Starz’s half-hour comedy series Blunt Talk follows Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart), a British import who is on a mission to share his wisdom through his American cable news show. Walter Blunt has a dysfunctional news staff, numerous ex-wives, children of all ages and a loyal manservant, all of whom contribute to his own well-intentioned but often misguided decisions. From creator Jonathan Ames and executive producer Seth MacFarlane, the show also stars Jacki Weaver, Adrian Scarborough, Dolly Wells, Timm Sharp, Mary Holland, Karan Soni, Richard Lewis, Ed Begley Jr. and Romany Malco.
One of the highlights of the show is actress Jacki Weaver, who plays Walter Blunt’s executive producer Rosalie Winter. In this exclusive interview with Collider, done during the Starz portion of the recent TCA Press Tour, Weaver spoke about how much fun she has on this show, playing a complex character with shades of grey, why she likes the balance of comedy and drama, never getting the giggles during a scene, being a dysfunctional family both on camera and off, how much she enjoys working with Patrick Stewart, whether they get to improvise, and how surprised she’s been by this journey.
Collider: Do you guys have as much fun making this show as it seems like you must?
JACKI WEAVER: We do. We’ve had absolute fun.
Did you know just how wild and crazy it would get?
WEAVER: I had a fair idea because when I heard Seth MacFarlane was producing, everything he does is risque and shocking. I adore him, and I’m unshockable. Also, having read Jonathan Ames’ books and having seen his other series, Bored to Death, I was expecting it to be pretty raunchy. When he took me to lunch to ask me to do the series and described what it was going to be like, I had a fair idea of what we were in for. It’s great to see characters behave and speak the way people do, in real life. On cable TV, you can say anything.
Could you ever have imagined that, at this point in your career, you’d be doing a TV comedy series with Patrick Stewart?
WEAVER: It does seem bizarre. I never thought I’d ever meet Patrick Stewart, nevermind work with him. And then, to be playing an American in America with Patrick Stewart and a whole lot of other English people, it’s very funny. Of course, I play an American in this. Being Australian and having done a lot of American characters, I usually don’t have much trouble with an American accent, but I had my work cut out in this one because I’m surrounded by English people. My mother was English, and the script supervisor was an Australian, so I was hearing all of these other voices while I was trying to be American. It was quite an exercise, but it was fun.
Did you have any days that were just so much fun that you couldn’t believe you were getting to do what you were doing, but at the same time, wondered how it was ever going to make it onto the air?
WEAVER: I play Ed Begley Jr.’s wife, and every time I did a scene with him, it was such a joy. He’s such a brilliant actor and such a sweet, dear man. We are meant to be a long-time married couple who adore each other, and my character is also having extra-marital adventures, as well. That was all such fun. I didn’t think I’d be having passionate scenes at my age still. I did plenty of them in my 20s and 30s, but I didn’t think I’d still be doing them now. I’d never heard the expression “motor-boating” before. I’m not saying that my generation doesn’t do it, we just didn’t know it had a name. All human beings are flawed. One of the great things about Blunt Talk is that you see very complex characters who have different shades of grey to them.
Would you say this show has a good balance between the comedy and the drama?
WEAVER: Yeah. I love stories that are like real life, and are funny one minute and sad the next. One minute you’re laughing hilariously and the next minute you’re crying, and life is like that. Blunt Talk has got all of that. The situations we’re put in and the foibles of our characters are what makes the show amusing. You can laugh with them, even if you haven’t got the same problems. You can see that these people are like all people, weak sometimes and strong other times.
Because so many crazy and funny things happen, all the time, are you good at not cracking up in the middle of a scene?
WEAVER: I’ve been acting professionally for 53 years, and my experience comes mainly from theater. I’ve done about a hundred plays. We call it going up, and some people go up very easily on stage. I was taught, very young, by an older actress that when you feel you’re going to get a fit of giggles on stage, you get angry ‘cause you can’t laugh when you’re angry. So, I’ve been in shows where people have taken bets that they can make me laugh on stage, and usually I win. I’m good at not laughing. It’s not that I don’t want to. I find a lot of what we do on Blunt Talk hilarious, but it’s hard to make me laugh. I’m too old and experienced.
Is there anyone that’s not as good at it as you are and just always cracks up?
WEAVER: All of them giggle, even Patrick. They all get a bit of the giggles sometimes. It’s hard not to.
This team is a bit of a dysfunctional family when they’re together? Have you guys formed your own dysfunctional family, off set?
WEAVER: I think everybody is flawed. Every human being on this planet has got some flaws, and it’s true of the cast. We might not have the same flaws as the characters, but we’ve certainly got our own flaws. And when you work closely with people, five or six days a week, you get to know, inside out, what they’re like and what their problems are. We all have varying degrees of dysfunction.
What’s it like to work with Patrick Stewart and explore this dynamic between your characters?
WEAVER: It’s great. Patrick is so sweet, and he’s very hard-working. He comes on that set knowing every line. He almost never forgets. He’s really sweet and very humble. There’s not an ounce of arrogance in him. For all his success, you’d think he would have at least a bit, but he’s a very sweet, gentle, funny, self-deprecating guy. To do tender or sensitive stuff with him is very easy because he invites closeness.
Do you guys ever get to improvise on this, or do you stick pretty close to the script?
WEAVER: It’s a bit of both. We have some really good improvisers on the show, especially Timm [Sharp], Mary [Holland], Karan [Soni] and Dolly [Wells]. We’re all okay at improvisation and we do a bit of it, but we also have great scripts because it’s Jonathan [Ames] and a team of eight or nine really good writers. We always shoot exactly what’s written, and then sometimes we play around. It’s always at the director’s and Jonathan’s bidding. Jonathan is on set, all the time. With a one-camera show, because the production values are pretty strict, you can’t improvise too much, like you can with different set-ups. But, that’s how working with David O. Russell is. You shoot the scene exactly how he wrote it first, and then you start playing around with it for other takes. I always think that must be very hard for editors.
Do you enjoy cramming so much content into each half-hour episode?
WEAVER: I love that. I love that so much happens. There’s always some crisis.
What did you think of the journey your character took, this season? Were you aware of where things were headed, ahead of time, or did you learn with each script?
WEAVER: Sometimes we didn’t know what was going to happen two episodes ahead. Sometimes what happened was a big surprise, which is such fun. Some writers keep things pretty close to the chest. I’ve done a Woody Allen film, and some actors don’t get to see scenes they’re not in, which is fine. I think that’s fine, if that’s got nothing to do with you. It’s frustrating, though. If you’re used to working in the theater, where you know exactly what happens in the play, it can be frustrating. It’s also a good exercise. One of the things you learn at drama school is not to play the result, but just to play the moment.
You can watch the first episode right now on Patrick Stewart’s Facebook page. Blunt Talk airs on Saturday nights on Starz.