Natascha McElhone is best known as Karen van der Beek on the Showtime series, Californication. She’s also had great film roles with some of Hollywood’s top leading men, in films like “Solaris”, “Ronin”, The Truman Show, and The Devils Own. She came in to the SiriusXM studios this week to talk with Ron Bennington about the upcoming season of Californication. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: Now did you think when you first looked at this show, this is a little edgy, I bet, I bet we get a little grief for it?
Natascha McElhone: Well, the pilot – as with all TV shows I guess. I was not familiar at all with the whole sort of trajectory of how you even make a TV show and how you do this thing called a pilot. And then it gets picked up, and then it goes to the up fronts or decision makers – I was very much outside. I live in London and I just don’t watch a whole lot of TV, so…
Ron Bennington: So you didn’t know it would have this kind of life though?
Natascha McElhone: No, I sort of thought it would be a self-contained pilot. And that would be fun. And then I’d go back to my life. And then, but, I mean it is – we shoot it in three months over the summer. So it’s pretty fantastic. I live in London and then I come over with my kids for the summer. Live in Venice and shoot the show. And hang out with amazing actors.
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Ron Bennington: You do. Every season is like a new movie to me. Like every season is like a separate place. And I always get it – like Hank’s craziness. But why does your character stay with him? Because what’s in it for her?
Natascha McElhone: It’s the perennial question isn’t it? I don’t know. I was saying – we were talking earlier on with someone about this and we came to the conclusion that it was actually a male fantasy. That Karen doesn’t really exist. That no woman would put up with his shit.
Ron Bennington: No woman would possibly, maybe once, twice – but this is too many.
Natascha McElhone: Six years. Come one.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, six years. And really some of the most, you know, attractive people come in and out of the show. It really is a male fantasy.
Natascha McElhone: Yeah, I guess. Well there’s nothing wrong with that, right?
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Ron Bennington: There’s a different show in your mind that hasn’t been presented. But, you know, I’ve always loved the premise of “Californication”. And the thing of, you kind of believe that when they were on the East coast, they were somewhat together normal. And there’s something intoxicating…
Natascha McElhone: A craziness about LA that, yeah.
Natascha McElhone: Yes, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think you’re right. I remember my son actually saying to me when we were going home after one summer a couple of years ago. He was only little, he was about eight or nine, and he said – I said, “Are you excited to be going home? Or would you rather stay here?” and he said, “You know, I’m actually really glad to be going home.” And I start thinking for a kid this is interesting, because here in LA we go do Disneyland every year, we’re right by the beach, he gets to surf, I mean he’s exposed to so much stuff that never happens in London. And I said, “Why is that?” and he said, “I just, I just don’t quite feel like my feet ever touch the ground when I get here.” And I just kind of thought that was quite a good way of putting it. You just don’t quite know what you’re tethered to and whether it’s real or not.
Ron Bennington: And we, and that’s kind of what we love about it. We love this thing that anything can happen.
Natascha McElhone: Anything is possible, yeah.
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Ron Bennington: You have always kept a really interesting film career too. So when you decided to do this, did you worry that it’s one or the other? Or has TV moved on where you can do both?
Natascha McElhone: I think TV, I think right now, and I speak for many shows. Not just our show. That TVs now in it’s zenith. It’s like what the 70s were for movies. The noughties are for TV. I think it’s a phenomenal time for TV and to be involved in it. And I, you know, this show slightly preempted me to pass that curve, but God am I glad that it worked out that way. Because I really, as I say, I didn’t have much experience with TV. I had none, in fact, I had just done movies. And some plays. So I was very lucky to end up in a show that was not only successful, but was sort of groundbreaking in its own way.
Ron Bennington: Sure.
Natascha McElhone: In terms of sort of creating a new morality, if you like. And, or more, you know, an acceptance around certain things being shown on it. But also just to work with – I love working with David (Duchovny). I really love working with him. And Pam (Adlon) I adore.
Ron Bennington: She’s brilliant. She’s just brilliant.
Natascha McElhone: Fantastic. And the funniest woman I have ever met. On and off screen. And so it’s just a dream, it’s like – I feel sort of, kind of hesitant about even saying this stuff because I hate it when you just hear actors who are full of hyperbole about the thing they’re doing. But in this instance it is a bit like going back to a sort of friend family every year. And yet we then have this whole bunch of tourists who come in each season who, as you say, make it into a different place…
Ron Bennington: Everything becomes different based on some of those, I guess, guest stars.
Natascha McElhone: Yeah, it’s a new experience every year as well. So it’s been really fun, yeah.
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Ron Bennington: Well, you know, when you bringing up about the change that took place. I think Showtime has a lot to do with this, because they keep bringing out really edgy, interesting shows. But we used to sit around and debate movies and talk about movies. And now since movies have become boxing robots, or whatever they are, we debate these television shows.
Natascha McElhone: Yeah, character led, yeah.
Ron Bennington: And they’re never on the networks. People don’t sit around and talk about the big network shows. But they debate these other shows. And it feels like if you miss some of these shows, and then you go to a party, you’re left out. You’re left out completely.
Natascha McElhone: No, I know exactly what you meant. I don’t really follow any shows. I just don’t have the time in my life at the moment. But I did get hooked on – and so it ends up happening in sort of box sets. So it’ll be Christmas time and I’ll just say, “Mad Men” was one of them. And then “Homeland”, which just finished, which has kind of – isn’t this true – sort of left a little hole. A hole in my week. That Sunday night, 9 pm. So I love the idea that, you know, we’re doing a show that there’s a bunch of people out there who feel the same way about. That’s a really nice feeling.
Ron Bennington: No, it is. It’s great too because, like I said, somehow the movies have left us behind. The blockbuster movies have kind of taken over. Where, if you even go back in your career, “Laurel Canyon” was kind of like “Californication”. These people…
Natascha McElhone: You’re the only person that’s said that and I completely agree. I’ve always said exactly the same thing. To me, that was like a little template for – and “Californication” was originally a movie script that Tom wrote.
Ron Bennington: Oh, is that right?
Natascha McElhone: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And couldn’t quite finish or didn’t quite know how to finish – I can’t remember the exact story. But then, I think it was his wife who said, “Well why don’t you try and take it to – around the studios. See if anyone wants to do it as a TV series.”
Ron Bennington: So when you first read that, did it remind you of ‘Laurel Canyon’ right off the bat? Did you think, “Okay, this same kind of thing is happening to these people.”
Natascha McElhone: Yeah I did. Absolutely, yeah, I did. And the world, the kind of rock and roll world where anything goes. And it’s slightly lawless in it’s way. And it’s without many boundaries and it’s fluid. Yeah.
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Ron Bennington: Well this year it kind of catches up with Hank though right? Is he going to start to deal with so many of his excesses? So many of his – because it stops becoming – you know, in real life. Everybody likes the party guy, until you hit a certain age or certain place. Where you’re like, “Holy shit.”
Natascha McElhone: Well what I think is clever about what Tom has done, and what David is carrying off, is that – it’s sort of like he’s kind of stepped to the side of the stage. And he’s saying, “You think I’m crazy? Look at this shit.” So something else will come along. So let’s say Tim Minchin’s story this season, which features Marilyn Manson all sorts of crazy shit goes down with that. Or last season with RZA or, you know, there’s these other people who are coming on and being even more crazy than he is. And so now he’s also sort of reactive in a way. In the first few seasons it was very much, you know, he was the one who was slightly creating that kind of storm.
Ron Bennington: Right, the chaos came from him.
Natascha McElhone: Yeah, and now other people are. And he’s almost, I think, he’s buffeted by the waves of – he’s less responsible in a way for the shit that goes down. I know that was always the premise, that nothing was his fault, he was – “I was just there. I didn’t do anything.”
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Ron Bennington: Well it’s really people who probably don’t know how lucky they were to find themselves from the beginning.
Natascha McElhone: And actually it’s what David always said. The thing that drew him to the story originally was this idea that a couple met and they had it. They had that thing. They had the spark. They were in love. And they lost it, destroyed it, and then tried to get it back. And couldn’t. That maybe you don’t get a second chance.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, and you just remember that one moment where it just worked great. So you hang around for that for time and time again. It’s extraordinary stuff. “Californication”, it premieres this Sunday at 10:30 on Showtime. Now if you haven’t been with the show, it’s the type of show that you can jump into. Or there’s all the On Demands and box sets. And it’s certainly worth your time. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Natascha McElhone: Thank you. Thanks very much.
Ron Bennington: I’m a big fan of your work and I hope to see you next time coming through.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F5cxIWJK3Y]
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You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews atRonBenningtonInterviews.com.