Paula Malcomson plays Abby Donovan, the wife of the lead character and namesake of the series Ray Donovan, which will see its first season released on DVD in Australia this week. The acclaimed Showtime series follows Ray, a professional “fixer” for the rich and famous of Los Angeles, and the ongoing dramas that surround him thanks to his family – in particular his father, played by Jon Voight, who was recently released from prison. In this interview, Paula talks about her character, reflects on her character in Deadwood, talks about Jon Voight, missing Ireland, inspiration of Edie Falco and more.
Abby acts out a little bit last season with shoplifting and selling Ray’s clothes and she’s a very interesting mix of motherly and angry and a little bit bleak. I’m wondering why she never accepts help from people?
She never accepts help?
Well, we know she was at the yoga class and that women were trying to help her and she basically –
That wasn’t help that was just interference.
She doesn’t have a posse of girls –
She doesn’t. She really hasn’t found her posse in Los Angeles and I think if she was still in Boston, if she was still in Southey, she’d have plenty of – she’d have a major posse. I think she’d have real support there in a different way, I think she actually gave up quite a lot to be with Ray, you know, her family and – I think she’d be the queen of South Boston. Yeah, but she hasn’t really found it, and certainly not in Calabasas.
So she needs to keep looking–
Have you ever been to Calabasas?
No, I have no clue where it is.
I wouldn’t find it either.
So she needs to keep looking and she just hasn’t quite got there?
She hasn’t found it, she doesn’t yeah – and she’s all, you know, she’s all family.
And she’s defending him. As much as she keeps fighting, she’s very isolated.
She is tough. She is tough but yes she hasn’t really found her way so much in Los Angeles, I think.
I did want to ask you how gratifying it is that this series is clearly going to a second year and it may well go on longer than that. I wanted to ask you about your experiences with “Caprica,” which I know you did in Vancouver and you put a lot of sort of effort into that – and it was one season and out so as an actor –
We were sort of really two seasons actually but we did them all in one year, yeah, anyway.
So how gratifying is it for you to be able to stay with this character over a period of time?
That’s what you want as an actor, that’s what I want as an actor – is to really dig in, you know to dig a hole and stay in it for as many years as possible actually, to the point where it’s painful. Um, but yeah that’s really the ultimate for me is the long narrative arc, that’s what’s so appealing about television for me is to do that you know, and to really live with another character – you know, to live as the character. When I played – when I was Trixie on “Deadwood,” by the end of that, I didn’t know who was who anymore. So you know, it’s really lovely and it’s sort of the Holy Grail for an actor to go that deep.
This character is not only very attached to the family, by I don’t know, love, but also seems to have other issues since her husband is doing this kind of job. We were also asking Jon Voight about this character and about this professional fixer. So, do you know anyone related to this kind of fixer? Because it is a strange character to play.
Is it? You’d have to ask Liev about playing the character. I do know some of those people a little bit. You know? Some older, sort of old Hollywood type guys who were sort of brought into – they were publicity guys and they were brought in to kind of fix things up. In a different way, they are not going to like – maybe some of them do. It’s sort of a composite of two different people in my mind which were those sort of old school guys and then there are detectives the sort of Anthony Pellicano types and they do exist, of course they do. There’s a lot of secrets in this town. I know some of them. And I’m going to tell you all of them today at this conference.
Give phone numbers.
Yeah, exactly that would be news. I’d love to actually, maybe when I retire, which is imminent.
Thanks to series like “Dexter” and “Breaking Bad,” we have learned –
“Dexter” and “Breaking Bad”?
Yes, we have learned how to love bad people, bad guys. Why do you think it’s so? I mean do you have to –
Well, I think thanks to the “Sopranos.” Really, I mean if we’re going to invoke examples, it’s thanks to David Chase and thanks to James Gandolfini for creating multifaceted characters who are both – and I think he did that better than anyone really. But I’ve just finished six seasons of “Breaking Bad” in rapid succession because I was so addicted I didn’t do a thing. I’ve been sitting on my ass for the last two weeks just watching and I think it’s remarkable. It’s a testimony to great writing and great acting to keep the audience compelled to a character that is morally ambiguous. It’s really a great challenge and I think the great actors do it so well: Bryan Cranston, amazing, James Gandolfini, incredible, Liev Schreiber, I hope.
It’s not the first time that you’ve played a troubled mother. Why do you think you keep getting these characters? Is it something that comes easy to you?
Working shit out, girl! I don’t know, I mean I think so. I think I’m sort of – maybe I started doing it as sort of a therapy and it ended up being how I make my bread and butter. But yeah, I come from strife. I come from Belfast; it wasn’t an easy childhood in terms of what was going on there. I don’t think you sort of come out of that unscathed and kind of perky necessarily so I’ve never really been cast as the perky wife, you know? And even when I was, I found a way to make it angst-ridden, but it’s just what I do, I think. I’d like to try comedy, but no one will hire me. [Laughs]
This show has a lot of dark deep notions in it. How difficult it this for an actress to get it out for the TV audience to relate to, to understand and to see?
Is it difficult – you mean is it difficult to stay in the character in terms of it being, not like a walk in the park every day? That’s the fun for me, you know? When it’s sort of easy and there’s nothing going on, I’m bored. So I love to get to you know – if I get hard, difficult scenes with Liev or with the kids or Jon, bring it. I’m so happy when I see complicated stuff on the page. And these are great actors to be doing that with, you know? That’s like the real treat – we have a cast that’s just exceptional, so that’s wonderful. I’m at my happiest when I can add more and more to it. Yeah.
I really sort of saw a resonance in the Edie Falco character in “The Sopranos” and I’m wondering if you got any inspiration from any of those women that you’ve seen on TV before? And whether you as a person get annoyed with some of the choices your character makes in terms of the marriage, are you just like –
God yes! Oh yes, absolutely. Absolutely, and I think that’s part of what makes it really interesting. First of all, yes, inspired by other actresses, certainly, and Edie is one of the finest and yes, absolutely, I’m inspired by her. And if anybody wants to make that comparison it’s fine by me. It’s certainly, you know, I’m flattered, she’s tremendous and played such a great character for so many seasons. Abby is a fucking nightmare sometimes. Absolutely. First of all, I don’t go to yoga and I feel like I should because God, she’s in yoga all the time. I should look like I go to yoga, but whatever. But that’s what sweat pants are for. But yeah, I’d leave him. Paula would leave him, just tell him to go fuck himself. But, you know, she has a family and she has a real reason to stay and she really, really, really loves him. Really loves him, in a way that – I love that part of her that she’s so – I mean she loves this man so much, that she’s sort of willing to put up with – and she comes from – it’s not straight, the people aren’t on the straight and narrow where she comes from, so it’s all she really knows. She doesn’t – for me she doesn’t come from a very middle class family who are doctors and lawyers, you know? Everybody was a little crooked, so yeah.
I’d like to know that one of the most fascinating things about the series is that it’s written by a woman, who’s I think in her 60s now, Ann Biderman. Can you relay a little bit how that works? How she goes about writing these complicated male characters?
She does write really – I think that’s her real strength, is not to say that she doesn’t write great women, she does, but I think her real strength is her male characters. I think she has an understanding of the male psyche that’s quite unique. You know, she’s known a lot of strange guys in her 60-something years and she’s had a really interesting life. She’s the least boring person that I’ve met in my life. And she’s been involved with all sorts of interesting people and I think it really shows. But she does know men in a way that I find – when I first read our first script and I was trying to get the job, that’s what sort of appealed to me the most, which stood out, is how she wrote guys and how she wrote relationships. She’s great at it, really great at it.
What was the first thing that came to your mind when you first read the script of “Ray Donovan?”
That it was my job. Sometimes, once in a blue moon, they come along where you’re like, bitches, this is my job! And so, yeah.
What do you have to say about what Jon Voight said about you?
What did he say?
You’re like a fireball, that you will say what you think. Are you getting in a lot of trouble because of this?
No, I’m old, I don’t care. I don’t give a shit.
As you said of course the show is very male-skewing. So how is it, the relationships with all these men and how is it being a woman in the midst of that?
My favorite thing in the world. I love it. I love being around – and they’re good men, you know? They are great men, they’re great actors, but they are also great men and they are very supportive. And also, very, very different. Sort of a trait – Jon couldn’t be more different than Liev, you know? And even Devon, the young man who plays my son, different again and it’s really lovely. I’m very comfortable with that and then you have this very strong female presence, our creator and showrunner, from Ann, so it’s lovely actually.
Do they give you a hard time?
No, they’re kind – they are good to me. They are very good to me. I give them a hard time because they enjoy it. It’s the truth. They enjoy it.
You mentioned “Sopranos” and I can see the similarities between your role and Carmela’s.
So how do you think it’s going to be different in the end?
You know, I don’t write it, so I try to – you know, if we’re covering ground that’s already been covered, not my fault. I just try to bring my own thing to her. The thing that I wanted for them very much and was vocal about was I wanted them to be fucking. It was really important that they are sexual and I thought that was a different – that was quite different from Tony and Carmela, but I wanted their sexual relation to be very robust. And that’s – I think that’s one area where I feel like it’s, you know – but we’re going to fall into some of the same – it’s just how do you tell – there’s only a few ways to tell a story. And as I said, I’m not writing it.
Why did you want that sexual thing to be so robust?
I thought that it was one of the things that would make it – I think their chemistry is really vital, it’s what keeps them together. It’s family that keeps them together, too, but I think that there is this really passionate love that they have for each other and I just thought it was really, really important to – if that was gone, I just didn’t think it would be very interesting. And we’ve seen those relationships on television where they are not having sex and it’s other people. I wanted to see a marriage that was struggling but together, real people. I thought that would be interesting. Hopefully it is.
You know the scene when Abby finally tells Ray that she’s been writing to Mickey all those years and he seemed so pissed off and he’s said, why don’t you ever take my side? I just wonder what on earth were they writing because Mickey is such a man of very few words. What on earth would have been in those letters? I just kept thinking what would have they been writing to each other? 20 years is a long time for him to be incarcerated. Did you ever think about what would be the type of correspondence with this person?
Yeah, but I think Mickey will do whatever he needs to do and then probably – I mean I think – I actually think Mickey has a side to him that Ray will never have that fulfills something in Abby. She can go shopping with Mickey. You know? She can – it’s this sort of different – they probably talked about music, they talked about all sorts of things, things that she’d never discuss with her husband and maybe kept him up to date and I think she was sort of offering him a lifeline whilst having one for herself, you know. I think in a way they were sort of two people in cages.
Jon Voight sat here and was raving about you and he spent some time describing you as a person. Can you return the favour and tell us what he’s like?
He’s a remarkable man and he’s a remarkable actor. And he shows up for work like a – it puts everyone to shame because his excitement and joy over these scripts that he gets, and the way he proceeds to work on this stuff, is remarkable. He had this – if you guys – I think it’s in Episode 4 where he goes to the gay club and he goes to dance and he was starting – so he had the music all planned and then he wanted to show me the dance that he was working on, you know. And we sat in his car and we both would like – and he’s always working on it just constantly and he’s just the kindest, finest actor. And another thing we had this scene where we had to do a flashback and we’re having sex and he was really embarrassed about it, and I don’t care because – and he said, are you going to get a body double? I’m like, no are you? Ahhh! He was like, uhhh! So, but when it came time to do the scene not only did he not get a body double, but when I went to my trailer there were like a 100 white roses in there. And he’s just the kindest person, that’s who he is. So yeah that’s, you know – it’s about what people do, and he is remarkable. I feel so fortunate to get to work with him as often as I do. It’s a real treat and he makes everybody feel special.
When you said you had sort of an unconventional upbringing or what have you. I’m curious, who were your influences when you were growing up as an actress? How did you get into this business of – was there anyone you sort of followed?
No. Um, I remember I saw a movie – it was a play and then they turned it into a movie called, “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” And like I just remembered it was about a dance marathon it was very painful and I felt, yeah that’s what I want to do, but I never really imagined that I would do it. You know, I don’t really come from a place that’s particularly aspirational. You don’t say I want to be an actor when you grow up in Belfast. You sort of want to just not be a statistic when you grow up in Belfast. So I mean I think it was later that I started – I sort of fell into acting and then started to appreciate other fine actors and started to watch performances. I sort of did everything a bit opposite. I kind of started my career before I really knew what I was doing and found my way into a way of working, sort of versus I didn’t go to school or anything it all sort of happened to me. And then I had to figure out quickly how to do this if I was not going to make a fool of myself, so yeah.
I was wondering will we ever get to know what Abby’s backstory is, what’s her past? Because she’s I think one of the few characters that we actually don’t know anything about apart from that she’s Ray Donovan’s wife and she has his kids?
Yeah, I hope so. I don’t know.
Do you have any ideas for the backstory for example, any suggestions?
No, and I can’t really say if I did. I mean we talk about stuff like that and when you don’t have a backstory, and they are not going to write one for you, you make it up. But you never tell anybody in case it turns out to be bullshit. So you sort of keep it in your pocket. And I hope we’ll see her family and stuff like that. I think we will. I think we’ll have to if we sort of go on this journey for five years or so I think we would have to, you know, have her have her own agency, her own life in a way, where I think in this first season we’ve been sort of – everyone’s been kind of spinning around Ray. Everything is about Ray, and the Ray of it all, and I think that will have to sort of – we’ll all have to branch out, you know, to keep it interesting.
Talking about your role and Carmela’s again, why would you say you’re ready for the completion of your husband’s crime and your silence – is that part of the passion?
Loyalty. I mean I think in a way Abby, too, would be incredibly bored with someone conventional, actually. I think she tried. I think for me, and sort of in my mind, they had this kind of a breakup. You know, they got together when they were really, really young and they broke up for a while and Ray was with this other woman, the woman who died. And for me then sort of Abby experienced and she didn’t – she’s protected by Ray. There’s something very Darwinian about their relationship. You know? So I think that – I don’t know that she’d know how to be with someone like a normal – a civilian.
You mentioned the fact that you don’t write the scripts, but if you would, what would you change with your character?
I’d make the show called Abby Donovan! [Laughs] That’s, you know? I mean I would like to see more shows about women, like women only and not you know – yeah. Not the wife of, or the because of, you know? I mean, I think Abby is a really, really rich character who could be – you know – you don’t have to solve crimes to be interesting. Yeah.
You were in “The Hunger Games” as Katniss’ mom and you’ve played in other big stuff, so did you read books and research so much before you jumped into the project? What is you preparation?
It depends on the role, just depends on the role. No, I’m not a big sort of a – I think on my feet quite a bit. You work on the accent, you work on – but it’s not really until I’m on set, you sort of figure out, you meditate on it, you figure out things. You sort of let your imagination go before you begin, and then I just think sort of when you’re there with another actor, looking them in the eye, that’s when everything sort of comes alive. But yeah it depends. And I’ve never played a historic character really. I mean I’ve played period pieces, but I’ve never played a real-life character, which would be – that would be time to do that. But yeah, it’s a lot of intuition and a lot of sort of id for me as an actor when I’m on set.
You talked about the yoga pants. How much about what Abby wears helps you get into her character? I remember one red frock.
My red frock was good, that was a good frock. It was Alexander McQueen. Yeah, and it was deliberate, too, the sort of red dress and the fact that he’d handed her like four grand for a dress and she was like, fuck you. I’m not – I don’t need your money. I’ve got this little number, and she throws it on. What I usually do with characters, and it could be a terrible thing, is I like to just get a wardrobe for them at the very beginning of the show. We just kind of go through a very painful long process of like eight hours and fittings and then –
So you love it?
I hate it! But then we sort of just pull from that and sometimes as you go along and things change like this isn’t right anymore because she’s changed for me, you know? But yeah, the way – she was hard because I didn’t want her like all dressed up and fancy because she’s in the house all the time, so what do you do? I know, I’m not, but yeah. I don’t know about that – the wardrobe thing. It was – it did evolve a little bit, yeah. Yeah, the yoga pants, every time I was like, really, yoga pants? No.
I have a question pertaining to the wonderful roles that are on TV these days. You touched upon them and I wonder how that works for an actress and the actors who of course want to flaunt their chops in front of a huge audience. You get to play these wonderful roles and yet there’s something like five million people watching. Is that –
It’s not enough.
I’m asking this because I recently spoke to an actress and they said, no, I’m staying in the movies because I want millions and millions of people to see what I –
It’s a different relationship that you have when you do television. There’s a greater intimacy with an audience, which makes people think they know you when they meet you at the grocery store. Which is fine, but it’s different. It’s different. I mean, I’m completely – I’m watching “Homeland” at the minute and I’m completely obsessed. You know, like – and I love this sort of way of watching, kind of binging and then becoming completely immersed in these characters. And I learn a lot from that, but yeah, I’m fine with that. Listen, and these things come slowly like – you know, how many people watched “Breaking Bad”? It was 10 million or something in the last –
I don’t know.
It’s a lot of people.
Three million or something.
No, I think it was more. I think it was many more, I mean the last episode.
Yes, well okay, yeah, the finale.
I should just be in a zombie show and then I can get 50 million people to watch me. Have pieces of flesh falling off, that’s a surefire way to get an audience. I don’t know, I like tele[vision]. I’m very happy, very happy with that world, very much so. Yeah.
You keep saying that you are from Belfast. What’s so great about it? What are you most proud about it, and what do you miss most about Ireland?
Everything! Everything, just everything. I miss everything about it. I miss the sense of humor, I miss the gray days, and I just miss the fact that – we are so spoiled in America and we’re so like – everything’s got to be in a certain way. And I was in a shop in Belfast in the summer and I asked the guy for help and he just said to me, I’m on my own here! And I was like, oh my God. And then first of all I had this reaction of like, oh, this customer service is horrible and all that shit. Then it was like I was so happy because you don’t give a shit and you shouldn’t give a shit and it’s brilliant because there are more important things. That guy just wanted to get out of there, get to the pub have a pint because he didn’t want to do that job, yeah, you know? I just miss that, I miss the sort of – I don’t know, when people kind of say what they – I think over there people sort of – there’s a lack, a severe lack of political correctness which I find very, very refreshing.
Yeah, Mickey exactly. Oh my God.
Talking about your upbringing, do you mind just telling us a little bit about how you grew up since it is such a different – I mean we are all from different places – but I wonder compared to your character and the way she’s raising her kids and living in L.A., what was your upbringing like and a little bit about your family background?
I have to like – if anybody – is anyone here from Belfast or the U.K.? Can I say whatever I want? Could you leave? I’m just kidding! [Laughs] Just very different but I think the whole – I think raising children now is a very different world than the world I came from which was the early ‘70s. You were sent out to play and you came back when the street lamps went on. Right? And your mother was like – if you told your mother you were bored, you were like well, go and find something to do. But I also grew up with – there was a lot of violence. There was a lot of danger and people were trying to survive in that, and I think that makes for very, very interesting people. I loved it actually even though – we were having a really good time even though everyone was getting killed. It was – but we were! We were having – we were really alive! We were really sort of – I don’t know, maybe it’s a hyper-vigilance that you get from growing up when there’s – but it was nice and we had beautiful countryside that sort of juxtaposed with all this other shit that was going on. So it was kind of a nice balance, well not really a nice balance, but you know what I mean. I liked my childhood. It was tough, but it was good. I‘d take it any day over getting carpooled here, there and everywhere and your parents like organizing your life down to the – micromanaging the shit out of you, any day of the week. So yeah.
I would like you to go back to the way you were all excited and you were telling us about the white roses in the trailer and stuff so. Have you met Naomi Watts?
How was that?
Have you met Naomi Watts?
And after that?
What do you mean? Did she send me flowers, too?
No, was there something that – I don’t know, weirdness? Okay, I’m being weird.
No, you’re not being weird. Okay let’s think. Do you mean because she’s a big famous movie star? Is that why – I should be excited?
No, I mean like she’s the wife of –
Oh the wife?
We’re actors we don’t care. You know, I think unless – I think the understanding is you know, when you have to – we’re all there to do a job. I mean a sex scene is like washing the dishes, honestly. I mean, maybe it is a little better, but you know, there’s no exchange of, you know. Although this is not – this is such bullshit I’m saying because people hook up all the time and leave their husbands and wives right in this business. That’s not – you don’t do that on television so much I don’t think. I think that’s a movie thing. Yeah, because then you have to work with the person for the next five years! So no! No.
I think that’s a good place to end?
Yeah, that’s a very nice way to end, a cautionary tale.
Ray Donovan Season 1 is released on DVD in Australia tomorrow, June 11th. It is rated MA15+ and has a RRP of $54.99.