Friday, October 15, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Leslye Headland discusses "Manifest Destiny"

With a background as a playwright, Leslye Headland's first job writing for television was on Terriers.  Leslye was kind enough to answer a few questions about her episode "Manifesr Destiny."

Pasha: I always think it’s interesting to find out how people break into TV writing.  What’s your story?

Leslye Headland: I was an assistant at Miramax and the Weinstein Company for over six years.  When I decided to leave that job to pursue writing, I returned to theater which was my major at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.  I moved to Los Angeles and started working with the IAMA Theatre Company on a series of plays called The Seven Deadly Plays.  It was this series, specifically my play Bachelorette, that got me an agent and attracted the attention of FX and the creators of Terriers.

Pasha: “Manifest Destiny” was the first episode to carry on immediately where the last left off.  How did this inform the breaking of the story?

Leslye Headland: From what I remember we dealt with them very much as two separate episodes despite the fact that they were a continuing storyline.  Of course there were things introduced in "Fustercluck" that we knew we would continue to explore in "Manifest Destiny" and obviously we had to solve the Lindus problem.  But overall, it felt like the beginning of the rabbit hole as opposed to a two-parter.

Pasha: How much freedom do you have when writing an episode that’s part of the ongoing arc?

Leslye Headland: A lot.  The entire experience of writing for Terriers was a liberating one.  We were always encouraged to write and pitch storylines to the height of our intelligence.  We were always reminded that the people watching the show were smart and well-versed in TV tropes and it was always about raising the stakes and strengthening the characters.  So writing for an ongoing arc was never about the "moves" of the plot but about what emotional turn Hank and Britt were going to take next.

Pasha: This episode, more than any other thus far, highlighted Hank and Gustafson’s complicated relationship.  What is your interpretation of this relationship?  Why is Gustafson so tolerant of Hank after everything that’s happened?

Leslye Headland: From the beginning, one of the goals of the writer's room was to realistically portray a recovering alcoholic's relationship with those closest to him.  I think a lot of the time alcoholics are these repentant souls trying to win back the approval of those they've hurt.  And I think Hank is definitely doing that.  However, I think it was also important to us to show that it's not that simple for characters like Gustafson and Gretchen.  They were there for so much of Hank's drinking and as a result find it hard to draw boundaries or completely cut Hank out of their life.  In a very deep way, they are involved in Hank's drama whether they want to be or not.  And if you've been cast as the supporter or enabler in the past, even once the addiction is being treated or the alcohol removed, it tends to be hard to relinquish your role in the addict's life.

Pasha: How hard is it writing someone as off-kilter as Steph?

Leslye Headland: I love Steph.  Especially once we knew we were going to have such a fantastic and versatile actress.  It was a lot of fun to write along the adage that just because a character is crazy doesn't mean they're wrong. 

Pasha: Although Hank vowed at the end of “Manifest Destiny” to drop the case, this episode very much seemed like a set up for the rest of the series.  What can you tease for the next few weeks?

Leslye Headland: I don't want to give too much away but it all comes back to the title.  Once Hank catches the scent of something rotten... it's hard for him to it let go.

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