Six feet over: director Jeremy Podeswa quizzes Alan Ball—creator of Six Feet Under, now in its last season on HBO—about five years of digging five years of digging the dirt

Jeremy Podeswa

As Six Feet Under wrapped shooting on its fifth and final season, I had the welcome occasion to speak with the show’s brilliant (and out) creator, Alan Ball. Having worked as a director on the show, helming one episode each season since its premiere, I’ve had a privileged vantage point from which to observe this groundbreaking and highly influential series, and I approach its concluding season with both anticipation and some sadness.

In a conversation tinged with a spot of retrospective melancholy, Alan and I reflected on the show and its impending conclusion.

Jeremy Podeswa: You’ve said in previous interviews that you were going to end this show in a way that would have a real sense of finality about it.

Alan Ball: Yeah, it definitely feels like a long novel, and so you want a final chapter. And since it is the last season, I think it has to end–you have to end the show.

No reunion shows, no clip shows …

No [chuckles]. But I wonder if there is a way we could do a clip show [an episode constructed from snippets of previous installments], ’cause we’re all just really tired.

They’ll all have to get locked in an elevator and remember …

Exactly. No, HBO is going to do some sort of retrospective, but it’s not an actual episode of the show. It’s something they’re going to air the night of the final episode.

Oh, that’s nice.

But it’s the last chapter. It’s time to move on.

Does it feel different than you thought it would?

I feel very good because I’m very pleased with the way the show ends. It’s been an emotional thing for me. I have a place in Lake Arrowhead, [Calif.], and I took two of my dogs up there to write the last episode, just to lock myself in for the weekend. I was sitting there on the couch with my laptop, and I just started weeping. And it wasn’t necessarily because what I was writing was sad. It’s like sending your kid off to college or leaving home or something like that, because it’s been such a fundamental part of my life for five years.

At the same time, I have to say, creatively I’m very excited about working on something different. Because 63 hours of the same story and the same characters and the same tone is tough. It’s tough to stay in that same place. I’m in a much better place emotionally than I was when I started the show.

You mean personally?

Personally, yeah. And I find that the new stuff that I’m writing on my own is of a much lighter tone, or else it’s completely bizarre and supernatural and science fiction-y or something like that. Because I feel like, OK, existential, angst-y, painful relationships with death always hovering around the corner? I’ve done that.

In your mind, have you come to a really satisfying conclusion for yourself with all these characters?


And you’re not saying any more [chuckles].

It’s not an episode where everybody’s life gets tied up in a neat little bow and they’ve all self-actualized, although I had instincts to go in that direction because I’m so crazy that I think of these characters as real people–I just wanted them all to be really happy. But that’s not life, and that’s not the show either.

And how has it been on the production side? Certainly I felt melancholy [while directing my episode]–I knew it was my last time doing the show, and it’s been an important part of my life in the last few years. I was talking with Frannie [Frances Conroy] and she was like, “I can’t talk about it. I have to get through the rest of the season. I can’t even think about it, or I’m just going to fall apart.”

Yeah, it’s very sad. There’s a definite sadness–in the writers’ room especially. We’ve forged such a bond over the last few years. But being writers, of course, we have a horrible time acknowledging and confronting our emotions–we can only do that on the page.

[Laughs] It makes life easier in some ways–I want to ask you, in your original decision to make David [Fisher, who runs the family funeral home] gay, was there something in particular you wanted to say about gay relationships? Or in the way you used the gay relationship in the more general context of dealing with mortality and with family–which I think is unique. How premeditated or how conscious were you about this?

The way I work, I become aware of characters, and David was just always gay. He was the brother who was “the best little boy in the world” who did everything to please everybody, and that’s such a classic gay thing. Then I thought, We have gay characters on TV now, and they’re all very funny and out and proud–they don’t have sex–but why not deal with somebody who’s still struggling with that core issue? Because ultimately, even though we live in frightening times here in America and it seems like there are people who really want to turn this into a fascist theocracy as fast as they possibly can–and gay men and lesbians are the new witches–I feel like the biggest enemy one faces in one’s road to self-acceptance and being comfortable with being gay is oneself. If you take all of that negative stuff from the crazy Christians and the right wing and you internalize it, that’s who you’re fighting–yourself. It felt like that should be David’s journey–trying to maintain this image of something to please the outside world without accepting himself. And of course, that’s where all the compulsive and self-destructive behavior comes from.

I felt like David was a character on the show–I didn’t want him to be “the gay character,” and I wanted the David and Keith love story to have the same weight as the Nate and Brenda love story.

That in itself is a political statement. One time I was sitting in the cutting room, and there were some really fantastic Keith and David scenes, and I have to say I felt really proud to be involved with a show that dealt with this gay relationship in such a sophisticated, rich way.

What’s interesting is that after the first season, my brother, who–bless his heart–is just a good ol’ boy redneck from Georgia, not the most cosmopolitan and certainly not the most politically correct of people. But after the first season, he was like, “OK, I just have one question: Are David and Keith going to get back together?” And I could tell that he really wanted them to. And this is a man who has certainly expressed racist thoughts in the past. And I thought, That’s very interesting: Here’s my brother, this George Bush flag-waving guy, and he really wants this interracial same-sex couple to work. And I think that’s a testament to [actors] Michael [C. Hall] and Mathew [St. Patrick] and how they have made these characters so compelling.

As you were charting David and Keith’s relationship, did you find that you were bringing in your own personal experiences a lot? And how would you say that’s changed over time?

Definitely all the writers bring our personal stuff in. I got in a relationship after the first season of the show, and I think it’s not necessarily that I brought the dynamics of my own relationship into David and Keith’s relationship, but all of a sudden I was writing about a relationship from an experiential place as opposed to a hypothetical place, because I’d never had a long-term relationship before that–I mean, one that lasted, one that was committed.

That’s an amazing thing to happen to you while you’re writing a show.

Yeah, and I think certainly a lot of times there was a lot of pressure in the room to split David and Keith up, because writers get bored. They were like, “But it’d be great! We could see David dating.” And I was like, “It’s not that interesting.” What’s more interesting to me is two people with huge egos and huge issues working to stay together. That’s what you don’t see, especially in terms of [gay] men.

Before you created this show you worked on other shows, and not to be namby-pamby about it or anything, but this one is a truly magical combination of people, don’t you think?

Oh, we were very fortunate. The stars aligned in some way or something.

RELATED ARTICLE: The final funeral.

What happens on the last episode of Six Feet Under is a closely guarded secret, so we asked some Los Angeles fans how they want the Fisher family saga to wind up

“Brenda and her brother die in a car crash the same day that the gay boys adopt a child. (So even that bit of happiness is spoiled for them.) Brenda’s mom wants the Fishers to handle the funeral. The tragedy brings the family together and all differences are resolved.”

–Christopher, 42

“I don’t want anyone to die. I’d like the last scene to be just an everyday family dinner, with warm, healthy, easygoing conversation; no fights, no moping, no passive-aggressive ‘revelations,’ no poo in a box. That would be in its own way a perverse way to end the show, given all the dysfunction that’s happened.”

–Adam, 26

“How about if the Fishers all sing and dance in their own cable-ready version of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour?”

–Carlos, 38

“The show should end as it began: with the death of a parent. Ruth’s death at last ends the depressing chapter that began with the death of [her husband] Nathaniel years earlier. Those who remain come together and the family begins anew. I imagine a scene in which [her sons] Nate and David, rather than Rico, embalm Ruth. Her funeral takes place at home, of course, and the final scene shows Ruth watching over her family, content, as Nathaniel did for the past few years.”

–Doug, 37

“I think the whole house should rocket into space, like at the end of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

–Anne, 51

Podeswa has also directed episodes of Queer as Folk, The L Word, Carnivale, Into the West, and the upcoming Rome.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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