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I Am The Night exclusive: Leland Orser on Peter Sullivan and ‘creepy’ Sowden House

Leland Orser and Chris Pine in I Am The Night
Orser here as Peter Sullivan, with Chris Pine as Jay. Pic credit: TNT/Turner

On I Am the Night, TNT’s true crime mini-series, the interest and involvement of director Patty Jenkins is now a tangible film.

TNT’s I Am the Night is the story of Fauna Hodel (India Eisley) who was given away at birth and seeks her biological family. Jenkins learned of the life of Fauna Hodel and befriended the author of One Day She’ll Darken.

It was Hodel’s book that captured Jenkins attention, primarily the story of her childhood and teenage years.

But the connection to George Hodel, a prime suspect in the infamously gruesome and unsolved Black Dahlia killing in 1945 and also suspected child molester of his own daughter Tamar, Fauna’s real mother, that made this story one to tell through a new point of view.

There was much more than the story of a clearly Caucasian child being raised in an African-American family, being passed off as their own.

It also was the backstory and connection to one of Los Angeles’ most storied murders, the Black Dahlia case.

The six-episode mini-series begins tonight and also stars one of TV’s hardest-boiled badasses – Epix’s Berlin Station star Leland Orser, who brings his suffer no fools approach and whip-smart witty demeanor to this role as a night editor for the LA Times.

Orser as Sullivan pulls star Chris Pine (playing fictional reporter Jay Singeltary) out of the abyss of celebrity scandal gotcha reporting into the journalistic big leagues of investigative reporting.

The cast includes Chris Pine as Singeltary, India Eisley as Fauna Hodel, Jefferson Mays as George Hodel, Leland Orser as Peter Sullivan, Yul Vazquez as Billis, Dylan Smith as Sepp, Golden Brooks as Jimmy Lee, Justin Cornwell as Terrence Shye, Jay Paulson as Ohls and Connie Nielsen as Corinna Hodel.

The TNT effort has everything going for it in this fractious cultural climate, racial politics, and unsolved grisly murders and tales of incest.

We spoke to Leland Orser about his role and what to expect:

Monsters and Critics: Where are you now-in Berlin, Budapest or LA?

Leland Orser: LA. Well, I just came back from New York doing the premiere for I Am The Night. And it was 12 degrees when I got there.

M&C: You play a journalist, and you say some very interesting things about journalism. Tell me about Peter Sullivan and how the role was explained to you and how you interpreted him.

Leland Orser: [Sullivan is a] night manager of the L.A. Times. An investigative journalist who’s hit the skids, he’s got the night shift. He’s an alcoholic. Smokes a lot of cigarettes.

Orser in scene with Pine from I Am The Night. Pic credit: TNT/Turner
Orser in scene with Pine from I Am The Night. Pic credit: TNT/Turner

I did all of my stuff … Basically, his satellite office is a bar. And all of my scenes were with Chris. They’re very, very close. They’re both down on their luck.

Chris’s character, Jay, has resorted to shooting paparazzi stills. And my character, Peter, is running the night shift.

An opportunity comes up. Chris’s character begs mine for an opportunity to get back from a destroyed career and to get back on the beat.

He finds a crappy story for him, which ends up leading to the next six episodes of the series.

M&C: How much of the Hodel story and the Black Dahlia lore did you know before you started this project with Patty Jenkins?

Leland Orser: Before I started the project, zero, except from the great book, Hollywood Babylon.

And then I read a lot, and watched a lot, and so I knew a lot. And one of the first times I went and saw Patty and Sam on set was as at the Sowden house, which is where Dr. Hodel lived and where some of the creepy, crazy stuff that took place in his life and in the series actually happened.

And you can feel it. Let me just tell you something, you can feel it in there.

M&C: Interesting. Interesting. I think that Ryan Murphy actually formulated some of his characters, or a character, in his American Horror Story anthology series- tell me what you know today of Fauna…

Leland Orser: Last year she passed. And she’s survived by her daughters who have been a major part of the production. I was with them last night on the red carpet in Hollywood, for the Hollywood premiere.

They’re beautiful, wonderful people. And they’re so grateful that their mother’s story has made it to be in front of people.

And Fauna, herself, always believed in Patty being the storyteller of her story. And even when Patty was unavailable, Fauna just waited and stuck with it and stuck with her.

And eventually, Patty saw the window. And Chris and Sam come together with her to make it happen. And speaking of which, that trio, I don’t know who I’m in love with more between the three of them.

Patty Jenkins is the producer-director. Sam Sheridan, along with being her husband, is also the writer and executive producer. And Chris Pine, along with being the central character who I co-star with, is also my boss. He’s also a producer.

The three of them invited me to their party and we just made a meal of it, and we had such a delicious time together. Three extraordinarily talented, fearless, open, collaborative artists just wanting to fly.

M&C: Did Patty seek you out specifically for this role?

Leland Orser: The answer to the question is “yes.” They called me in Berlin. I was mid-production in Berlin Station. Patty and Sam called me and they said, “We have this thing.”

I said, “Okay, cool. Whatever you have, I’m doing. Just tell me it’s once I’ve finished and before I start Season Three.”

And it was. I came off an airplane from Berlin to Los Angeles, showered, went to bed, got up the next morning and went in for my costume fittings, and makeup and hair tests. And I was in front of the camera a week later.

Still jet-lagged. Leaving Robert Kirsch somewhere in the dust…temporarily.

M&C: But yet still, the “white T-shirt gang.” Your character

Leland Orser: I’m guessing you’ve made the “white T-shirt gang” famous, 100 perfect. And I wear a white T-shirt underneath my Peter Sullivan costume too, by the way.

M&C: Leland’s Legions I believe on Twitter really promoted that. I love it. I love it. Okay, well this is a really exciting project. I’m very excited for you. Anything else on your horizon?

Leland Orser: There are. And the moment that they’re locked and loaded, you’ll be the first to know.


I Am The Night premieres Monday, January 28 at 9/9c. on TNT.


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