The second season of the DirecTV series Full Circle centers on a Chicago cop (Terry O’Quinn) who blew the whistle on police corruption in Chicago, 18 years ago, which resulted in sending his own father-in-law (Stacy Keach), the Chief of Detectives, to federal prison for life, only now he’s getting out and is intent on revenge. Similar to how the first season all took place in a Los Angeles restaurant, this season is primarily set in an Irish bar, focusing on a conversation between two characters involved in the lives of these two men. The show also stars Rita Wilson, Patrick Fugit, Calista Flockhart, Chris Bauer, Brittany Snow, Eric McCormack, David Koechner and Kate Burton.
While on the set of the series from TV writer/playwright Keith Huff and executive producer/director Nick Hamm, Collider spoke to them both for this exclusive interview about the changes this season, the basic format of the series, why they decided to expand beyond having just one location for every episode, doing a half-hour drama, writing the series like a five-hour play, shooting the entire season in three to four weeks, and putting this talented cast together.
Collider: What should people know about Full Circle?
NICK HAMM: When we did the first year, it was Full Circle: L.A. And Keith [Huff] wrote this year, and it’s called Full Circle: Chicago. Next year, I think he’s going to do Full Circle: New York, but we don’t know yet. The idea is that there’s no 1, 2 or 3. It’s a complete stand-alone season, each time, almost like a mini-series. It’s a completely different cast, but the central idea is the same. Character A meets character B, B meets C, C meets D, and it goes full circle.
What can you say about this season?
HAMM: Last season was set in an L.A. restaurant, and it dealt with the business and hysterics of all of that. This season, it’s in a Chicago bar, where it deals with the relationship with the mob and the police and the FBI. The central premise of the show is around what would happen to a Chicago Serpico. What would that mean, in a contemporary way, if that Serpico wasn’t celebrated and didn’t get Al Pacino playing him, in a movie? What would happen, if that person was actually ridiculed and made a pariah? What happens to that person’s family, and the ripple effects of that, emotionally?
What made you decide to expand it beyond one location, this season?
HAMM: The initial discipline of it was one set. We’re always looking to work with playwrights who have migrated into television, or who understand the discipline with both worlds. One of the premises of the show is that you work with actors who have a theatrical understanding, and who can run six or seven pages of dialogue. That’s not a boast, to do six or seven pages. It’s about the actors capturing the dialectic of that moment, and getting the relationship between the actors. We’ve always thought the way full circle works is that you have to borrow from the theatrical world. You have to have somebody who can write the kind of stuff that actors really want to do.
These are all star actors. They come down and do it for a very small amount of money, but it’s in L.A. We keep it in Los Angeles, and they have a limited amount of time that they have to be here. They don’t have to sign on for nine months. They can come do some great acting. They rehearse and perform like theater. So, what we did was take that central premise of last year and [expand it]. There was so much drama that was happening off-screen, so we decided to give the audience a hint of what was happening in those other scenes. We take them to the prison, we take them to the FBI offices, we take them to the half-way house. That feeds into the central structure.
KEITH HUFF: It’s also nice because you get a continuity of character. Stacy [Keach] appears in nine of the ten episodes. He’s omni-present.
HAMM: But he only has two episodes. His main episodes are still two episodes. The structure still maintains itself, but you see him in little bits. By the time you get to him in his two episodes, you’ve seen a lot about him and you understand a lot more.
Keith, what does it mean to you to be able to write the entire season yourself?
HUFF: I think it’s great. It’s like writing a five-hour play. With shows, even when you have a staff, it gets sifted through one person, anyway. Staff are required because they start production while you’re writing, so you need that big machine going. But we had everything written, well in advance of the shooting.
HAMM: We write everything first.
HUFF: It had to be done to go out to cast.
HAMM: And then, we cast it and we rehearse it, like a play, and we shoot it.
HUFF: And we had to make sure the scripts were solid because we knew we didn’t have a lot of time to play with lines, on the fly. It’s such a tight shooting schedule.
What is the shooting schedule like for this?
HAMM: We shoot the whole thing within three or four weeks. We do very long days, but we do that intentionally. We do that because we want the attention to be with the actors. They perform it. They become it. You’re not breaking it up into two-page scenes. Keith can write seven pages. You can write a scene that has a huge arc to it. Most television scenes are two or three pages, and you’re thinking about breaks. But, this is the way that television is going. It’s no longer television, it’s content. You have to do something that catches people’s eyes. You can do something with substance, in a completely different way, because the form that it’s being distributed in is different than it has been, and that it has ever been before. It’s not just going out on television. It ultimately goes out on the internet. There’s a different way that people are looking at stuff. They can binge-watch this and see it together. It’s just a different world.
Why a half-hour drama?
HAMM: We’re interested in half-hour dramas. It’s a really cool format. It’s normally reserved for comedy. This is a new format. If you can give people real substance in that format, it can really work.
How did the casting process work for this?
HAMM: You know, and you make offers. None of this cast auditioned. They’re all name actors. What you do is that you have a conversation. Fundamentally, they all did it ‘cause they loved the material. The money is not what you normally get on a normal show, and the time commitment is very small, but they’re very exposed, as actors. Everybody comes to this with their A-game. If you don’t come to it with you’re a-game, you’re exposed. If you can’t deliver, you’re going to be found out. Actors are very good at self-selecting material for themselves. Those that are scared to do it, don’t do it. Those that are not scared, go for it. Those that are a little scared, but still are brave enough, go for it. But it’s better to have actors who have some understanding of theater, so they understand a rehearsal process and they understand how to maintain a performance, and then they give a performance .
Keith, what was it like to write this, and then see actors this talented bringing your words to life?
HUFF: It’s amazing. What’s so generous about them, especially with Stacy, is that he plays this aging patriarch, but he’s bringing the heft, weight and breadth of his entire career into that role, and audiences bring that, too. Stacy brings that and gives that, as a part of his character. We selected mostly people who have a pretty extensive theater background, so they’re chomping at the bit to do something like this. It really benefits the project because they have theater roots and they come in prepared. They know that we don’t have time to rehearse on-camera.
Were there any pairings that you were most excited to see playing off each other?
HUFF: Actually, I liked every single one because they just brought a different energy and a different color. I think the structure really serves the story well. We’re talking about something that happened 18 years ago, and how it impacted all of these people who are involved. The structure really serves that material, in an exciting way. I come to the shoot every day, and it’s never the same. We have two new actors, every day.
Did you change the scripts, in any way, once the cast was together, or did it stay the same?
HUFF: The scripts were done before we cast ‘cause we knew we had to deliver scripts that would attract name talent. We went through draft after draft after draft and really got them in shape, hoping to get the best people we could. And they’re fantastic.
Full Circle premieres on DirecTV on March 25th.