If you've watched any of the biggest shows of the past decade -- "Six Feet Under," "Homeland," "The Walking Dead," "True Blood," "American Horror Story," or "Boardwalk Empire" -- then most likely you've watched an episode directed by Canadian Jeremy Podeswa. Well-known for his work on TV miniseries "The Pacific," Podeswa has climbed the ranks to become a sought-after director, and he's witnessed the landscape change dramatically over the years.
HuffPost Canada TV caught up with Podeswa while he was in Toronto promoting his most recent directorial work on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." We chatted about everything from placating a mainstream audience to why Canadian TV never seems to break out of that mundane rut.
HuffPost TV: You've been a part of so many major TV shows of the past decade -- how does it feel to be part of this changing landscape?
Jeremy Podeswa: It feels good, and I feel lucky. It feels like I caught this wave, and got into television just at the right moment, when things were bursting out. When I was younger, I never thought TV would be this interesting or as creatively satisfying. It's been a constant revelation for me.
I read somewhere that you like to think of your work as a painting, as art.
I don't know if I was that pretentious about it, I hope I wasn't! [Laughs] I certainly think about what I do as an artistic pursuit and challenge. I'm conscious of what I'm putting out. I like to be a part of shows that contribute to the cultural conversation. The good thing about these cable shows is they're so central to that conversation -- people are talking about them like they used to be talking about art films. TV is the new, great art form.
"Boardwalk Empire," for example, is dealing with some major issues this season, especially racism and being black in a predominantly white culture.
I'm very excited about where they're going with that. In the episode I directed [Season 4, Episode 7, "William Wilson"], there's a very big storyline with Valentin Narcisse and his daughter and Chalky. There's a great revelation about him in my episode, which I won't reveal here! I've always loved Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky, and I'm glad there's this big Harlem storyline.
What are some of the qualities of "Boardwalk Empire" that make you want to direct for that show?
From the very beginning, I've always thought it's the most beautiful show on television. Very cinematic, it takes its time with storytelling, it's a very complex narrative. If you watch a season of "Boardwalk," it's like reading a good book. Dense, layered, thematic. Every time I get a script, I'm excited, because it's always packed with action, intimacy, spectacle, even a musical number this time around! Martin Scorsese really established an amazing template.
On the other side of the spectrum, other TV shows sometimes sacrifice depth and complex imagery in favour of making it palatable for a mainstream audience. Would you ever consider working on one of those shows?
I don't think I would. Especially the shows I currently work on, they would never encourage [me] to do that. What they want you to do is bring forward the imagery, the symbolism, the personality. If you're doing more network shows, they're less inclined to do that.
Would you agree that TV has transformed?
I think part of TV has completely changed. Commercial TV hasn't changed that much; the staples are still procedurals, sitcoms ... these are the staples of network TV, which is why I don't work in it. Basic cable and premium cable have really changed enormously, and it started with shows like "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under." Premium shows are so varied and diverse, and each one has its own original take on things. That part of TV has only gotten better and better.
What are some of the major differences between U.S. and Canadian-made TV?
I think American TV, especially in this moment, is extremely adventurous. Everybody's looking for the new exciting thing, and there are so many platforms for people to view it on. I think people understand that the audience is divided now, so you don't need a show that appeals to everyone in the country. You can do an "Orange Is The New Black," you can do "Girls," you can do "True Blood."
Here, in Canada, everyone seems to be so terrified of doing something different, and so they're sticking to the oldest paradigms -- doing procedurals, doing lightweight comedies. Where's the innovation? The talent is here to make a good show, but no one's commissioning them. For example, I don't really see the point of a Canadian making a cop show. How is that going to illuminate the Canadian culture?
So what is it? Is it a money thing? Is it a talent thing?
I think it's an executive thing. People at the top are not commissioning shows they need to be commissioning. They're not looking at the TV landscape, and what it actually is. They're still stuck in some 1970s idea of what television is. I wonder: do these people even watch HBO? [Laughs]
Podeswa has two upcoming projects he can't talk about, so we'll just have to wait for his next work to come out. He's directing an upcoming episode of "American Horror Story: Coven." His latest directorial piece, Episode 7 ("William Wilson") of "Boardwalk Empire," aired in mid-October. Catch the rest of "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO and HBO Canada on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.
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