'Brothers & Sisters' in a Family Way
On the other hand, the actors who play the Walker siblings and mother seem to have settled into a comfortable, even familial, routine.
After a run of repeats, the show returns on April 1 with the original episode "Three Parties," which is in production on this Tuesday in late February at the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, Calif. (step outside, lean the right way, and you can see the Seven Dwarves holding up the roof of the Team Disney Building).
Before most folks even eat breakfast, star Calista Flockhart, who plays political pundit-turned-political operative Kitty Walker, is tucking into a Tupperware container full of cold pasta while shooting a phone-call scene with sister Sarah (with an off-screen crew member standing in for Rachel Griffiths).
The topic of conversation is Kitty's trip to Castroville, Calif. -- the "Artichoke Capital of the World" -- the hometown of her boyfriend and boss, presidential candidate Sen. Robert McCallister, who is played by Rob Lowe. (For trivia lovers, McCallister takes his name and his Republican Party affiliation from The WB's "Jack & Bobby," the previous series of executive producer Greg Berlanti).
"It tasted a little bit like paper," says Flockhart of the pasta. "It had no sauce. It was literally boiled pasta."
When the show began last fall, Kitty was the outspoken right-wing half of a bipartisan cable-news opinion show.
"I'm attracted to her intelligence," Flockhart says. "She's really smart. She has a terrific sense of humor, too. They seem to write her very self-aware and aware."
The introduction of McCallister has sent Kitty in new personal and professional directions, as the communications director for his campaign.
"I enjoyed doing the television show," Flockhart says, "to have a show within a show. That was great. But [now], we get to see her personal life while she's working. This is an interesting way to go."
Playing someone in the thick of politics also intrigues Flockhart. "I'm very interested in politics. I find it really fascinating, and I think it's a really exciting time for politics right now."
Lowe, who played a deputy communications director for a fictional Democratic president on NBC's "The West Wing," concurs, saying, "I love and I am fascinated by the process, as damaged, broken and beautiful as it is. I love public service and the people who serve. That's one of the reasons I was drawn to 'The West Wing' in the first place. It's one of the reasons why I was a good fit there, and it serves me well here, too."
"The West Wing" was the creation of New York playwright Aaron Sorkin, and coincidentally, New York playwright Jon Robin Baitz is the creator of "Brothers & Sisters" (he shares executive producer duties with Berlanti and Ken Olin, the husband of series regular Patricia Wettig).
"Both of them are so amazing," Lowe says of the playwrights. "I've been a fan of Robbie Baitz since the 'Substance of Fire' days and have always longed to do some of those amazing speeches in that play. A playwright's words are always something I cherish when I get a chance to do them."
Baitz is also on hand for this episode, which he wrote, and he's visibly delighted watching a later scene, in which widowed Walker matriarch Nora (Sally Field) discusses her interest in her handsome writing teacher (Peter Coyote) with free-spirited pal Emily (Margot Kidder). The scene shows off both actresses' flawless comic timing.
Added to the cast after the show was originally announced, Field brings decades of experience in comedy and drama.
As Field relaxes with needlepoint between takes, episode director Sandy Smolan observes, "Directing Sally -- she always gives you much more than you expect. As a director, you approach with some ideas, and she consistently comes up with stuff that's beyond what you thought of, that's so nuanced, so detailed, that your jaw drops. You're amazed at the level of detail in her performance."
As the day goes on, two of the three Walker brothers roll in: David Annable, who plays youngest sibling Justin, and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, who plays gay lawyer Kevin. In talking to and observing the duo, it's obvious that the brotherly relationship extends beyond the screen (especially when Annable and Rhys zoom off together on bicycles during a break).
"I don't have brothers," Annable says, "and this is as close as I can come without having blood brothers."
"Apart from socializing," Rhys says, "our big thing is skeet shooting. The three of us shoot at a little place up in Santa Clarita, and that's our thing. I'm OK. It's like golf. You have good days and bad days, days when things are clicking and other days you can't hit a cow's ass with a banjo."
Even though Annable is new to the sport, Balthazar Getty, who plays womanizing son Tommy, later admits, "He's the newbie, but he's pretty athletic. He took to it."
As to what the appeal is, Getty sums it up as, "the challenge, being outdoors, and guys typically like shooting guns. There's the camaraderie mixed with the competition mixed with the smell of gunpowder."
But it's not just the boys, as Annable says, "I have these relationships as much with the brothers as with Calista and Rachel. They're sisters of mine."