Exclusive Interview: 'Dirty Sexy Money' Star Blair Underwood
Exclusive Interview: 'Dirty Sexy Money' Star Blair Underwood
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
If you're looking to cast a handsome, successful man, Blair Underwood is always a good choice.  The actor has had a string of successful film and television ventures, and now he's part of the talented and large ensemble cast of ABC's delightfully wicked drama, Dirty Sexy Money.  Underwood plays Simon Elder, a philanthropic billionaire with an ax to grind with the Darling family.

Underwood spoke to BuddyTV about his role and the fact that Dirty Sexy Money was recently picked up for a full season by ABC, despite the writers' strike that prevents the final scripts from actually being written.  Still, with four episodes left to air, Underwood spoke about his character's relationship with his ex-wife, slated to appear next week, as well as his affinity for the cast, and also about some of his other upcoming projects, including a return to The New Adventures of Old Christine and the new HBO series In Treatment.  Continue reading for a full transcript as well as the audio file of the interview.

Hi, this is John from BuddyTV and I'm talking to Blair Underwood, one of the stars of ABC's Dirty Sexy Money. Hi Blair.

Hey John, good to talk to you.

You too. How many episodes did you guys actually get in before the writer's strike?

Well, we'll get 13 in. We're still shooting until December 15, only because the writers were diligent enough to get all those scripts in under the wire before the deadline, which was really on Halloween, October 31.

Also, since the strike began ABC has picked up your show for the full season, so that must be leaving you feeling pretty confident.

You know what, it's an amazing feeling. It's really, and I'm not just saying this because I'm talking to you, because of people like you and BuddyTV. When you launch anything you go out and you do interviews to try to drum up support and awareness, but when people start to watch the show and they get behind it and let people know that they're enjoying it, it helps people know about it. It's a great feeling.

With these upcoming episodes, I know Gina Torres was cast as your ex-wife. I'm wondering when we're going to be getting our first glimpse of her.

I'm pretty sure it's the next episode.

And what's the dynamic there, if you can tell us at all, between Simon and his ex-wife? Was it an amicable split, or was it an ugly, messy divorce?

No, what I can tell you is that they are soulmates, and they're very deeply and strongly connected. As you know, Simon Elder is a single man, he's a bachelor, and he dates. But there's that one person in his life, played by Gina Torres, his ex-wife, and...well, I don't want to give too much away, but it's his ex-wife that he has a very strong connection with. Anybody who comes into his life has to deal and come in contact with that person, because she's someone he loves deeply.

About your character, Simon Elder, he's a billionaire, and there aren't that many of them in the world. How do you go about playing a billionaire?

I guess there aren't that many in the world, but here in Hollywood they're running around. They're here, and most of the ones that I see or come in contact with are extremely low key. You take someone like a Donald Trump, who is of course very high profile, but most who have that kind of money have no desire to be high profile. Simon is a combination of the two. He is very high profile by virtue of the fact that he's single and he's dating and he's out there, but he also has huge vision. I really see him, and I've said this before, as a chocolate Richard Branson. Richard Branson is someone who is high profile, he's very much a visionary, he's very philanthropic, and he likes the idea of giving back. But he also likes the idea of grandiose ideas, and he's not afraid to go after them, attack them, and accomplish those ideas and those visions. That's very much how Simon is.

That kind of describes the character, and the show itself, where there's a complexity about whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. He's very altruistic with his money, but then he also uses his money when he's in a poker game to buy up Tripp Darling's building and destroy it. Do you see Simon as a good guy, a bad guy, or as a combination of both? What are his motives?

I see him as a human guy. One of the things that Craig Wright, the creator of the show, said to me initially from the outset, he said there are no bad guys in this show. One of the reasons Simon Elder exists within the context of this show is to really be the yin and the yang, and to give Nick, Peter Krause's character, another way of looking at life from that perch where you have such privilege, as he does. Because you can trust Simon, you think that when he says certain things about Tripp Darling it sounds very, very genuine. By the same token, when Tripp speaks of Simon it sounds very genuine. You're really not sure, getting to that period of the show and the development of the characters, where you look at Simon Elder and Tripp Darling with regard to what they're saying to Nick. Nick's not sure and the audience is not sure what to actually believe, and it's fascinating how this is all unfolding episode by episode.

Definitely, I have to agree. Every single week, actually from scene to scene, I start changing my mind. I'm behind Tripp, no, now Simon's right. No, now Tripp's right!

Oh, good! I can tell you this, where Simon is coming from, everything that he wants to do with his money is altruistic. He's very genuine in what he wants to do with his money and his vision for New York City. We saw a glimpse of that in one episode where he shows on a flat screen to Nick [his plan] to make a greener New York. He feels a lot of good can be done by doing that, and it'll benefit a lot of people.

Obviously this power play is based a lot on the mysterious death of Nick's father. I'm wondering if you know how that's going to play out, or if you have any theories about what your involvement is with that?

I do know, but I can't say. One thing about doing series television is even though I do know what's been told to me, just having some kind of history in series television I know that can change. You know, you're playing one thing for three or four weeks and then the storyline can shift gears, so you never really quite know.

I'm wondering if you can talk about the cast. It's a tremendous cast with lots of experience in television and film, and I'm wondering what it's like to work with these people.

Oh, it's amazing. As you know I came in at the last 30 seconds of the fourth episode, so I was not a part of the pilot. We started negotiating right after the pilot. When I initially heard of the show I was intrigued by the concept of the richest people in the world, but then I heard about the cast and the actors involved. I'm talking about veterans who I've loved, admired, and respected for a long time like Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, Billy Baldwin, and Peter Krause. It really is a phenomenal cast. Then there were actors who I wasn't that familiar with their work, [such as] the younger Darlings. But I'll tell you what, I saw the pilot and I was so intrigued by how it all came together, and I saw how all these actors gelled as an ensemble cast and I really wanted to be a part of it. I went through this once in my life with L.A. Law, and I came in in its second season and it was a hit show right off the bat. This is much earlier in the process, but it's very similar in the sense that you feel the momentum by the audience, but also we're surrounded by the crew and the cast. It's a honeymoon phase. We're enjoying what we're doing, we're enjoying each other, and we're so grateful people are tuning in and enjoying the show.

You mentioned that we just got picked up for our back nine episodes, so all of that is very exciting. It makes for an incredible place to work, and a nice, creative working environment. And the fact that our executive producers Craig Wright, Matt Gross, and Greg Berlanti, they really do believe. One of the things Craig Wright said to me was “You will not find a producer more collaborative than we are here.” Oftentimes you hear that, but I can vouch that he has been very genuine in that. Whenever I have an idea or a thought I come into his office and immediately, if it makes sense to him, he'll type it in right away and it shows up in the show. You never try to overplay your hand and you never want to wear out your welcome, but just to be that open to all of us because he really considers us as co-collaborators in the creation of each character. Ultimately I think it makes for a better show.

He has the ultimate vision and he knows if it's not going to work ultimately, but he gives you a lot of creative freedom in giving ideas, and then we, of course, are beholden to his writing and his writing staff. That said, it's an amazing working environment. It's just unfortunate now because of the writers' strike that's going on, ABC picked up our back nine but we just need the writers to come off strike so they can write the back nine episodes.

Exactly, and in case the writers' strike continues I'd like to talk a little bit about some of your non-Dirty Sexy Money projects. People can still see you come January, because you're returning to The New Adventures of Old Christine, is that correct?

Yes, that's correct. I did three episodes of that show, and I don't think they have an air date yet, but we were told possibly in January. With the writers' strike it's probably more inevitable in January than before. I hope so, because I think it is a great show and I absolutely adore Julia Louis-Dreyfus. That's another tight knit cast that works well together. So yes, I did three of those that are in the can and then of course this show called In Treatment for HBO.

That was my next question. What exactly is your role in that show?

That role is a Navy fighter pilot who bombed a madrasah, an Islamic middle school in Iraq, and killed 16 kids. His entry into this therapist's office is dealing with that issue, or not dealing with it. His position is “I did my job, I followed my orders, that's it.” Obviously there's a lot more underneath the surface than that. But I'll tell you, once we tap into that issue it just opens up a whole can of worms with each character. Each character has a reason they're there, but then over the nine weeks you just pull back layer after layer and it's just absolutely compelling to watch these characters go through therapy. And it's unique too. The structure of it, the fact that it's a nightly series, Monday through Friday, where you'll follow four characters. Every Monday you'll have your same Monday appointment, same every Tuesday, and so on and so forth. And a phenomenal cast. Gabriel Byrne is the therapist, and he goes to his therapist every Friday for our nine weeks, who's played by Dianne Wiest. And I'll be your Tuesday night appointment, hopefully. That's unique, but also when you tune in the structure's unique in and of itself because it's 30 minutes of being a fly on the wall. It's very voyeuristic in that it's 30 minutes of two actors in a therapy session. Very few cutaways, very few flashbacks over the nine weeks. It's just these two people in this room.

That should be a very interesting experience then for viewers, and especially if the writers ‘strike isn't resolved soon at the very least we'll get plenty of Blair Underwood throughout the rest of the season.

I know. That one is in the can and that's ready to go. That was just a serendipitous situation how it all worked out, because I was literally shooting In Treatment on stage 25 at Paramount, finishing up my last two weeks, and then that's when Dirty Sexy came along. They were shooting on the very next soundstage, stage 23 and 24. Those kind of things you can't plan, but I was very grateful for it.

Definitely. Thank you very much for talking to us Blair. We are big fans of Dirty Sexy Money here, and we're definitely looking forward to seeing where Simon Elder goes from here on out.

Thank you so much, I very much appreciate it. Thank you for giving the show time and I'm so glad that you're enjoying it.

-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of ABC)