Q & A: Brooke Elliott on Bringing ‘Drop Dead Diva’ Back to Life and Why She Loves Her Character

brooke-elliott-drop-dead-diva-interviewLifetimes’ Drop Dead Diva dropped dead last season, with the network unexpectedly canceling the show. But as we all know, you can’t keep a diva down for long and because of popular demand, Lifetime resurrected the show. 

Back with a 13-episode order, the show picked up where it left off and no one could be happier than the star, Brooke Elliott. “When you literally come back from the dead, whether we’re talking about, you know Deb, who comes back as Jane, or our show coming back for Season 5, you really kind of make the most of it, and I think that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “We don’t take it for granted. I think everyone is working 110% this season. It feels good.”

Brooke received a 2010 Gracie Award for Female Rising Star in a Comedy Series and has been nominated for a 2011 PRISM Award for Best Performance in a Comedy Series, both for her work on the show. She’s also starred on Broadway in The Pirate Queen, an original musical from the writers of Les Miserables, and in Taboo, the musical composed by Boy George and produced by Rosie O’Donnell. She’s toured nationally with Beauty and the Beast and was in the original cast of the first national tour of Wicked.

I talked to Brooke and Executive Producer Josh Berman in a recent conference call about the new season, what they had to sacrifice – shooting wise – and literally coming back from the dead.

Drop Dead Diva airs on Sundays at 9pm on Lifetime

Brooke, we know that you’re known for your musical numbers on the show. Can you talk about any songs we’ll be hearing you perform this season?

Brooke Elliott: You know – we’re not singing this season, so it’s sing-free season. Well, Brooke is probably not singing this season, but there may be – there are certainly some musical elements coming up that we want to keep as a surprise.

Brooke, can you talk a little bit about how Owen’s development now is going to be with Jane in relationship to how they’ve been in the past? I mean, now that he’s sort of – and old Jane?

Brooke Elliott: Well, you know there – we don’t actually know where Jane is, so that’s one of the challenges of  episode 1 for Jane is that she’s not exactly sure where old Jane is. And that’s a little disconcerting for her because she knows that she’s quite upset. She doesn’t fully know why, but she knows she’s upset. And so, she’s a little on edge and unsure of everyone that comes into her life because she’s not sure if it’s old Jane or not.

And so – and she doesn’t know if old Jane is in Owen either, so she’s kind of walking on egg shells with everyone as she tries to find out exactly where old Jane is.

And how do you manage portraying all these different roles? I mean, you’re the same on the outside, but different on the inside.

Brooke Elliott: Yeah, you know, it’s funny. You know, when I’m Deb, Deb in Jane’s body, which is the Jane everyone knows, and hopefully loves, but that’s very – it’s really fun. It’s actually the funniest part of the show for me. The most fun is that I get to be Deb, but I get to figure out when Jane’s qualities are influencing here, which is a lot of fun.

So, I always come from Deb’s perspective because it’s Deb’s soul in Jane’s body, but a lot of times Jane’s brain kind of affects her and makes her decisions possibly different than what she would normally have decided, and that’s a lot of fun for me. When I got to play old Jane, that was a lot of fun and it was a huge challenge, because I don’t know old Jane as much as I know Deb because I play Deb every day.

And so, playing old Jane was really, really fun and very challenging to figure out who this person what, and how she’s different. And because I’m the body of both, that’s an even bigger challenge because when you just figure out just exactly how old Jane stands and behaves, and how does she gesture and where is her emotional life living, as opposed to Deb, which we’re so familiar with? You know the hair flipping and how Deb walks and all those things? So, it’s actually – one of my most favorite parts of doing this character.

I’m sure people are making jokes about the title of your show and what actually happened the past few months.

Josh Berman: It was a ride.

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How are you feeling now that you’ve got the season underway, things are moving forward again? Are you just feeling relieved? Where are you emotionally, both of you guys?

Josh Berman: You know, for me it’s funny, we just had a – our table read with the actors and I started the table read by saying to them I think – I believe this is our best season yet. It’s kind of amazing. You know, the story is about – the story of Drop Dead Diva is about a woman who gets a second chance, and now coincidentally the story about the show is about a show that gets a second chance. And when you literally come back from the dead, whether we’re talking about, you know Deb, who comes back as Jane, or our show coming back for Season 5, you really kind of make the most of it, and I think that’s what we’re doing. We don’t take it for granted. I think everyone is working 110% this season. It feels good.

There is a new joy coming to work that I haven’t felt since Season 1 where we want to make every moment count, because you don’t know when it’s your last, so to speak. And so, these – the first three episodes, because that – I’ve seen the first three episodes so far, are so good, you know? And the editors – when the editors call me out of my office to come – have me look at a scene that Brooke is acting so beautifully and makes you cry or makes you laugh, it’s such a great feeling. And I think the fans are going to go crazy when they see our season premier and what comes next.

How are you feeling, Brooke, coming back from the dead here where you probably were sprucing up your resume for a few moments there, and then suddenly you’re back?

Brooke Elliott: Yeah. No, I’m really, really excited about it, and I’m eager to see the shows. I haven’t seen them and I haven’t seen dailies or anything like that, so I hear really great things about it. But, I’m very, very eager to see, you know that product, because you know shooting it is such a different feeling than how the product actually comes out. And so, I always love to see what we get. And I’m just – I’m really excited that we were brought back.

And it was funny because when we were canceled I thought to myself, I was like, “Really? Gosh, I really felt like we were going to go.” And it’s a feeling of the show having another season really never left me, and so then it was really exciting when it got picked up again. It’s a moment of like, “Yeah, I (win).” So – but I was hoping, so I guess. So…

Josh, clearly you wrote Season 4 Finale without any thoughts that there’d be cancellation. Are you going to write Season 5 with any thought in mind that you might not get a Season 6? Does that affect how you write seasons the seasons?

Josh Berman: I absolutely did not believe we would be canceled. I mean, we have such a loyal fan base, and such hardcore supports, I was caught off guard. And I really now believe in my gut, and Brooke and I are close and have talked about this, I think we – the show will continue beyond Season 5. We’re – we haven’t written the Season Finale yet for Season 5, but we have a model in place and a fan base that’s still growing. Last season we grew between Season 3 and Season 4, and we’re hopeful that we’ll grow again with Season 5.

In fact, I don’t think it’s been announced to you guys yet, but Lifetime is actually, starting today, running all of Season 4 for free on their Web site, on MyLifetime.com. And I think the idea is to – it’s a reward to the fans and it’s for our fans to spread the word. I’d love for you guys to spread the word that if you missed episodes, go to MyLifetime.com, you can watch all of Season 4 for free, and – as we build to our Season Premier on the 23rd.

I know you guys had to do some budgetary cuts. How did you guys work around that and make sure what people see on the screen that nobody will know the difference. I know you guys had to make some comprises, in terms of production schedule.

Josh Berman: You know, it’s funny because a lot of people have been asking both of us that question, and we were in a really good place going into Season 5. We were very lucky this didn’t happen in Season 2 or Season 3. And the reason I say that is because this show, more than any show I’ve ever worked on, has invested heavily in our infrastructure.

Whether we’re talking soundproofing on the sets, or we own our own edit base, we own our avid equipment, we’ve spent the money on soundproofing as much as we can. We’ve upgraded our sets. We did a big upgrade on the courtroom last year, so naturally, as the show ages there are ways to save money, so that the production values aren’t compromised.

You know, we brought back our same production designer, our same DP, all three of our editors, so I truly don’t believe you’re going to – the fans will notice a thing. It was the right time for this to happen.

You had to cut from eight to seven days. Does that make a massive difference, Brooke, in terms of how you operate or have things gotten so smooth that it’s not that obvious to you, since you’re the key person there on set every day?

Brooke Elliott: Yeah, you know, it’s – it is – it’s both – it’s challenging in the fact that we have the same amount of work in less time but yeah. But at the same time, kind of what Josh had mentioned earlier, in terms of everyone just seems to be kicking it out this season at 110%. And so, with our same DP, and with our same Producer here in Atlanta, and obviously Josh is the same and the cast – a lot of the cast is the same, we have a bit of rhythm already, and that’s really, really helpful.

And then, we have kind of – we have our stages. We have our resources that we need, so that’s a great given as well. So yeah, we’re kicking it out. We’re kicking it out probably faster, but the work is still – the work still has a tremendous amount of integrity. And I hope that people see that, because I’m working very hard to have that…

Josh Berman: You are working so hard.

Brooke Elliott: …good – I’m working very hard. You know, I’m working really hard to have that come across and I don’t take it lightly, and it’s something that I’m quite conscience of to really keep the integrity of the show and – as well as, you know everyone else who works on it too. But – so hopefully, people still see that. You know, they see the heart of it and they see the comedy of it, and they see just how much we care about it.

I want to ask about some of the casting changes we’re seeing with Jane getting a new guardian angel.

Josh Berman: For me in developing the guardian angel character, it’s always about who will be the best counterpoint for Jane and who Jane is in her character development. And in thinking about what we needed out of an angel this season, I thought, “What would an angel be like if he were a male version of Deb?” You know, beautiful, but superficial? Not a bad bone in his body, but not necessarily looking out for anyone’s interest either.

And wouldn’t that be interesting to – now that we know how Deb has developed in Jane, and how she’s got such a good heart and such a good soul and such a good spirit and has learned so much, what if her counterpoint, what if the angel was a throwback to who she was before she ended up in Jane’s body? And that was the genesis of the character of Paul, and I think he’s fantastic.

And this season, you know Brooke is a really, really gifted physical comedian, and this year with Paul there is a – you’ll see, it’s the first time we’ve really gone deep into the physical comedy of it all. And I think the two of them bounce back and forth in ways that I couldn’t even have foreseen on the page, and I’m so thrilled about that relationship. And then you had asked about Josh Stamberg’s character. I’ll just say I’m really excited how we – let’s see, how his departure has affected the show in ways that we couldn’t have foreseen, in terms of Kim Kaswell, played by Kate Levering, how her character grows?

And the idea that we get to explore what it’s like for a woman in her 30s to become – and a professional woman in her 30s to unexpectedly get pregnant, and then be abandoned by the man who she loved is an issue we’re not shying away from. And I think that there’s a moment coming up in Episode 3 of Season 5 where Owens’s storyline and the departure Jay Parker really cross each other in a way that makes a lot of sense for the growth of the series without giving anything away. And I think that fans will be very pleased.

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Brooke, you’ve been playing this character now for quite some time, and we’ve really seen her grow so much. Do you personally think about what hopes you have for the character and what you’d like to see happen for her before the show does eventually come to a close?

Brooke Elliott: Yeah, you know I mean, I think it has been this way from the beginning for me. To me, it’s incredibly important that Jane – if we just focus on the love part of her life and leave career and everything else out of it for the moment, it’s incredibly important to me that she finds, whether it’s Grayson or Owen or somebody else, that she finds someone that loves her for every part of her being, you know? And that also requires Jane to continue to grow to that point as well. And so, in terms of an emotional love life existence, I’ve always wanted that for her. I’ve always wanted that complete story for her.

And, you know her career, she’s pretty fantastic. She really – she is – you know she’s one heck of a lawyer, I think we could all agree, but you know I mean there’s lots of areas within that we haven’t covered as much, but we always could or is – they’re kind of in there anyway, is as to how women play out in the workforce. You know, how – what the challenges are for women in that, and is it so male dominated? Is it switching? Like, all that kind of stuff, I think, is really fun to explore too.

But, definitely on the heart level, you know I really want that full acceptance for Jane and I want, you know her man to do that.

Were you more surprised by the cancellation or the revival?

Josh Berman: I think that we were – I’ll speak for myself. I was devastated when we were canceled because I hated leaving the fans in such a lurch, and I was ecstatic when we were picked. But, I think that Brooke and I never lost hope. We really – in our guts, and we had these conversations where we just believed the show couldn’t be over. And perhaps were just in denial, but we also felt that the fan base was so strong.

And within a week of being of canceled there were, you know petitions online demanding that the show be brought back with literally tens of thousands of signatures, and dozens and dozens of homemade videos on YouTube and pages on Facebook wanting the show to be brought back. So, we really just believed it would have to happen. It just – fans – it’s hard to get fans behind a show in a universe that’s so fragmented right now, especially the cable universe.

So, knowing our diehard fans were there, we just – we couldn’t give up, so I don’t think we ever fully believed we were gone.

Brooke, what were you doing when you found out the show was picked up for the fifth season?

Brooke Elliott: Oh, that’s funny you ask. Because we were canceled, and that’s the only information I had to go on, I had to get out of the place that I was renting in Atlanta. And had we been picked up I would have kept the place, mostly likely. But, we didn’t know and I had gotten to the very end of the – I was like, “I’ve got to go.” And so, I was actually moving out of my Atlanta place of living when I found out that we were actually renewed, so that was kind of funny.

Did you find a new place to live?

Brooke Elliott: I did, but I had to put everything in storage because, you know I was like, “Oh, my gosh, where am I going to live?” And so, everything was in storage, so I immediately – I – the minute I found out I went and got an apartment, and then everything worked out fine, but that’s why I think it’s pretty funny.

Josh, what were you doing?

Josh Berman: Well, I was actually – I – Sony – Lifetime had asked me to come back in to tell them my thoughts for Season 5. And when I went to that meeting and I started pitching out where I was going with the seasons, and I saw the executive’s faces light up and the smiles get bigger and bigger, and then when I was finished there was this silence and everyone kind of knew in that moment we were coming back.

1 Comment

  1. Acting in London

    July 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Great interview! Thanks a lot! Love Brooke’s attitude towards all things.

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