Actor Hunter Doohan has achieved the rare feat of turning his high school passion into a compelling Hollywood career. Most actors Doohan’s age are lucky to find steady work, much less roles that are considered artistically rewarding.
Doohan has once again beaten the odds with Showtime’s critically acclaimed limited series, Your Honor. While Doohan has a tremendous aptitude for his craft, it’s his determination and ingenuity that have brought him to this moment in his career.
In fact, Doohan started writing and directing as a means to create content for himself as an actor. “I started writing because no one was giving me opportunities… for a while, my entire reel consisted of shorts I’d written,” Doohan shares.
In Showtime’s Your Honor, Doohan plays high school senior Adam Desiato, the son of prominent New Orleans Judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston). Adam is struggling with the one year anniversary of his mother’s murder when he causes a fatal hit and run accident.
Adam makes a series of mistakes and finds himself in the crosshairs of vengeful mob boss Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). To complicate matters, Adam has started a relationship with Jimmy Baxter’s only daughter Fia, played by Lilli Kay.
Doohan spoke to Awards Focus about reading opposite Bryan Cranston, learning from the veteran Emmy winning actor, and filming that heart-wrenching car wreck sequence.
Awards Focus: When you’re reading for the role of Bryan Cranston’s son, at what point does Bryan get involved in the casting? What was that first meeting like?
Hunter Doohan: When I was auditioning, the only one attached at that point was Bryan. For the final test, they flew me to New York where Bryan was doing Network on Broadway. I was very excited to meet him, so I flew in early enough to see a performance of Network.
AF: How did you like the show?
Doohan: I joke with my friends now that it might have been a mistake seeing it, as I already looked up to Bryan before I saw his incredible performance that night. But we met for our test the next morning and it went really well.
After the reading, he gave me a lot of really good advice for chemistry reads in general and how to conduct yourself and the importance of giving the same performance to each actor. I got to be on the other side of the table so to speak when reading with actresses for the roles of Sofia (Black-D’Elia) for Franny and Lilli (Kay) for Fia Baxter.
AF: When you have those pivotal emotional scenes with Byran, do you rehearse together outside of set?
Doohan: We rehearsed a couple of the trickier scenes outside of set, specifically when the PTSD hits Adam and he’s crawling on the ground when his dad finds him in episode two. I wanted to make that feel authentic and I really was grateful to have that extra time with Bryan.
In episode four, there’s a really intense family dinner where my character storms out at the end. Byran chases me outside and we have a father and son confrontation. That was something we rehearsed as well, in addition to discussing with (showrunner) Peter Moffat. Peter is great about letting us play it different ways and explore.
We tried the scene as more calm and whispered and moved the dial to full on yelling… anytime you can go up against Byran Cranston, it’s a fun day at work.
AF: Talk about some of Adam’s choices following the accident, specifically when he goes against his father’s advice.
Doohan: As a longtime judge, Bryan’s character comes in with a calm clarity and pieces of a plan to get Adam out of this mess. The problem is that Adam is very emotional and honestly, he hates himself for what he did. Adam feels so guilty and it’s that guilt drives him to make some pretty poor choices.
AF: You mentioned the dinner scene in episode four, which must have been a massive undertaking. There’s a tremendous amount of material to cover, and you’re dealing with coverage for six actors and a dog. What was that day like for you, can you recall any details from the shoot that stand out?
Doohan: That was twelve hours around the dinner table shoot with shrimp in front of you. It started to smell pretty bad by the end of the shoot and none of the cast has a particular desire for shrimp anytime soon.
In terms of the actors, you have heavyweights like Byran, Carmen Ejogo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Margo Martindale. I really felt like the outsider with them, which worked well because my character is feeling separated in a similar way because of the secret and trauma he’s carrying.
AF: Your character was already in a bad place emotionally before the hit and run. We met Adam when he’s visiting a crime-riddled area of New Orleans. He’s there to honor his mother on the one year anniversary off her murder.
You could argue that Adam wasn’t thinking clearly even then, but the biggest surprise for me was when he strikes up a relationship with Fia Baxter (Lilli Kay), the sister of his hit and run victim and daughter of the dangerous mob boss Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg). What do you think drove Adam to that?
Doohan: With any character, you’re trying to figure out who he is and what drives him. With Adam, I had a good insight into the character for a very personal reason.
When we meet the character in the pilot, it’s on the one year anniversary of Adam losing his mother to a violent murder. It was during the filming of Your Honor that I marked the two year anniversary of my own father.
So, I know what loss does to a young person and how it can make you withdraw. In the series, Adam is certainly taking the loss of his mother harder than Bryan’s character, and he’s latched onto his teacher, Frannie.
We shot the series in blocks of three, so I rehearsed it like a play. It really allowed me to track Adam’s journey the whole time. In terms of his relationship with Fia, it comes from his obsession with her brother, Rocco. You see that clearly in episode two when Adam is googling the Baxter family and reading through Rocco’s facebook.
I talked to two psychiatrists about PTSD and there’s this compulsion to repeat after a big traumatic event. This is why Adam does what he does, taking photos of the crime scene, stalking Rocco online.
I don’t think Adam meant to fall into this relationship with Fia, but they have this bond of losing someone so tragically that it really pulled them together.
AF: Adam has this romantic relationship with Frannie, his teacher, in his introductory scene and then it gets turbulent when he confesses to her about the hit and run. As the series progresses, his connection to her seems to wain as he grows closer to Fia.
Do you think Adam feels guilty about almost ghosting Frannie, is there any more room for guilt in his life?
Doohan: (Laughs) I feel like Adam has no limit on the amount of guilt he can carry in this show. At the end of episode three Adam cracks and does the one thing his father tells him not to do, he confesses to Frannie.
The next morning, he goes to Frannie hoping to get some support in a way that his father isn’t offering it and her reaction is not at all what he expected. I feel like Adam was crushed by her reaction at the school, and that sent the relationship in a bad direction.
AF: With decades of Law & Order on top of the many crime series on TV, audiences have been exposed to the hit and run storyline frequently. However, with Your Honor, that sequence is so visceral and disconcerting.
Can you walk us through the technical aspects of shooting that and your acting preparation? It’s absolutely fantastic in the most cringeworthy way, particularly when the blood is spit into your mouth.
Doohan: It’s funny, I had a friend text me and ask about the shot where Rocco spit blood on me. The truth is, they filled the actor’s mouth with fake blood and then he spit it on me. We went for all practical effects on the day.
And in terms of why that scene stands out so much, I want to praise Peter Moffat’s writing. That scene was three pages in the script with no dialogue, just action lines filled with rich details. There was so much time devoted to that scene on the day, and it was a real luxury despite the physical challenges of what Adam goes through.
AF: To end on a lighter note, what was it like driving that old station wagon. Do you think you’d ever drive a car like that in real life?
Doohan: (Laughs). No, that thing was so hard to get started! It was the same with Fia’s car, the Volkswagen Beetle. It broke down all the time.
AF: The station wagon goes with Byran Cranston’s pattern of owning somewhat less-than-desirable vehicles in his shows, specifically the green Pontiac Aztec in Breaking Bad. So, unfortunately Adam was stuck with the clunker.
Doohan: In the pilot, I think we proved that maybe Adam wasn’t ready for an expensive car (laughs).