He’s at it again. As the former showrunner of Dexter and Nurse Jackie, Clyde Phillips has worked with a serial killer and a drug-addicted nurse. Now, with AMC’s Feed the Beast, the producer adds alcoholic sommelier and a coke-addicted chef to the list.
To clarify, Feed the Beast tells the story of Tommy (David Schwimmer) and Dion (Jim Sturgess), best friends who are like brothers. Tommy, the aforementioned alcoholic, just lost his wife, and Dion, the one with the drug problem, just got out of prison for burning down his last restaurant. Now, the two have decided to work together to realize their dream of opening up an upscale restaurant in the Bronx. All they have to do to make that happen is turn their lives completely upside-down. Together, they take on the insanity of the New York restaurant world, as they navigate its underbelly of petty criminals, corrupt officials and violent mobsters.
Phillips admits that he has a penchant for difficult characters: “In truth, what drew me to this was the broken, messed up people. They have secrets and tell lies and the actuality of those things getting exposed is what keeps the audience engaged.” He quickly adds, “I think any writer worth his or her salt is sort of draw to these types of people because conflict is drama. If people are too happy and things are going smoothly, there’s no depth there. They’re just not interesting.”
When selling the series, Phillips says he used a unique approach. “I pitched it as five ‘F’s’ – Fate, Fatherhood, Family, Friendship and Food.”
Phillips is no stranger to any of this, particularly the world of food as his own father was a butcher, and one who was not always on the right side of the law. “That world is full of hard-working people, but I sort of saw what my father was doing and I knew a lot of it wasn’t exactly right. My youth was very painful, but I think it helped me to understand people in such a way that now I can write about this world very truthfully.”
For those viewers who may not be too keen on spending time with what some might consider unsavory characters, Phillips explains, “I was asked about that a lot when I worked on Dexter – I mean he was a serial killer! And Jackie (on Nurse Jackie) was a pathological liar and a drug addict. I think that when we watch these kinds of characters, whether we want to admit it or not, we see a little bit of ourselves in them. We all have pain, we all have flaws, we all have stress – the difference is we don’t act on it. But the bottom line is I think people will identify with these characters in certain ways.”
Phillips admits that one of his leads, Schwimmer, had reservations about taking on the role of Tommy. “Yeah, people remember him from all of those years of playing Ross Geller on Friends, but he was also great in Band of Brothers and recently playing Robert Kardashian in [American Crime Story] about the O.J. Simpson trial, but it was still a bit of an issue for him. So, I told him ‘We’re going to put a bullet in the head of Ross Geller,’ and I think we’ve done that here.”
Since his last two series were on Showtime while Feed the Beast will air on AMC, Phillips admits that there was a bit of a learning curve for him. “I kind of grew up with Showtime, so yeah it was different for me. AMC is an advertiser driven network with commercial breaks and they also have standards and practices which I never had at Showtime.” But, Phillips adds, “It doesn’t matter where you are or on what platform your show is going to air, there’s nothing harder in show business than the first year of a series because there’s just so much to do. So you just go into it knowing that and you work as hard as you can and deal with whatever you have to deal with to tell a captivating story that people will want to come back to week after week.”
To craft that story, Phillips says that once the series was picked up, he spent last summer reading scripts to put together what he felt was a strong writing staff. “Then we got together the day after Labor Day and really started mapping everything out. By the time we started shooting, we had seven scripts ready and by the end of first week of production we had eight. That was great because having all of that finished meant that I could then focus on all the other things that we needed for production.”
For those still not convinced to give Feed the Beast a try amid the ever-growing number of series to watch, Phillips offers this, “Believe me, it’s surprise after surprise after surprise. It’s what I call a ‘tragic farce.’ Farce is when you have doors opening all over the place and people yelling out absurd things, In this we have doors opening and people yelling out really serious things, like, ‘I’m pregnant, the food didn’t arrive, so-and-so is dead.’ As all of that’s happening, people have to constantly make adjustments and that’s very compelling to watch.”
Another theme that Phillips wants to impress upon viewers involves the main course of the series – the food. “Just remember, when you sit at a fancy restaurant, whatever city you’re in, when you order lamb chops, a month ago that was a sheep. I’m not taking a political stance but the whole farm to table or whatever it is, is a process. Food doesn’t just magically appear on your plate. People make a lot of sacrifices and animals make the biggest sacrifice. I don’t want to be poetic about it by any means but I want people to just be aware of this. Along with a lot of other stuff, that’s one of the undercurrents in the ground
As a final thought, Phillips offers this, “The pilot of Feed the Beast is a like a big trampoline in that I really hope people will just jump on. Then the rest of the episodes are a big journey and I just know that if people take that initial leap, they’ll really enjoy the ups and downs of the rest of the series.”
Feed the Beast premieres Sunday, June 5 at 10/9c in a two-night event, with its second episode airing Tuesday, June 7 at 10/9c. The series will then continue to air Tuesdays at 10/9c on AMC.