With setting such a significant component of the show and its network, it’s only fitting that Monday’s “red carpet” premiere of SundanceTV’s “The Red Road” would be held somewhere out of the box. Guests walked up a red-lit dirt road to attend the outdoor screening at Los Angeles’ Bronson Caves in Griffith Park, the site of the Batcave in the 1960s “Batman” series.
Sarah Barnett, president and g.m. of SundanceTV, noted that the network likes to do things differently. West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont just wouldn’t do, she joked before screening the season’s first episode.
“I think all of our shows have a very strong sense of place so we really like that the show has such a specificity to the place it’s in,” she said. “On its surface, this show is a very twisty, turny, plot-driven show, but really it’s about character. That’s something that’s crucial to us in all of the work that we do. There has to be this sort of a psychologically grounded, real, fleshed outness of our characters.”
The show, about two clashing communities in New York, one of which is based on the Ramapo Mountain Indians, is SundanceTV’s second original scripted series.
Creator-writer-exec producer Aaron Guzikowski, who penned another haunting thriller, “Prisoners,” initially pitched the show to HBO before finding a home for it at SundanceTV (previously Sundance Channel).
“They’re just very movie-centric and we tried to make the show feel as much like a feature film as possible,” Guzikowski said.
Star Jason Momoa said he feared that his reputation as an action star would hinder his chances of landing this gig, but his work on the film “Road to Paloma” (about a Native American reservation), which he starred in, co-wrote and directed, convinced Guzikowski and showrunner-exec producer Bridget Carpenter of his range.
“Most people have seen me with my clothes off and not really speaking English,” the “Game of Thrones” star said. “I had to go to some places I’ve never really went in life, where (there’s) love, vulnerability, hurt, companionship. There’s just so many layers to the writing that I’ve never displayed before. It was really a challenge I’ve never really went through in life.”
Carpenter, on the other hand, considers Momoa the best actor she’s ever worked with.
“He didn’t have to convince us that hard; I think he thinks it was harder than it was,” Carpenter said. “Aaron had him in mind. He put himself on tape and we went, ‘We need to see no one else.’”
Momoa’s wife, Lisa Bonet, stars as his love interest in both “Red Road” and “Road to Paloma.” She said it was a “no-brainer” to work with her husband again in order to keep their family together.
“It was a comfort,” she said. “I felt protected and I feel safe when I work with him.”
Despite living in New York for 20 years, Julianne Nicholson said she wasn’t aware of the Ramapo, who are fighting for federal recognition as an Indian tribe.
“That was one of the amazing things about the script and why I wanted to be a part of it — to just shine light on a walk of life that we don’t know about, 25 miles from Manhattan,” Nicholson said. “It just seemed outrageous to me. (They live a) really depressed and hard way of life. People should know about that, people should try to change that.”
James Gray, who directed the first ep, described the show as the hardest thing he’s ever done.
“(We tried) to do honor and respect to the characters because that’s important, especially the Native American community,” he said. “You don’t want to be insensitive in any way, given the completely raw deal that the white man has dealt to them. So you have those issues, which are quite another matter to the physical production issues, which are already brutal with television.”
“Red Road,” which also stars Martin Henderson and Tom Sizemore, premieres on SundanceTV Thursday at 9 p.m.