Multi award-winning writer/producer David E Kelley has created many courtroom dramas such as Boston Legal, The Practice and Ally McBeal. However, his new project Goliath, which premieres on Amazon Prime Video on October 14th 2016, is a new take on the familiar formula.
Billy Bob Thornton portrays Billy McBride, once a powerful attorney with the firm of Cooperman & McBride. Thrown out of the firm by his partner, Donald Cooperman (William Hurt), after alcoholism took over his life, McBride is now a shell of his former self.
But McBride has an unexpected chance of redemption when a new case pits him against his old partner.
David E Kelley and Billy Bob Thornton came to the TV Critics tour to talk with journalists about their new drama.
How did you and writer/producer Jonathan Shapiro come up with this idea?
David E Kelley: When we were doing The Practice 20 years ago, the litigators were the heroes. Now litigation is the slumming job in the law firms. The practice of law has so changed now. We began to kick around this series long before Bernie Sanders’ movement came to fruition, but that theme is imbued in this show as well in that the system is rigged.
We always believed that law was where democracy could ultimately thrive where, if someone was wronged, they could get their day in court and right that wrong. The truth is that’s just not true anymore. Law firms have become big corporate giants. Cases never get to trial.
What this particular series is about is this one down-and-out, lone warrior knowing full well that he hasn’t got the resources to fight big law. He knows that you don’t get to appear in front of juries like you used to. It just costs too much and takes too long, yet (his) clinging to this notion that if he can just get there, if he can just get in front of 12 other people, democracy still does have a chance. The truth maybe has a chance of winning out.
That’s kind of what this David-and-Goliath battle is and why it’s particularly relevant today.
Billy Bob, so often this kind of setting, Venice, California, seems to be a great place for a down-and-out. Did the setting help you in creating the character?
Billy Bob Thornton: That’s easy for me, no matter where I am. I actually lobbied for Pacoima, but they didn’t go for it.
But yeah, Venice has a real vibe. Oftentimes, as an actor, you do rely on the environment, wardrobe, all kinds of stuff. You just get in it, and it automatically makes you feel the (character).
On Fargo we saw you play a great villain, and here you seem to be playing something of an antihero. And I’m wondering, is there much of a difference these days between those two different kinds of characters, an antihero and a villain?
Billy Bob: Well, it’s interesting because there was, I think, a British journalist who was talking to me about Fargo and called me the protagonist in that.
I think people are drawn to both of those types of characters. So I think in that sense, in terms of the appeal, I think they’re close together. I guess the antihero is a label that’s been on a lot of characters over the years, and I’ve played a few of those.
David, do you have any take on that, what separates a villain from an antihero, particularly in this case?
David: I do think one of the things that makes this series interesting is that exact question. We had the luxury of having these two actors, Billy Bob and William Hurt, who are so subtle and are able to be so complicated in their performances that that line is not always fully delineated.
With William Hurt’s character, I think one could comfortably say that there lies a villain. However, there will be times during these eight episodes where you will see him as more human than not. He delivers a tremendous pathology to his performance, and it’s as sympathetic as it is repulsive in the same episodes.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Billy McBride, played by Billy Bob, is a hero. I think every viewer is going to do their own math on that character. And I think some will come out saying there’s more good in him than bad, and then there will be others who say it’s a coin flip.
David, you’ve been working in very classic episodic television for a long time. How do you feel about writing a series that you know people can binge-watch? Did it change your approach to the story, that you knew people could access the next episode immediately?
David: Yes, it definitely does. In broadcast television I think statistically the habitual viewer sees 30 to 40 percent of the episodes.
At least that’s what the statistic was a few years ago. There was a burden on us as storytellers in the broadcast world of constantly having to bring your viewer up to speed in case they missed that last episode.
You have no such burden here. You’re trusting that your audience is going to sit down and watch the whole series in a week. You don’t have to remind them what they saw an hour and a half ago. You can be more efficient in your storytelling, and you can just go deeper. Beyond that, that commercial break, even if you’re fast-forwarding through it, it’s very onerous.
It puts a burden on the storytellers to craft these six?minute, seven-minute acts, and emotional storytelling is the real victim in that process. We don’t have to craft those episodes with those obstacles in mind. And it’s a much freer and richer way to tell stories.
Now that you’ve had a taste, do you think you could ever go back to the traditional model?
David: Don’t think so.