Age may be nothing but a number, but it can often make a huge difference in the glamorous world of show business. Yet even in the youth-obsessed wonderland of Hollywood, a strong friendship can profoundly transcend the generation gap. That’s what the hilarious series BREAK A HIP proved to viewers in its critically acclaimed first season.
Created by Cameron Watson, season 2 of BREAK A HIP continues its remarkable appeal to the young – and the young at heart – as it follows the improbable friendship between an aging former actress (Biz, played by 6 time Emmy nominee Christina Pickles, ST. ELSEWHERE, FRIENDS) and a fledgling thespian (Wincy, played by Britt Hennemuth). Co-produced by Watson, Pickles, Steve Cubine, Maggie Biggar and Mason McCulley, BREAK A HIP’s 8 episode second season is now on the show’s web site.
In season 2, Biz and Wincy are forced to find each other again after Biz is kicked out of her apartment by her nosy landlord Niblett (Oscar winner Allison Janney, I, TONYA, MOM, THE WEST WING). As Wincy tries to regroup following a disappointing turn in an off-Broadway play in Boston, he discovers that Biz has been completely “remade” (or brainwashed?) by her strange “long-lost nephew” Ferndale (Craig Robert Young).
In cahoots with Ferndale is a young woman who’s set on giving a new look to the old Biz. “We have Dubuy (Emily Baird), a vacuous millennial who only cares about Instagram filters, her social media standing, and her self-centered life in L.A.,” Cubine explains. “She (Dubuy) is a friend of Ferndale (Young) who showed up in the last moments of Season 1. They will play an instrumental role in Biz’s (image) makeover.”
It’s then up to Wincy and Biz’s neighbors Lyle (Pressly Coker), Liberty (Annie Rives) and Norma (Amy Holt) to bring Biz back to her old self. Whether she and Wincy can find another place to live, though, is up to Biz’s newest nemesis: power-hungry nursing home administrator Brenda DeCarlo (Jean Rasey). “After Biz is evicted by Niblett (Janney), Brenda holds the key to Biz’s new home. It’s a power play that is fun to watch,” Cubine notes.
Biz’s love life also gets a makeover when she falls for wealthy ex-Hollywood leading man, Carlton Kincaid (Lawrence Pressman). While Carlton showers his adoration for Biz with a heavy dose of hospitality for her and Wincy, two of his loyal employees aren’t happy they’ve taken up space in his expansive mansion. Adds Cubine: “Carlton comes with a snooty butler named Baxter (Ted Monte) and a sexy House Manager named Katarina (Stephanie Fredricks), a Eastern European ice queen who wants to do away with Biz.”
Enchanted by Carlton’s hospitality and charm, Biz and Wincy think they’ll be set for life. That is, until Carlton’s altruistic ex Yolanda (played by Nancy Morgan) returns from her latest wildlife preservation endeavor. Unaware of her former spouse’s activities, or of his two new mansion residents, Yolanda has quite the shock in store for Biz and Wincy. Could things get better or worse for them? Stay tuned.
The predicaments that Biz and Wincy find themselves ensnared in during season 2 of BREAK A HIP are delightfully comical, even though the places they go are unfamiliar. However, as Watson comments, those new settings play into the larger strategy for growing the series’ locational humor. “We widened the scope of Wincy and Biz’s world this season and take them out of her apartment and into the world.”
BREAK A HIP has characters and situations that many can relate to, regardless of where they are along life’s journey. For Watson, who originally created the series as a movie screenplay called LONELY ON THE MOON, that script – and the successful web series it later became – were inspired by his memories of a life-changing companionship.
“The show is based on my real life experiences with an older English actress when I was a young actor in Hollywood,” says Watson, who loosely based Pickles’ Biz on that actress. “She hired me to run errands for her and take her to the doctor and things like that. But we ended up needing each other in much deeper ways. She was truly alone in the world at that point in her life and I was the only one she could count on. With that responsibility, came a great burden, and also a great joy. I loved her deeply, and yet she drove me absolutely crazy.”
Before Watson even cast the character of Biz for his new series, he already knew who would fit into that role. “I have known Christina Pickles for a very long time. We acted together on a pilot for Fox TV way back in the day, and have been dear friends ever since. The pilot did not get picked up, but we connected deeply on the set of that show, and have worked together countless times. I have directed her in a few plays, and now she is my Biz. There is no one on Earth except Christina to play her.”
Initially, Pickles was approached by Watson to do a reading for what was then his feature length screenplay version of the series (titled LONELY ON THE MOON). However, after she appeared on one of the many shows that made the switch from digital to broadcast, Pickles saw new potential for Watson’s concept.
“A year or so later (after the audition), Cameron and Christina were having lunch and she mentioned that she had just shot a guest star part on the very funny web series CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL,” notes Cubine. “Christina thought that LONELY ON THE MOON could be turned into a web series, and from there BREAK A HIP was born.”
Pickles’ belief in BREAK A HIP further boosted Watson’s determination to make the show, a project fueled by people who’ve been much more than simply his co-workers. “When we (the producers) decided to make it into an episodic series, I immediately went to all of my dear friends who I wanted to work with: actors, producers, costume designers, camera people,” Watson explains. “I wanted this to be a real family effort. I wanted everyone I know and love to get an opportunity to create something artistic and poignant, and with no one over our shoulders controlling every choice.”
Cubine discusses how the longtime friendship shared by Watson and BREAK A HIP’s esteemed co-stars became the biggest reason why the show came together.
“The producers and most of the cast – especially Christina Pickles, Allison Janney, Peri Gilpin (FRASIER), Priscilla Barnes (THREE’S COMPANY), Octavia Spencer (Oscar-winner for THE HELP, who guest starred as Biz’s doctor in season 1), Amy Landers, Jim Rash (actor, COMMUNITY, Oscar-winning screenwriter, THE DESCENDANTS) Rebecca Mozo, Carole Cook, Tom Troupe, Robin Krieger, Nancy Morgan – have been friends for decades.”
The creative freedom provided to the cast and crew who worked on BREAK A HIP was as appealing to them as the show itself. “They loved the concept, the script and the idea,” Watson remembers. “(BREAK A HIP) was a labor of love for us all, and I think they saw it also as a chance to have some fun and let loose. No studio or network looming over us, just friends doing good together. Allison, Peri, Octavia, Priscilla, Christina – all of my famous ladies, are all absolutely top-notch pros with hearts of gold. We had a blast together.”
“We owe everything to our cast,” concurs Cubine. “If they had not responded so enthusiastically about this project, things would have turned out very differently, but the fact that every single actor we approached jumped on board immediately was a huge factor in us getting this made.”
Watson, Biggar and Cubine’s longstanding friendship and professional partnership with two of today’s most celebrated actors presented another boost to BREAK A HIP. “Cameron, Maggie and I have known Allison and Octavia for many years, and are all very close friends,” Cubine says. “I think it was our friendships and mutual love and respect that made it easy to get them on board. We all love working together, and we jump at any chance we get to do so.”
Nowhere is the power of that partnership more evident than in every episode of BREAK A HIP. “The relationships we have as dear friends and colleagues certainly guided and molded the way the show would be executed and, ultimately, how it would end up,” Watson responds. “I believe you can sense a real camaraderie among the ensemble on the screen. There is a warmth and a heartbeat to the show that says it is made by people who care a lot about each other. I think that permeates from the finished product.”
While Janney’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for the Tonya Harding biopic I, TONYA has brought the veteran performer increased acclaim, her versatility in comedy has long been apparent. Besides I, TONYA, most people know Janney today as the co-star of CBS’ hit sitcom MOM. However, as Cubine remembers, Janney found the offbeat banjo playing landlord character she depicts in BREAK A HIP to be among the most fulfilling parts of her career.
“I think Allison was drawn to the character of Niblett because it was like no other role she had every played. She and Cameron worked very closely on the development of Niblett, and much of the character’s quirky genius comes directly from the beautiful, comic-genius of Allison. This was our second time working with Allison,” says Cubine.
Watson, Cubine and Biggar previously worked with Janney on the 2006 indie drama OUR VERY OWN. The film earned Janney her first Independent Spirit Award nomination. “OUR VERY OWN was a tough shoot emotionally for Allison, so it was so much fun to get to do something as funny, quirky, and free flowing with her.”
For many special reasons, Janney believes that making BREAK A HIP was among the most unforgettable experiences she’s had in her career. “I jumped onboard (BREAK A HIP) immediately because this gang (the show’s cast) has known each other for so very long. We came up through the ranks together,” she says. “There is a natural love, respect and trust among us. We work hard and play hard together, and shooting BREAK A HIP was a great combination of both.”
The unpredictable nature of Niblett (Janney’s character in BREAK A HIP) gave the veteran actress an exciting challenge. “Niblett’s unlike any role I’ve ever played before,” she adds. When Cameron approached me about it, he said, ‘she’s going to be wild and anything goes.” I loved hearing that phrase, ‘anything goes.’ That’s something you don’t hear very often. Niblett lives in her own little world where she is a talented superstar. In reality, she is a sad, delusional, failed singer/actress who’s the landlord of a crappy apartment building in Hollywood that her father left her. ”
Janney credits Watson for his hard work in helping her to successfully craft a character that may ultimately be among her most memorable. “It was fun to create this character (Niblett),” explains Janney. “From the look to the outrageous behavior, all of her eccentricities are so bizarre – like the banjo playing. Cam had a real vision for Niblett, and I love how her appearance and façade morph as season 2 progresses. She’s constantly changing.”
Though BREAK A HIP’s production team were blessed with more actors and more filming locations for season 2, Cubine stresses that they weren’t blessed with more time to produce it. “We tackled (filming) season 2 (as) much as we did in season 1. In both seasons, we shot 8 episodes in 9 days, so we were on a very tight schedule that had to be maintained to accommodate the schedules of our stars.”
One of those stars was Hennemuth, whose schedule provided him with only 5 days to shoot his scenes. While scheduling conflicts prevented Spencer from reprising her season 1 character, Janney and Gilpin had only one day to work on BREAK A HIP.
Despite the limited time they had to collaborate with their actors on-set, Cubine and his team successfully addressed the challenges of working with an already in-demand group of performers on season 2 of the series.
“We managed to accomplish it (coordinating the cast’s schedules) by doing some creative changes to the script and prepping in a way that allowed us to shoot out all the scenes of certain actors in the very limited time we had with them,” he says. “I think the experience of filming season 1 really prepared us for this.”
Based on that experience, those who worked behind the scenes would construct some ingenious workarounds for several other areas of BREAK A HIP’s production. “By the time season 2 rolled around, we had learned a great deal about finding clever and creative ways to improvise on the fly in order to get what we needed in the can,” adds Cubine. “By season 2, we also had mastered the art of locating the necessary locations, props, and on-screen elements on a very tight budget to make the series look much richer and much more expensive.”
Two of BREAK A HIP’s more prominent season 2 players – Dubuy (Baird) and Carlton (Pressman) – illustrate the significant divide between younger, more self-absorbed adults and their older yet wiser counterparts. It’s undeniable that young people are heavily in tune with social networking sites like Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Baird’s character is too, but in an astoundingly over-the-top way.
“Dubuy is a product of our youthful L.A. fame-obsessed culture, where anyone and everyone has a shot at stardom based on your social media following,” says Watson, who examines that reality in season 2 of BREAK A HIP. “I am very intrigued by that phenomenon because it is a very real thing in our world today, and it certainly affects the way people behave. Plus, it’s absurd and funny at the same time.”
On the other hand, Pressman’s character represents Hollywood’s past; a time when the careers and public images of its biggest stars were heavily managed by the traditional studio system. “Carlton is a retired movie actor who has done very well for himself and lives in a swanky mansion in Beverly Hills. He had the success and fame in Hollywood that eluded Biz,” adds Watson.
In that case, he says, BREAK A HIP covers the other side of stardom: that which is ultimately unattainable. “I am very interested in what that (unreachable success) does to people; dreamers who have or don’t have what they dreamed about.”
BREAK A HIP is only one of several current feature films and TV series that center around active older characters, and the reality of that trend is not lost on its producers. “We always joke that ‘old is in’ right now,” replies Cubine. “With the popularity of TV shows like GRACE & FRANKIE and films like THE HERO starring the incomparable Sam Elliott, we are all so happy to see that older characters are getting their due and (that they’re) not being regulated to making coffee and telling the young’uns to ‘be careful’ as they sit home passively wringing their hands.”
Old may be in, but BREAK A HIP’s universally identifiable humor touches youngsters and seniors alike while showing how getting old doesn’t have to mean slowing down. “We wanted to show that people of all ages can have full, vital, active, and adventurous lives. Biz certainly does,” says Cubine. “However, I think BREAK A HIP will appeal to viewers of all ages. I think the comedy and the unlikely friendship between Biz and Wincy will transcend generations and appeal to a wide-range of viewers of all ages. Everyone has a ‘Biz’ in their life and can probably relate.”
“Older people relate to Biz and her struggles and fears at this late stage of life. Younger people with dreams and ambitions can plug into Wincy’s quest,” Watson adds. “Also, there is a real sense of the absurdity and randomness of the days we live. I think that speaks to everyone. Things just happen. They are often odd and unexplainable, but they just happen to us.”
On that point, Biggar agrees. “I really like to think that one of the great things about BREAK A HIP is that our audience encompasses a generation span: young and old really love the relationship between Biz and Wincy. There is so much heart in BREAK A HIP in the way we explore family, friendship, (and) aging. It really is a story of growing up and growing old.”
As much as BREAK A HIP takes pride in its storytelling, it takes an even greater level of pride in the total quality of its product.
“I think we have a pretty classy show,” says Watson. “Underneath all the quirkiness and whimsy and laughter, I think there is a solid, well executed show that strives for the best on all fronts – camera work, production design, score, costuming, editing, sound mixing, and certainly the acting. You don’t get much better than this cast.”
BREAK A HIP’s producers believe that for all its humorous hijinks, one of its best traits is its heartfelt look at how the power of friendship can break down the barriers between young and old. “For me, the central theme of BREAK A HIP is about family. It really is about creating the family you want rather than being limited to the family you’re born into,” Cubine says. “It’s also about bridging the gap between the generations and stopping to learn from each other. I hope people take that away from the show.”
Friendship, adds Watson, is only one of several common threads that run throughout the series. “BREAK A HIP is really a study on youth and aging. On growing up and growing old. On dreams achieved and dreams forgotten. It is a study on success and failure in many ways, as well. By having Wincy and Biz at opposite ends of the spectrum of living, we can see what lies ahead for one, and what lies behind the other. And, ultimately, how the only thing that matters is connection – with yourself and with each other.”
Note: The show’s producers say that they will explore adding closed-captioning to all episodes of BREAK A HIP’s second season.
ON THE WEB: www.breakahip.com