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Timothy Hutton – Gaining His Leverage

Timothy Hutton

Gaining His Leverage

by Jay S. Jacobs

It’s a huge honor but also a big responsibility when in your first film role you end up winning an Oscar.

Timothy Hutton knows this all too well. He had grown up around show business, his father Jim Hutton was a well-known character actor in the 60s and 70s, probably best known for playing famous detective Ellery Queen in a 70s TV series of the same name.

Tim Hutton had been acting for a few years, particularly in the critically acclaimed TV movie Friendly Fire, when actor Robert Redford hired him to play the lead character in his first directing project, Ordinary People. Hutton won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the film.

That role was so special that it was hard to repeat, however Hutton has worked consistently for thirty years since that breakthrough role, starring in films such as Taps, Daniel, Turk 182, The Dark Half, Everybody’s All-American, Secret Window and The Ghost Writer. Hutton also has worked on a few short-lived TV series, including Nero Wolfe and Kidnapped.

However, his current series is finally the one which has taken off for him. The cable drama Leverage, which is just starting its third season, stars Hutton as the ringleader of a series of high-tech thieves who use their crimes against corrupt corporations as modern-day Robin Hoods to help the less fortunate.

A few weeks before the third season premiere, Hutton was kind enough to do a conference call with us and several other websites to discuss his show and his career.

I was wondering this season who are some of the guest stars we get to see you play around with.

Well this year we've got some, just like last year, we have some really great guest stars. We've got Michael O'Keefe, Giancarlo Esposito, John Schneider, Arye Gross, Richard Chamberlain, Clancy Brown. Yes, got some great people that have joined us this year.

When I interviewed Dean Devlin a couple of months ago, he said he was really surprised at how much comedy you were able to bring to the role of Nate Ford that he hadn't really thought about. Can you talk about the more comedic aspects of the role and how you balance that with the dramatic plot?

Well one of the things that the show has evolved into, it's not just strictly you know this heavy drama or a caper show pulling off these cons and heists. It started with the chemistry and the rapport that the cast had with each [other] when we were shooting the pilot in Chicago. We used to just crack each other up and pull pranks on one another. We just had a very easy fun way with one another. It spilled onto the set a little bit and we used it in the pilot. In season one used to improv and some nice banter started to develop and so that's how it happened. The writers picked up on it and thought, “Oh okay well we can have some fun with this.” It's been great because the show has, for me, has a nice balance between learning a lot about Nate's back story and there have certainly been some big moments of drama with exploring his life and that character but there is also within the cons with each of us taking on roles within the roles we're playing. I think it lent itself to some good comedy moments.

I had a question about Nate and Sophie. They kissed in the season two finale. What will be going on with them at the start of season three?

Well at the start of season three what happens with Nate and Sophie is they find it very difficult to talk about the kiss that happened on the ship there. Sophie wants to talk about the kiss and Nate wants to talk about the slap. That’s the nature of their relationship right there – a kiss followed by a slap. Both gestures have quite great meaning for both of them but it’s something that’s dealt with in season three. They come upon it when they’re alone and they dance around the issue a little bit. There are some nice moments of them trying to figure out what’s going on between the two of them as season three goes on.

Are we going to see more of the sort of wild disheveled Nate or any touches of the put himself back together Nate we saw a little bit of him in season two?

I think with season three you’re going to see very determined Nate Ford you know a man on a mission. He gets in jail, and he’s determined once he gets out – if he gets out, we don’t want to really say whether he does or not – but he’s determined to really take on much bigger cases, to get the team reunited and kick off season three as a man on a mission. So, the drinking and being disheveled and not really being in control of anything is something that is going to be put aside for the time being. It certainly comes up again during the third season based on issues that happened in Nate’s life that come out of the woodwork. There’s sort of a haunting figure that we never expected we would see but someone comes out of the shadows and comes back into Nate’s life, and we really learn a lot about why Nate is the way he is. That’s going to perhaps put him into a state again that we’ve seen before.

Season three begins in prison and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about how you filmed those scenes. Did you film it in an actual prison and what sort of preparation you did for that?

Yes, season three begins with Nate in prison and we found this amazing place that was built and never finished here in the Portland, Oregon area – this very high-tech prison that they never completed. This one wing was and now it’s used for office space, which is unusual but this one wing we took over and there weren’t any real inmates. We had many extras for those scenes, and we filmed those scenes here in Portland. Each show is a seven-day shoot and I think we were in the prison five of those seven days. It was great. For me it was a great way to start the season to have Nate in jail. And him wanting to – if he’s going to get out of jail has to be – it has to happen after he takes care of something that’s very important to him that’s going on inside the prison.

I was really pretty shocked when I was looking into this to see this is actually the 30th anniversary of Ordinary People. I was wondering, when you got that role could you have ever imagined that you’d still be working at this 30 years later? And have you heard if they’re doing anything for the anniversary – a video rerelease or a special addition or anything?

You know, I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything. A couple of things have come up but I haven’t heard anything if Paramount is doing anything or if Redford’s doing anything. I remember when the 25th anniversary came and went I thought oh, it would have been a good opportunity. And the 20th anniversary. But yes, I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. Did I expect that I’d still be at [it]? Well, I don’t know, around the time I was doing Ordinary People I still wasn’t sure that was the path that I wanted to be on or was going to stay on. So yes, I guess it’s kind of amazing to me that I’m still at it and feel very fortunate that this became my line of work.

The show has always had this distinction between being an honest man and a thief. Now that Nate has become, I’m curious to know if we’re actually going to see a change in the way he acts this season.

Well, yes, I think that the biggest change was once he declared at the end of season two my name is Nate Ford and I’m a thief. Once he declared that, I think what we see in the beginning of season three is a much more determined sober in many ways man who is just absolutely determined to help as many people as he can – to take down the worst most horrible people that are ripping people off, taking advantage of people. He doesn’t care how powerful they are or even who they are or what they are. I mean you’ll see in the third season that the team takes on drug cartels, takes on governments. They’ll take down anybody. They’re just fearless. The means by which they do it are very clever and very dangerous. Nate Ford now that he’s declared that – now that he kind of accepts who he is – he is absolutely a man on a mission. He will you know stop at no end. He’ll just keep at it until he can square things off with people who have been ripped off in some way.

I was wondering if you could talk about working with Mark Sheppard – that adversarial relationship and whether or not we’re going to see Sterling back in the third season.

We’ll certainly see Sterling back. I don’t know if it’ll be the third season or not. Mark is such a wonderful actor, and everybody wants him on their show, so you know we’re just waiting in line. We’re hoping that he has time to do our show. He’s been so great in the show and great for the dynamic of the story – telling of Nate and Maggie and the way he brought Nate into Maggie getting set up for being held hostage last year. The writers love it when Sterling shows up and Nate has a good counter. So I'm sure we'll see Sterling again. It's been a real pleasure working with Mark and he brings a lot to the show.

Are there any upcoming back story ops for other members of the team since we've already had several for Nate? Where we learn more about before they got on the team?

Yes. You know one of the things that is happening in the third season, which has been great, is the first six or seven shows are very much about learning who Hardison is, where he came from. There's a Parker episode where we learn a lot about her past and her background and we meet her mentor who is Richard Chamberlain. We learn a lot about Sophie in one of the episodes and a lot about Christian Kane's character, Eliot in a show we did about the Memphis music biz and a corrupt music producer played by John Schneider. What the writers have done is they've really set season three up and set the table nicely where you're given, not just in quick little flashbacks but almost dedicated episodes that really explore each of the characters in depth.

As you're doing season three of the show and it looks like this will probably last a good few years, how comfortable are you in the TV world?

Well to me it's just a great job. It's a great work environment. I'm working with wonderful actors on a great network of TNT. It's just a really good situation. Great writing and fun character, complex character. So many different directions the show could go in and the group dynamic is wonderful. The fact that they all become this kind of dysfunctional family… I hope it lasts you know a good while longer. I really like doing the show and it hasn't taken me away from doing other things. Since we started doing Leverage, I've done four or five movies when we were on breaks. So it's not like I have to do one or the other. I'm going to be doing a play probably next year when we're on break. It's six months out of the year and it's a wonderful six months. I really enjoy working on Leverage.

You got to work with Elisabetta Canalis in the early part of the season. I was wondering what your experience was like working with her and if you have any specific memories of working with her on the show?

Well yes. I mean working with Elisabetta was great. She's going to be doing more shows with us as the season goes on because she's set up as a very central figure. Audiences when they see the first show, they'll see that Nate makes a deal that the rest of the team is not very happy with. Nate makes a deal, it's kind of blackmailed in a way in to accepting the deal to go after someone. She's the one who presents the plan. They have these secret clandestine meetings throughout the season. Working with her was great. She's just such a lovely person and she brought great excitement when she came to the set. She was so excited to be in the show and she worked so hard, and she was worried that her accent was too thick. One of the great things is her accent. She's working very hard to minimize the accent and we all wanted her to have the accent. So anyway, we're all looking forward to her coming back. I've already seen a couple of the shows that she's in and she's just great in the show. She really adds this amazing kind of dangerous spy in from the cold element to the show.

The show has a lot of followers online, how does that make you guys feel?

It makes us feel great that people are interested in the show and that they're following it on message boards and writing their comments. I've never experienced anything like that. It's quite amazing. Christian Kane said that there was a lot of that on Angel that he did. We all occasionally check in on that and share some of the things that we've read. It's great. Some of us are on Twitter. Well actually all except Gina Bellman. We're trying to convince her too. But we make videos from the set and an interesting time where you know you're able to put out there directly. I've experienced it where I'll do a little video from the set from my iPhone and then put it out there as a tweet or a twitvid and then boom all these responses come back from people that are watching the show. It's really something. If anybody wants to get news from the set or watch any of these videos, my name on Twitter is @TimHutton. I post things quite often from the set.

My question is about Sophie. I was wondering if Nate will ever find out her real name. And more importantly if the audience will ever find out what her real name is?

I think that Nate is absolutely obsessed with finding out her real name. Not just her real name, but who she is in general. So as the season goes on you know there're some funny moments. We've already filmed where Nate tries every possible name, he can think of to try to catch her off guard. He also tries to con the members of the team who know her real name and they all keep it as a tightly held secret. One of the themes throughout the third season is Nate just obsessed with finding out you know who she is and feeling like an idiot for thinking that her real name was Sophie.

You had mentioned earlier that one of the good things about this show is that you do have the time to do other side projects, as well. One of your movies came out a few months ago, The Ghost Writer – which is a terrific film by the way. What was that like to work on?

Oh, Ghost Writer was amazing to work on. We filmed it in Berlin in the Northern part of Germany, the Baltic Sea. It was a great script and working with [Roman] Polanski was incredible. He is a director of such intense concentration and fascination with the detail of characters, behavior and has an amazing eye for every detail on a set. The space that the story is told in is as important to him as anything else. It was just a really interesting experience working on that movie.

On that same note, I'm a little curious to know more about the play that you hope to be in next year.

Well I can't mention the title of the play yet because it's changing. It was in one situation and now it's going to be in… I can't really talk about it other than to say it's a play that I'll be doing in London on the West End in the fall of 2011, most likely.

You talked earlier about Nate and Sophie. I'm wondering how the rest of the team handles Sophie being back.

Oh the rest of the team is thrilled to have Sophie back. As far as the characters go from the second season, they grow to accept the Tara character played by Jeri Ryan. But it was important for the storytelling and for the writers and for all of us to have the characters miss Sophie and feel that she was vital to the team. So you'll see that in the third season a real sort of welcoming of Sophie. The team feels that Sophie is the only one who can really keep Nate in check although that hasn't gone too smoothly in the past, that's what they believe.

I know a lot of people are focusing on the relationship between Nate and Sophie, but I know that we saw last season too that there are still feelings between Nate and Maggie. So are we going to be seeing that come back in season three or that impact his relationship with Sophie at all?

Well yes. In season three we're going to deal a little bit with the Maggie character. I don’t know how or when just yet as Kari Matchett – who played Maggie – is on another show right and for at least the time being can't do ours. But I'm sure we'll see her again. Just don’t know when or in what way. That's a relationship that to me is as interesting and has just as many possibilities as the Nate/Sophie relationship. I'm hoping that Kari becomes available to do the show and that the writers are inspired to deal with the Maggie/Nate relationship.

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: June 11, 2010.

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#1 © 2010. Courtesy of TNT. All rights reserved.

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