Co-creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz took a novel approach to Season 2 of their anthology series, Starz’s “The Girlfriend Experience”: Rather than collaborate, like they did in the first installment, they split up the season into two parts, and wrote and directed each half themselves. The stories are self-contained and completely separate; each week, Starz will air one half-hour installment from both stories.
Where the first season told the story of one woman becoming a high-end escort in Chicago — loosely inspired by the film of the same name, directed by series executive producer Steven Soderbergh — the second changes both leads and locations. Kerrigan’s, subtitled “Erica & Anna,” enters the world of Washington, D.C. politics, while Seimetz’s “Bria” follows a woman who has entered witness protection in New Mexico. Variety spoke to Seimetz and Kerrigan about what’s in store for the next season of “The Girlfriend Experience.” Season 2 premieres Nov. 5.
So much of the delight of Season 1 was in discovering Riley Keough’s performance as Christine. Who are the leads for your stories this season?
Kerrigan: There are two leads in mine. One is Anna Friel, who plays Erica Myles, a finance director for a Republican super PAC just before the 2018 midterms. She gets involved with high-end escort Anna Gardner, played by Louisa Krause, and enlists her help in blackmail.
I chose both of them. I had known both of their work before, but they both came in to audition and gave really just incredibly raw readings. It was really fascinating and magnetic to watch them, so that was it. They’re both very comfortable with the role, which I think you really have to be. It’s hard to … There’s no getting around it, to do this kind of role on this kind of show. You have to be extremely comfortable with the sexuality.
Seimetz: And with yourself.
Kerrigan: And with yourself.
Seimetz: In my episodes, the lead is Carmen Ejogo. There’s a few circling characters. One is played by Tunde Adebimpe. He’s the lead singer of TV on the Radio, and he plays a U.S. Marshal, which — he is not hip, at all. It’s so great to see that transformation. Then, Harmony Korine is also a part, and he’s — I think people are going to … Their minds are going to be blown. He’s magnificently magnetic.
Carmen, I’d met last year. I really wrote this for her, knowing her. I had the lucky opportunity to act with her in “Alien: Covenant” — and I’m a little responsible for her [character’s] death.
Did she forgive you?
Seimetz: [Laughs] I made it up to her. She’s incredibly dynamic and funny. She’s got a great sense of humor. Same with Louisa. I feel like our lead actresses have the same understanding of a sense of humor and depth in darkness that they can bring to the role. Timing is everything. I feel like watching Lodge’s episodes and watching mine, Carmen just nails timing. She’s like a queen of instinctual timing.
The stories sound significantly different from last season’s.
Seimetz: We’re expanding the definition of what “the girlfriend experience” means. Part of the season is dabbling in and out of this low-end world and this high-end world, dealing with class and what that looks like. High-end versus low-end and the struggle to find identity within either one of those realms. Mine is much grittier than last season. She’s left a former life. She was a GFE for quite some time, and she left that life for reasons that you will find out in the season, and enters this world … Her struggle is entering this grittier world and longing to go back to these very luxurious days of high-end hotels and mansions and stuff.
Kerrigan: It, also, is opening up beyond the world of just the escort. At least in my episodes, how [Anna] interacts with people who aren’t her clients, and what the transactional basis of their relationships are. It’s about an escort at the top of her game who becomes emotionally involved with a client, and it crosses over into a personal relationship, then to some darker psychological territory that deals with the pair dynamics between them going through that relationship, expressed through their sexuality.
Seimetz: From my end, it’s a completely different character, but the approach to showing that character is exactly the same as it was. I think Lodge and I will both agree, and I can speak from a viewer experience from watching Lodge’s episodes — we’re not interested in over-broadcasting what emotionally is going on, because that’s part of the allure and mystery of watching these women, or just characters in general. We’re much more action-oriented filmmakers and writers, where we don’t want to go into too much exposition. It’s also much more interesting for the audience to constantly be wondering what this person’s doing and try to break it down based upon their actions.
What was behind the idea to do your own separate storylines this season?
Seimetz: There’s several reasons. The first being that given the opportunity that we got from Steven Soderbergh and Starz to basically just do whatever we want. With an anthology series, the next season you really have the opportunity to hit reset, and hit reset in a big way. We just hadn’t seen people do that. We also had the incredible opportunity of both of us respecting and loving the other person’s work. Given the opportunity to make it auteur-driven, the way that we can take that up a notch was to give each of us respectively full creative control over our own storylines — and create this dialogue between the two storylines, where Lodge has written and directed his own, and I’ve written and directed my own. Therefore, it’s a conversation between our episodes. The audience gets to join the conversation and draw these thematic elements out of these two completely separate storylines.
Kerrigan: It’s a desire to really push the boundaries of television. Season 1 was a half-hour drama. But Season 2, these are two totally separate productions, separate casts, shot in separate cities. There’s some thematic mirroring, but I think it’ll be really interesting, not only for the audience to join the conversation, as Amy says, which I think is so excellent, but also to show what the potential for storytelling is within television. There is infinite number of possibilities, and just to try to show that and take advantage of it.
Seimetz: Just to expand on that, in staying in the spirit of Soderbergh, who loves breaking format and pushing things in directions — the reason that Steven handed it to Lodge and I was because he wanted us to do something different and do something interesting. To keep with that spirit, we felt like we had to do something equally as interesting and not feel like we were locked into some sort of aesthetic, or some sort of storyline, or having to repeat things and keep the idea of a limited series fresh. If it continues, each season has the opportunity to redefine the girlfriend experience.
There’s no crossover, right? And not from Season 1, either: We’re not going to see Christine pop up?
Kerrigan: Zero crossover. Totally separate.
Seimetz: I think the idea, too, is if you view last season as its own world, and you view this season, too, as Lodge’s world and then my world.
Kerrigan: We both were aware that audiences … can watch Amy’s episodes and then mine, or mine and then Amy’s, and compare them, and I think they’re going to draw connections for themselves between the two on their own that may or may not have been intended. It’ll be really interesting to see their response.
How much input did you have on each other’s work? Did you comment back and forth?
Kerrigan: We read each other’s scripts. We came up with the idea of the format together at the very beginning, how we wanted to approach this season. We talked about common themes, primarily power and identity and control. But that was really it. We respected each other’s work, and I think we have mutual respect as filmmakers, so we read each other’s scripts and watched each other’s episodes, but really, we just did our own thing.
Seimetz: That’s sort of how Steven is in the whole process, too. He had so much respect, the same way that we have respect for each other. Last year, our conversation in the writing process was us arguing and fighting about what this character was going to do, and we came up with last season. This season it was more like, “Okay, we both respect each other. Let’s see where you take it, and I take it, and I’m not going to meddle in it.”
What do you think of each other’s shows, or storylines?
Seimetz: It’s great.
Kerrigan: Yeah, fantastic.
Seimetz: It’s mind-blowing how different and similar they are — even though I never went to his set, and he never came to my set. We were never like, “You have to shoot it this way,” and, “Let’s agree on what lenses we’re using.” It was like completely different approaches, completely different technical approach — but very similar.
Kerrigan: Steven must have seen something, some similarity in our work, that he asked each of us to join the project at the very beginning.
Are there things about the experience of making the first season, or the response to the first season, that influenced how you approached the second season?
Seimetz: Definitely, for me, yeah. I loved the way that we ended it. It felt very perfect. It felt so self-contained and done. That story is done for this woman. I didn’t want to repeat that, so I wanted to come up with something that was radically different and explore something totally, radically different. For the same reason that Steven asked me to do this: I’ve never wanted to go in and be stuck on a TV show, recreating the same thing over and over and over. I want to just keep exploring. That was, for me, the reason.
Kerrigan: [Season 1] made everyone involved feel confident enough or that we could really continue to push the boundaries of what television could be this season. The success of the first season definitely allowed the second season, which I think is much darker in a lot of ways and much more radical, in terms of structure. Certainly, I don’t think it’s been done before. One afforded us the opportunity to do the other.