Mark: This is a remake of a BBC show. Remakes aren’t always great (even though Mark’s been in one!) but this one is great. An Israeli show called Fauda (chaos) should be on the list.
Mark: James Gandolfini was originally set to play John Stone, but he died a month after it was picked up by HBO. The part was originally recast to Robert de Niro. John Turturro, who eventually played John Stone, has made the part iconic.
Mark: Bill Camp who plays Dennis Box is in Mark’s new show American Rust. According to IMDb, Camp plays Henry English.
Mark: Here’s my assessment of the plot. More like a logline than an outline. A young Pakistani man Nasir Khan takes his father’s cab to go to a party. On the way there he meets a beautiful young woman whom he ends up going home with. After a night of sex and drugs, he wakes up to find the woman has been viciously murdered. End scene.
Jax: He steals the cab. He takes it without permission.
Mark: Correct. This becomes a story point later on.
Mark: Before we get into thematic elements, you guys wanted to talk about adaptations as this is an adaptation of a BBC series. How does this relate to your adaptation?
Jax: Funny you should ask that, it seems strangely relevant. I didn’t know it was an adaptation. I thought it was a true story. I researched and saw it was based on a show from 2008. The Night Of was released in 2016. The original series was so popular that everyone got on the adaptation train. There are several adaptations. It’s really interesting how a really good story like that, and a story like Atlas Shrugged, can be adapted to different time periods, locations, cultures. But, the series makes an assumption you have individual rights and you can’t adapt that into some areas. Interesting things they have to do for the American adaptation. I only watched the first episode of the UK version. The way it was adapted to America was intelligent with more ethnic diversity than the other versions. I thought the American version was better. As I was learning it was based on Criminal Justice, I started getting excited. This is when you can take a great story, like Atlas Shrugged, and set it in a different time period with a different cast of people and make sure the integrity of the story stays the same. That’s my take on it.
Mark: Some particulars would be different, but Atlas Shrugged is a timeless and universal piece so I think it translates into any language well.
Mark: I want to talk about the filmic style, which I thoroughly enjoyed as an actor. I don’t know if that affects other people watching, people who are not necessarily in the business. I love a film that takes its time. I love the pauses in between. Because it’s those spaces in between, the notes that make the symphony too. A lot of filmmakers forget that. I’m reminded of that because I’m trying to get through the trilogy of Fear Street. I’m a big horror movie fan, and it’s offensive to the senses. It’s a trilogy of three horror movies. I’m not really following the plot because I’m overwhelmed by the music, the fast shots, and all the nonsense, the cliches that are running by me. I’m trying to watch it for my stepson because we’re trying to share these horror moments with each other. But it’s a refreshing change of pace to see a show that is not afraid to take its time. As actors, and as a viewing audience, I imagine, since the actors aren’t pushed into a frenzy of pace, you can take the time to get to know the characters and to stay with them in a way that you can’t in these other pieces that are acting fast so you can’t see they’re acting badly. This was naked in that way and I really liked that. Were you guys impressed by that?
Jennifer: I did notice it was slower storytelling, which I too appreciate much more. Coming off of Russian Doll which is change change change, it has more of that style you get from Breaking Bad. There were moments when I was like come on already. He’s walking down a line in the prison. I understand it was important, especially for this TV show which was showing a regular guy who ends up going through the justice system and transitioning into a criminal. You have to see that slowly to see the nuances of how it happens. It happens all the time. You have to tell the story in a slower way.
Jax: Echoing those thoughts, it took me a minute to get into the mood. I watched the series with my 16-year-old daughter and she’s no stranger to long TV shows. We watched Game of Thrones together and she was riveted. But kind of two or three episodes in, she was like it feels like it’s so much longer than a Game of Thrones episode.
Mark: I remember watching the first episodes of Game of Thrones. My wife refused to watch any more, I’m blaming it on her. She just thought it was porn. Soft porn. That was it.
Jax. It kind of was. What I appreciate about The Night Of, and this makes me want to hunt down the script because one of the things I love to do as a writer is figure out how much was this the writing and how much was the directing and the acting. You were really drawn into the scenes. They really wanted to bring you into the room, to not be a spectator, to be a participant. I appreciate that about storytelling. It’s very hard to do that.
The fourth main character
Mark: There are three main characters and a fourth main character that isn’t human running through the entire piece. We have Naz, the main character, John Stone, his attorney, Dennis Box who’s the detective going after him. But there is a fourth character who is not human but is a big enough thematic element to be a character… can you guys guess what I’m thinking?
Jennifer: The cat or the eczema?
Jax: It’s the justice system.
Mark: Yes, the justice system is a fourth character in this thing. They really hit the institutionalization of the system very hard and how it transforms people, innocent people, from one thing to another. You guys want to talk a little but about that because I think there was a big philosophical issue that was caught up in this very intense expose of the justice system.
Jax: I think this is what’s interesting about the different adaptations. We have a different justice system than the UK, other countries have a different justice system. All based on individual rights but the way justice is carried out in each of those countries is different. We’re probably more aligned with the UK in that there’s a jury. It was a big message on the importance of truth and how it is so difficult to come to the truth, how you have to find and explore all the leads, all the roads, uncover all the rocks. The sad results, for the American version, and I think for the UK version. I’m going to give a spoiler away, I read that in the end he gets convicted even though he purportedly did not do the crime.
Mark: That seems to fall in line with what I perceive as the English sense of life. It seems to me that the UK has a lot more cynicism than America. We haven’t achieved European levels of cynicism yet. The whole piece is about cynicism. The justice system is not about objective justice, objective truth as we would hope it would be according to this piece. It’s about objectification. It’s about, from the very first moment this kid touches the justice system when he’s pulled over after the murder, there’s not a moment when anybody in the system treats him like a human being or addresses him like a human being. He’s a thing to be processed. And every person at every level with the exception of the people who are outside the system in their own way, every part of that system treats him like a thing. Not a human being. I think that’s a very interesting and significant point. And John Turturro makes a point about truth, and outright he expresses that when he’s talking to Naz. Naz is interested in telling the truth and thinks telling his story will help him, John Stone stops him immediately and tells him it’s not about the truth. The truth doesn’t matter. What matters is who tells the best story. What narrative can we get them to believe? That’s an extremely cynical thing to say about a system that we put so much faith in as a system that is supposed to check our impulses, protect us from crime. They can’t do that when they’re cynics themselves who don’t care about getting to the bottom of things. And everybody in the system is affected by that, including the main detective who pre-judges Naz as the killer and pursues no other leads through the whole thing. What he does do, is seduces Naz. You see him posturing as a caring person, and you can see how that would be a relief to a person like Naz who’s been objectified throughout the entire piece by everybody, and he falls for the seduction. It enables the detective to get a lot of the stuff that he wants.
Jax: Would you say that Box has some of the same qualities that Kira Sedgwick had on The Closer? You were on that show.
Mark: I never saw the show. I watched my episodes! It’s like the guy who reads the script and goes ‘bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, my part!’ I didn’t see the whole show, but I know she was a bit of a vigilante, right? She did what she wanted.
Jax: Her whole thing was, they called her the closer because she would get the suspect in a room and she would say whatever she needed to say to get them to confess. She wouldn’t lie to them, necessarily, but she had that same sort of seductive quality that Detective Box had, but she was made to be seen as heroic. I don’t think Box is made to be seen as heroic.
Mark: I think he is.
Jax: He’s a good man, he’s got good morality, but he has closed himself off to other avenues of the truth.
Mark: For a time he does let prejudice dictate how he approaches the case, but you can tell he’s a guy with gravitas and he is respected by everyone. So he is a heroic character and more importantly for our particular story, he’s a heroic character in waiting. He’s also at a crossroads in his life. Thirty years as a homicide detective in New York City has got to do a number on your soul. And now he’s staring at the abyss and dealing with the idea of being a useless being himself. That’s a major emotional thing to contend with. Even though he doesn’t play it sentimentally, thank god, it’s’ quite an intense emotional problem to grapple with. And he does end up being heroic in the end when new evidence presents itself to him. John Stone suggests something to him and out of curiosity he starts pursuing that lead and pursues it until the end.
Jennifer: We don’t see the end, but he does pursue it. I liked him a lot.
Mark: I liked him too. He’s a subtle beast. He’s coming for you, but he knows how to come for you in a way that he will always get his man. It’s that relentlessness that I think makes a character like Dennis Box a Randian type of character. He’s the relentless detective who will get what he wants. Maybe I can not put him in the Rand universe so much as Victor Hugo universe because he’s a complicated character with flaws but he’s superior at what he does. He pursues values and he’s a real powerful character. He’s a very worthy adversary.
Jax: There’s a great scene where John Turturro thinks he’s going to get him on the stand. He’s making copies of all the evidence and sees there’s an inhaler on the bed. Naz has asthma and John Turturro also has asthma and allergies. So what had happened earlier is that Box sees the inhaler is on the bed when everything was being photographed and takes the inhaler. So he actually removes evidence from the crime scene. His reason for doing it was to ingratiate himself to Naz and he talks to Naz and hands him the inhaler and doesn’t tell anybody about this. Later on in the trial, it’s getting toward the end of the trial and Turturro is desperate. He sees a picture of the inhaler but knows it isn’t in evidence. So he put Bots on the stand and Box was like, I removed it, he’s asthmatic, I gave it back to him. By being a good man and telling the truth, he doesn’t try to lie or hide things. That’s the one saving grace of the importance of truth, it was on his side in the end.
Mark: He was definitely an honest guy and doesn’t try to hide anything and that’s inevitably what brings him around to the good guys’ side. What I like is in the attempt to acquire knowledge, they do a rather fantastic job of making a complex mess of the truth. Making it a really hard labyrinth to walk through. By the time we get to the end of the trial, we have three, four other potential other suspects who all have motives and all have the opportunity. And who are all prickish enough and evil enough to have committed the crime? And we still haven’t found the real killer yet. I thought that was great. What do you think of that revelation of the mystery, unpeeling an onion, another layer to the problem?
Jennifer: I thought it was masterful, all the red herrings they put in. I appreciated that it didn’t wrap up in a nice little bow at the end, like many crime procedurals do. It left it where we were all arguing over who did it. And it’s still a debate on the internet, who really is…
Mark: Is it still a debate on the internet?
Jennifer: On Reddit. It’s a risky thing to do, because you’re not satisfying the audience with that wrapped up bow ending, but when you come to this theme you’re talking about, that truth is really hard to find, we have our prejudices and we set our premises and try to prove it. It plays out in which side you take and who did it.
Jax: It’s especially relevant in the “cancel culture” we’re living in today where people are convinced for less. Here’s a show that examines the very high standard of evidence when it comes to a criminal case. ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’. You are presumed innocent until they prove it beyond a reasonable doubt and here we have all these high-level people going through evidence. There are four different people who could have done it. It’s implied but you don’t know because it’s not shown. There’s no video of whoever it was stabbing her. That would be the smoking gun. When you look at that, it’s like how hard is it in the justice system to uncover what the truth is, and here we are firing people and putting them on the shitlist and cancelling them for something they said that was taken out of context. Even the guy in the heavy metal band at the hotel who was accused of murder by the cancel culture and the only link they found was he was at the hotel a year earlier but he was in Mexico.
Mark: You’re talking about Hotel Cecil. It’s a documentary on Netflix. This guy was a death rocker, he’s very morbid, had a fascination with torture. Very dark. And he got lynched on social media… literally because his entire life was ruined because they accused him of committing murder. It turned out to be a suicide. The poor girl was schizophrenic and off her meds, and killed herself in the water tank.
Mark: If anything a show like this is great because people are so willing to do exactly what the institutionalised folks in the show do and work off of their prejudices and stereotypes of other people instead of seeing the complexity of what is underneath what is seen. There’s more than meets the eye to every single character here. Who would have known that the well-dressed undertaker was a homicidal serial killer in the making? The stuff that guy said was so frightening. I was afraid and I wasn’t in the room with the poor defence attorney who had to be in the room with that insane man talking about women. They did a fantastic job in that moment of making the tension so palpable. So creepy that I, a 6’3 210 guy who’s fairly handy, was nervous.
Jax: That’s part of their brilliant storytelling
Mark: I was sure too. He was definitely a heavy candidate. You woke folks out there … I can’t imagine any woke folks are watching us unless they’re trying to get something on me or you guys for later on down the road, but who cares. I just want you to know, you woke folks, people are more complicated than you think. There is more on heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio. So get over yourselves.
Jax: This has been a public service announcement by Mark Pellegrino.
Mark: The piece had very strong thematic elements all through. Some might think it was heavy-handed in its attempt to expose the justice system. I thought it was quite well done. They used colour quite well to make the institutional parts of that world, and they spent a great deal of time in the prison that he’s in because you’re watching a man being percolated in the crucible of the prison system and what it does to him and how it transforms him. They did it all with cold blue saturated light. Did you notice that?
Jennifer: Several shows do that. It’s very gritty, dirty, grunge of New York City.
Jax: I didn’t think it was overdone. Like Traffic, the movie, where any time you were on the east coast it was blue. In Mexico it was yellow. They had a brown filter somewhere else.
Jax: In Russian Doll and Fleabag there was heavy use of music. Do you think the music had any character part in this? I didn’t really notice it.
Mark: I think that’s a good thing. If you don’t notice it, it’s playing your emotional strings but not deliberately so. It’s just enhancing the emotional moment. It’s there to be a part of the storytelling process, not to cover things up. If you’re noticing the music, I think it’s a bad sign. What would you say to that?
Jax: We noticed the music in Russian Doll, and didn’t we all like it? Or was it Fleabag that we liked it better?
Mark: In Fleabag, the music was more in the introductions. The chaos, the insanity. I liked being kicked into the episode with her inner zeitgeist pushing me into the episode, which is what that music did.
Jennifer: It’s good to notice it but you don’t want the music to tell you how to feel.
Mark: I don’t think anything should tell you how to feel.
Jennifer: The music shouldn’t tell you how to feel.
Mark: The final thing I wanted to talk about was the name Dennis Box. From a writer’s perspective, how much is a character’s personality profile caught up in the name? Does that play anything into the establishment of a character’s name in your minds as writers? Did Rand like the names she picked because they sounded interesting? Dennis Box, it’s an interesting name for a detective to have, particularly one who went through the first seven of eight episodes trapped in a box.
Jax: Unable to think outside of his box.
Jennifer: And you’ve got John Stone. Is that a symbol of something?
Mark: Does that figure into the writing process for you guys as writers or do you just come up with names?
Jennifer: We’re not that direct with Box and Stone. We try to make it sound like a real name. A lot of times it’s personal experience. Someone we might have known who’s like that person.
Jax: A villain that we want to base off an ex-boyfriend.
Mark: Your subconscious supplies those answers. I did a film one time. A lawyer had written the piece and had worked on a case years and years ago and was convinced the kid had been murdered by the cops. Judging from the story and I think I even read a little of the case myself — because I was playing one of the cops — the original cop’s name was Stone and he called me Pebble. He wanted to break me down. He had a real bone to pick with these cops because he was convinced he’d murdered him. I read the case and I didn’t think those cops killed the kid. That writer definitely used a name to communicate some kind of inner feeling.
Jax: For The Strike, we’ve had to keep the names. Some of the character’s we’ve turned into women. Some we couldn’t say them: Dick is Ritchie. He can’t be Dick. I don’t think there’s a single Ayn Rand character who isn’t named on purpose. To an extent, it could be up to a fault. There’s another interesting name in The Night Of, the guy who plays the cellmate of Naz. His name is Freddy Knight and he ends up being Naz’s knight in shining armour.
Mark: To any actors out there. If you play the part of a man who is supposed to be a championship boxer… This drives me crazy as a boxer myself when I see guys who can’t box who are supposed to be boxers. I have to tell the people who are producing it, do me a favour, it’s distracting! Put a body double in there and shoot him from behind.
Jax: I could beat him up!
Jennifer: I felt the same way about Nadia in the software engineering meeting solving a bug.
Mark: It takes a long time to be able to move like a real fighter.
Jax: When you look at the kind of stuff Keanu Reeves trains in for John Wick. He’s a badass.
Mark: He’s the real deal. He’s a very athletic guy. I can’t do half of that shit he does now. He’s doing the jujitsu and the grappling. Good for him. I enjoy watching him in that series. I like guys who beat the crap out of an entire state because they killed his dog.
Transformation of Naz
Jax: Naz starts out as a skinny guy. When he’s taking his shirt off before he goes to jail, he has no muscle definition, he’s hunched over, and he has Brando eyes. Innocence exudes from his eyes. Then he goes to Rikers and endures all manner of horrible American prison. The American prison system is probably one of the worst in all free countries. He gets tattoos on his hands, his arm, and his neck, shaves his head, gets buff and there’s one piece of advice he was given in prison: don’t look at people. Look at them but don’t look at them. You see he’s able to do that.
Mad Men Season 1 — with a guest speaker (Razi)
There will be multiple episodes about Mad Men.
This isn’t an exact transcript. Most of the discussion is covered, but there are a few omissions and some paraphrasing. Please let me know if you spot any errors. Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @PlnetPellegrino. You’re also welcome to get in touch if you’re a non-native English speaker and you want help understanding something.