The Hulu original series Shut Eye is a darkly comedic look at the world of Los Angeles storefront psychics and the history of fraud behind them. Charlie Haverford (Jeffrey Donovan) is a scammer with a small chain of fortune-telling storefronts and a wife, named Linda (KaDee Strickland), who is sick and tired of living under the control of the family that controls the businesses.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Jeffrey Donovan (who recently did excellent work in Season 2 of FX’s Fargo) talked about what drew him to Shut Eye, the biggest challenges in playing this character, making a living from being dishonest, whether Charlie feels any guilt about what he does to other people, and when they might start talking about a possible Season 2. He also talked about shooting Soldado, the follow-up to Sicario, and how it’s more of a standalone spin-off, told from the male point of view.
Collider: This is definitely an interesting idea and premise, with very compelling characters. When you were told about the premise for this show, before even reading these scripts, what was it about the idea that sparked your interest?
JEFFREY DONOVAN: When they first told me about it, they told me who was involved rather than the story. As you can see, the credentials are pretty cool, from the director to the producers, and then (series creator) Les [Bohem], Sony and Hulu. That peaked my interest, just right there. And then, they said, “We don’t want to actually tell you about the script. We want to just send you the first three. And then, if you’re interested, Les would like to get on Skype with you.” And that’s what happened. I read all three and went, “Woah, this is a crazy world! I love this! How bizarre!”
I was uneducated on who these Roma people are and how the gypsies control the readers and the psychics of L.A. I didn’t know it was a mafia. So, it was a lot of fun to read it and talk to Les. Les hooked me when he said, “I’m driving through Beverly Hills and I see a palm reading sign in a window, and it says, ‘$5,’ and I thought, ‘How are they affording rent?’” I was like, yeah, it’s in plain sight. There’s no way that they’re affording rent off of $5 palm readings. You’re in Beverly Hills. You’re probably paying $15,000 a month. So, he put two and two together that that must just be the hook to reel you in. They put their hooks into you, and then, from there, they get $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 out of you. I couldn’t believe people had that ability. There’s just no way. And so, he went to the LAPD fraud division and asked for redacted case files, and it filled a room. He couldn’t believe that all of these people were being taken for hundreds of thousands of dollars, who were white collar, educated, university professors and CEOs. A guy who’s not really that educated, that doesn’t have a good job, who goes in and spends $5, that’s it. He’s only got a couple hundred bucks. It’s the people who go in there that are CEOs, professors, auto dealership owners and really well-off people that they want, and that’s who they get.
Has this show made you curious about seeing someone who claims to be psychic, or are you just fine with never having that experience, in your own life?
DONOVAN: I want to stay diplomatic about this because the more research I’ve done, the more I realized that the gifts that these people have, in my opinion, are not necessarily from another world. I think that they’re actually rooted in science and human nature. That’s what I’ve keyed into. They have an amazing skill set where, when someone walks in the door, they do a cold reading, analyzing you from head to toe, from the way you walk to the way you sound to the words you use to the clothes you wear. They are analyzing the shit out of you. They can tell you, with a certain amount of certainty, whether you’ve had a bad day or a good day, or that you’ve just gotten divorce or just gotten married. They can key in on the big general statements. Once you say yes, you’ve opened up three more new things that they can talk about. The intricate stuff is when they say no. That’s the hard part, and that’s the science. They have to quickly get off the no and back onto the yes. That skill set is truly remarkable.
When you started on this journey with this character, what were the challenges that you saw in playing him, and were there bigger challenges that came up, along the way?
DONOVAN: Good question. I’ll tell you the easier part because it was very little, and then I’ll talk about the more difficult part because that’s a huge part of the challenge of Charlie. The easy part of Charlie was his gift to talk. He has this ability to manipulate with language, talk quickly, swerve and maneuver you, and change the topic. I’m Irish. I have the gift of the gab. That ability was already in me, so that was easy.
The difficult part is that Charlie was a failure. Charlie was so down in his life when he met Linda, and he took a risk by leaving his first marriage. I would never leave my marriage. And he left his child. I would never leave my child. He went with this girl who was a dancer in Vegas. He took this huge risk, swinging for the fences of a life that he thought he was going to have, that never materialized. Understanding that psyche is the hard part. That’s the challenge of finding out who that guy is and identifying with him. That has been the biggest challenge, more than believing that I could be a psychic, or believing that I could talk someone into believing that they were a dog in their past life. Those were the easier things for me.
The hard thing was creating that backstory and history of a failed guy who was damaged and still is, and on top of it all, is controlled by two alphas, his wife and Fonzo. Those two people are alphas, and Charlie is really the subservient. Again, that’s not something I know about, so I’ve been working really hard in creating that character. That’s been the biggest challenge.
Charlie tells Linda that everything he’s doing is for her. Does he just have himself convinced of that, or is he really doing all of this, just to make her happy?
DONOVAN: I think he’s 100% doing it for her. But remember, when he says it’s for her, there’s a bigger her. It’s for her to stay in this marriage for our son. If he loses her, then he loses his son and he loses the family. I think that’s at the root of it. If the queen is happy, the land is happy.
When you make a living being dishonest, is there anyone you can be truly honest with, or are those lines always blurred?
DONOVAN: That’s a great question. I think that’s the challenge. If you’re conning people, and your family and co-workers at the watercooler are all conning people, then who can you trust. With Charlie and Linda, at least, that was the sanctity of their marriage. They may be able to manipulate everyone around them, but never once can they let that infiltrate their marriage, and of course, it does. That’s great conflict in the series.
Does the fact that you can’t pull much over on them make them better parents, or does it make it even harder on their kids?
DONOVAN: Just think about the living room conversations you’re having with your teenager. You say, “Son, always be honest with me,” while you’re honest with no one. It’s, “Do as I say, not as I do.” The juiciest part of the show that makes you tune in is, “How is he going to fuck up his family this week?”
Because it seems as though there’s no shortage of people willing, for whatever reason, to give their money to someone claiming to be a psychic, does Charlie feel that they get what they deserve, or does he ever actually feel bad about any of what he’s doing?
DONOVAN: Wow, you should actually write the storylines for what happens in the season! I guess you’ll have to tune in for that. The great thing about psychics is that they have to have a willing audience. Everyone out there wants to know the answers to life’s big questions. For centuries, that’s being filled with religion, and a subgenre of that is the psychic and tarot card world. It might seem a little black magic-y, or off the beaten path, or behind closed doors, but it still fills the same desire that religion fills, which is, what’s out there and can I control it?
Have you already had conversations about where things could and would go in Season 2, or even beyond that?
DONOVAN: No, and we’re not even close to talking about it yet. Now that it’s ready to stream, I think we’re all anticipating [the viewers’] reaction to see if there’s a show there and whether people want to invest in 10 episodes, for 10 hours of their lives, in this crazy gypsy world. If they do, then we’ll talk about a second season and where it could possible go. But, we’ve gotta wait for the reaction.
I noticed your post on Twitter about how you’d recently started shooting Soldado, the follow-up to Sicario. What can you tease about what people can expect from that film and the story you’ll be telling, this time around?
DONOVAN: I know I was in it, but as a fan of Sicario, I can’t believe they’re making another one, which is so awesome. And I’m in it, which is even more awesome. I thought Sicario was one of the best films, in the last five years, that I’ve seen. I really believe that. I was just lucky to be in a small portion of it. The story picks up with the same male characters that were in Sicario, which was Josh [Brolin] and Benicio [Del Toro]. Emily Blunt’s character is not in it, but my character, Forsing, is also brought back. It focuses on these three characters now, going down into Mexico to basically start a war, on purpose, between the rival Mexican cartels. There’s a bigger reason for it, but that’s the beginning of the movie.
Will it feel like a straight Sicario sequel, or like more of a spin-off?
DONOVAN: It’s more of a standalone spin-off. It’s not a sequel or a prequel. It really is yet another examination told from this male point of view, rather than from a female point of view. It’s pretty cool.
Shut Eye is now available to stream at Hulu.