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Interview: Hope Davis on Playing the Bad Guy in ‘Your Honor’ and Other Highlights of Her Career

Hope Davis as Gina Baxter in YOUR HONOR, "Part Four". Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME.

Showtime’s limited series Your Honor explores the intersection of two neighboring worlds in New Orleans with its story about a judge risking everything to protect his son from certain execution by the mob after a terrible accident. Among a talented cast, actress Hope Davis stands out for her chilling turn as Gina Baxter, a grieving mother pulling her mobster husband’s strings to make sure that her child is properly avenged.

Awards Radar had the chance to speak to Davis about what it’s like to be on set with Bryan Cranston, filming in New Orleans, and a juicy new role to follow this commanding performance.

Q: Had you seen or heard of the Israeli TV series Kvodo, and how did you come to this project?

A: I had heard of the Israeli series only because of my agents. When this was in the works, it took a couple years to get this show up and running. I have not seen it. We were kind of encouraged not to watch it. Our show is going to be very different, obviously when you set something in New Orleans, it’s its own thing. So I haven’t seen it. I did hear from an Israeli journalist who I spoke to a couple months ago who said, please don’t ever put my name on this, that he preferred our series to the Israeli series. But I haven’t seen it.

Q: This isn’t your first adaptation of an Israeli show…

A: Are you referring to In Treatment?

Q: Yes, unless there are other Israeli show adaptations you’ve been in that I don’t know about.

A: No, I believe that’s the only one. Yeah, In Treatment. These are two of my favorite shows that I’ve ever been in, so I want to acknowledge that. I guess there’s a new iteration of In Treatment out that I haven’t seen. Have you caught that one yet?

Q: Yes, and I was thinking about your performance in it. I was excited to have this conversation now, because I’ve been trying to immerse myself since there’s just so many episodes to watch. I’m trying to stay ahead of it all.

A: That’s such an amazing show.

Q: I do want to talk about Your Honor, but since we’re talking about this now, what are some of your other roles that you see as the most memorable from your career?

A: If I think about theater and also film, I think there are lots of things. I think for TV, I really enjoyed playing a public defender on For the People, that was a Shonda Rhimes show. I loved working on that show at Paramount here in Los Angeles. I learned so much about the legal world that I didn’t know before and I found it fascinating, and I thought for a while that I would go to law school. And then the show ended, and I moved on. Theater-wise, probably God of Carnage back on Broadway with James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, and Marcia Gay Harden. Film-wise, there have been so many incredible things over the years. Working with Charlie Kaufman on Synecdoche, New York, that was an incredible experience. I also did a theater piece with Charlie Kaufman. It’s really all about the people that you’re working with. Yes, it’s about the part, but it’s really about the creator, the writer, and those are really some extraordinary people to hang out with.

Q: Transitioning to Your Honor, can you talk about those people, the behind-the-scenes people that informed your experience?

A: Peter Moffat, our writer and creator, lives in London. He’s English. He was a barrister for many years, so he had a very good knowledge of the legal system there. And then he came to research the legal system here and he said that he was really shocked by what he witnessed here in the United States. And it’s upsetting to hear about it. He couldn’t believe how people are treated in prisons here. That’s something that he really wanted to shine a light on. He’s an incredible writer. The first time I opened page one of script one, I couldn’t stop turning the pages, and then the accident happens. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, and every episode that came in of the ten, the quality of the writing was just so excellent. It’s always nice for actors to feel like you’re in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing. This isn’t a job for hire. This is a story that he really wanted to tell. There’s Peter, and then of course there’s Bryan Cranston, who’s a producer and an actor that every actor wants to work with. He’s so gifted and he’s such a wonderful human being. For me, that was the main draw. And then, of course, I was asked to do something that I’ve never been asked to do before, which is to play the bad guy. That was really intriguing and I really relished doing it.

Q: You answered one of my questions – she’s clearly a criminal, but do you see Gina as a villain? Is that the same as a bad guy?

A:  Is she a villain? She’s villainous in that she doesn’t care about anyone else’s welfare. She’ll do whatever she has to do to get the job done. She cares only for the people under her own roof and she has no issue with spilling blood. The backstory is that it was her family who was kind of the mafioso family of New Orleans, and that her husband, Michael Stuhlbarg’s character, married into it. It’s how she was raised. This is how business is done. You have to protect your own. Big believer in the Second Amendment. You’ve got to circle the wagons and do what you need to do. The show was also a lot about privilege, and how people of privilege are able to use the system, game the system, and she’s done with someone who has no second thoughts about doing that.

Q: She is extremely protective of her family and has some good qualities. Is there anything that you related to in the character?

A: Absolutely. First and foremost, she’s a mother, and really, look what’s happened to her family! Her child has been killed. This is what makes the show so interesting to me. For Bryan’s character, with everything that unfolds, you can understand why it happens and you could see yourself in the same position. For someone like Gina Baxter, she’s trying to get revenge. That’s Shakespearean, that’s the oldest story in the book, right? So I do of course relate. I have children. You relate to what that kind of grief could do to a person.

Q: I would not describe this show as a happy one. It’s definitely very dark and melancholy. Is the mood on set similar in order to create this dramatic experience?

A: Have you ever interviewed Bryan Cranston?

Q: I haven’t, not yet!

A: It is not a dark mood on set. He’s a very lively, very energetic person who’s able to – I mean, I’m not like this and it’s always fascinating to be with an actor who can do this – do some sort of physical humor joke and then snap right into a very heavy scene. He’s like that. So it was actually a wonderful set, a fantastic group of actors and crew and we all partied and enjoyed New Orleans. It wasn’t a dark experience for us, no.

Q: You don’t share a lot of scenes with Bryan but you do have some fantastic scene partners including Michael Stuhlbarg and the actors who play your children. Can you talk about working with them?

A: Yes. Michael Stuhlbarg and I were both New York theater people and we’d run across one other. We spent hours on set talking about all the things over the years that we’d both auditioned for, various plays and films that one of us had gotten and the other hadn’t. We almost worked together so many times, but we’ve known one another for a long time. In real life, he is the polar opposite of the character he plays. He is an absolute gentleman. I loved working with him. It’s really hard to suddenly be married to someone and going through this heavy thing. We had lot of faith in one another and we felt really safe together. It was really fun. He’s a very hard worker. He’s very prepared. I really appreciate who is grateful to be there and knows that this is a great opportunity, and that we’re lucky to have these jobs and who gives it his all. And that is Michael Stuhlbarg. I’ve never seen an actor prepare as well as Michael did. We shot it over a long period of time because of the pandemic. If anyone ever had a question of, which event came first, we’d go to Michael, because he has all of the scripts compiled in this enormous notebook with all these colored tabs on scenes and dates, and he was like our reference. So I loved my time with him. And my kids – fantastic young actors. It’s all about the cast and they just cast the show so well. We had a ball working together. and I really look forward to seeing where those kids go.

Q: What was it like shooting in New Orleans, and shooting in New Orleans during a pandemic?

A: Well, I’d shot briefly in New Orleans, on a Jason Statham movie where I played a blackjack dealer, which was hilarious. But I hadn’t spent time there, I’d never gone down there to experience Mardi Gras. I think Peter set the show there because it’s a city unlike any other. The history of the city, the feeling in the city. There’s a lot of drama in the air, there’s incredible disparity in the way the people live there, there’s incredible food. There’s music playing everywhere. I flew in and out all the time because my family is here in California. You’d get to the airport, and somebody would pick you up, whether it was someone for the production or they’d send a car. The second you got into the car, you’d be talking about food. The person driving would be telling you what they make for dinner and what fish was coming, and what kind of fish you’d want to get right now. We had so much fun just kind of exploring the food there, eating, drinking, dancing in the street. But you’re also aware of everything that New Orleans has been through. The scars of Hurricane Katrina are still there. There’s lots of buildings that were damaged and have not been repaired. We shot in a jail that had been flooded by Katrina and was decommissioned. So you’re also really aware of the tragedy that the city has seen. We had a few hurricanes while I was there, and that was my first hurricane. Those are intense, those are really intense. And you think, what it takes to live in a city where that’s going to happen numerous times a year. We all fell in love with the city and you love it in the way that you love New York or London. It’s a great city.

Q: You had another great TV role last year, Love Life, which was very enjoyable. I believe that’s not supposed to feature the same characters, but do you have any plans to return to that?

A: I’m not going back to Love Life. It’s a whole other set of characters. I won’t tell you who they’re following. It would make sense if you saw the whole show and you could imagine where it might go. But I loved working on that show. Sam Boyd, who created it, is a young man. He’s got a lot of stories to tell. I had so much fun working on the show.

Q: So what do you have lined up?

A: I am working a bit on Succession right now. I’m just relishing my time on set. They’re almost finished with season three and that’s been a really fun to do. If you’ve watched the show, you know who Sandy Furness is, he’s the Larry Pine character, the rival media mogul, who’s always trying to buy them out. I play his daughter Sandi. Sandi with an I, he’s Sandy with a Y. He suffers from some illness in season three and I come in to do the dealing. That’s all I can tell you.

Your Honor is available to watch anytime on Showtime.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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