Sarah Wayne Callies as Robin Perry in COUNCIL OF DADS - Season 1 - "The Sixth Stage" | ©2020 NBC/Seth F. Johnson

Sarah Wayne Callies as Robin Perry in COUNCIL OF DADS – Season 1 – “The Sixth Stage” | ©2020 NBC/Seth F. Johnson

NBC’s COUNCIL OF DADS is on Thursday nights in its first season. The feel-good drama, created by Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, is about a family that loses one member, only to gain many more. In the pilot, Scott Perry (Tom Everett Scott), having received a cancer diagnosis, asks the three men he trusts most – Anthony (Clive Standen), Larry (Michael O’Neill), and Oliver (J. August Richards) – to be there for his family and serve as substitute dads after his death. This occurs partway through the first episode.

Sarah Wayne Callies plays Dr. Robin Perry, Scott’s wife/widow and mother to their five children, some biological, some adopted, of varying ages and races. Callies, originally from Illinois, is largely known for playing intense characters in intense television genre dramas: drug-addicted Dr. Sara Tancredi on PRISON BREAK, Lori Grimes in the first several seasons of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, and resistance fighter Katie Bowman in all three seasons of the alien invasion saga COLONY.

ASSIGNMENT X: Over the past fifteen years, you’ve done a lot of series where your characters tend to shoot and punch and run. Were you actively looking to get out of that genre, or did COUNCIL OF DADS come along, and you thought, “Well, I’ll do it, and maybe in Season 2, I’ll get into a fistfight”?

SARAH WAYNE CALLIES: You haven’t seen Episode 2 yet, have you? [laughs] No, entirely, I was looking for that. The world felt like a safer place when I was doing different kinds of work. And I hit a little bit of an “I will fight no more forever moment,” where I felt like I’d put a lot of violence into the world, and I’d been a part of shows that were apocalyptic and bleak at a time when I think we needed to explore that part of the human mythology. And we’ve done it. We’re doing great on that score. So I wanted something that made me feel like, “We’re going to be okay. We can do this for each other. We’re going to get through it. We might cry a little bit, but we got this.” That’s what I wanted.

Sarah Wayne Callies from January 2020 Press Tour Portrait Studio for COUNCIL OF DADS - Season 1 | ©2020 NBC/Maarten de Boer

Sarah Wayne Callies from January 2020 Press Tour Portrait Studio for COUNCIL OF DADS – Season 1 | ©2020 NBC/Maarten de Boer

AX: Are you a parent in real life?

CALLIES: Yes.

AX: So is it a stretch at all playing a mother of five, or do you feel like you’ve got enough life experience in that area?

CALLIES: Well, sometimes I feel like I have five children. In reality, I have two. But I’m also actually an adoptive parent, and so one of the first conversations that Tony and Joan and I had was about being an adoptive parent of a child of a different race. One of the concerns I had when I read the script was, “If this isn’t done well, it’s going to do a disservice to this community.” And then when I talked to them, I thought, “Oh, well, okay, this is a first-person experience for them. These are exactly the people who should be telling this story.”

AX: In reality, you are the adoptive mother of a black child. Does the writers’ room ever come to you and say, “How do you deal with this?”

CALLIES: Well, the writers’ room is very equipped to deal with that. There are transracially-adoptive parents in there, there are black people who were themselves adopted. They don’t need me for that, but we have giggled over a fair number of stories. I nursed my son, and being a white woman nursing a little black baby in Atlanta six years ago was a master class in race relations [laughs]. And the village it’s taken me to raise my son – all the black friends in my life, who’ve been like, “This is how we’re going to do this, this is my advice” – you always need a village, but when you have a child who is going to have different experiences by virtue of their race, you need the people in your life who live that day to day to be there with you and go, “Hey, let me feed this into your experience so that it doesn’t surprise you, and so that you can be all right.”

AX: Do you have different affects in dealing with the three men who make up the Council of Dads?

CALLIES: Yeah, absolutely. I have a different history with each of them. Oliver is my oldest friend, and my best friend, and I think he’s been a deeply embedded part of my family, and I am his. Our daughters are best friends. His husband is a dear friend of mine. Larry is a stranger to me in many ways. The thing about Alcoholics Anonymous [where Scott was Larry’s sponsor] is, it’s anonymous. I think I knew that Scott was sponsoring somebody, and that he was somebody he cared about a tremendous amount, but I don’t think I had any real sense of who this man was, until he shows up in my house with a lasagna and a Christmas tree. And now I have to contend with him. And I think especially with Larry, in addition to everything else he is, he’s an elder. And I think Robin is somebody who was raised the way I was, which is, you don’t step to an elder. You don’t contravene them. And yet he’s making decisions for my children that might not be the same decisions I would make.

Sarah Wayne Callies as Robin Perry in COUNCIL OF DADS - Season 1| ©2020 NBC/Jeff Lipsky

Sarah Wayne Callies as Robin Perry in COUNCIL OF DADS – Season 1| ©2020 NBC/Jeff Lipsky

AX: So Robin and Larry butt heads a lot?

CALLIES: Initially, there is an inevitable turf war. But by the end of it, we do find a way to be greater allies than anything else, and I think what becomes clear is that he’s so devoted to the children’s well-being, and it’s a trust in Scott. If Scott put this guy in the council, he must have done it for a reason. It takes us longer than we’d like, but we get there. By the way, Michael O’Neill will absolutely knock your socks off this season. He’s an actor at the top of his craft, he’s been doing it a long time. This was literally written for him. Everybody’s great in the show, but Michael is a master class.

AX: And Scott’s friend Anthony, is he somebody Robin just has trouble taking seriously?

CALLIES: Well, he’s the guy that comes into town and he’s hanging out with your husband. My husband doesn’t drink, but they go out, they stay out late, they blow off steam together. I think that’s an important person in your spouse’s life. When all of a sudden that kind of playboy figure is deputized in a parental role, I think there’s a bit of second guessing going on there. I see why this is good for Anthony, in that it’s giving him a sense of himself, and a sense of what it means to be responsible to others, but I think initially, Robin’s a little back-footed about, “Are you going to be able to step up reliably for my children in the way I think they deserve?”

AX: Does Robin have any important female friends?

CALLIES: She does. We’re a very big, sprawling cast. So at the moment, those important female friends are her daughters. Most of Robin’s female relationships are with [eldest daughter] Luly [played by Michele Weaver], and with [younger daughter] Charlotte [played by Thalia Tran]. As the seasons go on, I imagine that will grow and expand, but we already have about a dozen storylines to service, so in our first season, we’re very much focused on that family.

AX: Robin seems to have a fairly complex relationship with her own mother, played by Becky Ann Baker …

CALLIES: She’s sensational. And we have some moments as a mother and daughter that resonate so deeply with both us as mothers, and as mothers who have daughters. Interestingly, I’ve never had a mom on TV before. I’ve been on two hundred-plus episodes of TV, and I’ve never had a mom. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it’s possible it’s because this is the first time I’ve had a female show runner, and a room full of writers who are as many women as men. I’ve also never had an easier time learning lines, I’ve never felt so fully represented as a whole person. Which is not to say that men cannot brilliantly write for women, but I do think there’s something about the depth and breadth of Robin’s relationships with the women in her life that is reflected in the writers’ room.

Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies in THE WALKING DEAD - Season 2 finale - "Behind The Dying Fire" | ©2012 AMC/Gene Page

Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies in THE WALKING DEAD – Season 2 finale – “Behind The Dying Fire” | ©2012 AMC/Gene Page

AX: In the pilot, we learn that Luly believes herself to be from a prior relationship that Scott had with another woman; in the second episode, it seems like Luly’s parentage is even more complicated than that. Do we meet Luly’s biological mother?

CALLIES: Absolutely. I think part of Luly’s [Michele Weaver] grief process, losing her biological father – I’m the mother that she’s known, but of course she has questions about her biological mom. And also, she was raised by two white people, and she’s a biracial girl. And that’s how she describes herself. And so there are going to be questions, especially as she moves into being married to a black man, who was raised by a black woman. There are going to be questions about identity, as well as, “Why did you give me up?” and all of that, and that’s a central part of her journey.

AX: Do you feel that COUNCIL OF DADS appeals to the same audience that THIS IS US does?

CALLIES: Absolutely. I went through about a year, a year-and-a-half, where all I could watch was stand-up comedy. I needed someone to make me laugh at the end of the day. Then I found THIS IS US. As the mother of an adopted black son, obviously, it spoke tremendously to me. But I watched it, and I remembered the family [series] that I came up on – FAMILY TIES, FULL HOUSE, THE COSBY SHOW – these shows that were like, at the end of it, you were like, “Yeah, we’re going to be okay.” And yes, there were cast members on those shows who’d done some weird, awful things at the time. But the stories that were being told were stories of families that you thought, “I want those people in my life.” And I want to be a part of that kind of storytelling right now.

AX: Do you keep up with THE WALKING DEAD?

Sarah Wayne Callies at the William S. Paley Television Festival (PaleyFest2011) featuring THE WALKING DEAD | ©2011 Sue Schneider

Sarah Wayne Callies at the William S. Paley Television Festival (PaleyFest2011) featuring THE WALKING DEAD | ©2011 Sue Schneider

CALLIES: I never watched THE WALKING DEAD. It scared me. But ten years ago, the world was different, and that kind of exploration of depravity and desperation and fear was subversive, and it was interesting, and it was new. And now, we have such a glut of shows about what a sh**ty, dystopian, f**ked-up world we’re in – including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, which are reality shows about the s**ty, dystopian, f**ked-up world we’re in – that I think it’s actually now kind of subversive to say, “Maybe we’re all going to be okay. Maybe we can get through this by reaching out to one another.”

AX: Do you have any other projects going on we should know about?

CALLIES: I’m negotiating for a couple of directing jobs, but I also sold a narrative podcast. It’s like a radio drama. I’m writing that, along with another writer, and we just recorded a bunch of it. I cast it out of my phone, a bunch of my friends that I’ve known for a long time, David Harbour, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, we’re all getting together and we’re voicing this thing. That’s kind of my passion project, because I get to write, direct, produce, and star, and that’s fun.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about COUNCIL OF DADS?

CALLIES: We’re going to make you feel better. Episodes 2, 3, and 4 are fantastic. And 4 is kind of a romcom, which I absolutely love, and I’ve never gotten to do before. I think Episodes 5 and 6 are two of the best episodes of television I’ve ever been in.

This interview was conducted at NBC’s party for the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

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Article: COUNCIL OF DADS: Exclusive interview with Sarah Wayne Callies on Season 1

 

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