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June 08, 2018

Women Are The Story

Claws creator explores his wild love for female empowerment.

Ny MaGee
  • TNT
  • TNT
  • TNT
  • TNT
  • TNT

From patriarchy to a matriarchy, the second season of TNT's Florida crime noir Claws explores the dark-mother archetype.

Series creator and executive producer Eliot Laurence and Showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois say the best way to serve fans of the show is by being "irreverent and funny" and pushing "the envelope in a way that makes you lean in."

Claws follows the raucous shenanigans of a sisterhood of manicurists who enter the world of organized crime when they begin laundering money for a pain clinic operated by the Dixie Mafia.

At the center of this diverse group is salon owner Desna (Niecy Nash), and last season saw her trade one crime boss for another as the Russian mob took control of both the pain clinic and the salon. With new management comes new problems for the women, and according to Laurence and Barrois, this new season finds Desna navigating "a new tricky dynamic with a new boss and it is going to be a ride that you have not seen before."

Talk about the types of obstacles that the women of Claws face this season.

Eliot: One of the big shifts in season two is from patriarchy to a matriarchy. In season one, Desna was sort of under Uncle Daddy's thumb and very quickly in season two, we will introduce a new female baddie who sweeps into town. She's a Russian mobster and sort of takes Desna under her wing.

This is a very strange lady who kinda fancies herself as Russia's answer to Sheryl Sandberg. She's even self-published this feminist manifesto that's extreme and strange and she appoints herself as Desna's criminal mentor.

Everything is not as it seems there but it's been fun to explore what that feels like, as opposed to the patriarchy stuff that we were dealing with in season one and that we're so familiar with-with mob stories. It's been really great to introduce some female, dark mentors and kinda playing with the dark-mother archetype.

Janine: The Russians are here and in control with a vengeance and you will see our lead have to navigate a new tricky dynamic with a new boss and her family and it is going to be a ride that you have not seen before. Every time Desna and her crew think they're taking a few steps forward, they go crashing back and then they get back up and go crashing forward again only to be kicked back.

Is there anything about these women that reflect qualities of the women in your personal or professional life?

Eliot: Absolutely. I'm extremely close to my mom and she's always been my hero and my champion. I'm wildly in love with female power and female kindness and nurturing and how beautiful and complicated women can be.

My aunt is in there somewhere and my mom, and all of my feminist friends are in there. I just try and channel all of that female badass-ery that I've experienced in my life. I am one person who truly thinks women are stronger than men so I try to channel what I see into my work.

The thing that makes the show so great is that you have these wonderfully bizarre, but well-fleshed-out diverse female characters.

Janine: I like to write the world that I see and the world that I'm living. So it was very important to me to have a diverse cast and include an LGBT character. I try to populate the worlds that I create with the worlds that I'm in and inspire me. I try to put that on screen as much as possible. I didn't know definitely that Desna would be an African-American woman. But let me tell you, when Neicy walked into that audition room, she owned every inch of that woman.

She was telling us stories about her life and how those connected to Desna and that's the kind of actor that she is. She works so deeply. She's the type of actor that has to have the entire movie in her head, even stuff that happens off camera.

So working with somebody who reads that deeply and who walked into that first interview and literally had us on the ground was a no-brainer. But in the early stages of developing the series, I knew I wanted it diverse 'cause that's the world I live in and that's the world I see and want to see more of.

Talk about the heartbeat of the show.

Janine: The heartbeat of the show is when we're being honest and truthful and when we're sort of peeling back the layers of complicated relationships. But the way we serve it to the public has to be irreverent, funny, push the envelope in a way that makes you lean in.

There's so much content on TV and the only way you're going to make any noise in this kind of environment is if you shake up the tradition. So you see these women dealing with the complications of sex, power, love, wanting a better job, money — all of these things that you normally have men deal with as the forefront of a show, and they do it in a way that is funky and irreverent.

Without it being irreverent it wouldn't be Claws. There has to be some irreverence in it and you're going to see more of that this season. We know that is the key to the show.

How are you keeping track of what fans think? Do you read recaps on the blogs?

Eliot: Absolutely! I love it. I do it for the fans in kind of a general way but I think if you try to cater or anticipate what they're going to want, you can wind into trouble. My mantra for writing is: I write for myself. I write what I want to see.

Janine: I can get lost online reading people's comments. Our Twitter and Instagram following is very fierce and the fans tell you right then what they didn't like/what they liked. We have a chorus of Claws fans that are so invested that I'm excited to engage with them on June 10 because they've been hyping us. They've been waiting for us to come out and I can't wait to kinda grab their hand and go on this journey with them 'cause it's a great season.

Has there been a specific instance where fan feedback has either informed or changed what you thought you might do or made you regret a particular plot point?

Janine: We don't look at them for content on what to do. But I will say that we have seen the audience have a love for Roller and Desna, as being one of the central relationships. That is something that got a huge response. To have Desna be this fierce boss who has a number of choices, Dr. Ruval and also Roller, and to see the fans choose Team Ruval or Team Roller has been very interesting

What do you find most rewarding about collaborating with this dynamic diverse cast of women?

Janine: I think at the end of the day, we are reaching a time and culture where women are not taking it anymore. We're standing up, we asking for what's ours. Women are demanding stuff in their lives and they're not going to the background being wallpaper and shrinking violets anymore.

These women work in a nail salon, but they are in your face, they are telling it like it is and they're getting what they want and saying, "Hey, the American dream is my dream and I should get all of the benefits of it." That's what's cool about these women.

Because so often women are sidekicks and pushed to the side or love interests. We're not driving the story. But I think people are waking up to the fact that women are the story. And I think in the last 18 months, we've seen women drive the story just in culture. We want more actors like Niecy Nash getting opportunities to be the leads of shows and I think these women are emblematic of that change of people saying "We're not going to take it sitting down anymore."

It is about inclusion now. We have diversity on the show and we have diversity behind the scenes, and we have diversity in the writers room. People are waking up to the fact that it is no longer cool to not be inclusive and diverse. You look old and tired if that's how you roll now. So I think Claws is shining a light on this diverse group of women who can make money and I think people are waking up to that.

You look at shows like Queen Sugar and Ava DuVernay getting all of these female directors and shows from the Shonda (Rhimes) camp and you look at the last 10 years and you see that the people that are winning are the people that have been inclusive.

Did you feel pressure to raise the bar this season because people loved the first season so much?

Eliot: It was really challenging because we are known for outrageous storytelling and plot twists. And so there's an ever-evolving challenge that we set for ourselves to keep that coming and keep it coming crazy.

Sisterhood was the overall theme of last season, what is the overall theme that resonates throughout season two?

Eliot: I would say the resonating theme for season two is mentorship. But we are always going to be re-examining what sisterhood means. Without giving away too much, we're going to see that sisterhood challenged a bit and we know that is the beating heart of the show; the loyalty that these ladies have for each other. But in season two, we're going to see that shaken up a bit due to some of the new power dynamics.

Looking back on the first season, when do you feel that the show was at its best and how did you build on that for Season 2?

Janine: I think every episode just builds upon the other one. I think when we did moments like in the pilot when Judy sings "La Tirana," it opened up something on the show; we're going to tell these bold stories in a very weird and traditional way. By the time we did water ballet in the middle of an episode, in the kind of sequence you would see in an Almodovar movie, we all knew this is something fresh.

So by the end of the season, when we were killing the Coombses and we juxtaposed that with our ladies dancing to "Lady Marmalade," I think we knew this is the zone of how crazy and cool Claws can be. I think every episode built on the next to kind of get us to that place. So when we started season two, we knew we had to be bold, outrageous, dramatic and funny.

How challenging is it to explore the best and worst ways to push the envelope?

Janine: It's not as challenging as it is refreshing. When you look at the show, most of the time you're pushed to have constraints by the network and the studio, and on this show, TNT and Warner Brothers have pushed us to be bold. That's a refreshing thing as creatives that we get to push it further, to be bolder and to be fresher. I think the challenge is that the bar keeps getting raised and we are actually pushed to make it bigger, and that's exciting.

Lastly, do you have a showrunning philosophy?

Janine: I was mentored by John Wells and it's not just what you can do with your script, it's what you can do for other people. So I like having a room full of people that are actively always engaged in giving ideas and if you don't want to share ideas or make someone else's script better then this is probably not the right gig for you. But I think if you can help get people to feel collaborative. that's the key.

Season two of Claws returns to TNT Sunday, June 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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