Over the past seven months, I've been lucky enough to visit the sets of several USA Network shows. Back in April, I traveled down to the ATL, Atlanta, Georgia, to check out the set of Necessary Roughness, returning for Season 2 Wednesday, June 6 at 10 PM ET with Episode 2.01: Shrink or Swim.
As is customary with these visits, we viewed the Season 2 premiere the night before visiting the set, and this season picks up right where Season 1 left off (be warned, if you haven't seen the Season 1 finale, there will be some spoilers within). Last season ended on a rather shocking note, when Terrence King (Mehcad Brooks) was shot in a nightclub, after springing the block that helped his New York Hawks win their playoff game. The premiere episode manages to juggle quite a lot at once, dealing with the aftermath of TK's shooting, Dr. Dani (Callie Thorne) being audited by the IRS, and the Hawks team itself in disarray after owner Marshall Pittman and his wife file for divorce. We actually do get to meet Marshall, who was referenced by name last season but never shown, and Dani's son RayJay (Patrick Johnson) gets caught in a compromising position by his mom.
One of the interesting things about this season is we start in the football off-season. When we arrived on set, at EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta, we were lead into the Hawks' meeting room, and saw the team is preparing for the draft. There was a huge draft board up, with tons of college player profiles posted throughout the room. Here's what producer-director Kevin Dowling had to say about the dynamic of starting this season during the football off-season.
"(Series creators) Liz (Kruger) and Craig (Shapiro) are incredible planners as far as story arc goes, so they always had a sense you know that we would do this, but I think it became more intense and it stretched out a little longer than maybe initially thought. I mean now we really go the whole summer season on USA. We'll be the off season move after playoff and the winter season we'll take us into the season again. But it gave us lots of ways to approach things because we really do get to go to the training facility more and see what it's really like if you have an injury and try to come back from it. All of the psychological parts of that, and it also allows for Matt and Dani to work closely together which people seem to like."
We also got to take a look at a lot of the sets that weren't being used that day, like T.K.'s lavish bachelor pad, Dani's house and her fake "outdoor" backyard, which is meticulously detailed, and RayJay's room, a set which was added this year and is where one of the more memorable moments of the premiere takes place. This season will also show Dani interacting with a number of other clients aside from T.K. That day they were shooting Episode 5, and we got to watch a scene where the good doctor is trying to help Rhino (Drew Powell), a linebacker who is convinced someone in his family is stealing food. When he sets up a nanny cam to catch the perpetrator, Rhino discovers he is the actual thief, and that he is a "sleep eater."
The Season 2 premiere ends with another rather shocking moment, which reveals that TK has a longer road to recovery than anyone previously imagined. We got to speak with Scott Cohen, who plays the Hawks' "fixer" of sorts, Nico. Here's what the actor had to say about Nico's relationship with TK this season.
"TK needs to be protected, and Nico's the only one that can do it. That's basically what it is. So Nico becomes his go to guy, not through TK's mind, but Nico kind of puts himself in that position. He just needs kind of like a father figure in certain ways. He's not his father, but he needs an older presence in his life, and Nico kind of presents that to him, or allows him to use, use Nico in that way."
During a break in the production, we got to sit down with Mehcad Brooks, who plays the Hawks' enigmatic wide receiver Terrence King. Here's what he had to say about what TK will be up to this season.
Mehcad Brooks - Terrence King
We were told you'd have more scenes with TO (Terrell Owens) this year. Does that relationship get ramped up?
Mehcad Brooks: It did yes. It gets ramped up a lot and then what happens is, it sort of gets rectified all in the same swoop. He becomes likable all of a sudden. I think it's good for TO. I mean that in an actually nice way, because he's a nice guy. But his public persona is what it is. But if you know him, if you meet him, he's actually a very misunderstood. I think he's very shy, and what happens is he comes off in a protective way and it isn't befitting of his personality because he's actually a really nice guy, believe it or not.
Scott said that the relationship between Nico and TK is going to evolve into something like a father figure.
Mehcad Brooks: Yeah I call it Teko. TK and Nico. Like Bradgelina, you know, without the sex. It's cool because it's like TK finally has a maternal figure in his life. He's never had that and he does need a positive male figure in his life. Nico is the only guy with the patience and probably the training to handle someone's attitude as large as TK's. The guy doesn't listen to anybody but Nico really.
Did you do any research into PTSD?
Mehcad Brooks: Yes I did. I did a lot actually. I got a couple friends who've come back from Afghanistan and Iraq with some issues. One guy was actually blown up by a grenade. We knew each other for 16 years, 17 years. I got him a job on My Generation as our military coordinator. He's just a great guy, just a fantastic guy. 13 surgeries later, make a long story short, he's walking, he's running, he's back as part of the population physically. I've seen it firsthand. And I've been able to talk to him about it and he's been strong enough to open up to me about it. I want to portray it as serious as possible, as accurately as possible because it's an under-discussed subject and it's something that you know, 2 million Americans are going to have to deal with actively themselves not to mention the toll it's going to take on families and friends and so on and relationships and, and jobs and so on and so forth. I think no one really wants to see soldiers going through it because we have this sort of war fatigue and we have this insulation, we haven't even paid for the war you know. I think when it's coming from an athlete or a football player, somebody that we see every day and that we allow into our home every day, it's different. I have athletes who come up to me and say hey, that, what you did was real, you know, it was realistic. And I hope that one of these days I'll have a soldier come up to me and say, you know what, I went through that, my family went through that. And thank you for taking it seriously because it really affected us and um. So it's not something that I make light of. Not that part of it.
How is it for you to portray such a serious arc, after normally playing such an upbeat character from last season?
Mehcad Brooks: Challenging. But that's what I got into this business for is to be challenged. I love this job because it's varied in that way. Pne minute you can have him in a scene where he's on the verge of tears and like not knowing what's going on in his life and then, then really sort of losing grip of who he is. And then the next moment he's having a Twitter war. Like he's a 12 year old. It's fun to be challenged.
Will you go into TK's past and some of his family members while he goes through this?
Mehcad Brooks: We do go back to his old neighborhood. He doesn't really know his family. He was a foster kid at nine years old. I think it's episode 203 to 204 or something like that, but it's great. He goes back to his old neighborhood and hides out for a couple episodes and gets into some shenanigans, some funny stuff and some not so funny stuff actually. It's weird because he after, especially after almost losing his life, he kind of doesn't know where he belongs, professionally. It's almost as if, wow, I catch a ball for a living. Is that important? I don't know. He starts to question everything. Maybe I just want to go home and just be around people who love me for being Terry King. Not the King. He goes through that for a little while as well. And so that's when you kind of meet the people who are in his past.
Do you base the TK antics on anybody in particular? It reminds me of TO.
Mehcad Brooks: It's actually based on Keyshawn Johnson, who I don't know from a can of paint. I based it on other guys that I know in the league, TO not being one of them, because I didn't know TO all that well before we started working together. And I based it on my dad who was a wide receiver in the 70's and 80's when you know, cocaine was a performance enhancing drug. Those were wild times and different times in the NFL and I got to see some of it first hand as a kid. I then also based some of it on myself in my young 20's. Like you know, what if I had 85 million dollars and I was that stupid? You know. In some ways, it's like which film did I come into work and just being a dick and getting away with it. 'Cause I'm actually kind of nice in person I think at least. To myself.
For TO's returning role, is he going to act more like a catalyst of change to get TK back on track or just dance on his grave?
Mehcad Brooks: That's a good question. He does a little bit of both actually. I don't want to get too much into it, but the Twitter war will obviously be with the character he plays. There's some really awful things, at least in TK's world said about him. And TK, like a grown man, goes to handle it, and shenanigans ensue. I was like, you got somebody on the inside. Who do you work for?
Have you gotten feedback from NFL players about this?
Mehcad Brooks: I have, and not always positive. Some are like, man you're stance is horrible. Come on dog. I'm like let see how you can do a monologue, fool. I barely understand what you saying right now. I mean I've had a lot of positive feedback and I've had some really helpful criticism actually too. There was actually a conversation with a very well known wide receiver in a nightclub. And he was helping me with my stance in the nightclub. And everybody's dancing around us like we're in New York and I'm like, alright. He said the problem is your form is down perfect, but you look like a pointdexter. So we were in the club, and like he's kind of like, like if you have this much swag if you're a franchise player. I was like, oh I got it. So, TK has a new stance.
Towards the end of our day on the set, we finally got some time with Callie Thorne, who was nominated for an Emmy last year for her portrayal of Dr. Dani Santino. Take a look at what she had to say about this new season.
Callie Thorne - Dr. Dani Santino
Dr. Dani has the season full when the season kicks off. Talk about getting ready for this second season and some of the fine tuning that went on.
Callie Thorne: That's a good question about getting back into it because we did have a nice long hiatus and it's always a little nerve racking coming back into a show. This was the first time coming back into the second season of the show being number one on the call sheet. I was very nervous about that. We luckily had about a week before we started shooting, which was little bits of rehearsals, little bits of fittings and so the guys and I got to play and talk and hang out and we all just naturally fell back into our roles. It really made the first few weeks of work that much more sort of giggly and fun. Because really I think what we all respond to the most is laughing with each other and even if it's dramatic scenes or silly scenes, that's how we get into it with each other and I think that shows up on screen and so it was very smart for them to have us come a week ahead of time. And then in regards to Dr. Dani I you know especially that first script coming back which I think you guys saw the first episode, right? There's so much going on but everything was so wonderfully detailed. It made it easy for us to slip back in and um, and I also really liked the fact that it wasn't like a year later. You know it was sort of really a perfect time to come back. The audience wasn't struggling to remember what happened as nor were we struggling to sort of establish things that happened. It was like right there. So I have to say it was easier than I thought and but mainly because we all laugh a lot and we're able to make those connections again very easily.
How does Dr. Dani help TK get through everything this season?
Callie Thorne: Well, it's even sort of questionable when we come back if she's really helping him at that point because he does think of her in this maternal way which I think kind of backfires a little bit when we come back to that. Because now it's almost like he's rebelling as a child or you know a teenager or whatever would with the parent. He isn't accepting what really happened to him. He's in this sort of state of denial and that makes their relationship really difficult. She can't get through to him and so it's interesting because I have thought of it more in terms of a mother kind of trying to get through to their uh their child, to try and get in any which way to get him to admit what happened. As wild as TK was last year, he's a wild and, and sort of extraordinary character, he's even more so you when we come back but not for the best reasons. I think it's really interesting the first few episodes watching Dr. Dani trying to get in there any which way and he's not taking it. He's really not working with her at all and that's new, you know. I think that is a new place to find them and then you'll see what happens. If that's good or bad for anybody.
Where does Dr. Dani get all her strength from?
Callie Thorne: I love that because a lot of what I bring to the character myself is a lot of my own mother. I grew up with a single mother so there's a lot of tone and behavior that I think of in terms of my own mom as well as the woman that the show is based on. The character is based on a very strong woman. I've always said she's this force to be reckoned with. And that is in the writing because she is in the writer's office, she's always there to be a part of what the particular patient of the week is. So she's also there to make sure that the character is very true to herself and the circumstances that she has been in that we are now bringing you know to the screen and then I'm also thinking about my own therapist in real life. And all three of these women are all incredibly independent, and are all women that I've learned extraordinary things from and still do. I think that that has a wonderful mix with the way the writers write her and so it also falls into place that these are the women I have in my mind and the way that they write her it's a very strong voice and some, sometimes that's not true. Sometimes you've got an enormous amount of homework to do in order to bring a woman like that to life. Often in TV as well, it's changed in the past few years because there's so many incredible lead women now and they're very layered. Some of them are likable and some of them are not and that's what women are, we're many different things. I got all that going on and then I have the luck of good writers that are creating this woman alongside with me.
What sorts of insights have you gotten from the real Dr. Dani?
Callie Thorne: One of the things that's really hard for me as Callie is doing a lot of the therapy scenes. You see someone in pain, in emotional pain and my natural instinct and I think a lot of people that I know if you have a heart that your instinct is to feel for them and to you know I want to go and give them a hug or whatever it is. The main thing I've learned from Dr. Donna is that place that you have to go to, that neutral place, so that you can be a safe haven for that patient. A place that they can be honest, not feel judged, not feel like they have to impress you or whatever it is. So even as an actor I'm learning some things about how she's got to present herself as a therapist help me as an actor just sitting in these scenes. You're so used to reacting as an actor and you know that's what you're taught in every class. You know acting is reacting and but most especially in those therapy scenes I have to go to a certain head space, to not give too much away and that and let those scenes really be about who I am with and let them tell their story. I think that's the biggest thing I learned from her in regards to the character. And then in my life I've very much learned from her. It's a theme in the show as well that sometimes people just want to be listened to and it was something you know I spoke a lot about last year, too, that I have learned to be a better listener because of my conversations with her and I found myself babbling with her. Sometimes we talk by Skype and I'm going on and on and I feel so great afterwards and I realize she didn't even say anything. She just listened to me, she didn't try to fix me, she didn't try to you know, make parallels and say, oh I know because this happened to me and that's very meaningful to me. So those are the two things that I am very grateful that I learned from her.
What are some of your favorite aspects of stepping outside of the football arena?
Callie Thorne: Well my first favorite is what happens in the second episode, or maybe it's the third, they get tangled with the roller derby. I was really excited that it was a female you know that we were focusing on a female athlete and then roller derby's always something that I've always loved watching. There was the girl I met three or four years ago and she was an actress who, on her off time was this very famous New York roller derby girl. She had stories that blew my mind so that was very exciting to me to go to. They created a roller derby arena but they did it very beautifully and they got a real team together. That was Rob Morrow's episode. I think also because he's an actor they got a little bit more into that sort of stuff and the actress that they cast as the girl with the issue, was a real tough little cookie and she was getting really involved in it. That was fun for me because I got to go and meet all these incredible women, these tough women, and I think that's what I'm very excited about in regards to the second season. There will be way more of leaving the football stadium, although obviously I love going to the football stadium. But that just makes it more exciting for me.
That about wraps it up from my day on the Atlanta set of Necessary Roughness. Season 2 debuts Wednesday, June 6 at 10 PM ET with Episode 2.01: Shrink or Swim. The premiere episode is quite fantastic, with Callie Thorne, Mehcad Brooks, and the rest of the cast at the top of their game. This should be one hell of a season.