The con is on! In the TNT series Leverage, Oscar winner Timothy Hutton plays former insurance investigator Nate Ford who assembles a team of grifters and thieves to settle scores against the rich and powerful who victimize the less fortunate. Now in its third outing, Leverage continues to grow in popularity; at a recent panel at this year’s Comic Con, the cast’s surprise appearance pulled in a standing-room-only crowd.
Hutton recently sat down with fellow cast member Beth Riesgraf, who plays the nimble and overly-brash thief Parker, to talk about how the group has come together over the past three seasons…
All of your characters are a bit edgier at the beginning of the series when we don’t really know where they’re going. Do you occasionally have to go back and do something a bit darker just to remind the audience what these characters are actually like?
Timothy Hutton: Yes, on two different levels. One is in the writing and schematics of the show. You have to think tonally about where it started and where it’s going because if you just do one thing, you’re going to lose people who are going to say, ‘Seen that, done that!’ So that’s one side of it.
The other is there’s an interesting opportunity to exploit what was happening in the beginning, which was that we had five edgy, dangerous characters. By coming together they’ve all let their guard down and that’s when the show got lighter. But when there’s conflict within the team and things get dark again, you have the opportunity to flesh out these stories and go dark again. So as long as we keep that cycle going, the show will remain interesting.
Beth Riesgraf: I would say is it’s very much based on the scripts and the directors of each episode and the way they guide the performances. Sometimes you can do a few takes where one is darker and edgier and another is over the top funny, so it just depends on which way they want to go with it. But in general, they write it a certain way and we basically play what’s there based on the tone of each episode.
I do think they like to sprinkle in reminders so people will remember, but that’s a really good point and I think it’s kind of cool that we get to show all those different layers. There was an episode where I put Jeri Ryan over the top of the building like I was going to let her drop and it was a reminder that Parker knows how to survive. She protects her family like a lion protects her cubs so when someone means something to her, that switch in her will flip.
Timothy: As long as people feel that these characters have serious issues that they need to deal with at some point in their lives, the show will remain interesting. Her character is crazy. Sophie is a pathological liar. Nate is a terrible drunk and can go off the rails at any point and put everybody in danger. Hardison has spent his life lying his way in and corrupting people’s computers and files and things like that; and Eliot has a back-story that’s very disturbing, so none of them have really dealt with stuff that they’re going to have to.
As long as they remain a team, they can get away with it, and I think that’s what keeps the dynamic good. I’m making it sound like a complicated character study and it’s not, but in order for it to be compelling, these are some of the things we think about and then we let it go and the show becomes lighter, but there’s always something underneath.
Will the audience learn Sophie [played by Gina Bellman]’s real name by the end of the season?
Timothy: I think with his resources and the resources of the rest of the team and maybe Sophie’s desire to have him know her. So hopefully yes, but I won’t go further than that.
What’s going to happen with that relationship?
Timothy: I think they’re going to keep bumping up against each other and trying to figure out where it can be. Now, there’s a family that’s been developed now, so if they were actually to be together, what would happen to the team dynamic? There are all kinds of things that the writers have an opportunity to play with.
As the most established actor, is there a certain responsibility that comes with Tim being the front man of this cast?
Beth: [To Hutton] You’re probably not going to agree with me, but going into this and knowing we were going to have the opportunity to work with Tim was a huge deal. There have been moments when I’ve been hung up on a scene or had questions and Tim has offered to help. It’s the most amazing gift you can have to work with someone that generous and open and never wrong. Don’t hold me to that but his notes are always great, so if he’s generous enough to help, why wouldn’t you want that? Certainly in the beginning of the show I didn’t know a lot about this stuff so having Tim and everybody has been a real blessing.
Timothy: For me, it was important when we started all this to make everyone feel that I wished all of us well. The most important thing for me is that we all developed a trust and could come to one another so I sort of felt it was my responsibility to show that we didn’t have to act as islands.
As long as the show went on, yes, we’re a team in the show, but we’re also a team that goes to work every day. I felt certain things needed to be communicated, sometimes directly, sometimes by example, that would make everyone feel it was a safe haven where we could all talk to one another if there were problems or concerns or ideas. It was a place where we could all rely on one another so I wanted to bring that. I didn’t want to bring the idea that I’ve been doing this for a long time and here’s what I think. That’s not how I am. But I understand the psychology of people existing with one another and in a situation like this, if there was anything I could bring, I wanted everyone to feel it was safe to rely on one another.
Beth: There a lot of people that I know are working where there’s a big name on the bill and everybody says, ‘How is it, working with that person?’ so we’re really lucky that we all feel like family. It’s really rare actually, and Tim really took responsibility for the group and created that at the beginning, so that was massive.
Leverage airs Sunday nights on TNT at 9 p.m. (ET/PT)