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‘Fosse/Verdon’ Producers Explain the ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ Inspiration Behind Episode 5

A trip to the Hamptons opened up a lot for these Broadway legends, as depicted in the FX series.

FOSSE VERDON "Where Am I Going?" Episode 5 (Airs Tuesday, May 7, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse, Norbert Leo Butz as Paddy Chayefsky. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX

“Fosse/Verdon”

Michael Parmelee Photography

[Editor’s note: The following article contains mild spoilers for “Fosse/Verdon” Episode 5, “Where Am I Going?”]

While “Fosse/Verdon” is based, to some degree, on real events, the weekend depicted in Episode 5, “Where Am I Going?,” didn’t actually happen.

“The germ of that idea was that Bob [Fosse] used to throw these parties all the time in the Hamptons and they would go up after Ann [Reinking]’s matinees when she was in ‘Pippin,’ and they were filled with all these showbiz people, and it felt like that would be a lot of fun,” showrunner Steven Levenson told IndieWire.

In the episode, Bob (Sam Rockwell) and Gwen (Michelle Williams) bring their new lovers, Ron (Jake Lacy) and Ann Reinking (Margaret Qualley), for a vacation intended to cheer up the recently widowed Neil Simon (played by Nate Corddry). Despite the hangers on, “Where Am I Going?” proves instrumental to Bob and Gwen’s future; a key episode in which characters acknowledge their complicated relationships. But it also provided an opportunity to pay tribute to another classic theater work: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“We sort of talked about it like instead of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,’ this was ‘Who’s Afraid of Bob and Gwen?'” executive producer and episode director Thomas Kail said.

The homage mixed things up a bit. While “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is about an older couple sparring with a younger couple, “Fosse/Verdon” played to its strengths. “The couples are mismatched completely,” Levenson said. “You can tell Ron and Ann are the same age, and Bob and Gwen are the same age, and it felt like, ‘Oh, that’s a lot of fun,’ to see these two people sniff around their new lover.”

FOSSE VERDON "Where Am I Going?" Episode 5 (Airs Tuesday, May 7, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Margaret Qualley as Ann Reinking, Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX

“Fosse/Verdon”

Michael Parmelee Photography

The episode also benefitted from bringing its established characters to a non-performance environment, opening up avenues of conversation and connection. “We loved the idea conceptually of giving ourselves the challenge of no dance numbers and seeing these showbiz people without the showbiz,” Levenson said. “Like, what do they actually do when they’re not doing that?”

The answer doesn’t lack for a cinematic treatment. Kail noted that while most “Fosse/Verdon” episodes were shot in 10 days, “Where Am I Going?” was shot in nine — less, but at the same time, he felt that “you can see my own version of having recently seen ‘Roma,’ because we wanted these really long takes. We wanted to be able to see through [the scenes] — just have the camera creep around — [and] we really were excited by that.”

Up until now, “Fosse/Verdon” had darted in a devious manner between time periods, so an episode largely devoted to one specific moment was an important shift. “The more we talked about it, the more it became clear that it was a great idea dramatically, but it also kind of served as the perfect pivot point in the series and the perfect opportunity to dig deeper into the characters,” executive producer Joel Fields said. “There was something great about just dropping into where these characters were as human beings and seeing them as people but as the unique showpeople that they were.”

“What it really became was kind of the turning point in the series between really different phases of Bob and Gwen’s relationship,” Levenson said, as Fosse was trying to make a comeback after his post-“Caberet” success breakdown, and Verdon was coming to acknowledge that her career as a dancer was coming to an end.

"Fosse/Verdon"

“Fosse/Verdon”

FX

“We knew we wanted it to be really self-contained. We knew we wanted them to have to stay inside, and we wanted to come up with a really dramatic reason why they were all there. The idea of coming together to cheer up Neil felt like a really honest moment for us to try to explore,” Fields said.

But it all, ultimately, proves to be a valuable interlude for the characters to reconnect, in the name of continuing the work they were best known for — the theater work which kept them from ever finding peace as a happy couple. As Fields said, “Marriage is a complicated journey to go on, and we can always learn about our own by watching others. Everybody has ambition, and everybody has to balance ambition in their personal relationships. Watching these people try to do that and mostly fail is interesting and compelling.”

That said, if Fosse and Verdon had met as normal people, outside of the Broadway scene, would they have had a chance at a healthy relationship? Levenson said no, but there were benefits.

“I think that what’s interesting about them is so many people have destructive relationships, but it’s rare that the destruction leaves behind such an incredible trail of creation,” he said. “So I think they still would have had the destruction, but they may not have created ‘Chicago’ or ‘Cabaret’ in the process… I think that they were kind of ticking time bombs when they met and their pathologies meshed perfectly, and tragically.”

“Fosse/Verdon” airs new episodes Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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