Mark Friedman on 'Dispatches From Elsewhere', Philadelphia, and 'The Wizard of Oz' of it all | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Mark Friedman on ‘Dispatches From Elsewhere’, Philadelphia, and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ of It All

Interviewed by:
Stephen Silver
Interview date:
April 2020
Eve Lindley’s Simone goes where Rocky never did – inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art – on Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC)

There are certain ways you’re used to seeing Philadelphia on screen, whether it’s M. Night Shyamalan, whether it’s Rocky, or different TV shows that have been set in the city. Dispatches had a very different look and feel than any of those. Now, you worked on a show with M. Night, is that correct? 

I did Wayward Pines season 2. 

That was the one thing of his that wasn’t shot in Philadelphia, right? 

Yes, we shot in Vancouver, and it was set in like a futuristic Pacific Northwest small town. 

I saw an interview once where he said the trees weren’t right to shoot anywhere near Philadelphia. 

I have the feeling he was quite unhappy about it, only because I know how much he loves Philadelphia, and how much he loves living there, and shooting there. And when we made Wayward Pines, he brought all the writers to his home, he flew us all out before we started. And he had been busy with… I think it was Split at that point, so there’d been some work, and we all had lunch at his house. He has a cool library, which was like out of Beauty and the Beast

It’s funny, I didn’t see him in Philly. You end up with crew people who are Philly local people, so we had a lot of people who had worked on Servant, and were wearing Servant t-shirts. Also, the timing worked, because Servant Season 1 had wrapped, but the second season hadn’t started shooting yet, so you had a lot of people who could come over to us. 

When you’re there for so long, we started in May, we were there in July where it’s like a million degrees and it’s disgusting, and by the end you’re freezing cold at 3 in the morning by the water. I lived right in Rittenhouse, and the city was great, I hadn’t spent a lot of time there. Anyone who comes to me about shooting there, I would recommend it completely. 

The episode where he sings the Les Miserables song, I know Jason’s a big Les Miz fan, I’ve seen him sing those songs on talk shows. Was it a challenge to get the rights to that? 

It wasn’t challenging to get the rights, but when you have a music budget you end up getting certain things for a little bit of money, and then certain things for more money. The other way it works out is, you get a certain amount for the season, so X amount for the whole year. But it doesn’t end up dividing evenly, because we had a bunch of episodes that were just score. 

We had a couple ones like “Good Vibrations,” which is in Episode 5, and the Les Miz song, so you end up saying “this episode we only spent 15 grand, but in another episode we spent 130 grand, so you hope in the end you’ve averaged out to the right number. And there also are certain songs that are must-haves. 

We had a great music supervisor, named Jen Malone, who did Atlanta, and she did Euphoria, which had phenomenal music. So sometimes we’d go to her with a song and she’d say we can’t get this, or this is gonna cost too much, but she puts together a playlist for you of other songs that are similar in tone or style. There’s also issues like “Good Vibrations” comes back a second time, and you have to pay again. 

The Les Miz thing, I do remember when we were in the writers’ room where that idea came up, and Jason had narrowed it down to two Les Miz songs, and I can’t remember – the other one might have been “Castle in a Cloud.” What he did was, he went in the shower and sang both of them, and then decided which was harder and chose that one.

Those songs were just talent show staples, that I remember from when I was a kid, “On My Own” was definitely of those. 

Yea, it’s like that woman Susan Boyle. 

In the last episode, where it’s Jason playing himself, it goes into, the impression is that he’s explaining how the show came to be. How close was that to the real story of what happened? Was it completely the same thing, or was it a little bit off? 

Which part? Are you talking about him playing the game and all that?  

The game part, and also the part where he has the script, and also about where he was in life.

This is one where I would certainly let Jason speak for himself about his own – what’s he’s been through in life. I know he and I have talked about it a lot, I feel like that’s obviously his story to tell. 

I think basically he was at a crossroads, independent of any personal health issues, just in terms of what kind of actor and person he wanted to be, in terms of “do I want to go be a sitcom dad for ten years, or do I want to do something that scares me, that is challenging?” He always talks about the guy who did a Dracula musical [as seen in Forgetting Sarah Marshall], he wants to be that guy. And he felt like this was a risk – and so did my agent, when this was brought to me, he thought ‘this is weird and scary to me’ – which is exactly why I gravitated to it, and Andre gravitated to it I think. 

I think it was about… finding your smile again, a bit as an artist. And I hate throwing that word around and being pretentious, because we’re just making a television show. But I feel like he wanted to “find his balls again,” to use an expression that he’s used with me. And telling you honestly – you are the first person that I have spoken to about the finale, other than people who worked on the show, I don’t know anyone who’s seen it. I’m very curious what the response is going to be, because we talked about this a lot. 

Of course actors want to be loved universally, but this show isn’t for everybody. Like, my parents don’t get it. They’ll stay stuff like “it’s so creative!” They don’t really understand what’s happening at all. But there are people I’ve spoken too that understand it quite deeply. 

I think the finale, some people will want the game part to continue, because that’s what was drawn to them, while other will be completely satisfied by the “Wizard of Oz” of it all, but this to me is a feature and not a bug. To me, it’s exciting to find out what people are going to be saying on Twitter Monday night. I have no idea. 

And you just don’t work on that many things in your career where there’s that level of surprise in how people are gonna react. 

Richard E. Grant as Octavio, on Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC)

So, what is the status of the series? If there’s another season, would it be the same characters, or different characters? What can you tell me about that? 

It was always designed as anthology, meaning it would not be another story about Clara, or this game, or the Jejune Institute. The goal was to use the same actors playing different characters – but the key would be a thematic connection, in the ideas of connection between people, and bringing people together, and the connection in everyday life. 

Jason has a couple of ideas for those seasons and stories, and I have a couple also, but we really haven’t started any of those discussions with AMC quite yet. 

The first season of Dispatches From Elsewhere is available to stream on AMC’s on-demand channels.

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