'Big Love': Q&A with co-creator Will Scheffer
Those suffering from "Big Love" withdrawl, take heart: The writers have already started prepping for Season 4. And while its January premiere date is still a ways away, Will Scheffer (a creator of the series, along with Mark V. Olsen) was gracious enough to talk to us about the shocking Season 3 finale, answer some burning questions (where was Teenie?) and give us a taste of what to expect next year.
Is Roman really dead?
Roman is 100% absolutely completely dead. There’s no trick in terms of, he was pretending to be dead, or it was a hallucination. He is gone. His spirit has left the earth. ... No one can bring him back from the dead. But I think that doesn’t take away from the impact of what his loss is going to mean to our characters. What the loss of a father means to Alby, and to Nicki, and what the loss of that antagonism means to Bill, our main protagonist.
What kinds of responses are you getting to his death?
I figured some people would respect us for a bold choice, but that most of the fan base would be furious, because he really is a beloved, you know? He’s Harry Dean Stanton, he’s nothing short of superb. I thought people were going to really be spitting on us on the street. Not that we get out on the street that much. But from reading the boards, I haven’t seen a lot of real heinous anger at us. Yet.
What was the thought behind Joey killing him off?
As we get further and further into this series, we knew that we had to really make bold choices for all of our characters. Some of them had to kind of be the same but change, but some of them can really make big changes, and Joey was someone who we thought needed that. He needed to be put on a course of action that was going to take him in a whole new direction. And we felt he certainly had the most vengeful heart with Roman for what he did to Kathy. And if we took him all the way there, who knows what’s going to happen next year? He could end up throwing his hat into the compound ring, you know, along with Alby. And J.J., now, is another antagonist. And we just thought it was time for him to have a fall from grace.
The kiss Roman gave to Bill in the season ender was powerful, if a bit ambiguous. Was he handing over his power?
Well, I think it was certainly a large enough gesture that it had to contain some ambiguity, but I think that there was a sense of — if not handing over to Bill the prophethood, at least goading Bill into trying to understand how Roman ruled as a prophet. And I think the kiss was a way to shock Bill, it was an act of kind of like a Zen teacher would shock a student into awareness. And I think that gesture was intimacy, but scary intimacy that Roman used to teach how Bill might become a prophet in his own right. And as it related to the whole, I definitely think they had a father-son relationship, and Roman had tried to supplant Bill’s grandfather — certainly by murdering him, and then by being a figure in Bill’s life. Perhaps Roman felt like Bill was the only person that could really rule after him.
How hard was it to say goodbye to Harry Dean Stanton?
It’s impossible to say goodbye to him. … Harry would call me every day when we were in production to work on his character and to really go over the script. And when we first started doing the show, I was like, “Jesus Christ, is this guy going to call me every day?” And then by the third season, it was like, well, abso ... lutely he’s going to call me every day, and I’m going to love it! So it became a highlight of my day. Harry can be really really persnickety — I don’t know if that’s the right word. But he can be really challenging. And that challenge was something that I learned to absolutely cherish in this relationship with him. We would fight, and we would scream at each other, and he would be right, and I would be right, and we’d always tell each other when the other person was right, and it was a beautiful relationship. We’ll miss him more than anyone can know.
Did you make it a point it to include Stanton’s real-life interests into the character?
Absolutely. There were things that Harry brought to us, that were a part of his psyche and soul that we wanted to incorporate into his character. … His love of game shows, and his love of guitars and singing. We really wanted to have him physically singing. And his whole spirituality — the other part that was such a great joy of working with Harry is that he wanted to talk philosophy, all the time. And incorporate it into his character. And so all those issues of spirituality, philosophy, music — and game shows too — were part of the constant dialogue with him. And I think made him able to invest so much of himself in the character.
Loved how he sang “Cancion Mixteca” in the last episode.
We actually filmed him singing the whole song, and we did two takes of it, singing from beginning to end, so I think it’ll be part of the DVD, hopefully.
What happened to Teenie at the end of the season? She wasn’t in the final scene with the family in the backyard, and it seemed like she just disappeared from view.
We didn’t clarify where Teenie was. But in our minds, she had gone to live with Ellen Burstyn’s character. It was a part of her juvenile delinquency. She was becoming this very specific awkward teenager. We first thought that we’d be able to dramatize that through the season more, and we just weren’t able to do that. We had too many things going on. We wanted to have it be sort of that her parents were fed up and were trying to send her away, and we did have lines of dialogue about her having to live with her grandmother. So when we left her out of the sacrament at the end of season finale, we were doing so on purpose. But all of that happens off-screen without any explanation. We will deal with that this coming season.
Is fourth wife Ana (Branka Katic) coming back next season?
That’s a rumor. Ana is someone I think deserves to come back into the life of the family, but there’s not a guarantee that it will be in the fourth season.
Katic herself said she was returning.
I talked to Branka, and I said you’re definitely going to come back either this season or in a later season. We want you to come back. And then what happens is we don’t always have a completely planned-out season when we go into the writers’ room. If we come up with a premise that’s going to take us through this next year, and it relates somehow to Ana coming back into the family to cause trouble or to dramatize that theme, then she’ll definitely come back, you know what I mean? It really has to do with whether our stories or characters are going to be able to harnessed to a theme that we’re exploring.
What are some of the themes that you’ll be exploring next season?
One theme that Mark [V. Olsen] is really interested in exploring is more of just the power dynamics or power struggles between men and women, as they relate to our family and the patriarchy, the compound — and the more evil power that goes on there — and the Mormon church, which has a very specific idea as to how women and men should operate in marriage. We already visited going further into the idea of the subjugation of women. And that will get refined to a kind of specific theme that is different from last year, and that tries to go very very deep.
Does this deal with any particular wife?
We definitely have a story for Margene that’s going to fight up against that notion somehow. We also know that Nicki’s relationship with her ex-husband is going to be able to be harnessed into that particular theme, and we know that we’re going to explore some dynamics of vis-à-vis the Mormon church and marriage that kind of is harnessed into that territory.
So Nicki’s ex-husband J.J. is coming back and will be a pretty big presence in this upcoming season?
So Zeljko Ivanek is coming back as a regular?
People were a bit concerned about Alby. How’s he doing?
Alby definitely lives through the flames that he created for himself. But he’s going to be scarred by that. And I’m not talking about just a superficial scar. We always felt that our plan was for him to come back from that attempted murder that turned into an accident against himself with some sort of renewed energy and ambition. And different colors that we haven’t seen from him. And I’m not just talking about maybe dark colors but also some other colors that happened to someone as they deal with that kind of life or death experience.
What about his latent homosexual “proclivities”?
Our plan is to explore those proclivities deeper this year.
You got a lot of press about your depiction of a Mormon temple ceremony before the episode even aired. What was the reaction like afterwards?
It was very interesting, because I think the furor died down very quickly. There were a lot of people, first of all, the general response, the non-Mormon, non-conservative religious response was very very positive, because we did what we really said in our statement, we were trying to create a moment of great beauty and great art. Now, it could be debated whether or not the Mormons are always going to feel that we crossed a boundary by showing a secret ceremony. And that’s always going to feel like it’s a tremendous disrespect to them. I don’t think that that’s going to change. … The real thing was that the furor died down almost immediately, and I only have to assume that was because we handled it with so much respect and dignity, in context of it being a very sacred, very holy ceremony.
Are there plans for any more of that?
I don’t know that we’ll need to go into the temple again. Not to say that we’re not going to go to other places within the Mormon world and within the fundamentalist world. And within the world of family and America that are equally challenging, in some way, for certain people.
How do you feel, touching upon some very hot-button issues?
It's really strange, I have to say. … Part of our initial schematic was that we were going to explore the American family in relationship to marriage, to religion, to culture. It wasn’t an agenda, so much as a response to the way that certain people in America felt they could define families that weren’t traditional. So we started there, and we definitely started before Prop. 8, and we definitely mapped out Season 3 before Prop 8, so that we were almost finished shooting before Prop 8 really became an issue. We didn’t foresee that. We’re not that much of visionaries that we foresaw that. We didn’t foresee Warren Jeffs, and Texas, but I have to say that I think that Mark had an intuition of some sort that this was going to be material that was going to be right on the line of what was happening in American culture. And he brought me to that understanding, and we were able to together really develop the show as one of those lightning rods of what was going on in America at this current moment. So the fact that things have overlapped or proceeded us, ultimately, it is interesting and weird and yes, surprising. But in some ways, looking back on it all, I think wow, that was a prescient idea, if not a visionary one.
Is it frustrating, after all the critical acclaim, to be overlooked come awards season? Or is putting out a great show its own reward?
Well, you know, people say, oh, it’s about the work, it’s about the work, and I don’t care about awards, but to me that’s always been a very superficial answer. Yes, we’re frustrated, and hurt. But I think that ultimately the answer about it being about the work is what you have to cleave to, because we love our job and we love the people we work with. Maybe other people get to win awards while we have a nice life while we create art. [Laughs] But yes, ultimately yes, if we don’t get nominated during Emmy season, it will be a blow to us, and I think it will feel like an injustice, and I think it won’t be our job to rail against the TV academy, but I hope some people do for us. But yeah, it will feel ultimately, like a great sin of omission.
So one last time: Roman is really and truly dead?
[Long pause] The only way that I can say it, and you can read into it what you will: There’s no way that Roman Grant didn’t die in that bedroom. He is dead. There’s no one that’s going to be able to raise him from the dead. He is …dead. That’s all I’m going to say.
— Allyssa Lee
Photo credit: Lacey Terrell / HBO