To watch, or not to watch? That is the question. The answer should actually be fairly obvious since Sundance Channel's Canadian import, Slings & Arrows, is so deliciously written, with its wry sense of humor and its incredibly stylized dialogue filled with juicy layered meanings. TVGuide.com recently had a chance to speak with the show's head writer, Bob Martin — who just so happens to have won a Tony for his narration of the Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone and is busying himself for the London staging — about Slings' third season, which premieres Sunday at 8 pm/ET.
TVGuide.com: I walk past your smiling face on a huge Drowsy billboard every morning. Is that a bit surreal for you, because usually you're behind the scenes as a writer?
Bob Martin: Yeah, it's a bit crazy to see that, especially because I'm making such a ridiculous face on the poster. [Laughs] I was a performer at Second City [in Chicago] for a long time, and I was on a big billboard on a side of a building there, looking ridiculous for a couple of years, so I got used to it.
TVGuide.com: I really, really love Slings & Arrows. You filmed this so long ago, though.
Martin: Yeah, it was two years ago that it was shot, while we were, partly anyway, in Los Angeles doing the out-of-town tryout for Drowsy Chaperone. It was the first season of the three that I couldn't be there on set the whole time, which was really difficult, because I was creative producer of the show, and I normally would have been there for every day of shooting. It was really hard to walk away from it, but then again, Drowsy was really exciting. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Well, yeah. Tonys, things like that. I love the story about how Drowsy Chaperone started out as a small gift and then blossomed into this crazy Broadway show.
Martin: We just didn't see it coming. We knew it was a fun little show. The funny thing is that both things happened at the same time. Slings was the major project in my life and it was very difficult, very time-consuming over years and years to create the whole miniseries; at the same time Drowsy was growing and growing. It wouldn't go away. Every time we staged it, it did well and it kept moving and moving on. I never would have imagined that Drowsy would be the thing that would take me to another level in terms of my work.
TVGuide.com: So, are you working on another musical?
Martin: Yes, we are working on another show, but I love television. I have an affection for both worlds. I want to work on another TV project, and we've been pitching some stuff around as well, but right now I'm sort of locked into the world of performing every night, so it's hard to do anything else.
TVGuide.com: Right. Are you signed on to Drowsy for a long time?
Martin: It is an open-ended contract. But the thing is, Drowsy is going to London, and I'll be going with the production to London.
TVGuide.com: So, there's no hope for another six episodes of Slings & Arrows after this batch airs here?
Martin: Well, it was conceived as a three-season miniseries, but because of the popularity of it, we're certainly talking about doing something — but there's nothing official yet. It's an interesting experience to create characters like that and keep them alive for so long and then after that, walk away. It's not easy, so we would all love to dive back into their lives, but I'm not sure what form that would take. It might be a film or something, but we don't know at this point.
TVGuide.com: Writing Slings & Arrows must be a massive undertaking with all the Shakespeare, and the language of it is just so beautiful.
Martin: Thank you, yeah, it is. It really was very difficult because basically Geoffrey Tennant [played by Paul Gross] is a genius, and so everything that we say about the theater has to be a reasonable statement. All three writers were also actors, and I've directed, and Susan [Coyne] has written for the theater and everything, but we really have to research the plays quite thoroughly. And not only that, we have to understand how a director would approach a scene and the particular problems with staging the three plays that we were dealing with. All that research was necessary before we could even do the dialogue.
TVGuide.com: This season's focus is King Lear. How did you pick that play?
Martin: We had thought of the three seasons as dealing with youth, middle age and old age. Hamlet kind of dealt with youth, and we'd centered on Geoffrey and Ellen (Martha Burns), sort of dealing with their past. Macbeth dealt with middle age and we drew a comparison between Lady Macbeth and Ellen and her situation. And for old age, Lear is an incredible piece of work and we happen to have William Hutt in the role, and he's really considered Canada's greatest actor.
TVGuide.com: That's quite an accolade.
Martin: We were so excited. He had retired from the stage and from acting entirely, but we wrote the part for him and he did a famous Lear at Stratford, which is considered one of the greatest. But it was never recorded, so part of the exercise here was to get Bill Hutt on film doing Lear, and he's incredible. I think he was 86 when he was shooting it, so he was dealing with all the issues that our character was, one way or another facing the end of his life. It couldn't have worked out better, really.
TVGuide.com: And this season you also have Sarah Polley, who I think is so talented.
Martin: Oh, she's great, and she's a great person, too. Multitalented. I think the work she does in this is pretty spectacular, because it's not easy for people to do Slings. To be a sort of passable classical actor on television is not easy — to go from that naturalistic style of dialogue in your normal life and then to go on stage and do the Shakespearian text and sound convincingly — but she is great in the role. I hope she wins some awards for it; she deserves it.
TVGuide.com: I have to admit that I initially tuned in to Season 1 because of Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers), but she did this before she really hit it big.
Martin: Yeah, literally, we saw it happen. It was really hard to get her for the second season, not because she didn't want to do it, but because she was owned by studios at that point.
TVGuide.com: How do you explain Slings & Arrows to someone who has never watched?
Martin: It is a tough one. There is the academic explanation, which sounds so dry — the plays they stage, the scenes are reflected in their own personal lives.... But that doesn't make it sound like a comedy, when in fact it is a workplace comedy. And I think it's a romance. It's basically the story of Geoffrey and Ellen, who you know are man and wife in real life.
TVGuide.com: They're fantastic on screen. What kind of craziness can we expect in Season 3?
Martin: [Laughs] Well, I guess the big crazy element is that Richard [Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney] feels like a bit of a fraud being at the festival, because he doesn't know about the theater.
TVGuide.com: Well, he never really has.
Martin: He's a bookkeeper, basically, but he does have a passion for musical theater. So in Season 3, Geoffrey sort of helps him get up the courage to actually take on a musical. [Then] he produces an original musical at the festival, which is really quite bad, but it's hilariously, really hugely successful, so it's funny. It's a bit of a nod, in a way, to Drowsy. Not that Drowsy's bad, but all the same people [worked on it]. Don McKellar is directing the musical within the scene — [he's] my writing partner on Drowsy — and Greg Morrison and Lisa Lambert, who wrote the music and lyrics for Drowsy, wrote the music and lyrics to the musical within Slings & Arrows itself. It's all sort of incestuous, I guess.
TVGuide.com: They also do the music that's on Slings & Arrows?
Martin: Yes, all of the original music.
TVGuide.com: I love all the theme songs for each season.
Martin: Yeah, I wrote some of the lyrics of those, and I'm proud of that, because I don't write lyrics. [Laughs] But Lisa and I wrote some of those together. I love those songs, I think they're great.
TVGuide.com: Well, Season 3 starts here on the 18th, and I'm very excited. Anything else we should tell people to look forward to from you?
Martin: Well, I'm off to London at the end of this month with Drowsy, and that's very exciting. It's funny to have written this fiction about the world of the theater for all those years and then suddenly be completely immersed in it again. I'm sure the British characters are hilarious, and all the British actors... I'm sure all the stories are true. So I can't wait to be surrounded by those guys. Something else will come out of this whole experience for television, I'm sure.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.