TCA: ABC’s Secrets and Lies — Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis talk their intense murder mystery

The cast of ABC's Secrets and Lies Lori Acken
The cast and executive producers of "Secrets and Lies" at Disney | ABC Television Group's Winter Press Tour 2015. (ABC/Image Group LA)

Secrets and Lies executive producers Barbie Kligman, Timothy Busfield and Aaron Kaplan took the stage at the Television Critics Association press tour today along with their cast members Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Lewis, KaDee Strickland, Natalie Martinez and Dan Fogler to talk about the atmospheric hourlong drama which premieres March 8 at 9pm ET/PT on ABC.

The cast of ABC's Secrets and Lies
The cast and executive producers of “Secrets and Lies” at Disney | ABC Television Group’s Winter Press Tour 2015. (ABC/Image Group LA)

In the character-driven murder mystery, based on an Australian series of the same name, Phillippe stars as suburban family man Ben Crawford, whose life begins to unravel when he finds the body of his neighbor’s young son and is promptly accused of the child’s murder. Tailed by tough-as-nails Detective Andrea Cornell (Lewis), Ben sets out to clear his name in a journey that exposes hidden truths about the residents of his small town.

“What’s so compelling about the story is it could happen to you,” said Busfield, who said that Secrets’ Wilmington, N.C.,  location was chosen over a more urban locale because “we had the feel of an everyman sort of neighborhood that people could relate to.” (Fun fact: HBO’s Eastbound & Down filmed on the same cul-de-sac.)

Ryan Phillippe
ABC’s “Secrets and Lies” stars Ryan Phillippe as Ben Crawford. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

“I felt very much in the throes of the material,” Phillippe said of the “exhausting” role, which required him to be in nearly every scene. “Every day I was playing a guy whose life was falling apart, who was being accused, who was being slandered — so much negativity in the material. And there were things about that that I would take home with me. But I knew that before I signed on that that would be a part of it.”

Kligman said it is that aspect of the tale that sets Secrets and Lies apart from the Aussie original and similarly themed shows such as FOX’s Gracepoint and the BBC’s Broadchurch. “Our show is a singular point of view — and in Season 1, it’s from the suspect,” she explained. “Ours is a character drama with an underlying mystery.”

“Ours is so much better,” joked Lewis.

Lewis said that she spent time with homicide detectives of both genders and from all walks of life to inform her performance as the unflappable Cornell — especially Cornell’s ability to remain stoic in the face of Crawford’s escalating frustrations.

ABC's "Secrets and Lies" stars Juliette Lewis as Detective Cornell. (ABC/Bob D'Amico)
ABC’s “Secrets and Lies” stars Juliette Lewis as Detective Cornell. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

“My character does not lead or function or operate with that kind of emotion — and she can’t to do her job well,” Lewis said. “But the fact that people are saying I’m scary or I’m intimidating is great. … Her main focus is her obsessive [need] to solve the crime, her meticulousness in doing so, and that she does not lead with emotion. And she doesn’t mind people feeling completely uncomfortable and thrown off by her demeanor.”

Kligman said the mystery of who killed the little boy will be resolved at the end of Secrets‘ first season, setting up the possibility of new crimes and criminals in future seasons. “The only ongoing mystery is Detective Cornell,” she said, “and peeling back the layers of who she is.”

Secrets and Lies premieres March 8 at 9pm ET/PT on ABC.

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Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.