Graves Interview: Series Creator Joshua Michael Stern

Epix is getting into the original series game with two new series premiering tonight. Berlin Station is their first drama, and Graves is their first scripted comedy from creator Joshua Michael Stern.


Nick Nolte stars in Graves on Epix

Former president Richard Graves (Nick Nolte) regrets much of his policy, and when he meets an outspoken waitress (Callie Hernandez), he tries to correct his presidential mistakes. We spoke with Stern about Graves at an Epix party for the Television Critics Association this summer.

Was TV something you were always looking to get into?

Actually, I’ve done mostly film but I was really curious about TV and the ability to tell a story in so many episodes and such a great landscape. So I wasn’t but I love it. It’s been the most fun.

How did you envision a 10 part story for Graves?

I just thought of it really like a five hour movie in many ways. It was really just breaking it out and seeing the end as I was writing the beginning and really being able to create and do the arcs of the characters so they would really be able to have the kind of complexity and depth and take the time to spend with them that you can in TV.

Did you ever consider hour-long episodes for Graves?

That’s very interesting that you say that because it could’ve been an hour long or a half hour. Very early on we decided to make it a half hour. It was originally written as an hour but I think because it’s a dramedy, it’s a higher concept, it felt like it was compact but it’s also premium cable so the 30 minutes is actually a good amount of time to tell the story.

Did you use digital technology to de-age Nick Nolte for flashbacks to President Graves?

I did that a couple of times. They did it wonderfully in American Horror Story. Did you see the one with Jessica Lange where they de-aged her in the carnival season.

I think of the Michael Douglas one in Ant-Man. Do they have that process down now?

It’s okay. It’s not perfect. You can only do it in little bits and the actor can’t move a lot. They’re getting better at it. I think five years from now, they’ll really be able to de-age perfectly.

Did Nick feel inhibited by it?

He didn’t because I really didn’t have any action.

I guess I read a lot of reflection in Nick’s face when Graves is looking at the Memorial wall.

Yeah, his regret. A show about a President living through all his regrets and the people he sent to war.


Nick Nolte and Sela Ward in Graves

Nick has such a distinct voice we all know. Did you have him in mind for Graves or did you have to change anything once you cast him as Graves?

He’s the only person I had in mind writing it. I wouldn’t have written or done the show without Nick Nolte in mind. I just thank God he wanted to do it because I really felt like that would be an interesting ex-president. So his voice was part of the whole concept, th way he would go, “Helllll, hell I was…” or “God dammit.” I put it all in there. It’s all Nick.

Is connecting with the younger generation vital to how Graves sees himself?

Yes, I think so. I think the President reacts to how unfiltered this young woman is and how she basically just tells her truth. He’s in a moment in his life where he wants to break down the walls of his legacy and tell his truth finally. So I think connecting with the younger woman and a younger generation. His assistant, played by Skylar Astin, allows him to finally be authentic.

So it’s both Isaiah and Sammi?

I think they’re the trio for me.

How much time does Graves spend with them?

I think it fluctuates but the storylines are separate and they go in different areas. The time he spends with Skylar is pretty much the A story. He actually does spend a lot of time with his family, with Sela, with the kids. So it ends up being really a family show in the end.

Does the media pick up on what Graves is doing?

It does. There’s this one moment when he’s out and the social media, TMZ and people pick up on it. They start texting the videos of him out in the real world. So the show really plays with the tension between him losing his mind in a public way and how do you pull that back and cover for it? In a lot of instances, his mishaps become, or they’re thought of by the political class as being brilliant PR moves. He gets out there and he speaks his mind but somehow it works for him.

Is Graves losing his mind or is it like Jerry Maguire where he has a breakthrough?

He’s Jerry Maguire. He’s not losing his mind at all. It’s all a breakthrough. It’s all about finding an epiphany at the end of this life and he realizes he’s only got five more years to live maybe or five good years, and he’s going to make them the best he can.

Do you have any more film projects in the works?

I have a couple but I can’t for one more year. I have to do the show. It’s a lot of fun.

I like both Steve Jobs movies.

God bless you, Fred. I love that, thank you.

Both end at the iPod. Do you think there’s a third Steve Jobs movie to be made about the iPhone and iPad years?

There definitely is a third Steve Jobs movie. I think the end of Steve Jobs’ life is the most interesting part of his life, when he basically refused to do any kind of treatment for his cancer. He had small children and he locked himself in his house and he took vitamins. I thought, to be honest, that’s where the second movie was going to go, the latter latter [years.]

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