DirecTV’s innovative “Full Circle,” from playwright Neil LaBute, premiered last week and introduced a two-people-a-dinner format in which characters rotate, “La Ronde”-style, through the narrative with a slew of familiar stars appearing in two episodes in a row.
Last week, audiences met Julian McMahon’s Stanley, a high-powered attorney dealing rather aggressively with his younger wife’s (Minka Kelly) request for a divorce.
Kelly, who was in both of last week’s episodes, doesn’t appear on Wednesday’s (October 16) two episodes. Instead, this week’s double-performer is “Bones” star David Boreanaz, playing a particularly boorish shock-comedian who professional life is jolted when he discovers that his words, including words delivered on social media, have very real consequences. Boreanaz’s Jace appears in his first episode opposite McMahon and then spars with Keke Palmer’s Chan’dra in the second of Wednesday’s 30-minute verbal meals.
All of the “Full Circle” segments are set in a restaurant and back in August, I sat down with Boreanaz and McMahon at the Little Door eatery in Beverly Hills to discuss this unique project. In the wide-ranging interview, the “Buffy” and “Nip/Tuck” veterans talk about the theatrical style LaBute brought to “Full Circle,” the challenges of acting while seated and acting while eating and the advantages and disadvantage of public communication in the digital age.
Click through for the full Q&A.
HitFix: A project like this comes down the pike. Is it as simple as seeing “Neil LaBute” there and you know you want to be involved?
David Boreanaz: Obviously it’s part of the whole. It’s part of the dynamic of what’s really going on here and it’s part of your job to kinda investigate the whole piece first and then also the people that are involved. At the point I got the material, I started putting two-and-two together and realized how I met Neil back in the day, six years ago, for a project that I wanted to do with him and that came full circle to this full circle, which is called “Full Circle.” But then it was also the people that I would be working with and the people that you see are having a sense of commitment to a piece like this. When I heard it was Julian and Keke, I was very excited about that and also the other actors that were involved. So that all helps in the decision-making process. Obviously being very afraid of the piece itself for me is a very motivating factor. So you take all that into place and then you just throw it all out and see what happens and here we are.
Julian McMahon: Yeah, kinda ditto with what he’s saying. I’m a big fan of Neil’s, obviously, in film and theater, but you also have to take a look at the piece and make sure that there’s something you can contribute to it. Who else was in it was important. Conceptually, it was what the hell they were doing that was interesting. There are a lot of factors that go into making any decision. When I work on anything, I fully commit myself, so you want to make sure that you’re doing something you’re gonna get something out of yourself. Know what I mean? That could just be the accomplishment of it, which is what I was looking for, and that was this type of material.
HitFix: And you guys have both done a lot of TV. Has the medium changed significantly enough where you see DirecTV is the home, that doesn’t give you pause? You don’t stop to research who’s gonna see it, how they’re going to see it, etc?
Julian McMahon: I do that for sure. I think you factor in everything. Why wouldn’t you? It’s available to factor it all in. You can get all the information on anything you want and then you make choices based on all of it. I factor in absolutely everything whenever I’m making a choice to do something.
David Boreanaz: As far as pure viewership, from just watching it perspectively, you’re also, obviously, as an actor, you’re investing your time and your energy into a piece that you’re extremely passionate about and I think you’re going on this journey and, for me, it was also a nice card to have in my back pocket, it’s a very cache piece. I enjoy that. It’s like a theater piece. It makes you grow and become better as an artist in so many different ways. Coming out at the other end of this whole experience for me was learning about things that work for me and things that don’t work for me. Again, it’s being about being able to fall down and get back up and trust the other person who’s across from you, because this has all the elements of being in-your-face, a theater piece, there’s no real ropes to hang onto here. You really have to be prepared and you really have to have your instincts sharp with a piece like this. It’s a test of where you are and obviously you feel good about that, because in early-on stages, you may struggle in a rehearsal process and feel like, “Am I doing the right thing? I’m never gonna get this!” and you have to arduously get through that in order to get out to the other side. I think with anything in life, that’s the way it is and that’s the biggest blessing, to be able to go through that with a piece like this and come out the other end better in certain areas and understanding your faults in other areas.
HitFix: How much rehearsal time was actually set aside on this?
David Boreanaz: It was pretty brief, right?
Julian McMahon: We had a week. It was a week, period. So it was Monday-to-Friday, but we both had two episodes to rehearse.
David Boreanaz: Right! We were rehearsing two episodes at the same time and then you would shoot one and rehearse for the other one. It was weird. There was a crossover period, when we were shooting ours, it was like, “OK. We’re done ours,” and then Keke comes in after.
Julian McMahon: We did ours on Friday and then I had the weekend and then Minka and I did Monday and you did Tuesday.
David Boreanaz: It allowed itself very little time-wise. And then the rehearsal process was about how much you want to rehearse into the words. I mean, we really didn’t have much time to block a lot of this. I think we had one day on the set with us, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a lot of blocking. You’re just sitting at a table, which I think helped in a lot of ways, too, because the immediacy and the freshness of it kinda kept us on edge a little bit and gave us that little bit of an edge. There are lots of moments where you’re rehearsing and you’re like, “S***!” And you’re forgetting lines and you’ve gotta dig deep and just get in that place and you have to be very comfortable. I always say this, but I think you have to be comfortable in an uncomfortable place. You have to be able to get up to bat and hit the 3-2 pitch. I love using athletes as an example, because they’re so physically gifted and mentally, the best can get up and hit at any time and they’re very natural with it. If you try to push, if you try to grip your stick, it’s going to be an issue. [He starts laughing.] I start getting into hockey, dude.
Julian McMahon: The moral of the story is “Don’t grip your stick.” Don’t grip your stick.
David Boreanaz: I’m blaming the coffee. I have a cup of coffee and I start flipping out.
Julian McMahon: That’s right, though, because the thing is, right? You have a hockey team or a football team or a baseball team, all the preparation you put in is for you to be able to go out there and be relaxed on the day. We had very minimal preparation, but you still had to be that relaxed on the day, because if you weren’t that relaxed, you weren’t getting the best out of yourself. I don’t mean sitting back and smoking a stogie. I mean relaxed in yourself that you could perform what was in front of you.
HitFix: Given that you’re working with material from a famously exacting playwright, how much room do you have on the day of shooting to actually be free?
David Boreanaz: Well, that’s the thing. The challenge is to keep the lines consistent and true. You cannot change “ands” or “buts.” We talked about this. You can’t make a sentence start with a pronoun, when it should end with a pronoun.
Julian McMahon: But only because that didn’t work. It just works the way he has it written.
David Boreanaz: There’s a reason behind it.
Julian McMahon: It’s not because we couldn’t change it or not because somebody’s somebody and you can’t change it. That had nothing to do with it. What has to do with it is that it’s so well-written the way that it is. It flows beautifully if you get it down, but what I’ve been saying all day today is that you had to learn your lines. Know what I mean? You really had to know your lines. I remember reading a book that Jack Nicholson wrote, years ago when I first started acting, somebody wrote the book, but he was asked, “What’s the most important thing about acting?” and he said, “Know your lines.” I’ve been through my own evolution of knowing and not knowing and this and that and whatever, but this is a piece where you really had to know those lines. If you did know them and then you were comfortable with us together and the director and the camera guys and whatever, then you could do whatever. I found it extraordinarily explorative. That’s something I wasn’t quite prepared for, because that’s so much fun and you very rarely get to explore in film or television these days.
David Boreanaz: Once you have that down, you have the ability to work inside the words. You can see the word, you have the word on paper, you’ve got it down, but then you can really start to see the details in the moments and play those moments and really kind of express them, hold the moment, f*** with the other person’s mind and manipulate them.
Julian McMahon: And find things that you weren’t prepared for.
David Boreanaz: Yeah. And then find like, “What you did that last take was great!” I was tripping on something that was completely in his, in Jace’s head, that he would do and just be so enamored by a specific subject matter to his right and he’s so planning and calculating and to get to those places, you have to know everything and you have be able to play inside of that. It’s like a playground.
HitFix: David, you mention that the blocking is obviously somewhat limited when you’re acting-while-seated, but what other muscles are you using when you’re doing an entire 27-minute performance and it’s all just you in a chair? What are you getting to work through that you don’t in a different project?
David Boreanaz: The whole inability to move is a powerful tool to use and it’s a technique that’s been used in improvisational acting and it’s a technique that you can use to excel what you’re feeling inside. That’s purely done through circumstance and repetition and however you want to use it, but it can be more subtle. Sometimes the easiest thing is the hardest thing to do, because that catches everything — whether it’s a glance or a look or a moment of feeling inside of that moment, you can get really deep with it. But you’re supposed to. [He starts caressing the broad, old wooden table we’re sitting at.] It’s like the table here. You’ve gotta get into the grooves. You’ve gotta get real deep into the cracks of what’s written and then you find really fun stuff to play with and then you start to work off each other and then you start tossing things around and it’s fun and it becomes very enjoyable.
Julian McMahon: Have you ever seen the movie “The Birdcage”? Do you remember that scene where Nathan Lane’s up rehearsing and there’s that guy who’s trying to do something and Robin Williams comes on-stage and says to the guy who’s in the short pants, he says, “Alright. Look, I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to do this. Fosse! Fosse! Fosse!” And he says, “Alright. Do all that, but keep it inside.” Right? It’s kinda like that.
David Boreanaz: It’s true!
Julian McMahon: There’s all this stuff going on, but you’re staying pretty much… I don’t think I left my seat. I didn’t leave my seat in the whole two episodes. He did twice, but aside from that, it’s all in that containment. So what are you doing? You’re doing it all here. [Points to his head and his eyes.] I thought that was interesting and interesting watching it. You get into your piece and you’re doing it, but I was interested watching the two of us and the episode before, just seeing our mannerisms, because we are here at this table.
David Boreanaz: You start to work out inside yourself. It’s a mental workout. You’re seeing the scene evolve and you’re playing the personality and you’re playing against what you’re hearing and you’re listening and it’s effecting you. And the beauty of it is that the way a waiter can cross or somebody can look at you or the way he looks at you through his character’s eyes, that will obviously effect the way that you’re going to respond to him. Whether he’s cutting his steak and green beans in a particular order, the way he’s eating it or the way he reacts to something that I say can create a moment in Jace’s experience that can elevate his humor inside or you can have that euphoric rush. It’s a great drug.
On Page 2, Boreanaz and McMahon discuss eating-on-camera, Twitter and more.
HitFix: You mention the eating and I was fascinating watching your episode and watching you both eat and realize how clearly you were both eating in-character. How did you decide how your characters ate and the important of those bits?
Julian McMahon: The evolution of eating came across by a number of things. One, for me, was I kept getting caught with food in my mouth and I couldn’t speak properly. And then another thing was that the food would just go “off” and I couldn’t stand eating it anymore. So instead of eating, I started just to cut. So I literally just kept cutting and cutting and cutting.
David Boreanaz: But it fueled his aggression. He was taking it out on the beans and the steak.
Julian McMahon: Particularly in our episode. There are so many things. You’ve got this character that he plays, Jace, who is so effrontive, so in-your-face, right? So I’m his buddy, his partner, his attorney, but I’m also his confidante. We all know those dynamics. We’ve seen them all. You’ve got the movie star and the agent or the blah blah blah and the whatever and there are so many times when you’d think Stanley — particularly from the guy you saw the episode before — would go, “What the f*** are you talking about?” But instead it’s all, “Yup. No. I get it.” And he keeps saying, “I’m the one who pays your bills. So you’ve gotta do what I tell you to do.” And it’s just such a fascinating dynamic.
David Boreanaz: He’s so blind to a lot of things. It’s not until he gets to Keke’s character and she’s like, “It’s plain and simple.” He’s like, “I hear they do great fried chicken here.” I mean, come on. He so not even thinking that. When he’s talking to Stanley about how he attacks so-and-so and what show will take him on. He’s very particular and knows the system. He’s trying to play the system, but he looks like an asshole, a complete jerk at what he’s doing and he just can’t face it until the next episode. I think with all the characters, they are. Where [Julian’s character] comes from before my episode and how he’s dealing with his wife and how that affects how he talks to me and how he makes a phone call. He’s going through an inner journey with that and it doesn’t mean anything to me, man. But then we find vulnerable moments through the piece where I feel bad for him.
Julian McMahon: The interesting thing about Jace, for example, is that 98 percent of the time, he’s a pretty funny guy. And you’ve just found him at this moment where he’s said the wrong thing, came off the wrong way. We’ve all know it. We’ve seen comedians do it. We’ve seen actors do it. There’s that one moment in time where they jump on the couch and everybody goes,
“That wasn’t cool.” Right? And then that’s their career, it’s epitomized by this one moment. That’s so difficult. I don’t even understand it.
David Boreanaz: It happens to athletes. It’s happening and will happen.
Julian McMahon: At least with an athlete, though, he can go out and he can play another game. If you make a mistake a mistake as a comedian or as an actor and just everybody turns against you and it does go viral? They don’t go to your movie. And that’s devastating. That’s your career and particular if you’ve been doing it for years? Everybody in this, especially in the first few because they’re the ones that I’ve seen and concentrated on, they’re in such vulnerable places. It’s so easy to say, “That guy’s an asshole.” Well he’s not. I was watching [David’s] stuff and this is a guy. He’s sensitive. He’s caring. Look, he’s a very smart guy and he’s very fast with his thinking and what comes out of his mouth, but at the same time, he’s still a human being and an interesting one and a caring and thoughtful one in some moments, too. I mean, it’s easy to label Stanley as a dickhead, because he comes in like a dickhead and, sure. That’s easy. But as we peel away the character and watch him through the episodes, he’s a vulnerable as anybody.
HitFix: One thing that’s very interesting with Neil’s characters is that you always have to wonder how truthful they’re being, both with the people they’re conversing with at any given time, but also with themselves. When you look at these guys, how much of what you say in those two episodes is true? How do you have to believe it?
Julian McMahon: I think that people believe what they’re saying anyway.
David Boreanaz: It’s a function of their environment, too. With Jace, he’s a comedian. He’s accepted. They laugh at his jokes. That’s funny to him.
Julian McMahon: I don’t think a lot of people are going around saying that kind of stuff and then going home and laughing, “Ha. I f***ed him, didn’t I? I didn’t say one true thing!” They believe what their spiel is. How do you not believe your spiel? Your spiel’s your spiel. Your thing’s your thing. You have to believe in something in life. Know what I mean? That’s where all these people are, particularly these two guys, I find.
HitFix: But so much of what Neil’s characters often believe in is manipulating people or the game that communication can be. How much do you believe that these guys are playing each other? How much they playing the other two characters?
David Boreanaz: With Keke’s character, it’s so thrown in your face. She’s not playing. She’s just being real. I have to come to grips with the truth here, because that’s where the breakdown happens. She just breaks him down to that point.
Julian McMahon: This is not “In the Company of Men” or “Friends and Neighbors.” This is not that kind of manipulation. These characters are honest, I think, as opposed to Aaron’s character in “In the Company of Men.” Fantastic. I absolutely love it. But this is not those people. These are people who have many different qualities and you’re finding them in a snippet of life. While yes they’re trying to manipulate each other, but they’re trying to manipulate each other in a much more honest way.
David Boreanaz: Yeah, I’m playing the system. I know the system’s gonna get me out of this. He’s gotta be a function of that system, but I’m also invested in him as a person and the honesty of going back in time like, “What happened to you, man?” There’s a lot that we examined, where we can go and it’s a very honest conversation.
Julian McMahon: He’s also at the point where he doesn’t want to lose his career based on the fact that he said one stupid thing. And I know that the possibility is there that he might. And then in the first one, getting confronted by your wife that she doesn’t want to be with you anymore? Yeah, I wanna manipulate her. I wanna manipulate her into getting her back, if that’s what I want, or finding out why. And those are all forms of manipulation…
David Boreanaz: So is the Internet. So is tweeting. So is personal relevance of what is being put out there and how it’s perceived and how it’s said, how misleading it can be and how destructive it can be and, in today’s world, how fast and furious it can be, because the immediacy of it is great, but yet what is really the honesty behind it?
HitFix: As a last question, I want to follow up on that. We’ve got our cell phones everywhere. We’re all texting and we’re tweeting and we’re communicating with thousands of people at once. Do you guys feel like you’re more connected to people than you were 10 years ago or 15 years ago?
David Boreanaz: Different environment. Different world. 10 years ago, this wasn’t available. Today it’s available and you feel connected in a different way. I just don’t feel like there’s a sense of people that are really listening. There’s not enough kindness in the world today. It’s very limited to your environment and where you work and who you surround yourself with, but it’s a very vicious piece of equipment that can be used in a lot of right ways and a lot of bad ways. It’s here to stay and it’s only gonna get worse, I think. I think the immediacy of things are gonna be very much in-your-face and very three-dimensional and I think it’s going to be a voice of extremely contentious times. We’re looking at a lot of problems. That’s a political thing. I don’t want to get too deep into that. It’s a fine line between what this does and what it doesn’t. NFL coaches say, “Guys, this is a weapon. This basically can destroy your career at any time.” You go out and everyone has this and you have an argument with someone across the street, they don’t even know what the hell the argument is and they can tape it and they can post it and you find yourself in a mess. It’s really scary.
HitFix: And what do you think, Julian?
Julian McMahon: Makes you not want to go out!
David Boreanaz: It makes you want to stay home. I think there should be a National No-Phone Day.
HitFix: Well you don’t tweet, right? You’re not putting yourself out there in quite the same way, whereas David does.
Julian McMahon: It’s scares me a little bit. I don’t know. Look, it is what it is. It’s the way it is now. It’s not going to go away. I think as a culture, as a Western Culture, we’re constantly evolving, right? And things go through fads and the fad right now is immediate communication with as many people as possible and I think that there’s something positive to that sometimes and something negative to that sometimes. In particular to the show and “Full Circle” and David’s character, I think it’s really difficult. I think it’s a very interesting topic to debate and the responsibility that you have based on these is extreme and I think too extreme. I was reading something in the paper the other day about the stress on kids because they Instagram the wrong picture or they’re not getting enough “Likes” and all that kind of s***. That just kills me to think that somebody’s kid is not feeling appropriate because they’re not getting enough “Likes” on their picture.
David Boreanaz: And they bully. Now kids have it and they feel like bullies…
Julian McMahon: And even just not getting responses is being bullied in a way. I hear it all the time with these kids, they’re like, “Oh, I got 36 Likes.” I’m always like, “Who cares?” But they care. They really do.
Two new episodes of “Full Circle” premiere on DirecTV’s Audience Network on Wednesday, October 16.