The NBC comedy series “Bent” has the tried-and-true scenario of a “good girl” attracted to a “bad boy.” Divorced mother Alex Meyers (played by Amanda Peet) is an ambitious attorney who hires free-spirited contractor/recovering gambling addict Pete Riggins (David Walton) to do renovations on her kitchen. “Bent” premieres March 21, 2012, at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time.
As many romantic comedies go, Alex and Pete seem to dislike each other, except they’re really don’t. And viewers have to wonder when this would-be couple will admit their true feelings for each other and act on their attraction. In a telephone conference call with journalists, Peet, Walton and “Bent” executive producer/writer Tad Quill explain why the show is different from other TV shows with characters who are in denial about falling in love with each other.
David and Amanda, could talk a little bit about what made you want to be a part of “Bent”?
Walton: Simple for me. I heard Amanda Peet was in it. But go ahead, Amanda.
Peet: I wasn’t really looking to be in TV because I have two kids and my husband [David Benioff] is doing “Game of Thrones,” so it was definitely very stressful to fall in love with Tad’s script. I just love the writing and I love the character and then when Tad introduced me to David Walton that was about it.
What did you find challenging about your role as Amanda?
Peet: I think comedy’s hard, because you’re supposed to kind of forget that it’s a comedy. So I always find that it’s like a little more difficult but I hopefully I was OK.
Walton: You were amazing.
What do you think, Tad?
Quill: I think she was amazing. I really did. Amanda’s a fantastic actress but the comedy was real great. The thing that I love so much about Amanda’s performance is that it comes from such a natural place. It doesn’t feel like she’s pushing for the joke. It just comes from her character and it’s very real and it makes it all the more funny to me. And she also has the ability to play the emotional moments and that’s a real combination and pretty unique.
Amanda and David, there have been a lot of new romantic comedies debuting on TV already. What do you think it is about “Bent” that’s going to set it apart from the other shows?
Peet: When I read the script, I felt like it was sort of uniquely charming and there are a lot of kind of super quirky gross-out comedies and there a lot of sort of softer comedies that aren’t really grown up. I just felt like it was really charming and very real and I think that, it’s hard to find something that’s romantic on T.V. that’s also sort of sexy and – I don’t know – suspenseful in a love story way.
Walton: I think it’s really hard in television. I think what a lot of TV shows I watch do is they’ll try to push for a lot of jokes and then it’s almost like the writers are like, “Uh oh, we’ve got to put some heart in here.” And in the end they kind of jam it in there and try to get the audience somewhat moved as well.
And Tad has this incredible ability to kind of infuse touching engaging heartfelt moments throughout an episode, so by the end you never have to shift into like, “Oh, this is the sappy moment,” but you are touched and you are moved in a way and tired of laughing. And I think it’s super-unique.
Quill: Amanda and David have such incredible chemistry. I think that alone makes it unique I think and we also have just a really remarkable ensemble around them. We have Jeff Tambor who’s done so many things and is so talented but he also brings sort of an emotional depth to it. You have JB Smoove who’s just laugh out loud funny and Jessie Clements, who I have not seen in a straight up comedy before but he’s from Friday Night Lights and he was hilarious. And we have Margo Harshman, who is wonderful and Joey King. So it’s just It’s just a wonderful cast.
Amanda and David, how did you guys get involved with “Bent”? Did you audition or were you guys contacted for it?
Walton: I was just going to say, as far as I knew Amanda was attached, and then I was called in to do a chemistry read with her. And then beat out, what was it, 10 million dudes, 10 million guys? That’s about right, yes.
Quill: Nah, it was 5 million.
Walton: So it was just a chemistry read. I didn’t hear what Tad said. I think it was funny.
Peet: Tad, what did you say?
Quill: It’s not worth repeating. Honestly.
Walton: I went into read and a few days later I was told I got the part. I had known Tad from “Perfect Couples.” I think Tad and Amanda knew each other as well.
Peet: Yes, I knew Tad many years ago and, I felt I always thought he was really smart and a really, really good writer so I definitely felt like we had a really good shot at making something really funny and really smart and, that’s really rare of network television I think.
How did the whole idea for “Bent” come together? How did it become a TV show?
Quill: I had wanted to do a romantic comedy and I wanted to do something set in Los Angeles and I wanted to do something with people sort of at a crossroads in their life where they’re all starting over. And I feel like hopefully the town of Venice in L.A. comes through as kind of a character in the show. I feel it’s like a place a lot of people I know [go to who] are at a crossroads and starting over either divorced or sort of searching for something. And I also wanted to do an ensemble in addition to the romantic comedy. So that’s sort of where the idea came from.
Amanda and David, what do you think your characters bring to the table or bring to “Bent” that we aren’t seeing on other shows?
Peet: I don’t know. I think that first of all I feel like David Walton is just a revelation. I mean, he’s so brilliant and funny and I don’t think there’s anybody like him. And I think it’s a really a really unique and very real sort of depiction of somebody who’s in a little bit in a state of arrested development, but he has a really good heart and he has really good instincts. And as Tad was saying, he’s just at this crossroad and meets this very, very serious woman who has a lot of responsibility. So I think what’s fun about it is the sort of how different their lifestyles are and whether or not they can overcome that.
Amanda, your character’s very uptight but she comes across as very likeable. I wanted to ask you a little how hard was that to make a character that could be kind of unlikable, despite the sense that she’s so highstrung? Was that difficult for you to approach and how did you approach her?
Peet: I just try to leave it up to Tad and in the writing, so some characters are written and are they’re just sort of very strident and there’s no gaps there, there’s no vulnerability there and I don’t think that Tad knows how to write characters that are that flat. So you have nothing to worry about as long as you just go with the writing.
Will there be a lot of “will they or won’t they” tensions with Alex and Pete?
Walton: Absolutely. Yes, I think what we’re hearing back from people who have seen some advanced screenings and stuff is that there’s rally an addictive quality to the show where you really don’t want to stop watching which I think it kind of rare for comedies. So we’re hoping that that brings people back but ultimately I think a lot of the addiction is, the love dance which can go on for many, many years.
Do you guys want to see them to get together though? Are you rooting for that?
Walton: But it will be long dance hopefully.
You have both been on other TV series that were critically acclaimed, but didn’t have the ratings success and didn’t last. Did those experiences change how you feel about approaching a show like “Bent”?
Walton: That’s interesting. I try to be cautiously optimistic, but frankly I’ll be devastated if this show doesn’t go but then you recover. So I just like being all out optimistic and I think obviously we’re in a hyper-competitive industry and there’s no way of predicting anything. But what good does it do to be cautious? I can’t find any reason to be.
[Amanda Peet as Alex is] going to be opposite of me. She’s going to balance out my caution and she’s going to match it with a nice balanced sane character throughout the off season.
Could you tell us a little bit about the chemistry between the characters?
Walton: The chemistry is maybe a “lightning in the bottle” type thing. Tad’s writing is very easy, it’s very naturalistic and funny, and I wish I was as witty as my character is. So when you have that kind of rapid-fire machine gun talking chemistry things start to come alive.
Amanda, I’m not sure she’s ever not had chemistry with her co-stars. I just feel honored to be able to act with her. She’s an amazing actress. So funny and so charming and vulnerable. She can play like five different things at once and it all comes through. There’s not a person I’ve met, when I say I’m in the show with Amanda Peet, it’s not like, “Oh my God. I love her.” So I think a lot of that just because she’s just very generous. And that’s a lot of what chemistry has to do with. That’s my answer.
Who knows why attractions happen? They’re still even this day, this age of science and figuring everything out it’s still a pretty mysterious thing. But on the surface, yes, she’s very attractive, she’s smarter than most of the girls out of probably every girl I ever met and she doesn’t take any BS. And at the same time she, seems to get my sense of humor. When I say “my,” I mean Pete Riggins’ sense of humor. And so there’s just an ease in which they immediately start connecting and that’s how people get married. When they met … it was just easy.
Peet: I always think it’s an opposites attract kind of thing. I feel it was definitely really well-portrayed in the writing and so David and I just kind of followed what was there. And I think it’s always exciting to see two people who kind of can’t stand each other or can’t stand the way the other one lives and throw in some attraction and see what happens.
Amanda, you’ve done a lot of romantic comedies. Is there a certain thing about these that makes them work the best? What is it about a good romantic comedy that makes it work? And also does “Bent” feel a little bit different?
Peet: It’s all about your partner. So once we found David Walton, it became very exciting, and I think that it’s sort of a quality when you strike gold with a romantic comedy. And I guess I attribute it to being partners with David Walton primarily. And I think Tad’s a very smart and a very funny guy.
I think while these two people [Alex and Pete] are very, very different. They definitely have that kind of witty repartee that I always love seeing in a romantic comedy where you have a really formidable opponent who is equally saucy and who can really give you a run for your money. I always find that to be really sexy, so hopefully we achieve that. I don’t know how badly were focused on achieving that very thing, but hopefully that’s the by-product.
It’s because we didn’t have a lot of money for shooting. We were always taught that faster is funnier. I don’t know. Yes, so that’s what I was always told so I guess that’s what we were trying to do.
Amanda, do you prefer television over movies?
Peet: I like good writing, so it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a play or a TV show or a movie. There are plenty of movies that are really badly written and there are plenty of TV shows that are sublime. So I just try to go and make a writer fall in love with me who’s a great writer. Not fall in love with me, but make somebody want to write for me.
Are you finding on television now that the stories and the writing are getting better?
Peet: Yes. I think it’s pretty incredible what you can see now especially for women my age. Never thought I’d say that term. But yes, I think that a lot of the roles in movies aren’t as fun because you’re not really part of the main plot or your playing the lovely wife or the girlfriend or something like that. It’s always sort of an ancillary role. Whereas in TV, I feel like we have — including with “Bent” — really exciting roles that are fun and complicated.
What caught your eye when you first read a script for “Bent”?
Peet: I think it’s both. I mean, obviously probably like page 7 there were a couple of quotable lines from Tad’s script that I loved — all of which he cut. So yes, usually I get attached to couple of lines, and then I decide the writer’s a good writer, and then casting is a lot of it. And once David walked into the room, I was besotted and so was Tad. So that was that.
David, can you comment on Episode 2 of “Bent,” when Alex and Pete kind of get close to kissing? There were about 10 emotions that flashed within like a second, just in her eyes.
Peet: I’m schizophrenic.
Walton: It was this vulnerability and strength and love and lust and fear and all these just like flashed before our eyes and that was by far the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in this scene that I’ve been in with anybody. And I think it’s what makes her a movie star and gives her that star quality and she’s so pretty and she can play these characters like in the last question or ten minutes ago there was a question like how do you make these tough women likable. And it’s a true talent that’s very fearless not only her, who can actually do it to the extent that she does. It’s a real honor to be in the same show as her.
When did you first move out to California and what impression did it make on you? And how much do you think the fact that these guys live in Venice just influences the characters?
Peet: I moved out here to do “Jack and Jill” when I was 28. So I’m 40. Tad, David, what does that mean? What year was that?
Walton: 12 years.
Peet: So I’ve been here for a long time but I think I’m probably a pretty purebred New Yorker type of person. I think for my character, in some ways, it’s OK to have that come across. It was more David’s character who is more kind of really embedded in the vibe of Venice and that kind of laid back vibe. And I think probably part of what we were going for is that something my character needs to learn to embrace.
Walton: I was going to ask Tad what his great line from his first episode where she’s like, “You’re all mad at me.” And you’re like, “It’s cool to be stoned at 35 or something.”
Quill: And then you say, “Venice.”
Walton: Yes. I think not so much about Amanda’s character but much more about mine. That’s part of the opposites attracting.
Amanda, it takes your Alex character a long time to embrace this Venice vibe. What about you when you moved out there? Did it take you a long time to embrace the vibe of being in California?
Peet: I’m still trying to embrace the vibe of being in California. When I’m 80 I’ll still be trying..
Walton: I’m going to get her a bong for Christmas.
Can you talk about the actress who plays Alex Meyers’ daughter, Charlie?
Quill: That’s Joey King. Yes, that’s Joey King. She is an amazing little actress. When Amanda became attached, Joey was the first person we met with. Not to speak for Amanda, but it was love at first [sight]. She’s got a lot going on.
She’s always jamming off to do a “Batman” movie or “The Wizard of Oz.’ She’s funny. As opposed to a lot of child actors, you feel like they’re just being cute, but with Joey she’s really acting.
NBC is showing back-to-back episodes of “Bent.” How do you guys feel about that? Are you a bit worried a little bit that they’ve chosen to lay them out that way?
Quill: No. I mean, it’s obviously it’s very competitive out there, but the nature of the show it definitely has the serialized quality to a romantic comedy. The feedback that we’ve gotten so far is that once somebody watches the first one they want to watch the second one. So that’s what’s being the thinking of putting them back to back like that to really hook people in and I think it actually plays well to the strength of the show.
Tad, how do you prep a show that’s so based on this relationship? Did you have an end game sort of in your head as to where it’s going to go or do you sort of like figure out what’s going to happen next with them organically, depending on what happens in the episode?
Quill: No, no we definitely have an end game, but it’s always figuring out as you go. It’s just always a fine balance between keeping the audience engaged and feeling like things are progressing but also moving incrementally forward as little as possible with a relationship because, obstacles are the key to romantic comedy. So it’s always that balance. But it’s between giving the audience enough so they’re hooked in and not frustrated by it, but also not too much that you’re not enjoying the sort of dance that they’re doing.
Are we going to see any serious progression between them in the episodes or is that going to be or are we still going to be left with the tension?
Walton: Yes, I was just going to say you have to wait and find out. I think there’s a real doozy season finale. Don’t miss that one.
What are three songs that you guys could compare Alex and Pete’s relationship to in the beginning?
Walton: “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner.
Peet: “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan.
Walton: And hits from the bong.
Peet: “Sexy Motherf*cker” by Prince. Mine were better, David.
What’s your advice to actors?
Peet: Don’t do it. I’m kidding I guess. David, what’s your advice?
Walton: It depends what stage you’re at, but if you’re just coming out of college or high school or whatever and just want to become an actor I would say you’ve got to really work at it …
Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. No, I would say, “Sleep with casting directors. Learn how to bite the pillow.”
Peet: Wear really tight clothing. It’s all about looks. That’s the thing.
Walton: Persistence and pay attention. Make sure you’re getting feedback that you’re good.
Peet: We’re really kidding … I’m really old so I feel like I’m not a good person to ask. When I started it was really a lot easier to get a job?
For more info: “Bent” website