Some shows are action-packed. Others laugh for a minute. “Diplomat” is talk, talk, talk – and then some more chatter.
“My first reaction when I read so much dialogue and diplomatic speech was just panic,” said Keri Russell, recalling her initial impression of “The Diplomat” pilot. “How many abbreviations can there be in the official language? (…) How many times do we pronounce the prime minister’s name wrong? (…) It takes a second to remember all the ‘fake’ names.”
“It was definitely worse for you,” Rufus told his co-star Sewell. “You were the one who had to carry all these things.”
“Fortunately, I have this incredible natural talent for excessive sweating,” Russell said. “That way I could just sweat out the huge amount of memorization and panic that came with memorizing failure.”
“I was wondering how long it was before you brought that up,” Sewell said.
In “Diplomata” itself, free-flowing banter like this would not be unmissable: fast, easy, humorous and honest. These characterize the communication between Kate (Russell) and Hal Wyler (Sewell) in the Netflix political drama. Of course, there is an extra intensity, but that comes with the job.
The eight-episode first season, released in April, follows Kate as she reluctantly accepts the post of US ambassador to England. Her husband, Hal, has long been the star diplomat in the family, but his recent run-ins with some key officials have left him on the outside looking in – and the change in roles will take some getting used to.
“These are smart, quick people who deal with the crap they’re going through with humor,” Sewell said. “There was a lot of political talk, but at the same time it felt like real people were talking. (…) I once did a show where so much of the dialogue was expository that my throat literally got stuck. I had a physical reaction to it. I couldn’t get it out. But with that, everyone has a human reason to say what they say, and also: they have a fucking sense of humor to do it.”
Heated exchanges about world affairs and even more heated discussions about their work and personal relationships helped “The Diplomat” stand out in a crowded TV season. The freshman series was met with strong reviews and stable ratings – the first season ranked No. 1 on Nielsen at the end of April. streaming reportdespite having the fewest episodes in the Top 10 of any show.
The audience’s early acceptance is fitting for a show that Russell says comes to life as they’re made.
“You’re trying to figure out your character, the world and everything that’s around you while you’re shooting, which is sometimes devastating,” he said. “But the good thing is that you get eight episodes to figure it out. (…) It’s a very intense, crazy, fun, catastrophic relationship that’s hard to define.”
In addition to creator and showrunner Debora Cahn’s meticulous scripts, the actors also received assists from real-life locations and spoke with personal diplomats. Russell mentioned visiting Winfield House, home of America’s ambassador to England, and the two discussed the glamorous conversations they had with unnamed government officials that helped shape their characters.
Russell recognized the double life that all representatives had to live: their public side, which had to convey a nation’s message, and their private side, which had nothing to do with anything other than their daily work.
“You can’t tell me that somebody like Obama doesn’t walk out of (a) room with his chief of staff and say, ‘That guy’s a fucking dick,’ you know, in private,” he said. “(She’s) so graceful (in public) that she takes it, but then when she goes out, she (must) feel like, ‘That guy can take it.’
After all that carefully considered political chatter at work, you only need to vent when you’re behind closed doors—even if you’re the president.
Watch the full Awards Spotlight conversation between Keri Russell and Rufus Sewall in the video above.
Season 1 of “The Diplomat” is available on Netflix, where it has already been renewed for Season 2.