Interview with actors Cindy Cheung, Frances Fisher, Alice Kremelberg, Bill Pullman, and executive producers Jessica Biel, Michelle Purple, and Derek Simonds of “The Sinner” on USA Network by Suzanne 9/13/21
SUMMER 2021 TCA VIRTUAL PRESS TOUR
Cindy Cheung, Actor, “Stephanie Lam”
Frances Fisher, Actor, “Meg Muldoon”
Alice Kremelberg, Actor, “Percy Muldoon”
Bill Pullman, Actor, “Harry Ambrose”
Jessica Biel, Executive Producer
Michelle Purple, Executive Producer
Derek Simonds, Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner/Director
Virtual via Zoom
September 13, 2021
This is a great drama, and I loved being in this panel. This was a large panel of press, so I only got to ask a few questions. I hope you enjoy it!
“The Sinner” returns for Season 3 October 13, 2021.
I asked Jessica Biel what she does as executive producer on the show, especially this season. As you may know, she also starred in the show’s first season. She replied that my question was a good one because, “I feel like the role of producer is very different and has a lot of different meanings and for all different types of people in shows. For this particular show, as an executive producer, we work closely with [showrunner] Derek and the team, the writing team, to sort of give notes on the scripts and sort of help support them as they’re working through — they’re breaking their story and they’re writing their episode. Honestly, we’re a big support system during the development process, or really whatever Derek and his team need, we help crew up for the actual production. We’re highly involved in the casting process. I’m saying “we.” I’m talking about [executive producer] Michelle and I. And really, the show is such a well—oiled machine at this point that once you get going into production, you know, you give it to the experts that you’ve hired and you just sit back and stay out of the way. And I think part of being a good producer is knowing when and how to do that. And this season, particularly, we did a lot of that, because of the different restrictions on set and everyone trying to stay as healthy and safe as possible. So, we never worked on set the way we normally are, which is hard and sad, because that camaraderie is something that I really miss. And I love that part of making TV and films.”
I was happy to get a second question, so I overserved to Bill Pullman that his character, Harry is “fairly quiet” and that he has to “convey a lot without using so many words.” I asked if that was something that came easy for him.
He replied in a thoughtful manner, “I think it’s always been a surprise to me, some of the actions to “The Sinner.” And a lot of people think I don’t say very much in the series. And I’m, of course, looking at the lines I do say and had to learn, and I feel like I’m talking all the time. But there’s something about the confidence. Because I’ve really just been so looking at — I think all the other actors in this season know this trust that you get, that your behavior is important. So, it’s the editing that you see. When you see the show, it’s not always just who’s talking. “Let’s cut to who’s talking.” It takes a certain courage to not do that, to trust that what isn’t being said is as interesting as what is said. And we, all of us, get that message pretty loud and clear from Derek when we’re going — we go through these — each script line by line. And Derek spends time with each of the actors. And then we spend time with each other. And because of Covid, we had a really freakishly great privilege to isolate just ourselves. We didn’t have people coming in from the outside. They couldn’t come in to visit. We lived close to each other. We could — we got together over scenes in a way — I’ve never experienced this, even though there’s seasons of “The Sinner” we didn’t have this. And Derek encouraged it. Derek joined in. We would come up with our list of questions, we’d go back and forth, so that you knew that the immediacy of the moment was the premise. That was number one, was to really feel alive and awake to the situation of what isn’t being said as well as what’s being said.”
Another journalist asked Pullman how his character and his work is affected by what happened last season and whether it will continue through this season. He kind of chuckled and says that his character discovers that retirement is not as nice as it sounds because you don’t just start over. You carry everything with you still. He feels conflicted about what happened to Jamie last season. He relates, “Season 4 kicks off, he’s bolted from his therapist, he’s off his meds, and he can’t sleep. Welcome to retirement.”
Another person from the press asked Simonds or Pullman to compare seasons 1 and 2 to this season. Simonds confirmed what Pullman said, that season 3 builds on what happened to Harry in past seasons, especially season 2. He’s going to have a “major reckoning point in this season that we haven’t really seen him encounter before.”
Pullman was also asked what attracted him to the role of Harry Ambrose and how he likes him. Pullman pointed out that this is the first series he’s done regularly (meaning more than just a guest-starring role). He praised Simonds, who came to find him for the role once he saw him in an Edward Albee play, “The Goat.” He thinks Simonds “wanted to find what we could be authentic about in our characters. And it started with Harry. But he’s continued it with all the characters as he finds — meets people and begins to work in the writers’ room. He’s crafting some pieces of your autobiography or something, at least with Harry, where all these situations have some reference to my own life. So, it’s like therapy on display, in a small way. But I think Season 2 in particular was so much following the fabric of my western New York State upbringing and situations that I had gone through in my past. And he moved it away from that slightly but kept the roots in it. And so that was one thing. But I think the whole sense of someone who is wrestling with what it is to be human and what it is to have — to sense that the truth is not something that’s easily accessible, and the world is really a stacked deck against getting to truth and living clear from trauma and other circumstances.”
Michelle Purple was asked whether she used anything on her show “Cruel Summer” in “The Sinner.” Purple replied that she didn’t think she did because they were two very different “beasts.” She credits Simonds for “bringing something so fresh and new to ‘The Sinner.’ You know, he surprises us every season with a little nugget of an idea at the end of the last season, and then the way he and the writers are able to bring it to fruition is amazing. It’s really his brainchild every season.”
Jessica Biel was asked whether she missed acting on the show and would like to come back. She admits that she does miss it when she’s everyone together on the set. She missed the “crazy, wild creative stuff that we got to do in Season 1.” She says that sometimes discuss the idea of where Cora could come back. “Who knows. We always kind of like to imagine a world where that could be possible. But yeah, sometimes it’s hard. It’s hard not to be on the playground with everybody else.”
Purple claims that Biel asked her yesterday, “Do you think Cora can come back for Season 5?”
The next reporter had a question for Simonds but siad that the others could chime in. He/she wanted to know how they figure out the theme for each season, and do they have to do casting or story first.
Simonds agreed that each season is a little different, but they’re guided in part with how Ambrose acts in his meta-arc over the seasons. “That’s always been kind of the thing that’s guided me creatively.
So, you know, after Season 1, I wanted to see Ambrose confront his childhood. After Season 2, I wanted Ambrose to confront a man who was not an innocent. After Season 3 and this, you know, death that Ambrose is a part of with Jamie Burns, I wanted to see him contend with guilt, and the guilt that he’s kind of accrued over his whole life, and what one does with that.
So, it’s always been about following this journey of Ambrose’s. And then the casting and the concept of the characters comes (inaudible). What would most activate Ambrose? What kind of person would most activate him? What would trigger him the most? So, we’re always trying to put him in hot water, basically.”
The next question was for Biel. She was asked how people in the show can escape the dark places in their minds when it seems there’s no turning back. Biel doesn’t know the answer, but she loves how they explore those ideas in the show. She replied, “I’d love to explore the question in these characters and in these shows that we produce and that, you know, that Michelle and I like to make, and that Derek and his wonderful cast. And I would be curious, you know, Alice or Frances, Cindy, if anyone has any thoughts on this as well, because you’re all playing characters with tons of complexities. But I’m not sure if you fully are able to get away from it. And sometimes I think it does take people down, and down a path that you can’t recover from.”
Simonds suggested that Alice Kremelberg, who plays Percy, answer the question. He said that she’s “struggling with the darkness within her.” Kremelberg said that Percy is trying to “move through things, face the dark past, and trying all different facets, going outside of herself. And you’ll see as the series progresses all the different ways that she’s trying to reconcile with what happens in the story. And seeing what works, and what works best, and finding, kind of, in your own life how that relates, is really always fascinating to me. Not knowing the whole scope of the story going into it, and then kind of reading through everything, like, “Oh, this does relate to me a lot.” And how we as humans really try to reconcile with ourselves and move past and through these things. So, yeah, it’s definitely something that Percy faces, and that I think we as humans face.”
Simonds is then asked whether there are any headlines he might want to use for the show. Simonds answered that he never really took story ideas from the headlines. He prefers to find ideas that he can identify with personally. After thinking for a minute, he admited that was inspired by the “Black Lives Matter movement.” He admits that “it’s normally a very focused, hermetic show about the inner workings of one person or a few characters’ psychology, and I wanted to do that and also expand it into a bigger canvas and engage some of the broader social movements that we’re collectively processing and figuring out right now.” He added that they have a much more inclusive cast and an inclusive set of issues that we’re taking on this season.”
A reporter asked about the color palette used in the production, which is dark and cool.
Frances Fisher answered that the color pallette is muted on the show, but “there’s also another side to it, the town of Lunenberg itself. Completely brightly painted houses, row houses, that were just fascinating. It was almost like walking on the back lot of Warner Brothers or some magical Brigadoon-ish town, you know. And how did it affect us? I mean, we were just immersed, you know. We were immersed in the air of it and all of the different weather patterns that would occur in a day. I think that affected all of us, you know, psychologically and emotionally. So, we reflect that.”
Another press person asked the female actors to tell what drew them to their roles how they prepared to join the world of the show and whether they had watched previous seasons.
Cindy Cheung revealed that she was a fan of the show, so she had watched previous seasons. When she saw the material, “it just struck me instantly how deep I would have to go in order to explore this particular character. And, you know, just that question comes up, ‘Do I wish to go there? Do I wish to inhabit this not-easy place to be in?’ But as I worked on it, it just resonated personally in so many more ways than just a role, just as my own experience as a person. And, so, I was very fortunate to be able to see it all the way through.”
Kremelberg also said she was a fan of the show. “The writing was so strong, and the character was already in the scenes that I had, you know, stripped down. I love drama. And it’s just — it’s gritty. It’s real. It’s emotional. It’s raw. It’s all those things that I as an actor really am drawn to. And it just kind of, like, jumped off the page when I read it and when I was taping it. And it’s just such an immaculate show that I’m so proud to be a part of. So, all of those things together.
And getting to be a fisher is so cool. We got to know so much of that in Lunenberg and go out on the boats in Lunenberg to really learn how to pull up the crates and all that. So, it was just, you know, all—encompassing really, just an incredible experience. But the writing and the character just, like, really drew me in.”
Frances relates that she was glad to have the role of “A kick—ass role for a woman in her late ’60s, and Bill Pullman all in one script, oh, my god.” She also said she binged the entire first season in one sitting.
Simonds was also asked about the venue change for this season. Simonds said that he was looking for a small town that had racial and class politics “and using that as kind of a reflecting board for a statement about broader social movements. And then I was also just really excited about Season 4. I feel the show had been so, so tied to this upstate New York feel, and the idea of Ambrose encountering a seaside town and having the metaphorical power of the ocean, the myth around fishing and seafaring, and Ambrose sort of entering as a fish out of water this world that he doesn’t understand, had a lot of dramatic potential and kind of helped us develop his character further and just kind of revitalized the show. Without, I think, or hopefully without changing the template too much. I think it’s still feels like a kind of New England East Coast show. It has a regional feel still. It just felt like a great kind of pivot, without reinventing the wheel. It’s not Ambrose going to Hawaii.”
Another journalist asked Biel if working on a show about crime has made her more paranoid in real life. Biel agreed that probably does feel that she’s more on edge and waiting for crazy things to happen in real life, like they do on the show.
Simonds jokingly added, “She’s also a pretty dark and twisted person by nature. I mean, you’re very comfortable in that space.” Biel agreed, adding, “It’s very true. And I’m not totally sure why. I had a really nice childhood. But — I don’t know. I love true crime. I always have, and I always will.”
Frances Fisher was asked how she deals with getting a project where she doesn’t like the script or isn’t fond of the characters. She answered that she just tells her agent “thank you” and “I just don’t have the capacity to work on this right now.”
Still reeling from the trauma of a previous case a year ago, the now-retired Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) travels to Hanover Island in northern Maine for a recuperative getaway with his partner, Sonya (Jessica Hecht). When an unexpected tragedy occurs involving the daughter of a prominent island family, Ambrose is recruited to help the investigation, only to be thrown into a mystery of mounting paranoia that will turn this sleepy tourist island, and Ambrose’s life, upside down.
From UCP, a division of Universal Studio Group, Derek Simonds serves as showrunner and executive producer, alongside executive producers Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple through their production company, Iron Ocean. Charlie Gogolak, Adam Bernstein and Nina Braddock also serve as executive producers.
Day & Time:
Wednesdays (10-11p.m. ET) on USA Network
Season four premiere:
Oct. 13, 2021
Bill Pullman, Frances Fisher, Alice Kremelberg, Neal Huff, Cindy Cheung and Ronin Wong, with Jessica Hecht and Michael Mosley
Derek Simonds, Jessica Biel, Michelle Purple, Charlie Gogolak, Nina Braddock, Adam Bernstein
Created for television by:
Ellen Marie Blum
Derek Simonds (401), Jonathan Caren (402), Jenny Zhang (403), Piero S. Iberti (404), Kate Roche (405), Gerald Cuesta (406), Mia Chung (407), Nina Braddock (408)
Derek Simonds (401), Adam Bernstein (402/403), Radium Cheung (404), Haifaa Al-Mansour (405), Batan Silva (406/407), Monica Raymund (408)
Directors of photography:
Radium Cheung, Andre Pienaar
Deborah Moran (401, 404, 405, 408), Amanda Pollack (402, 406), Doug Abel (403,407)
Stephanie Holbrook, Robin Cook
Chester, Nova Scotia
Series produced by:
UCP, a division of Universal Studio Group
Detective Harry Ambrose, “The Sinner”
Bill Pullman currently stars in USA Network’s psychological thriller “The Sinner” as Det. Harry Ambrose and for which he received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.
He was recently seen in Netflix’s “Halston.”
His movie career includes blockbuster comedies (“Ruthless People,” “Spaceballs,” “Casper”), dramas (“The Accidental Tourist,” “Igby Goes Down,” “LBJ”), romantic comedies (“Sleepless in Seattle,” “While You Were Sleeping”), action (“Independence Day”), thrillers (“Malice,” “Dark Waters”), westerns (“The Virginian,” “Wyatt Earp”), film noir (“The Last Seduction,” “Lost Highway”), horror (“The Grudge”) and television miniseries/series (“Torchwood,” “1600 Penn”).
Pullman started acting professionally on stage in New York in 1983, and shortly after began his film/TV career that currently spans over 70 features and several series. In the past 15 years of his theater career, he has acted in six major productions in NYC and has been nominated as a best actor in four of them.
Most recently, he appeared in the London revival of “All My Sons” in 2019.
Executive Producer, “The Sinner”
Jessica Claire Timberlake (née Biel; born March 3, 1982) is an American actress and model. Biel began her career as a vocalist appearing in musical productions until she was cast as Mary Camden in the family drama series 7th Heaven (1996–2006), in which she achieved recognition. The series is the longest-running series that aired on The WB channel and the longest-running family drama in television history.
In 1997, Biel won the Young Artist Award for her role in the drama film Ulee’s Gold. She received further recognition for her lead role as Erin Hardesty in the horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). Biel has since starred in such films as The Rules of Attraction (2002), Blade: Trinity (2004), Stealth (2005), The Illusionist (2006), I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007), Valentine’s Day (2010), The A-Team (2010), New Year’s Eve (2011), Total Recall (2012), and Hitchcock (2012).
In 2017, Biel was the executive producer and star of the USA Network limited drama series The Sinner, for which she received nominations for a Golden Globe Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
Meg Muldoon,“The Sinner”
Frances Fisher stars as Meg Muldoon on the USA Network psychological thriller “The Sinner.”
Born in Milford On-Sea, England to American parents, Fisher’s itinerant childhood living in the UK, Columbia, Nova Scotia, France, Brazil, Turkey, Italy, Iowa and Texas undoubtedly influenced her decision to live the actor’s gypsy life.
Fisher has starred in more than 30 theatrical productions, including Elia Kazan’s “The Chain,” “Hay Fever,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Summer and Smoke,” “Orpheus Descending,” “1984,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Fool for Love,” Arthur Miller’s “Finishing the Picture,” “Three More Sleepless Nights” (Drama League Award), “The Cherry Orchard” (Mark Taper Forum) and “Barbecue” (Geffen Playhouse), which won three NAACP 2018 Theatre Awards, including Best Ensemble.
On film, Fisher is perhaps best known for her performance as Kate Winslet’s mother in “Titanic,” which garnered her a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Ensemble Cast. Her numerous film credits include the Oscar-winning “Unforgiven,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “True Crime,” “The Kingdom” and “House of Sand & Fog.”
On the TV side, Fisher played Lucille Ball in “Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter” and has also had roles on many acclaimed series, including “The Shield,” “The Killing,” “Masters of Sex,” “Law & Order,” “Roseanne,” ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Watchmen.”
Fisher’s supports several worthwhile causes and is an executive board member of the Environmental Media Assn. She is currently serving her 21st year on the National Board of SAG-AFTRA and is an Ambassador for NWHM, working to create a National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C.
Fisher is a member of the Actors Studio, and her first acting teacher was Stella Adler.
Stephanie Lam, “The Sinner”
Cindy Cheung plays Stephanie Lam on the USA Network psychological thriller “The Sinner.”
Cheung has guest-starred and recurred on a wide range of TV series, including “The Flight Attendant,” “Billions,” “13 Reasons Why,” “High Maintenance,” “FBI,” “Blindspot,” “The Good Fight,” “Blue Bloods,” “New Amsterdam,” “House of Cards” and “Homeland.”
She has appeared in numerous films, including Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” Jenny Slate’s “Obvious Child” and “The Sunlit Night,” “Children of Invention” (Sundance) and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water.”
On stage her most recent role was in Nia Vardalos’ adaptation of the Cheryl Strayed book “Tiny Beautiful Things at the Long Wharf.”
Percy Muldoon, “The Sinner”
Alice Kremelberg plays Percy Muldoon on the USA Network psychological thriller “The Sinner.”
Kremelberg is a film, television and theater actor born and raised in New York. She portrayed Nicole Eckelcamp in several seasons of Jenji Kohan’s “Orange Is the New Black” and can be seen in Aaron Sorkin’s award-winning Oscar-nominated film “The Trial of the Chicago 7” on Netflix.
Other film and TV credits include “Monsterland,” “Doomsday” (AMC’s HollyWeb Fest winner for Best Series), “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “New Amsterdam,” NCIS,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Blue Bloods,” “The Big C,” “Smash,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “30 Rock.”
Her stage credits include “Dry Land,” “Dress of Fire” (The Abingdon/Players Theater), “Suddenly Last Summer” (ATNYC), “Road Veins” (Amy Witting), “Lend Me a Tenor” (PPAS), “The House of Bernarda Alba,” “A Lie of the Mind” and “The Nutcracker” alongside the New York City Ballet.
Kremelberg has trained at the Atlantic Acting Conservatory, Fordham University, Upright Citizens Brigade and the Professional Performing Arts School, and studied with Tanya Berezin and Ted Sluberski, among others.
Executive Producer, “The Sinner”
Derek Simonds is the creator and an executive producer of the USA Network psychological thriller “The Sinner.”
Simonds has developed numerous independent film projects as a writer and director, most recently executive producing Sony Pictures Classics award-winning release “Call Me by Your Name.” He was a writer on the ABC miniseries event “When We Rise,” a recounting of the gay civil rights movement created by Dustin Lance Black, as well as ABC’s 2015 limited series “Astronaut Wives Club.”
Simonds has developed television pilots for UCP, ABC Studios and TNT, and also wrote and directed his debut feature film, “Seven and a Match.”
Proofread and Edited by Brenda