PRODIGAL SON returns for the premiere of its second season on Tuesday, January 12, on Fox. The show stars Tom Payne as Malcolm Bright, who works as a consultant for a homicide department of the NYPD, headed up by Lou Diamond Phillips’s character, Lieutenant Gil Arroyo. Malcolm has unique insights into serial killers, since his incarcerated father, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), happens to be one.
Season 1 ended with Malcolm’s sister, TV journalist Ainsley (Halston Sage), stabbing wealthy murderer Nicholas Endicott (Dermot Mulroney) to death in order to save herself and her brother. Before this happened, Gil had embarked on a tentative romance with Jessica Whitly (Bellamy Young), who is Malcolm and Ainsley’s mother – and then Endicott stabbed Gil.
In a phone interview, Phillips talks about PRODIGAL SON Season 2, preparing to direct an episode, and his new YA novel, THE TINDERBOX: SOLDIER OF INDIRA.
ASSIGNMENT X: Can you tease what’s new for Gil Arroyo this season?
LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS: Absolutely. I can’t give you any solid answers, but I think the very fact that we’re talking is a bit of a spoiler in the fact that I don’t die. There’s always a possibility in network television, and I have to say that [PRODIGAL SON creators/executive producers] Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver were so kind, they actually called me personally before I got that episode where Gil gets stabbed. They said, “All right, listen, you’re getting stabbed, you’re going in the hospital, but you’re not going to die.” [laughs] “So don’t freak out.”
What that does, though, is, it presents a great dynamic to the ongoing will they/won’t they aspect of Jessica and Gil, and doesn’t wrap it all up, where we’re going on date night, or popping popcorn for movie night. That would get really boring, really fast. So, the guys are keeping the edge on it, and not letting us get too stale. The nature of that relationship is very fluid at the moment, so I don’t think it’s what people expect. Our writers keep it open and kind of messy.
So, [there is] that ongoing relationship, and then obviously, how it affects his team, and even his relationship with Malcolm. And Malcolm’s issues are ongoing, so Gil’s paternal instincts are always there for him, and how he’s going to continue forward in that respect. But the paternal aspect extends to the rest of his team as well, and I have to say that it’s really great that the writers have branched out to a certain extent and got into the other orbits around Malcolm’s sun, so to speak, and the dynamics between Gil and JT [the police detective played by Frank Harts], and Gil and Dani [the police detective played by Aurora Perrineau], even Edrisa [the police pathologist played by Keiko Agena], come into play a little bit more in this season, and he finds himself being in a protective situation with more than one of them. So, that’s always exciting for me as an actor.
AX: Does Arroyo come out of being stabbed and hospitalized any more vulnerable, or any more armored?
PHILLIPS: It strengthens his relationship with his team, and you can see how much, not only do they care about him, but how free they are to express their opinions, and to operate as a team, even though Gil is the father figure in all of it. And I think that’s a good dynamic. And like I think with all good characters, it forces some self-reflection. It forces Gil to take stock of not only his relationships, but how he does his job, and what he cares about in his job, and the gray areas that he has with Malcolm. So, I think that’s part and parcel of a successful show, where it continues to grow, and continues to evolve, that the characters can grow, and evolve, and have an open mind, and approach new challenges, that it’s not just the same-old, same-old week in and week out.
AX: Do you get any more scenes with Michael Sheen this season?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely. And those always make me very happy [laughs]. Those are just a lot of fun, not only because of my immense respect for Michael as an actor, but the fact that these two characters just get to butt heads, and it’s so entertaining. The writers are so clever in how they treat these dynamics, and I think it’s even more special, because it doesn’t happen on a weekly basis. But yes, we will see Gil and Dr. Whitly interact a little bit more.
AX: What’s Gil’s relationship like with Ainsley now?
PHILLIPS: That’s going to play on a number of different levels. Where Ainsley left off at the end of last season, that’s food for thought. That’s very, very provocative, and the boys – and by “the boys,” I intend that very respectfully, Sam Sklaver and Chris Fedak – are really playing with that storyline, and where that goes, and how that affects Malcolm, and how it’s going to affect the rest of the team. In addition to the fact that there is just that brother/sister dynamic, and the obvious competitiveness of having a criminal profiler and an investigative journalist, that I think they’re going to burrow into a little bit more this season. So those two camps will come into contention as well, which I think is very interesting.
AX: It’s been announced that Christian Borle and Michael Potts are joining the PRODIGAL SON cast this season. How is it working with them?
PHILLIPS: I had some wonderful, wonderful scenes with Michael. But since Christian’s storyline is with Michael Sheen, I haven’t crossed paths with him yet, but I will, although I did get to see him on set and just tell him what a fan I am. He was wonderful in SMASH, and in a lot of the other things that he’s done recently, and just such a talented and very diverse actor. One of the nice fringe benefits of doing PRODIGAL SON is that, since I don’t always work with a lot of the other actors, and I’m not in those scenes, I get to be a fan, too, when I watch it broadcast [laughs]. I say, “Oh, gosh, look what they’re doing! How cool is that?” So, that’s a lot of fun, too.
AX: You’re also scheduled to direct an episode of PRODIGAL SON. Which number episode is this of the season?
PHILLIPS: 207. I’m actually very fortunate, because I’m starting my prep before the Christmas break, and that way, I can marinate in it a little bit before I start shooting in January, and it works out really well to do that. It gives me a little more time, seeing that I’m having to pull double-duty [as actor and preparing director] during the prep period of time.
AX: Did you ask them to write you light in the episode, or is this just where your directing slot came up in the rotation?
PHILLIPS: The boys knew at the end of last season that they would want to let me direct one [this season]. So, as they were breaking the storylines and figuring out which episodes were going to go where, they were mindful of the fact that I would need some time to prep, and then also, direct a show that I would be in as well. So, they were able to apply that philosophy to not only the schedule, but to the individual episode, so that I would have time on both ends.
AX: You’ve directed on some shows that you were a regular on, like LONGMIRE, and then episodes of some shows that you weren’t in, like FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and AGENTS OF SHIELD. Is there a difference in how you deal with those two kinds of directing jobs?
PHILLIPS: Yeah. It’s easier to direct when you don’t have to act as well. As the director, you’re always concerned with your cast. What’s funny is, it’s the scenes that I’m in where I find myself so invested in my costars’ performances, I will sometimes forget my own cue [laughs], because in my head, I’m like, “Oh, that’s great, that’s fantastic. You’re doing so good – oh, my goodness, it’s my line.” And so I really have to approach the split-brain aspect of it. And as a director, I’m always there, I’m always laser-focused on the work, in addition to how fast we’re moving, if the shots are getting set up, all of that. So, having to take the time to go change wardrobe or get my makeup touched up is a little irritating [laughs] when I’d prefer to be stirring the pot. But that’s the challenge of it, and that’s the gratification that I get from it as well.
To be quite honest, I don’t think I would do it if I didn’t firmly feel like I had my character in my back pocket, and I knew exactly what was needed from him. And I also wouldn’t do it on any project where I didn’t have the utmost confidence in the cast and crew. And in both instances, on PRODIGAL SON, our cast and our crew are just topnotch. I’m there [as director] to keep their voice, and be a sounding board, and to be a motivator, but I don’t have to drag a performance out of anybody, or challenge the crew to be better. They’re doing that, always. When I’m there, it’s as a facilitator, I think, to allow the cast to do their best work, so they can look great, but also to hopefully inspire the crew to do some interesting stuff, and to get creative, and to really stretch their wings. So that’s what I love about the collaborative aspect of it all.
AX: Is it easier directing on a show that you’re working on, simply because you’re there all the time, and you know how everybody operates?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, because a level of trust has been built up, and you know what to expect from everybody. There is an unspoken language many times, because you have such chemistry with everybody that you can lean a little bit on the history of it all. Coming in cold to a show, if you’re going to do FEAR THE WALKING DEAD or AGENTS OF SHIELD, you’ve got to get the lay of the land very quickly, and you have to understand the interpersonal dynamics, and what the politics of the set might be, and try to plug yourself into that. And you can’t come in and reinvent the wheel. You have to color with the box of crayons they give you. So, there’s a real talent in figuring that out, too. But being able to direct a show like LONGMIRE, for instance, where you’re very, very familiar, not only with the aesthetic of the show, but how it works, and how the machine works, then hopefully you can take advantage, and play to everybody’s strengths.
AX: How has COVID affected the set, and does COVID exist onscreen in PRODIGAL SON?
PHILLIPS: It exists onscreen in the respect that we refer to it once in a while, but it doesn’t hit too much, let’s put it that way. But it one hundred percent has affected how we shoot things. We wouldn’t be back at work if it weren’t for the COVID compliances and protocols that are in place. Anybody who works consistently is tested three or four times throughout the week, a combination of the rapid test and the lab test. And even then, we have the occasional positive case, and we have to scramble and replace people, and we let people sit out for a couple of weeks. Thank God, nobody’s losing their job over it, but sometimes, they do have to remove themselves, so that we catch it early.
And the way we shoot it is much more mindful, it is much more responsible. Film sets are classically very relaxed, and very creative, very touchy-feely, and there is none of that now. We’re all socially distanced, we’re all masked, the actors keep our masks on until the very minute that we roll, and they go back on right after we cut. And then we’re socially distanced from each other in between times, oftentimes having to go back to our respective quarters to socially isolate. So, there are a lot of demands that are new, but that are well worth it, that not only keep everybody safe, but to keep us in production, and keep us making the show that, thank goodness, a lot of people are eager to see.
AX: You have had a recurring role on BLUE BLOODS. Will you be back on that show this season?
PHILLIPS: At this point, there are no plans for that. I ended up doing more episodes of that than we originally planned for, and it’s kind of a shame, too, because I was actually supposed to direct an episode of BLUE BLOODS last January, but we got picked up for the back nine on PRODIGAL SON, so, suddenly, I was no longer available. I would really have loved to work with that cast as a director as well. But I think the door is open. That character went into Witness Protection. They could bring him back out at some point.
AX: You also had a book published recently …
PHILLIPS: Yes, my first novel. It came out [in November 2020]. It’s called THE TINDERBOX: SOLDIER OF INDIRA. The original inspiration for it was a series of drawings that my wife [Yvonne Boismier Phillips] had done in the manga style, that was going to be a graphic novel. This was way back in the ‘90s. When we first started dating, I saw these, and it really sparked my imagination. The original concept was to do a movie, this post-apocalyptic fantasy, set in a galaxy far, far away. And then we realized that the movie would be really, really expensive, and that I wouldn’t get to direct it [laughs]. So we decided to go ahead and write the novel first. And that was a process that took over ten years, mainly because I was always acting. So, I would write sporadically and put it away, and come back to it.
I have to say that Craig Johnson was instrumental in reading the first couple of chapters and saying, “Yeah, man, go for it, it’s good.” He was supportive and enthusiastic. And Chris Bohjalian, who is the author of THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT, which is a TV show that’s on right now, helped me get it over the finish line. Chris and I met a couple of years ago, and became fast friends, and we’re actually working on another project together. But as a New York Times bestselling author, his opinion and his guidance – and he actually put the book into the right hands, which led to it getting published. So, I owe him a debt of gratitude. Last year, the book sold, after the ten-year process of writing it. And then when COVID hit, I was able to do the final edits on it, and really focus on that, and my wife Yvonne was able to do thirty illustrations for the hardcover version. And I could not be more pleased, because it came out of the gate really strong. I had been looking forward to doing readings, and events, and book signings, and personal appearances at bookstores, and obviously, none of that could happen. And yet, the book still performed, and it’s still performing, incredibly well. It’s been at the top of a bunch of Amazon lists. I think it’s exceeded expectations, not only as a hardcover, but in the audio versions. It’s done so well that Yvonne and I are actually working on the sequel. So, it’s yet another way to get to be a storyteller in a totally different way.
AX: Would you describe THE TINDERBOX: SOLDIER OF INDIRA book as, very broadly, a STAR WARS type of story?
PHILLIPS: Yeah. On Amazon, it’s categorized as a YA, and as sci-fi, and a space opera. So, it’s made it to the top of those lists. But it really is inspired from the Hans Christian Andersen short story fable, fairytale, if you will, “The Tinderbox.” There are elements of ROMEO AND JULIET in it, which is kind of why it got the YA designation. My two young heroes are in their late teens. And so, it’s a ROMEO AND JULIET fantasy tale, with princesses, and kings, and prophecies, and wars happening in space. It kind of defies categorization, it’s a little bit of a hybrid, but it’s, as I say, it’s been received very well by all of those camps. I’ve read really nice reviews from hardcore YA critics, and sci-fi critics.
AX: Does your wife, Yvonne Boismier Phillips, participate in the writing, as well as being the illustrator?
PHILLIPS: She’s the illustrator. And she was the original inspiration. And she’s my sounding board, so I’m credited with writing it, but I [owe] everything to her. And as I said, I’m working on the sequel, and on that one, I most certainly want her to get a story credit. She’s the one that came up with the idea.
AX: Do you feel creatively like you’re wearing different hats when you act, and when you direct, and when you write fiction, or do you feel like it’s the same engine driving everything?
PHILLIPS: I’ve said it before. They’re different branches of the same creative tree. It falls under the umbrella of being a storyteller, or a communicator. But each one requires a different discipline. It requires a different tool kit. It’s almost like acting for film, or acting on the stage. At its heart, it’s the same thing, but there are different techniques, and different rules and disciplines that you have to apply to it. It’s the same sort of thing.
It’s interesting, because I wrote the screenplay for THE TINDERBOX first, and then had to wrap my head around how to do it in a narrative fashion. And I broke some fundamental rules, and those were some of the notes from my publisher, and from my editor. It was like, “Ah, of course.” Because I was approaching it as a film director, and not as somebody who was telling a narrative story. And a lot of times, that was in the perspective of the characters, and the voice of the characters. So, it was refreshing my memory of how to write narrative.
The same thing as stepping onto a stage and performing live after having not done it for a while. You have to knock the dust off of those muscles. And so, even now, being in prep for directing an episode of PRODIGAL SON, I’m going back to not only my usual skills, but my time management, and my logistical muscles that will hopefully allow us to get the most out of every single day, and to deliver the best possible episode.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about Season 2 of PRODIGAL SON?
PHILLIPS: It is more – underline more – of the same. Great crimes of the week, the relationships that just get more deep and more twisted, and some incredible dark humor. It’s getting funnier, but in a good way, not in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge way. It’s very clever, and it’s very insidious, and it’s a lot of fun.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with PRODIGAL SON actor and director Lou Diamond Phillips on Season 2 and his new novel THE TINDERBOX: SOLDIER OF INDIRA.