Billy Ray is a writer , director , producer known for The Hunger Games, Shattered Glass, Captain Phillips and more. His most recent work , The Last Tycoon, is up on Amazon and I got the chance to interview him about the show.
1.What were your thoughts when you found out that the pilot was picked up by Amazon ?
Sheer joy – this project has been the most fun I’ve ever had, the greatest working experience of my life, bar none. I felt so privileged that we’d get to keep telling this story.
2.What character was the most difficult to bring to life through writing ?
It took me a few tries to get Monroe right. I always felt I had the correct rhythms for his dialogue, but for some reason I found myself resisting the PRIVATE side of Monroe, the side he wouldn’t show in public. Once I got more comfortable revealing that part of him – thanks largely to some strong pushing from my fellow show-runner Chris Keyser, the character became more dimensionalized.
3.Which actor is the most like their character and in what ways ?
Tough question. They’ve all become their characters because they’re all such great actors. Off camera, none of them are very much like the people they play. The closest might actually be Mark O’Brien, who plays Max Miner. Mark shares Max’s genuine humility. And Lily certainly shares Celia’s drive, ethics, and innate intelligence.
4.As the creator ,what do you have in mind for the future of this project ?
Four more seasons. That’s all I can say. I sincerely hope that’s what we get.
5.How was it like to work with such incredible actors like Matt Bomer , Lily Collins and Kelsey Grammer ?
A privilege. Every single day. They inspire and delight me every time they speak. They LOVE their characters, and it shows.
6.How is the feedback from the fans so far ?
I don’t go on the Amazon site to check, and I don’t read any reviews. Based on the tiny sample-size that is my Twitter following, I feel very confident that people are loving the show. But Amazon has metrics that I’ll never see.
7.From your perspective , what is the most important quote from the show ?
There are several. “I’m not talented enough to be unprepared. Are you?” “There IS no other business.” “I love you, Monroe. Everybody does. I wish that were enough for you.”
8.Who is the most underrated character that most people seem to miss ?
We haven’t even begun to explore Tomas Szep yet. But we plan to.
9.Was it true they would give child actors benzedrine like they did to Sally Sweet ?
10.How does the quote “We make a product , Monroe .There has to be someone to buy it” heard in the trailer describe Pat Brady as a person ?
It is his philosophy. Monroe may be the “hero” of the show, but in most of their arguments, Pat Brady has the more sensible, practical point of view.
11.Could you say that Celia’s determination for becoming someone respected in the business comes from Lily and her determination as an actress ?
No. That was baked into the character – her defining characteristic – before the part was cast. But Lily sure as hell brought it to life.
12.How much did the values from the Old Hollywood we see in The Last Tycoon change over time ?
Not at all. That’s why I wanted to tell this story.
13.Since Brady Pictures is a fictional studio, could you mention actual movies or you had to avoid them ?
We mention them all the time, like Wizard of Oz. We try to weave Brady-American into the fabric of actual history.
14.Did streaming on a very popular site like Amazon help you reach a bigger audience than you imagined ?
Can’t tell yet. I hope so.
15.Celia Brady is such a well-written character and Lily Collins is an amazing actress. What did Lily bring to the character ?
Her talent, her beauty, her joy, her humor, her truth. I want to say joy again because that’s the word that always pops into my mind when I think of her.
16.What is the main idea you wish to transmit through this Tv show ?
We know how it benefits a person to leave behind the identity of Milton Sternberg to become Monroe Stahr. The show is about what it COSTS a person to give up being Milton Sternberg to become Monroe Stahr.
17.Was the gibberish typing scene made up or inspired from actual events ?
It’s apocryphal – you hear lots of stories about writers banging away at the keys just to sound busy in those days. The studio heads actually used to walk past the writers’ buildings and just listen for the sound of typing…
18.As creator , is the unfinished ending of the book a challenging road to take for the tv show ? Are advantages or disadvantages to it ?
HUGE advantage. We’re not being compared to a finished piece of art.
19.Before starting shooting , did you watch the De Niro version of The Last Tycoon in the 70s for inspiration ?
Have never seen it. Didn’t want to.
20.Did you expect the chemistry between Lily Collins and Matt Bomer to be so great ?
One always hopes. But I knew the first time they met for a script meeting that they would be gold together. Lily doesn’t mind gushing about Matt, and Matt always felt so tickled by her. It was perfect.
21.I read that you called Matt for the part of Monroe Stahr. What are some traits of his that made him the perfect candidate to play this character ?
He had to look like a legend in his own time. He had to be smart. He had to keep a part of himself hidden from view. Matt gives you all that. And he’s got the greatest face in Show Business.
22.Lastly ,do you have anything to say to the fan and supporters of the show ?
I love you all. I’m in debt to you all. I want to make this your favorite show, forever.
Thank you so much to Billy for agreeing to the interview. The Last Tycoon is one of the most visually stunning tv shows I have ever seen and I encourage everyone to go and watch it .Here is the trailer to it: