plays the drug dealing grannie Heylia James on the Showtime comedy Weeds
. The show's third season premieres tonight, August 13, at 10pm. At the end of season two, Heylia sold out Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker
) to the Armenians by agreeing to pay them in exchange for them killing Nancy's DEA agent husband. The payment was supposed to be from the money Nancy made by selling her homegrown weed to drug dealing rapper U-Turn, but when U-Turn decided to just steal the weed, she was left in a Mexican standoff with guns pointed at her by everyone.
Tonye spoke to BuddyTV about her career, her initial reaction to her role on Weeds
, and what's in store for her character in season 3 with the addition of new cast members Matthew Modine and Mary-Kate Olson. Below you will find a complete transcript of the interview as well as the mp3 audio file.
Hey this is Oscar Dahl from BuddyTV and I'm here with Tonye Patano from Weeds. Tonye, how're you doing?
I'm doing good, how're you doing?
I'm great. First of all, can you just tell us, for those who aren't familiar with your work, just sort of how you got into the business of acting?
Ooh. Of course. I don't know, to be honest with you. I guess I just—cause both my parents were in the…this business and so I've been around it for a long, long time. You know but it's just something I've done for a while. I went to school, graduated from undergraduate college, got my B.S.A. there and my masters degree at Brandeis University in theater performance management, and that's it. I've been working ever since. It's not something I don't remember to be doing, to be honest with you so you know, it's just been around me all my life so it's just the natural transition.
Cool. You've done a lot of work both on stage, on film, on TV, which do you personally prefer and which did you originally set out to do?
Well I don't know if I have a preference per se but I will say that theater is sort of my foundation and my first love. You know they're different, obviously, the thing with like theater is that it's literal, it's a living, breathing entity in some ways. When you're on stage, you have yourself, you have the character but you also have the primal character which is the audience and they bring an energy into the space that creates a whole different atmosphere. That performance will never be repeated, what those people see is individual to those people, if you sit in a different place in the theater, you get a different performance. It's just a unique happening that happens and that one time in that space for those people. Again, if somebody comes like on a different night, it's a different show. And there's something wonderful in it, and creative and live, like I said a living creature almost. And with film and television, it's more collaborative but you as a performer doesn't have the same sort of control in as lot of ways so it's almost a surprise when you see whatever the end product is so for example when you're doing a scene, I may be looking in someone's eyes, and seeing something very different but the camera is looking at me in a different kind of a way from a different angle, they take different close up you know different you know a full shot of scene of all of these different things that have nothing to do with what I'm actually doing from the inside, so to speak. And when all this is done, you give your performance, you may give variations on a certain performance and ultimately the editor and the director tapes your performance. So you know in that way, someone else ultimately shapes what the final product just might be. Whereas on like stage, what you see is what you get, everybody's seeing what happens right then and there. It's kind of an interesting thing, you know, in one way it's sort of freeing, because you can just sort of do what you do and then whatever the editor and the director decide how to tell that story that which you'll see at the end. Sometimes it's wonderful, sometimes it's not so much. But with theater, you know, everybody's there walking tight ropes so it's like I said, there's wonderful things about both of them, and you know it's just a different process.
Cool. Can you tell us how you ended up with your role on Weeds?
I was doing a film and when I finished, like I said I do a lot of theater and I'm character actress so I'm used to doing characters that are older than myself, or younger or more out there kind of thing and on of the agents at my agency I guess saw the breakdown that would come in for another actress. The original breakdown was for a woman in her mid to late fifties or sixties which is a lot older than I am and but it was just the description of the character was a large woman with oversized tities and big ankles and just sort of this real character. And there was just something about the size I guess she saw and kinda heard my voice saying it. So she called me and asked me if I'd be interested in going ahead and just trying to go up for this and I said, “Sure, whatever.” And I got a copy of the size and actually put myself on tape with the help of somebody and we sent it off to the casting director and I literally put a bandanna on and kinda just get this character because when I looked at it I sort of I heard Heylia's voice. I knew who she was, I mean I just sort of connected with it and I guess from that the casting people called right away and you know I went ahead and got put on tape officially. They sent it to Jenji, the creator and she said “That's Heylia.” So they called me out to LA to test for the part. I think between myself and Jackee who were sort of the last couple. I guess they've been looking for a while and there it was, and I just sort of stumbled into it to be honest with you. But like I said I just kinda knew who this woman was and you know, I had a good time with it so there you go.
Reading that first pilot script, what were your initial reactions? Did you think Weeds had the potential to be the big hit that it has become?
Well I didn't know one way or the other, but what I did about it was that it was a clever script. It was one that started in midsentence, I thought that it made a big statement and I knew that it would step on people's toes. You know, but I got in other words, well somebody might look at the scene with our family, the James family as a stereotyped kind of parody of some sorts. I got exactly what was going on. And that was that these people were putting on an act for this white lady in the kitchen. It was an inside joke, it's the idea that, that's the point, people expect stereotypes so that's what they expect, that's what you give them. The only real moment in that first scene was when—and also, to be honest with you, Nancy's character was also pulling back, she was getting back because they knew they were sort of ripping off of one another. The only real moment there truthfully was when Nancy's character says you know, I say “Where you going to?” And she says, you know, "Shane has to be at he psychiatrist" or whatever it was. And I go, “Oh I'm sorry.” That would be the only connection going on. That was the actual part of the scene that the other two people were actually talking to each other. The other one was people having an attempt at having fun. And to me I thought that that was amazing. I love the fact that Cole started midsentence. You know that you stumbled onto a pilot, you know you look at it and thought, “Wait a minute, did I miss something?” And I think that that takes a smart person to really get that, to understand that you know it didn't talk down to the audience. It was one of those things that if you hang in here, you'll get it. And ultimately that's what people did. People kind of what is this? And you get hooked. And I really enjoyed that. That Jenji took those risks and I loved that she literally put stereotypes out there on display and then allow people to come into their real. You know when we first meet people, we always type them. But when we talk to them and see them and get to know them for a while, they become real to us and that's what happened and I really enjoyed it. So there are a lot of things about the pilot that intrigued me whether it was going to be a success, I didn't know and to be honest with you, that's not really my business, it's just really about the work for me and that's what I enjoyed doing.
Moving to season three, there's a couple, a few new faces coming in for this year most notably Matthew Modine and Mary-Kate Olsen. Have you gotten to work with either of them and how's that going so far?
I have gotten to work with Mary-Kate and Matthew is having a great time I think. You know all three seasons are very different. First season was very different from the second and the second is turning out to be different from the previous two so to be honest with you, my character is such that it doesn't interact as much with the rest of the cast so it's a little different that way and we're just starting to branch into some of that, sorta crossing the line and getting everybody on the same side of town so to speak. How they do that is the writer's dilemma, but you know, it's been interesting having guests come in and sort of be invited to the main storyline. You know it's refreshing. Matthew is an amazing guy, he's a talented man, he's terrific. You know and Mary Kate too, and there's good chemistry there so you know it'll be interesting like I said I don't know how's it gonna be til we see it. You know that's sort of the magic of television and film making. You know, again somebody else picks the performance and you could see what's in the script, but you really won't know what's it gonna be until you actually see it on the screen so I'll be watching people the rest will be going, “Oh that's how it came together. That's how it supposed to be.” It's exciting. We'll see. So the guests this year are terrific.
Cool. You know can you tell fans a little bit about what we can expect storywise both in general and what's gonna be facing your character?
Well my character this year sort of lost everything, really. You know you have this lady who allows for this girl to come into her life and you know it's probably not a normal thing for Heylia James to allow people to get to her in that way but through hook or crook that's probably been the flaw with the whole Nancy character coming into all these people's lives and getting away with things that most normal people wouldn't get away with. So as a result, Heylia James' life is nowhere near what she used to and so she's not necessarily in control for the first time in her life. So there's subtle pressures with all of that and how one deals with not being the boss anymore and not having a business go for 20 years run the way it is. You know just sort having her family, trying to get her family back together and so that's where kinda Heylia is this year. So I would say this year for Heylia is more of a transitional period as opposed to an active member who affects the actions in a big way. But there's a lot of things going on, so many directions that the story has gone, that it would be hard to explain it to you in this way so I think it's gonna be exciting for people to kind of watch it unfold and figure out where it's going along with the rest of us and see where it's gonna find the bridge, where the bridge is gonna take us at the end of this season because there's a lot of loose ends tying up from last season now that they've created a bunch of whole new paths so I mean, I know that's general but that's pretty much all there is.
Alright cool. alright, Tonye, I appreciate you stopping by and thanks for the time.
Well I appreciate you having me and I know I've carried on for quite a while but hopefully you'll be able to use some of that and figure out what you need and what you don't and it's been a pleasure.
-Interview conducted by Oscar Dahl
(Image courtesy of Showtime)