Dean Winters HBO interview, part one

HBO: Oz was an unqualified hit last season. Why do you think that is?
DEAN WINTERS: I think the reason is that this is a show about people that you would never want to spend five minutes with in the real world. And I think that the way it's written, it's so character driven, and that people end up becoming kind of fascinated with these stories. Because prison is really just a microcosm of the outside world. And I think like any good project, it starts with the writing, you know? And then when you get the actors, and the directors, and everyone else involved. But the writing is so good on this show that I think people just got hooked on it. It was such a taboo for television, and it was the first show of its kind. I think it just rocked people. And it dealt with issues in a very kind of unbiased way. Take the death penalty. Subjects like that were just treated very fairly, I think. But I think, basically, it was just tied in to the fact that everyone's, you know, in the show is a survivor. I think people, in a kind of perverse way, kind of respected that.
HBO: Yeah.
DEAN WINTERS: And, you know, no matter how bad you are in the show. There's a lot of bad guys. Everyone is basically looking out for themselves. And I think there's something kind of um, (SIGHS) well, the word I'm looking for is something kind of mysterious.
HBO: How does that affect you?
DEAN WINTERS: Well, you know, it's funny, because people have talked to me on the street and said all kinds of things. You know, like "how the fuck can you live with yourself?" And, I'm not a believer that you have to love a character that you play. But I think you have to have some kind of respect, or some kind of admiration for a certain quality of that character. And with me, I just think that I came in this prison, the only Irish guy around. And I didn't have, I didn't have the gang bangers. And I didn't have the Muslims. And I didn't have the Italians. And I just loved the way that it was written. You know just surviving, and I would do anything I could. And this, people will say to me, well, how could you do this, and how could you do that? And it's not like I'm in high school here, I'm in prison. You know? And so, everything I did was basically just watching out for myself. And the whole survival aspect, you got to respect that in someone. Someone that can, just do that, day to day.
HBO: Is it true that some of the scenes are really rough in this?
HBO: Don't you think? Is it physically demanding?
DEAN WINTERS: It's physically demanding. And very few people got hurt. I mean, every once in a while someone will slip with a punch. Or like in the riot scene. I think a couple of people got like a little whacked around. But as far as the violence goes it's also well choreographed. I think that the real problem is just kind of being lost in the moment. As opposed to getting lost the physicality of it. And you just kind of forget that you're supposed to be hitting your cues, and your marks. There was a lot of violence last year. And this year too, to a degree. But it's just a bunch of guys. It's like being in a big sand box, you know? And just kind of rough housing.
HBO: What else is going to be different? Without giving away too much of the season's show, how, how do you think this season is going to be different?
DEAN WINTERS: I think this season, it gets a little more cerebral. Instead of the kind of really in your face shock value. I'm not saying it was shock value. But in the, I think this year deals more with the issues of how these are men in prison who have been stripped of everything. So let's get past the violence, and let's get past the sex, and the drugs, and let's get into their minds. And I think this year, to become more cerebral and, and it just goes a lot deeper. And it peels a lot of layers this year. And it's just...a lot of layers.
HBO: Now this week, you guys are working with Kathy Bates?
HBO: An Academy award winning actress. And it's just on television for a show. How did you find her to work with?
DEAN WINTERS: She, she's amazing. She's the second director we've had this year who's an actor. We had Bob Ballaban a couple of weeks ago. And there's just something very nurturing and caring about them. Kathy has just been wonderful. And she just is able to kind of reach into you, and pull things out, you know? And this season has become a lot more emotionally demanding, I think, for a lot of the actors. And they're really had to go inside. And so, it helps to have someone like Kathy, because she's able to take you aside, and give you that kind of direction that you need to hear from someone like her. You know? Someone in her position.
HBO: And it helps to have someone like that?
DEAN WINTERS: Yeah. It, it helps to have someone like Kathy this year. Because they are peeling more layers, and it's going a lot deeper. And it's a very cold environment. And so you need a director like Kathy, because she's able to contact your side, and talk to you as an actor, and really reach in. And this place is just like, there's a lot of testosterone in here, and lot of posturing, and a lot of posing, and it's great. It all helps with the show. But when you have to go inside, and do some real looking, then it helps to have someone like Kathy around. And she's, I mean, balls to the wall, she's a tough woman. Man, she's great, you know? And she knows what she wants. And it's like she's not getting pushed around here at all.
HBO: How long do you work on Oz, I mean, what time do you quit?
DEAN WINTERS: Because it's an ensemble show, I think most of the guys in the show, and the girls, we work about anywhere from four to six days an episode. An episode is usually seven days. But they're long days, you know? And when you're dealing with a prison show, it's definitely demanding. I mean, I remember when I was younger, I used to hear actors talk about how tired they were, at the end of the day. And I would always be like what a bunch of crap. [LAUGHS] You know? But coming out of here, I go home and (SMACKS HIS HAND) and I'm out.
HBO: How do you wind up being in this kind of environment?
DEAN WINTERS: I just go out, and I beat somebody up. [LAUGHTER] No, just, it's a tough place, not to bring home sometimes, you know? And I think in the first season, I remember coming home, and definitely bringing my work home with me. I wasn't like feeding glass to my girlfriend, or like kicking my dad's [LAUGHS] but, it was, now I've learned to just kind of, at the end of the day, just hang out with some of the guys in the back. And maybe tell a couple of jokes, or go have a beer, and just kind of relax. Because it is a job that you definitely, it's hard to shake it, you know? You're here for twelve hours a day, with a hundred guys. And you're doing a whole thing. You just don't walk out the door, and go "yep, I'm going home now."
HBO: Tell me about Tommy? Working with Tommy?
DEAN WINTERS: As a man? He's great. I've known Tom for a long time. I've worked with him, I worked with him on Homicide, and I did a pilot, and we're gonna do some other things. He's, he's...I'm very biased, because he's a very good friend of mine. And I, I really think that he's the yard stick, by which other writers should really measure themselves. I don't think anyone is better than him. And, you know, I see so much untruthful crap on television. And then I see his stuff. And it's really searching. And he's so generous, you know? I mean, he's very open to the guys, coming and talking to him. And, with ideas. And he's like one of us. He loves being here more than anyone. So it makes for a great working environment.
HBO: Did you ever go into a prison?
DEAN WINTERS: You know, I wanted to. They, they wouldn't let me. Last year. Uh, actually, I don't understand how, I've heard in the past of actors going into prison for a couple of days, and I'm not really sure how that happens. But, uh, you do your own kind of little researches, you know? I spent my time [LAUGHS] a couple of nights here and there in jail, but definitely not like being in here.
HBO: Just being kind of a play? What's your final analysis?
DEAN WINTERS: What's new? Well, I'm going in the polar opposite direction of what I did last year. Something happens to me, that I think it's going to kind of catch people off guard. And it caught me off guard. And I think, I'm not sure my likeability factor is going to go up at all, but it's definitely interesting. Let's just say it's a family affair. I'm going to put it that way.
HBO: Cool. Thanks.
DEAN WINTERS: Yeah, definitely.
HBO: Excellent.
DEAN WINTERS: Nice to meet you.

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