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Murder in Their Hearts (And a Lot of Love): Paley Fest Fetes "Big Love"

The crowd may have been noticeably older but they were certainly no less rabid at last night's Paley Festival panel for HBO's Big Love.

After a gorgeous clip package that encapsulated all of the serpentine story threads from Season Three of Big Love into one breathtaking montage that displayed the depth and breadth of the plotting this past season, the cast took the stage along with moderator Mary McNamara of The Los Angeles Times, whose enthusiasm for the event and the series matched our own in the audience.

On the stage to celebrate HBO's Big Love: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Matt Ross, and creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. (Sadly, unavailable to attend were Mary Kay Place, Amanda Seyfried, and Ginnifer Goodwin, all of whom were very much missed.)

Before saying anything else, I just want to say what an absolute hoot Harry Dean Stanton was. Clearly upset about the fact that Olsen and Scheffer killed off his ruthless character, the prophet Roman Grant, at the end of the third season of Big Love, Stanton repeatedly kept interjecting his disbelief that they would kill off his character and his upset at not returning with the rest of the cast for Season Four. That is, when he wasn't going off on hysterical-if-profound tangents about the shape of the universe, pre-destiny, agnosticism, perception, and W.C. Fields. (Sample quote: "All religions are gangs to me and I have no beliefs. I am nothing.")

While Olsen and Scheffer were pretty tight-lipped about what to expect about Season Four, they did offer us some intriguing tidbits. Among the possible storylines for Season Four:
  • While Season Two focused thematically about building empires and Season Three dealt with the notion of increase in family (both physically and celestially) and what happens when those family units implode and lose their purpose, Season Four will deal with the subjugation of women in a "deeper" way than has been done so far on the series.
  • Olsen and Scheffer say that they've been trying since the very beginning of the series to find a storyline involving every single member of the family and have managed to crack it for Season Four.
  • Roman (Stanton) might be dead but he will still influence the characters from beyond the grave. Look for Bill (Paxton) to wind up in a serious legal quagmire after certain involvements with Roman become known to the local authorities.
  • Margene (Goodwin) could become the queen of QVC... if Bill will give her permission. She'll also be doing some much needed growing up. "She can't be a babydoll forever," said Olsen.
  • Lois (Zabriskie) will follow up on her inquiry to Wanda (Melora Walters) about where she could "procure" one of those $5000 birds for herself and will become enmeshed in a storyline involving "her husband Frank (Bruce Dern) and a grandchild or two."
  • Alby (Ross) is wounded physically and psychologically after the events of the finale and his mother Adaleen (Mary Kay Place) has plans for him but they might not match up with Alby's own agenda.
  • J.J. (Zeljko Ivanek) will be back after Nicki (Sevigny) took estranged daughter Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson) off the compound in broad daylight and took her to the Henricksons' homes.
Those of you hoping that Roman Grant somehow survived the brutal strangling inflicted on him by a vengeful Joey (Shawn Doyle), don't hold your breath. "He's absolutely dead," said Scheffer of Harry Dean Stanton's Roman, a sentiment echoed by fellow co-creator Olsen. "Roman is definitely dead," he said. "Dead is dead on this show."

Still, Stanton isn't one to give up lightly. "Well, they should come up with something, another series or reprise the role from the dead," said Stanton only half-jokingly. "You know, where do you go after you die? or where were you before you were born?"

Meanwhile, if you were just as curious as me about where Teeny (Jolean Wejbe) got to at the end of the season, you're not alone. The creators themselves seem to be just as confused about where she got to and never actually explained her disappearance after the porn incident in "Block Party," sudden reappearance for the Henrickson family road trip, and subsequent disappearance again by the end of the season. According to Olsen and Scheffer, Teeny went off to summer camp--"soccer camp, archery camp"--at the beginning of the season and then was shuttled off to grandmother Nancy's house in Lake Tahoe, where she got a "refresher course on Mormonism." And then went back to camp again. Or something. (Suffice it to say: Olsen and Scheffer know that it was handled oddly on-screen but said that Wejbe will be back for Season Four.)

It's possible that we haven't seen the last of Daveigh Chase's manipulative Rhonda Volmer, last seen hitchhiking to Hollywood with a trucker... and most likely a life of prostitution. "Rhonda... is a gal who makes her way around. You may actually see Rhonda out here on Hollywood Boulevard," joked Olsen. Still, don't discount the tenacious Rhonda. "Buses do turn around," said Olsen.

(One character who seemingly won't be making a return appearance on the series any time soon: Mark L. Young's Franky, last seen heading to Nicaragua to track down his missing mother. "There's no coming back from Nicaragua," said Bill Paxton, following Grace Zabriskie's tirade against self-elected "cast assholes" on this no-nonsense set, Paxton's slam against "the work ethic of the younger generation," and Olsen and Scheffer's admonition that actors who don't espouse the cast's generous and giving nature are written out of the show. It seemed awfully clear to whom they were all referring.)

Matt Ross, meanwhile, defended his complicated character, Alby Grant, saying that it would be "too facile to define him as a sociopath" and pointing to his childhood, raised in an environment where he received no love from either of his parents. "If you keep slapping a dog eventually it's going to bite you," said Ross. "That's essentially been his life."

Zabriskie, who plays the, uh, slightly off-kilter Lois Henrickson, was commended several times by both the moderator and the cast for her outstanding work on the series. (Hell, just look at the way she uses her eyes, her mouth, and the tilt of her head.) "One of my favorite scenes of all of them is when I'm practicing with the plastic bag to see how it feels," said Zabriskie. "I love how, after I pull the bag off my head, that I kind of check my hair in the reflection of the toaster." That move was ad-libbed by Zabriskie, who was beyond thrilled that it made it into the episode and didn't end up on the cutting room floor. "You know, my character is insane, so it seems best not to dwell on it because people who are dealing with insanity think they’re perfectly normal."

"I get all the great zingers!" said Sevigny (showing off her killer legs in a gold jacket and short shorts) of her character, the duplicitous Nicki Grant. Sevigny said that she and the other actors would get together at the table reads in complete confusion over what was going on on the series. "We'd get together as actors and go, 'Really!? That's what we're going to shoot?'"

And, no, those weren't her feet witnessed in the prosecution's Joy Book, evidence in the trial against Nicki's father Roman, much to Sevigny's chagrin. She was, however, asked to bring in a picture of herself as a teenager to use in the Joy Book, which did "get the tears going."

"Barb has always been riding the fence between her disdain for polygamy and her love for Bill and her family," said Tripplehorn of Boss Lady Barb. "It will be really interesting seeing them trying to play the game and embrace it." Tripplehorn pointed to how much Barb went through this season, including a cancer scare, the sudden (if short-lived) appearance of fourth wife Ana (Branka Katic), whom Tripplehorn described as "our Yoko," and the loss of her role in the LDS church, which Tripplehorn likened to losing a piece "of your past."

Paxton meanwhile said his character Bill went through the ringer this season. "They put me through so much," said Paxton, wearily. "I have a twitch ever since the show wrapped, and I can’t seem to get rid of it." He pointed to the series' location in Utah and said that he appreciates the series' use of Western iconography, using such legends as Alan Ladd as an inspiration for Bill. (Paxton also gleefully told the crowd that he feels lucky to share a credit for Aliens on his resume with Stanton, who starred in Alien... and that he saw the original film in Times Square "on acid.")

All in all, this event will easily go down as one of my favorite panels in recent memory. It was a simply fantastic evening celebrating the gifted cast and crew of Big Love, one of television's very best dramas, and offering the enraptured audience insight, humor, and pathos.

Big Love is set to return with a fourth season next year. Production is slated to begin on Season Four in August.


Melissa said…
Thanks so much for this write up, I really regret not going to the panel. I've been to several in the past but for some reason, Paley just wasn't on my radar this year.
Greer said…
I am so jealous! Sounds like a great panel and how amazing to be in the presence of such great actors. At least I got to experience it vicariously through your write up but wish I could have been there!
kimberlea said…
Harry Dean Stanton is brilliant but I'm glad that "dead is dead" on Big Love and that the writers are not going to be bring back Roman Grant from the dead. I think they were really brave killing off such a major character and his death had all the more impact because of that.
NicholasJ said…
The $5000 bird! I was wondering what happened to that storyline and am glad the writers haven't forgotten about it. Sounds like a perfect thread for scheming Lois!

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