‘Outsiders’ EPs Paul Giamatti and Peter Tolan on Mountain Politics (and a ‘Billions’ Crossover?)

     January 24, 2017

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Created by Peter Mattei and executive produced by Paul Giamatti and Peter Tolan, the WGN America drama series Outsiders is back for Season 2, as the Farrell Clan continues to fight to defend their land and way of life from the town below the mountain they live on. With Big Foster (David Morse) shot and left for dead, G’Win (Gillian Alexy) has risen as the new Bren’in (or leader), but her ability to lead the clan is tested when another ancient, mysterious clan arrives from the other side of the mountain.

While at the WGN America portion of the TCA Press Tour, Outsiders executive producers Paul Giamatti and Peter Tolan spoke to Collider for this exclusive, highly entertaining (and a bit off-the-rails, towards the end) interview about how they approached Season 2, wanting to always do something different with the show, why you should binge-watch Season 1, and what makes the show so challenging to do. Giamatti also gave some insight into Season 2 of his complicated and complex drama series Billions (returning to Showtime on February 19th) and his questionable character. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.

Collider: How did you approach things with Season 2? Did you go back and look at Season 1 to see what worked and what didn’t, or was it more organic than that?

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Image via WGN America

PETER TOLAN: When you’re doing a television show, you learn fairly soon, within a number of episodes, the strengths and weaknesses of the people you’re working with and where they shine, and you obviously write to that. We did a little of that. You’re so intimate with the actual production and writing that you don’t really have to go back and look at it. We knew, having done that first season, that we wanted to mix it up. We wanted to have a different idea that fell over the entire season, and we came up with the idea of constriction. If you look at all of the stories, you’ll see that everyone is under pressure. Houghton has family issues that put him under more pressure than he wants to deal with. G’Win, who’s now the leader of the Farrells, is either able to do that or probably not, so she’s learning and under pressure. And then, several of our characters find themselves literally constricted.

PAUL GIAMATTI: It’s a show that has a lot of room to go some pretty wacky places, which is nice.

Did you notice, very early on, that this show could go to a lot of places that many other shows couldn’t?

TOLAN: It’s interesting because half of it is made up. The world on the mountain is all things that we are making up, as we go along. And the actors have asked us, at various times, “How do they do this? What are their rituals?” There are things that have been created that are the Farrell version of that. Early on, we had a wedding and decided that the Farrell version would be that you had to run a gauntlet through all the men and, if you can make it to your bride, you can marry her, but they beat the hell out of you. I wanted it to be in a big field, so that it was very cinematic.

Do you feel like new viewers can tune in to Season 2, or would you recommend that people binge-watch Season 1 first?

GIAMATTI: I would always recommend that people watch it, but I don’t feel like it would be alienating to just jump into it now. I feel like you could get caught up very quickly, but it’s always better to have some background on it and enjoy the first season.

TOLAN: We went to the trouble, so why sit there for the first few minutes going, “Who’s that? How are they related?”

GIAMATTI: I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know the story well enough that I could just jump into the second season. What do I know?! Don’t listen to me!

Did you learn anything on the production side of things, during Season 1, that helped make Season 2 easier?

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Image via WGN America

TOLAN: I don’t know. It is a challenging show that’s physically challenging because so much of it takes place outdoors. If you look at it, there’s just so much that happenings on the mountain or in the town, outdoors. There’s a lot of prayer involved, where you’re just hoping the weather holds. We don’t get that much rain ‘cause we’re in Pittsburgh during the late spring and summer, and into the fall. So, we didn’t learn much and we refused to learn, so that we won’t be like, “We should set this inside someplace.” We don’t wand to do that. People like to say, “New York is a character in the show,” but the mountain really is. You can’t just do a bunch of scenes with people on interior sets, and it’s tough. First of all, it’s either raining or it’s really hot.

GIAMATTI: The first time I went to the set, it was just brutal. The incline of that thing is brutal, and it was hot as hell, too. It’s just grotesque. It’s a physically demanding thing for everybody.

TOLAN: That’s another reason why you should watch the first season. We suffer for it.

What made you decide to bring in so many modern elements this season, with healthcare and how difficult it is to get an abortion?

TOLAN: Our intent is not to inform. Our main goal, of course, is to entertain. Ultimately, I don’t think we’re going to change anybody’s mind about political issues, or anything like that. But I feel, if a story element comes up, let’s treat it realistically. Given the fact that our characters live in Appalachia, this is what they’re dealing with. Health care is a real issue, if God forbid, you get sick, and a lot of those people do get sick. There’s the abortion talk, and we’re not going to get into who’s having that conversation. The first draft of those scenes was pages and pages and pages, but it was all accurate, about how difficult it is in that part of the country, and in a lot of places in the country, for a woman to have that procedure. Ultimately, we kept paring it down because, at a certain point, you’re just speechifying.

GIAMATTI: You don’t want it to get didactic.

TOLAN: It was all right, and we were not being political. It’s just so difficult.

It’s fascinating to watch how these women handle power and leadership. How would you say G’Win handles that, this season?

TOLAN: She’s always a character who will do anything to protect the clan, but it’s really a growing up period for her. It’s not like this is an unusual idea. This has been a matriarchy for awhile. We know that Lady Ray was probably there for a long time, and her husband may have been Bren’in before, so people are used to having a woman in that role. There are some interesting scenes and interesting lines there. In some ways, she’s very much a girl trying to do a woman’s job. It’s really been interesting to watch.

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Image via WGN America

Big Foster has a bit of an epiphany this season, but you have to wonder whether you can take him at his word. Will we continue to wonder what his motives are?

TOLAN: I don’t think so. G’Win has him pretty much figured out. She says, “Look, you say one thing, but there is something in you that you’re fighting, all the way.” It’s a question of whether that wins or not. To some extent, she does believe that he’s a changed man, and yet, as he’s saying, “I’m a changed man,” she can see that anger billowing up inside of him.

Paul, do you prefer playing a villain to playing a good guy? And do you view your Billions character, Chuck Rhoades, as a villain?

GIAMATTI: I don’t, really. It goes back and forth. And in the second season, it really goes back and forth. In the first season, I think I’m way more villainous than he is. In the first season, he’s the criminal, but I was the bad guy in it. That changes in the second season. When I really look at it, I don’t think he is the bad guy. The other guy is committing bad crimes that are far-reaching and hurt people, in all kinds of ways. Ultimately, I think the guy I play is fighting the good fight, but he definitely doesn’t operate on the up-and-up, all the time. He’s an angry, strange person. He’s got a lot of dark, weird things going on in him. Personally, I guess I do like playing villains. I have to play villains a lot, and I do like it. It’s more interesting to play a bad guy.

How much of his power struggle is insecurity vs. greed for power?

GIAMATTI: I think a lot of it is insecurity. He’s a power hungry character who’s greedy for power, but it probably comes out of insecurity. A lot of it feels like an insecurity thing. I think a lot of it comes out of some sort of pathological insecurity.

Who do you think he’s more obsessed with – his wife or Axelrod?

GIAMATTI: That’s interesting. That’s a really interesting thing that switches up in the second season. I’d say, in some sick way, he’s more obsessed with Axelrod. On some deep level, he’s more obsessed with Axelrod. His wife becomes a part of that.

Paul, when you see how much fun the Outsiders cast is having, does it make you want to jump in?

GIAMATTI: Oh, yeah, sure! It’s physically hard. That’s something that I look at. With Billions, I get to sit behind a desk and the biggest thing I have to do is go get a sandwich.

TOLAN: And get whipped.

GIAMATTI: That was pleasurable, though. That wasn’t so hard. That was pure pleasure! But now, for sure. We actually did talk about trying to create a character who was an armorer for them, who took care of all their guns. We were trying to think of something I could do, but then nobody wanted to do that.

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Image via Showtime

TOLAN: Oh, that’s not true!

GIAMATTI: I would love to do something on it. They look like they’re having a good time, on both sides of it.

So, you’re saying that the show just needs more seasons, and then you can figure out where you can fit in.

GIAMATTI: I should be able to figure out something. I’ll have to talk to somebody about that.

TOLAN: By the way, you getting whipped with a sandwich would have been better. But, I’m not telling you how to do your job.

GIAMATTI: That’s not out of the realm of possibility. Whipped with a Hoagie – that’s going to be my memoir title. Whipped with a Hoagie: The Paul Giamatti Story. We have to go out on Whipped with a Hoagie.

What does bringing in new clans into the story add to the story?

TOLAN: The new clans are very helpful. In the early part of this season, we created some people who, at one time, belonged to one of the other clans, and they’ve reappeared. I think we have to commit to that. There’s a whole clan out there, and we need to add some new troublemakers and some new blood. We’re always trying to take the show in a different direction and do something we haven’t done. I’m certainly not a puritan, but at the same time, I’m not a smut peddler.

GIAMATTI: Smut Peddler is your memoir title!

Now, there needs to be a Billions-Outsiders cross-over episode!

GIAMATTI: That’s true! That’s actually a really interesting idea.

TOLAN: Why can’t I be on Billions? I look like a Wall Street guy.

GIAMATTI: You could be the other side of it, or do you not want to be a Fed?

TOLAN: I want to be in it!

GIAMATTI: Now that you’ve said it, okay!

Outsiders airs on Tuesday nights on WGN America.

Television