A Roundtable With Tim DeKay, Carla Gugino, and Gabriel Macht

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Photo Source: Jeric Pio Agustin
Carla Gugino waves off a compliment on her second-skin Tory Burch dress with a laugh. "Thank you. I had nothing to do with it, so I can say that," she says. "Oh, I think you had something to do with it," fellow USA Network star Tim DeKay pipes up.

Gugino, DeKay, and Gabriel Macht are lounging on deep-seated rococo furniture seemingly proportioned for giants, eager to discuss their summer series on USA. Gugino co-stars on new D.C. drama "Political Animals," debuting July 15, while DeKay and Macht have already garnered accolades and fans for their performances on "White Collar" and law-firm drama "Suits," respectively. And though the netmates are officially meeting for the first time, they already have an easy camaraderie. Maybe it's the USA Cool Kids Club? Fifteen years ago, a cable show might have posed some problems for actors, but in a post "Mad Men" era, even Sigourney Weaver (Gugino's "Political Animals" co-star) doesn't shy away from the higher numbers on the dial. Forget Characters Welcome. USA has become the Actors Welcome network.

How did all of you first sign on to your shows?

Carla Gugino: Why don't we do it in chronological order?

Tim DeKay: Matt Bomer, who plays opposite me, was cast in the role, and then there was about a handful of us brought in to do a chemistry read with him, because so much of this show is about the chemistry. And when he and I read, I knew it was just a matter of making sure we keep that chemistry.

Gabriel Macht: I've been working in film for 15 years, and I never wanted to do television. I was never interested in playing a role for more than three months. Honestly. It was never what I wanted to do. And I'm happily surprised that it's actually something I should have been doing sooner. With every script every week, you learn a little more about that character and you just delve in deeper. I wasn't getting the roles I wanted in film, and the writing seemed a little more interesting and intriguing and captivating in terms of the television opportunities that are out there right now. And when I read "Suits," this guy was just a really confident, complicated, cocky bastard who was compassionate and had a good moral code. I loved the banter, and I loved that it gets into deeper zones. So I just thought, Why not? Why not take a leap of faith that the vision of this writer is gonna expand into this times 100? And it has. It's just gotten deeper.

Gugino: It's funny. I really do think television, and cable television certainly, is where we can do what you used to be able to do in independent film. Because it's so hard to make an independent movie. And now if you make it, it's almost impossible to get it into a theater. I do feel, without question, that we've just come to a time when you have a stack of film scripts in front of you and a stack of pilot scripts, it's really becoming evident that the characters that are available to you are just far more interesting in so many of these shows. And I received this and opened it up and fell in love with this character. And then I had a conversation with [creator] Greg Berlanti about it. It was a really simple decision for me. I always feel like, go where the love is. Go where the character is. Go where you can really dig into something interesting. And I think I'm a little bit spoiled, not financially speaking, but I've just had an extraordinary time getting to do plays in the last few years. But then the problem is, you're reading the wife of the guy in the thing and you're like, really?

Macht: Happens to me all the time.

But you do it so well!

DeKay: You always bring an effeminate quality to all of your roles.

And I do have to say, whatever the Characters Welcome thing is, it is true that one of the reasons people are compelled by shows on USA is that people really fall in love with the characters, and it's an intimate relationship that is very different from going into a movie theater.

And one of the things USA does so well is to turn the procedural format inside out, so that the audience is more invested in the characters than in the outcome of the case.

DeKay: Each episode, the bad guy or girl is simply the vehicle to allow us to have banter. Like the other shows, they're all Characters Welcome. I feel very fortunate to be an actor on a network whose tag line is Characters Welcome and not Procedurals Welcome.

Macht: Ours was [procedural], and as we're going into Season 2, it's becoming a lot more serialized. The cases do reflect what we're dealing with in our lives, which makes it so much more palatable.

Gugino: There's nothing wrong with a procedural; it's a good construct. But people promise you that they will be character driven and they're not, so it's so refreshing when they are.

Macht: It's hard to give exposition without really caring about what's going on inside. And that's what our writers do really well.

DeKay: I see on other procedurals, the amount of exposition they have to give out ...

Macht: And how dry it becomes.

DeKay: I commend them greatly, because it's very difficult.

When the scripts came in, was there any hesitancy about doing a cable network show rather than network or HBO or Showtime? Or are those boundaries being erased?

For me, I think there's a lot more room in cable television to tell broader stories. NBC and the networks, they're all very mainstream, and they're a little more conservative in how they approach storytelling. So I was just more excited about doing a cable show to begin with.

Gugino: In terms of the difference between, say, HBO and Showtime and USA, I think those boundaries are really coming down. I think it is true that USA has clearly, consciously decided, "Let's make really quality material that a larger group of people can see." So I guess I'm always looking for a home where that place agrees with the vision of the creator. [Laughs.] Of the show! Not just the Creator. Because that's where I've had issues in the past, where the creator is very adamant about what kind of show they want to make and the network is like, "Awesome, let's do that." And then cut to you finish the pilot, and they're like, "Well, maybe you could ... " And what I loved about the people at USA is that they really fought for this show and really wanted Greg's vision to get to the screen.

That's the thing that USA does really well. They develop their pilots for a couple of years. They don't take 50 pilots, throw them against the wall, and see what sticks. They only take two or three. They know that once this goes to pilot, they're probably going to get behind it. And what they do is they allow the showrunner to take that vision and run with it. They're not on set all the time. There have been executives on set once or twice --

DeKay: They visit. And it's more of a goodwill visit. But it's interesting you mention HBO, because I've done two series for HBO, and it's the same thing, where it takes a long time for them to develop a pilot. And as actors, if you get a pilot on HBO or on USA, your odds are good that it's going to get picked up. And to reflect what [Gugino and Macht] are saying, once it's cooked, the execs stay out of the kitchen and let the person who created the recipe stay with it.

And obviously, AMC was perceived totally differently before "Mad Men." I do believe that it's truly about who runs the ship. And if it's a person who cares about what their material is and is really passionate about it, I think people feel that. They're not trying to do a hard sell. It's things they really feel passionate about.

And USA gets really great actors --

DeKay: They get more than great actors. They get amazing actors. Brilliant. Modest.

Gugino: Humble.

Amazing actors! Who then have the time, because of 12- or 16-episode seasons, to do other things.

Gugino: I just think it's really hard to make something the quality you want to make it at 22 [episodes a season]. How can all those scripts be great, and how can you not be exhausted by the end? And some people can pull it off, but it's really few and far between. I really do feel, qualitywise, you can ensure better quality on all fronts by having fewer. And ["Political Animals" is] almost on the other end. We're like, "Oh, my God, we have so much story to tell! What are they going to do?" Six is an interesting number because it really is much more like a miniseries.

DeKay: Do you wish you had more, creatively?

Gugino: Yeah, which isn't necessarily how I thought I would feel. That's a nice feeling, to feel hungry for it. Really, for me, it's all about going for the character. I love working in all mediums. You learn so much as an actor. Such different muscles. Never say never to anything. Early on, I would say, "I would never!" and then I'd end up doing that thing and really enjoying it, you know? To me, that door is always open.

I have to strongly agree with you on that. There tends to be this hierarchy of film and television, and theater is somewhere else in its own milieu. However, as actors, yes, we love to do theater because it's our story. Nobody can edit it, the curtain goes up, and it's ours for two hours or three, or whatever. And we tell it. And at the end of the night, those that we told it to tell us what they thought about it.

Macht: With tomatoes.

At least it's done! It's complete. But with film and television, it's different. All of it is wonderfully challenging as an actor but in different ways. It's challenging to do these series, and here are the script changes for tomorrow. "It's all exposition? OK, here we go. I gotta memorize these." You have to embrace that. That's part of what being an actor is. And fortunately, because it's about the characters, it's a lot easier and it's a lot more fun to do these kinds of shows.

Macht: You just told Jack Nicholson to eff off.

I did. To a degree! But do you guys agree?

Absolutely. It's funny that you say that, because I was doing a television show at one point, and it was a grind, and I was truly working 17 hours a day feeling slightly beleaguered, and I was at a party and Jack Nicholson was there. And he came up and said, "My family is a huge fan of your show!" And it was the best moment ever. There was no way I could have imagined this man was watching that show! And it was a good show, but who could imagine? And this is the perfect illustration of what we're saying, which is, in fact, you can do really interesting work in all mediums. And if you're an actor who loves acting, you frankly should do it in as many opportunities as you get.

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