This provocative soap is set against the backdrop of big Texas oil. Robert/Bob Allen (newcomer James Wolk) is a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has meticulously constructed two lives in two different parts of Texas. He’s juggling two identities and two women in two very different worlds – all under one mountain of lies. As “Bob,” he lives in Houston and is married to CAT (Adrianne Palicki, Friday Night Lights), the beautiful daughter of Clint (Jon Voight, 24), the patriarch of an ultra-wealthy Texas oil family. More than 400 miles away in the suburban west Texas town of Midland, he’s “Robert,” living a second life with his sweet, naive girlfriend, Lindsay (Eloise Mumford, Mercy, Law & Order: SVU).
Jump with me to read more about the show and some of the great questions and answers from the call.
In Midland, he plays the perfect boyfriend while secretly bilking local investors of their savings. In Houston, he’s a devoted husband, charming Cat and her family to cement his position in the rich family business he aims to clean out. Bob has lived both lives successfully for years without arousing any suspicions…so far. While one brother-in-law, Drew (Bryce Johnson, Popular, The Mentalist), admires Bob, his other brother-in-law, Trammell (Mark Deklin, Nip/Tuck, Desperate Housewives), is suspicious of his motives. Bob begins to fear his secret lives may unravel. With the cons closing in on him, Bob is divided by his love for two women; his loyalty to his father and mentor, John (David Keith, The Class); and his respect for his father-in-law, Clint. Now as he tries to hold his two lives together, while fending off angry investors and the suspicions of those around him, Bob puts it all on the line hoping he can beat the odds, leave the schemes behind and keep two separate relationships afloat.
When asked about, as a relative newcomer, working with seasoned actors like Jon Voight and whether or not they gave advice, James replied:
James Wolk: Well, you know what the great thing is about those guys is that they’re always there. They’re always present on set. They’re generous people and so it’s a real honor as a young actor to be in scene with them. I mean this wholeheartedly for no other reason than this is where most of the counsel comes from. It just comes from being in the moment with them and them looking into your eyes and giving you all the material that you need to react and act. You learn a lot just by osmosis, just by being around people who’ve done it for a long time, and I think it’s wonderful to be on set with those guys. They’re very kind people, too, very generous people.
On whether the role was originally supposed to go to an unknown or not:
Amy Lippman: Well, I think our feeling was well known or not, you just need someone who’s really right for the part, and the only interesting thing about the way James came to the part is that it was conceived as an older character and when we met him, we began to rethink the character because we thought he had so many of the qualities that were really, really important to us. He had like a warmth and a directness and a charm and a charisma that made us rethink what it meant to have an older actor in the role. And I have to say I do think that we are really advantaged by the fact that people will discover him, that they don’t bring other roles that he’s done into the mix. He’s a new face. He’s a new talent, and he can inhabit this character without other people thinking, I’ve seen him do this or I’ve seen him do that. So I think it’s actually there’ll never be this moment in time for him again where people don’t know who he is. I think we’re going to take advantage of it as much as we can.
On the most challenging part of his role:
James: I think the most challenging thing for Bob is of course being everything to everyone, and we touch on that. It’s more difficult than one would imagine to fully live two lives. I think that’s Bob’s greatest challenge is to give his all to these people and really, he can’t. He’s in two different worlds.
Amy: Also, if I can jump in having seen Jimmy’s work on the show, that I see how conflicted he is about hurting people just as a person, just not as an actor, but as a person. So what I see as being a challenge for him is to actually inhabit the role of someone who is selfish or deluded or has put his own need to have a real life ahead of the people who sort of comprise that life in some way. And it’s an interesting struggle that all of us have in sort of conceiving of the show is what is that balance? What is that balance between him truly being a sympathetic character and wanting the best for the people around him and at the same time having, really being responsible for putting himself in a position where everyone could potentially lose?
About his character’s relationships with the women sort of filling in holes of what he was missing growing up:
James: These girls, while he does believe that he’s in love with them, he never had wealth as a child growing up and the Thatcher family and Cat are this luxurious posh lifestyle. And so in some respect, even if he doesn’t know it, it certainly is filling something that he never had. And with Lindsey and her family in Midland, that is an American family. That is backyard barbecues, and as one can see when they watch the pilot episode and when they find out about Bob, Bob didn’t have that growing up either. So there are voids in him that he’s trying to fill, and that is, while he does have a big heart and he is, like Amy said, there are things that; he is flawed in some respects. And there are screws that are a little loose, and I think he is certainly somewhere deep down trying to fill these voids as well.
On how long they can keep the con going and keep it realistic:
Amy: Well, that’s really the challenge of it. That’s what’s giving us grey hairs and keeping us in the story room very, very late at night. I think what you will find is that there’s lots of intrigue in the show. There are sort of overarching cons that may last the season. There are smaller cons that he is forced to participate in to keep his two lives going and separate. And we are trying to balance that with a realism, and even though he has two of them, each marriage needs to have issues that don’t necessarily relate to the deception that I think we will be successful if we can interest an audience in what goes on in each of those marriages.
What goes on between those two father figures that isn’t always related to a secret or lie or a con that’s being told. And it’s very intriguing. It’s a very complicated premise, and he’s certainly the most complicated character we’ve ever written because he’s got a lot of demons. He comes from a very dysfunctional past. He’s striving for a really honest, functional future and, in the present, extricating himself from one world to be free to go into the other is very, very – it’s difficult.
The good news is it’s really dramatic and emotional. Hopefully, that is what will bring an audience in is they will like him and both want him to succeed at this and feel for his conflict because it’s a genuine conflict about what he’s doing.
On Bob essentially playing two different parts of himself:
Amy: Yes, when David says you’ve made the mistake of playing yourself, that means that you’ve exposed yourself. You’ve opened yourself up to these people. It’s hard to con people and walk away from people when you have made a real emotional connection with them, and that’s what Bob’s father, John, is great at doing is holding very little emotional connection so he’s able to walk away from his cons. And that’s what Bob’s, one of his faults is that he opens himself up to these two girls in these two worlds, and so he’s played himself.
As far as the character, he is himself in both places. He is himself in Midland, and he is himself in Houston. Now, he does tailor the way he interacts with people in Houston. He has to demand the respect of an oil company. He has to demand the respect of a man like Clint Thatcher, played by Jon Voight, and as anyone knows to demand respect of Jon Voight, you’ve got to hold yourself up high. So he has to carry himself with a certain self-respect as he walks through the office of Thatcher Oil. When he’s in Midland, he can take more of a breath. He can relax, or so he thinks at this point, but he is himself altered a little bit in each place in order to get what he wants, in order to make these people believe in him and go with him on this journey.
On whether it was harder to play Bob or Robert, or if it mattered… If it was just a different take:
James: Yes, one and the same. It’s the same guy. It’s the same guy, and it’s a challenge, but it’s a wonderful challenge.
When asked, as a con man or schemer, why Robert/Bob keeps his Midland identity with Lindsay when his Houston life seems to be like the bigger score for a con man, Amy replied:
Amy: Well, I’ll answer it in terms of how we writers understand it and that is that Midland was a fluke for him. That it was never his intention to fall in love with someone, and I say this because at the moment Chris and I are embroiled in an episode that will reveal the origins of both of those relationships.
So, he always – he had Cat in his sights as his mark and then made the mistake of falling in love with her, and in the course of, he’s not initially working for Thatcher Oil. It was a long con. He met her. He knew he wanted to get into the family business, but in the interim, before they welcomed him in, he had a life that he needed to maintain. And he did that by going around doing these smaller cons, and Midland was one of them. He sold these oil and gas leases, these natural gas leases in Midland, and in the course of selling Lindsay’s parents on this con, he met her and fell in love with her.
So, Lindsay was – is – she was just a glitch in a way. It was not his intention. I think it speaks to how vulnerable he was to the life that Lindsay had to offer him, which was simple and uncomplicated, far less citified if that’s a word. And he was drawn into it and then couldn’t extricate himself.
So Jon’s argument, certainly through the pilot, is you could’ve gotten out clean. We had a goal. You are now in. He only gets into Thatcher Oil in the pilot, but the truth is that’s probably been two or three years in the making. And Lindsay was just a detour that he made because he couldn’t help falling in love with her.