Even for thesps like Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard, who have both been credited on numerous occasions with making bold choices, the casting seems a bit out there: Take English-accented performers and put them on American series television for the first time — basic cable, at that — as hillbilly con artists living in Louisiana.
“There’s no reference to a crack-using, just-out-of-jail mother of three,” concedes Driver, who plays Dahlia Rich in FX’s rookie drama series “The Riches” — or at least, a Southern spitfire who has stolen the identity of a deceased person named Dahlia Rich. “This has been the best part of my whole career, the way it challenges me both physically and mentally.”
The series features Driver and Izzard as the head of a very unconventional family making a go of it in conventional circumstances. The 13-episode arc this season began with the pair and their three kids on the outs with their clan of Irish Travellers and running for their lives. When their speedy getaway results in the traffic death of the real Riches, the family takes up the moniker and moves into a spacious mansion.
While the kids — all seasoned grifters — adapt to life in school, Izzard (aka Doug Rich) blends in seamlessly as a corporate lawyer, his artful flimflam more than compensating for a mere seventh-grade education.
Dahlia, however, finds the transition to life as a “buffer” — Travellerese for a civilian mark — more wrenching. Recently paroled, she spends her days discretely feeding drug habits she picked up in prison while trying — in her emotionally guarded and damaged way — to reassert her matriarchal role in the family she’s been away from. Her fiery rejection of buffer life contrasts with Doug’s embrace of it, adding a layer of complexity to a marriage that seems healthy at its core.
While she spent some time in and around New Orleans before shooting started, Driver didn’t camp out with real-life Travellers or con old ladies out of loose change to research Dahlia. Instead, she quickly assimilated a local dialect she could believably reproduce and threw her energy into the emotional complexity of the character.
“She’s not accurate,” Driver acknowledges. “I found a rural Louisiana (dialect) I could do without really thinking about it. If you’re thinking about the accent, you make life very difficult for yourself, and you come off stilted and unnatural. The only method I have is to come off as natural as I can be.”
Favorite scene: Bringing cookies to a neighbor while practicing how to ask her for drugs.
Where you’d like to see your character go next season: “I love that she has started to form meaningful relationships in this life that they are creating. I hope we continue to see those evolve.”
TV Guilty Pleasure: “Probably ‘American Idol,’ although I can’t watch those first episodes when they are berating those poor people.”