There’s one aspect of Ryan Phillippe’s character in the new ABC series “Secrets and Lies” that he completely understands.
Ever since the Delaware native broke into show business with a role on the daytime drama “One Life to Live” in the early ’90s, he’s been fodder for the media. The attention has ranged from the positive (reporting of his winning awards) to the negative (coverage of his divorce from Reese Witherspoon).
All that scrutiny gives him a good idea how people’s views can change in a snap. That’s what happens to his character, a family man who comes across the body of a murdered boy during his morning run. The Good Samaritan quickly becomes the primary murder suspect.
“A big part of that is the snap judgments that we make and especially in relation to the way things are framed often in the media. The line written about someone in reference to any sort of case is the one that usually stays with people the longest,” Phillippe says. “So I think it’s a notion of the way he’s painted to look by law enforcement and by the media from the outset of the series dictates their reaction and relationship to him. It sort of speaks to those ideas of how judgmental a society we’ve become, and how when something is salacious, it’s kind of presented in a certain way that becomes the truth of the thing whether it is or not.”
“Secrets and Lies” is based on an Australian program, which serves as a blueprint for the American version. The series also stars Juliette Lewis, Natalie Martinez, Dan Fogler and Indiana Evans. The first season will run 10 episodes.
Phillippe says he didn’t go back to the original series for inspiration since he found it in the scripts.
“I felt very much in the throes of the material pretty throughout the experience. 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 then, from the other actors, you know, scene dependent and whatever,” Phillippe says. “There were things about that that I think I would take home with me. But I knew that before I signed on, that that would be a part of it. I knew it seemed like an enormous workload day one, and it was.”
Phillippe has made guest appearance on TV over the years. His first major small-screen role since his soap opera days was a few years ago on “Damages.” He worked only two days a week on that cable series, so he wasn’t accustomed to the grind of being the central star on a network production.
It did help Phillippe that most of the first 10 episodes were shot in order. That made it easier to keep the emotional spiral of his character clear.
The one thing he didn’t want to do was judge the character on the decisions he makes because of the circumstances he’s facing.
“You don’t want to judge the character you’re playing so much. On this project, I worked from the inside out because I’m a father, because I’ve dealt with odd, like, celebrity, you know, public media-based things,” Phillippe says. “There were things that I related to and connected to on that level.”
Phillippe took bits from his own life and then dramatically heightened those pieces to a higher, more intense level. Fellow cast member KaDee Strickland (who plays the wife of Phillippe’s character) describes Phillippe’s role as being similar to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He’s playing a guy who is trying to deal with everything in his life going wrong and falling apart.
Executive producer Timothy Busfield adds that Phillippe’s performance is so critical because he’s the everyman who, by some twist of fate, could find himself in a situation like this not of his own making.
‘Secrets and Lies’
9 p.m. Sundays