*In NBC’s new true crime docu-spoof “Trial & Error,” a New York City lawyer (Nicholas D’Agosto) is working on his very first murder trial defending eccentric Southern poet Larry Henderson, played by five-time Emmy Award-winner John Lithgow, who is accused of the bizarre murder of his beloved wife.
The lawyer’s quirky team of local misfits includes actress/comedian Sherri Shepherd, who says one of the reasons she was intrigued to play legal assistant Anne Flatch on the series is because of her legionary co-star, Mr. Lithgow.
“When anybody says, “We are negotiating with John Lithgow,” the answer is “yes,” Shepherd tells EUR/Electronic Urban Report during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. The cast also includes Steven Boyer, Jayma Mays and Krysta Rodriguez. Shepherd describes Anne as “lovable” but notes that “she has all these disorders.”
“She has prosopagnosia, which is facial blindness. She’s born with no tear ducts. She’s got she’s dyslexic. She has alien hand syndrome. She sleeps, and she talks when she’s sleeping, and she walks backwards. She talks like Adele when she has a flu shot. I mean, she has scindo syndrome. She faints when she sees beautiful artwork. Am I giving everything away?,” Sherri explains.
Adding, “And after coming off of a show like “The View” for eight years, to be challenged artistically like this, I love the fact that Jeff Astrof and Matt Miller and Jeffrey Blitz actually believed in me enough to give me a chance to play this very lovable character.”
Fans of Mr. Lithgow know that he’s been a part of some wonderful and hilarious ensembles both on stage and on onscreen. So we asked the award-winning performer about collaborating with the “Trial & Error” cast and the creative energy that was fostered on set.
“It’s a fantastic ensemble all credited to these guys for working so hard to get everybody just right. And we became a group almost instantly and a very loving group. Everybody has their own particular version of the “Trial & Error” sense of humor. We just make each other laugh like crazy all the time, led mainly by Stevie Boyer,” Lithgow states to EUR during TCA.
“And you are absolutely right. My favorite work has been in great ensembles, and this goes with theater and television and even film where half the time you never even meet the people you are acting with. It just makes one thing I absolutely love about acting is the community spirit of it.”
“Trial & Error” wrapped production in mid-December and the cast reunited in January for TCA. John says seeing his co-stars again felt like “we hadn’t seen each other in eight months.”
“It was all these hugs and tears and laughter,” Lithgow shares. “It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, but it happened instantly with this group and I’m grateful for it.”
Mr. Lithgow has served up some memorable television characters throughout his career — which spans over three decades — such as Dick Solomon in “3rd Rock from the Sun,” Arthur Mitchell in “Dexter” and Sir Winston Churchill in “The Crown.” During TCA, he explains why he found “Trial & Error” engaging enough to add it to his stellar body of work.
“I loved the whole idea. It was so completely original. I mean, primetime true crime documentary series where we were completely teed up for a great satire, a great parody. Nobody has done this yet, and it was brilliantly written. And my character, I loved the challenge of playing a part who, at any given moment, is completely could completely plausibly have committed or not committed this crime. This seemed to me a wonderful kind of magic trick to pull off, and I love challenges like that.”
Continuing, “They created a character for which this trick can work. He’s completely driven by his id. It’s completely unedited. He has no sense of priority or proportion. The tiniest things have absolutely as much importance to him as the crime of murder, and you see it in the very first moment of the series in that 911 call. The cable guy and the death of his wife are equally are equal emergencies. This is the stuff of just fantastic comedy, very much like Dick Solomon in “3rd Rock from the Sun.” He was driven by his id too, and yet they are very, very different characters.”
When asked if the show is so absurd that the what the actors bring with them in terms of audience recognition doesn’t matter, or does it help that in addition to “3rd Rock from the Sun,” Mr. Lithgow is also known for his killer performance on “Dexter,” executive producer Jeff Astrof has nothing but praise for his leading man.
“People asked us when they saw this, “Did you write this for John Lithgow? You must have.” And the truth is we wrote this for Larry Henderson, and John just embodied him in such a wonderful way,” says Astrof.
“When we first spoke to John, he was in England shooting something. I don’t know what it was, something with royalty or something. And he said, “What exactly did you see in me that makes you think I could do this?” And we were like, “Anything you’ve ever done.” So I loved the fact that we just have I mean, this is an all-star cast. I’ve honestly never worked with a cast like this before. But the key to this whole show is how real they play it.”
Astrof continues, “Like, the courtroom scenes, we half of the show, the last half of the show is the actual trial. And watching, you know, especially Nick and Jayma go out, it looks like an episode of “Law & Order” that’s just turned 15 degrees and the way that all of these people react. And we have a funny scene where they don’t have a crime recreation, so instead Carol Anne Keane gets the local high school animation club to show what they believe happened. And it’s an 8bit animation of Larry. Like, you’re watching a murder and everybody takes it so seriously. So I think it’s just the fact that we have such a quality group of actors that pull it off.”
“These are wonderful actors,” Lithgow adds. “Steve Boyer played a magnificent role in “Hand to God.” I don’t know whether you saw it on Broadway, but it was the performance of the year. And the year before that, he was the fool in Central Park when I played King Lear. I mean …these guys can go anywhere.”
Mr. Lithgow then touches on how some of his sinister roles helped influence Larry Henderson.
“In terms of my history as The Trinity Killer and Roberta Muldoon and all sorts of unexpected combinations of characters, I think it was a tremendous asset. People just don’t know where I’m going to go. They don’t know whether I did it or not, basically, in all sorts of contexts, and that’s what they needed.”
Even his “Trial & Error” co-stars were kept in the dark about whodunit until the very end.
“The rest us outside of John and the executive staff did not know until the very end, until the script was revealed. We all made guesses,” Nick D’Agosto reveals as John recalls his time on the series “Dexter”.
“This is the second time this has happened to me,” Lithgow confesses. “When they hired me for The Trinity Killer, they pitched it by telling me the whole story of that entire season. I was the only actor who knew, and I had to keep it to myself.”
Tune in to“Trial & Error” when it premieres Tuesday, March 14, at 10/9c on NBC.