NBC’s ‘Found’ star is ‘an amazing force of positive energy,’ says Anthony Hardwick
A startling fact is at the center of NBC’s new procedural drama Found, created by Nkechi Okoro Carroll: over 600,000 people are reported missing in the U.S. In the series, Gabi Mosely (Shanola Hampton) and her crisis management team aim to find the missing. Unknown to her team, Gabi has a secret weapon, an endless resource of insight into the mind of an abductor.
Revealed at the closing minutes of the first episode, the ‘secret weapon’ provides a twist that is simultaneously ethically questionable and as entertaining as they come. Ironically, while Gabi works in a glass office where her life is on display, behind the closed walls of her personal life is where she hides an unspeakable secret. To bring these two sides of Gabi’s story to life, Director of Photography, Anthony Hardwick (Shameless, Borat, Last Man on Earth) must work with a variety of settings that each propose their own challenges.
Hardwick spoke with Awards Radar about his reunion with Hampton, using framing to get into her character’s psyche, the challenges of each setting and how finding a camera at a young age set him off on a career path he never expected.
Awards Radar: Thanks for taking the time. I’ve been enjoying Found, but I also am a fan of some of your previous work on a couple of my favorite series, Shameless and Last Man on Earth, which unfortunately we never got closure on.
Anthony Hardwick: But, you know, it was a great run while we had it. Those were both fun shows. Shameless in particular is kind of how I came to Found because Shanola and I first met on Shameless and worked together… I shot the last three seasons of that show. In the last season she had her episodic directorial debut. I got to shoot that with her, which was fantastic. And she was wonderful. We had a really good time.
Then, she sort of asked me to shoot a number of things for her since then. And Found was the first opportunity where I wasn’t on something else and I could do it.
Awards Radar: That’s wonderful. I was going to ask about that. Before we dig into Found, I wanted to learn what drew you into the career in film and television? How did that all begin for you?
Anthony Hardwick: As a kid, my mother was a fashion designer. I used to go to her studio all the time and was always playing with her markers and crayons and different kinds of colored pencils and stuff. It was like an endless array of tools for an artist to play around with. I loved doing that when I was a kid.
Then, I fell into photography not long after that. I think it was fourth grade. I found an SLR on the steps of my elementary school. I brought it to the lost and found. They said, ‘If no one claims it in 30 days, it’s yours.’ So I came back and no one had claimed it. That was my first 35mm SLR camera. I started shooting with it. Just the one lens that was on it was a 50mm lens.
That school had a great junior high school, which was in a different building up in the Bronx. It was Fieldston Lower – they had an amazing photography program with a state-of-the-art darkroom with wet side and dry side. I had a wonderful photography teacher. I immersed myself into that, taking all of these courses, always in the darkroom and printing and processing film and out shooting bulk film as much as I could.
That was sort of my entry into the visual arts. But I never really thought about film and television because growing up in New York City in those days, there weren’t a lot of film projects going on. Every now and then you might see a commercial or a Woody Allen movie, but it wasn’t quite like it is today. My first year of university I was studying all of these pre-med courses thinking I was going to be a doctor until I took an elective course in Super 8 filmmaking.
That changed everything. I made the connection between photography, composition, and photochemical stuff – the connection to film and motion. And that was it. I was on the way.
Awards Radar: The 50 millimeter is a great lens, because it forces you to move your feet. It also lets you explore what the camera can do and the power of visual storytelling.
Anthony Hardwick: I don’t know any kids that I grew up with that didn’t love going to the movies and love watching TV. So that was a whole other thing. It really inspired me to try to get into the business. It was hard at the time, breaking in, that is, but tenacity eventually pays off.
Awards Radar: As for Found, besides working with Shanola again. What about the series made you want to work on it?
Anthony Hardwick: Well, I was drawn to it for a couple of reasons. I tend to like to change up genres a lot. I like to do a half hour comedy at times or an hour dramedy and then if possible I try to change it up and do something a little bit darker and more psychological thriller kind of or action oriented.
It’s just something I’ve always tried to do is to vary project to project and not just sort of stay in one genre. So the timing worked out perfectly for one thing. I had just come off doing the Flight Attendant and prior to that, Dead To Me.
Both had more of a comedic kind of tone to them. So Found was wonderful in that it was a little more serious and darker material. When I read the pilot, the hook at the end was kind of like ‘oh, this is a really interesting take on this whole thing.’ I just really enjoyed it and was drawn to it.
Awards Radar: When you take on such heavier themes how does it change your approach? Also, where does your process begin? With the script, is that your day one?
Anthony Hardwick: Generally speaking, yeah. It’s different, if I shoot the pilot, which I’ve done a number of times and then gone on to shoot the show, it’s a little different because from the beginning you have a complete blank page to work with and to work with the showrunner and the director to sort of set the tone and the style of the show.
In a case like this where the pilot had been shot previously, you need to honor that and stay within that realm to a certain degree. I think every show over a course of a season or two or three will evolve into a different thing than what the pilot originally was. But, you obviously want to start with that as a template and kind of not depart too far from that.
I thought the pilot was great. Lighting-wise, contrast-wise, for network television. It was really bold and looked great – a good starting point to go with.
Awards Radar: You mentioned you worked with Shanola in the past on Shameless. What was the reunion like?
Anthony Hardwick: Well, I’d seen her a few times in various events and different sort of places since Shameless ended. But, Shanola is an absolute ball of energy. I don’t know if you’ve ever met her in person, but if you’ve ever been on set or if you ever get the opportunity to be on set, when she walks on, she is like the Energizer bunny. I’ve worked in this business a while and I’ve worked with a lot of different people, but I’ve never met anybody who has the energy she has – the positivity and joy at being there and being able to do the work. She’s really a pleasure to be around and a lot of fun.
Everyone on a crew who hasn’t worked with her before and sees her come on set for the first time – you can’t help but smile. She just is an amazing force of positive energy. So it was great.
Awards Radar: As with her character as our heroine, does that influence how you approach shooting her?
Anthony Hardwick: I try to give every actor in every scene the same sort of effort and work towards helping mold in a visual way what that character is all about. Shanola, all I can say about her is that she is quite gifted genetically. You can’t light her badly. I mean, you can throw any kind of light at any kind of angle, any quality of hard or soft, and she looks fantastic. It’s really unbelievable, but she kind of makes the job a little bit easy.
In terms of lighting her I’m always thinking about the subtext of the scene in particular of what we’re doing and what’s going on, both on the surface but underneath. I try to take those kinds of things into consideration as I craft what we’re going to be doing for that particular scene.
Awards Radar: As you go back and forth in time, you get to see the past and her being held captive. It has a very different and kind of a claustrophobic feel, I felt. What were your goals for those scenes in particular?
Anthony Hardwick: So we did want to differentiate the look a little bit. We didn’t want to go too far. Nkechi Okoro Carroll (Found showrunner) specifically didn’t want a whole tint or a different kind of complete look that took you out of it. She wanted it to flow a little bit back and forth between present time and the past without necessarily feeling too jarring.
We did use a different set of lenses. I chose to use a slightly softer set of lenses for the past sequences. And, that set was the same set from the pilot. It helps in that we mostly shot that set as if it was a practical location. In the pilot, they did shoot an exterior, but the interior they built so we didn’t pull walls a lot.
We tried to work within the confines of what the actual space was. To me, I feel like oftentimes when you pull walls, you just start to get this, you know, fault. In a weird way, I think the audience can sense something’s not quite right about this geography. But when you’re working within a tight space that’s a real location, a tight bathroom, for example, and you have to jam the camera in there, I think it accentuates the realness of the location.
We tried not to pull walls as much as possible. Only did it for occasional, very specialty sort of shots that required maybe a dolly track or something that needed to pull that wall out. But, I think 99% of the scenes we shot there in shots were all within it as if it was a real space.
Awards Radar: Yeah, they’re very intense scenes, and you feel like you’re in that room with them, which is uncomfortable and just unsettling. It quickly adds to the storytelling.
Anthony Hardwick: Yeah, and then the two actors, Mark Paul Gosselaar and Azaria Carter, they were just amazing in those scenes and crackle. You want to sort of be unobtrusive and just capture these performances that were just amazing.
Awards Radar: And speaking about Paul, episode one’s ending has that big reveal, which changes everything and gives off these Silence of the Lambs vibes – a type twist where the roles are reversed. How did you approach these scenes in comparison to the scene shot that were taking place back in 2003?
Anthony Hardwick: The spaces were very different. In the past sequences, the farmhouse was boarded up and the windows had boards over all the windows. It created an environment where by necessity, we mostly had to light with practicals and make it feel like it’s being lit by the practicals within the environment. The overhead chandelier over the dining table, or the bare bulb over the kitchen area. Maybe a little bit of streaks through some of those slats with a little bit of atmosphere at times.
But generally speaking, we couldn’t use the windows as a practical way to light. The basement that she has where she’s got him captive was a little different because she had him chained as opposed to the freedom that as a little girl she had within the farmhouse. So we were able to use windows a little bit more and create some hard contrast lighting.
I felt that was kind of an interesting way to go just because even though he was a captive, he’s still pretty menacing in that Silence of the Lambs kind of way. I tried to use some hard lighting on him frequently and her as well, because it was a bit of a cat and mouse at times. The power struggle shifted a little bit here and there throughout those scenes.
Having the windows to work with afforded a different kind of lighting ability than we did with a farmhouse.
Awards Radar: I noticed you shot through the framing of the walls. I don’t speak in good carpentry terms, but visually the beams of the bare walls create almost a prison-like feel to it.
Anthony Hardwick: Definitely. Again, with the power struggle difference between the two characters, at times we wanted to shoot Shanola from his perspective where she appears to be between the framing as if they’re bars – even though she’s a free person in that moment, because I guess psychologically she really wasn’t free in a way. They were sort of bound together.
Awards Radar: That’s very clever. When you shoot something like this, do you ever look to other films or any other work or cinematographers for inspiration or research?
Anthony Hardwick: It depends. If I’m starting from scratch and setting the tone from the pilot on in the case of a show or a movie, I do a lot of work with the director and we start to reference prior shows, photographs, paintings. We try to get a sort of look book or feel as a reference point.
But, in general, I kind of feel like as a cinematographer, pretty much everything you ever watch is in some way an influence on you. The better your memory and the better your ability to recall, ‘oh yeah, I remember this one scene from that movie,’ then you go back and reference it just to freshen your memory.
Everything I’ve ever watched has been an influence in some way. There are certainly some cinematographers that I look to a lot for inspiration. In the case of Found, I don’t think there was any one particular look or movie or show that influenced me very much.
Mostly it was taking the pilot as a template to start with and then figuring out where we wanted to go psychologically with the show. Oftentimes within a scene when you’re lining up a shot, you’ll have a recollection of, ‘oh, you know, I remember I saw this one shot in the Scorsese movie,’ or whatever and so those will be influences for sure.
Awards Radar: Each episode is so ambitious. There’s things that are very obvious like when Margaret (Kelli Williams) eyes up the investigation on scene and you get these numerous close ups to take viewers through the room and her mind. You also have Zeke (Arlen Escarpeta) who is almost always seen through a monitor and when he’s not, he’s also dealing with his agoraphobia and the trauma. Then you have these rooms encased in glass, with full walls of video. It must make your job exciting, but also very challenging. Can you touch upon some of the challenges?
Anthony Hardwick: Let’s start with the glass structures and within Mosley and Associates, the offices. There is a lot of glass there. Her office is a glass box within the entire main space.
There’s also the conference room, which has one big glass wall facing hers. So reflections are always a challenge. A lot of those glass panels, which are not quite floor to ceiling, but they’re very tall, were gimbled.
We did have the ability to angle them a little bit, which helps a lot with hiding lights and getting rid of unwanted reflections. We love certain reflections, like we always love to see the monitors from the front of the room, the big wall reflecting when we can. Especially if we can get like it’s always fun to play around with having an image of maybe the victim or a suspect somehow reflected within a shot while they’re discussing parts of the case.
But it’s really challenging. I would say that her office, that glass box, except for a curtain and a small portion of a wall, it’s like having four mirrors and trying to hide yourself and lights while shooting it. It is quite challenging. I think those were some of the most time consuming sequences, even though it might be a simple shot, just trying to do it technically was quite difficult, but also fun and challenging.
That’s part of what makes working in this business so much fun is that if it was all easy, you’d be bored and you wouldn’t want to. You know, Zeke, his thing is he’s got agoraphobia, like you mentioned, and he’s trapped within his own environment, which is limited in terms of the space. It’s the basement of his house and thus far, we haven’t seen anything upstairs. We’ve only seen his sort of workshop area.
We try to use that to our advantage. Again, occasionally we would pull walls, but we try to work within that environment, within that space, which I think helps to give you that feeling of he’s sort of trapped in his own prison.
Awards Radar: You say quite a lot with the camera. It’s been really exciting to watch this story unfold. I have seen several extra episodes, so I’ve got a little more information than the average viewer right now. I’m excited to see more. Thank you for your time today. I look forward to more of your work.
Anthony Hardwick: Oh, thank you very much.
Awards Radar: My pleasure. Have a great day.
You can watch Anthony’s work on Found on NBC where new episodes premiere every Tuesday (then stream the next day on Peacock