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Going 'Six Feet Under' With Producer Alan Poul
by David R. Guarino
2003-03-12

This article shared 1944 times since Wed Mar 12, 2003
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SIX FEET UNDER

Till Death

Do Us Watch

As HBO's Emmy/Golden Globe-winning original series

Six Feet Under enters its Third Season, Executive Producer Alan Poul gives us the Who, What and Where

When it comes to original programming with an unusual twist, you've got to hand it to the folks at HBO. Take, for example, their acclaimed original series which focuses on, of all things—death. Now in the throes of its third season, Six Feet Under was created by Alan Ball ( winner of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for American Beauty ) . Using subtly ironic story lines and dark, situational humor, the show focuses on the subject of death as seen through the eyes of the Fisher family, who own and operate a funeral home in Los Angeles. The show features an exceptional ensemble cast which includes returning cast regulars: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, Freddy Rodriguez and Mathew St. Patrick.

This season viewers will be treated to performances by Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates and Catherine O'Hara ( of Second City fame ) as well as returning guest stars Joanna Cassidy, Emmy Award-winner Patricia Clarkson, Robert Foxworth, Richard Jenkins and Lili Taylor.

Six Feet Under garnered a whopping six Emmy Awards in 2002, the most of any drama series. The awards included Directing for a Drama Series ( Alan Ball ) , and Guest Actress in a Drama Series ( Patricia Clarkson ) . The cleverly dark series was recipient of a record-breaking 23 Emmy nominations last year.

On March 4, I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call featuring Six Feet Under Executive Producer Alan Poul and various journalists from the country's leading GLBT newspapers and magazines. Poul is executive producer of HBO's Six Feet Under and debuted as a director in the show's second season.

A 15-year veteran of television and motion pictures, Poul has been awarded an Emmy and has been nominated three times. He has also won a Golden Globe, three GLADD Awards and two prestigious Peabody Awards.

In Dec 2001 Poul received PowerUP's first annual Premier Award. Poul has also been a major force in bringing all three installments of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City to the screen. Maupin and Poul are currently working with Working Title Television to adapt Babycakes ( the fourth installment of the series ) , with writer Martyn Hesford.

Here are some excerpts from a most lively and interesting discussion shared with Poul with the third season of Six Feet Under taking center stage:

Planet Out: I've seen the first two episodes of the third season, and I especially enjoyed the scenes with Frances Conroy ( Ruth Fisher ) and Kathy Bates. I'm wondering if we're going to see Kathy Bates' character stick around, and if so, exactly what will we see her doing?

ALAN POUL: Kathy ( Bates ) sticks around until Episode Five ( of the Third Season ) . And I can't tell you exactly ( collective sigh ) what you see her doing, of course … what I can tell you is Battina's arc in the show is that she opens Ruth up to a whole new range of experience. She kind of teaches Ruth how to take a bigger bite out of life. So although she takes Ruth down some paths that might not be … strictly legal ( laughter ) , she is definitely a positive influence in helping Ruth find her own happiness.

Out In America: My question has to do with Six Feet Under as opposed to Queer as Folk. I know that some of the executive producers at Queer as Folk have told TV Guide that they consider the gay characters on Six Feet Under a bunch of 'politically correct closet queens.' So, my question is do you feel that Queer as Folk's depiction of gay/lesbian characters differs from Six Feet Under's?

AP: I'm not going to take that bait. I'm not going to engage in any kind of name calling with Ron ( Cowan ) and Dan ( Lipman ) , however they may feel about our show. I think that they do their show in a very specific way for a specific audience and I don't happen to think that what they said about our characters is true. I would specifically want to ask them how David ( Michael C. Hall ) having unprotected sex with a hustler in a parking lot as he did in Episode 11 of our first season, is considered to be politically correct? And then also, in all fairness, that TV Guide quote was from our first season, so it's like pulling out old bait … it doesn't behoove me to respond in any way. ... Fundamentally, I think that comparing Six Feet Under and Queer as Folk is real apples and oranges. The shows are so different in their nature and intent that it doesn't really reflect well on either one to try to put them in a competitive position.

Next Magazine: How has Six Feet Under affected how you view death?

AP: One of the most remarkable things about working on this show is that it does change your attitude about death. And I know this is true for myself and many others of the cast and crew as well. That simply through the repetition of dealing with death every day, and dealing with death in the context where it is presented as being part of life, it seeps into you. And so in having to deal with personal tragedies that have happened in my own world during the period of the show as well as things that have happened to those near to me, it gives you a huge and very sane perspective within which to put those events. So that you can understand ( that ) the grieving must happen, and why grieving must happen, but also that it is a process that you go through which has an end to it. ... I can say that I have experienced the loss of some relatives and a friend, and I have found that the experience of having worked on the show helps me to understand death as one of the most natural things that can happen to you because it happens to everybody. You know, when somebody close to you dies, and the first impulse is to always say, 'Why?' Sort of a big, cosmic 'Why?' Having worked on the show for this long; that's what goes away. You don't ask 'why.' You know the answer.

Apex Magazine: Now that you've started the third season and a lot of the exposition and introduction of characters is out of the way, do you feel that the show is hitting its stride and is now reaching a new level?

AP: Absolutely! One of the main things about the third season is that we feel that we don't have to repeat our expositions. We don't have to reaffirm who the characters are every episode because their audience already knows. We feel ( that we have ) a lot more license to jump in and take them in new directions and to be much more detailed about what's going on in their heads because we've really covered the broad strokes enough times. And in the same way we don't feel that the show has to have some outrageously quirky moments in every episode. Because that's what the show is … there are some episodes that are ( written ) very much in the same form as the first and second season and there are other episodes that really follow a more psychologically complex thread of a character's life without feeling that we have to hop out for the funny bit.

DAVID GUARINO: Can we expect more aggressive and perhaps even sinister behavior from the character of Federico Diaz ( Freddy Rodriguez ) , since he's now become a partner with Nate and David?

AP: That's a really interesting question. Yes. Rico becoming a partner, although it's a great thing for him … it opens up a whole new set of problems. Because he's never had to deal with that level of responsibility; his resentment toward the ( Fisher ) brothers ... as you can see is still there because in some ways they inadvertently, casually still treat him like he's an employee. And so he has to grapple with a whole new set of issues. In addition, later on in the season, Rico's home life is going to become a major focus. His domestic situation is going to reach a real crisis point. Rico's going to be going through some extreme emotional ups and downs; much more intense than anything we've seen thus far.

Washington Blade: I've noticed in most of your projects, especially the ones for TV, they've all included gay characters in some way. Why do you think it's important to create projects for gay characters?

AP: I think it goes without saying that it's really important to put interesting and complicated portrayals of gay people as human beings out there. Hopefully the proof is in the fact that a steady growth in the number of gay characters on television over the past 10 years has really been paralleled by a growth in Americans' level of acceptance of gay people in their lives. So as a gay man and as somebody who was out well before he started working in films, I've gravitated to material that speaks to me personally and a lot of that ( though not all of it ) tends to involve stories with gay people. You know I used to be on the National Board of GLAAD, which is an organization that was founded on the principle of committing to creating more balanced and positive portrayals of gay people in all media. I have a bit of a sense of mission, but I also have a standard about really only working on quality projects … and I think that maybe by being gay and being out, it was easier for me to find more quality material dealing with gay people because people would come to me ( with ideas ) . That's why I was fortunate enough to have my association with Armistead Maupin and my association with Alan Ball ( creator of Six Feet Under ) .

Washington Blade: Do you think that it's easier to create these parts on non-network television?

AP: When we're talking about well-rounded, psychologically complex characters, then yeah it's a hell of a lot easier away from network television. One of the things that I think is very interesting about David ( Michael C. Hall ) and Keith ( Mathew St. Patrick ) is that they're so flawed. They're really both very flawed people who have deep issues they need to deal with and yet we like them because they're real. And I think that this is a good indication of how far we've come in creating portrayals of gay characters. It used to be ( that ) we had to be very cautious; the gay person had to be positive, they couldn't loathe themselves, they couldn't be depressed; we had to be sending a strong and positive image to people out there. You know, young people who were looking to find positive gay images in their life and I think all of that was valid to a certain point. But I feel that now we've reached a level where there are plenty of positive portrayals out there and ( the challenge is ) to try to go deeper and create portrayals that are really psychologically complex and compelling. On network television, not because of the gay thing, but because creating psychologically complex characters who are not good people or bad people but, who, like all of us, have mixtures of good and bad, that's an easier thing to do away from the networks. They ( the networks ) feel more secure with characters who are just completely likable.

Next Magazine: Six Feet Under has a personal spirituality that seems to be centered on Nate.

AP: A lot of people find a sense of spirituality in the show and to me the essence of it is that it's a very, very moral show. Because most of our characters are good people trying to do the right thing and failing. And that's more human, actually it can be much more soul stirring to watch than with everybody being perfect people and always making the right decisions. In terms of Nate ( Peter Krause ) being the center of it ( the spiritual dimension ) , Nate came into the show as what we call 'the tour guide character.' You know, he was the so-called 'normal' guy from Seattle coming back to his family of freaky funeral people? ( Laughter from all ) In the first season we used to joke that Nate was Marilyn Munster. ( Laughter ) So I think that all the characters have changed a lot, but the changes that the character Nate has gone through have been thrown into relief by the fact that this is a man ( Nate ) who had run away from himself. Nate has come to terms with himself and then we have upped the stakes ... when we gave him a potentially fatal disorder. ... But I think you'll find some changes this season since Nate is out of the woods for the moment.

DAVID GUARINO: Do you have any plans to introduce a transgendered character?

AP: It's a great idea. And there are no plans at the moment, but basically we're done with the third season, I mean I have all the scripts—we're still shooting. And then in terms of fourth season nobody wants to even think about it until we're done with the work we're doing now. Because what we usually like to do is then watch the season as it airs. It's when you watch a whole season on TV once a week that you learn what the season really means ... Usually the creation of new characters comes from the needs of original characters, and what we want to do with their stories. So we wouldn't normally say, oh, let's find a transgendered character or let's find a Korean character or let's find a character that's a pro-ball player. But I think that because human sexuality and the varieties of human sexuality are certainly themes that have a lot of interest for the show, that that's a very interesting potential.

Six Feet Under airs on HBO Sundays at 8 p.m. with a replay Tuesday at 10 p.m.

E-mail: DavdRonald@aol.com


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