ABC powerhouse drama “How to Get Away With Murder” returned for Season 2 on Thursday and immediately picked up where last year’s jaw-dropping finale left off. Fans learned the identity of Rebecca’s killer in the first episode and the series laid groundwork for another roller coaster ride full of twist and turns.
TheWrap last spoke with “How to Get Away With Murder” creator and showrunner Pete Nowalk this past spring for our Wrap Magazine cover story on his star Viola Davis, who just became the first ever Black actress to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama Series.
At the time, Nowalk discussed Davis’ now iconic wig scene, saying the scene which helped boost the actress to Emmy glory, was actually Davis’ brainchild in their very first conversation about the role.
“She came to the part with so much insight and thoughtfulness,” Nowalk told TheWrap this past May. “She helped shape the part in ways that I can’t even describe — and every time we talk I leave with so many more ideas I wouldn’t have thought of.”
Just one day after Davis made awards history and on the
TheWrap’s Joseph Kapsch: Do you think Viola Davis‘ win at the Emmys is a real step forward for women in the industry that will lead to real change or after the celebratory headlines disappear will Hollywood just go back to business as usual with women underrepresented, both onscreen and behind-the-scenes — directors, writers, producers, etc?
Pete Nowalk: Wow. I don’t know if I’m the right person to comment on all that because I don’t know what’s going to come of it. I was thrilled with the amount of women given awards that night, but I think the real test is what happens in the future. Like you said, I think obviously we all need to do a better job at getting more women behind the camera, especially. The lack of female directors is really an abomination in the whole industry and we all need to do a lot of work to fix that. So I hope it’s a step in the right direction. We would be ignorant to think that all of the work is done. I feel more work has to continue to be done.
TheWrap: Now let’s jump right into Season 2 of “How to Get Away With Murder.” We know Rebecca’s killer will be revealed in the first episode. What can you tell us further? Is the murderer one of the Keating 5?
Nowalk: I’m not going to comment on any of that, because everyone is a suspect on the show and there may be even suspects that we haven’t met that should be suspects. Because we are revealing it in the first episode, I don’t want to spoil it. It will reveal a lot about one of the characters, I’ll say that. It will hint at a backstory, and it will hopefully come at a point in the episode that will shock people.
TheWrap: Will the revelation of Rebecca’s killer be more shocking than the Lila and Sam reveals?
Nowalk: I don’t know if it will be as shocking as those two. I think that’s why I really felt the need to reveal it earlier. We love surprises and shocks, obviously, but so much of it stems from character and really this reveal is about a character. And it feels extremely true to the character and it also hints at more about who they are and their mystery. I think that’s one of the things I’m so excited about with Season 2. We really get to know more about these characters that we don’t know that much about. It’s always been the premise of the show that there’s a bunch of strangers shoved into a very intense situation together, and now they have to stay with each other and get to know each other and the killer is part of this whole theme we have going with just digging deeper into our characters.
TheWrap: You’ve said previously that you don’t know everything in advance even yourself and that you’re writing episode-to-episode with the story as you go. So that being said, because you already revealed Wes as Sam’s killer and Frank as Lila’s killer. Could you tell us now — just for diehard fans of the show– were they always pretty much the choices or did you actually have something written where there were other killers and who were they?
Nowalk: Well for Lila, the year when we wrote the pilot I had no idea who killed Lila. I knew that Sam was a suspect and that was a big arc for the show, but by the end of the season I wrote many versions of the finale and the actors read them — we put it out there in the world — because I kept changing my mind. We had a version where Rebecca killed Lila, a version where Sam killed Lila and it wasn’t until I hated them and I asked people for help that it changed. Because I was like, ‘Why does this not feel fun or that surprising?’
You know it’s hard for me to believe that Sam would strangle a girl. He was a psychology professor not a sociopath, so I went to one of the other writers — and this is what we do — we just throw out everything we know and come up with a new version and very quickly I read to Mike Foley that maybe Frank did it for Sam and that clicked for me. I guess that’s the most fun part of writing is when you feel lost and you’re in the weeds and you don’t know what to do and all of the sudden someone will pitch an idea or you’ll have an idea and all of the sudden things will start clicking. It’s like, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes.’ It feels right. So then it was just about figuring out how we made that work. And this season is about figuring out why Sam did that, or why Frank had to do that favor for Sam.
TheWrap: How about with the version of the episode of the night when we went back to the murder and Wes killed Sam in defense of Rebecca?
Nowalk: I was always open to changing it to someone else when I wrote the pilot. But once we got picked up for series, I wouldn’t let myself think about the second episode because I didn’t want to jinx it. I always felt like it was Wes because he was our puppy and I believe he was pure of heart in terms of his love for Rebecca. I believe he was chivalrous and protective in a very old-fashioned way, so it always felt right to me that the puppy would be the killer. I thought we would change that a million times and when we got there, it still worked. For us it was like, ‘Maybe that wasn’t too much of a shock for people.’ I think everyone was guessing it was going to be different people. To me the real shock came at the end of the episode when Annalise was sitting in the house. Again, we know we’re not always going to shock the audience so we try to make sure it just feels real to the character and if we don’t shock them in one place, we’ll shock them in another.
TheWrap: If you could pick any dream crossover attorney from another show — past or present — to come on the show and go toe-to-toe with Annalise, who would that be?
Nowalk: The first one that pops into my head is “The Good Wife’s” Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). I would love to see that.
TheWrap: What can you tell us about the new characters coming on the canvas this year?
Nowalk: I would say Famke Janssen brings a lighter, playful energy to the show and I think she plays a really awesome defense attorney. She’s very tough inside the court, but outside she’s sort-of playful and fun. Kendrick Sampson plays a very mysterious figure in the show. So does Amy Okuda. You meet the three of those characters in the premiere, but I don’t want to reveal who they’re playing and what not. But they all figure very prominently into the season, even if they aren’t in it for very many episodes. And the other character that is coming is played by Matt Cohen and he plays someone named Levi, a very sexy character.
TheWrap: Any plans for a Cicely Tyson return this season?
Nowalk: Always. We are always going to try to work out a storyline that works with Cicely’s very busy schedule. But we are constantly trying to get her back, mostly for the character’s sake. Obviously we love having Cicely here. But Annalise and her mother really bonded a lot in that last episode, so in real life would have a lot more interaction. Nothing’s specifically set yet. But believe me, I want it to happen as much as everyone else does.
TheWrap: Who’s your dream guest star if you could pick anyone in Hollywood to come on the show?
Nowalk: I always say this like such a joke, because everyone in the world says this, but Meryl Streep.
TheWrap: What would you want Meryl to play?
Nowalk: Anything. I won’t
TheWrap then asked Nowalk to answer the same two questions for each character in Season 2’s main cast.
1) What will most surprise us or what will be the biggest change about their character?
2) Describe the character’s Season 2 storyline in one word.
See “How to Get Away With Murder” creator and executive producer Pete Nowalk’s answers to TheWrap’s Season 2 character quickies:
Annalise Keating (Viola Davis)
What will surprise us most of be the biggest change about Annalise in Season 2?
There will be many surprises but I think there will be a huge surprise in the first episode about her past. I think we’ll see a side of her where she’s having fun –I think that’s a different side of her that we haven’t seen yet. The thing that’s constant about Annalise is that she’s extremely good at her job and it matters to her that she’s good at her job. I think she wouldn’t know how to exist without her work and we’ll see how that comes out in an interesting way in the premiere.
Describe Annalise’s Season 2 storyline in one word.
Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber)
What will surprise us most or be the biggest change about Frank in Season 2?
You’ll be surprised to see where he came from.
Describe Frank’s Season 2 storyline in one word. I think he’ll become vulnerable.
Wes Gibbons (Alfred Enoch)
What will surprise us most or be the biggest change about Wes in Season 2?
I think how quickly Wes has changed from the puppy of the first season to more of a grown-up man in the second season.
Describe Wes’ Season 2 storyline in one word.
Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee)
What will surprise us most or be the biggest change about Connor in Season 2?
I think we will reveal his softer side.
Describe Connor’s Season 2 storyline in one word.
It’s so hard to pin. I’ll just say Oliver.
Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King)
What will surprise us most or be the biggest change about Michaela in Season 2?
I think it will be fun to see her as a single lady.
Describe Micheala’s Season 2 storyline in one word.
Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry)
What will surprise us most or be the biggest change about Asher in Season 2?
Something he did in his past.
Describe Asher’s Season 2 storyline in one word.
Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil)
What will surprise us most or be the biggest change about Bonnie in Season 2?
I think how her relationship with Annalise changes.
Describe Bonnie’s Season 2 storyline in one word.
Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza)
What will surprise us the most or be the biggest change about Laurel in Season 2?
I think what will surprise us most is how tough she is.
Describe Laurel’s Season 2 storyline in one word.