Producer Paul Giamatti Discusses AMC"s Weird, Funny New Show "Lodge 49"
There’s so much TV coming out of Hollywood right now that the beats often match in interesting, unintended ways.
Sometimes, characters from two different shows about obscenely wealthy assholes — Showtime’s Billions and HBO’s Succession — eat illegal, thumb-sized birds within weeks of each other. Other times, a show vibes with reality in stark, parallel ways like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Trump’s America.
AMC’s Lodge 49 falls under the latter. America’s reality in 2018 is a surreal carnival where barely plausible news shows up in your iPhone alerts once or twice a day, and sometimes reality makes you so angry that you tune it out. Lodge 49 is set in a beach town whose biggest employer is slowly shutting down, and everyone is tuning out the the misery with donuts and fantasy novels.
Don’t let that description put you off, though. Lodge 49 is funny and odd. Marine mammals hold up traffic, and unseen characters with names like “Captain” and a secretive social club figure into the shaggy-dog plot. Executive producer Paul Giamatti, who stars in Billions (but didn’t get to eat the tiny birds), sat down with Decider talk about creating Lodge 49.
DECIDER: Tell me about the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx.
PAUL GIAMATTI: [Laughs.] It’s a fraternal order that has a deep history. It’s meant to echo groups like the Masons. Our lodge is Lodge 49, which has its roots in Long Beach, Calif., which is on the ropes because membership is down.
I’ve seen the first four episodes, and there’s an economic malaise running through them.
That runs through the whole season.
I’ve never seen that kind of economic anxiety in such proximity to whimsy. Was that one of the starting places for what you wanted to do with the series?
Very much so. The writer, Jim Gavin, is not a screenwriter. He’s a short story writer and novelist from Long Beach, and the story is somewhat autobiographical. The plumbing salesman part, certainly, is autobiographical. It’s very much a product of his worldview, and that tone is deliberate.
He has lived through tough economic times, and the show was a godsend for him. He was having a hard time as a writer and was close to going back to selling plumbing supplies. He has that experience and an extraordinary imagination, and those two things melded in interesting ways.
How did the show come to you? Was it in the script pile on your desk?
I have a small production company. My production partner, Dan Carey, goes out and finds projects. We don’t want a pile of scripts; we want to go out and find things that are interesting to us. Dan read the Lodge 49 script and loved it, and I read the script and thought it was one of the best things I had ever read. The characters are so well delineated, and most scripts I read — even the good scripts — make everyone sound the same on the page. The characters are so distinct on this show.
I thought it was an amazing script and was jazzed by the idea of these semi-defunct fraternal organization that you drive by in every town — some Elk’s Lodge or Odd Fellows Lodge or Shriners. They’re weird little buildings, and he opens a door to them in really interesting ways.
The vibe — particularly from Wyatt Russell — reminded me of The Big Lebowski.
That wasn’t as big an influence for Jim Gavin as Charles Portis, who wrote True Grit and a lot of other great books.
The series is unpredictable and often changes course from episode to episode, so it’s interesting to hear that Jim Gavin is a short story writer. Did he come in with those shifts in mind?
Definitely. The show unfolds more like a work of literature. It takes its time, and unexpected things happen. It grows slowly and organically and goes to a lot of interesting places, but it doesn’t do that in an amped-up way. It’s much more patient than that.
You’re a working actor who’s also a producer. You just finished Jungle Cruise for Disney in Atlanta, and you’re about to start back up on Billions for Showtime. Do you give yourself time between projects? Do you work in phone calls on your shooting days?
I spend a lot of time on the phone, and it’s wonderful that I can watch dailies on my computer. I had a chunk of time off that coincided with developing Lodge 49, so I was able to be around a lot for casting and other meetings. And I was able to go during breaks from Billions to Atlanta, where we shot parts of Lodge 49.
Billions shoots in New York?
Right, and we were able to cast a lot of Lodge 49 out of New York. Plus, I can see auditions, dailies, production design — all of that — on my computer. The technology has really made it a lot easier to do those things from remote.
The New York connection explains having stage actors like Linda Emond in Lodge 49.
I’ve done plays in New York with Linda Emond and have known her for a long time. She’s one of my favorite actors. I helped produce another TV show that never got past the pilot, and she was in that. I was keen to have her in this series.
Wyatt Russell is the lead in Lodge 49, and his parents are Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Do you see more of one of them than the other in his acting?
He’s a great comedic talent, which he gets from both of them. We sent him the script, and he immediately said he wanted to do it. He’s a wonderful, naturalistic actor with great comedic timing. He certainly looks a lot like his father. He’s the central guy in an ensemble piece, and he was a wonderful team player.
AMC is calling Lodge 49 a fable, which is not something I see a lot in show descriptions. Is that a term you used when you were developing and producing the series?
Yeah, for sure. It’s not entirely realistic. It’s a difficult show to describe, which I think is great. The show has a lot of elements, and fable is a good word for it. It’s got an old-school feel to it and is a story of a group of people on a quest.
Most fables have animals, and animals pop up throughout the series. Wyatt Russell’s character has a snakebite, and animals figure into a several scenes through the episodes I’ve watched so far.
The show is filled with symbols and metaphors, which fables have.
The show is set in a town where the local factory has recently shut down, and that has having an effect on everyone in one way or another. It has been interesting going from a news cycle that’s full of surreal moments and anger to watching a series full of surreal moments and economic anxiety. The characters seem to be managing a difficult situation better than the real world is right now.
I suppose that’s true, but there are a lot of people in the country dealing with situations like a factory closing. The show was developed before the current politics, and it’s not commenting on cynicism and politics. A lot of people do deal with economic struggles in heroic ways. One of the points of the show is that those people then congregate in a community that allows them to lean on and support each other.
They find a place that gives them a higher sense of life — a way to turn shit into gold. The whole alchemical metaphor in the show is that you turn crap to gold, and people have to do that with their lives. That, in many ways, is what the show is about.