If you’re tempted to dismiss ABC’s new Secrets and Lies as yet another Broadchurch knockoff, consider this: Secrets’ tale unspools solely from the perspective of Ryan Phillippe’s Ben Crawford, a suburban family man suspected of killing his neighbor’s son.
Which means Phillippe is in virtually every scene of the chiller that head writer Barbie Kligman calls “a character drama with an underlying mystery.”
It’s madness, Phillippe and Secrets’ co-executive producer/director Timothy Busfield (thirtysomething, Damages) agree — but there is very much method to it.
“The lines between what Ben is going through and what Ryan is going through would cross — but I liked that. I couldn’t wait for him to get tired!” Busfield grins of Secrets’ arduous shoot. “Whenever he was pissed off, I’d say ‘Roll camera!’ — because that was Ben. So I wanted to exploit his fatigue as much as I could — but I was also adamant that he went home in 12 hours. I’ve never seen anybody on any show I’ve ever been on do that much work, and it bleeds through to his performance. It’s really good!”
“I felt very much in the throes of the material,” agrees Phillippe of living in the skin of the beleaguered Crawford, who is trailed by steely Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis) as he tries to clear his name in a depleting journey that cracks his small town’s bucolic veneer. “As my personal exhaustion translates into the exhaustion and fatigue Ben would be experiencing, you see that physical degradation over the 10 episodes.”
Phillippe adds that being a devoted father himself helped him shade Crawford’s fraying psyche as his two daughters — both of whom adored the murdered child — cool toward their dad as the case labors on. “One of the elements that drew me to the project is this idea of the way this situation affects his children and the way it changes how they look at him,” Phillippe says. “That’s pretty scary, and it strikes to your core as a parent — the idea of your kids being afraid of you. I have a very emotional response to that idea.”
Lewis spent time with homicide detectives of both genders and all walks of life to inform her performance as the inscrutable Cornell — especially her ability to remain stoic in the face of Crawford’s escalating ire.
“My character does not operate with that kind of emotion; she can’t to do her job well,” Lewis explains. “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. She doesn’t mind people feeling completely uncomfortable and thrown off by her demeanor.”
But before you write the chilly cop off as one-note, remember that first impressions rarely tell a whole tale. “She starts to doubt the path that she’s on,” Busfield hints. “You see her world go upside down.”
Secrets and Lies premieres Sunday, March 1, at 9/8CT on ABC.