Interview with Scott Cohen Wed. Sept 18. 2002

SPENCER: This is an unusual show in its openness to input from actors.

COHEN: It's absolutely true, but it's only true because of Richard Stratton and Marc Levin. Its style came from them and from their ability to have a much more democratic way of exploring what they want to do and what we want to do. They cherished intelligent actors who had strong opinions and once they had strong opinions, they kind of grew into actors who felt the need to continue having strong opinions, and it kind of went on like that. But I don't think that it's because that's the way the show was set up. It's because Richard and Marc set it up that way. Originally it wasn't. Originally it was going to be just like every other TV show; it was written. What happened was that we were not happy with the way the show was being written. So we all, as a team, tried to have a debate, an argument about why we weren't happy about it, what the reasons were, and how do we change it.

SPENCER: So you couldn't just start changing it at first. There was sort of a pow-wow.

COHEN: Absolutely.

SPENCER: At about what stage was that?

COHEN: Second day of shooting. During the pilot. And then when we started shooting the series, it was worse because there was less time to discuss things. With the pilot we had 25 days to shoot it in, whereas in an hour-show, you have seven days to shoot it. But we were already practiced in that way and you have Richard and Marc, who are people who trust their actors. It's so rare that you actually have people who trust you - who say that the things that you could come up with are the things that we're looking for, which makes you feel confident, so you place yourself on a certain stance and come up with something. When we started shooting the series, our other Executive Producer/show runner tried to create an environment where we couldn't do that so much, but we fought against that too.

SPENCER: Was he under instructions to do that?

COHEN: I don't think so. I think that's just the way he knew how to do it. And I think that we don't necessarily want to do it that way. We do it that way because we might not agree with the way this scene or that scene was written. If the show had been written perfectly, we wouldn't have had an argument about it. But we felt there was more to the show than what was on the paper.

SPENCER: (unintelligible) (About how Slam already had some special quality like that.)

COHEN: Well, I think that they agree. I think that when you do any kind of theatrical form, (you can't really do this in the theater) the task as an artist is to reach some form of catharsis yourself, and express something that allows an audience to have some form of catharsis. If there's no discovery in what you do, if there's no struggle in what you do to have that discovery, then, there's no meaning in what you do. You're portraying a story that is probably fairly mediocre and fairly similar to every other one that's been written and told. As artists I think we want to try to find those things that make us - that's the struggle that I have personally. If I'm not discovering something, then I think that something's wrong. It doesn't feel right to me. If the writing allowed for that discovery, then there wouldn't be a problem. Because then as an actor, the discovery is still pinned to the entire 60 pages that there is. But what we were finding was that that wasn't in there. That discovery, that struggle wasn't there. We needed to find out where it popped out and try to capture that.

SPENCER: So not necessarily every director or every producer would tolerate that?

COHEN: Oh, God, no. We are working with people who have very little ego about what they do. They are inexperienced in television and, how they work is __. I know for a fact that it doesn't work that way. This is never - never, never, ever, ever, EVER allowed. On television the writers are - don't change that, don't change that.... You have to go through all these ___ But we're not shot that way. We tell the story. But in terms of Slam, I think we've had moments of Slam. And the moments of Slam have been when Marc was directing, we have had no scene written, and we have created a scene. That's exciting.

SPENCER: When did that happen?

COHEN: We did that at the wedding.

SPENCER: When you improvised completely a whole scene?

COHEN: Yeah.

SPENCER: Is that the farthest you have gone from the script or have there been other times?

COHEN: It's not far out. It was improvised, though. But then, I remember that in the Pilot, Marc felt that there was a need for a scene that wasn't written. And we had a three-hour conversation about this scene that wasn't written. It was the scene toward the end where I confront Kevin Hunter in the hallway and I tell him, "you're going to end up in an orange jumpsuit." Marc felt that there needed to be that kind of confrontation. And that was improvised that night and then written the next day. That's exciting.

The farthest I have gone with the script is probably the episode with my father, which I completely changed. I changed all the dialogue. I changed how we deal with each other, what I say to him. I think Rob changes more stuff than anybody else. Sometimes it is really great. Sometimes I don't get it. But if I don't get it, I use it.

SPENCER: Would you like to see that happen in television more often? Does it improve the quality?

COHEN: Absolutely. I had same thing happen in NYPD Blue, but the writer changed everything from minute to minute. It wasn't the actors, it was the writer who improvised. He heard it and didn't like it. I loved that. It trains you to think quickly. There are days when you can't think quickly, and feel dead. And those days you have to accept that you just don't come up with anything. But there are days when it is inspiring; it's what art is all about. It's alive. That's one of the reasons I feel lucky as an artist, especially as an actor. You don't always get the opportunity to do that. Usually you pretty much have to deal with what's on stage, and certainly in television. But I would love for it to grow in its writing and with us.

SPENCER: As a theatergoer, I think the most alive theater is improvisational.

COHEN: It is more alive. And yet, great writing is great writing. It teaches us something and my job is to express that great writing. And I would gladly take on that responsibility. Gladly. I don't have a problem with anything that is poignant. I just did in the scene were just did. I think that scene in the parole office went pretty well. All of that was written, none was my own. _______ (lots here inaudible) _______ Rob said something about the economy, and that didn't mean anything to me, so I said that it doesn't matter. What matters to me is not being stupid.

SPENCER: What has to happen to enable television to produce great dramas more often than now?

COHEN: I don't know. (lots here incomprehensible..) ... The Sopranos has a gimmick. NYBD Blue doesn't have a gimmick. Law and Order is a gimmick. ... To me good storytelling is about journeys. It's about people's journeys, people's discoveries and how they deal with those discoveries; circumstances that put people in different situations. Good storytelling just heightens those things to a level that other people relate to them in some way and at the same time, heroize them in a certain way. but if I really knew how to do good storytelling, I would be a writer. Mystery is not a huge part of it. ... It's tension, it's relationships. I think it's a struggle. But episodic television is the hardest kind of story-telling there is because, in its grandest sense you're telling a 200-hour story. You're telling the Mahabharata. So you have to keep people interested from beginning to end. You have to establish characters. You have to show people in their journeys and the discoveries they make in those journeys.

SPENCER: Richard says something that I've been saying for ages - that a show ought to be like a 19th century novel - a long journey with a beginning, middle, and end.

COHEN: You can't think that way. Your story should be to write the story and when it gets cut off, it gets cut off. You have to work within the confines - maybe it's a five-episode series. You have to think overall and you have to work your way up to that. You have to think of a beginning, middle, and end and you have to work your way through that. It would have a beginning, middle and an end as a series, and at the same time, each episode has to have a beginning, middle, and end.

SPENCER: The way I see it, the story is about the character development of Kevin and James. You and he have a long way to go and you're not going to finish that development in one season.

COHEN: I know, but that's just one year.

SPENCER: I know, but if I were a writer, trying to write a development that would take five years but I wouldn't know whether it was going to go on for five years, I wouldn't be able to do it.

COHEN: So what's your question?

SPENCER: Don't you feel it as a frustration?

COHEN: No. I will feel it as a frustration if we get cancelled and I don't have the chance for my character to grow.

SPENCER: That's exactly what I am saying.

COHEN: But that's life. Do you think Beethoven was completely satisfied at the end of the Fifth Symphony? I think no; that's why he wrote a Sixth Symphony.

SPENCER: But the symphony has an ending.

COHEN: Yes, but we all have endings. And one can see that as the full symphony or one can see it as just the first movement, depending on how far you go.

SPENCER: As a viewer, I feel frustrated if a series is truncated. I weep!

COHEN: Yeah. But that's the nature of the television world.

SPENCER: That's no answer.

COHEN: That discussion shouldn't happen with me. That discussion should happen with the executives. I have no control over what they decide to do. I won't feel frustrated. Maybe I should. I would feel that my James Liberti didn't live long enough. There was more life in him. But I don't have a choice. What are you trying to get at?

SPENCER: I have a notion of social reform. I think that it's important to develop truly excellent television because a good series makes a difference in the world. And I think that one of the things that keep it from being excellent is exactly this kind of problem. And when you're writing a novel, you know when you are finished. It seems to me that having no control over the length of a series handicaps a writer, makes it hard to get excellence.

COHEN: But then you don't have to face that people are capable of turning into something else. I could read Nicos Kazanzakis and I could feel, Why didn't he write another book? It frustrates me that he didn't get to write about this. How about if somebody dies? It's like John Toole who wrote one book, A Confederacy of Dunces. And he wrote one book, which was amazing. You're not taking into consideration that people die and things end. This is part of the process. That's part of the process that people go through.

SPENCER: If a guy died before he finished his novel, wouldn't it bother you to read it and know that he didn't get to finish it? In the middle of a sentence it just stops!

COHEN: At the end of this season there will be an end. It may not be the final end, but it's the end of this chapter. I totally understand the feeling. I just think that that's the nature of this type of storytelling.

SPENCER: I think it would be better if they guaranteed five years for each show, so they could tailor their story to fit. Or some other particular, pre-determined length.

COHEN: That would be good. It would be good for me.

(Some of this is inaudible.)

SPENCER: Are there times when you feel unsatisfied by the way things go in an episode?

COHEN: There are certain characters that aren't quite developed. For example, I think that Timmy needs to be followed through on this whole gang thing. [Timmy is James Liberti's young son.] Richard feels you don't need to do that in every episode, but to me, I feel that you do. There needs to be something in every single episode that shows us what he's going through and shows my reaction to it. So the scene yesterday doesn't feel right because it doesn't have to do with our family.

SPENCER: Are there other shows you did previously that affect the way you are doing this show?

COHEN: Hopefully I grow from everything, but more than anything else, I think that what past experience does is allow me to have an opinion - about storytelling, about drama, about characters and the development of characters. I feel that I've done enough to know what is good and what is not very good.

SPENCER: You know when it's happening. Do you ever not know when it's happening, but know later?

COHEN: Oh, yeah. Every day. I think I know what is going on and then later I think, why was I doing that? Every day. I'm never satisfied with what I've done.

SPENCER: When I am watching the monitors, most of the people around me know which takes were good. Usually I cannot tell. Is there much disagreement? I mean, if you were editing, would the outcome look very different from what another editor produces?

COHEN: By the time I see it, I don't know what other takes I have done. When we do a scene, I try to make every scene different in performance somewhere. It's more interesting that way. Unless I feel that I've hit it and know which way it should be. Then I try to do it the same way. Until I get the thing that I feel I'm not quite getting. There are some directors, like Marc, with whom I feel I am on the same wave length. But there are other directors who are not like that. How I feel about a take and how Marc might feel about a take are usually about the same. But there are other directors who don't know the subtleties, and who tell me to do something that is opposite to what I think should happen.

SPENCER: I don't know your filmography, but can you say that there are parts that were very important to you in the past?

COHEN: All of them.

SPENCER: Do any of them affect your life?

COHEN: No, because there have been so many. But there are certain ones where I feel that I might have discovered my violence. It was so dark and I feel it kind of stuck to me.

SPENCER: Was Shelley Winters in Death of a Salesman?


SPENCER: Because I thought it was she who said it. Whoever it was said that's she has never been the same since playing in Death of a Salesman.

COHEN: My journey has been more to find myself, not to get away from myself. When I take a role I wonder how I can use it to find out who I really am. I don't think I'm so rare a person.

SPENCER: Would you call acting therapy?

COHEN: Ahh. I wouldn't call it that, but it is. It is definitely therapeutic, there's no doubt about it. And not just for me, but also for an audience. Cause if you're not doing it, then you're not doing it. There's a purpose to it.

SPENCER: I'm surprised that you said that, after you'd said, "That's life."

COHEN: No, I said "That's life" in relation to a show ending. That has nothing to do with a television show, or a film or a theatre affecting an audience. That has to do with the creative level. As an artist you have to separate them. And it becomes a problem because "What do you mean they don't like us? Our ratings have gone up three points." Or, "So our ratings are down. Why don't they like us? We're a good show." Or, "How come they don't like me? Why am I being fired from the show?" Those decisions have nothing to do with the creative process. I am saying this in very black and white terms because I deal with it every single day. I go up and down with it. What I do know is that if the show ends, that's not about the show itself. You're talking about how a show should be a five year project so you could write an 18th century novel with a beginning, middle, and end. I'm saying that I think the goal in any TV show is that as writers, they should say "There's a chance that this will end, so let's finish it so that people can have that kind of feeling at the end. If you're talking about therapeutic value or cathartic value, people need to have some sort of resolution. So there is resolution in the end of some scenes. People feel that they can take that. Of course, it's a drag if the thing doesn't have its full life. I wish it didn't have to be that way. But that's secondary to the creative process.

But to go back to the idea of its being therapeutic in terms of the creative process, if it's not being therapeutic, it's not being ____________. My feeling is that in the purest form, an actor is a service to the people. It's democratic in its purest form. That's what an actor is. If he or she isn't that, then there is no purpose in doing it. They're like priests.

SPENCER: Have you read a book called The Way of the Actor?


SPENCER: He says that because of the work, instead of being more neurotic, actors are more "together" than the average person.

COHEN: Well, I think that's right. If I am one of those, I feel very lucky. There are very few who have that kind of insight. The majority are just people who have a need to express themselves, and then there are even the less insightful people who just are good looking and they fit into certain roles and they make a lot of money and that's what they do. But I think that the purest ones do that. I think that we are priests and I think that we are capable of expressing that insight. But it takes years of practice and years of work.

SPENCER: He has some kind of mystical stuff. Like possession or something.

COHEN: Like a shaman. Yeah. Yeah. I feel that way about it. I don't know that I am that, but I am starting to feel that way about it. Absolutely. There's no question about it. I feel that if that's not how you see it, there's really no purpose in doing it.

SPENCER: I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. Her son directed a play a year ago about incest, in which a woman played all the roles - the child, her father (who molested her), and her mother. After it was over they had a discussion in the audience, a lot of whom had experienced this. She didn't have a chance to get out of her roles before participating in this discussion, and she had a nervous breakdown. My friend and her son stayed with her for two days because she was suicidal. She got into it and couldn't get out.

Cohen: Wow. That happens. That has happened to me.

SPENCER: Really. Tell me about it.

COHEN: There are just times when your body and your soul feed into a character and you somehow meet at the point where that character truly lives in you. It happens in plays, in TV, in films.(___) I think there's probably more potential for that to happen in a film. In a play, if you did that for six months or a year, you'd be in an asylum somewhere. You wouldn't be able to handle it. I think there's a defence mechanism that doesn't allow you to go there every single night, but you go close enough to know to expect it. But at the same time, if you do go there, you might not be expressing it. Because you're inside of it, you might not be expressing it to an audience, so I think that there's real difference. But sometimes the character just meets you and there's no going back. That's what you try to get to, but it's a very very difficult place to go. It just takes your entire body.

I've experienced it both in a very, very dark place and in a light place. Two times I'd experienced it in a light place, which is what I'd rather talk about now. One was when I was in college and I was in a play, She Stoops to Conquer. I played this character Tony Lumpkin. I had a moment onstage where I was actually speaking to the audience. I felt like I was above the stage, above the audience, flying on top of this audience. It was the first time I had experienced anything like that and was what made me feel that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. It is religious. It's freeing. It's wonderful.

And the other time was when I was doing this mini-series called The Fifth Kingdom where I played this character I just had so much fun doing it that every day came close to floating on air.

SPENCER: Was he a light character?

COHEN: He was half light and half dark, but the experience was light. It was a religious sense. It was like my body and personality met the character in the same place and the same time. There have been other times that were dark when I hit a rock bottom. Because they were at rock bottom and I felt that's where he is and where I am. It's very difficult to get out of.

SPENCER: After the show, how long are you in it?

COHEN: Hours. Hours. Until the next day. I just feel wasted.

SPENCER: I can't do any more if you have to be there in eight minutes. I'll get back to you another time.

Sept. 24th

SPENCER: In terms of your character, what do you think are his strengths and his weaknesses? What do you think we are supposed to like and dislike about him?

COHEN: Richard and Marc have said something about this. One of the tenets of the show is that we are looking at people who do things that are illegal. But does that mean they are right or wrong? Legally there are things about it that are illegal; there is the right side of the law or the wrong side of the law, but does that make them morally right or wrong? So, for Liberti I think that what people hopefully will see is a character who is struggling to - I think that James Liberti's history and background is very black and white. There is a very clear sense of what is right and wrong. As he is getting older, and see him now, he is beginning to develop a more nuanced way of thinking, so he struggles with that: There are people who do things that are illegal but that doesn't mean that they are bad. There are people who do things that are wrong, but that doesn't mean that they are bad. They deserve a second chance. There are things that constitute a better understanding of humanity and the human condition. And I think it is something that people like about him - the struggle for him to get through to a point where he can work within the law but be able to help people who are on the wrong side of it, knowing that what they are doing is actually right, in the grandest sense of "right."

SPENCER: To what extent is his gambling important in your mind? Is this a peripheral fluke, or is this going to dominate his life?

COHEN: I don't know. That is for the writers to decide. I think that the gambling is just a manifestation of a greater problem. I think his problem is much more about his need for risk, his need of no management in his life, no control over his desires, his needs. He is very quick to temper, quick to do something that is the wrong thing to do, which is exactly what I was talking about before. He himself is on the wrong side of the law, but ethically, morally, he is a good person. He cares for his family; he is a father to his sons. What I would like to see personally, is just - I'd like to see him lust and sin and continue the idea of gambling - not gambling itself necessarily, but whether it's gambling or fucking many women, or better or whether it's doing drugs - what ever it would be that would allow for the manifestation of a larger problems to come out. Do you know what I mean?

SPENCER: That's risk taking.

COHEN: I think it's desire, yearning, the need to feel alive. It's like people who cut themselves to feel alive, to feel the pain that has no ability to come out. He either gambles because he needs a risk, but it's a risk toward a feeling. It makes you feel really alive in the world, either high or really low. I think it is like a slap in the face. It makes you feel alive, here and now.

SPENCER: What do you think the audience will like and what will they dislike?

COHEN: I don't know. I only know what I want them to feel. I said this before. I don't necessarily want them to like or dislike anything. I want them to go on the journey with me. I want to be able to communicate a journey that they could also go on. When I am down in the dumps, they are down in the dumps. When I am up in the air, they are up in the air. When I succeed at something, they feel the success, or they feel the threat of danger. That's for them to feel it. I don't necessarily want them to like me or dislike me. I want them to -

SPENCER: You said earlier, when we got interrupted, that you would love it if your character turned into a villain. That surprised me. Can you explain that?

COHEN: Why did that surprise you, first of all?

SPENCER: Because if they are with you on a journey and you are leading us to the bottom. -

COHEN: Yeah, but that's not a villain. That's just somebody at the bottom. A villain is somebody who does bad things. I'm not sure in what context I said that.

SPENCER: What I said was that Aristotle's notion of what a playwright should do - that he shouldn't have a really good character come to a bad end. A tragic figure has got to be a mixed character. I said that today (maybe always ) we can tolerate having a character whom we love come to grief. But what we cannot tolerate is having him become a bad character, so that we have to break empathy with him.

COHEN: Yeah, but I think the objective is for anybody - if I were to play a villain, what I perform is a person that the audience member has to like. You are going to like me. So my objective for any villain - that's the way I approach any character, is that there is something in them that creates empathy. There has to be, or else you're just playing a black and white character - you're just playing the black. I am not here arguing with Aristotle, but I feel that there is enormous potential for characters to fall and remain at the bottom. The thing is that Aristotle is Hollywood - where the hero tragically fails and then rises up like a Phoenix to - but I think it's interesting to see people fall and stay fallen. It's up to the actor to create a character that has the potential for people to say, " Come on! Come on! You can do it! Get out!" Or for people to feel "Yeah, I've been there."

SPENCER: Okay. But if you lose empathy for the character because he becomes a monster, then -

COHEN:I would never play a character like that.

SPENCER: You know, they are going to make a movie - in fact there already is one - about the young life of Hitler. CBS is going to make a mini-series. There's a kerfuffle because people are saying, this is going to make people like him.

COHEN: I think that what's good about a show like that is, it's interesting - yes, this is the responsibility of writers, producers, the industry at large - to try to cater to an audience that they have dumbed down. The industry does this. The audience is smarter than the industry allows them to be. The industry doesn't challenge people. British television is years beyond American television. Their sitcoms, their dramas are - not all of them - more sophisticated. Their network Channel 4 - the educational television - does something that American television would never touch. It is their responsibility to show people something that -- if they have a script that you will end up liking this guy, they have a responsibility to show that this is how all of Germany agreed with this man. Because they fell in love with him as well. As we all flock together, this is the industry's responsibility to show that this is what happens when you just have empathy for somebody. You can like him but that's not the route to understanding the psyche of man who killed 10 million people. It is the industry's responsibility to make the audience realize what they are doing -- not just to like him.

SPENCER: I'm dealing with a real antinomy - by that I mean two facts, let me say, that are seemingly contradictory but they are both true. On the one hand I agree with you that you want to see the bad and good side of characters, you want to see how someone like Hitler developed. You become more morally sophisticated, and I hope that James becomes more morally developed by seeing these moral issues. So it's a matter of having gray character and not just black or white characters. Something like writing a story about the development of Hitler, is wonderful. On the other hand, there's a whole batch of research and social learning theory that shows that when the audience, or anybody, likes somebody they imitate him. If he's an attractive character, and he's a bad guy, they will imitate him.

COHEN: Well, that's putting an enormous responsibility on the entertainment industry. It is not the only way people learn. You have parents, friends, teachers -- so the onus has to be on everybody, not just the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry is there to entertain. It's pretty savvy in what entertains people. CBS also did a mini series on the holocaust that won all those awards last year. So it's everybody's responsibility to differentiate between what is real and not real. And then you have people who fall into traps.

SPENCER: I think there is a problem, which I really haven't solved, though I am working on it - to try to balance the two considerations.

COHEN: You can't put the onus on the entertainment industry to do it. I think that is wrong. I wouldn't say that. I actually wanted to write one-man show of Mein Kampf years and years ago. I think there's a difference between artistry and entertainment. And it's so much larger than this conversation. So much larger than a - I don't think the entertainment industry - it's their responsibility to a certain extent and it's up to the industry. I make my choices. I don't watch Survival. I don't watch Temptation Island. I don't watch American Idol - because they are trash, and they take away jobs from writers. I make my choices and relay those to my son and I have friends who feel the same way and other friends who don't feel the same way. They get involved with Survivor. Why fall into those traps? I want to see movies that challenge people - that put things out there aren't just for entertainment - that teach us things. But I am one of millions that are doing it.

SPENCER: Have you ever had a chance to play a character in a play that you thought was going to have a negative effect and so you refused to do it?


SPENCER: Can you imagine a role that you would refuse to do on those grounds?

COHEN: No. It wouldn't be the role, it would be the story.

SPENCER: Give me an example. What would it be?

COHEN: If I were asked to do The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which is all about the rise of Hitler, by Bertold Brecht, I would do it in a flash. If I were offered a CBS movie about the rise of Hitler, I would consider how the script is - which I am sure is looked at very very carefully (there are lots of Jewish people in the entertainment industry) and then I would have to see what they make him out to be and whether that's an interesting character to play. It would have to be pretty bad for me not to do it.

SPENCER: We touched on this before. Did you ever identify enough with a character to the extent that I influences your own life or way of thinking, or that it becomes hard to let go of the character or to share control of him with the director.

COHEN: Oh yes. Practically every character.

SPENCER: Do you think like James when you are off the set?

COHEN: I don't think like James. I think of how James can learn - what he is going to do next, or what is done to him. Other things, yes, absolutely. It has affected my life, it has changed my way of thinking. It has taught me a great deal, saddened me a great deal. Then to let go - that's the pain of an actor. I have always wanted to do a book about actors because I think that the death of a character is a tremendously emotional experience.

SPENCER: You mourn?

COHEN: Absolutely.

SPENCER: You mourn the way you would mourn the loss of a friend?

COHEN: Yeah, I think so. You have memories, you have thoughts, you are depressed. Totally depressed.

SPENCER: For how long?

COHEN: The worst is, I think two or three months I've been depressed. I'd rather not say which role. But it has happened often. You put your life, your body, your emotional state into it. If you are lucky as an actor, you are doing a character that really matches where you are in life, or you're doing a character that is not where you are. If it's somewhere in between, you have to use a lot of imagination and a lot of thought.

SPENCER: Does it help if you immediately go to work on another role?

COHEN: Yes. It's like a relationship. In fact, I think that's part of the depression because for an actor you don't know about your next job.

SPENCER: As far as James goes, I presume you made up a history for him and a future.

COHEN: Not a future.

SPENCER: No. Just a background. What kind of history did you give him?

COHEN: It was sketchy. I have found that unless it's something difficult that I really need to research, whether it's the type of job that they have (which I did - I researched the job ) this is something so far outside the realm of my everyday experience that I need to research it and really get involved in exploring people or things or whatever it may be. If it's not that, then I have found over the years that I can just let it live and breathe as I go along. Discover things as I do them. This show, in particular, I have had to be really open. I don't know. The original idea of James Liberti was -

SPENCER: But before you ever came onto the set, you had a history of the guy.

COHEN: I had a very sketchy history of him. He's Italian, he might have been a seminarian, he might have been very Catholic, from the lower East side of Manhattan. I wanted his father to be part of the mob. I wanted his father to be - he escaped that life. I wanted his mother to be artistic. The reason they had for me marrying my wife were not what I thought. They wanted her to be completely opposite of what he was, but I thought that he is who he is, but there are other sides of him.

SPENCER: Did you have a long conversation with Richard?

COHEN: Yeah.

SPENCER: How long?

COHEN: With Richard it was very short but with Steve Kronish it was longer. He was the first person I really knew. I think that James is not fully developed yet. I think he is still on his way. They are not absolutely sure who he is. He is kind of changing. I think they were very sure who he was when his gambling came up, but I think the network and the studio came in and put an onus on the production to do something that I don't necessarily agree with.

SPENCER: Can you tell me about that?

COHEN: They don't want him to break up with his wife. He went down so deep that he's not redeemable. I don't agree with that. I think everybody's redeemable. The way I played it, I think there's absolute redemption in it. I think that people might hate me but they'll learn to love me. I think it's a shallow way of looking at a character to say Oh My God, the character is so bad but he's supposed to be so good; let's bring him up.

SPENCER: Your character is based on Richard's real parole officer? He told you about him?

COHEN: No, he would tell me stories. I got the job on September 5th. We started on September 24th, and September 11 happened in the middle. There's not a whole lot of time to research. I did what I could. But with Richard, knowing his life, I learn something every day. Every day he tells me a new story about what has gone on in his life. At the same time, he talks to me about how I see Liberti.

SPENCER: Have you ever run into a clash with his vision or the network's vision or the director's vision of a character that you didn't like.

COHEN: In this show? Yeah. Sometimes. It's going to happen today.

SPENCER: Something that you don't want to have happen.

COHEN: Yeah there are tons of things that I don't want to say. This is one show where, as the star of the show, I have the ability to say what I feel. Can we continue another day? Cool.