Jeffrey Donovan Talks Shut Eye, Fargo and Blair Witch 2
Hulu has been making a strong play in the streaming original drama game with shows like 11.22.63, The Path and Chance. Their latest is a crime drama with a twist. Shut Eye is a crime drama set in the world of hustler psychics, who rip off their clients for fortunes.
Jeffrey Donovan stars as Charlie Haverford, a fake psychic who uses Facebook to research his clients ahead of time. But when he starts having real visions, that changes the game. We spoke with Donovan after Hulu’s Shut Eye panel for the Television Critics Association this summer. Hulu streams the entire first season of Shut Eye Wednesday, December 7.
Have you seen the Orson Wells clip where he talks about shut eye?
I did. He just brought to the masses on a talk show from a very famous actor/producer/director that a shut eye is a magician who believes his own magic, that he can actually make people disappear. That’s where the title came from. That’s an interesting premise is that the guy who knows how fake it is is actually believing it’s real. That’s a certain type of psychosis. He wanted to investigate that. I just thought it was interesting that Orson Wells of all people was trying to teach the world when he’s the guy who kinda tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes with War of the Worlds on a radio show. It’s just ironic.
Do you think Charlie ends up believing it?
I think that’s going to be the journey of the series. Right now, Charlie does believe his visions are real, but whether they are or not I think is probably going to be the investigation of the series.
When they read you, what are the things they’re looking for?
Just in real life, let’s say you have a blind date. It’s just that. They walk in, you don’t know who this person is and they walk up, you make judgments about them as soon as they walk in the door. How are they dressed? Are they late? Are they early? Are they right on time? Are they waving to you? Are they hesitant? 100 different behaviors, 100 different images that could come across. The mentalist is going to read every single one and star stringing them together with an idea of maybe this is who this person is. Then they’re going to probe it. Let’s say you go left and you go, “Yes left” but if you say left and you go “No, right” then they’re going to go down right. That’s it. It’s a very scientific and systematic way of reading you.
How are you at cold reading?
I’m awful, I’m awful. I’m more like this, “Hey, how you doing?”
Does it interest you at all?
Oh, it’s fascinating. I think it’s fascinating because it’s really behavioral science. It really is that. Now I’m really going out on a limb, it’s a cultural anthropologist who goes in and says, “I must remain neutral in this third world country with the Munduruku Indians of the upper Tapajos river of Brazil. I’m sitting there and I’m not here but I’m also examining and they know I’m here but I’m trying to examine. This means this. Some tribal leader just pushed a woman aside. What does that mean?” You’re trying to, without the language, assign an interpretation of what’s going on whether you’re right or wrong. It’s all behavioral science.
It seems like “your son could be deaf,” while a very specific guess, is something you could intuit without the help a vision. Do you think the visions will become more things Charlie can’t possibly know without them?
Yeah, I think we’re going to play with ambiguity. I think that’s going to be the more interesting part of the journey. Put it this way. If I show up in the first scene and I say, “I’m really psychic and I have visions,” why watch? If you have a guy who goes, “I am not a psychic. I don’t have visions. I’m conning people.” Then all of a sudden something happens and I go, “Well, maybe I do have psychic abilities,” I think that’s much more interesting of a journey to watch.
Is there any harm in giving someone closure?
That’s a big question. Is there harm in helping someone find closure with a dead relative? No. Is there harm in bolstering a far fetched idea that you can communicate with the dead and you have to pay me to do that?
So it’s fine if it’s free.
If it’s altruism, go for it.
What is your experience as an actor getting to try all these different jobs?
I think that’s what’s really cool about my profession. I played a burned spy. I played a thug in the ‘70s. I played a detective in the ‘20s. I played a psychic. It’s so great because every time I take a job I learn something new about not just a profession, about what makes people tick in that profession. Hopefully it opens me up to understanding what if you walked in their shoes. Hopefully that makes me a better person.
Do you take a lot of notes when you’re prepping for something?
I don’t take a lot of notes. I like to experience things. I ran into Liz from Indiewire earlier for an interview and she’s like, “Hi, I’m Liz.” I go, “Yeah, from Indiewire. I remember you.” She goes, “How do you remember me?” I go, “I don’t remember your name. I don’t remember what we talked about. I just remember you. I don’t know how.” It’s a funny thing like how people are, their energy, their way, if it reminds me of something, it stays with me. I think that’s how Charlie operates. He’s like, “I know who you are. Not because I know you but I know that we’re all cut from a certain cloth.” You’ve met people that are similar to you. You’re like, “He’s just like me. He likes these kinds of movies. She’s just like me. She likes to do these types of things.” You have similarities on the planet and I think they tap into that.
Dodd was terrifying on Fargo. Did you scare yourself playing him?
No, dude, that’s like saying if you’re in a horror movie you’re scared on set. Come on. No, because I can’t judge Dodd. I can’t play him and judge him at the same time. I have to believe that he believes everything he’s doing is right. In fact, the way I played Dodd was he thought he was the greatest dad on the planet.
But even not judging him, just knowing how deadly he could be.
Yeah, but that was his actions which were scripted and he did those things but I really started with the premise of he’s an amazing dad. He was an awful dad! He was the worst dad! But the way I played him was he thought he was the greatest dad on the planet.
They finally did a third Blair Witch this year. I actually liked Blair Witch 2 for the way it called out the audience for buying into the hype. Were you surprised it didn’t go over as well with the fans?
I think that the first movie was such a phenomenal success, it was really hard to even reach that bar. I think that what Joe Berlinger was trying to do was tap into just this one thought, collective delusion. It was really an assessment of what can possibly happen with these kids if they all believed in it. Whether it succeeded or not, commercially or critically, is like with Shut Eye. It’s not up to me. I can only do the best work I can and see if people like it.