“I think that everyone in this cast worked together in a way that was quite visceral and quite lively,” declares actress Holland Taylor about the experience of working on “The Chair,” the new Netflix comedy about the inner workings of a university English department. Taylor was joined by co-stars Sandra Oh (also an executive producer on the series), Bob Balaban, Jay Duplass, Nana Mensah, and showrunner Amanda Peet for a special Gold Derby spotlight panel. Watch our 30-minute roundtable discussion above.
The origins of “The Chair” stemmed from Peet’s desire to collaborate with Duplass, with whom she worked on his HBO series “Togetherness.” The idea evolved after Peet began reading stories of conflict on college campuses and thinking about the pressures often placed on women in positions of power. “I started thinking a lot about the pressure when you’re a female supervisor, or you’re the first female supervisor,” she explains. “I was honestly really interested in this idea of a female boss and women in leadership and this idea of empathy as a leadership skill.”
The lead role of Professor Ji-Yoon Kim was written with Oh in mind, and the actress says that the character’s name was actually the first thing that caught her attention. “That caught my attention because that tells me a lot about the writer and how expansive they’re willing to be regarding looking at a character,” she says. “That was the very first thing that I noticed, and then very quickly I noticed the humor. I understand this pocket of humor because it’s quite similar to my personal place of humor. I felt it was going to be a really playful place to be.”
For Balaban, the role of the haughty and recalcitrant Professor Elliot Rentz, much of the show’s appeal comes from its ability to portray multidimensional characters. “The series is not black and white. It’s shades of meaning all the time and knowing there really aren’t actual villains in this thing,” he argues. “You’ve got to understand the other person as well as you understand yourself.”
Both Oh and Peet believe that one of the keys to the show’s success is the authenticity of the characters and their situations. “You stay true to the character,” says Oh. “You stay true to the story and it’s layered and nuanced and it’s authentic.” Peet credits Oh for her commitment to staying true to that sense of authenticity. “”That was just another beautiful part of having Sandra as an executive producers and also just purely being that kind of actor who is hell bent on getting at the very minimal, very deepest part of the person she’s portraying,” exclaims Peet. “There’s nothing phoned in, ever.”
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