Abigail Spencer takes on femme fatale role in 'Reprisal'

Luaine Lee, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- After benign roles in "Suits," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Mad Men," actress Abigail Spencer was lusting for something new. "I kept telling my team, I'm like, 'I want to play a monster next.' She finally got her wish. Spencer is portraying the relentless Doris in Hulu's new drama, "Reprisal."

"How do I find someone who has all of the things that reflect energetically what we're going through on the planet, through one woman's journey?" asks Spencer. "And there's Doris. There she was!"

The series, which premieres on the streaming site Friday, features Spencer as the unrelenting femme fatale bent on revenge. The series was written by Josh Corbin ("StartUp," "Quantum Break"). Spencer says she was both surprised and delighted she was considered for the part.

"Everything here is out of Josh Corbin's brain," she says. "A year ago, one summer afternoon, him and (producers) Warren Littlefield and Graham Littlefield and Anne Johnson and Jon Van Tulleken, our director, came over to my house, and told me the story of Doris ... And they just presented this dream of film noir, and cinematic references, and a role that typically is written for a MAN," she recalls.

"And they said, 'We'd like you to do this.' And I was like, 'How do you even know who I am?'"

They knew her from the multiple roles she's essayed -- everything from a school teacher in "Mad Men," a high-powered attorney in "Suits" to a nanny in "All My Children."

"And when they came and shared it with me, we just started vibing back and forth. I said, 'I feel like she (Doris) was a brunette. And I want her to look like someone who cut her hair off and disguised herself and made it blonde. And it's a very era-ambiguous show ... So we're creating a new genre of era-ambiguity," she says, "where anyone can look from a different genre. So we're creating something in the moment, and honoring his vision."

While the exact period is not delineated, the tone of the piece is. "And Lauren Bacall was a big reference from Josh that he presented," says Spencer.

While her character is focused on retaliation, she's not all bad, says Corbin. "I think the difference between good and evil is a blurred line," he says.

"I think it's more understanding a character's motivation, and what drives them to do what they do, be it horrific or good. And also I think that some of the best drama really is when I want the audience to ask themselves, 'Well, wait. I don't know how I feel about that.' I think uncertainty, in terms of whether someone would do what that character does or not, is a powerful aspect of this medium."

Costar Mena Massoud agrees.

"I think every human being in the world has a little bit of good and evil in them ... and I think a lot of times people who we refer to as 'evil,' they don't see themselves that way," he says.

"That's why they're able to do what they do. So, that's something that I'm excited about on this show. I think everyone has a different definition of that, and we go on those journeys, and I don't want to speak for Josh, but I think as you watch the show, your opinion of who's good and evil might change as well."

In Doris' quest for vengeance, there's no shortage of violent retribution. Corbin cops to that. "I think as serious as violence is in real life, it is also a genre. You know, there is a reason that it sells and has for so many years. And I think, for me, I grew up on Tarantino films, and I am a fan of the violent genre. And I think, for me, it's knowing when to -- on an instinctual level -- knowing when to employ it in a more humorous aspect or sort of cathartic way, and then also knowing when to stage it, to allow it to have a very emotional impact.

"And I think it can go either way," he says. "And sometimes, it's a little in-between. I think as to why, I might have to -- that might be a conversation with my therapist, but I think, ultimately, yeah, I'll say it again: violence is a genre, and I think that it is a huge part of our show, but we always handle it responsibly, I believe."


Fox is featuring what they call a "three-night event" beginning Wednesday with a holiday comedy starring Denis Leary and Elizabeth Perkins called "The Moodys." The Moodys are a cantankerous couple who are probably coping with the holidays better than most of us -- or at least they make us feel better about our failures.

Leary, who began as a stand-up and moved into real acting with "Rescue Me," says his youth prepared him for the gruff characters he plays.

"I grew up in the city ... the Corelli brothers lived next to me, man. They used to get in fights. Their father used to come out with a hose and hose them down like they were dogs. You know what I mean?

"It was a very emotional neighborhood I grew up in, pretty emotional. My house, to this day, my mother, we just expressed our opinions all the time, very loudly. That tends to lead to some physical altercations, and that was when your parents could still hurt you and not get sued, and the nuns could hit you at school," he says.


"I always wanted to fight her. She might have beat me, but I would have gotten a couple punches in. So if you're out there, Sister Agnes Katherine, I don't care how old you are. I'll fight you right now for charity money!"


The CBS All Access streaming site will be hosting the second season of Kevin Williamson's skewed take on our favorite fairy tales, "Tell Me a Story," returning Thursday. This year Williamson, best known as creator of "Dawson's Creek," the "Scream" movies and "The Vampire Diaries," will add his twist to three tales that personify what he calls "the princess theme."

"We have 'Beauty and the Beast,' we have 'Sleeping Beauty,' and 'Cinderella.' And they are all wrapped up in various 'thrillery' ways and all sorts of different incarnations this year," he says.

"We found the idea of a family, which is one of the themes I love so much ... the themes of family really resonate in a very emotional way. So I thought we would use that spine to put all of the three story lines in, and I find the interaction and, sort of, the way that the story lines flow with each other much more eloquent and graceful, and it gives everything a reason," he says.

"We learned a lot last year, you know, trial and error. And as much as I loved last season, it can always be better, and that's one of the things that I think we brought to the table this year just in every way, the story telling -- just the style, the tone, the visceral look of the show," he says.

Williamson's fairy tales always carry a subliminal sense of evil. He says that's true of the real stories conjured by the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen and Joseph Jacobs.

"They were created to warn children of the dangers of the outside world," says Williamson. "It was sort of to teach them right from wrong and obey your parents, or this is going to happen. You are going to get eaten by the lady in the house. They are warnings.

"What I also love about them is the themes that run through them, and that also makes it darker. 'Sleeping Beauty,' for instance, is all about a curse -- and if you can run from your fate, or you have to accept your fate. And so ... that's what we play with.

"And 'Cinderella' is about transformation, and so that's sort of the theme of 'Cinderella' ultimately with our two characters, whether it be Prince Charming or Cinderella, and how are they going to face transformation? And are they going to be able to redefine their lives when push-comes-to-shove and they get caught in this film "Deewaar," a family crime drama.

"Who is the wicked stepmother, and who are the wicked stepsisters? We sort of do a lot of gender swapping. We do a lot of rewriting these fairy tales; you sort of have to look and find them in our show. And 'Beauty and the Beast,' what does beauty mean in today's society? What can it mean? And we play with all of those ideas and themes and so forth."


Dick Wolf, the executive producer behind all the "Law & Order" TV shows, says he doesn't like it when the narrative veers into the private lives of his cops and lawyers. He's strictly a fan of the procedure. And he certainly stresses that with his "Criminal Confessions," returning for its third season on Oxygen Saturday.

Each stand-alone episode follows a real case with real coppers in relentless pursuit of the unknown criminals. The audience is privy to the authentic interrogations of the suspects and eventual confession of the perpetrator. Saturday's 90-minute episode examines the infamous case of Chris Watts who was found guilty of murdering his wife, two daughters and unborn son.

The series offers the viewer new insight on the dedication and dogged work of the police and the impenetrable landscape of the evil mind.

(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)

(c)2019 Luaine Lee

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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