Game of Thrones director Jeremy Podeswa on TV's rebirth
Toronto-raised director has done everything from Six Feet Under to Weeds
Jeremy Podeswa's move from feature films to television was somewhat unplanned, but well-timed, coming just as the small screen was on the cusp of a creative revolution.
The son of a painter, Podeswa grew up in Toronto admiring the work of directors like Norman Lear on TV and Ingmar Bergman and Rainier Werner Fassbinder in repertory cinemas. After graduating from Ryerson University's film school, and later the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, he made independent feature films, including Eclipse in 1994 and The Five Senses in 1999. But when HBO came calling, he could hardly refuse.
Your IMDB page is basically the story of the rise of prestige TV: you've directed episodes of Six Feet Under, Weeds, True Blood, Homeland, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, and Game of Thrones (for which you were just nominated for an Emmy), to name just a few. Yet you started as an independent filmmaker. Did you make a conscious decision to move from feature films to television?
After I made The Five Senses [in 1999], I was very happy to take what at the time seemed like a bit of a detour from my independent feature film career. Once I established a relationship with HBO in particular, but also with Showtime and other cable networks, more opportunities kept coming up that were really fantastic, and it's always hard to say no to something that's creatively exciting.
Do you remember the first TV show you worked on where you felt like this could be an exciting new avenue for you as a director?
I think Six Feet Under. It was my first show in L.A., and my first show for HBO. Six Feet Under was really at the forefront of the new Golden Age of television. Prior to that I didn't imagine I was going to work a lot in television. I got involved with the show before it even aired, so it was very new, and when they sent me the pilot to look at, I almost fell off my chair.
I'd never expected to see something on television that was that bold and exciting and innovative and fresh, and really singular in its vision. Now, we take it for granted that TV does that kind of thing all the time. To me, the fact that it wasn't film was irrelevant.
Did you grow up watching TV?
I was kind of a TV addict when I was a kid. Growing up, I loved all the Norman Lear comedies — All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and all the spinoffs. Soap was actually very influential for me.
It's interesting that those are all comedies, but you mostly direct hour-long dramas.
When I was growing up, comedy was dealing with thematic things that dramas were not. All in the Family was dealing with racism, feminism, sexuality — it was dealing with a lot of really rich material. By and large, the dramas weren't dealing with that kind of edgy thing. I think because they were comedies, the audience would accept very provocative subject matter, because it was done with a light touch.
Do you ever wish you could direct more comedy?
I do, all the time. I love comedy. Even though I direct drama all the time, when I want to relax, I'll watch Veep, or Transparent, which is more in line with Six Feet Under, as sort of a dramedy. There's a direct line between those shows — [Transparent creator] Jill Soloway was a writer on Six Feet Under.
I feel my Canadian-ness all the time. There's a slight outsider-ness to the perspective that I bring, I think, which is healthy.
Are there any Canadian TV shows or films you're into these days?
I've been following Xavier Dolan, of course. I think he's a really exciting voice in the filmmaking scene, and he's incredibly prolific. He's an exciting filmmaker to watch.
Do you ever feel Canadian when you're on an American set?
I feel my Canadian-ness all the time. There's a slight outsider-ness to the perspective that I bring, I think, which is healthy. I don't want to go through all the clichés about what it is to be Canadian or what a Canadian sensibility is, but it's definitely formed by the politics of the country, by the landscape, by the artistic and cultural heritage. I'm informed by all those things, and I'm going to bring that sensibility to whatever I work on.