From showrunners/writers/executive producers Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris (Patriot), the 10-episode Epix modern noir drama series Perpetual Grace, LTD follows James (Jimmi Simpson), a young grifter who quickly realizes that his prey, Pastor Byron Brown (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his wife Lillian (Jacki Weaver), known to their parishioners as Pa and Ma, are far more dangerous than anyone ever could have imagined. In over his head and out of his depth, what started as an escape from his demons brings James directly into the path of the couple who have used religion to steal the life savings of hundreds of innocent people who were just looking to get their lives back in order.
During this interview with Collider, co-stars Sir Ben Kingsley, Jacki Weaver and Jimmi Simpson, along with co-creators Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris, talked about how this series came about, finding the look and the mood of it, getting to play multi-layered characters in a multi-layered story, commonality in the actors, connecting to their roles, the unusual dynamic between James and Pa and Ma, what they appreciate about these characters, and hoping that people will invest in the journey of this series.
STEVE CONRAD: We actually talk about mood, all the time. When we get notes from the studio, who’s been pretty supportive, they’re still puzzled over some of our cinematic decisions, and we’ll say, “But it has to create a mood.” Otherwise, you need to figure out another way to do it. That’s true of the writing, and it’s true of the way that you capture those things. Noir just has a mood in its DNA. This was Bruce Terris’ idea. The elemental idea of Perpetual Grace, LTD was Bruce’s, but we were joined at the hip on Patriot, where he’s an executive producer, so we’re always together. When we got sick of thinking about that one, we started to think about this one. And then, we got a little delay on Patriot, and this was ready to go. We thought we had hit a little bit of a stride there with storytelling, so we wondered if we could we keep it going and have a new group of fellow artists, who are a little different, like Jacki [Weaver] and Ben [Kingsley], bring us sounds that we haven’t been making. We put together a list of types, like a Ben Kingsley type and a Jacki Weaver type and a Jimmi Simpson type, which there aren’t because there’s just one of them. We did that because we didn’t want to presume that that could ever happen. I’m reminded of the obligation to do this well, on a daily basis, when I look at them. What I said to all of them, who have a million choices and they could be doing anything, but they said, “We’ll come do your thing,” I said, “You’ll have a good day’s work, every day. That’s what I can promise you. I can’t tell you how many pages that might be, but every time you come to the set, it’ll be a good day’s work.” Our job just becomes doing that, in relation to film noir. Can you have performances that stress-test what noir characters were ever allowed to do before? That’s what we’re trying to do on Perpetual Grace.
BRUCE TERRIS: Just expanding on the idea of noir characters, oftentimes in noir, it seems like the characters are a bit one-dimensional. There’s the bad guy and the good guy, and the evil guy. I’ve known Steve for 20 years, and he’s really been my mentor, as a writer, and what he really taught me, which my experience as a human backs up, is that there really are no one-dimensional characters because there are no one-dimensional people. And if you’re going to do 10 hours of television, or 20 or 30 or 40, or whatever we’re hopefully able to do, the character in a noir who might be the evil guy might work in a film for two hours, but over the course of 10 hours, you’ve got to see that person’s humanity, their frailty, and the people that they love.
CONRAD: It about all of their complexities, really. When your show needs to become more complex, then maybe it’s time for your characters to become more complex.