Billy Ray interview: ‘The Comey Rule’ showrunner
Showtime’s limited series “The Comey Rule” tells the story of former FBI Director James Comey (Jeff Daniels), with Brendan Gleeson taking on the role of Donald Trump. What was writer/director Billy Ray‘s first impression of Gleeson’s eye-popping performance? “It’s funny, the first time I ever saw him do Trump was on the set about three seconds before the camera rolled,” he reveals during Gold Derby’s TV Showrunners panel (watch above). “Brendan spent most of his time in prep in Dublin, and I knew that he was working on the accent with a specialist, but I had never heard it. It was one of those moments were everybody on the set looked at each other and thought, we are about to witness something great.”
Ray and Gleeson had a “lot of conversations” about how to tackle the 45th president, particularly with Alec Baldwin‘s Emmy-winning “Saturday Night Live” performance being so popular. “We love Alec Baldwin, but we are not doing a sketch,” he confirms. “We were doing the first dramatic interpretation of Trump ever, and that brought with it a certain level of responsibility. We took that very, very seriously. We didn’t want to take any cheap shots. We wanted to just sort of lay Trump out there, let his behavior dictate how you were gonna feel about him.”
As for why “The Comey Rule” aired over two nights on Showtime, Ray concedes, “To tell you the truth, the model there was ‘Jaws.’ The idea was holding off on the shark, in our case Trump, for as long as we possibly could, and making that the dividing line between one part of the story and the other. So it seemed to me that a perfect Night 1 close would be the election of Donald Trump, and now our hero was in the water with the shark.”
What made Daniels the right actor to play Comey, whose book was the inspiration for “The Comey Rule”? Ray calls the two-time Emmy winner “spectacularly talented” and says he brings “credibility” to the role. “Comey’s such a divisive figure,” Ray notes. “I didn’t want an actor that people were sort of split on. I wanted an actor that everybody loved.” At 6’3″, Daniels also has the “physical stature” to appear as Comey, who stands tall at 6’8″.
Also in our exclusive video interview, Ray talks about the narrative choice of framing the story around Rod Rosenstein (Scoot McNairy), how much the real Comey was actually involved behind the scenes, and why it was so important for the show to air before the 2020 election. Ray is an Oscar nominee for writing the screenplay for “Captain Phillips” (2013).