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TCA HBO Panel: Five Things to Know About HBO’s 2012 Lineup, from Dunham to Gervais

TCA HBO Panel: Five Things to Know About HBO's 2012 Lineup, from Dunham to Gervais

HBO may be poised for a comedy comeback with its three vibrant-looking new half-hour series. The premium cabler keeps raising the ante with its original dramatic movies, and the Golden Globes are likely to experience a ratings surge this weekend, judging by the way the tweeting and keyboard-clicking in the press room rose to a crescendo when Ricky Gervais talked about his return hosting gig.  Herewith, more things to know gleaned from HBO’s three-hour presentation at the TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena.

Warwick Davis, the three-foot-six-inch actor at the center of the comedy “Life’s Too Short,” isn’t actually playing himself, even though the desperate, jealous, manipulative, ego-maniacal character is named for him.  “We had to make him an awful person so that you’d get the gags,” said Gervais, who co-created and appears in the show with Stephen Merchant.  The faux-documentary appears to stand on the shoulders of both “Extras” and “The Office” in its intent and style.  “It’s not about ‘isn’t it funny that he’s so short – it’s about his aims and ambitions and his small-man complex,” says Gervais. “It’s comedy about the difference between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us.”  Johnny Depp agreed to make a cameo appearance after Gervais texted him saying “Sorry about the Golden Globes. Do you want to get your own back?”  “Don’t worry about it; it was a joke,” Depp answered back.

Writer-director Lena Dunham may come across as a pudgy, funny sad sack when she plays the lead in the roughly autobiographical “Girls,” but that’s only one of her dimensions; she’s also poised and keenly articulate and pulled off a pair of four-inch spiked heels in her panel appearance.  The series, which debuts in April and is produced by Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, focuses on the everyday misery experienced by broke twenty-somethings in Manhattan. It has been called “the anti- ‘Sex & the City.’”  Said Dunham, who scored an indie hit with her micro-budget film “Tiny Furniture:” “This is about girls who are not from New York but who grew up watching ‘Sex & The City’ and thought they were going to live that dream, and it’s not turning out like that at all.  It’s based on the miserable, confusing, frustrating time I had when I first got out of college, which I wasn’t seeing reflected (in the culture) at all.”

It may seem like HBO has two Sarah Palin-related properties in the lineup: actually, the character in the comedy “VEEP,” portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus is wholly fictional. “It’s not inspired by Palin or by Clinton or by anyone,” says show creator Armando Inannucci (“In The Loop”).  “It’s inspired by what’s funny about being the vice president, which is that your identity is entirely at the whim of the president.  If he doesn’t like you, he’ll take away your power. “ Louis-Dreyfus may be doing some of her most well-honed comedy work yet in the show, based on an early glimpse.

Julianne Moore definitely gives Tina Fey a run for her money with her technically superb impersonation of Sarah Palin in “Game Change,” an HBO original movie debuting in March that focuses on the drama that ensued from McCain campaign’s decision to thrust the Alaska governor onto the international stage.  Moore says that besides reading Palin’s books, she hired a local coach. “She has an incredibly idiosyncratic way of speaking and I needed to capture that.  I also studied her gestures, beat by beat.” From director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong, the team behind the HBO political movie “Recount,” the HBO original includes a scene set on an airplane in which Moore, as Palin, looks ill when she first sees Fey impersonating her on “Saturday Night Live.”  Roach and Strong both maintain that the movie’s timing isn’t meant to influence the current year’s presidential election.

The talent still gets thrown by the rather unfriendly-seeming custom among press tour journalists of granting them scarce applause when they enter the room for panels.   “That was pathetic,” said Ricky Gervais of the pitter-patter that greeted his panel’s arrival.  Said Dustin Hoffman of the faint reception for the posse promoting the new drama “Luck,” which included himself, director Michael Mann, show creator David Milch, and co-star Nick Nolte, “If this was a play, we’d know we had a flop.”  

Ricky Gervais stands behind his Globes-hosting antics of last year and has no plans to pull his punches. “I can justify every joke I did, and I don’t’ care what people think,” he said, as the sound of tweeting and computer keys clicking rose to a crescendo.  “I’ve got nothing against anybody in the room – they’re just gags.  I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feeling or undermine the moral fabric of America.”

Nick Nolte is every bit as colorful as the character he plays on “Luck,” the David Milch-penned horse racing drama that debuts Jan. 29.  Grizzled and stout, wearing a red shirt, white bellbottoms, and a fedora tipped down to his nose, he held forth in a growl that would have made Tom Waits proud about whether television is a viable medium for film actors.  “As long as it doesn’t go 3-D,” he said.  “3-D disconnects the eyeball lenses from the brain.  They’re going to find out that it causes psychotic episodes – Australia is doing the research on it.”  Asked what led him to give television a try, Nolte simply replied “Seventy.”  It turns out that’s the number of his upcoming birthday.

Dustin Hoffman, who makes his television debut in “Luck,” is just as pugnacious as he’s reputed to be.  “You don’t have to be diplomatic – go ahead, take your shot,” he said to a reporter who asked about his reputation for being an occasional challenge to work with. “You can just say, you’re known for being a prick.”  Hoffman and Mann both said that stories that they’d clashed on set, or that Mann and Milch had clashed, were distorted.  “When you’re lucky enough to work with heavyweight talent, that’s not a problem,” Hoffman said.  “Mostly because they’re not afraid of a suggestion.   If a cloud appears over a director’s head and all the blood drains from his face when I say I have an idea, then I know he’s not a collaborator.”

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