On the Showtime drama series Ray Donovan, Ray (Liev Schreiber) is the go-to guy who makes the problems of L.A.’s celebrities, superstar athletes and business moguls disappear. It’s the problems in his own life that he never seems to know how to handle, and one of those problems in Season 2 has been a nosy reporter named Kate McPherson (Vinessa Shaw), who just won’t take no for an answer, when it comes to the Donovan family.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Vinessa Shaw talked about how she came to be a part of this show, just how addicting the story is, how it was both intimidating and exciting to walk onto the set for the first time, how she views her character, how much she’s enjoyed playing someone so focused and driven, how she views the relationship between Kate and Ray, getting into the right headspace to do the more intimate scenes, and what being a part of such a high quality, high caliber show taught her about herself, as an actress. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
VINESSA SHAW: I attribute it to my representatives and (casting director) John Papsidera. I’ve known John since I was a kid, starting out in this business, and we’ve always been mutual fans of each other. When I finally got the part, it was so exciting.
Had you been a fan of the show, prior to being cast, or did you have to catch up on the first season?
SHAW: I had seen Episode 1, before meeting (show creator) Ann Biderman. But whether or not I got the part, I didn’t care, I went home and watched the rest of them. I became a huge fan of the show, and still am, to this day. I was hooked from Episode 1. It slowly gets under your skin. The unfolding of the storylines is very slow-moving, and I appreciate that. I didn’t feel like they were ramming anything down your throat. You really have to pay attention and watch, and enjoy the cast and storyline for each of them. I feel like it’s one of those shows that you just can’t get away from.
Was it intimidating, at all, to walk onto the set for a show this intense, with actors at the top of their game, or was it too exciting to worry about being intimidated?
SHAW: It was probably a bit of both. I think I was excited and intimidated. An actor never knows how they’ll be treated, as they come onto the set of an already existing show that’s successful, at that. They have a table read every week, for every episode, and as they do with every actor I’ve seen come on since, they welcomed me with a warm smile and a handshake and applause. They’re all very careful to make sure everyone feels welcomed. It could easily be the other way ‘cause it is a dark, brooding show. They could just be people who turn a cold shoulder, but everyone was very welcoming. I was happy, and my nerves dissipated, slowly but surely. But, it does take awhile to get into any character that you’ve never played before. I’m so used to film, where you know the beginning, middle and end. I had no idea where I was going, which was annoying to my perfectionist attitude. So many people were like, “Yeah, TV is just like life. You don’t know where you’re going.” It suddenly hit me that I just needed to relax about it. Fortunately, I was able to do so. The cast and crew helped me to feel comfortable, as well.
SHAW: Yes, it is a brutally honest show, and a brutal show, too. It does create a nail-biting experience, but you know that it won’t be done in a hokey way. If anyone were to go, they would go in a way that makes sense to the storyline. If that were to happen to me, I would be totally okay with it and trust the direction that the creators have taken the character.
How do you view Kate McPherson, and how did you find your performance?
SHAW: I was able to speak with a reporter beforehand, who helped me a lot. His name is Phil Bronstein, and he was actually nominated for a Pulitzer, like my character was. I was able to glean the personality of a reporter from him. We talked for awhile, but the one thing that he said was, “A reporter has to have a lot of arrogance, if they’re somebody who gets to the frontlines of big stories.” That really rang a bell with me. He also said, “You have to be able to understand people, in order to get your story.” The only thing that I could hold onto with Kate was that who she was with every person she met was pulling out or gaining something from them that would make them feel comfortable. She is a woman, so I feel that she would be wise to know how a person ticks before approaching them. I think she treats every person differently than the one before. All I could do, in terms of how she was, as a reporter, and how she was getting her information, was to get an understanding of who the person was that she was getting information from, and act differently with each person. She’s a little warmer and softer with Mrs. Sullivan than she is with Mickey Donovan. I had to work on understanding each person that she comes into contact with. That was all I had to hold onto because I didn’t really know who she was, other than how she would work, as a reporter. That’s what made her have her humanity and gave her more dimension, and that helped a lot.
Have you enjoyed getting to play someone so focused and driven who will seemingly stop at nothing to get what she wants, even if it puts her own life in danger, or is that exhausting, at the end of the day?
SHAW: I actually really like it because I have an adventuresome side to me, too, or I wouldn’t be in this crazy business. I appreciate the frankness of someone like Kate. I definitely am different to Kate because I have a self-preservational part of me. She has a lot of guts and courage and fearlessness. Yes, she may be unwise, at times, but you have to love someone who’s so passionate about what she does. It becomes charming and awesome, in the truest sense of the word, to look at someone who truly cares about what they do. You don’t really know much more about Kate, besides what she does for a living. Who knows who she is behind closed doors. There are only a couple of moments that you really get to see that, and it’s probably not as pretty. If she’s so courageous in her workplace and she’s constantly on the go, she probably doesn’t slow down enough to self-reflect or have any quiet moments. But the side that we do get to see is very admirable, and it’s something that’s very inspiring, to a point. We know that that can burn out fast, for someone that really doesn’t have a sense of self-protection or self-preservation.
Do you think that she realizes just how much her life is in danger, or do you think she just never really fully took any of the threats seriously?
SHAW: I think she could be at a point in her career, because she is on the heels of winning a Pulitzer for her book about pedophile priests, where she’s just arrogant and thinks she can get a similar story or similar results out of the Donovans. I think that’s where she’s unwise. Perhaps before she just dealt with priests who were more afraid of the exposure that she would bring to the clergy. The Donovans just don’t care. They do care, because they obviously don’t want to go to prison, but it’s not about character or principle for them. Of course, all of that is backstory that we don’t really know, but I just feel like she may be bringing the success of that to this, and it doesn’t translate. She’s dealing with pretty powerful gangsters that can make people not exist anymore. I think she’s just on a roll and feels like nothing can stop her.
Knowing what she knows now, do you think she wishes she could have done any of it differently?
SHAW: I think Kate goes with her gut, in the moment. She can get pissed off, if things don’t go her way, but she has a true sense of what she wants and what she needs. She doesn’t doubt her decisions. She’s very sure about the decisions she makes, even if she falls on her face. I think that’s admirable, but at times, she can’t see the forest for the trees. Her bigger picture perspective is a little lacking, but Kate would feel that she did everything the way that she wanted to do it, and is happy that she did.
The women on this show are not typically treated very well by the Donovan men, but your character is also not a stupid woman. How do you view the relationship between Kate and Ray? Do you think that she has a real attraction to him?
SHAW: I think she has a real attraction to him that’s a sexual attraction. Does she think he’s the marrying type, and someone who could be the father of her children? No. I think she gets the kind of man he is. I think she’s getting everything that she can, out of the moment. She’s a carpe diem woman. She seizes the day in whatever way she can. This guy in front of her is hot, so she throws caution to the wind and goes for it. But I also think that she’s not a stupid woman, so she knows it will work to her advantage, in some way, or else she wouldn’t have done it. Ray and Kate are mirror reflections of each other. I feel that Kate gets Ray, in a way, so she can get under his skin. She knows that they connect in a passionate manner, so she can hold that over him, at some point. I feel that that’s what she believes.
Do you have to get into a certain headspace to do the more intimate scenes, or is it more about the respect on set?
SHAW: With sex scenes and intense scenes, in general, a lot of it is preparation before the scenes happen, so that you don’t have to worry about it on set. This is a different television show than most, where you have two weeks to shoot versus five days. A lot of time would be wasted, if I were feeling insecure on set, so I really made sure that I had all of my questions answered way before hand. And then, I could just be free on set, which helps me with the headspace, instead of just being like, “Oh, my god, what are they showing right now? What is this scene really about? Can I be as honest as I want to be?” I think an actor has to be aware of what they will be portraying, as the character, and be completely free of any questions, or you can’t really do your performance right, especially for those intense scenes. So, I made sure I had no questions and felt free to do whatever needed to be done.
When you work on a show like this, that is obviously such high quality, and you have great writing to work from and very talented actors to work with, what does it teach you about yourself, as an actor?
SHAW: Particularly for this show, because it’s such a high caliber show, with writers who have all made it in their own right and done major motion pictures and all come together to write this show, I feel like I’m doing work that I feel honored to do. In the end, what I felt I was taught by doing this show is a real sense of trusting myself. I’m a perfectionist, so doing a high quality, high caliber television show with great actors makes me feel like there’s this whole world of television that I’ve never experienced. People say it’s the Golden Era of television, and I completely agree. It’s just this amazing time. A lot of people have shared their love for the show, or have said that they enjoy my performance on the show, and I feel like I haven’t had the chance to do anything like this before. It’s because it’s the Golden Era of television that you get to do whatever you want. It’s like the Wild West. You can really create and build characters that you may have never played before. So, I finally get to do something that people can see and follow, and root for or boo for. That’s exciting to me. It’s a whole other world than I’ve ever experienced. I feel like, as an actor, it’s changed my perspective about how television can affect people, and it can affect me, as an actor. It comes down to the character that I get to play, and the writing that comes out of these very talented writers, and working with the actors that I’m working with, that I may never have gotten to work with, at any other point. I never would have dreamed of this cast together, and I got to work with them. It gave me such an appreciation.
Ray Donovan airs on Sunday nights on Showtime.