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updated: 8/27/2012 5:01 AM

Grammer is 'Boss,' but local talent helps power series

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  • Kelsey Grammer stars as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane in the Starz series "Boss."

      Kelsey Grammer stars as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane in the Starz series "Boss."

  • Steppenwolf's James Vincent Meredith plays the mayor's nemesis.

      Steppenwolf's James Vincent Meredith plays the mayor's nemesis.

  • John Hoogenakker appeared on "Boss" while also starring at the Goodman.

      John Hoogenakker appeared on "Boss" while also starring at the Goodman.

  • Elmhurst's Francis Guinan plays embittered, lame-duck Gov. McCall Cullen.

      Elmhurst's Francis Guinan plays embittered, lame-duck Gov. McCall Cullen.

  • Anish Jethmalani, who grew up in Glendale Heights, is back on the show playing a nurse.

      Anish Jethmalani, who grew up in Glendale Heights, is back on the show playing a nurse.

  • Steppenwolf's Amy Morton is a governor candidate this season.

      Steppenwolf's Amy Morton is a governor candidate this season.

  • The relationship between Kelsey Grammer's Mayor Tom Kane, left, and James Vincent Meredith's Alderman William Ross remains frosty as the second season of "Boss" continues on Starz.

      The relationship between Kelsey Grammer's Mayor Tom Kane, left, and James Vincent Meredith's Alderman William Ross remains frosty as the second season of "Boss" continues on Starz.

  • Craig Spidle, once of the Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace, plays a newspaper publisher.

      Craig Spidle, once of the Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace, plays a newspaper publisher.

  • Video: "Boss" season 2 trailer

  • Video: "Boss" behind the scenes

 
 

The producers of "Boss" make a lot of local actors very happy.

The acclaimed Starz TV series, starring Kelsey Grammer as a take-no-prisoners Chicago mayor determined to maintain his iron grip on the city, has employed more than 150 of them over its first two seasons -- and not just as walk-ons or extras.

Filmed in Chicago, with detours to Arlington Park and Wheeling's Chicago Executive Airport, "Boss" has been hailed for its writing and its cast.

"Everybody's getting work. Everybody's in a good mood. The rent's getting paid," said Craig Spidle, a veteran of Oakbrook Terrace's Drury Lane Theatre and Chicago's Goodman Theatre who plays newspaper publisher Peter Baine. "We're elated this has taken off."

Among the "we" are Steppenwolf Theatre's Amy Morton, James Vincent Meredith and Francis Guinan.

Guinan, of Elmhurst, said Starz and Lions Gate Entertainment had the right idea placing locals in supporting roles.

"They're the first producers in a long time who've taken advantage of the talent pool we have in Chicago," said Guinan, who plays lame-duck Illinois Gov. McCall Cullen. "Consequently, they have a beautifully cast show, right down to the smallest parts."

Even the small roles have meat on them, said casting director Claire Simon. Moreover, those roles pose a challenge by leaving actors with only a couple of lines to create an impression.

"You have to be pretty skilled for that," she said.

On "Boss" -- as in politics -- bit players often evolve. Take Mary Hollis Inboden, a New Colony ensemble member cast in season one as an unnamed reporter at the fictional Chicago Sentinel. Inboden so impressed the producers, said Simon, they made her character recurring. They even gave her a name, Jackie.

Anish Jethmalani, who grew up in Glendale Heights and co-starred in First Folio Theatre's "Twelfth Night" in Oak Brook, auditioned unsuccessfully last year. The producers brought him back to play a nurse caring for Mayor Tom Kane's ailing father-in-law. His character doesn't have a name. Yet.

Hollywood has long been aware of the Chicago area's deep talent pool, said executive producer and showrunner Dee Johnson.

She said the actors possess the authenticity and intensity a show like "Boss" demands.

"Our world, even though it's heightened and Shakespearean, is grounded in reality," she said.

"You can't afford to fake anything in our medium, especially in TV and film," added Jethmalani, a regular at Court and Goodman theaters.

"The camera doesn't hide anything. It doesn't lie."

Actors from Chicago and the suburbs help supply the flavor that sustains that reality. And they do so with the "Chicago style" of acting, which Guinan describes as modest, ensemble-oriented and committed to putting the story first.

"You can walk on set with Chicago area actors you haven't worked with before and they're all on the same wavelength," he said.

Meredith, a formidable presence as West Side power broker Alderman William Ross, says if there is such a thing as a "Chicago style," it's rooted in truth and simplicity.

It's not about "gilding the lily," said the Evanston native who currently lives in Oak Park.

"You're there for a specific purpose, you're not trying to hit it out of the park," added Guinan.

"A lot of actors in Chicago are capable of hitting a home run, but a single or a double every time at bat and you're in MVP territory."

"Boss" producers did their best to accommodate the area's most valuable players.

"They worked hard to get the best actors in Chicago, and the best actors in Chicago are not sitting on the sidelines waiting to audition. They're working," Meredith said.

That was true for John Hoogenakker, a Writers' Theatre veteran who was a couple of weeks into rehearsals for Goodman Theatre's "The Iceman Cometh" when he got cast as Cook County State's Attorney Jeff Doyle.

Shuttling between the "Boss" set, the Goodman stage and the recording studio where he does voice-over work amounted to seven-day work weeks for Hoogenakker, who calls the experience a "glorious, truly wonderful period."

Describing the show as a love letter to Chicago and "one of the few projects worthy of the great talent the city has to offer," Hoogenakker says he was hooked after reading the script.

"It was so well written, you think: If this is half as good on screen as it is on the page, we're in for something special," he said.

"The episodes are such page-turners, there are surprises all the time," said Morton, who joined "Boss" this year as state Sen. Catherine Walsh, Republican candidate for governor.

Like her "Boss" colleagues, actor/director Morton has her share of film and TV credits. Still, she finds shooting scenes out of sequence, as well as the limited rehearsal time, a challenge. And she admits it's a bit unnerving not knowing the outcome of her character's story.

"It's a whole different ballgame, but it's fun to jump into it head first," she said. "That's what's fun about the roller coaster, not knowing."

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