“In spite of all of the things that they went through together, in the end Bob Fosse died in Gwen Verdon‘s arms,” reveals Steven Levenson about the bond between the title characters of the FX limited series “Fosse/Verdon.” Levenson, a Tony Award winner for writing the book of the musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” is an executive producer of the series alongside Joel Fields, a recent Emmy winner for co-writing the final episode of “The Americans.” In our exclusive interview (watch the video above), the duo talks about bringing the “complicated” and “messy” love story of Fosse and Verdon to television.
The series, which concluded last night on FX, is based on the biography “Fosse” by Sam Wasson, but Levenson says that conversations with Fosse and Verdon’s daughter Nicole Fosse (who is also a co-executive producer for the series) led to putting Verdon’s name in the title. “It just became increasingly clear that the story of Bob wasn’t the full story, and wasn’t really the most interesting story,” Levenson recalls. “In fact, underneath that story… there was this parallel love story of Bob and Gwen.”
“We knew we wanted to follow the characters through the story,” Fields explains. “Rather than letting the story leading the characters, it was always about letting the characters drive the story.” To that end, both Fields and Levenson credit the contributions of Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, who play the title characters and serve as executive producers of the series. Levenson adds, “[Rockwell and Williams] felt like these were really, really difficult parts… the idea of playing real people who were also incredible dancers. But I think that challenge is what hooked them.”
Fosse remains the only performer ever to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award in the same calendar year, a streak prominently featured in the show’s fourth episode, “Glory.” But having the actual trophies featured in the episode presented a unique challenge to producers. “They sent us real Emmys that we could use. I guess we were allowed to make fake Tonys,” Fields says. However when it came to the Oscars, the rules were more complicated. Nicole provided her father’s actual Best Director Oscar for certain scenes, but insurance rules prohibited using it in other scenes. Thankfully, producers had a backup: Rockwell’s own Best Supporting Actor Oscar (for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), which Fields admits was brought to the set in a plastic shopping bag.
Levenson and Fields worked to create a series that would appeal to more than just an audience of theater lovers. Fields explains, “Ultimately it was all about finding a way to make these stories accessible and interesting, and to explore them in a way that would be meaningful to anyone.” Levenson adds, “Let’s put [the audience] in the world [of theater and film] and hopefully, in that world we’ll find the universality of these relationships.”
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