Drinking, using drugs and picking up prostitutes is not a role usually associated with actor Patrick Stewart.
But as fictional news anchor Walter Blunt in the new TV series “Blunt Talk,” Stewart dabbles in a variety of vices, much to the chagrin of his production team. Blunt is a British news man who moves to Los Angeles with an eye towards conquering the American cable news industry. Only his antics both on and off the air begin to complicate his plans.
The series which airs on Starz was created by writer Jonathan Ames, who you might remember as the creator of the HBO series Bored To Death, starring Jason Schwartzman. Ames wrote the part of Walter Blunt specifically for Patrick Stewart, after Ames was approached by the series executive producer, Seth MacFarlane.
When Ames stopped by The Frame, we noticed a peculiar piece of flair adorning his suit jacket. A name tag with the name Doris.
This name tag is my great aunt's name tag. She passed away about a year ago, she was 101 and a half, and I was carrying it in my pocket while I was doing a bunch of press and publicity in New York, just to have her with me. And then while I was doing a TV interview, a publicity person said, "Oh, Jonathan, you have a stain on your jacket." So I put the name tag over the stain, and now I'm glad — this way, she's with me all the time.
I want to talk a little bit about the origins of "Blunt Talk," which is a series about a newscaster, and if you think Brian Williams has moral problems, I think this makes him looks like a saint. What was the genesis of this character?
My agent sent me an email: Would you like to get on the phone with Seth MacFarlane? Sure, why? [laughs] These agents send really terse emails, but is he going to practice voices on me?
He said, "Well, he's looking for a writer to come up with an idea for a comedy for Patrick Stewart." I thought, Okay, that's interesting.
The call was going to be the next day, so that night I happened to be channel surfing and I saw Piers Morgan on CNN, and I thought his head looked very large and interesting in front of this blue background and I thought, Patrick Stewart would look formidable and amazing behind an anchor desk.
Patrick Stewart's character is caught and arrested with a transgender prostitute. So he's somebody who lives life a little dangerously, a little on the edges of what most people would consider to be acceptable behavior. Was that part of what you and Patrick talked about very early on? Was he willing to go as far as you were willing to go with this character?
I had the general idea of that story in the first episode, but I might not have told him too much. I might have told him, "Oh, he has a crisis, perhaps he gets arrested." I didn't get into detail, I just wrote the script and I followed my own impulse to take Patrick Stewart, this interesting figure, and put him in odd situations but also tell a story.
Like many first episodes, you begin in crisis and we learn who this character is, and much of the season is trying to come back from this crisis, to be a phoenix and rise from the flames. I sent that first script off and he liked it! I was like, Okay, cool! He was very game, very open, and very brave.
This is your first series since "Bored to Death" was cancelled in 2011 after three seasons. When you've put so much of your own life and your own story into a show, when it's cancelled does it provoke a different reaction than it would had it been created out of whole cloth?
That's the only show I've had cancelled. I did have a pilot I did for Showtime in 2004 in which I played myself, so that was maybe worse — I wasn't good enough at playing myself. So then I was smart, and the second time around I got a wonderful actor, Jason Schwartzman, to play me.
It wasn't so much that the show was autobiographical, because I don't know that it was. It was a bit of a fantasy of Brooklyn, and it was a private detective fantasy, but I did put my heart into it, and when you make a show, you become a family.
When you're cancelled, you lose the circus you've been traveling with, but at the same time it was an incredible run that I'd had. I'd been a struggling novelist for 20 years and then I got the keys to a Lamborghini. So I recognized that I'd been given a great gift, and I had a lot of gratitude for those three years.
When you were shopping "Blunt Talk" around and there were a number of interested parties, Starz came on board with a commitment for two seasons. What does that give you as a creator in not having to prove yourself week to week?
That was a real vote of confidence from Starz and it's why we went with them. We didn't have to worry about putting in all this effort, making a pilot, and then being shot down. At the same time, a pilot allows you to figure out what works, you learn how the actors speak, and you get a greater sense of the world, you can make some mistakes. But we had to hit the ground running and do 10 episodes, 300 pages, and I wrote the first four scripts without ever having heard any of these actors speak.
Was that before Patrick was cast?
No, I wrote this Patrick. This was developed for him.
Didn't Patrick come up with the name Walter Blunt?
Yes. This thing was moving forward and I emailed Patrick about his character's name. I wanted to give him a dignified name, so I sent some ideas to Patrick, and he said, "How about Walter Blunt?"
"Walter Blunt was the first character I ever played in the Royal Shakespeare Company," I think it was in "Henry IV," and that character delivers some information to the king and the king has some famous line about news, going, "That's not news, that's yesterday's fish," or something like that.
I was like, Oh my god, that's perfect! It's the first role he ever played, the character delivers information and is told it's not news, and Patrick had used it as an alias before. I had one of those instantaneous ideas — let's call it "Blunt Talk," that will be the name of his news show like "Anderson Cooper 360" or "The O'Reilly Factor." And then we'll call our show "Blunt Talk." I emailed Patrick back instantly. If you saw the two emails, his came at 12:03 and mine went back at 12:07.