Daniel Ezra says Monday’s episode of The CW’s “All American” should have come with a “warning” for fans, as viewers saw characters continue to grieve the loss of Coach Billy Baker as well as witnessed Spencer make a shocking decision.
While portraying Spencer onscreen, Ezra was also working behind the camera as director for episode 13. This was Ezra’s second go at directing, with his directorial debut being Season 4’s twelfth episode. The actor says he felt “more confident this time around.”
“It’s a whole other kind of pressure,” Ezra told TheWrap ahead of the episode’s premiere. “I prepped any time I wasn’t acting in the coming weeks before I was directing — whether that be scripts, my knowledge of camera shots, angles and sizes. I went overboard on prep, so when it came to quote-unquote ‘game day,’ I was ready for anything.”
That “anything” included capturing the characters’ continued mourning of Coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs).
It’s been two episodes since Coach Baker died as a result of a tragic bus crash, and in episode 13 fans saw Olivia (Samantha Logan) lose control of her sobriety and Jabari (Simeon Daise) reach a breaking point that resulted in him physically attacking another student. As for Spencer (Ezra), well, his pent up frustration led him to make a drastic decision to leave the Golden Angeles University football team after an argument with Coach Garrett (Sean Carrigan). Ezra was also able to use footage from Coach Baker’s death in the episode, an opportunity that he called a “privilege.”
“This episode definitely should come with a warning in terms of emotions and how hard it is, and we use that footage for a very big moment,” Ezra said. “I love how we were able to integrate it, and it fit right with my vision. This is an episode of healing, but we will take a second to get there and that was one of the great things of [directing] this time because it’s such a big character. We’re giving each character their own time to breathe, and we’re not rushing the grieving process. You’re going to see all the stages in these episodes, mine in particular.”
Ezra says Spencer’s seemingly impulsive decision to leave the team was the aftermath of him losing Coach Baker.
“Spencer is shutting down,” Ezra said. “This is the second father figure he’s lost in a very dramatic way. I think this one is particularly acute because this is his hero who lifted him out of the path he was headed down, and now he’s not there to see him through. Spencer is in the process of shutting himself down to everyone in the world, and it’s a scary thing to watch for everyone else and the people he loves.”
Just like Coach Baker was loved by his students and community, Diggs was loved by his cast members and crew. Ezra says Diggs’ departure was “bittersweet,” but says he believes the character’s death gave life to the range the actors were able to show on-camera.
“I loved working with Tay,” Ezra said. “Honestly, I’m still really mourning not seeing him every day, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that’s not excited about the kind of gift that exit gives back to these characters. I’m kind of a sucker for death, and playing characters that are going through something. There’s no bigger character we could have killed off to get that kind of effect and to draw those kinds of performances. I genuinely think this is the best you’re going to see of these actors.”
“All American” airs 8 p.m. ET/PT Mondays on The CW.