They portray some of the most persuasive characters on television: a serial killer with a moral compass (albeit a little skewed), a science teacher-turned-meth kingpin, an unbeatable ad executive, a vengeful politician and a U.S. Marshal doling out his own brand of justice. Whatever Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Don Draper, Frank Underwood and Raylan Givens have to say onscreen, you would be a fool not to listen carefully and comply.
What the actors who portray these unwavering characters also have in common is that offscreen, their thoughts — though perhaps not expressed quite so aggressively — are heard and noted.
Michael C. Hall, Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Timothy Olyphant represent just a few of the actors who also receive producer credit on the shows they are on. It’s a title often bestowed upon actors who put in a number of years on their show and signifies a pay raise. But once they do have the title, how much is really expected of the men who front their shows behind the scenes, and what do they receive in return?
“Quite frankly, for someone in my position, a producing gig is whatever you want it to be,” says Olyphant, who was named a producer on Justified in its second season. “It could be nothing more than a glorified title, and I think one of the reasons they give star actors a producing gig is because the title ‘Pain in the Ass’ or ‘Glorified Cheerleader’ is not available. But I’ve taken advantage of it. I saw an opportunity to be involved, and I’m quite thankful and flattered that they’ve allowed me to do so.”
For Olyphant, the perk is the access to the process behind the camera. “I wanted the doors open to the creative process as much as possible, and I knew that credit system has a certain hierarchy,” he says. “I’ve been given an opportunity to collaborate with Graham (Yost, the showrunner) in a very meaningful way, and be in the writers room two months before we start shooting. The same goes for my relationship and dialogue with the directors and the other actors and the set designer. I really am definitely taking full advantage of the position, because that’s where all the fun is — in the kitchen.”
Being made producer on Dexter in the third season was a small practical change for Hall, who was already heavily involved in the creative process.
“I think it was a formal recognition of a contribution I was already making,” he says. “Dexter is a unique show in that the story is told subjectively, so I think my input in terms of where I imagine the character is and where I imagine him going has always been welcomed by other producers. I’m glad that I’m welcomed to have that sort of broader contribution in terms of the overall story and where things are headed.”
Hall finds that as producer on the show, one of his roles is to serve as a liaison between the cast and the producers whenever they express concern. What he has received in return is a greater sense of what it takes to put together a show.
“I like that it is a broader focus,” he says of his role as co-exec producer. “I also directed this season, and it’s nice to be in a position where you’re required to give people definitive answers so that they can all do their jobs. I felt much more required to be available to people in ways that I’m not when I’m just acting. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but this job has certainly given me a chance to wet my feet in some different areas beyond just playing a part.”
Cranston, who is finishing up his six-year stint for Breaking Bad, on which he has served as a producer since the third season, is already working on putting his producing skills to practical use as he starts developing his own projects for Sony Pictures Television.
“I look forward to being in on developing a story,” Cranston says. “To being able to find really creative writers and nurture them, protect them, fight for them, support them in the gauntlet that is the pitching process to the variety of different networks and just trying to be the overall guide to the big ship and how it’s moving.”
It’s a role he will be stepping into full time after we discover Walter White’s fate this summer, one that he has been preparing for years.
“It’s time for me,” says Cranston about taking a break from television acting. “This character of Walter White was so intimidating and overwhelming to me and the response to him has become rather iconic, so it’s a perfect time for me to step away from being up front and now take on a supportive role in television and really continue to look for those gems and really compelling stories to tell. And I’m excited about it.”