Amazon seeks to reach viewers with ‘Hand of God’
LOS ANGELES — Dana Delany had an urge.
While playing the take-no-prisoners wife of a law-bending judge in the upcoming Amazon pilot “Hand of God,” an indecent inclination by the veteran actress conflicted with the instincts she developed as a network TV star. Delany, who’s logged countless hours on such series as “China Beach” and “Desperate Housewives,” wasn’t sure what to do.
“We just shot this scene where I’m intimidating this preacher played by Julian Morris,” recalled Delany in her trailer during a break from filming in downtown Los Angeles. “At the end of the scene, I said, ‘Maybe I should just grab his (genitals)?’ Everyone said, ‘Go for it! Welcome to the Internet, Dana Delany! You can’t do that on network television.’”
The gutsy drama, about Ron Perlman as a judge who believes God is guiding him after an attack on his family, is among the latest batch of potential series that started being streamed online Thursday by Amazon. The Internet retail giant took a cue from Netflix last year and started producing its own shows. Which shows become full series will depend on audience response.
Perlman said he was interested in moving right into another TV project after coming off six seasons as the patriarch of a ruthless biker gang on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.” To him, “Hand of God” was “too good to be true” because it was the first script he read post-“Anarchy,” and the character of Judge Harris Pernell was so different from his previous roles.
“I was completely intimidated,” said Perlman during a lunch on the set. “The character is this compendium of very, very bold qualities — one of which is that he’s in the middle of a breakdown when we meet him. Whoever he is in life, he’s deeply compromised during the pilot and going through self-discovery as God comes into his life.”
Despite the show’s subject matter and title, a reference to a fringe religious group led by Morris’ smarmy soap star-turned-preacher, the creators of “Hand of God” are quick to note Amazon isn’t moving into faith-based programming. The show’s conceit is more about characters grasping for power in the fictional town of San Vicente than it is about religion.
“The religion in the show is like the science in ‘Breaking Bad,’” said writer-producer Ben Watkins, who previously worked on “Burn Notice.” “It’s an important part, but it’s just a thread — a great one because there’s so many compelling themes to explore. For me, this is more about the contradictions of our lives and our ambivalence toward life in general.”
“Hand of God” marks the first foray into TV by “Quantum of Solace” and “World War Z” filmmaker Marc Forster, who directed the pilot and serves as an executive producer. He created a visual style for the series he hopes will be emulated by future directors if “Hand of God” is picked up by Amazon, which will take viewer feedback into consideration when making decisions about its shows.
Because there are no commercials or broadcast standards to consider with a show that’ll be streamed online, Forster noted he was treating the pilot for “Hand of God” like an independent film — with one huge exception. The director who gained acclaim with movies like “Finding Neverland” and “Monster’s Ball” isn’t planning to tie up every loose end.
“In films, you have to resolve everything,” said Forster. “This is the complete opposite. You actually don’t want to resolve everything. It’s interesting to experiment with coming from a storytelling medium where everyone wants to be satisfied. Here, you want to have more questions than answers. It’s a totally different approach that I’m enjoying.”
Amazon will begin streaming “Hand of God” on Thursday, alongside pilots for the medical thriller “Hysteria,” starring Mena Suvari; the marriage comedy “Really,” from writer-director-actor Jay Chandrasekhar; the 1980s country club romp “Red Oaks,” from producer Steven Soderbergh; and the Paris-set romantic comedy “The Cosmopolitans,” starring Adam Brody.
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