‘HTGAWM’ Creator Pete Nowalk on Viola Davis Making Him Cry, Matt McGorry’s Dancing

Pete Nowalk had a whirlwind TV season last year as the creator of Shondaland’s mega-hit “How To Get Away With Murder.”

Just as the second season of the twisty Viola Davis legal thriller is about to begin, Nowalk — one of Variety‘s 2015 Showrunners Impact Report honorees — looks back at Season 1, offering up his favorite moments, including tears from Davis and dance moves from Matt McGorry (who plays law student Asher).

Here, showrunner Nowalk talks to Variety about his best memories from “How To Get Away With Murder’s” big breakout season:

Best note: “When I originally pitched the show to ABC Studios, they encouraged me to go darker with Annalise (Viola Davis) to make her more of an anti-hero, which surprised me. With network TV, you’re always afraid to get the likable note, but they gave me the exact opposite. I could be more unhinged with the darker side of Annalise, which is the most fun part of the show for me to write.”

Worst note: Nothing that scarred me. I’m so spoiled because Shonda (Rhimes) and Betsy (Beers, pictured) guard me from the bad notes. I think they protect me!

Favorite writers’ room moment: We have real lawyers come and talk to us — defense attorneys and prosecutors — and this one prosecutor told us how to reenact the best way to get away with murder. He made me stand up and he reenacted pushing me off of a cliff. Creepy because you don’t really want to find out the best way to get away with murder and you definitely don’t want it to be reenacted on you, but it actually gave us this idea to do a reenactment of a murder with Steven Weber in episode two of Season 1. So that was fun just because it was so much like the show, and it was so creepy.

Proudest moment during Season 1: I was happy we won the GLAAD award because there are so many good shows on right now that have so many great gay characters, which is so new, but I was proud because Connor (Jack Falahee) is a bad person sometimes. He does bad things. So I was just happy it showed that we didn’t have to write a gay character to be perfect and be a role model. He actually does things opposite of a role model — like murder, having a lot of anonymous sex and cheating on his boyfriend. That just felt very liberating and progressive to me and surprising. I never expected we’d win those awards because they’re bad people. But as a writer, it was very liberating.

Scene that made you laugh: Matt McGorry dancing is the thing that cracked me up the most. He’s just like humping and the couch and he just improvised all that stuff and went to town. It was way better than I could have ever expected. It’s necessary. People need that comic relief.

Scene that made you cry: That’s the scene between Cicely Tyson and Viola Davis where Cicely Tyson is revealing that she actually burned down the house and killed the uncle that had sexually abused Annalise. Viola doesn’t say a word in that, but so much of it played on her face, but the first time I saw that, I sobbed.

“How To Get Away With Murder” Season 2 premieres Thursday, Sept. 24 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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