Emmy Breakout Jack Falahee on Toughest ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ Scene, Viola Davis and 36-Hour Binge Watch

“I was nervous… It was my first time on a big set, on a network show.. She just said to me, ‘Hey look, less is more. You don’t wanna blow your load too early in the scene,'” the actor tells TheWrap of shooting his first episode with Davis

Jack Falahee entered the first season of “How to Get Away With Murder” with a resume that leaned toward indie movies and teen dramas–but 15 jawdropping episodes of the Shonda Rhimes and Pete Nowalk drama with more than a few steamy scenes later, he’s made his mark as Connor Walsh, a ruthless, duplicitous gay law student interning at Viola Davis‘ firm.

“Going into this, I was just thinking of the work and I didn’t think of it as so groundbreaking,” Falahee told TheWrap. “But seeing the response on Twitter, Instagram, social, and people coming up to me, it’s struck me right between the eyes how important this is. It’s 2015–it’s time for inclusive content.”

What was your favorite buzzy line from “How to Get Away With Murder?”
I think mine that we would all joke around with on set was the line that Connor says in the pilot when he tells Michaela (Aja Naomi King) to “stop acting like a little bitch baby.” I think that’s a pretty great piece of writing.

Connor has been a trailblazing role in terms of being one of the first really strong gay male characters on broadcast TV that also actually has a sex life on-screen. And now “Empire” followed suit as another broadcast TV show with a very strong gay male character. So with all the attention the role has brought to you, do you feel a bigger responsibility as Jack Falahee the actor?
I think that you know at the end of the day, going on to set everyday, I was just striving to do my best work and bring to life this character that Pete Nowalk so beautifully crafted. Really, it’s his doing and his words that are sort of jumping off the page and I think resonating with so many people inside and outside of the LGBTQ community. I think that yeah, there has to be a feeling of like a little bit of responsibility just because, well, I was going into it just approaching the work. I didn’t really think–maybe naively so–I didn’t really think that it was so groundbreaking. Maybe that’s because I don’t watch television or own a television, but just seeing and hearing the response on Twitter, Instagram on social and people coming up to me at restaurants after even just the pilot, it sort of struck me right between the eyes how important this is and to continue the dialogue and like you said, like “Empire” has similar characters and it’s becoming more inclusive on television. It’s 2015–it’s time for us to have inclusive content, you know even with trans characters beginning to show up on “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent.” It’s time for equal representation and I think Pete and Shonda have for years– it hasn’t really been an agenda, it’s just been a fact that these people exist and should be shown on television.

Photographed by Kris Connor

What was the toughest scene you shot this season for “How to Get Away to Murder?”
I think the toughest there are two scenes that really affected me: One being the scene in the woods where Connor is hacking up the remains of Sam with a crowbar–that was just sort of a tough place. I think that that’s the worst that we see Connor at as far as his downward spiral, and just going into that emotional state–it was late at night, it was overnight like 3 a.m. — just hacking up a body wasn’t the most fun.

Another one that really, really affected me was the scene with Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) where he tells me that he tested HIV Positive. I’ve had friends that have tested positive, and I’ve been in waiting rooms with friends getting tests and that’s a very scary. And again, a real thing that people go through, so yeah, that for me was a tough day and I think that Conrad did such a beautiful job of playing that truthfully.

If you were nominated for an Emmy, which episode would you want to represent your work?
I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that. I feel like maybe Episode 4 just because that’s were we see Connor’s night, the night of the murder unfold a bit. I would probably just piss myself with excitement if that happened. [laughs]

If you met somebody who has never seen “How to Get Away With Murder,” what would you say to persuade them to watch it?
Viola Davis. Duh.

What’s the last TV show you binge-watched? And for how many hours or episodes was the longest binge?
I don’t usually watch television especially more recently with working. I just haven’t really had the time unfortunately. But I’m shooting down in Richmond right now and I’m sort of isolated in a hotel room, so I have been binging a bit to catch up. Most recently, I’m watching “Bloodline” on Netflix and it’s amazing. My co-star on this miniseries, Norbert Leo Butz is on the show and it’s incredible. I’ve also been watching “Peaky Blinders” with Cillian Murphy which is also incredible.

The longest? Probably “Orange Is the New Black.” Last year, after we shot the pilot and I had just met Matt McGorry — the talented and hilarious Matt McGorry — I remember I went to Coachella and afterward I was sort of like detoxing. I bailed out of Coachella a day early– it was too much. I got back to my apartment in L.A. and was detoxing from the desert. I watched the first 2 seasons of OITNB in like, I don’t know, probably 36 hours or something.

Everyone always reflects back to “The Golden Age of Television,” but would you say right now is the second Golden Era of TV?
Yeah, I would definitely agree with that statement. I mean, just the way that content is being distributed, like you said, all of the avenues by which you can digest content, it’s fascinating. I think that it’s creating a lot of jobs for actors, and like I said, as it’s becoming a more and more inclusive place we’re seeing a lot of different people on television, which to me is synonymous with the golden age.

Who else on your show really deserves an Emmy and why?
Viola, of course. But oh man, everyone. All of them. They’re all so beautiful and amazing. It would be really tough for me to–is there an Emmy for writing? Is that a thing? I mean, Pete should probably get an Emmy. I feel like he deserves one.

If you add any new category to the Emmys, serious or silly, what would it be?
“Best Off-Screen Bromance”and then Matt McGorry and I would win. [laughs]

Anything else you want to share about Connor or with the “HTGAWM” fans?
Just like a big thank you to everyone for watching and being so supportive, for all of the kind messages on social and the fan mail. I’m new to the gig and the industry and it’s been a really overwhelmingly positive first experience, which is in big part due to my producers and cast mates and crew, but also our fans who have been lovely.

When do you go back into production?
I think mid-July? The writers are currently in the room but we start shooting mid-July. I’m shooting a miniseries that Ridley Scott is doing for PBS. It’s a Civil War drama called “Mercy Street.”

How is “Mercy Street” going and tell us about your character?
It’s going really well. It’s going to be on PBS in January following the final season of “Downton Abbey.” I’m playing a character named Frank Stringfellow who is a scout for the confederate army. It’s a pretty far departure from Connor Walsh. It’s fun. It’s a period drama so we’re putting on costumes and I’m riding horses and shooting guns. He fancies himself a hero for the confederate cause, but a lot of people would obviously deem that as villainous. It’s a great cast, crew–writers and the producers. Scott Free is behind the project and PBS has been amazing. It’s the first show that PBS is putting out and actually producing itself in like 25 years. It’s kind of again what we were just talking about, this golden age of television and everyone’s is taking a piece of the cake so it’s really exciting.

Photographed by Kris Connor

Hollywood faces ageism, sexism and racism but yet Viola Davis transcends all of those issues in the industry. Why do think that is?
I think, first and foremost, Viola is an actor’s actor; she’s just superbly talented, above all else, and the success that she’s had throughout her entire career and the national recognition, so to speak, that she’s receiving now, I think, is just a testament to the grind that she’s been on as an actor for 30-plus years. She’s now just becoming a household name, she’s a highly-trained actress, she’s been working for a very long time, so, you know, above all else, I think that it’s so well-deserved and it’s time that she gets recognition for the hustle that she’s put in.

Talk about first scene you shot with Viola. Did she ever give you any advice on set?
Yeah, I don’t think she would mind me saying this, at least I hope not. [laughs] On the pilot, we had a very brief scene together and I was nervous. It was my first time on a big set, on a network show and everything. I was doing this scene and she just said to me, ‘Hey look, less is more. You don’t wanna blow your load too early in the scene.’ Which is actually sort of how Viola rolls. She’s so down to earth and she shoots the shit with us on set. She’s so grounded and she puts herself at our level, which I think you can see in the work. She makes all of us look as good as she is, which I think is an incredible trait of hers. She elevates all of us on the cast. That’s significant I think in a scene when you’re truly a good actor, when you’re able to make your co-star look as good or better than you are and Viola continues to do that on set day in and day out.

And another anecdote I guess is in Episode 4: Conor sort of goes to Oliver’s door and it’s this moment where he breaks down at the door and he’s about to tell Oliver maybe that he’s been a co-conspirer in this murder plot and crying and saying, “I messed up. I messed up.” I was having a really difficult time working on that and reaching the emotional plane that I thought the scene called for and I remember asking Viola on set, “Hey, Viola. Do you find that with age and wisdom, you’ve lived a little bit more and it’s easier for you to access a wide range of emotion, a depth of emotion and she just very genuinely was like, “Look man, you and I, we’re both humans on this earth and we’ve both lived and we’ve both experienced so much, albeit different, and in different ways, but we’ve all lived this shared human experience. So you just gotta rely on that and trust your instincts.” And it was just such a simple and nice reassurance coming from her that at the end of the day, we’re just trying our best to depict honest, real human characters. It made me feel that maybe she doesn’t have this secret trick, she’s just trying like the rest of us.

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