BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Cable programmers have lately lured a number of high-profile actresses to the small screen - from TNT’s Holly Hunter and Kyra Sedgwick to FX’s Glenn Close - but where are the guys?
Starting Sunday, you can find some of them on TNT, as the network premieres “The Company,” a six-hour “limited series” about the CIA based on the novel by Robert Littell that stars, among others, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Keaton and Alfred Molina.
Like “The Good Shepherd,” Robert De Niro’s 2006 film about the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency, “The Company” blends history and fiction while delving a bit deeper into some events than De Niro had time to.
“I think the six-hour limited series is a good format,” O’Donnell, 37, said in an interview last month during the Television Critics Association’s summer meetings.
“I remember when I did `Fried Green Tomatoes’ or `Circle of Friends,’ you know when you read the book after you’ve read the script, you’re like, `There’s so much stuff that gets left out,’” he said.
“It’s like that with every project. I think that what’s neat about a six-hour limited series is that you can cover more. You can get into it a little bit more,” O’Donnell said.
“I think what would be interesting to do is a 24-hour series - not the show `24,’ but I think a lot of shows would be better served with one season. I mean, `Lost’ - my wife is so into it, and I watched the first season, and I was like, `This is going to keep going on?’ Like I want some closure,” he said.
While he understands it from a business point of view - “it’s so hard to get people to watch a show. And once you get them, you don’t want to let them go ... I think there’s something to be said for these six-, eight-, 10-hour series.”
One thing that can be said, of course, is that they sometimes attract actors who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in longer commitments.
“They were able to attract a really high caliber of actors ... Alessandro Nivola and Alfred and Michael, these guys, they’re so talented,” O’Donnell said. “Michael’s not going to sign up for a show for the next six years or something.”
Even actors willing to commit might not want to handle the load that, say, Kiefer Sutherland does every season in Fox’s “24.”
“Even the shows they’re doing, like Holly’s show - I was talking to Holly Hunter, and she’s doing 13 episodes, that’s very manageable. You can still have time to do a movie and have a life,” he said.
Life’s a big deal for O’Donnell, whose four children are ages 7, 6, 4 and 1.
He’s tried series TV, starring in Fox’s short-lived “Head Cases” two seasons ago and guest-starring in “Grey’s Anatomy” last year.
“I want to be around and I don’t want to uproot them all the time. And I used to think, `Well, TV’s the way to go. You’re in L.A. and you’re working.’ But at the same time, I’ve done that where the only times I see them is when they’re sleeping, because the hours are so insane,” he said.
“I really genuinely like making films,” he said. “I like the pace of it better, I feel it’s more into the subtleties of human emotion, that sort of thing. And that’s the little nuances - they have the time to get those beats. And to me, that’s what acting’s all about, and finding those moments.”
Television is “a very fast pace ... and you miss out on certain things. We didn’t have all the time as on films I’ve worked on on, but we had a lot more time than we would have had on TV,” O’Donnell said.
All told, filming “The Company” took about 5 ½ months, O’Donnell said.
“Part of that is a credit to Mikael Salomon because, you now, he was like the best cinematographer in his time, and he became a director. So when we got on set, we wasted no time trying to figure out shots. . .When we came in, he had the most elaborate shots set up, and then it was just a matter of working with your fellow actors and getting it to work for us. Sometimes, when you’re on TV, rather than make things special, they’ll make things simple. And I felt we didn’t lose that in this. . .and that’s a tribute to Mikael, because he’s so good at that.”
Most of the actors, including O’Donnell, age decades over the course of “The Company’s” three nights.
“I was all game, I was, `Shave my head, I don’t care,’ ” O’Donnell recalled, noting that like wearing a costume, makeup can help an actor “feel like a different person.”
Still, “we were shooting 20 years’ difference in the morning and the afternoon. I mean, we’d shoot something from the `50s and then in the afternoon we’d shoot something from the `70s. So it was crazy.”