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A&E sets up in Pittsburgh for dark series starring Chloe Sevigny
Chloe Sevigny and Omid Abtahi shoot a scene atop a Downtown parking garage last November for the new A&E series "Those Who Kill."
March 1, 2014 11:49 PM By Maria Sciullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The woman in the black coat stood atop a concrete parapet of the Smithfield/Liberty Garage Downtown. There was absolute silence from the milling crowd below.
In the fading November daylight, the stand-in appeared to scan her surroundings then disappeared down the back of the building. Later, actor Chloe Sevigny went through the exact motions with the cameras running.
A television set is a busy, buzzing place, but a location set has its own noisy challenges. Once the run-through concluded, the dozens of people jumped back into their work concerns.
Among them: several men who carefully positioned a City of Pittsburgh police car in an area to be staged as the crime scene. What crime, exactly, won't be clear until "Those Who Kill" begins its run Monday on A&E network.
Ms. Sevigny is the star, playing detective Catherine Jensen, a woman solving mysteries for the city police department. Catherine has her own demons to overcome, but that's another story.
Before anyone sent Ms. Sevigny scrambling up the side of the parking garage, it was the stand-in's job to get there first.
Between numerous takes, executive producer and director David Petrarca checked monitors, then conferred with sound and lighting guys before yelling, "All right, let's fight some crime ... and action!"
"Those Who Kill" is based on a Danish series inspired by the writings of Elsebeth Egholm. The four-month shoot here ended just before Christmas, and for executive producer Glen Morgan, the fact he and Ms. Sevigny ended up here was itself somewhat of a mystery.
In the early days of casting, he said, she was considered an unattainable prize. Flashy, featured parts on other television shows sparked Mr. Morgan's interest.
"My old writing partner and producing partner, Jim Wong, is on 'American Horror Story' now. So it was, like 'Oh, she is great.' She was on that ['AHS'], but it conflicted with our shoot days," said Mr. Morgan.
"Then I saw her on 'Louie,' and it was 'Ooooohhh, you're torturing me.' And she was on '[The] Mindy [Project']. I don't know if you saw her on [British miniseries] 'Hit & Miss,' but I just thought that was fearless and just great.
"So we pushed and it [finally] became doable."
For her part, Ms. Sevigny initially wasn't keen on doing her first regular series since "Big Love." During a break in shooting here, she sat near a pair of large space heaters and discussed what drew her to jump back into a series.
She giggled and said, "To be completely honest, it was having a steady job again."
The challenge of developing Catherine's personality over a long period of time also was a big part of it. Having played strong characters in independent films, she said, she was always wed to someone else's vision. Perhaps, Ms. Sevigny said, she might now have more input, putting her personal spin on Catherine.
With so many shows going over the top with visceral elements, "Hannibal" and "CSI" chief among them, or trodding the well-worn path of police procedurals, Mr. Monroe, Ms. Sevigny and co-star James D'Arcy -- who plays forensic psychologist Thomas Schaeffer -- said they had to overcome initial concerns that character might be sacrificed in the name of action.
Mr. Morgan, who wrote the pilot, said he's doing all he can to maintain substance over style.
"When A&E became involved, they were trying to expand what they do. They [wanted it] to be a little more AMC-ish, starting out with 'Bates Motel.' And so they wanted a serialized story, and that was what I was really looking to tell," Mr. Morgan said.
"I prefer more character."
Ms. Sevigny described Catherine as "this woman who is on this mission, who became a police officer in order to fulfill this injustice that she saw. ... I think they have these really cool ideas about my character, and she has this stepfather that possibly abused her brother, and I like the subversive nature of that, taking down someone who is really respected in society, in a [Jerry] Sandusky kind of way."
"It's an exploration of victims, really," Mr. D'Arcy said.
On this particular chilly evening in the parking garage, the top two floors were crammed with dollies laden with technical equipment, lighting fixtures, spools of bright yellow "POLICE" and "CAUTION" crime-scene tape, racks of clothing -- including one garment designated for "THE KILLER STUNT" -- ladders and carpentry tools.
A craft table bearing the usual assortment of nonperishables and snacks was largely ignored by the crew. Following a brief dinner break, filming resumed. In the crime's aftermath, a stunt driver in a green car sped from the top floor's outdoor ramp into the interior of the garage.
In the following scene, Mr. D'Arcy's character tried to re-enact what appeared to be a violent struggle next to the car. It was long, laborious work, with the crew setting up multiple takes.
"This is the first time I've done a TV series like this," said Ms. Sevigny, whose projects are usually more of the writer/director passion-project variety. "This is like a mix of studio and the writers and all the hired hands. It's a very new experience for me, and it's a lot more political. We shoot some things, and they say they're going to cut it in a different way. So I don't know how it is going to turn out yet."
With the series premiering Monday, it won't be long before everyone has an answer.