DESIGNATED SURVIVOR – ABC’s “Designated Survivor” stars Kal Penn as Seth Wright, Adan Canto as Aaron Shore, Natascha McElhone as Alex Kirkman, Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, LaMonica Garrett as Mike Ritter, Maggie Q as Hannah Wells and Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)
TONIGHT’S EPISODE DETAILS
Episode titled “FAMILY TIES”A foreign government official sets up the first family for a public battle that could affect Leo Kirkman’s (the President’s son) future, TONIGHT ON ABC’S ‘DESIGNATED SURVIVOR,’ WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15 (10:00—11:00 P.M. EST).
Let’s talk storylines of Designated Survivor
If you watch the show you know there is a basic storyline so we asked Jessica about the story lines and how hard is it to keep those stories cohesive? Each episode has its own storyline, but it all has to fit in under your own part. Jessica tells us “Right now, I am off doing my prep right now, but the train is moving forward on somebody else’s episode. So just on my way over here, one of the writers was texting me and like, wait, so in your episode, where do we leave off with this character, and do we establish this? I said no, we don’t. I think we’re setting that up in the next episode so I mean, it’s a puzzle, and the challenge is that if something changes in episode fourteen, it affects what’s happening in episode fifteen and sixteen. That happens a lot, where you’re like, oh wait, I thought that you were killing off this character, and it’s, like, actually, no. So, I mean, that’s the fun of a serialized show is you’re not just like, doing the beginning, middle, end in every episode, that these things are continuing, but you’ve gotta be flexible because it’s all gonna change. Sometimes it’s right before it starts shooting.”
Continuing the story because you know, it’s so unpredictable and contemporary. We asked the writers know what to write? It’s like you are right there in the White House.
Jessica told us, “Luckily we have really good consultants. We always have somebody on our staff who used to work in the White House, and so I knock on his door all the time, and I’m like, well, you know, what do you call this? Or what would you do about this but we also have consultants on the episode that I wrote which was last week, it took place on a Navy ship. I know nothing about the Navy, so you can go to Wikipedia, and then you grabbed a lot of books, and there a lot of really boring books on my desk about ships. I also got to spend a bunch of time on the phone with an admiral and actually he’s a contributor on CNN, and I was like, bragging to my dad that I was friends with that guy! That’s really fun about a show like this because it’s the White House, you’re not just solving crime every week; you’re not just dealing with political or law stories every week- every week it’s like a new sandbox that you’re gonna have to play in. Sometimes it’s NATO, and sometimes there’s war brewing. The topics are endless. It’s challenging because you’re never gonna feel like an expert. I’m never gonna be like, nailed it. I know there is to know about the government. Every episode, you have to dive into this whole new world and become an expert, and then you are expert enough to not sound like an idiot before forty-four minutes of television. Which is where our consultant helps us not look like idiots, a lot.”
A Political Drama
How are the politics in the drama without making it too political?
Jessica had a great answer! “I think that the Kirkman White House lives in a different universe. Obviously it started from a very unique place which, God forbid, our actual U.S. history has never experienced — the destruction of the entire seat of government. I think it’s been really exciting to sort of live in a space that feels so different from real world. Regardless of who is in the White House, it’s very different from Tom Kirkman being in the White House and something we’ve really gotten to explore a lot this year because we’ve sort moved past the crisis point and the rubble, if you will, and now it’s like, about Kirkman and his team, and he’s in administration moving the country forward into Kirkman’s vision. As writers, that’s the world that we live in. Obviously, we all read the newspapers, and we follow the news, and sometimes we pull stories from things that are happening like last week, you know, it was based on the thing that actually happened. It is freaky and sometimes that’s awesome because you’re like that’s great, we’re really sort of tapping into something that people are living through, and sometimes it’s really complicated, you know? When an episode really pre-dealt with the Confederate statue issue, and then all of a sudden the Confederate statue issue became something the whole world was talking about. That’s awesome, but it’s also that you wanna be sensitive so it’s a fine line that we walk as writers. I just get really excited that I get to go to work every day and live in Kirkman’s world and his vision for America and be a part of that, and escapism is maybe not a place you wanna live in all the time, but we’re artists.”
Jessica Grasl has worked in television production for fourteen years and as a writer since 2008. Her credits include Leverage (TNT), Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), White Collar (USA), Proof (TNT), The Player (NBC), and Shades of Blue (NBC). She is currently writer/Co-Executive Producer on ABC’s Designated Survivor.
We also had a chance to ask Italia Ricci a few questions.
How long is a shooting day for them? It looks like they literally work twenty-four hours a day on the show. Like the day never ends. She explained how it works for the actors:
“It takes about nine days to shoot an episode.W e’re two episodes at once, so it’s a lot. Our days are averaged, I wanna say, between thirteen to sixteen hours, and then you go home, and you have to learn your lines, and you go to bed, and you wake up. It goes by so quickly through because it’s so fun and when you finish it, you’re like, did we really shoot that full episode already?”
In staying within character after the shooting is complete we asked: Do you ever have your own internal dialog with your character when you’re at home?
“In my character, it’s all very politically purged storyline with my dad and the occasional sort of romantic stuff. It’s all very business oriented and I’m Canadian, and politically completely inept. You should see my texts with Cal. It’s just, what does this mean? How do I pronounce this? Do I say the letters or pronounce the word? Like, I feel, why, why on Earth did they pick me? I’m the least qualified for this job. It feels like it’s non-stop. You’re forced to sort of live within that, that building because you never go home, and you never have a chance to relax. That sort of is your life, and then touching back on the authenticity- shooting with Cal, who was in the White House, is amazing because he’ll be like, that would never happen. That would never happen- that would never… And they’re like, oh, artistic incorrectness- stop it, stop it. Not everybody watching is an expert, so it’s just so funny to see how it affects different people.”
Italia portrays the Chief of Staff on Designated Survivor. We asked what it meant for a woman to be in a position of such power and what she would want to share with other women and girls who watch?
Italia told us, “I hope that she is able to portray that women are just as smart, just as strong, and just as tough and present, and capable as a man in that world, if not better. I think I’m definitely a better Chief of Staff than Aaron was, but you know, I’m a little biased. So I like the idea of saying, hey, we can do it, too, and we can wear killer heels while we do it. Since she didn’t think she was ready for it, and then so push your own limits and really see what potential you don’t even know that you have. So I’ve really enjoyed that part about Emily.” and added “I seem always to get lucky enough to play very, confident, smart ambitious women that I kind of feel like if I wasn’t an actor, I would hopefully have been. I want to relate to that, I would like to think that that’s what I would be like if in an alternate universe.”
Freedom in incorporating her own ideas on the character of Emily
“I can, but not really. I mean, there’s so many people involved, and so many storylines and stuff and I have a lot of trust in our, our writing team. It’s just the sort of thing where everybody gets their episode. If I feel she should be more dominant, it’s like, just hold on and wait. Just wait, you’ll see. Then it’s like, oh, okay, it makes sense, so I trust them and, and they haven’t done her wrong yet.”
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