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TCA Diary: Showtime's The Big C Session

Showtime kicked off the second official day of the TCA Summer Press Tour with a session for its upcoming comedy The Big C, which launches next month.

After screening a selection of scenes from the first few episodes, Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, Gabourey Sidibe, executive producer Jenny Bicks, creator Darlene Hunt, and executive producers Vivian Cannon and Neal Moritz took to the stage to answer questions about the series, which revolves around the life changes undertaken by a woman after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

"When this script came to me, what hit me the most was the theme of time," said Linney about what attracted her most about the project. "What do you with time? What are the choices that we make, how we spend our time? How much time to we get? It's a privileged to grow old... It was meaningful to me."

"Everyone who shows up is so happy to be there," said Linney about shooting the series in Connecticut. "It was important to me that the show be shot on the East Coast in order to take advantage of the theatre community there."

The series has given Linney more than a little in-depth knowledge about melanoma.

"I certainly know a lot about melanoma at this point," admitted Linney. "There's that bit of research. I'm going on the journey with Cathy, actually. I'm at the age where relatives are growing older, friends are dying, sometimes in very unexpected ways... Every once in a while, I'll be filming and I shot a scene with Oliver... and something hit me in that scene and I started to [cry] because it hit me that she's really going to die."

"She's a woman who doesn't really know who she is and she gets the opportunity to find out," she said later. "She's been functioning really well but she hasn't been living. She has a huge growth spurt throughout this."

The early episodes focus on Linney's Cathy attempting to find a new outlook on the time that she has left as she connects--and reconnects--with various people in her life, from her immature husband, horrid son, homeless brother, and her misanthropic neighbor, Marlene. We'll learn more about Marlene and her own family as the season progresses.

"Marlene has two daughters," said Jenny Bicks. "One is a lesbian, the other lives with her 'Jewish white witch of a husband,' as Marlene calls him. They will be showing up and interacting with Cathy." (Bicks said that that two roles have been cast but declined to name who would be playing the daughers.)

Meanwhile, Cynthia Nixon will play Rebecca, who is "Cathy's best friend from college who shows up at a very specific moment for Cathy," according to Bicks. "She is a wild, loose woman who never grew up and will do the same for Cathy now."

"I did," said Linney when asked if she helped broker the deal with Liam Neeson, who will play a character called the beekeeper. "He's from the alternative medicine world. He's doing two days with us [though scenes will be limited to] one episode for now."

"This should not be your go-to-place if you have just been diagnosed with cancer and are looking for how to live," said creator Darlene Hunt in response to a question about whether people suffering from cancer should use the series as a handbook for living. "It's a show about living and not dying. It's a show for everyone because we are all living on borrowed time."

"Laura really is executive producing," said Bicks about Linney's involvement in the series. "She was showing up for conceptual meetings and production meetings long before her call... She wears many hats."

An earlier comment about New York actors seemed to rub one critic the wrong way. "They're not better," clarified Linney. "There's something about filming on the East Coast that was important for me to be a little removed from all of the business... during this first season, in an undertaking that is new and foreign to me," said Linney about New York actors vs. Los Angeles actors. "There is a depth of field in New York for actors, a generation of theatre actors that have never been on screen... There's a tremendous resource there that hasn't been taken advantage of on television."

So is there an inherent shelf life on the series, given the ticking clock on Cathy's condition?

"Every season is a season," explained executive producer Vivian Cannon. "In the pilot episode, it's the first day of summer so the first season of the show would be summer, the following would be fall, and so on."

"Six seasons of television would only equal 18 months of Cathy's life," added Hunt.

"Cathy has a very interesting, mysterious response to her diagnosis, in that she doesn't want to tell the people closest to her," said Oliver Platt, who plays Cathy's husband. "This goes on for a while... My hat's off to the writers to keep it going forward. To me, what I love about the show... this very modern relationship, when Cathy gets the diagnosis--like a lot of things in your life--you take a very stark look at your life and she decides that this relationship isn't what she wants in her life. How do we describe Paul? Emotional maturity might not be the top line of his resume but he grows up fast and what a smart thing to put him in a hole to begin with."

"Why do we start to live beautifully when we get a death sentence," pondered Platt. "It's remarkable. It's a very delicate bandwidth. The only person who is allowed to make a cancer joke is Cathy... It's got a very healthy sense of irony and the absurd. It's very truthful. Who knows how someone is going to behave when they get this kind of proclamation on their life?"

But the producers insist that the series won't be all doom and gloom nor will it be a sunny comedy. There's an inherent balance within The Big C when it comes to Cathy's life and her impending death.

"The thing that we wanted to do is just to be truthful about the disease and melanoma--Cathy has Stage-IV melanoma--there's a truth to how long you will live but there's been a huge amount of clinical trials," said Bicks, who herself survived cancer. "We're not so concerned about whether or not we're going to kill her. But we are not going to be afraid of it. The nice thing about being Showtime is that we don't have to sugar-coat it."

So does Linney expect that the writers will kill off Cathy at the end of the season? She's up for anything.

"The fullness of the time that she has is so wonderful," said Linney. "I'm sort of game for whatever happens, as long as it's honest."

Academy Award winner Gabourney Sidibe plays Andrea, one of Cathy's summer school students who she pays to lose weight. Despite the fact that Andrea is unaware of Cathy's condition, the sarcastic girl forms a strange sort of friendship with Cathy over the course of the summer.

Sidibe admitted that she's had quite a journey over the last year.

"It's been a strange year," said Gabourey Sidibe. "I thought I'd be a receptionist... I'm still very normal. I take the subway, I take the bus... It goes to show you that whatever plan you have for your life, you're wrong."

"The way that the writers handle the delicacy of this woman's life was so strong and so smart," said Sidibe about what lured her to the project. "I really wanted to be a part of it."

"I'm a selfish liver, I guess," said Sidibe. "My character doesn't know about Cathy's diagnosis at so, I wonder how many people in my life that I don't know are suffering."

"She's learning from the mistakes that she makes," said Linney about Cathy's journey. "More than having a bucket list, she's trying to figure out who she wants to be."

"Cathy will explore her options this season but we wanted it to be more about her being almost in a state of denial," said Bicks.

"We wanted to turn some expectations on their ear," said Hunt about how they handled Cathy's diagnosis. "Some things that we wanted to explore were, what would be a knee-jerk reaction to just wanting to feel good and live life differently?"

Showtime has scheduled The Big C with Weeds, which is also about a woman who makes some radical choices when faced with life's difficulties. How does Linney feel about being paired with the very differently toned Weeds?

"I'm thrilled," said Linney about being paired on Mondays with Weeds. I love Mary-Louise. We're friends. We shot some promos together and had a blast. I'm thrilled to be following Weeds... Our show is a really nice complement to their lineup and different."

You can watch the first episode of The Big C in full below:

The Big C launches August 16th at 10:30 pm ET/PT on Showtime.


Iona said…
The cast for this is mindblowing and they just keep adding more and more great people. Liam Neeson? Amazing!
Laura said…
Gabby didn't win an Oscar, she was just nominated. p.s. Episode 6 is some of the best TV I've seen, even on Showtime, all year.

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