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Zachary Quinto and the All-Star Cast of THE SLAP on Their Controversial New NBC Drama

The eight-episode The Slap is an American adaptation of an Australian series of the same name about a group of Brooklyn-based friends and acquaintances whose lives are turned upside down when one of them (played by Zachary Quinto) slaps the child of another. At last month’s TCA winter press tour, writer/executive producer Jon Robin Baitz and executive producer Walter Parkes spoke to us about the show alongside its stars — Quinto, Thandie Newton, Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, and Melissa George, who reprises her role as Rosie, the mother of the slapped child, from the series original incarnation…

On delivering the actual slap…

Zachary Quinto: It was a big scene. There were a lot of technical elements to it because there were so many of us in it. The thing that was the most important for everybody was the well-being and the safety of the kids. So I was really impressed with how our AD team handled that. Obviously, we had to do it repetitively, but we isolated the moment of the slap. There was really clear communication with the kids, and then all of the explosive anger and emotion that exists around that actual incident was all done without the kids there, of course. So I think it was really well-handled, really well-executed, and, oddly, for all of us, because we spent so much time shooting that sequence, kind of enjoyable. It was a time of bonding and getting to know each other. Even though it was in the context of this horrific act, we all had as good a time as we could.

On the show’s narration…

Jon Robin Baitz: The narration offers the delusion of the character’s thought as fact. In the first episode a lot of the narration is about how how great Hector feels. That’s an illusion to some extent. People either like narration or they don’t habitually. As the show progresses, that voice of irony, becomes valuable in places where the behavior is saying one thing.

Walter F. Parkes: In the weeks to come, each hour is sort of a little short story about one of the characters, not so much Rashomon looking back, but really looking forward and seeing the extent to which the slap has had an effect on their lives. Borrowing from the same first eight chapters that take place in the novel, we’ve sort of adapted the literary voice as a way to kind of create a wholeness in each of these little short stories. We’ll see if it works.

On the way characters will be presented from different viewpoints over time…

WP: The slap is a catalyst for a whole lot of things that happen in these people’s lives. One of the metaphors we used working on this show [was] sometimes you have to break something to put it back right. So what you’re seeing over the course of the eight hours is a kind of working out of these relationships and actually breaking through some of the lies upon which these relationships were built.

The Slap 3

On bringing the kind of subject matter usually reserved for cable TV to commercial television…

WP: This came about because NBC network and NBCUniversal saw this as an opportunity to do a kind of event that usually we do associate with cable. At the end of the day, because it doesn’t have the rigors of twenty-two episodes, because it’s closed-ended, an opportunity for people, both behind and in front of the camera, to really commit to do something a little bit different, a little bit special. It begins with what’s on the page, and it goes through the director and to these actors, who are really the story here. If, in fact, that’s the way all of television is evolving, I think it’s a good thing, because we’re kind of in a moment of some of the greatest television being made in the history of the medium.

Melissa George: As actors, we get a cable script, and we’re excited because we know its producers are not ripping out pages, saying, “You can’t say this, you can’t say that because the advertisers are going to not like you to say that.” As an actor, you want freedom of speech. On the other side of that, [you] get less viewers if you’re on cable. We always say, “If I could do this script on a network with the millions and millions and millions of people that are going to tune in every week…” We have this luxurious poetic dialogue from Robbie Baitz and the direction of Lisa and Walter and all these great actors, and we’re on network TV. There’s no excuse for this to not deliver. For once, I feel, wow, we might get the viewers, and we’ve got the beautiful dialogue. So I’m hoping that the two roads meet.

Thandie Newton: I did a cable show; I’m still doing one, and there is the tendency there to… maybe it’s more gratuitous than it needs to be because that’s what people are expecting from cable. Actually, working on this, one of the things that was so beautiful about it [was] that, because we had certain restrictions, which weren’t crazy, it meant that we had to dig deeper into the performance… It’s so much nicer for an audience to have to imagine the extremes where you can go in performance.

Peter Sarsgaard: In cable somebody would have shot someone else’s child. And then had sex with the child’s sister. [Laughs.]

TN: The whole family, gone.

On the significance of the show’s titular act…

ZQ: The interesting thing is it’s not really about the slap, and all of these characters come to the table with a tremendous amount of internal conflict and struggle about different aspects of their lives and relationships. The slap is just this codifying incident that puts all of that into clear relief; and so I think all of us were more interested in the psychological dynamics that are going on outside of the incident of the actual slap. It was very difficult for me personally, obviously, so I [didn’t] understand how anybody could be motivated to this until I really got into the idea of what Harry believes he’s defending, the people that he loves, protection, honor, teaching his son what it means to be a man even if that’s a really misguided concept. There’s just so much else going on, and the great thing about the series, the miniseries, the event of it is that it’s a launching point, but what you’re going to see is a lot of very little black and white and a lot of gray.

MG: Everyone gets slapped in some way.

Uma Thurman: Being brought up in the ’70s, we got hit all the time, and friends were hit, and you saw their parents hitting their children. There was a lot of hitting, and hitting was acceptable. One of the things I love about the piece is it’s a very interesting cultural exploration of the changing face of how to treat a human being, of compassion, of family, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable. Robin explores this in the old world, like who can blame their parent who is lashed in the woodshed if they slapped you a few times, and they think they did nothing to you because they were brutalized? So they’re blinded by their own trauma from even how they may have behaved. I think Robin explores this on a cultural level in a way we really do understand. My daughter is very smart and says, “There’s two types of people. There’s reactors, and there’s repeaters.” Which one are you going to be as a person, as a parent? Are you reacting against it? Or are you going to repeat what happened to you? It’s very elusive. I think it’s very beautifully explored from many points of view in this piece.

The Slap debuts tonight on NBC and airs Thursdays at 8/7c.

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