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A chat with 'Damages' star Tate Donovan

By April MacIntyre Aug 30, 2007, 3:15 GMT

A chat with 'Damages' star Tate Donovan

Tate Donovan - © Scott Alan / Photorazzi

Tate Donovan is another solid east-coast based actor with a stellar resume who was cast alongside Glenn Close and Ted Danson for FX’s intriguing new series “Damages.”

The show is a nuanced thriller, a yarn of mystery replete with Machiavellian legal machinations, and Tate plays Tom, an earnest lawyer working for Patty Hewes, played by Glenn Close.

Tom and Patty

Tom and Patty

“Working with Glenn is a fantastic experience.  You have to bring your A game when you work with Ms. Close.  She's really well prepared.  It's actually really a joy, because she asks the director and the producers the best questions. 

Every time, she's sort of like, ‘Well, hold on a second.  Why is this?’  She was asking about the plot, because it's very confusing to everybody, exactly what's going on in the case, since we're not really lawyers. 

She's very inspiring…she's wonderful, a total inspiration," shared Donovan.

Tom Shayes

Tom Shayes

Monsters and Critics asked Tate if his character Tom will veer into the darker side or stay above the Frobisher fray, and all the dirty deeds that Patty has up her sleeve.

“What's kind of exciting about Tom is that he is trying to do the best he can to do well.  I think he lacks that killer instinct.  Patty has it in spades.  She's a genius.  She knows exactly how to go in for the kill.  Tom, I think he wants people to like him more.  Patty doesn't care; she just wants to win.

Somebody who wants everyone to like him generally gets into trouble, so I imagine Tom has his moments of selfishness and his moments of greed.  It's funny; a lot of people are like, ‘I can't believe, you're the worst kind of evil.  Your character is the worst, because he's a nice guy and he's evil.’  I don't particularly see him as evil.  I see him as just a guy who is trying to survive in a pretty cut-throat environment."

MediaBlvd.com asked Tate for more insight into his character, Tom, and if he felt his character was happy in his supplicant role to Patty, or if he thinks Tom’s character prefers to think they are an unbeatable team when they're together.

“I think it's a combination of both.  I think it's difficult for a man to be number two.  I think when Patty turned to him and said, 'Hey, you're never going to be number one; you're a great number two.  You're a number two; that's it,' even though it really hurt his feelings, I think he knew it was the truth. 

There's a level of respect that he has for Patty, and he's just in awe of her, like a certain sort of almost love and devotion he has towards her.  I guess there's a certain power in that as well. 

When we shot the pilot, I said, ‘Tom is sort of like Patty's wife.’ The producers were like, ‘Yes, you're absolutely right, totally.’  That's kind of how I play it.  There's a certain power in being behind the person who has the power.  Do you know what I mean, the obvious power?  I think Tom sort of shines more brightly when he's not in that first chair.

TVAddict.com asked Tate how he prepared for the role of Tom.  “I have an uncle who is a corporate lawyer, so I spent the day in his law firm.  Actually I brought Rose Byrne with me, too.  We both spent the day up there. 

There was a young female lawyer that she spent the day with, and I spent the day with my uncle.  I also went down to the courts in New York City, and I went to see some corporate trials. 

Anyone can just walk into any courtroom in America, which I had no idea.  I started talking to lawyers and they were like, ‘Listen, pal; this is the most boring stuff in the world.  Why don't you go to a good murder trial down the street?’

I went to Center Street, which is where the huge courthouse is for New York City, and I followed the most intense murder trial.  I couldn't believe it.  Every day I had off, I would jet over to the trial and I watched these lawyers.  It was a sensational murder trial.  It was brutal.  Actually, I was there when they convicted him.  It was amazing.  So that's how I prepared.  That and I learned the lines."

UGO.com asked Tate about the show’s parallel time line, six months before and then the present day and how will that pan out towards the end of the season.

“It starts out six months apart, and the final episode will be real time.  In other words, it will be the same time, because we sort of answer all the questions that are posed six months in advance.   

In other words, the murder mystery that happens with Rose and David Conner will be solved by the end of this season.  Next season will be a new case.  It won't be Frobisher. 

I think the murder will be resolved; although, to tell you the truth, I am about two weeks ahead of the audience.  They don't tell us a thing, which is kind of liberating actually as an actor.  It's kind of fun to not have to really worry about the plot or anything.”

MediaBlvd.com asked Tate about his history on stage, film as well as television, and asked what aspect of the business was the most appealing, and where he wanted to go professionally.

“I'd definitely love to do more directing.  I found directing to be unbelievably exciting.  In the second season, if we get picked up, I'm going to direct an episode of Damages, which is really exciting.  I love doing plays.  For actors, it's the most fun and the most exciting to do a play.

Film and television is a great way, definitely, especially when you're on a show like this that's really smart and fun; the cast is really great.  I'm sort of pinching myself that I get to do such a great job, and it's shot in New York City, which is where I'm from and my family is here.

Following up on the arc that Tom is following in the script, Tate offered some insight to his characters future.

“The only thing that I know is that I get more involved in the murder case.  I'm sort of brought back into the firm in the last episode that was shown, and I start working on the Frobisher case. 

Then there is the murder mystery that's about five months ahead of that with Ellen Parsons.  I start dealing with Ellen Parsons in jail and trying to figure out what's going on with her and that whole murder thing.  I get involved with that as well.  Honestly, I'm not being secretive.  I literally have no idea what happens with Tom.  It's kind of funny.”

Monsters & Critics asked Tate to paint a picture for fans on what an actual day in production entails for him on set - what a typical shoot day was like for him. 

“I hate to say it, but it's not too arduous.   As much as actors like to complain about how hard they work, on the set, it's the easiest job there.  Basically I tend to ride my bike to work as much as possible.  Sometimes the day will start around 6 a.m. or maybe 7.  You go, you show up, and hopefully you've learned your lines the night before.  You go into makeup and hair.  Then you rehearse the scene with the other actors.  The director is like, ‘Hey, listen; I want you to stand here,’ or ‘can you enter here?’  You go, ‘Okay.  That's a good idea,’ or not. 

You rehearse a couple of times, and then you walk away and they light it and put the cameras in place.  Then you just sort of shoot it from all these different angles, and different things come up. 

Working with Glenn Close, she's such a consummate, great actress, and she's a lot of fun.  Especially Rose Byrne is a lot of fun, too.  She's Australian.  She's a blast and funny to work with.  It's not a lot of hard work.  I know that we all like to say how brutally hard, but having been on the other side of the camera and directing an episode, let me tell you something; actors have it made.

TVAddict.com asked Tate what his favorite thing was about his character Tom.

“My favorite thing about Tom is that he's a little bit of a goofball, especially around his daughter and his wife.  He's a family guy.  Being liked is important to him, so he's a little bit warmer of a human being than, say, Patty, but he's also complicated.  He's also very ambitious. 

To tell you the truth, it's funny; to talk about my character, I feel like I'm discovering it just like you guys are.  I feel as though sometimes the audience should be telling me what Tom is, because I'm just sort of going there and doing my best and learning my lines and having fun and trying to not look like a total idiot.  That's my favorite thing about Tom is he's trying not to look like a total idiot. 

MediaBlvd.com asked Tate about the transitions in casting for him over the years.
“It's the natural process, I believe.  We're all getting older, and my hair is turning a little gray.  I guess people look at me a little differently.  Yes, that's sort of beyond my control.  You sort of get the role that you can… thanks for having me." 

UGO.com wanted to know if pilot director Allen Coulter was coming back to direct him in future “Damages” episodes.

“I spoke to him.  I asked him; I said, ‘Hey, man, are you going to come back and do some more?’  He said, ‘I can't afford to do more.’  FX doesn't really pay the directors a lot of dough on their cable shows, but I think he'll come back.  If he makes some money someplace else, then he'll come back.  We all love him.  He sort of started everybody off.  He's such a good guy, and he's such a good director that we hope he comes back, definitely.”

MediaBlvd.com asked Tate about his athletic streak, and penchant for running marathons and playing Irish music in a band.

“Yes, I still do triathlons.  I'd love to run another marathon.  It's just a matter of time to train that much.  It really takes a lot out of you to train, but I love it.  Running the New York City Marathon was one of the great experiences of my life.  To run through all those neighborhoods and to have two million people cheering you on, even though, at mile 24, I hit the wall, and I felt like my organs were shutting down.  It was the most painful two miles of my life, the last two, but it was still worth it. 

I try to ride my bike as much as possible.  I ride it to work every day and run, and I love to swim.  There aren't too many great places to swim in New York City; but when I go back to California, I try to get out there in the ocean.  It's pretty awesome.

I don't play in a band anymore, but I do still play traditional Irish music.  I go to sessions every once in a while, which is just like an informal improv where you just go with other traditional Irish musicians and play in a pub somewhere.  It's definitely beautiful music.  If you like traditional Irish music, it's great.

FX Networks - "Damages" on Tuesdays 10 PM

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Further Reading on M&C

Tate Donovan Biography - - Tate Donovan Movies -

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