Interview: Callie Thorne Talks Necessary Roughness

As Rescue Me soon enters its final season, Callie Thorne fans can catch her in the lead role as Dr. Dani Santino on the new USA Network original series, Necessary Roughness. Thorne had a lot to say about her character and what to expect in the first season in a recent interview. Check it out below:

“Necessary Roughness” centers on Dr. Dani Santino (Callie Thorne) a Long Island psychotherapist whose personal life unravels when she finds her husband cheating. Diving fully into her work, she takes on the challenge of rehabbing a bad boy professional football player (Mehcad Brooks) whose off-the-field antics threaten his career and the team franchise. Underestimated at every turn, she succeeds beyond expectations and soon finds herself as the most sought-after therapist for high-profile clients. Athletes, entertainers, politicians and others living in the spotlight clamor for her unique brand of tough love therapy during their moments of crisis. Although her career is re energized, it wreaks havoc on her life as a newly minted single mom of two teenagers. Recognizing her ability to change people’s lives, she’s determined to strike a balance between both worlds. The series also stars Marc Blucas and Scott Cohen.

What was it about the premise of the show and your character that made you want to be a part of this project?
I think initially really the fact that it was a true story and that it was based on a real woman, a real extraordinary woman is why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the script and read it in the first place. To me, that automatically means that a story’s going to be that much more rich and that much more layered… If Dr. Donna is there especially in the writing room it just means that everything’s going to be that much more true, that much more grounded.

And I was right. I read the script, I flew through it and it felt so honest and based out of a real kind of truth then even when I got to meet her. Once I landed the role and I got to meet her it all sort of fell into place so perfectly. There’s a spirit about her that fills up the entire page which then makes it that much easier to go ahead and get in front of the camera and try to sort of tell her story.

What advice or insight has Dr. Donna given you that you’ve taken in to your character?
Before we shot the Pilot, she and I got to meet in New York City and I was very nervous to do so. But she is such an amazing energy. The minute we hugged, it was one of those things we both sort of put our hands out to shake each other’s hands but just went oh never mind, and we gave each other a big hug. And from that moment on, you know even through that first meal together and then through the course of the Pilot, because she was with us in Atlanta every day that we were shooting, I was so grateful just to hang out with her. It wasn’t so much about research and researching her actual history. We did a lot of talking about that and the sort of steps she took through her career. but what was important to me mostly was I just wanted to soak up her spirit because I think that’s partly what makes her so extraordinary and her story so extraordinary.

She was always around to answer any questions I had about cognitive behavioral therapy or hypnotherapy and she had given me a great list of books to read up on. And it was more important to me that she just be around because I also was concerned that she was happy and she felt good about what we were shooting every day. She makes you feel very safe. When she was around, it sort of made everything just a little bit more heightened. And that helped me in terms of my own storytelling. Though the show isn’t a documentary, it’s a show that is inspired by her. It’s still very important to me that I represent her in the right way.

What do you find most challenging about the role?
Let’s see, that’s a good question. I think that in any role that you have, whether it’s on TV or film, it can be hard to do comedy and drama. And within one story. I think I thought that’s what was going to be hard. But again because it’s a true story and so many of these things that happen in the episodes are all things that really happened to her for the most part, it doesn’t feel like a pendulum swinging from like here’s a really funny scene and then here we go to a touching scene.

It’s a very smooth journey through each episode. And I think that’s what I thought was going to be so hard and it wasn’t. It’s actually one of the easier things. I think what’s hard for me is she’s a therapist but because she’s not as formal, she’ll go to the football field, she’ll go to the bar where the football player is partying instead of showing up to practice. Sometimes it’s hard for me as Callie not to play her even more maternal, in terms of the comfort level. It’s hard for me to sometimes remember that there still is a boundary of the therapist and the client.

So I do have to sort of mark myself that way, but that’s what’s great about her, Dr. Donna’s always available for me to call her and say, “Isn’t it hard for you sometimes not to want to hug your client? If they’re crying don’t you just want to hug them?” And she says, “I absolutely do.” I think that’s an interesting challenge of the show for me.

Going from a show like Rescue Me where you are one of many cast members and now you being the lead and the center, how has that been for you as an actor?
Yeah, it was a really big transition, I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous about that because starting in television for me, that was 1997 when I joined Homicide as an ensemble cast. Since then… I was very nervous about that kind of being number one on the call sheet change. In terms of Rescue Me and seven seasons of watching Denis Leary sort of be a master number one on the call sheet, and it was kind of like a master class, I didn’t know what I was soaking up from him.

But you know it is weird being the person that’s there from sunrise to sunset while all the other actors sort of come in and do these scenes and then they leave and someone else comes in, I’m the constant. But it’s interesting because I don’t feel like I’m the lead, because the scenes are so rich with these other characters and because the actors are all so… I think it took a long time to cast this Pilot and for good reason. They took such great care in every character. It didn’t matter if someone was a lead or they’re farther down on the call sheet so to speak. It still feels kind of ensemble to me because each moment with each character is equally important.

Even if it’s two thirds of a scene with my daughter, that scene is equally as important as a four page scene with Mehcad. I think the hardest thing for me to master in terms of shifting jobs like that is shooting one episode while learning the next episode. Because I’m used to getting the script, I’ll learn my couple scenes, I’ll go in two or three times a week, bam, bam, boom I’m out there. And that is the exact opposite of what’s happening here. At first I was scrambling a little bit because I wanted to be able to be overly prepared as I am in my other jobs and that’s a real ass kicker. You really have to buckle down, but I found that I actually kind of thrive on it and I love shooting. (I’m) shooting scenes of Episode 4 but at lunch I’m studying scenes for Episode 5 and I’m very good at sort of compartmentalizing all of it. Though it’s new and could have been really scary I love it. I love it.

Dr. Dani is somebody who helps others with therapy and whatnot, but who is her go to person?
Well I think that there’s her friends definitely, she has her best friend Jeanette, the genius Amanda Detmer and I think in the beginning her relationship with Marc Blucas’s character Matt is not quite yet that person. Because they’re sort of walking that romance will they, won’t they line or do they keep everything business wise, so he’s not quite somebody yet that she can turn to when she needs help. Her mother’s totally off her rocker. I think part of what pushes the story, that who does she turn to for help? Maybe Nico might turn out to be somebody surprisingly that she can turn to.

I kind of like that she doesn’t have someone yet, you know what I mean? I like that where we find her in terms of that she’s newly divorced and she’s a newly single mom. And the job is being shifted into new gears, I like this that everything at home is still kind of being figured out and that the audience is figuring it out at the same time that she is figuring that stuff out. I think that’s what makes it extra interesting.

How do you most identify with your character Dani or with Dr. Donna who’s the inspiration for it?
I think that the things I most connect with is the idea of not giving up. It’s something that Dr. Dani and obviously because of Dr. Donna that it really is one of the things that she works with her patients in therapy. The bottom line really is to not give up on yourself and that’s an ongoing thing that I have in my own life that you sort of have to trust your instincts and just keep trying. And if you come up against a brick wall, you’ve sort of got to figure out which way you want to go, up or around. It’s all about the attempt and that’s what I connect with, that not only is she sort of trying to teach people that herself but it’s a daily lesson and a daily exercise for me.

Can you talk about your relationship with the rest of the cast?
In terms of Marc Blucas playing the trainer and Scott Cohen playing – I guess we’d call him the fixer or the enforcer. We still don’t know really what his job is which I love. The connections that Dr. Dani has with all these people, with her kids, with her mom, with her best friend and then subsequently with each guest sort of patient that we have each week, it’s kind of like what I was saying before.

Even if it’s just a short scene the writers have done such an amazing job of what these connections are with these men that she’s working with, with these children – they’re rebellious teenagers. They’re at that period of time where they’re wanting to buck the system and their parents are getting divorced and so they’re figuring out all those kind of manipulations of life. Well dad would let us, you know dealing with all that stuff. And in that way because the connections are all so strong everything feels like an A story rather than there being A, B, C, D stories during the course of one episode. And I guess that’s what I mean in – why I feel like it’s an ensemble, everything feels as important as the next, each character, each interaction feels as important as the next. And that’s really what ensemble means to me.

Can you talk a little bit about bonding with the cast during the filming of the Pilot in Atlanta, GA?
I think it had so much to do with us being out of an industry town. It was very similar to – I had mentioned Homicide earlier, Homicide was shot in Baltimore and it’s very much the same feeling when you’re not in an industry town where you know hundreds of other actors and you can go do stuff after work with people that you’ve known for years.

With us being in Atlanta for the Pilot, all of us were together for about a week before we shot and then it was a month and a half that we had to shoot the Pilot. We were given a sort of perfect amount of time, we didn’t feel rushed, that we were kind of just kind of all passing each other by, doing scenes. It sort of felt like a luxury that we got to work really hard on a story that we all really wanted to tell. And so then when we would wrap at night we all still wanted to hang out, which is a rarity. You know sometimes when you’re working with people and situations it’s so concentrated you kind of are like okay, that’s great, see you tomorrow.

But I think because we were in a town that none of us had family here or had worked here before so it was all sort of exciting. We’d all go to a different restaurant every night or the weekends we sort of couldn’t wait to make a plan. Now I have to admit I’m making it sound like I did a ton of socializing. I rarely got to go out that much during the Pilot but when I did, I was so grateful for this particular group of actors and the crew. We all got really tight. And I think that we were lucky for it because I think it showed up on camera. It definitely shows up on screen and when the series got picked up and we all came back here it was like we were all sort of coming back to our own little sort of playground. We thankfully all enjoy each other so much and we all think each other is so funny, so we have a really, really good time together. Knock on wood because that is not always true.

For a therapist, Dani is pretty clueless about how her family is falling apart.
Yes. Well I think that is part of what I love about the Pilot so much is that she thought she had a perfect normal life, like a stable, lovely suburban life. And everything kind of blows up in her face and she in a way is scrambling to keep it together. I think you see people’s true character in that kind of environment.

What happens to people when they fail or feel like they’re about to fail, what is it that they do then? I think that’s where you can sort of see someone’s true heart. Because this is all coming out of a real life story, I think it’s something that audiences can really connect with, whether they have been in this kind of situation, whether they have been divorced or you know whatever. I think that the stories are so well told that people will kind of dig watching her navigate her way through all this new – everything is just new. And that’s why it’s so much fun to play and hopefully why it will be so much fun to watch.

In the Pilot we see the beginning of this relationship with Mack but we are also really intrigued by your character’s dynamic with Nico. So are we going to see some sort of love triangle there?
No, I think that that was kind of a delightful accident that happened during the Pilot… But I think that after all was said and done and the show was put together – because the relationship is so different between she and Matt and she and Nico that it does kind of set it up for a delicious place for there to be a possible triangle.

And the way things have been going not that there’s like flirting going on between Dani and Nico, but that there is an energy between them that’s like why you – I’m going to pound you but really you just sort of know that they kind of find each other interesting. There’s an ongoing thing where my character’s always trying to get him to smile, like cracking a joke or doing something dumb and whether or not you know it works we sort of always play with that because it’s also very fun to watch Nico/Scott Cohen crack. I like that they’re letting us play with that a little bit because while there is the fascinating part of the Matt and Dani role they won’t say, it takes it a little bit further than the formula to have there also be this question of Dani and Nico. Whether that would become a romantic relationship or that he would become someone like a confidant to her.

It’s interesting that on Rescue Me, Sheila was very nutty and…

And now you’re playing the exact opposite, a psychotherapist, but is there anything from Sheila that you can see in Dani?
No. Nothing. The only thing in Sheila that I can see in Dani is that Dr. Dani would love to get her hands on Sheila, maybe help Sheila a little bit. But you know that certainly is one of the reasons I was so excited to get this role because they’re like photographic negative images of each other, these two women.

And I always say that playing stability is equally as hard as playing instability. It’s not like it’s easier to tell a story just because someone’s not like ripping their hair out and throwing themselves at people and lighting things on fire. But it’s a different level of complexity with Dr. Dani and the things that she’s dealing with and that she is coming from – Sheila a megalomaniac and she’s very lonely and she’s very desperate and very greedy. Dr. Dani really wants to give instead of take. It’s all about the giving. So I think that really was a trigger for me, you know I wanted to learn more about that.

And who would say has been your favorite client for Dani so far?
My favorite client is always going to be TK because he’s the first. It’s always going to be Mehcad Brook’s character, even though each episode so far, we’re in Episode 5 right now, each client patient that’s come in, the stories have been so great and so out of the box, in terms of like a professional poker player and the one right now is a professional skateboarder. And we had a race car driver, a war reporter – there’s no end to the variety of these characters that are going to come to her for help. But I think TK’s always going to have this special spot in her heart because he will have been the first and he will always be the sort of constant patient.

I know you have experience in theater so can we expect any guest stars that have also worked in theater?
Each time the new cast comes in I’m floored by the people that they’re getting in terms of like we’ve had Matt Barr who plays the race car driver and Nick Bishop who I love also who’s on Body of Proof with Dana Delany. I know he’s done a lot of theater and Amanda Detmer who plays one of my best friends, she comes from the theater and I know that Scott Cohen has been doing theater for as long if not longer than I have. So the energy on our set is sort of propelled by the fact that we’ve got people who are very experienced in all forms of acting. And even the people that may not have a theater background, they’re ready to play, they’re ready to explore in the same way that you can when you are doing theater.

We’ve sort of set up this wonderful environment on our show that though it is a television show that it’s scripted, that you know you have to know your lines. A lot of times we’re allowed to play and improv whether or not that makes it on screen you never know. And you shouldn’t think of it that way, but it definitely makes a difference in the energy which then sort of plays its way into the chemistry between all the actors.

That’s interesting that you mentioned that you had a chance to improv because that was going to be my next question.
We don’t do it all the time because the scripts are so good and there’s a reason for you know each word so specifically. On Rescue Me it was set up differently. What we would do is we would shoot a scene as written and then Denis would say okay, we’ve got that. Now let’s just make sure we get from A to Z and go. A lot of what we would improv especially for the guys in the firehouse kitchen scenes, those were all mostly improv stuff, but that was meant to be from the beginning. That I think is what Denis Leary and Peter Tolan had always done, that was their idea for the show, they wanted that to always be part of the creating process.

So it was a completely different from the get go. I was really pleased that I wasn’t expecting it but I was really pleased that the writers and creators are open to us improving sometimes or they’re even more open to us coming and saying, “There’s this scene that we have in the next episode. And I have an idea, do you think that we could try this?” There’s a saying when you say “on the day,” which means when you are actually in front of the camera, you say, “On the day do you think that I might throw this line out instead of that line?” And they’re amazingly open to our ideas because they thankfully trust us as a troupe to create alongside with them. But you know then the flip side of it is, a lot of times we have nothing to say, we just love already what we’re saying and we don’t want to ruin the rhythm of what the writers have created. But it definitely is the best of both worlds for sure.

Do you think that your personality kind of makes you especially good for these kind of feisty roles?
Yeah, I think so. It has to be a mixture of trust in terms of who you’re working with and who’s writing for you and who you’re acting for, you know who your bosses are in terms of how much of your own personality you do bring to a role. I’ve been really blessed in that a lot of the jobs I’ve had and most especially this one that they urge me to bring a lot of my own personality which is – in terms of what I was saying earlier on about the fact that “Necessary Roughness” isn’t a documentary about Dr. Donna. It is an inspiration and so they are open to me bringing my own energies and some of my own you know I’m a weirdo.

And I have a lot of my own quirks and strange physical behaviors which, trust me, I have to reign in most of the time because some people are like that’s not funny, don’t do that. But I’m very lucky here in this environment that they do urge me to bring that along with me. So there’s a lot of times in the scripts where though I may not have been in a situation that Dr. Donna has been in and I can’t necessarily pull from it, what I can do is say to myself do it sort of as an as if. What would I do as if I was in this particular situation, having this conversation you know that was going this way, how would it make me feel. And I can add that in. I’m very grateful for that because sometimes it makes things a little bit easier.

As you have done a lot of guest star spots in other USA shows, is there anybody from USA that you would like to bring on as a guest to this show?
Oh, I want to bring all of them. I want to bring Mark from Royal Pains, I want to bring Matt from White Collar, I want Jeffrey Donovan over here, I want Gabrielle Anwar, I want them all. I want them all to have a problem and you know have an issue. They can come as their characters.

Last but not least, how is your relationship with the the young actors who play your children?
I love them. Patrick and Hannah are two of the most extraordinary young people I’ve ever met in my life. They’re unbelievably excited to be on this show which makes a difference in everything. They’re so happy to be where they are but they also happen to be incredibly gifted and are way ahead of their years in terms of the wisdom. For whatever reason my scene work with them always flies by, we’re always like oh, we’re done? You got that already? The three of us seem to click very well and we have very much the same sense of humor. And so when the three of us are together, there is a little bit of a spark. I don’t know what it’s like to have children, but there is something when I’m with them that I go into momma mode and even when we’re between scenes and I get to sit with them and hang out which I love. I love hanging out with them because they’re so funny. But I definitely feel very motherly towards them and I’m constantly going wait, what? What did you say? What happened? Who said that to you? Well here’s what you should do. I’m always throwing advice at them that they’re not asking for but it’s because I just adore them.

When they were casting the roles of my kids, I didn’t have the opportunity to do any kind of chemistry read with them. So it very much was that I was just trusting that they were going to cast a couple of great kids, but they went far beyond what they could have done by finding these two. I really think that both of them are going to have really long careers. And I’m very excited that they’re with me on this show.

Photo Credit: Bob Mahoney/USA Network and Justin Stephens/USA Network

Necessary Roughness debuts Wednesday June 29, 2011 at 10/9c on USA.