PAS­SION PLAY

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Randee Dawn cal­en­dar@ latimes. com

Ti­mothy Hut­ton dis­sects “Amer­i­can Crime”

NEW YORK — On the day Ti­mothy Hut­ton sat down with The En­ve­lope at a small Ital­ian res­tau­rant in Man­hat­tan, it was less than 24 hours af­ter a shock­ing plot turn had aired on the sea­son fi­nale of “Amer­i­can Crime,” ABC’s provoca­tive ex­am­i­na­tion of race and class. Nat­u­rally, that was key to the dis­cus­sion of the se­ries and his char­ac­ter, Russ Skokie, a di­vorced for­mer gam­bler who’s spent years try­ing to reestab­lish a con­nec­tion with his now- grown sons. So there are not only spoil­ers ahead, this en­tire con­ver­sa­tion is a spoiler. If you don’t yet want to know how the se­ries ends, turn the page. Now.

The lim­ited se­ries, which this sea­son fo­cused on the mur­der of Skokie’s son, will re­turn for a sec­ond sea­son in which the Os­car- win­ning ac­tor ( who picked up his stat­uette in 1980 at age 20 for “Or­di­nary Peo­ple”) will be back in a dif­fer­ent story and a dif­fer­ent role. A vet­eran of movies and TV, Hut­ton ar­rives with no ar­ti­fice — gen­uine, a lit­tle in­tense and happy to ex­plain the in­ner work­ings of Russ Skokie.

Did you know from Day One that Russ would come to such a shock­ing end?

Last year when we were do­ing the pi­lot, [ ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer] John Ri­d­ley said, “I bet you’re cu­ri­ous where this char­ac­ter ends up. How much do you want to know?” I said, “As much as you think will help.” It’s in­ter­est­ing when some­one doesn’t know the whole arc; that way they don’t sub­con­sciously tip the hand. So he told me. For months I didn’t tell any­one.

Was it use­ful to know that he dies, hav­ing wrongly killed the man he thought shot his son?

It was ex­tremely use­ful be­cause it al­lowed me to re­verse engi­neer to where the char­ac­ter needed to be. I had to show some­body who was try­ing to re­build his life when it was too late.

Can it ever be too late to re­build a bro­ken re­la­tion­ship with your fam­ily?

If some­one has caused the kind of dam­age where they have in­ter­fered with another per­son’s life in such a se­vere way, it can be too late. Es­pe­cially when it comes to par­ent­ing. [ Russ] re­ally be­lieved you can re­pair things. I liked his de­ter­mi­na­tion to make things OK again.

What made him snap?

When he re­al­ized that he doesn’t have a fam­ily, a sense of self, a pur­pose — he got put down a path to es­tab­lish a sense of jus­tice. Then his sui­cide, it isn’t about guilt. It’s just that there isn’t any­thing left in­side of him.

Ri­d­ley has been quoted as say­ing you re­ally im­pressed him with your pas­sion for the part. What the heck did you do?

I was early [ for the meet­ing with Ri­d­ley and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Michael McDon­ald], so I sat in the Dis­ney park­ing lot think­ing about the meet­ing. Di­rec­tors will of­ten say, “What do you think about the char­ac­ter?” So I started writ­ing out a list of what I thought Russ Skokie was — how he spent his days, who his friends were, what he did on week­ends, what car would he drive. It was like do­ing an ex­ten­sive Match. com thing. [ Then at the meet­ing] John said, “What do you think about the script?” I said, “Can I just read some­thing to you?” And I read the list.

Do you ever tire of hav­ing “Or­di­nary Peo­ple” come up in in­ter­views?

I’ve been asked over the years if it was dif­fi­cult to have a defin­ing role at such an early age, and I al­ways felt it was a strange ques­tion. I never looked at it as defin­ing; I just looked at it as a for­tu­nate set of cir­cum­stances.

What was the mo­ment when you knew you’d ar­rived as an ac­tor?

I wasn’t the kind of per­son who ever felt like I “ar­rived.” I al­ways felt that ev­ery job was the first time you were do­ing that job, that role, with those peo­ple. Early on I thought it was im­por­tant to stay in a frame of mind where you had to go all the way back to the be­gin­ning each time you started out.

Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

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