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June 18, 2021 69 mins

 Join Chuck and TV legend Alan Ball today for a very special Six Feet Under anniversary special.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Movie Crush, a production of I Heart Radio.

(00:28):
Hey everybody, and welcome to Movie Crush Friday, very special
edition because I am sitting here, uh staring at the
very friendly, handsome face of Mr Allan Ball. Hi. There,
Alan Ball, Hi, how's it going. It's going great. It's
so nice to meet you. And I know that here
on the anniversary of six ft Under, you've been making

(00:49):
the round some and I really appreciate you taking some
time for us. This is a very very big deal.
It is my pleasure. I'm very happy to be here.
Uh So, I guess I would love to kind of
just go back to the beginning and talk a little
bit about the origins of the show, in the state
of your career at the time, where you were, kind

(01:10):
of the state of television at the time, because I
feel like six ft Under, along with a very small
handful of shows, kind of helped usher in what we
now look at is the golden age of television or
another golden age of television, And just a little bit
about the beginnings of the of the seed of the show. Well, uh,
I had signed a three year television development deal with

(01:34):
the Green Black Chanilary Studio UM either a week before
or a week after, I sold the script um of
American Beauty to dream Works. Uh A little amazing and
uh and so as part of American Beauty was came

(01:55):
out UM at the same time, within a again, within
the same week that my first show under that development deal,
a sitcom for ABC called Oh Grow Up, premiered UM
and after American Beauty came out, a lot of people
wanted to meet with me, and uh, Caroline Strauss from

(02:20):
HBO wanted a meeting, and I said, yeah, hell yeah,
I'll take that meeting. Because I had just discovered the
Sopranos and it was like everybody else in America. I
was like, oh, wow, TV can be something completely different
than we all thought it could be. So I met
with Caroline Uh. We had lunch, and she pitched this
idea to me. She said, I've always wanted to do
a show about a family run funeral home and something. Yeah,

(02:44):
and something in my head just went click because I
had spent some time in funeral homes when I was
growing up, because there was a period where people in
my family, A lot of people in my family died,
so I had a real sense of that weird st
wort of surreal, muffled environment that funeral homes are and

(03:06):
um and I thought that would be such a great show.
Um And I said, I really wish I could work
on that, but I've got this TV show on ABC
and and so I'm not available. Well, um, not too
long after that, UM, ABC very graciously canceled my show.
UM and I had yeah, and I had two more

(03:29):
years left on my development deal, and everybody was coming
at me saying, we've got this, you know, we've got
this stand up com comic that you're the perfect person
to build a show around, or we've got this horrible
idea about a man who dies and is reincarnated as
his wife's dog, that you're a perfect You're the perfect
guy to build this show around. And I just was like,

(03:52):
I can't do it. I can't. I gotta get out
because I had spent four years prior to Grow Up
working in traditional four camera sitcom um plus the half
a season that um oh Grow Up lasted, and I
just really I felt like I've done my time in
that particular good lag. I cannot I gotta get out

(04:13):
of there. So I wrote the pilot to six ft
Under on spec just knowing that HBO was interested in
a show like that, and Uh, I did it when
I went home for the Christmas break. Uh. And I
came back and gave it to my agent and she
gave it to Bob and David and there was a
moment where they said, can't could this be a network show?

(04:37):
And I was like, no, no, it cannot be a
network show. It has to go to HBO. And and
we gave it to HBO and they responded to it,
and um and the rest is history history. Yeah. When
you're writing a pilot like this and you're sort of
handed an idea that you, uh, that you respond to.

(04:59):
When you latch on to what, uh do you literally
just sit down and say, Okay, Who's who's in this family? Um?
And is that more like where can I create the
maybe potentially the best drama or is it who who do?
Who do I want to be in this family? Just emotionally? Um?

(05:20):
I think it's who do I want to be in
this family? Just emotionally. I'm not My My process is
is not particularly conscious. Um. I I sit down to
write and sometimes I just get surprised by what happens
a lot of times it's terrible. I mean I have,

(05:40):
you know, stacks of scripts that I've started, not finished,
or stacks of scripts that I've finished, UM that just
don't work. But there was something about this particular environment
and these particular characters that just sort of it's like
they came out of me fully formed. UM. And I'm
not saying that's any sort of mystical thing. I think

(06:01):
it's just I do a lot of work on a
subconscious level and then it just sort of spills out. UM. Yeah,
I I it just felt right. And also I was
at the time, I was grieving from my failed ABC sitcom,
so I you know, I poured a little bit of

(06:23):
that grief into the pilot. But I what I love.
I'm not a big fan of development because I've never
had an experience in development where things actually got better. UM.
I just and and so the fact that I was
able to do this all outside of a development process, UM,

(06:46):
I think allowed it to to to be very specific
because a lot of a lot of times what happens
with UM development is things get generic. Things, things are
sort of pushed into a direction that feels familiar. Because
that's you know, I think I feel like a lot
of times in development, people want to make things similar

(07:08):
two things that have already been successful. Of course, yeah,
um and I I'm glad that I was able to
sort of figure out the world and the characters without
um it being what's what's the right word, um, ruined.

(07:28):
I wouldn't say ruined, but but blanded out right sure
like to appeal to the broadest spectrum or right, But
I'm not saying that would have happened at HBO because
they were very much about at that time, they were
very much about wanting things that were very different. And
you know that that's back when they're tagline was it's
not TV, It's HBO, right, so they were. They gave

(07:51):
you a lot of room then to just sort of
do your thing. Well. When I gave them the script
for the pilot, they asked for a meeting, and I
came into the meeting and they said, basically, they said,
we really like this. Our only note is the whole
thing feels kind of safe. We're wondering if you could
just suck it up a little bit more. And literally
those were the words that they used. And I remember thinking,

(08:14):
oh my god, this will never happen to me again.
But this is like a This is like a writer's dream,
you know. Um, And so I I did. I didn't,
you know, go in there and just gratuitously fuck things up.
But I've tried to figure out ways in which, um,
you know, you could tell the story that we're messy,

(08:35):
messier and not as as um cookie cutter. One of
the things I learned in my five years and sitcoms
before I broke broke away and did six ft Under,
and actually one of the reasons I wrote American Beauty,
which was written fueled by a lot of anger, um,

(08:55):
was the world that I lived in in as a
writer in in sitcom world was a world in which
basically the two notes we got from the network, all
the notes we got from the network, could be consolidated
into two thoughts which would make everybody nicer and articulate
the subtext um, both of which are just you know,

(09:20):
the diametrically opposed to good writing. UM. So I had
to unlearn a lot of that when I started working
on six ft Under, and at at the same time,
six ft Under for me was in a lot of
ways it was film school, because you know, I had
only worked in theater or in um four cameras sitcom,

(09:42):
which is kind of like filmed theater. And um, so
single camera storytelling was new to me, and uh, and
I wanted to direct and I wanted to produce, and
so it was. It was film school and it was
probably the best film school I could have gone to. Well,
and you, uh, you directed the pilot, right, I did?

(10:03):
What was that a hard fight? Or did you just
kind of say I would really like to do this?
I said, I would really like to do this, and
they said okay. Um, And I think I had I
had just won the Oscar for American Beauty, and I
noticed that all of a sudden, everybody acknowledged what I
had to say, as if it were right, you know,

(10:23):
as if it were true. Whereas before, whenever I had thoughts,
people would go like yeah, but they would start But
you know, the kind of validation that comes from, you know,
winning an Oscar and also having the movie that you
want it for be a commercial success is people change
and they start acting like you know what you're doing
all right? And I'm not saying that I did, but

(10:45):
I'm I'm just saying that all of a sudden, they
I think, had that not happened that they might not
have been quite so quick to say, yes, we'll let
you direct. And I also heard that through the grapevine
that people were like, oh my god, what are we
gonna do? What if it's what if it's terrible? But
if I'm not mistaken, I think David Chase directed the

(11:05):
pilot of Sopranos, and I was sort of using that
as a as a model. Yeah, that's awesome. Um. On
the writing, I'm kind of curious because I've written stuff,
and I know a lot of our listeners have dabbled
in screenwriting. Is there a point where the characters it
becomes a little less like what do I want David

(11:29):
to do here? What should David do here? And less
we don't really have a choice. David is a fully
formed human. Now David's gonna do this, and we just
need to facilitate that. Does that make sense? It makes
perfect sense? Um? Yeah, I think Uh. I think a
lot of times characters will let you know what they

(11:51):
want to do, And a lot of times in editing, especially, um,
I find that the show or the movie or whatever,
in editing, it's gonna let you know what it wants
to be, and all of a sudden, you know this
scene that you thought was so important and so great,
you're like, it works better without it, and the movie

(12:13):
is letting me know that this is what it needs
to be. And I think that's true for characters. When
you have characters that are very specific and and very
specifically complicated psychologically and emotionally, you can't just pitch and
go like, oh, David's gonna run for city council. You
know he would never do that, David. So, yeah, I

(12:38):
agree with you. Sometimes you just sort of I feel
like sometimes my job, especially once once you get a show,
once you get the pilot done and the show is
up and running, is to just figure out what it
wants to be and get out of its way. And
how soon does that happen? Well, in this case, how
soon did these characters kind of take on their own path.

(13:00):
It's interesting in in both uh, six ft Under and
True Blood it happened on the fifth episode. Wow. Um.
The fifth episode of six ft Under was when Nate
met Billy, and I believe it was also the um
the porn star died got an axtrocuted in her bathtub,
and there was the porn star funeral. Yeah um, and

(13:23):
that that was the episode where the show sort of
went this is what I am and um and I said, Okay,
well we will honor that. That's really cool. Uh So
this show for me personally marked a really big sort
of turning point because when it premiered in during its
first run was when when I first met who uh

(13:45):
is now my wife in Los Angeles. We lived over
an Eagle Rock, and then through the show moved back
to Atlanta to my original hometown together, and that's where
the when the show kind of ended, and we ended
up by haying a house kind of kitty corner from
this family run funeral home with a big, giant, beautiful home.

(14:07):
And I remember at the time we literally said, like
this is meant to be. We're living across from the fissure.
It's like this has got to happen. So it's been
really My wife has seen it now three times all
the way through. It's her favorite show of all time,
and we just finished my second run her third. And
it's really interesting to watch it at age thirty and

(14:27):
then at age fifty. Uh really almost social experiment, interesting
to see which characters I identified more with and how
much more into Ruth I was this time around, and
how much I would kind of laughed at Claire stuff
a little bit, like oh that sweet kid, and how

(14:48):
Billy more compassion for Billy, Like all of these like
different endorphins are firing twenty years on in my life,
and so I think this is one of those shows
that did that for a lot of people, because everyone
identify I had so much with these characters, and I'm
trying to find a question in the air. I'm curious,
maybe what you think twenty years on when you reflect

(15:08):
on these people. Um. I hate to say this, but
I don't really reflect on them that much because I
feel like, Okay, that's done, that ended, And I haven't
watched the show since it Um, since it ended. Uh,

(15:31):
maybe I should, but that sort of feels like something
I'll do when I'm in the old age. I'm just
I'm just trying to figure out the industry and where
it is right now and how to get something on
the air because it's super baffling. It's so different, Like
I don't I don't know that that six under would
get made now without some recognizable star attack. Um again,

(15:57):
I don't know that American Beauty would get made now.
It seems like everything, the decisions on what gets made,
is all based on algorithms, and I just have a
I have a hard time understanding how that works. One
of the great things about those for those six ft
Under in my experience with HBO in general, with both

(16:19):
six ft Under and True Blood, was that there there
wasn't a you know, layer after layer after layer of
people who had to give their input and had to
approve things. There was just one person, one or two people,
and they would basically say, here's what we think. And
most of the times, most of the time the notes

(16:40):
were super helpful, and there weren't that many of them. Um,
you know, But in my experience since then has been
very very different. Yeah, and and quite confusing. And maybe
I'm just too old to exist in this new environment.
But it's really range. Yeah. Um, I'd love to talk

(17:03):
about casting a little bit. I mean, it's um, it's
one of those shows where you certainly can't picture. I mean,
it feels like this family was a fully formed family
and these siblings were siblings. And I've heard Peter krows
To talk about this before that that when you when
they even looked at the show, they felt like these
are the three kids that Ruth and Nathaniel would have had.

(17:26):
H And I'm just curious about the casting process, like
how easy or difficult that was in in cert with
certain characters. Um it was. I mean, I would say
it was. It wasn't terribly difficult, although we we had
a real hard time finding Brenda and Nate. M It

(17:48):
took a long time to to cast those two roles.
And basically I remember, really the only person that I
went Okay, that's um, that I don't need to see
anybody else was Franny Francis Conroy because when she came
in she I mean, it was just like, Okay, that's her.

(18:10):
What's yea, we can stop looking. A lot of women
came in and they had um had had weird plastic surgery,
and they looked, you know, surprised. They had that surprised
look on their face. And I was like, no, Ruth
would not have an eye job. She um Matthew st
Patrick there were two African American men in America who

(18:34):
would read for that role at the time. At the time,
there was still a stigma about playing a gay character
if if the actor was not gay in real life,
And um, I think there was especially a stigma about
playing a gay character in a relationship with a white man.
So literally there were only two guys who read for Keith. Really, um,

(19:00):
we had a lot of people uh come in and
read for I mean, I remember back then. What we
did is is we would take the top three contenders
to HBO and we we would go into the HBO
um uh auditorium and and they would and and and
the top press at HBO would be there and the

(19:22):
actors would read and I remember, Um Lauren read for
Claire and um and afterwards there was some concern that
she did that. It was the scene where she was
on crystal meth and she finds out that her father's dad,

(19:42):
and there was some concern that that she didn't that
it didn't feel authentic. And I remember thinking, this girl's
the girl. So I had to go out and talk
to her in the hallway and I was like, you
have to be just play the crystal meth thing a
little bit more. And she's like, I don't know how
to do that. I've never done crystal meth and I
never will. What is it? What I said? And I
had never done crystal meth either, So I was like, well,

(20:05):
it's just like to be really jittery and and you know,
I didn't even hope that was the real thing, but
I think that's what, you know, they were looking for. Um.
Peter Kraus originally was one of the finalists for David
um um. But and then there was a guy we
brought into play Nate, and we thought we had found

(20:26):
the perfect Nate, but he just choked. He choked at
the callback and um. So then we got Rachel Griffiths
had read the script and she flew herself to America
to read for Brenda. And so I had worked with
Peter on Sibyl, the sitcom Sybil, and I said, will

(20:50):
you come and read with her for this? And eventually
that became his callback for Nate. And once the two
of them were together, it was like, yeah, that's that's it. Yeah,
I mean so key. There was an attempt to get
a really big movie star to play Nathaniel, which I
sort of fought against because I thought, no, because if
it's a big movie star, you know, what do you

(21:12):
you're gonna see like a big movie star And yeah,
and that risks it being stunty too, probably given the role.
But I was given pretty much pretty much everybody I
UM I wanted to cast. UM I cast, and even
though there was there was some concern in the room.
There was some division in the room about um who

(21:35):
should play David. There was another actor who was quite good,
but I just felt like it should be Michael. The
people at HBO felt like it should be the other guy.
But what really surprised me was they said, but we're
going to trust you. You get to make this decision.
And that's just had I had never had that kind
of experience before. I had had an experience when I

(21:58):
was casting, Oh grow up, when there was you know,
UM the top brass at ABC had a question about
an action and I said, well, here's why I think
she's great. And the look that came over the guy's
face was like, what do you You're not questioning me?
Are you really really? And I was just like, oh, okay,
well I guess, I guess I'm I should just keep

(22:22):
my mouth shut. And did you start having those conversations
holding your oscar after American Beet? I I did not
have the I did not have the oscar at that time,
so I bring it in before then said it on
the table. I thought it might be fun. I've never

(22:45):
done this before, but I thought it'd be fun if
maybe I gave you the actor's name, and if you
could give me, like just the first five or six
words that come to your mind. Okay for that, Yeah,
all right, let's let's go ahead and start with Peter Krausa. Um. Okay, Oh,

(23:06):
this is tougher than I thought it was gonna be.
UM confident, uh, repressed. I'm sorry, this is Nate. This
is not necessarily Peter Kraus, the man. I'm we're talking
about the character, right, I mean, up to you. I
was thinking more of, you know, kind of Peter Kraus

(23:26):
and how he became Nate. But okay, well, then let's
do Peter Kraus. Confident, funny, really funny, UM, committed, um, disciplined,
UM wounded okay, Michael C. Hall complex, um big heart again, wounded, UM, brave, mhm. Fearless.

(24:04):
I think that's another word you might use to describe
Francis Conroy, because I've heard you say that before. So
Francis Conroy fearless, UM, dear kind, um, ego less, ego less.

(24:26):
I think I've heard you talk about in some interviews
that she was just really ready to do whatever it took. Well.
Sometimes sometimes actors will look at the material they've been
given the play and they'll go like, well, but I
would never do that, at which point I'm always want
to say like, yeah, but the character is not you,

(24:47):
you know. Um. But the thing about Franny. I you
could say like Ruth, um, Ruth eats a puppy, and
she wouldn't come to you and go like, what are
you what are you talking about? Are you crazy? Ruth
eats a puppy. She'd be like, Okay, I've never eaten
a puppy, so I guess I have some questions. That's great,

(25:12):
that must be great. Oh, it's so great. It's so great.
I remember the scene in the from the Pilot where
she's crying at Nathaniel's a grave and um and she
like you know, snot was coming out of her nose
and it was so so visceral and messy and and um,
and I said cut. But I needed to get it
from a different angle, So I said, Franty, can I

(25:35):
are you up for doing that again? And she was like,
oh yeah, of course, just right back in it. Huh,
just right back in it. Yeah, amazing. I think we
we call them Ruth freakouts when you know she would
just snap And it's some of my favorite moments in
the whole series is one of the roof has one
of her freak outs and we would rate them which

(25:56):
ones were the best on the Ruth skin. Those are
always so much fun when you would just finally just
lose it totally. Yeah, all right. How about Lauren Ambrose
um innocent ah, open ah, charismatic, um ah, brave again brave?

(26:28):
What about Rachel Griffith's uh complex, um powerful, ah, committed, disciplined,

(26:54):
what's the word I'm looking for? Um mercurial mm hmm. Yeah, Brenda,
I mean, what a character to sink your teeth in
so much. There was just so much there and so
much that you know, it wasn't always pretty, often not pretty,
And to really lay yourself out there like that into

(27:14):
and to be um, to risk being a character people
would would hate at times, and to go there anyway,
it's just just amazing to watch. Mm hmm. Yeah. I
was one of my favorite characters because she's so complicated. Yeah,
but over the course of the show she kind of

(27:35):
gets control of it. Yeah, I think so, um and
you know, not just with Nate, her relationship with Billy
and with her mom. Uh, it was just everything was
fraught with complications. I think when when Justin Threawu came
around as an audience, remember we're all rooting for that
in a way, because you know, I think that even

(27:58):
people that love Nate and did together could acknowledge that
they probably weren't the best for each other. And then
when Justin throw came around, it was kind of this
is your chance, Brenda, like you know, keep on this course,
and she just she just couldn't. Yeah, really interesting stuff.
What about um James Cromwell, um, decent um kind um, Uh,

(28:37):
what's the word? I like, gravitas, m um open open.
That was tough stuff too, because I think once you
fall in love with Ruth as if viewer, you just
want some goodness for her and and she finally gets it.
And then like at times we were joking around, we

(28:59):
were like, why does Alan Ball hate the Fishers, like,
like it was so terrible to see that slip away.
And then I guess it was season three when she h.
I mean season three as a whole was was a
tough experience to get through, especially that season three finale

(29:19):
really tested the limits I think of, uh, what an
audience member can can take in some ways, remind me
what the season three finals in three finale was, She's
I mean, I might start crying thinking about it. Lisa's
death is confirmed, right right, right right, Claire meets her,

(29:40):
her her baby and heaven who Lisa has taken care
of now right, and Nate goes to Brenda. He gets
his ass kicked in the bar. Just the most destructive,
self destructive behavior. He is engaging in dangerous behavior. But
there's that's when Ruth and George decided to get married, right,

(30:01):
And so I'm that kind of leads me to a question,
which is finding the right balance in a show where
you know, admittedly a lot of really tough stuff happens
to people that you have made viewers love, and then
throwing in nuggets of hope here and there, like, how
did you work on that balance? Uh? Again, it's it's

(30:25):
not very conscious. It's just I just sort of trusted
my instincts about what felt right. Um, I had some
The writer's room on six ft Under was so great.
It was such a great room. It was such it
was so great to be a part of such a
collaborative process with these really gifted and smart and interesting people. Um,

(30:49):
but there was there was always um. People were pitching
pretty nihilistic things. Yeah, no kidding, And I found myself
being the one who was like, no, we can't do that.
We can't do you know. Uh. There there was even
a pitch um that uh the last season would there

(31:11):
would be a nuclear strike and it would take place
in like a post apocalyptic waste land. And I was like,
too much, we can't do that. Um uh yeah. I
just sort of trusted my instincts. It's like um. And
I also tried to keep the show as funny as
it could be um in to sort of balance that

(31:33):
stuff out, because I feel like in life, humor is
part of what helps us deal with tragedy and and
trauma and all the horrible things that have happened and
are happening and will happen. Yeah. I think a lot
of that came. A lot of the humor and a
lot of the just there the break from some of

(31:55):
the tough stuff happened with the fantasy sequences, and that's
really a very unique part of that show. When when
was that born? Was that sort of in your plans
from the beginning. Yeah, it was, um, I think you know,
there were I think probably because that was the first

(32:17):
major thing I wrote after American Beauty. There were fantasy
sequences in American Beauty and UM and I, and there
were fantasy sequences in the pilot of six ft under
just the fact that Nathaniel was there talking to people. Um,
those were definitely fantasy sequences. I never we never intended

(32:37):
that to be like, oh, he's a ghost and he's
actually talked. It was just like a It was a
metaphor for conversations that the non dead characters were having
in their head with him. Um, there's that great sequence
where Nate imagines getting hit by the bus, uh, and
he goes through the you know, he dies and goes

(32:59):
towards the light and get sucked through the tunnel. And
and to like a weird poker game where his dad's
playing poker naked. It's like, do you mind? There was
so much good stuff in the fantasy sequences. The uh
of course, the weirdest one, David's egg donation with the
demon baby puppet actually so out there and crazy. It

(33:22):
was just what The reason it happened that way is
because Lauren was doing uh she had she was either
doing some time on a movie or she was in
a play or something, and Lauren was unavailable. And so
that's why we decided, like, well what if we had
like a weird clear puppet and uh yeah behind the

(33:46):
scenes nuts and bolts. Yeah, necessity is the mother of invention. Absolutely.
Um With Richard Jenkins, you know, I think he's such
a beloved actor and given his role on the show
is sort of this this you know, say age that
would wander in and out. What was it like when
he popped onto set, you know, uh, for his brief periods?

(34:08):
Was that a lot of fun when when he came
around As far as the rest of the cast and crew.
First of all, he's a total sweetheart. Yeah, he's such
a nice man, and he's got and he's just beloved,
you know, beloved and with good reason. I was always
happy when he was there because I got to hang
out with him a little bit. Um because he's one
of those people who just he's doing it for all

(34:30):
the right reasons, you know what I mean, He's not,
he just and he was involved with the theater company
back in Uh. I don't know if it's Delaware or Maryland. Um,
but uh, he's just such a dear, kind, incredibly talented person.

(34:53):
So I loved I loved it whenever he would show up.
It was a great cast. I mean it was really
a great cast. And and everybody really, I think at
the time we knew on some level how special the
experience that we were being allowed to have was. Um,

(35:13):
but nobody ever tried paid too much articulated that too much,
because I think it's nobody wanted to drink sit But
I think, you know, for five years, you know, to
really enjoy going to work and to and to never
really have an experience like you got to do this again. Um,
it's pretty rare. Yeah, y'all shot over at Gower Studios, right,

(35:36):
we did. Yeah. I was when I was living in
l A at the time. I worked as a p
A and every once in a while would have some
sort of run over to Gower to do something. And
every time I was always on pins and needles. I
was like, am I gonna get a peek? Am I
going to see Keith in the hallway or something. I
was always so excited when I got to go over there. Yeah. Um,
Richard Jenkins, you know, his role to come sort of

(35:59):
in and out of the show. It was so key
and I think so brilliant and vital to be able
to interact with his family again. And he he always
serves such a great purpose for each one of them,
I feel like when they needed him. Um. But the
one that really stands out was Oh goodness. When I
still think about the scene, it just it just gives

(36:20):
me chills. After David's abduction and sort of suffering through PTSD,
when the scene with him at the window when he's
talking about how he should be grateful and that he
can do anything. He's still alive, and he says, what
if you know it can't be that simple? And he
said what if it is? And it's just crystallizes in

(36:40):
one sentence, And that was one of those scenes that
really made me and I think a lot of people
sort of take stock of their life and like, you know,
we can get down and we can get depressed, but
it's like, but we're here and you're not guaranteed to
be here, so like, you know, get get busy living

(37:01):
exactly such good stuff. I think we all remember, Oh man,
it was just unbelievable. Um. As viewers, we always like
to think that when when he pops on set that
everyone's like Dad's here. It kind of was like that. Actually, really,
I think all the all the actors loved him and

(37:22):
looked up to him so much that when he was there,
it was especially if they got to have a scene
with him, you know, yeah, yeah, that's cool. Um, I'd
love to talk about David and Keith a little bit. Uh.
You know, Ship's Creek gets so much attention and adulation
for um, I guess quote unquote normalizing a gay couple

(37:42):
on screen, and they deservedly so. They did a really
great job. But my wife Emily are constantly just screaming
like Alan Ball did this twenty years ago, like David
and Keith were the proto gay couple as far as
just and it's not even normalizing like they're day to
day relationship you know, of course was just played straight

(38:04):
and played normal, but also normalizing the gay lifestyle in
this sometimes anonymous sex that David might have or that
Keith might have, or bringing sergeant every now and then,
and there was just no judgment at all. I think
it was really important. I'd love to know a little
bit about what that meant to you. I think, you know,

(38:25):
there was always a big push in the Rider's room
to break them up, and we did break them up
in the first season, and once they got back together, Um,
people would say like, oh, but David could go on
like really embarrassing dates, and I was like, that's you
can get out of that. And that also feels like
a sitcom thing to me. You know, it felt like, well,

(38:46):
that's what they're doing on Will and Grace, and that's perfect,
that's perfect for that show. But I don't want to
see David going embarrassing dates. I would much rather see
David and Keith try to maneuver there sometimes fundamental differences
and stay in a relationship, because that's what I haven't seen,

(39:10):
you know what I mean. And um, so that's that's
I remember. Actually, one of the notes we got um
from uh Chris Albrecht after the first season was trying
to make Nate and Brenda as interesting as David and Keith.
Or maybe maybe it was more in terms of like

(39:32):
trying to make their sex life as interesting and Keith. Um, Yeah,
but I I always wanted to for it to be
like this is what it's like, you know, when two
men get married. I mean, it wasn't marriage at the time,
but it was you know, it was a it was
a commitment that they made to each other. And the

(39:53):
fact that they were both religious and they went to
church and everything really interesting. Yeah, I I just wanted
it to be uh And I didn't want it to
be too sensational. And of course, you know, them being
gay is gonna be a part of of what their
story and their characters are all about. But I didn't

(40:15):
want it to be the defining right, you know what
I mean? Yeah, it wasn't, and it's a testament to
both of them. Um, neither one of them are gay
in real life. But they also you know, I said,
I told you that. You know, there were only two
African American men who would read for Keith, but also

(40:36):
there were a lot of of Caucasian guys who turned
down the chance to read for David. There's a lot
of like, oh, I've already played gay and I don't
I don't know people to think that I'm you know,
the gay guy and whatever. And I would hear that
and I would be like, Okay, well, you're an actor.
I'll never hire not brave or two words to exact U.

(41:01):
I mean, I get it. I know actors are forced
to sort of think of themselves as commodities and and
manage their career based on that, but it's so different now.
Like every show I watch on Netflix, and I watch
a lot of UM international shows, there's always a gay
character always, and they always have a sex life that

(41:24):
you see, which it didn't used to be that way. Well,
I think thanks to you, you know, I think, well,
I don't think it's I don't think it's just thanks
to me, but it's UM. You had a lot to
do with that. Well, thank you, UM, and it is
a big deal, you know, it's UM. And I know
we talked a lot about representation now and that just

(41:45):
wasn't They're really part of the conversation back then, I
feel like. Right, so you also had the benefit on
this show of casting your weekly guest stars, because more

(42:07):
so than many shows or maybe even any show that
I can think of, the guest stars had a really
big there were really big part of of the run
of the show with the initial opening death sequence and
then more times than not that would really play a
kind of vital role in that episode there that storyline,

(42:29):
and it wasn't just you know, come in here and
do this guest thing, like some really really juicy roles
for little known actors, and some of them went on
to be big stars. But uh, Emily and I were
having conversations about how many people that are just out
of the business today that have this conversation at a
dinner party. Well, I used to act. What did you do? Well,

(42:51):
the biggest thing I probably ever did was a six
ft under guest role And how many how many people
have that badge of honor that didn't go on to
be big star ours got to play a really really
great part even so because they were just such meaty
guest star roles, right, And what was the casting like
that with that week to week? How how tough was

(43:13):
that or how involved in that were you at that point? Well?
I had a I mean, we had amazing casting directors
in uh Livy Goldstein and Junior R. Johnston um when
they were for this yeah, yeah, and for a lot
of other things as well. Um, and they would just
bring in really good people and it was it was

(43:35):
always occasionally I would be like, we didn't we didn't
see anybody that really feels right, can we keep looking?
But for the most part, they just you know, they
know that they know the acting community and they know
which people are right for things, and they would just
it was. It was really great because casting was one

(43:57):
of my favorite aspects of being in production, because I
love actors and I love as a writer. Also a
lot of times when you when you watch casting, people
will do it differently than you thought it should be
done when you wrote it, but it's better. So you're
you're like, oh, okay, I see that, And sometimes I

(44:17):
would adjust the script because of things like that. Is
it pretty gratifying to kind of break an actor like
a like a Ben Foster, let's say, and to see
what kind of work that he went on to do.
Oh yeah, there were a lot of actors that, um
like Christmasina too. Yeah. Um, I just it was it
was great to sort of see them kind of become

(44:42):
you know, I think I think because of their exposure
on six ft under, maybe they got a little more
opportunities then. I don't know, I hope so, oh of course,
I think. I think Ben Foster, especially as Russell Ah,
I mean, such an such a fun care her, I mean,
kind of annoying in some ways, but you also rooted

(45:02):
for him and he was you know, he was kind
of a snobby art guy for a little while, but
you also wanted him to to be better, and for
some reason, he Russell was always just a character that
kind of got in my own head, I think. And
Ben Foster did just such a great job with him,
such a good meatia role at a young age. Yeah,

(45:23):
he was, He's really good. I get annoyed when I
look at the Emmy Awards list and you guys were
nominated for I think fifty plus Emmy's. But the the
lack of Emmy Awards for the actors is just pisces
me off still when I see that. I didn't know
awards are awards, But how does Peter Kraus and not

(45:45):
get an Emmy Award for season three? It's just it's
unthinkable to me. Yeah, I mean yeah, I mean I
I do feel like everybody did awards worthy work, everybody,
but there's only so many people who can win awards.
There's always people, you know, it's gratifying. I think Francis

(46:06):
Connery won a Golden Globe, Yeah, and didn't somebody else
wins something. I feel like somebody wanted to. Rachel won
a Golden Globe and there was a somebody won a
SAG Award. I want to say, it's it's Franny as well.
And you won one for directing, right, I won an

(46:28):
Emmy for directing guests. I guess you can't win them all,
but when I see the cast, I just feel like
each of them should have gotten one at some point. Yeah,
I agree, Um I should. I think they should be
like participant Awards. I think everybody should get the award. Yeah.
I mean we've talked on the show about having having

(46:49):
an ensemble cast award. I think this kind of overdue
for something like that. Oh, we did win an Ensemble
Award for SAG. Okay, so they do that SAG. They
have a ensemble and we did win that one year.
Oh that's cool. Um. Aesthetically, um, just you know, the
look of the show was very unique in that I

(47:10):
feel like there were a couple of things that y'all
did early on that really became signature aesthetic parts of
the show, like the the deep framing with you know,
the multiple characters in focus, you know, kind of stacked
on one another. How how did those decisions come about? Well?
That was probably um Alan Kay, So, so so are are

(47:33):
director of photography. Um, I remember when we were we
were shot listing for the pilot, and and um there
were some shots of Ruth in the kitchen after she
threw the pot roast, after she found out that Nathaniel
had been killed, and those were his choices. I mean
he would he would line them up and show them
to me, and I said, oh, yeah, that's great, let's

(47:56):
do that. And we, you know, we talked. My My
approach to shot listing is, Okay, this scene is about
this character feeling paranoid, So how do we tell that visually?
And then I totally depend on the DP. Because I
didn't go to film school, I don't know what lenses are,
what and what, so I can tell you emotionally what

(48:18):
needs to be happening in this scene. So I I
think a lot of the credit for the look of
the show would go to Alan Kayso yeah, I mean
we I know plenty of people had done that deep
focus shot, but we we still call that the six
ft undershot. But when we see that, because it just
became so signature to the show, I think, uh and
that's cool because not I don't feel like every show

(48:40):
has a signature look. Uh m. Hmm these days. Yeah,
I agree, And you could always tell the six ft
under episode just you know by looking at it. Mhm um.
I mean, let's talk a little bit about the opening
death sequences. You know. Was that an idea from the
very beginning to use that as a sort of framing device? Um?

(49:03):
It wasn't. I mean when I wrote the pilot, I
basically just tried to open as many doors as I
possibly could. But Nathaniel getting hit by the bus is
such a great, great way to open the show. Um.
I think once the show got picked up and went
into production, I immediate was like, Okay, well, what are

(49:24):
we gonna do? Well, we let's just kill somebody at
the beginning of every episode. And because it just made
it just made perfect sense. Because in a way, it's
kind of like a franchise show. It's kind of like
a cop show or or a hospital show with the
case of the month or the disease case case of
the week or disease of the week. We just had

(49:46):
the death of the week. And um, I think a
lot of things, a lot of decisions were made once
we went from pilot to series, one of which was
we can't we got to get rid of those commercials
for the for the funeral products products that were in
the pilot, because you're gonna run out of products really quickly. Yeah.

(50:10):
Um so uh, it just it just seemed to organically
evolved into that. Yeah. I mean it was fun for
the viewers because there's a little bit of a you know,
every every week you sit down and back then before
you could bench stuff, which I really enjoyed, sort of
that appointment television thing. You would sit there and you're like,

(50:32):
all right, you know what's gonna happen this week. So
there's a little bit of anticipation that immediately you have
going into watching a six ft under episode and then
trying to figure out who was it going to be,
and then the fun misdirection that you guys were able
to do. Um but it. But it wasn't just a stunt,
you know it. It's so often really factored in to

(50:52):
the episode and not just we need to give them
something to do at the funeral home this week. It
was they played vital roles sometimes in the story of
the other of the main cast. Yeah. Absolutely. Uh. You know,
I have a brother and a sister. I'm the youngest
of three. I have an older brother and older sister.
So this show, the sibling aspect of it always really

(51:17):
hit home. And uh, some of my favorite scenes are
and there weren't a ton of them when it was
just the three of them together. We're always very special
scenes to me. And I wondered just sort of what
your life was like. Did you have siblings? Did that
inform anything in the show? Um? Yeah, yeah, yes and no, Um,

(51:42):
I had three siblings. I have two siblings, two brothers
fifteen and nineteen years older than me, so we didn't
really we weren't really children together at the same time,
so we don't have that sibling connection. And then my
sister was eight years older than me, but she was
killed in a car accident when I was thirteen years old,
so I had the sibling thing with her as a child,

(52:06):
but then once once she was gone, I didn't really
have siblings the way that the Fisher siblings are with
each other. Um. So, in a lot of ways, I
think a lot of what that stuff was was for
me was maybe wish fulfillment, like if I had had
siblings closer to me an age, maybe this is the

(52:27):
relationship I would have had with them, or this kind
of relationship. Um. But then again, it's also you have
to remember it's not all coming from me, it's there
were again, they were had a room full of really
good writers, and a lot of a lot of stuff
would would come from them, you know, in fact, as
much stuff came from them as came from me. It

(52:49):
was always just so real because I feel like that's
how life works when, especially with siblings, in that at
various times they're each taking care of one another in
different ways. Uh. And it's not something that you get
together on and two siblings go Okay, you know, Claire
is going through some trouble, so one of us needs
to really be there for her. It just always felt

(53:11):
so organic and real, and it just felt like a
real family. Yeah, it did. It did, especially Claire and Ruth.
You know, their relationship was so complicated, and uh, you
just you wanted Ruth to be satisfied with that relationship
and with all of the relationships with her kids, and

(53:32):
she so often wasn't. It was so tough to see.
I remember that that moment where Claire and her friend
Parker were on mushrooms and they made those hilarious clown pants. Yeah. Yeah,
and then and then Ruth wore them and and it
was so complicated. Claire's response was like, Oh, I'm glad

(53:53):
she's wearing them, but I'm embarrassed that I made them
for her. And oh my god, she's so dorky and
my mom, I love her so much, but oh she
embarrasses me. And ye boy, it was so good. Yeah. Um,
when did you the the idea of David being abducted?
Where did that come from? That was such a brutal

(54:14):
moment of the show and really kind of dominated his
storyline for a while after, arguably through through the end
of the series. You know, he's still suffering from PTSD.
Where where did that hatch? Well? That was in season four,
and I felt like something really needed to shake David up.
And when I was a kid. When I was a child,

(54:37):
my oldest brother was dating a woman who was abducted
and um, and a guy with a gun forced her
into his car and drove drove the car out into
a field. And then when he got out of the car, uh,
and was going to come around and open her door,

(54:58):
and god, and he knows what he had planned. Um,
she locked all the doors and just started blowing the
horn and he and he ran off, so nothing, nothing
terrible happened to her, but still it's something that happened
to somebody I knew. So I think when I when
we were breaking um season four, when the writers had

(55:19):
reconvened and we were just breaking season four, I pitched
that because I wanted something really terrible and inexplicable and
insane to happen to David, because I felt like he
needed he needed something to shake him out of his

(55:40):
his sort of uptightness and his sort of feeling sorry
for himself, and and his his whole sort of approach.
You know, he had been the good little boy his
entire life, the little boy with a with a secret life. Um,
and I just wanted I just felt like, we need
to do something that will shock him. The intent was

(56:03):
never to shock the audience, but to have something something
to shock David into a new state. So that's kind
of where that came from. Interesting, I Um. The show
also features a trio of women that were some of
my favorite characters on the show. Uh. And I always
feel like you've really written strong women well. Uh, and

(56:25):
that's with Kathy Bates, Patricia Clarkson, and joe An Cassidy,
who I just I can't help but laugh when I
think of Brenda's mom. M just hysterical on the show,
outrageous and and just wrong in every way, but just
such a funny, funny character. Yes. Absolutely, How was it

(56:49):
working with him? I know Cathy Bates ended up directing
some too, right, Yes, Um, it was great. I mean
it was great. They're all three of them were amazing
actors and fun to be around. And they really you know,
they really just took the material and went with it
and and it was it was really really good. Yeah.

(57:13):
I feel like that's when Ruth was most herself too.
Her happiest moments were when she was in Laurel Canyon
at at her sister's house and hanging out with with
that that great gang of kind of crazy ladies, even
though that wasn't her scene at all, which was always
thought was really interesting. It was much more clear scene. Yeah,

(57:34):
Ruth found her happiness there among these kind of you know,
cookie artists. Yeah. Absolutely. I remember the episode where Kathy
Bates and her shopping, and Kathy Bates is just like,
we're invisible, we can steal ship and notice because women
are aged, you know, are invisible. It's true. But you also,
I think, had the courage to portray a woman of

(57:56):
a certain age as a sexual creature, and that's something
I don't think you still see a lot of It's
the show Ruth, like you know, having sex and dating
various men. Yeah exactly. No, I mean in in in
TV world like after you know, women after fifty or
just like you know it's it's uh, it's not happening anymore. Yeah,

(58:19):
that has nothing to do with real life. Yeah. Um,
let's talk a little bit about the end in season five.
Going into season five, I assume that you knew that
that was going to be the end of the show. Yes, Uh,
how much how much consternation is there when sort of

(58:41):
mapping out a final season like that. I mean, we
knew it was going to be the last episode, so
for the first time we really had to figure out
what the last moment was going to be. And I
can't remember which person pitch did It wasn't me, but
the idea too for everyone to die. Originally it was

(59:05):
pitched in a way like we should just kill everybody,
and I was like, no, that's too nihilistic. Whatever. But
then once we did some more talking about it, and
I realized we could just be with each character at
their moment, when they're at the moment when their life ended. Um,
it was like, well, of course, I mean, how else
can you in this show? That's the perfect There's no
other way, there's not there's it's not even worth considering

(59:27):
anything else because that's so perfect. And then you know, uh,
figuring out you know, Nate dying because we had laid
the groundwork for him with his issues with his arterial
venus malformation or whatever that's I always want to say
a t M, but it's a v M. Um. So

(59:48):
it was just working backwards from that point. How do
we get there? What do we do to get there?
And and it was pretty much like any other season,
except that you knew that final episode was the last one,
and it was really emotional. I mean, I think you
know everybody when everybody was crying when Nate was dead
and they were burying him, and that was all people

(01:00:11):
were crying. People were emotional because it was it was real.
It was it was it was real. It was very real,
and we were all you know, something that we all
loved very much, and it was very much a part
of who we thought of ourselves. As that was coming
to an end, and that's um, so there was a
whole grief thing going on as we ended the show. Yeah.

(01:00:32):
I think it was really smart too, Um have Nate
died two episodes before the end rather than in the end,
because those last two episodes we're tough. I mean, the
whole last season was tough, but um, those last two
episodes were tough. But I think really vital to see
everyone trying to put the pieces together, floundering, you know,

(01:00:56):
Claire being drunk at work and it was just such
a mess. It. It's like when I mentioned earlier my
wife and I saying, like, does Alan Ball hate the Fishers?
I think at age at age fifty we were both like, No,
that's just kind of life. This stuff, this stuff is
real and you you get a little a few years
behind you and you see this stuff all around you

(01:01:17):
happening and it's like, no, that's that's kind of realistic.
It's not sadistic. It's real life. Yeah, um, it is life.
Life comes at you or people still mad at you
because of Keith in the security truck. Um, people were
mad at me. Yeah. I just wondered if people are like,

(01:01:39):
how could you have Keith murdered at the end. Um,
I mean I think people are people are still mad
at me about David and the being abducted, David and
the dog. Really yeah, there's a lot of people really
were like very upset by that. Um. You know, but

(01:02:01):
people die and and people die, and some people die
because they're killed, and other people die because they got
a disease, and uh, some people die of just old age.
And that's yeah, that's just the way it happened. That's
the way I think it was. It was pretty cool
to see Claire lived. It was a hundreds and hud. Yeah,

(01:02:24):
it's really special. Um. I imagine it's pretty gratifying too.
I mean, to be known as as having maybe the
greatest series finale of all time because it's such a
hard thing to do, it must be pretty gratifying too
to get those kind of kudos. Yeah, it's very nice
to hear that, you know, because um, uh, you know,

(01:02:48):
you want something to end well uh and and so
many people have said that, you know that it was
it was such a strong ending that that that's uh,
definitely very gratifying. Yeah. A lot of other shows, a
lot of other great shows have not been quite so lucky. Yeah,
I mean most there you can count on a couple

(01:03:09):
of hands, like the Great Great series finalees and six
Under is always there at the top. I think, uh,
all right, if you have a few more minutes, I'd
love to finish with a few listener questions. This is
such a beloved show that I'm sure you've had people
for the past twenty years stopping you on the street
and telling you very personal stories. It's just one of

(01:03:30):
those shows I think that means a lot to people
emotionally and personally. Uh. And so when I put this
out on our Facebook page to our to the movie crush,
the movie crushers as we call them in I have
a few more questions from them. Sarah Law says, what
character were you closest to emotionally Claire Claire? M hm,

(01:03:56):
the artist? Is that why? Or I think so? Yeah?
And also being the youngest and and um growing up
in a weird environment surrounded by death. Yeah. Um, let
me see here. Kelly Conklin says, my daughter's middle name
is Claire, named after Claire Fisher. Nate was extremely codependent,

(01:04:19):
always seeking out women for validation right up to the end.
If he would have survived. You think he would have changed.
Was that last relationship, the one that could have saved him? Interesting?
I don't know that he would have changed. It would
have required some professional inter intervention and a lot of

(01:04:42):
a lot of hard work on his part. Um. I
just don't think he would have changed. I just don't.
I mean you could look at that and say, oh,
that's tragic, or you could look at and say, well,
that that's who he was. That's that's just who he was.
I think. I'm with you. Yeah, I love Nate. I mean,
what what a complex character. I think I love Nate too.
But he was he was. He was not an old

(01:05:05):
soul and he uh he he There's a lot of
growth that could have happened with him that didn't, and
that was part of the point. I think. I think
that nails it. He was he was. He wanted to
be the right man, I think, but that's not always enough,

(01:05:26):
right exactly. Uh. Debbie Frangadaka says six ft under challenge
the comfort level of viewers. Was there ever a scene,
the death scene or otherwise that made you uncomfortable and
didn't use it and it didn't make the show? I
guess the nuclear bomb thing was one? Was there anything?

(01:05:47):
Was there anything else? There was a lot of concern
after Nate died. There was a moment where Brenda was
very short tempered with Maya. Um, and there was a
lot of concern from h b oh uh. They were like,
you know, she's too mean, she she's a bad mother,
and and I just felt like, no, she's not. Her

(01:06:08):
husband just died and she found out he was having
an affair with this other woman. And you know, just
because she's a mother doesn't mean she's a perfect mother. Well,
and sometimes you are a bad mother and a bad father.
It's just absolutely yeah, absolutely so Um, there was a
lot of but they didn't force me to do it,
so I did not change it. I kept it in. Yeah,

(01:06:30):
that's the other stuff that we have an almost six
year old daughter now, so the Maya stuff now just
wrecked us. And when we were thirty, it was you know,
we thought Maya was cute, but there wasn't until you
have the kids, there's you can't really have that emotional
tie there. That that stuff was very very tough for
us to watch. Um. Megan Carol says, was Nate's death

(01:06:54):
always in the cards from the very beginning or did
it come around in later seasons. Uh, it was not
in the cards from the very beginning. When I wrote
the pilot, I didn't think this guy's going to die
at the end of the show. Um, it's sort of
it's sort of organically evolved to use that term again, Um,
especially once once he developed a potentially life threatening illness.

(01:07:16):
Then it it was just something that was always there
and eventually, I mean he had to die. Yeah, that
was his journey. His journey was basically running away from death,
coming home, facing death, and then eventually succumbing to death. Yeah.
I think his viewer, once the brain thing was revealed,

(01:07:39):
you kind of knew it was like, well, that's just
lingering out there, and it's it's not gone away. It'll
you know, it'll come back at some point. So I
think we kind of knew it was coming, and that
to me was part of the part of the interests
of the show was in I don't say fun of
the show, but um, like he almost like with the family, Remember,

(01:08:00):
you know you only have so much time with yeah,
you know, to sort of drink in those moments with
these characters that you love. Yeah, well, Alan, this was great. Uh,
I won't keep you here for three more hours and
talk about every aspect of the show that this was fantastic,
This is really fun. This is a lot of fun.

(01:08:20):
It's such a special show to so many people. Um,
it's just one of those shows, you know. It's just
not your average show that people sort of watched and loved.
I mean, it's a show that is beloved and still
is very much beloved, and I think one that people,
uh really go back and revisit and rewatch like we did.
We've heard from a lot of people that have the
same experience, so thank you for that. Um. We're also

(01:08:43):
very big True Blood fans by the way, but we
can't get into that right now. We loved Your Blood.
That was such a bunch show. Well, thank you so much.
This has been such a pleasure. I really appreciate it,
all right, Thanks a lot, Take care of course you
two movie crash. It's produced and written by Charles Grant
and Meel Brown, edited and engineered by Seth Nicholas Johnson,

(01:09:03):
and scored by Noel Brown here in our home studio
at Pontsty Market, Atlanta, Georgia. For iHeart Radio. For more
podcasts for my Heart Radio, visit the iHeart Radio app,
Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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