before. It’s fun for me, but at the end of the day, I’m not a stunt woman, so I need to be realistic about my limitations. They’re good about helping me know what’s safe for me to do and what’s not.

What’s the most outrageous position you’ve found yourself in?

RIESGRAF: I would say running on top of a moving train is one of them. And then, the other one would be the pilot when I hung upside down in Chicago, on a 40-story building. The roof was under me because we cheated it, but when the wind would kick out, I was like, “Wow, this is really very scary.” It blows my mind when I think about that. In the moment, I didn’t really have time to think about it, but now I’m like, “Wow, that was pretty intense.”

Do you have any background as a dancer or acrobat, or anything like that?

RIESGRAF: My background is in dance. No, I’m kidding. I was actually really uncoordinated as a child, when it came to dance, but I did play a lot of sports and I do some break-dancing from time-to-time. No, I really don’t. I played tennis and softball, and we had horses, growing up. I was really active, as a kid. I was outdoors constantly. Growing up in Minnesota, I had a lot of freedom to run around, and we had go-carts and four-wheelers, and all that stuff. I like that adrenalin-rush stuff. I did a little bit of dance, but mostly sports.

Beth, your character seems to be unaware of her beauty. How do you figure out how to play that, when you have all these emotional things going on?

RIESGRAF: I don’t actually think about that stuff. In those moments, it’s best not to think about trying to create any effect with that kind of stuff, but just play the truth and how she would feel about situations. I don’t think Parker’s a vain girl. She doesn’t think about her appearance, in the way maybe some other girls would. But, her mind is like a computer, so she processes things differently than many other people would, with the nature of what she does, her viewpoints on life. That shapes the way she talks and thinks. So, I always try to not think about playing an emotion, but really just having that intention of whatever we’re all going for in the scene. I try to think about her reality in the way that she does thing differently maybe than other people. Also, her life experiences have shaped where she’s at now. Surely with this season, some of those barriers have started to come down a little bit because of her growth in being part of the team, and everything she’s experiencing with them. It’s really fun for me because I get to step into these new chapters with her, as she’s growing. It’s a lot of fun.

Tim, when this series first started, your character was more or less normal, but has gotten more dysfunctional as he’s hung out with this team and tried to deal with his problems with alcohol. Do you think that he’ll be able to overcome his problems?

HUTTON: With Nate, over the years, the writers have come up with these interesting ways to not just keep him having this one cycle of problems, but to also have other things happen to him. People have come out of the woodwork that he was hoping he wouldn’t see or have to deal with, along the lines of Sterling, his old nemesis when he was an insurance agent. There was an episode this year where his father suddenly showed up. So, beyond the drinking and the grief of losing his son and his marriage falling apart, which are all very real things to him, there are other areas that, since he’s chosen to go on this path with these other characters, some other things start to happen. He’s definitely got a lot of issues, and we haven’t seen the end of his problems. I think there’s going to be more to come.

Tim, which identities have been your favorites to assume and why?

HUTTON: Well, there have been different ones. Any time that we read a script and the Leverage team has to infiltrate a place, assume identities or become con artists ourselves to take down the really bad con artists, it’s always fun to do that. For Nate, it’s a real release because he wasn’t of that world. He investigated that world, but he wasn’t of that world. So, he has his own version of these different people that we get to play, when we decide to put together a con. Sometimes he just goes a little bit too far. It’s fun playing Nate when he’s playing another character. There was one we did with Bill Engvall, where Nate became a car shark salesman. Any time Nate assumes that kind of role, it’s always a release. He gets a bit scary, and the rest of the team has to pull him back a little bit.

How do Nathan and Parker compare to you, in real life?

RIESGRAF: How does Parker compare to me, in real life? Well, I didn’t realize we were separate people. I’m only kidding. I don’t know. I hope I’m much saner, in certain moments. That’s a tough question, actually. I like the fact that I get to do the stunts. As an actor, it’s really fun to change things up. I love that side of it. I’m similar to her, in those moments. I love the physicality of the character, being able to jump off of stuff, and crawling through the vents. That’s always fun. I suppose the adrenalin junkie in me is nowhere near what it is in her, but it’s a similarity.

HUTTON: Well, unfortunately, I don’t share any of the circumstances or conditions of Nate Ford. I remember, when we started Leverage, we were all in Chicago and I read the script for the pilot and thought, “Boy, this is just a real interesting place to begin a character.” I had to figure out how to go about playing someone who had hit rock bottom. It just presented itself as not a narrow opportunity, but quite a wide open net of possibilities of where this character could go. I think it’s just an interesting place to be with the character. And, there are other issues of not being able to get close to people. He’s shut off, and then Parker, Eliot (Christian Kane),  Hardison (Aldis Hodge) and Sophie (Gina Bellman) really become his family. That has really brought the characters together in this undercurrent that keeps the show compelling, no matter what it is that we’re going through, case-by-case.

What can you say about these characters that viewers don’t already know?

RIESGRAF: Well, I like the Christmas episode for Parker. There’s some very sweet stuff that happens in that, and people will find the soft spot there, when they see that episode. There are a nice few moments that she has there. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s in that episode that something nice happens.

HUTTON: I think that a lot is revealed in the two-part finale, as well as the Christmas show. It’s a nice surprise, at the very end. And then, in the Season 4, I think there’s going to be a continuation of what we’ve already seen, where we don’t know about Nate. I think a lot of people come out of the woodwork, looking for Nate and wanting to settle the score, both in terms of people that we’ve met as the series has gone on, and then new people, along the lines of his father showing up. There’s quite bit about Nate Ford and his past that we don’t know about, and I think the writers are going to bring that forward. It’s going to be really fun for me to see what that is.

Can you give any further hints about what will be revealed about both of your characters in Season 4?

HUTTON: At this particular stage, we don’t know. I think the writers are going over what happened in Seasons 1, 2 and 3, to see where we can lead these characters and what we can do to keep going in interesting directions. But, we don’t really know what’s going to happen. That’s part of the fun of it. Beth and I, and the others, are anticipating what (executive producer) John Rogers and (executive producer) Dean Devlin are cooking up in their laboratory.

Tim, do you think that if this show had been on of the major networks that it would have made it this far?

HUTTON: Yeah, I do, but who knows? Honestly, I think that the show has really benefitted from being on TNT. Because TNT has really been so supportive of the show, it’s been a great home for the show. We’re all just incredibly happy that it’s still going. We love doing the show and we’re just as excited, reading the scripts. It doesn’t feel like we’re going into the fourth year. It feels like we just started. We really like working together. The chemistry that comes across with the five of us started in Chicago when we were doing the pilot. In that first moment, we all enjoyed being around each other and working with each other, and that’s just continued. We find ourselves now, in the fourth year working together, all making plans on the weekend, having dinner together, going bowling, and doing this or that. Our kids play together.

RIESGRAF: That’s actually very true. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and the tone of the show allows for us to be goofy and have fun. The directors that come on board are always in that spirit of play as well. They all get the tone. And, to work as hard as we do, for the hours that we do, if didn’t have the approach that we had, it would be tough. But, we have fun with it, which makes it so much easier.

HUTTON: It’s a combination of the scripts and all of our enjoyment in working together that really makes it all go. We’re really excited about these three shows that are coming up – the holiday show where the team infiltrates the mall, and then the two-part season finale – and we can’t wait to get back to Portland and start up Season 4 because there are a lot of things that are going to happen.

Tim, can you talk about directing the music video for Christian Kane’s first single off his album?

HUTTON: We directed it in Portland at Dante’s. In a music video especially, it’s really fun to come up with an interesting first shot. When I did a video for The Cars, the first shot was this long close up of a pool table pocket with a ball falling in. Then, it moved up and across the pool table, and in a 360, around the person singing. For a Don Henley video, the opening shot was one long shot that started in a balcony, and then went all the way down. That’s just been something that I’ve liked to do in the beginning of a video. And, Christian and I talked about the idea of one shot really carrying the video, until he joins the music on stage. It just seemed like a neat idea and I think we pulled it off pretty well, given we just had six hours to film the whole thing.

LEVERAGE returns to TNT on December 12th