NEW YORK, March 24 (UPI) — Sarah Wayne Callies said she was ready for an uplifting project after years of starring in tension-charged thrillers like Prison Break and The Walking Dead.
NBC’s new family drama, which is based on Bruce Feiler’s book, Council of Dads, offered Callies the change she was looking for.
“I’ve put a lot of violence into the world with the content I’ve created, and there was a time when our world felt so safe that that kind of exploration had so much merit and it still does,” Callies recently told UPI during a press junket in New York.
But the actress is now, personally, at a place where almost all she watches is standup comedy. Professionally, she wants to tell stories about decent, everyday people trying to do the right thing.
“Things are bleak and they are scary and they are overwhelming, so this to me is a show for people who are looking for something that gives you an hour a week where you can come out of it at the end and go, ‘We can do this. We can get through this. We’re going to be OK,'” Callies said.
Council of Dads stars Tom Everett Scott as Scott Perry, who sets up a network of surrogate fathers — including his oldest friend, his doctor and his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor — to look out for his kids after he is diagnosed with cancer. Callies plays his wife, Robin.
With an ensemble that also includes Michele Weaver, Michael O’Neill, Clive Standen, J. August Richards, Blue Chapman, Emjay Anthony, Thalia Tran and Steven Silver, the series is set to debut Tuesday.
“I fell in love with this pilot from the word ‘go,’ partly because having talked to the showrunners, it is very personal for them, so they are writing about these things from a first-person perspective,” Callies said, referring to married writer-producers Joan Rater and Tony Phelan.
“It’s about a family that lives in Savannah, Ga., with five kids and basically the father, Scott Perry, gets diagnosed with cancer, so you see the family navigate what the diagnosis changes about day-to-day life and how to prepare for the future and what does it look like now?” Michele Weaver added.
“The writing is incredible on this show. They dive deep into every single storyline. This show has so many different characters and every character has such dynamic conflicts, internal conflicts,” Weaver said. “It was very meaty for all of us and delicious and fun.”
O’Neill said audience members will likely see themselves reflected in the show’s characters.
“Scott gets his diagnosis, and he is at the end of his treatment, and he calls together his three best friends to form this ‘council of dads’ and says, ‘If I don’t make it, mentor my children. Make sure they are going to be OK.’ If people can’t recognize that in themselves as a father, I’d be very, very surprised.'”
“And we look like America!” Callies chimed in, referring to the cast, which is multicultural and includes actors of all ages.
“I feel like we are part of this era of television where we have decided we have to tell stories that represent the country and what the country looks like and feels like. That’s exciting. I have not been a part of something like this in a very, very long time,” Callies said.
Despite the cancer plot, its stars insist the show isn’t a downer.
“There’s a lot of hope,” Weaver said. “Every single day we have to make a choice to fight the good fight. Choose to be happy. Happiness is a choice. Every day, you see these characters face life, but you see them choose to put a smile on, to not give up.”
Callies added: “The more dire life gets, the more our need for humor kicks up. Otherwise, you’d spend all day face-down in a pillow.”
Speaking during a panel at the recent SCAD aTV Fest in Savannah, Rater said the show is inspired by the book, but some huge differences exist.
“Bruce survived, but we had to kill our dad because then there wouldn’t be a series. We had to activate the council,” she said.
“Then we were able to take that idea and graft a little of our own family on to it,” Phelan said.
“We have a son who is trans and a daughter we adopted from China. We also thought if we are going to be telling this story about this kind of blended family, let’s put it someplace in America that you wouldn’t expect to see that story.”
Council of Dads premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT on NBC.