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“Blunt Talk” Creator Jonathan Ames On The Art Of The Trainwreck

In Blunt Talk, Jonathan Ames follows up HBO’s Bored to Death, with the story of a disastrous newsman and his dysfunctional staff.

“Blunt Talk” Creator Jonathan Ames On The Art Of The Trainwreck
[Photos: Justina Mintz, courtesy of Starz]

There’s nothing like a boozy speech from Hamlet to suggest a person has some issues. Unless it’s a boozy Hamlet-speech delivered atop a Jaguar, surrounded by gun-toting police, after being pursued for hiring a transgender call girl.

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Blunt Talk—which premieres August 22 on Starz, pre-certified with a two-season, 20-episode commitment—follows Sir Patrick Stewart as British newsman Walter Blunt. The aptly named character works on a failing American cable news show where he’s determined to impart his wisdom to clueless viewers, while trying to get his own misguided alcohol-drenched life in order. All the while he’s dogged by a chemtrail of ex-wives, a dysfunctional production crew of enablers, and a psychiatrist loonier than his patients.

Sir Patrick Stewart (as Walter Blunt), Richard Lewis (as Dr. Weiss)

The mind behind this madness is Jonathan Ames, a New York novelist who became a showrunner with HBO’s Bored to Death. Blunt Talk continues Ames’s knack for comic misadventures of the well intentioned, but seriously misguided variety.

Jonathan AmesPhoto: Matt Sayles, Invision for STARZ Entertainment, AP Images

Here Ames, Blunt Talk’s creator and showrunner, talks to Co.Create about creating loveable characters hell-bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Start With a Character In Crisis

“There’s a David Mamet quote about when writing a scene, ‘start late, end early.’ Get us into the middle of the stuff right away. Begin deeper into the scene, so we’re not wasting time with what people in the film business call ‘shoe leather.’ Also, Philip Roth has a quote that every story is about a character in a predicament. So right away, I put Walter Blunt in a predicament: his show’s not doing well, he’s still mourning a divorce, so we see him as he’s fallen. So the season becomes about his rising out of the ashes of his own self- destruction. The arc of the season for him is to resurrect himself.

Ian Foster used to talk about whenever he began a novel, there was a place he had to get to. Every episode, I try to have an interesting visual that we aim towards. Episode 1 was Walter on the Jaguar. Episode 2 are the Busby Berkeley scenes.”

Moby (as Moby), Goldan Brooks (as Vivian), Sir Patrick Stewart (as Walter Blunt)

Creating Characters That Are Despicable, But Not Too Despicable

“I love these people and I want the audience to love them. They’re human beings, their hearts are in the right place. We all make bad choices at times, and we’re all confused, so these are realistic portraits of people who want to be kind to each other. But they’re also confused and they make mistakes. So that makes them sympathetic.

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Someone’s despicable if they don’t consider other people’s emotions, points-of-view, and they’re sociopaths. I give each character issues, usually my own issues. Or I spread them around, or come up with other issues I’ve heard about, because I want the audience to look at these people as exaggerated versions of humanity to feel like, ‘I’m not alone. I’m struggling to be normal, happy, less confused.’ And they help each other. They might have moments of narcissism, but they care for each other. So that helps them not be despicable.”

Walter Blunt (Sir Patrick Stewart) and Bob Gardner (Romany Malco)
Johnathan Ames treats cast and crew to the Hairy Call, his trademark sign-off at public appearances, a sound he created with a childhood best friend.

Characters As Vessels For Their Creators’ Bad Habits

“I don’t know that anyone ever works out their own issues. It could be one more way to try to make lemonade out of lemons, and maybe there’s a certain amount of self-forgiveness by giving it to another human being, whether it’s hoarding or drinking too much. I don’t know that I work anything out therapeutically, but the act of making art gives you purpose and makes you feel useful. If you’re lucky enough to find a vocation to make you feel useful, then that helps you work things out. For me, part of being useful is to be of service. I try to make people laugh, or feel less alone, or open their hearts a little cathartically.”

Characters Behaving Badly To Make Audiences Feel Good

“Books form intimate relationships with the author, but I don’t know you’d necessarily think to seek out the showrunner. My fans used to be able to write to me. I don’t have that website anymore. I used to get incredibly touching letters from people about my books getting them through hard times. But there was one distinct anecdote when a man came up to me in the street in New York, and said, ‘I had to tell you my mom was dying and I spent the last week of her life reading your book, Wake Up, Sir!, to her and we were laughing together. Thank you for giving her laughter towards the end of her life.'”

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About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio

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