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Getting Under the Skin of ‘Nip/Tuck’: The Show’s Own Makeovers

The cast and creator of Nip/Tuck convened at the Directors Guild of America for a Q&A session during the Museum of Television and Radio’s annual William S. Paley Television Festival, and revealed a lot about one of TV’s most provocative series, which starts production on its fifth season in June for a fall premiere.

After a showing of Season 2’s “Rose and Raven Rosenberg” episode, chosen by creator Ryan Murphy because “it’s my favorite episode we’ve ever done that represents the series best, and it featured conjoined twins and a three-way,” Murphy, Dylan Walsh, Roma Maffia, Kelly Carlson, John Hensley, and executive producer Michael M. Robin discussed the show’s past and future.

Some of the evening’s revelations:

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Nip/Tuck was inspired by a 1971 Jack Nicholson movie:
“As a kid my favorite movie was Carnal Knowledge so I put plastic surgery and Carnal Knowledge together,” says Murphy, a former journalist who was first exposed to the world of medical makeovers when he interviewed a Beverly Hills surgeon for a story on male pectoral implants that he never ended up writing. But the doctor’s comments about all the things wrong with his face and one particular phrase stuck with him: “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself.”

Christian Troy was going to be Cuban:
“The part was written for a Latin male,” says Ryan Murphy. “But Julian came in and he was so fantastic.” Julian McMahon is Australian, but uses an American accent on the show and in movies like this spring’s Premonition and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, due in June.

The part of Sean McNamara was written with Dylan Walsh in mind:
“I wrote the part for him,” says Murphy, who approached the actor to tell him so at a West Hollywood café before he sent him the script. Walsh responded with a cynical, ‘Yeah, OK,’ but received the script later that day and loved it. “It was one of the best I ever read.” He apologized to Murphy at his audition.

Kimber wasn’t supposed to be a regular character:
Kelly Carlson was only cast as part of the pilot, “but I was so moved by her, so taken by her, that we kept writing and writing it and she became a regular,” Ryan Murphy explains. “Kimber has a new façade, a new personality every year so I look forward to every script,” adds Carlson. “Every year it’s something new and always challenges me.” 

John Hensley didn’t want to play Matt:
“I was 25 and I had no desire to play a teenager,” he relates. Then he read the script, loved it, “and I thought I’d go in and try to swindle a guest spot.” But once he got there, “I found myself really wanting it.” Afterward, as he was driving home, his cell phone rang with a call from his agent, announcing that he’d gotten the part. “I pulled a U-turn on Sunset and got broadsided.”

Fans are forward:
“I’ve had people grab me in places I shouldn’t be grabbed,” reveals McMahon. “We get a very visceral response from people. We have a no holds barred show and that gives people license to approach you that way. It’s very over the top.” Another example: “You’re in a restaurant and some guy asks you to give his wife a boob job.”

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Surgeries are based on real cases:
“We’ll troll the Internet, find cases and give them to our medical experts,” says Murphy. “Truth is stranger than fiction. It’s meant to provoke, to shine a light on stuff you can’t believe happens but it does. We did a face transplant and got reamed in the media and ten days later there was a face transplant.”

The cast hated Season 3, the year of the Carver:
“It became very dark and too scary, very violent. I was in a darker place in my life and you write what you know,” notes Murphy. “I know the cast hated it. An outside character was calling the shots. I liked a lot of episodes in that season and it did very well in the ratings, especially the finale when he was unveiled, but in Season 4 we brought it back to its roots—it was more about the guys again.”

Season 5 takes place in Beverly Hills, which was its originally intended setting:
Murphy had been concerned it would become the “starlet of the week” if he’d kept McNamara-Troy in Los Angeles, but it had to be a set in a city with skin, so Miami won out. “We did it for four years, and how many times can you go to Dylan’s kitchen, the same surgery room, or Julian’s apartment? I wanted to shake it up and I thought it would be interesting to move the characters you already knew to Hollywood. I don’t think it would have worked the first couple years but I think it works now,” he says. “They were big fish in a small pond in Miami and now they’re in Beverly Hills, where there’s a plastic surgeon on every corner, so they literally have to start over.” With the characters well established, “You can now do the archetypes–the studio exec and his girlfriend who’s a dominatrix.” Filming locally also allows for shooting at local hotspots. You’ll see celeb hangouts like Chateau Marmont, Koi and Shelter. 

Rosie O’Donnell will return. Expect other big-name guests:
“We don’t want to be The Love Boat, but if Catherine Deneuve calls you, how can you say no to that?” asks Murphy, who has his pick of actors and is proud of being able to get Peter Dinklage, and Larry Hagman last year and casting Brooke Shields and Rosie O’Donnell in against-type roles. “No one would expect Brooke Shields to be a sexually compulsive psychologist. And no one would expect Rosie to be a heterosexual who wears clothes like Joan Collins,” he comments, noting of O’Donnell, “We need to work out her schedule with The View.” As for other guest stars on the 22-episode fifth season, “There are a few interested parties, but no one is signed yet.”

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