Voting is on the 74th Primetime Emmys, and this week we talk to several acting nominees. The awards will be presented on September 12 on NBC.
“I almost never played the guy who gets the girl. Or the man,” Christopher Walken said. “Romantic, it’s not. Usually I cut people to pieces or something.”
This was on a recent weekday morning, during a video call between Walken and his old friend John Turturro. In “Severance,” an Apple TV+ series that earned 14 nominations for its first season, Walken and Turturro play Burt and Irving, co-workers at a sinister mega-corporation called Lumon Industries. (A few spoilers for the first season follow.) To work at Lumon, employees must volunteer for “dismissal,” a surgical procedure that branches the mind so that the job itself — the “innie” — has no knowledge of the home-self – the “outie” – and vice versa.
The company maintains strict divisions between departments and romantic fraternization is discouraged. But Burt van Walken, who belongs to the Optics and Design Department, and Irving van Turturro, who works in Macrodata Refinement, somehow find their way together in a series of painful, slow scenes that will earn each actor an Emmy nomination. yielded.
In the sixth episode, the two men meet in what appears to be a greenhouse. They speak softly, their faces and bodies come closer. They almost kiss, until Irving reminds him of the company’s stance on workplace relationships. “This can’t be romantic, can it?” asks Bert. “Not romantic at all?” A lifetime of desire – two lifetimes – is concentrated in these few seconds.
Did the actors ever try the scene with a kiss? They did not. “Being so old, it would have been a little hard to watch,” Walken said.
While they may have met at a Yale School of Drama party in the early ’80s — they’re not sure — Walken, 79, and Turturro, 65, only worked together in 1995’s showbiz satire “Search and Destroy.” (“Hollow, but insanely arresting,” wrote the DailyExpertNews critic.) Turturro then hired Walken for three of the films he directed: “Illuminata,” “Romance & Cigarettes” and “The Jesus Rolls.”
They don’t often socialize outside of work. (Walken blamed himself, “I kind of live in isolation,” he said.) But they always look forward to sharing a camera setup, even a video call, in which they showed mutual respect and affection.
“I’m a fan of Chris,” Turturro explained. He was dressed in a white T-shirt, his face and shoulders filling the screen. “We get along well and we share a sense of humor.”
“We’re having fun,” Walken confirmed. He sat further from the camera and was dressed all in black. (“How are you, Elvis?” Turturro had greeted him.)
More about the 74th Emmy Awards
Celebrating excellence in television, the 2022 edition of the Emmys will take place September 12 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Turturro was first hired on “Severance”. He read the first scripts and when he met Dan Erickson, the series creator, and Ben Stiller, a director and executive producer, he proposed Walken to Burt. They knew and liked each other, he explained, so they didn’t have to struggle to create chemistry. Stiller agreed.
“I said yes right away,” Stiller wrote in an email. “Because I’m not crazy.”
“Severance” shot on location in upstate New York, before Covid-19 vaccines were available. Even in more ideal circumstances, taking part in a long shot is a bit like being cut off — it cuts actors off from their personal lives.
“I’ve been to so many hotel rooms; I have so much stationery,” Turturro said. “It can be worn that way.”
The “Severance” set was close enough for both men to sleep in their own homes most nights. Due to Covid-19 precautions, Walken and Turturro spent most of their workdays wearing masks and face shields, negotiating a labyrinthine set that Walken described as the largest he’d ever seen. “I used to be lost,” he said.
So when they could film together, in small rooms, without masks, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Each consoled the other and shared banana bread that Turturro’s wife, the actress Katherine Borowitz, had baked. They often chatted in between takes.
“People think that actors talk about motivation and acting,” Walken said. “Mostly they talk about cooking, movies and sometimes girls.”
Turturro had wanted to turn these conversations into a book, ‘Talkin’ and Walken’. But Walken killed the idea. He didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone who was still alive.
Once the cameras were on, neither of them had to work very hard to rekindle the love between Irving and Burt.
“If you can frame them and let them react and dictate their own rhythms, it’s really beautiful to watch,” Stiller wrote.
What explains that convenience? Turturro pointed to a similarity in style. “Chris is not a ‘main’ actor – you can feel his body in the scene,” he said. “I also like to use my body, so I think it’s a good match.”
Walken worded it somewhat sentimentally. “When people perform together, you can tell when they know each other, and most importantly, if they like each other and are comfortable with each other,” Walken said. “It’s kind of an unspoken thing, but it really comes out. It’s what they call chemistry, I think.”
Why are Burt and Irving so attracted to each other? “It’s because Burt and Irving are really Chris and John,” Walken said. That is, they were not cut at all.
Neither actor spent much time contemplating Burt and Irving’s life outside of Lumon. But they like to think that Burt and Irving would get along well outside of work. That they would visit museums, attend the opera.
“They’re culture guys,” Turturro said.
And what about Burt’s ex-husband? They think he would understand.
They don’t know what the planned second season of “Severance” will mean for these characters or whether Burt, who has retired with Lumon, will appear at all. They hope the relationship will continue, although Walken destroyed the idea of a sex scene.
“I always think, would I like to see this?” he said. “No, so not completely frontal.”
They argued for a while about the idea of Burt and Irving taking a road trip.
“It would take a long time if we went across the country,” Turturro said. “Stop for bathroom breaks.”
“And the police would continue to stop us for driving too slow,” Walken added.
Would either actor want to experience redundancy? Turturro didn’t sound enthusiastic, but Walken didn’t dislike the idea.
“I’m a hit and miss actor,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever made a movie where I was good enough overall. So if I could, I would get rid of a lot of stuff.”
Through the screen, Turturro shook his head and laughed, coughing. “I think you’re fantastic,” he said.