ROYAL PAINS: Paulo Costanzo Interview (2012)

Crossing over to the other side of the camera for the first time on ROYAL PAINS, co-star Paulo Costanzo is living the dream with his debut as director in the upcoming episode “Dancing With the Devil.” In a recent press conference call, Paulo talked about what is looming on the horizon for Evan R. Lawson and the scoop on the red Ferrari recently featured on the show.

So what it was like to direct your castmates that you work with all the time?
PAULO: It was really they were very supportive. Everybody on the crew was very aware that this was my first time. This is my first time directing anything. I’ve directed a couple short films, but I’ve never actually directed a feature or a TV show. So they all knew how big it was for me. Also Mark was incredibly supportive because he has directed the show twice and I was so utterly supportive of him. He more than returned the favor. It was I felt very safe. Directing them was amazing because I got to see a different side of them. And I was actually very nervous about that because I didn’t know how they were going to take to me giving them direction. But it turned out to actually be very good. And if I had to run a diagnostic of how I did as a director, working with the actors was one of the things I felt more confident in and got the best feedback about.

When did it kind of come about that you decided you were going to direct?
PAULO: I wanted to direct from like the pilot. And I put it out there and it just took time. The way it worked, Michael Rauch, the Executive Producer, he basically championed me as well as Mark. He took full responsibility for my episode. Meaning if I ran it into the ground, it would all be on his head. So it was a personal. I’m indebted to him for the rest of my life. I’m still kind of baffled that he allowed me to do it. He had so much more faith in me than I did in myself. I was so scared. But I wanted to do it from Day 1.

How do you balance acting with the technical attention to detail that directing requires?
PAULO: Well, for me obviously of this was a learning experience. Like every day I had about 100 firsts. My first day was a huge – there was like a six-person dinner table scene — which for those of you who don’t know dinner table scenes are one of the more daunting things to shoot because you have to shoot – you have to do like 30 different shots around the table to make sure you get eye lines right and everything. I knew I was in for a challenge that day. And I was in it and I was in every other scene that day basically almost. What I learned very quickly is that it’s very taxing. Granted if you’ve done it a lot, I imagine it gets easier obviously. For me it was incredibly like oh my God it was so overwhelming. But at the end of each of the days where I was in a lot of it, I had a sense of my brain was about to literally just implode and shutdown. But I felt a huge sense of accomplishment because it is a lot. There’s so many things going on that you have to – your mind never stops. And frankly I’m a person who thrives on that, so I actually enjoyed it.

What more would you like to tell us about your time directing on the show?
PAULO: For one thing, our show relies heavily on our guest stars. If we cast — which has happened — if you cast a guest star who’s not very strong, the whole episode is just dragged down by it. Patti Murin — who is a Broadway girl — who currently is actually touring with Wicked playing the lead of the show — which I’m star struck by because I love that musical – she showed up and we weren’t sure and the first day we weren’t sure. And she just utterly knocked it out of the park and there’s so much nuance and subtly and her and I worked together really well. That was a just a pleasure to know that I had a guest star that I could rely on and lean on and believe in and ultimately who really held up the episode. So that was good. As a director, that is something I learned is that’s very important — which I lucked out on. Hit the jackpot my first time out of the gate.

Were there any scenes left on the cutting room floor?
PAULO: Oh yes. Every episode of our show is left about five minutes long so that the producers and writers can look at what’s there, choose the scenes that are the least important and cut them out to make the episodes feel tighter. And there are two scenes that were left out — both of which I at first felt pained by their leaving and then I got used to it. And actually now I don’t miss them at all.

Was it difficult being the director during your acting scenes?
PAULO: Yes. Like I said before and I’ll elaborate more, it’s a lot. I look forward to doing it again because this time there were a few moments and to be transparent there’s a couple moments where my mind was on directing and the acting part I’m like, oh my God, I don’t know how to categorize where my energy should go. I’m like kind of like okay and I kind of got kerfuffled. Michael Rauch was always with me. He’d step in and kind of give me a note if I was like – he’d help the acting part when I was working on the other part. But for the whole, once I kind of got into it, I actually really liked it. It was just it felt – I imagine a lot of directors really enjoy the feeling of being in control. And I’m somewhat of a control freak and a perfectionist, so it just gave me an extra ounce of control knowing that I was also a force in the scene as an actor as well as directing it to just massage it the way that I thought it should go.

Were there any hijinks on the set? Did anybody like pull any pranks because it was your first time directing?
PAULO: Absolutely not. If anything, nobody would have in any way risked that. It’s an anxiety-ridden thing. Every director – I called about four or five of the directors that have worked on my show who I admire in preparation for the show and all of them said you like don’t be weirded out if you puke the night before and I was like shut up. And I swear I almost did. I was so nervous the night before because they’re like your first time, they still get nervous. A lot of them still get nervous. Like people who have been doing it for 25, 30 years they’re like, “I still get nervous before I step on the set,” because everything hinges on you. Your vision has to be there and you have to push the ship forward or things can fall. But like anything, anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. To me all the things, all the accomplishments that I’ve been most proud of in my life most of them involved me wanting to puke the night before out of the amount of anxiety I’ve had about them.

How is directing different than what you thought it would be as compared to being on the other side of the camera?
PAULO: To be honest, so I’ve talked a lot about how much anxiety was involved. Once I was there, like once all the pieces were set and I had blocked the scene and I knew what the cameras were doing and I just would sit in my chair and look at the monitor, this incredible calm came over me — which is why I feel that this is kind of something I want to pursue now. This beautiful calm, this amazing feeling of calm in the midst of this storm I was like this feels so utterly comfortable and right. I didn’t expect that. I think I was just too anxious about the whole thing that I didn’t foresee an eye of the storm like moment where things just perfectly still.

How hard was it to separate yourself from your actor side to get the best out of others or did you have to do that?
PAULO: If anything, I feel like my own performance suffered a couple times because my attention was so much on the other person. Again I’m learning. But once you’re in the scene, like once all the stuff is in place and I really I was able just to leap out of the director suit and just be in the moment. And then when you say “cut,” then you can kind of think about what happened in the scene. “Well, okay — yes that should be different” or whatever. But again it was a part that I actually ended up enjoying and finding not at in the end though taxing not too difficult.

What else can you share about your experience directing the show?
PAULO: So one of the things this year our show received a huge gift in the mail and that gift was in the form of a very tall Jewish man named Ben Shenkman. Ben Shenkman is my favorite character on the show, Dr. Jeremiah Sacani. He’s my favorite much more than any other character — including my own. I think he’s so awesome and he’s such a talented actor. He was in like “Angels in America,” a movie with Al Pacino in it. He was like he originated one of the roles in “Proof” on Broadway. He’s an actor that I admire, so when I got the script, I was so happy that I got the script that finally gave him his dues because he gets to be the hero in this episode. So I got to work with him and become closer with him. His sense of comedy to me is genius. And the club scene – there’s two scenes — the scene in a hotel room. The one shot – TV the directors come in and they kind of one of their jobs is to match the visual style of the show, for instance if someone’s doing ROYAL PAINS, there’s a lot of big wide shots and beauty shots; whereas if you’re doing AMERICAN HORROR STORY the shots are kind of off balance and off kilter and there’s a lot of weird like horror movie techniques — so there’s rarely moments for a director’s individuality to shine in TV because frankly it’s almost to their detriment if it does. If something’s conspicuously different, that’s bad. But there’s a couple of shots in this episode that I am surprised they let in the show that I am very happy and proud of and one of the shots is the shot where in the hotel room, “ Jeremiah,” Patti says, “Go get my earrings. They’re on the sink,” and he goes out and he just walks through the frame and disappears and that’s an empty frame of a doorway and then he enters back to the right. And it was one of those moments. I spoke to Michael Rauch about it where it kind of walked the line of is this ROYAL PAINS or is this just like a weird artsy shot or this is like a Woody Allen film. And the fact that they let me keep that in there made really happy. I think each director that directs TV, I’m learning watches the episode and goes, “Oh my God, that is me!” Like that specific moment that’s all me. Like all the rest of it is very much ROYAL PAINS and I like fell into the mold for where it needed to be, but that one moment that’s very much my style and that there’s a couple of moments like that that they let me do. There’s another moment in the club where there’s this giant bouncer. This giant bouncer puts his hand on Ben’s face and like is pushing his face back. I just thought, “Oh this would be funny!” and they let me do it. I find the show’s comedy has a very distinct feel to it and that to me felt like oh this could be pushing it a little bit because me as a person I’m much, much more kind of dark and edgy when it comes to my sense of humor. But it felt good to kind of push the borders in that way.

How do you like the direction you character Evan’s been taking this season?
PAULO: It’s been less eventful. It’s been a little less eventful this season. He’s been given kind of less, which was a blessing with my episode because I appeared in much less of it than other episodes. They wrote me small for it. But Evan’s been — I get to be support for Paige a lot at the end of a season, which was a shift in gears that I have enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s not Evan hasn’t had as exciting an arc as the previous seasons for me though. Seasons 2 and 3 were my favorites so far.

Could let us know how the dynamics between Evan and Hank and how their relationship will be for the rest of this season?
PAULO: Well, we were very tense for the beginning of the season. That kind of subsided around Episode 4. I think more of the season’s going to wrap up more with Hank who has his own storyline and Evan and Paige have their own things going on.

As an actor that don’t sound like your character, how much of you is in Evan?
PAULO: That’s a good question. So let’s see. I’d say a lot. They let me improvise a lot. I’m kind of that guy on the show. I guess I fiddle with a lot of stuff. So I kind of I got the audition off of an audition where I made up like half of the audition, so I set the stage for that dynamic, which they support a lot. A lot of these impressions about directing them. I’m just going to say that because that’s I think probably more on point with what we should be talking about.

How was it driving that red Ferrari in the episode “Business and Pleasure”?
PAULO: When I read that script, I was very happy. Then when I got to set that day, I was very unhappy because that was actually a process trailer and I was not driving it at all. That was fake. It was really kind of depressing. I was so close, yet so far. And the owner was this guy with a lot of chest hair who’s like, “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch it.” He actually said, “Don’t touch it.” That would be even weirder if he said, “Touch it.” He was like, “Yo, man, touch it — just touch it,” three times. I have to say though, I got to drive the Tesla for Season 2, like 50 times. It was like driving a rocket ship. So now I have a minivan and I get to fake drive Ferraris. [Laughs]

What do you think it is then about ROYAL PAINS that it continues to be such a fan favorite show?
PAULO: I think it’s very easy to watch. I think it’s true escapism. It’s beautiful — literally beautiful to look at. It brings elements of every genre — whether it be action or comedy or drama — and it’s all wrapped up in this kind of nice package that USA Network seems to do so well.

To see Paulo’s directorial debut, as well as the other surprises in store for the remainder of the season, be sure to tune in for an all new episode of ROYAL PAINS on Wednesday, August 29th at 9PM on USA Network.

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