Fox's Lone Star is being touted as one of the best new offerings coming from the major networks this fall. I've seen the pilot, and I'm totally on board. The drama follows Bob/Robert Allen, a con man who lives two separate lives in Texas. In one, he's in a relationship with the daughter of a wealthy oil man; in the other, he's in a relationship with an all-American girl and their gullible neighborhood friends. In both situations, his goal (with the help of his scheming father) is to clean out everyone's bank account.
But then a funny thing happens. He decides he doesn't want to con anymore, and becomes emotionally attached to both gals.
During a recent conference call with reporters, newcomer James Wolk (his name will be very familiar soon) and executive producer Amy Lippman discussed the show and explained how difficult it is to make a charming man out of a con artist who leeches off the trust and emotions of others. Here's what they had to say.
On how working in retail and as a DJ in college helped Wolk with the role:
James Wolk: Two things that those two jobs have in common is an ability to communicate with people and make people feel comfortable with you. Bob wants to make people feel comfortable; his greatest tool as a con man is to make people believe in him.
On learning the trade from actors Jon Voight and David Keith:
James Wolk: The great thing about those guys is, they're always there, always present on set. Very generous people. It's an honor as a young actor to be in a scene with them. Being comfortable in the moment with them, you learn a lot just by osmosis, you learn a lot from them just being on set with them.
On the decision to cast newcomer Wolk in the lead role:
Amy Lippman: Well-known or not, you just need someone who is right for the part. [The role of Bob] was conceived as an older character, but when we met [James] we rethought the character. [James] had a warmth and directness and charisma. It made us rethink what we needed from the role. He's a new face and a new talent, and he can inhabit this character with [viewers] not knowing him from other things he's done.
On the the lead role's greatest challenges:
James Wolk: The most challenging thing for Bob is of course being everything to everyone. We touch on that. It's more difficult than one would imagine to fully live two lives. That is Bob's greatest challenge. To give his all to these people when he can't. It's two different lives.
Amy Lippman: Having seen Jimmy's work on the show, I see how conflicted he is as a person—not as an actor—as a person. What I see as a challenge for him is to inhabit the role of someone who is selfish or deluded.
On keeping the con going for the series:
Amy Lippman: That's really the challenge. That's what giving us gray hairs. There are big cons that last, and there are small cons he's forced to participate in. We're trying to balance that with realism. Each [of Bob's relationships] has to have problems that don't relate to the deception. What goes on between the two [relationships] or the two father figures isn't related to the deception. It's a complicated premise, and he's certainly the most complicated character we've written.
On why Lone Star shouldn't be compared with other Texas dramas like Dallas:
James Wolk: The differences between [our show and] these traditional Texas soaps is the character. [Bob] is not all bad, he's not all good. The challenge has been to walk that fine line as we move through stories. He's not all sympathetic and he's not evil, he is human and flawed. And to find a way you can continue to root for him even when he does things that are despicable with good intentions [is the challenge].
Lone Star premieres September 20 on Fox.