Susan Coyne, Bob Martin, and Mark McKinney recently talked with The A.V. Club about all three seasons of their terrific series, Slings & Arrows. Part one, about the show’s genesis and their views on the series’ major characters, can be found here. In this second part, they discuss their writing process, the show’s hidden structure, and the possibility of more Slings & Arrows.
The A.V. Club: Throughout the series, Geoffrey does things that should probably get him fired. But they ultimately make for amazing theater. How aware were you of that dividing line of when his behavior was acceptable or unacceptable?
Susan Coyne: Very aware. We wanted to make it as difficult to defend as possible, actually. I mean, fighting a duel with one of your invited guest directors is not usually—
Bob Martin: That’s frowned upon.
BM: Season three, of course, is the ultimate where he’s basically lying to everyone, putting a dying man onstage.
SC: Yeah, exactly. It’s very interesting to revisit that, and I’ve been really interested in your thoughts on that actually, Todd, because is it fair to say that even if only one person comes to watch it and it’s a perfect night of theater, it still matters?
Mark McKinney: “If a bird falls in the forest” kind of analogy.
BM: The dialogue was quoted, actually, in the comments, “What do you want, a sold-out theater where there’s garbage onstage or a masterpiece where only 20 people come?” and Richard goes, “GARBAGE! GARBAGE! GIVE ME GARBAGE!”
BM: Without hesitating.
AVC: The characters that fill out the theater’s world, then, your Franks and Cyrils and Nahums, how did you go about filling out the ensemble of supporting players, especially on a show with six episodes? Was it difficult to give them all a moment in the spotlight?
SC: Shakespeare’s like that: Every character in Shakespeare has a point of view on the action, including the messenger who comes in to deliver the bad news and is saying, “Ugh, I really wish I didn’t have to do this…” So I think, for one thing, we were inspired by the idea that everybody has a connection to this. And their own story, wherever they sit in it. I think Nahum, it’s all in wanting to keep it from being too insidery and to have somebody who’s actually come from another culture and country where they really…
MM: Art has incredible stakes.
SC: Life has really high stakes, exactly, and who could be a sort of wry commentator from time to time when we were in danger of—
MM: And reduced to being a security guard, like an Iranian brain surgeon would be driving a cab.
SC: I actually knew somebody like that. When I was working at a children’s theater in Winnipeg, I ended up talking to the janitor one day, and his story was exactly that. He’d come from Uganda, he had escaped with his life, he had a bad foot from being shot at, and he knew an awful lot about classical theater. It was really amazing; on the one hand, there’s a bond there, and on the other hand, there’s a real correction to your own self-involvement about how important it is or isn’t.
BM: Most of these characters were created in some way to reflect the personality of Geoffrey.
BM: So Nahum was, for sure. And you need the long-suffering stage manager to deal with the mad artist.
MM: Who gets maybe the best monologue.
SC: Yes, exactly.
MM: People quote that almost more than any other: “Fuck you, fuckers, because you’re all the same.”
BM: Every stage manager that ever saw that personally thanked us.
MM: Just loved it.
SC: And Cyril and Frank were—
MM: Based on The Muppets. Just admit it.
SC: Audience point-of-view, maybe.
BM: But they were kind of a chorus, right? They were always the veteran, journeyman people. They were giving some perspective to the action as well. They see through the bullshit.
SC: I love the moment where, I think it’s Frank, says to Cyril, “I wish I’d played Lear,” and Cyril says, “Oh, don’t be stupid! All that huffing and puffing…” They always play the middle characters, and they’re very happy to do so. That’s where they belong.
BM: Yeah. And there are moments, like they’re listening on the Tannoy [loudspeaker] right? And the audience is very quiet out there, in the first seasons?
SC: [Laughs.] Yeah.
BM: “Well maybe they’re listening?” And they’re like, “Well, it’s a comedy.”
AVC: How did you go about choosing the plays for each season? Did you have alternate plays in mind?
MM: We must have talked about Richard.
BM: Richard III, you mean? Yeah, we talked endlessly about Richard III. Hamlet was a given.
MM: And then once the premise became…
BM: Middle age—
MM: That thing from Romantic art: youth, then middle age, and then old age. Did we talk about anything else other than Lear?
SC: No. But all of them have madness…
BM: Macbeth was juicy, too. We wanted to take on Macbeth. The cursed play. It seemed like the appropriate thing for Slings & Arrows.
SC: And they had to be plays that people had some passing familiarity with. We couldn’t do Cymbeline or something.
BM: Although, we see him in The Tempest. That was, we talked a lot about The Tempest, too, because there’s a sort of Prospero quality to Geoffrey.
SC: But the third season had to be, ultimately, about endings, and there’s no play that’s more about endings than Lear. Finality.
AVC: You’ve talked a little bit about this triptych structure. How did you arrive at that?
MM: I don’t know if I suggested it first, but I know the thing that resonated for me was a picture I actually had, which apparently they did this in Romantic art. They would do three ships at sea and you would see a youthful ship darting about in the shallows and then a fat merchantman in the middle and then a shit with tattered sails in the far background. It seemed natural, and I think that was a discussion we had when it started: “What would we do? What should the length be?” I mean, we did arrive, before we started writing the second season, with the idea that it would be three.
SC: Yeah, for sure.
BM: Yeah, I mean, to be perfectly honest, part of it was, “I don’t know if we can do this for more than three years.” It was a huge amount of work. In total, how many years of our lives? Six? Did we do more than six?
MM: Oh God…1997, I started working with you? [To Coyne.] 1998?
SC: ’98, yeah.
MM: We started shooting in 2003, and we finished the last one in 2006.
BM: But it was really hard to imagine doing any more. First of all, the story was over. There’s just a lot of talk about a fourth season.
MM: Yeah, that’s true.
BM: It was over. It felt over. The big one for me was I could not imagine pulling Ellen and Geoffrey apart again and putting them back together again. We had done it so many times. It just would feel contrived.
MM: That’s why we’re doing all the characters as tots for our follow-up.
MM: See, they knew each other when they were four and five. It might be animated. It might be live-action. We haven’t decided that yet.
BM: We have spoken publicly about doing something with Slings & Arrows.
SC: And when we say “we,” Bob—
BM: No, no, no, you know… it’s not going to be a season four.
MM: Slings & Arrows-ish is what I’d describe.
AVC: What was the writing process like for each of these seasons?
BM: We wrote everything before we went to camera.
MM: It all happened where we are right now, it seems.
MM: Once we started scripting, yeah, we would just sit around the kitchen table.
SC: We broke the stories all together in quite a lot of detail, actually.
BM: The most time-consuming part of it was the outlining process, because we had to understand the entire season before any one episode was written. So we would spend months outlining in great detail. Then we would split up the work. And I was showrunning, so I would do final passes on material, but it was just the three of us except for the final season.
MM: Not even…
BM: The last season we brought—
SC: Sean Reycraft.
BM: Sean Reycraft, yeah, because I had to go to Broadway. [Laughs.]
MM: And win a Tony.
MM: Bob said, “I have an appointment with a Tony.”
BM: I was there for the whole season, but I wasn’t there for the shoot. I was there for the writing portion, but I couldn’t be there for the shoot. It was heartbreaking, but I had to go.
MM: It was literally one of the best, most fun, and most organic creative experiences I’ve had. I think that’s how all TV should be written. Because in a weird way, it felt like we didn’t have deadlines. That there never was a season première to meet. [Quickly, to Coyne and Martin.] I know what you’re saying! I know, I know!
BM: [exasperated] You…
MM: I know, I know.
BM: Are you kidding me?
MM: I know. But I’m just saying…
BM: That’s hilarious.
MM: While we were around the table, there was this illusion that we were just doing it for ourselves.
BM: Well, it was amazingly personal. That was the great thing about it for me. It would set the tone for every series writing experience in my life after that. Because we were all going through our own crap in our personal lives, and we really mined that crap and we put it into the show in one way or another. So it was amazingly bonding and amazingly purging experience. And there’s a lot of real truth in the series as a result.
SC: And I think what’s rare is to get that kind of chemistry where you can have the same aesthetic, the same sensibilities, and that there’s a shorthand, eventually. Not right at the beginning, but I think we got to a place where we had a kind of shared sensibility on what we wanted to write about. What was funny to us, what moved us, and so on. If you’re not on the same page with that, it can be really difficult, I’ve discovered.
BM: It was an organic experience in the sense that we didn’t sit down together on day one and say, “Okay, we’re writing 18 hours of TV, with each season following a play.” It grew and then the first thing was written as a one-off and then we had to re-conceive it all and sort of understand what it was we had created. It was amazing, in that sense.
SC: We had to do that all the way through, even in the third season, we had to keep saying, “What is this show about? What is the story? What are we talking about here?”
BM: It’s been so remarkable reading your appraisals and the people’s comments. I forget so much of how intricately connected characters and moments were. It was such a collective creation that it was hard to remember the grand design.
AVC: Do you remember, in the creative process of setting out these seasons, any particular moments where somebody said something and everything clicked into place?
SC: Well, I remember very clearly we were at the Geminis after the second season, and we had all had a little bit to drink and Mark McKinney saying, “We should have a troupe of folk singers flock to the festival like they’ve lost their way home.”
SC: And I laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s funny.” And he said, “No really.” Then that was one of the first ideas we had for the third season.
BM: And again, “Sorry. Sorry for caring,” was when Ellen came into focus. She was not working for the first few drafts of it.
MM: The Belkovsky Exercise, that was something that was too good to leave on the floor, so we kind of built the whole Romeo And Juliet around it.
MM: We knew it was going to lead to this moment of liberation, and it would have to be something like that.
AVC: Did you all have particular stories or characters that you usually wrote for?
BM: It was pretty equally shared. Mark wrote a lot of the Richard stuff. And I remember a lot of the Sanjay/Richard stuff in the second season.
MM: The ad thing. Yeah. His paranoid ad agency. [Laughs.]
BM: I remember I was saying to Susan earlier that there’s that one scene… I think how it happened is I wrote a draft of the scene where Ellen and Anna are in the bathroom after the terrible Canadian play reading, and Anna felt worried, and Ellen was unbelievably insensitive. And I wrote some version of it, and you were like, “No!” It was almost like Anna coming to me and being upset about that.
BM: So together we rewrote that scene, and it was way, way stronger, and it became one of my favorite scenes of the whole series.
SC: I remember the scene where were talking about Anna getting together with the playwright and what that scene would be, and these clowns were saying, “Well, she should be naked in the scene.” And I was saying, “I’m not going to play the scene naked!” And then we decided it would be much funnier if it was completely in the dark. I liked that idea a lot better. [Laughs.]
BM: Oh yeah.
SC: I’m not going to be the one person who takes their clothes off in this.
BM: But Mark’s ass!
SC: Oh, that’s true.
SC: But he has a very nice ass. People would have tuned in for that.
AVC: Did you ever think about doing more than six episodes?
BM: Well, it was a British mini-series model.
SC: It seems to work quite well.
BM: The other series that was influencing us was [the British version of] House Of Cards.
SC: Oh, that’s right.
BM: With the narration to camera, very Shakespearean. We talked about that at one point as a device in Slings, right?
SC: Yeah, I remember that. We didn’t really need it. Because of Oliver, really.
BM: Yeah, exactly. But it was always going to be six one-hours, that limited series model.
AVC: Tell me a little bit about the casting process. How did you end up with some of these actors, especially Paul [Gross] and Martha [Burns], who are, I guess, are sort of Canadian acting royalty?
MM: I’m stunned at how good our cast was, when you think about it, who we had.
SC: I think that the part was offered to Martha, and then Paul said, “Let me take a look at that thing.”
BM: Yeah, Paul was approached later, and he was definitely wary of doing this. The first season was very difficult because of the budget constraints, so we had very long days, and the facilities were not great for the actors.
MM: And we block-shot everything.
BM: Yeah, we block-shot everything. That’s right.
MM: Richard’s office, episodes one to six. The Stratford stage, episodes one to six.
BM: Yeah. So it was a very hard shoot, and Paul is brilliant in it, for sure. It took him a while to fall in love with it, let me put it that way.
BM: It was hard in the first part of the first shoot, but he saw what was great in the series, and he came on board in a huge way, quickly. But it was difficult. I agree that it’s probably the best cast of any Canadian show ever.
SC: They’re all people that lots of people don’t see on TV because they’re theater people, and they just don’t get seen. So it was great pleasure to have so many.
MM: Like Stephen Ouimette, did he even read? I can’t remember, but he’s someone that everybody knew was brilliant.
SC: Star of the Stratford Festival.
MM: But no one had ever really put him on TV, I don’t think. He may have made a movie or two.
BM: It became a fabulous experience to cast the show, though, because everybody wanted to be involved. It was really wonderful.
SC: And when we finally got Bill Hutt, that was another reason we wanted to do Lear, because I had done a production of Lear with Bill Hutt at Stratford in the Young Company, and it always killed us, those of us who were there, that it didn’t exist on film, his performance. So that was another reason we really wanted to do the Lear and get Bill. Because he’d done seven or eight productions of it by that point, and he is, sadly, gone, but he was, I think, one of the very best Shakespeare actors that North America has ever produced, and he was ours. To get him in the show was fantastic.
AVC: What sorts of stories were you drawing on for the one-season characters?
BM: Well, I was just thinking about the casting of Henry [Breedlove], because remember it was going to be Colm. Colm Feore. We approached Colm Feore, “Oh, so we have this part… [Laughs.] an egotistical veteran actor…” and he said, basically, “Uh, that’s too on the nose. I’m always asked to play that. I want to play this guy.” And Sanjay was an East Indian character we’d written. Frankly, there’s a lot of pressure when you’re creating network television to have major characters of different ethnicities, so we’d gone out of our way to create—
BM: —the part for an ethnic character, and then one of Canada’s greatest actors asked to play it. [Laughs.] So he played the role, and we didn’t change the name.
SC: Yeah, we didn’t change anything.
BM: Which is hilarious because this guy’s named Sanjay, and it turns out he’s a complete fraud. So it made sense that he had this name, but it was a fun conversation with the network, let me tell you.
SC: We needed a character for the Macbeth actor, and this is a tricky one, who looks like the real deal, but who’s actually become a hack. And how do you show the difference between somebody who is really good, who is really bringing those parts to life and somebody who’s just singing the verse? What’s the difference? I guess that’s what the storyline was wanting to show that part of it. The Holly character, I guess we needed a villain, and we didn’t want it to be Richard. So she came in to push him toward villainy in rebranding the festival as a theme park and so on. I’m sorry. That’s why she’s American. It’s so unfair. It’s a cheap shot.
BM: That’s what I meant when I said we were discovering the show: The humor was more broad in the first season. It focused a little bit. It’s interesting to watch. Not to compare us to Six Feet Under, but if you watch the early Six Feet Under when they had the advertising component that was summarily abandoned—
SC: Oh, right.
BM: But Jen Irwin was great as Holly.
SC: She was amazing.
BM: But it was a bit, yeah, the villainous American. Shakespeareville.
MM: It was also that thing that, all the musicals, imaginary exploitation musicals, we just came up with laughing, “They’ll never do a musical about Queen!”
BM: But yeah, there were people like Oliver Dennis [Jerry]. That’s an example of a guy who’s just a fantastic actor who’s not really seen on camera that often.
SC: He played the understudy in the second season who goes on.
BM: In Macbeth.
SC: He was so good. We loved that.
AVC: Every season has all of these many elements that coalesce toward the end, and that has always seemed very Shakespearean. Was that the intent?
SC: Yes, and we knew we had to have a wedding at the end, because that’s very Shakespearean, too.
BM: Yeah. It’s a comedy.
SC: It was a comedy. You have to have a wedding and a dance at the end.
MM: I remember the breaking of the sixth episode was always, “Okay, guys.” “Ugh.”
SC: Oh yeah, it was really hard. That last one was a bugger. A lot of things to wrap up.
MM: Remember when we did a culling of characters?
BM: We would always do this: We would develop this storyline for a particular season and then we would create the outlines, and when we created the outlines we ended up, the first cull of our story and everything and then when we started to get into drafts, you realized this is 15 pages [too] long. So you compress as much as possible, and ultimately you end up cutting storylines.
SC: A huge amount of storylines.
BM: So storylines and characters get reduced, and then there was the mechanical problem of moving toward an end point in a given episode, but then having to shift that end point into the following episode. So as carefully as we beat everything out, until it’s written in words in front of you, it’s hard.
AVC: Were there any of those elements that you particularly missed that got culled?
BM: [To McKinney.] Well, you always talk about the interns.
MM: No, the interns…
BM: We touched on them, but we didn’t really go where we wanted to go with the interns.
MM: Maybe we’ll come back to that in our Slings-ish thing. But no, I’ve been at Williamstown Festival in Massachusetts where a horde of theater wannabes descend, and we had a very big plot about that. About interns living in campus housing and having this whole other level to…
BM: Yeah, certain story points become so big that they really take over. The other one was a critic, right? We always wanted to represent the role of the critic in some way.
MM: Oh God, that’s right.
BM: And really we had Basil in the first season, but that was a very watered-down version of what we wanted to do and the relationship between critic and Ellen and all that, but it became just another show. It was something too big to fit.
SC: And making the critic the villain, again, is something that’s too easy to do.
BM: Yeah, we wouldn’t even want to make him the villain. We wanted to make him more than that. About what it means to, your livelihood depending on that. Oh well.
AVC: It seems like one of the chief struggles in writing this would have been how to externalize what is ultimately a really internal process, coming up with a character or a concept for a show. Anything artistic is done so much in the head. How did you approach that question, and how much of that was solved by having Oliver there?
BM: That’s true. Oliver really helped illuminate that process. Of course, we always wanted to be as accurate as we could with respect to the process of creating theater, but of course each season is drastically compressed. So we made references to the important milestones in the creation of something, and I think we do successfully represent the creative process in moments. Like, I love the moment where Ellen says how disturbing it is to see you yelling at an empty chair and everything coalescing for Geoffrey. So we’re able to capture it in moments. But it really was a sincere attempt on our parts to present the creative process in a real, not a romanticized visual way.
MM: I think maybe as we talk about this, for me the series kicks off when Geoffrey lectures his Ophelia about the meaning of the song. And to see him do it, that’s why having Paul Gross is so amazing, because he can conjure up the feeling and give a different way. I’m sorry, I’m babbling. But that was a moment where I thought, “Boy, did we ever communicate what you have to go through and how deeply you have to think and feel to make some little piece of business or some little piece of verse live onstage.”
BM: For me, that’s the kind of iconic Slings & Arrows scene. And Paul is so good in it and Sabrina Grdevich [Claire] is crying as she hears him, which is really interesting because she’s sort of crying out of shame, right? That’s what I think.
BM: She understands what he’s saying, but she’s incapable of doing it. So as soon as he leaves, she goes back to doing—
SC: —exactly what she was doing! I know. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are there moments in the show where you look at it and you feel like it probably didn’t work as well as you were hoping it would work?
BM: [Deadpan.] How could you suggest that?
BM: The musical, for me. We just didn’t get it.
MM: Yeah. Well… I think it got a great launch. And I think as a stamp of what we were trying to talk about vis-à-vis Shakespeare, it was fine. But it’s true, you then went on to have the [Laughs.] ultimate Broadway experience so it probably feels like there was a lot of detail missing.
BM: It was also, I don’t know, it wasn’t exactly the detail. It’s just an extremely difficult thing that we set up for ourselves. To create a convincing musical that was still funny in a meta way and then to shoot it and make it. It’s hard to shoot people singing and dancing…
SC: I would say arguably it was hard to shoot the performances of the action. I think we were more successful in shooting the rehearsals, but shooting the performances is really difficult. And it’s just a difficult thing to do, and we had so little time.
MM: I’d rethink some of the Romeo And Juliet stuff. I think we had all the right pieces, but yeah.
BM: Yeah. I know what you mean. Well, there were other issues there.
MM: Yeah, I know. But I’m just saying, in terms of capturing the possibilities of that story…
BM: For me, I couldn’t watch the series for years. I literally couldn’t. At the end of each season, we had a screening for cast and crew, and we would go and all watch it together, all six hours, and that was beautiful and amazing, and then I would never look at it again. And it was really only in your TV Club examination that I’ve looked back at it. Because you’re so invested in it, and I see flaws.
SC: And every little line that’s not quite right is kind of painful.
BM: I can think of a few, yeah, that stand out in my head even now. But ultimately, as I said, it’s entirely collective…
SC: That’s what’s so interesting. That was so instructive. There are lots of imperfections, but we got to work with an amazing crew and an amazing group of actors and an amazing editor, Chris Donaldson.
BM: Particularly Chris.
SC: And [series director] Peter Wellington. So, really, it’s a great example of your little thing that you wish were better, doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things because it really was such an amazing, seamless kind of… and I have to credit Rhombus for putting together this amazing team of people.
SC: And Niv [Fichman, executive producer].
MM: Yeah, Niv Fichman’s approach was very much demanded the kind of quality that he would invest in one of his feature films, and he does very interesting feature films that have a lot of intellectual and emotional heft to them. And I think he insisted. I think he fought and insisted on things.
SC: He was fiercely protective of the scripts in a way that was really unusual. And that everything had to come from the scripts outward. I think that’s why it works as well as it does.
BM: Peter Wellington is hugely responsible for the success of it as well. Rhombus wanted this shot like a film, because that’s what they were used to doing. So you’re shooting a six-hour film. And Peter was a film director, primarily, and he was thrown into this with these crazy people, and we had never written anything like this before either, so we’re learning and making mistakes, and, you know, as I say, the first season was very difficult, and Peter weathered it. Because the director is always blamed.
SC: He always followed the story. I remember him saying, and I didn’t understand it at first, but he said, “There aren’t any jokes in this show. I’m never going to shoot a joke.” And so it was never about that kind of comedy. It was just about relationships and story, and the humor totally came out of that. It could have been really, really bad if it had been somebody else.
BM: It could have been hugely horrible. The networks really their only note was more sex.
SC: Which we failed to deliver, I have to say.
BM: We would argue, “What’s wrong with being middle-aged people?” and they would say, “No! We want to see young, naked people!” It was actually, honestly, the inspiration for each season’s young people plot, was just really the networks…
SC: Young people fucking.
SC: Which, again, we didn’t really do a great job.
SC: If you’re tuning in for that, you’ll be disappointed.
MM: I did. I took the note very seriously.
AVC: Just the flipside of that question, were there moments where you particularly feel like everything just gelled perfectly or even whole episodes?
MM: Oh God, yeah.
SC: There are so many moments that make me cry, still. The quality of the acting and the capturing of that sense of yearning. We were talking about some of them, even.
BM: Yeah, one of the sequences that we discovered as a result of these articles of yours was the opening of Romeo And Juliet. The corporate guy’s speech onstage that is surprisingly moving, cutting to Anna bawling her eyes out, and then Ellen trying to keep it together, then when you hear the first lines of Romeo And Juliet, Ellen starts weeping uncontrollably and makes her way out and then comes into the wings and watches Romeo And Juliet with Geoffrey, and that dialogue is beautiful. Where they’re looking at the play, and she’s saying that it’s a lie, and he’s saying, “I think it’s incredibly accurate.”
BM: And then she confesses her debt, and he just takes her hand and says, “Watch the play.” I seriously get weepy thinking about it. It was a really beautiful sequence. And I have enough objectivity now, speaking personally, that’s the big lesson I’ve learned in life, is objectivity when it comes to your work, and so I don’t remember who wrote what. So much of it is obviously Peter shooting it, but it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. It’s not what you normally see on television. Certainly Canadian television.
SC: I also love some of the comedy. Some of the comedy makes me laugh so hard. The scenes in the therapist’s office between the two. That’s one of my favorite sequences.
SC: That actor was so wonderful, too.
BM: Yeah, he was great, our therapist [Chris Leavins].
SC: You could find stuff in every season that you love coming back to those bits.
BM: Yeah, when Anna and Richard exchange the stress balls, that was also a moment that I liked.
MM: One of my favorite scenes is when Richard comes on to Anna.
BM: Yeah, yeah, “I’m horny.”
MM: “You were nice to me, and it made me horny!” Is it in that same episode that I have—
SC: You have the birthday party?
MM: I have the birthday party, and I’m on ecstasy and Anna tries to sit with the…
SC: God, that was painful. That’s very funny.
MM: [Laughs.] I don’t know why, but I really like that one.
BM: The moment with Brian at the end of season two as well, because that obviously gets me. When you start to see Oliver… Anyway, I’ll show it to you later. It’s beautiful.
AVC: So Fernando Meirelles apparently remade this in Brazil…
SC: It’s fantastic! You should watch it!
MM: You gotta review it! It’s great!
BM: Sound & Fury.
SC: It’s fantastic.
MM: Som e Fúria.
AVC: How did that all happen, and what was that like?
SC: I guess he was working with Niv on…
BM: What film was that?
BM: Oh, Blindness. Right, right.
SC: And Niv handed him the episodes, and he said, “I want to do this next.” And they did.
MM: And it made sense in Brazil.
SC: And it premièred to 18 million people.
SC: Unlike on Sundance.
BM: Or in Canada, you know, our audiences are tiny. More people saw it than ever saw it here.
SC: Yeah. It’s really good. He made it with wonderful Brazilian directors. It was really fun to find out how universal the story was. Everybody completely understood it. They used virtually—they just translated the scripts—and did them in Portuguese.
MM: And cast Anna and Richard, not as beautiful as Susan and I…
AVC: Is it your sense that the audience for the show has grown since it left the air?
[Speaking at once.]
SC: Oh my God, it’s amazing.
BM: No question.
SC: And people are so fanatic, and it’s often in a place like New York where people will suddenly get kind of, say hello and get speechless, which doesn’t happen up here in Canada. But say, “Oh, ah, are you really…” Often it’s theater students, I think, but they talk about how much they just loved the show, and people watch it multiple times. It’s so gratifying and so surprising, the life it’s taken on, on its own.
MM: It’s the new TV paradigm, that people will binge-watch shows, and this is tailor built for that sort of experience. I think I first got wind of it when George Wendt was touring with 12 Angry Men, and he’s a friend and I sent it to him and by the time the show landed in L.A. and I saw him perform, like the whole cast was, “[Unintelligible gibberish noises.]” They had seen it, and it spread out from there.
BM: The big thing for me was I did an interview, American Theatre Wing was doing profiles of different companies so with Drowsy Chaperone, we were interviewed for it and the president of American Theatre Wing said, “I just have to say, the two greatest shows on television right now are Sopranos and Slings & Arrows.”
BM: It was the first time I’d ever heard a vote of confidence like that from an authority figure.
SC: We probably shouldn’t keep repeating this, but I’m going to anyway. When this show came out in Canada and was reviewed in the Globe And Mail, which is the paper of record here, the reviewer said, “I guess it’s funny. But I don’t know who’s going to be interested in this outside of downtown Toronto.” So it’s always completely gratifying as a Canadian to find that. It’s a very local show, but writing about what you know and your own little world can have resonance outside your own world. It’s so gratifying.
BM: Yeah. It’s the whole point of writing anything,
AVC: You’ve mentioned a couple of times in this interview a Slings-ish thing you’re planning on doing. Is there anything you want to say on the record about that?
BM: Unfortunately, we cannot because it’s being negotiated now. Basically, we love the story, we love the characters, and we’re trying to do something with the material. But as of right now, it won’t be a fourth season of Slings & Arrows, the television show, as it was created.
SC: Of course, if someone offers us a huge amount of money, we’ll change everything!
AVC: Did you talk about doing a fourth season?
SC: We’ve talked a lot about it, but we just haven’t found a way to crack that yet.
BM: It just feels so complete.
SC: At one point, we were talking about it and we thought, should Oliver really disappear? And we thought we’d be cheating ourselves if it didn’t end the way Lear ends. That sometimes things do come to an end, and that’s what everybody is dealing with. Yes, they start up again in another place, but it seemed really good to have that kind of gravitas to it. And really tackle that. Unless something brilliant occurs to us, we wouldn’t do it just to do it.
BM: We talked about using the format, but then that would be reinventing the universe… You only live so long.
MM: I like the idea of Oliver leaves the portal to hell open, so he has to enlist Geoffrey and a children’s theater troupe to shut it.
BM: Yes. We did talk about that.
AVC: Do you have a favorite from the show’s various theme songs?
BM: For me, it would be “Cheer Up, Hamlet / You’re driving poor Ophelia insane!” being one of my favorite lyrics. But my favorite song in the show, the one that I find myself singing in the shower on particularly strange days, would be “Call The Understudy.”
SC: Like choosing your favorite child. However, I love the line from “Cheer Up, Hamlet”: “And by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is ‘to be.’” Michael Polley and the late, great Graham Harley were so great singing those songs.