"I was seduced by them, frankly."
On a break between shooting scenes, Glenn Close, the five-time Academy Award nominated actress, explained her decision to jump from the big screen to cable TV.
"It's brilliant writing," she told ABCNEWS.com. "I took on the show having just read the pilot, I only had one script to go on, but I thought it was as good as some of the movie scripts I've read."
She was talking about her role as ice-cold trial lawyer Patty Hewes, the focal point of "Damages," currently in its first season on FX. Patty makes "The Devil Wears Prada's" Miranda Priestly look like Mary Poppins. Her smile could curdle blood; she can turn from complacent to menacing faster than a judge can bang a gavel.
She's one of the few powerful female leads on television, a fact the 60-year-old Close doesn't take for granted. And to prepare for her most meaty role in years, Close met with Patty's real-life New York City counterparts.
"I did talk to a lot of powerful women lawyers in the city. There were certain aspects of Patty that I got from talking to a lot of these women, but still, you have to remember that she's an individual just like anybody else," Close said. "I think older women are complex, fascinating powerful creatures and the world will always try to figure out how to deal with them."
Good Guy Gone Bad
Of the many legal dramas on television, most share the same format: There's a crime, there's a chase to understand it, there's a grand court room showdown. Case closed.
But "Damages" is not the typical legal drama.
Want to make six figures, dominate the boardroom, own a house in the Hamptons and come home to a loving family? In the world of "Damages," that's just not possible -- unless you're willing to spill some blood.
The series centers on the case of Arthur Frobisher, a billionaire businessman who pumped money into his company and then dumped his shares, snatching away the pensions of his 5,000 employees. Patty and her firm, Hewes & Associates, will stop at nothing to bring him to trial. He's hired a slew of sleazeballs to bribe, capture and kill everyone in his way to make sure that doesn't happen.
Ironically, the actor who plays one of the most malicious men on TV is the quintessential good guy. Ted Danson signed on to do "Damages" when he found out Close would be involved in it -- in his words, "It was just clearly going to have a good chance at being a classy show." The happy-go-lucky "Cheers" bartender said he relished the chance to step away from sitcoms and sink his teeth into a dramatic role.
"The idea of doing a guy who does something bad and is scrambling not to get caught and having that person be multifaceted so that you get to see him as a family man, so that he wasn't just a cardboard character, really appealed to me," Danson said.
To prepare for the role, Danson met with Fortune 500 CEOs. He watched "The Smartest Guy in the Room," the documentary about Enron's rise and fall. He got an acting coach who helped him shed his good guy image and embrace the bad.
"Instead of being the nice actor who responds in the rhythm, I could be indulgent. Do whatever I want. Because that really is partly what powerful, arrogant people do," he said. "I have arrogance, I have greed, we all have touches of all of those things."
What Price Success?
At its heart, "Damages" is about more than Arthur's case.
"The show is exploring the question of the price of success in corporate America," said Glenn Kessler, who created and produces the series with his brother Todd and Daniel Zelman. "And in order to show that price, one of the first places you look is how success and achievement and getting the ideal job affects your personal life."
In "Damages" the consequences of success range from a missed dinner party and a late night at the office to a dog with a knife through its side and a battered fiancé in the bathtub. In the pilot episode's opening scene, Ellen Parsons, a first-year associate at Patty's law firm, runs bloody and barely clothed through the streets of Manhattan in broad daylight. She's been on the job six months.
Rose Bryne, the Australian-born actress who plays Ellen, sees some similarities between her character's professional hell and the cutthroat competition of Hollywood.
"Certainly, there are parallels, but it would end there," Bryne said. "What Ellen goes through isn't exactly what I had to go through as a young actress. I've never had to run down the street naked for a role."
One would think most first-year legal associates would say the same about their jobs. Certainly, the producers take a lot of liberty with the story -- some of the plots in "Damages" border on the absurd -- but that's partly because they can.
They went to FX with "Damages" because the network is known for edgier shows like "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me." It also has fewer language and violence restrictions than network TV but more reach than premium cable. And they knew FX was the place to go if they wanted to secure Close: She's been a fan of the network since her stint on the cop drama "The Shield" in 2005.
"We only went to one place, which was FX," Todd Kessler said about pitching "Damages." "Their corporate mandate as a network is to do material that other places won't do. They take chances and they take risks."
Like Fox's "24" and ABC's "Lost," "Damages" raises a lot of questions. The show operates on two timelines, alternating between what happens after a blood-soaked Ellen hurtles through Manhattan and what led to that frantic scene.
But the producers insist that when the season wraps in October, this storyline will, too. The Arthur Frobisher case will be resolved; viewers will understand what happened to Ellen. And if FX picks up the show for a second season, Patty and Ellen will be back for round two.
"The show is not building on a mythology to span out six seasons based on plot," Zelman said. "[Patty and Ellen] will be around, though not necessarily in the way that you think they will."