Claire is a brilliant ballet dancer with a troublesome past who is thrust into a struggling dance company led by an off-kilter director, Paul Grayson. While Claire has to deal with the competition and politics within the company as well as her past catching up to her, Paul is battling demons from within but may find some salvation in Claire’s exquisite talent. That’s a jumping off point to what we’ll see in the new Starz limited series, “Flesh and Bone”, which was created by “Breaking Bad” alum Moira Walley-Beckett.
Sarah Hay plays the naïve Claire, who must learn fast to survive but Paul is someone struggling not only in his business but also in life. That said, the manner in which Ben Daniels brings Paul to life is something to behold since Paul is a wild card who can be warm and understanding in one moment and a ravaging beast in the next.
I sat down with Daniels recently to talk about the role and how he approached playing him as well as how Paul is affected by the absence of his lover, who died prior to the start of the series.
How did you connect to the role when we see that he’s quite manic right off the bat?
Ben Daniels: He’s bipolar so I did a lot of research about that. In every scene where he was having an episode, as it were, I sort of would rewind and go, “Okay, why would he be like this? What is causing this?” I would get to set and then just let it rip and try to have no off-button. It’s quite daunting as an actor to let him have his free reign. It’s the potential you’re going to fall flat on your ass doing that and really embarrass yourself and go into areas that are normally edited from performance but I have to trust Moira. I knew that there was someone in the room and who had a complete hand in how the show would be edited.
I have to admit I love that kind of maniacal laugh you do on the show. How did you find that?
BD: I did lots of different versions of it and I was like, “Oh, they chose that one, that’s really interesting to me.” It’s like a slow burn. We were doing that scene for hours!
Whether we ever see this, do you know what is his leveling ground outside of medication?
BD: The thing that calms him was his lover, who’s dead, who died two years before the show starts and he was the leveler.
Do we find that out in the first episode?
BD: You’ll hear about Jeffrey. You’ll hear that Jeffrey and I ran this company but he died. Jeffrey completely understands Paul. Paul can be a little boy with Jeffrey and Jeffrey knows how to calm him down but since Jeffrey is gone there is no one, no off-button, he’s un-medicated because he feels that interferes with his creative process. It’s hideous for everyone else and that’s what’s kind of so great watching it because they’re all like, “Oh, f**k, what are we going to say to him?”
It’s always fun to watch a character like that because in one scene to the next you don’t know what you’re going to get.
BD: Absolutely and he doesn’t either. He opens his mouth and does not know, which was great fun to play, how it’s going to come out if he’s going to be vile or not. There are ways of playing all those lines in a multitude of ways.
So the young guy that we see come in to have sex with him. What is that relationship about?
BD: That makes him feel powerful and virile and he pays for it. He feels in control, even though he hates being an older man. There’s something about the gravitas that age gives him that he loves. It’s this constant mixture of things going on all the time but I think with Eduardo, he wants an emotional context to that relationship. Whether he gets it or not and whether that affects him in different ways, we shall have to see.
I heard through the grapevine that maybe you were ready to tell some lies when you auditioned for this about how well you could dance and your experience with dancing…
BD: [grins] I had a teacher at drama school and she always used to say, “Oh, darling, if there’s anything in a script that you can’t do, lie, you’ll always have two weeks to learn,” and so I have used that. I lied about [whether] I could drive and I couldn’t, I lied about horse riding and I couldn’t. The worst one, I lied about playing basketball, which I couldn’t at all and I got to the set and I was like, “Oh, god, why the fuck did I lie?”
At least in this show you don’t have to dance since you’re the one commanding the room of dancers…
BD: I had to physically change, which I love doing, as an actor. I couldn’t slouch in as me. I’m sort of a physical magpie and I love to use physicality and sometimes you can use it more than others but this was perfect, I could completely use it to tell the story.
How does he feel about Claire? Is it a genuine kind of passion for her and her talent or does he see her as a means to the end, because his company’s also in trouble?
BD: It’s everything. It’s a financially precarious time for his company and it’s so complicated because he needs adoration and stardom, he needs to be a star, which he was. He was a principal dancer, hugely famous, had an injury and that all got taken away and he had nothing and it has taken him years to build this company up, which he has huge acclaim for but is now on a slight nosedive, so he needs a miracle. She walks in, he recognizes something in her, that she’s a transcendent dancer but something that reminds her of himself and he comes from a difficult childhood…
But, it’s sort of love at first sight [for Claire], which he hates. He hates that someone has power over him, he hates that she’s incredibly talented. It’s a bizarrely complex character.
Do we see anything of Jeffrey, even in flashbacks?
BD: No, we don’t. We don’t see Jeffrey but you see how Paul feels about Jeffrey at the end of episode three.
The theme song of the series is “Obsession” so what is Paul’s primary obsession?
BD: His primary obsession is to be worth something. That’s what he’s obsessed by. He is a black hole.
“Flesh and Bone” premieres Sunday at 8pm on Starz. Beginning November 8, all episodes will be available on StarzPlay and OnDemand.