How it’s New York: The Tribeca TV Festival is a homegrown festival, out of Tribeca, NYC
How it’s Irish: There are actors of Irish heritage all over the fest including Téa Leoni, Tim Daly, Bryan Cranston and Keith Carradine
Over the weekend of September 20-23rd, the Tribeca TV Festival returned, celebrating programming from network, cable, streaming and online platforms. The fest expanded its coverage to four days and took over the Spring Street Studios in lower Manhattan.
The festival kicked off Thursday night with a 20th anniversary tribute to “Law & Order: SVU” and the fifth season premiere of “Madam Secretary.” I attended the “Madam Secretary” screening that was followed by a talk back with the cast. Téa Leoni, Tim Daly and Keith Carradine, are of Irish descent, as is one of the show’s executive producers.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, Leoni plays Elizabeth McCord, who serves Carradine’s President Dalton. McCord is married to Henry McCord (Daly), a university professor and has three children. Without giving away any spoilers, the episode, which features some seriously big deal cameos by former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell, was action packed! As a longtime fan of network television, I think dismissing what those channels have to offer is missing the volume of talent that goes into creating a well-plotted, plausible, engrossing episode in 44 minutes.
Though II’m not a regular “MS” viewer, any show that features Tim Daly is worth a look. The quality of the writing and acting impressed me, as did a moving and very timely speech about the dangers of nationalism, and the need for the freedom of the press.
In the Q&A after with regulars Leoni, Daly, Carradine, Zeljko Ivanek (Russell Jackson) and Erich Bergen (Blake Moran), executive producer Lori McCreary explained that Daly was key to hooking the episode’s special guests. Daly, Bergen said, was friends with Albright, who loves the show.
For Leoni, the premiere was “the crowning jewel moment after four years. It was like we were doing the live musical version of MS.” She added that “it was three brilliant minds who support each other from two different parties. They still meet and talk. I slept really well that night.”
Moderator Jackie Strauss from “The Hollywood Reporter” remarked on how uncannily the scripts sometimes beat real life to the punch. Strauss cited the Greek debt crises as an example. “I have no interest in reality. What interests me are the themes that we bring up like nationalism vs. patriotism,” Daly said.
Pointedly, Ivanek said, “I was born in Yugoslavia, a country that doesn’t exist anymore because of nationalism.”
The cast profusely praised the crew. Bergen illustrated what a crack team they have: “There’s a globe in Elizabeth’s office, and the crew will even make sure the country that we’re focusing on for that episode is front and center on the globe.”
But that is an insider secret, the panel said. “I just got fired live on stage at the Tribeca TV Festival!” Bergen exclaimed.
The Season 5 Premiere of Madam Secretary airs Sunday October 7th and 10 p.m. EST.
On Saturday, I attended a talk between Bryan Cranston and “New York Magazine” Film Critic David Edelstein. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the premiere of “Breaking Bad”, the show for which Cranston, who won four Emmys for his portrayal of Walter White, is likely most recognized these days. It was a thoughtful, funny and emotionally revealing discussion about the actor’s life and career.
Cranston had actually started things off before the Q&A by going to the green room overlooking the room and banging on the glass ala The Graduate’s Ben Braddock and yelling out “Elaine”. Unfortunately, I think most of us in the audience missed the hilarious moment and only learned of it when Edelstein shared it after they sat down. Of the bit Cranston half joked “I perform for himself”. He went on to add more seriously that “you’re only as good as you dare to be bad. As performers you have to be risk takers.” He noted that as he’s gotten older, despite having a high metabolism, he pays more attention to his energy levels. “Actors put themselves in emotional jeopardy. Your body doesn’t know the difference between acting and real life.”
If Cranston hadn’t taken up acting in college because he needed an elective, he might have turned to a life of crime. He spoke matter-of-factly about the nasty split between his parents when he was 11 and how he had found himself largely left to his own devices. His mother turned to alcohol when his father left and he didn’t see his father again for a decade. His youthful foray into petty crime was the basis for the Amazon show he created, “Sneaky Pete“, which is the nickname his family bestowed upon his when he was a kid.
Cranston attempted to change course as a teenager by pursuing law enforcement and attended the LAPD Academy. But then a pretty girl and an acting exercise put a pin in that. Cranston’s father had been an actor so the bug may have been planted subconsciously as the family experienced the feast or famine nature of the business. He recalled that “one year we got a new car. The next year we sold it and got a used one.”
Given that there were many rabid Breaking Bad fans in the audience, Edelstein of course asked Cranston about Walter White and one of the most memorable scenes from the show: when Walter let Jesse’s addict girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) die in the second season. Cranston provided a peek into the episode and also his process when he explained that “in the original script Walter was supposed to smother Jane” as the character was coughing and choking.” As part of his regular routine in preparing for a scene, he wrote down a long list of pros and cons: “why Walter White should kill her and why he should save her.” He put the audience in the moment of filming the intense scene and teared up a little when he shared that “as Krysten Ritter was choking the face of my daughter popped up. It scared the hell out of me.”
It was refreshing to hear from an actor who was so open and honest. I was also impressed that Cranston was happy to go over the allotted hour and was charming and generous with his answers throughout.
Cranston can be seen this Fall on Broadway as Howard Beale in Network. Previews begin November 10th.