Pressing palms late into Thursday night at midtown Manhattan’s ritzy Tuscan eatery Circo, Tony Goldwyn — “Scandal’s” President Fitz and co-creator of WE tv’s new drama “The Divide” — painted the show in humble hues.
“This was an idea that started over a couple bourbons at Cafe Centrale with me and Richard,” he told a packed house at the pilot’s preview screening — a reference to his collaborator, “Divide” scribe Richard LaGravanese. He elaborated later: “What if we centered a series around a prosecutor who got it wrong? Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, heard that idea from me, and he recommended we make the prosecutor black, and the convict white — to turn the stereotypes on their heads.”
One of “The Divide’s” many surprises is that the show’s inaugural season revolves around just one contentious case that spirals out across the subsequent episodes — not the standard case-per-episode format.
“We had no interest in making a procedural here,” LaGravanese insisted. “The opportunity for us was to take the original pilot and learn from what worked and what didn’t. So what I did was, I filleted it into two, and wrote new stuff in between. TV writers who just sit down and write great pilots are f—ing geniuses. Mine had too much — there were enough ideas for three episodes.”
Goldwyn and LaGravanese — who had previously collaborated on “Conviction,” a feature film about a real-life Innocence Project case — shot a pilot in 2012 that was first passed on, then picked up for retooling by AMC and landed at WE tv.
“With TV, you have more time to develop things,” Goldwyn said. “What we’re really interested in is the impact of a violent crime on everyone associated with it. It’s like throwing a stone in the water, the ripple effect.”
Marin Ireland heads up “The Divide’s” cast as Christina, a dogged, tortured legal intern working around the clock — at a conspicuously Innocence Project-type nonprofit — to stop the execution of an inmate on death row she comes to believe was wrongfully convicted. Damon Gupton stars as Philadephia district attorney Adam Page, who made his name on the case and now needs Christina kept quiet.
Ireland conceded: “In the original pilot, you only saw my character at work. No personal life.”
“But as an actor,” she continued, “you’d always like to play somebody who makes mistakes and has flaws. It’s just more fun, it’s more like life. I feel like the idea is, this is a character who can lie and be guarded and have problems the same way a lot of antiheroes do, like Tony Soprano or Don Draper. When it’s a woman, usually, even if they’re complex, they’re still usually relegated to a half-hour comedy.”
For LaGravenese, it’s a show about “the ambiguity of human nature. I wanted to write about this so-called ‘post-racial’ society we’re supposed to be living in. Everybody has their reasons, and every character has an internal ‘divide’ they’re crossing to achieve their personal definition of justice, in a system that’s broken.”
(Pictured: Marin Ireland, Tony Goldwyn, Britne Oldford and Clarke Peters at “The Divide” afterparty at Circo)