Felicity Huffman And John Ridley Talk Controversial Show ‘American Crime’ [Interview]
American Crime has been a controversial yet nuanced show created by John Ridley on the different facets about society, and the cracks that are exposed within people. At the center of the first two seasons is actress Felicity Huffman, who has garnered award nominations for her turn as the polarizing racist character Barb Hanlon in American Crime’s first season.
In the second, Huffman portrays Leslie Graham, a woman put in the middle of a rape scandal, whose job it is to protect her private midwestern school, when a mother accuses someone or a group of teens on the basketball team of sexually molesting her son during the captain’s party. While the premise might sound like an after school special, with Ridley’s hand, the show looks and feels like a perspective that hasn’t yet been shown on television.
Breaking down the constructs of what sexual assault looks like between genders, Ridley has created yet another season that explores an important issue that isn’t usually shown on primetime network television.
The premiere, which happened on January 6, was so riveting that it trended on social media throughout its entire run, and even saw a bump in the ratings from last season.
Creator John Ridley and actress Felicity Huffman sat down in the AOL studio for a chat about constructing the second season of American Crime.
— Boby (@UpfrontsUSA) May 15, 2015
On creating a controversial show that’s reflective of society:
John Ridley: Felicity and I went into that pilot and thought, “Let’s just do this. Let’s be bold. Let’s try to take storytelling n different directions and offer perspectives of what people don’t normally see.” And I think it was a grand experiment on ABC’s behalf. At the same time, when you look at the show, it’s one of the more reflective shows.
On how network television has changed since Desperate Housewives:
Felicity Huffman: I think when you’re working with someone like John, you just go “yes!” I think great storytelling and great writing will always find an audience. What’s unusual is ABC having the ovaries to back it up and give it to someone like John and “go, do your vision.” I think they’re changing the face of network TV. Things go so quickly. Those two little words “binge-watching” changed everything. People’s appetites are not based on a network, they’re based on content.
You can watch something in many different ways and I think that’s changed the playing field. That’s why this is the golden age of television.
On creating the themes in the second season:
Ridley: We thought about socio-economic issues, sexual orientation, education, and family. Last season was about the dissolution of family, and this season it’s much more about the fusion of families coming together. Last year Felicity took on a character…her ideas and point of views were extremely challenging to say the least. It was important for me to have Felicity play a character [opposite] to what she was playing in the previous season. This character is embracing, charismatic, and political in the best sense of the word.
On playing Barb Hanlon versus Leslie Graham:
Huffman: My character last year was very reactive, and she was carved from circumstances. She was eroded from hardships and difficulties. It was by episode 7 in season 2 that I said to John, “I don’t really know what I’m doing with this character.” It was because Leslie Graham is very intellectual, very macro, and she’s 20 steps ahead of everybody else. Playing her was an intellectual exercise for me. It was about looking at all the chess pieces in front of me and moving them around. By episode 6 or 7, I was bewildered because usually I’m connected emotionally as opposed to cerebrally.
On starting a social discussion by showing politics on television:
Ridley: There’s a phrase, “politics is the art of the possible.” And when it works really well it’s about people coming together to solve problems for the good of society. There’s an element with that in Leslie, that it was problem solving for the good of her society, which was this private institution.
On Felicity’s character’s perspective:
Huffman: I don’t think she’s protecting her career. She’s protecting the institution. She was given the job, whether she’s working at a private institution, a fortune 500, or a non for profit, she is there to protect the institution. She never puts her career or her own self interest above that.
On being a part of a reflective show in a social sense:
Huffman: It feels wonderful. I think the art of having a narrative that sparks discussion, and is current..in the first season things kept on coming up in the news that we were shooting that day. What I love about it is through great storytelling, then the discussion comes out of that. It’s not “issue” television. We’re not saying, “let’s discuss sexual orientation.”
[Photo by ABC Studios]