Women of ‘Damages’ on ties that bind

Glenn Close's attorney is mentor and sometime adversary. While Rose Byrne's attorney has been protegé, victim and combatant.
(David Russell / DirecTV)

When “Damages"premiered on FX five years ago, it blew everyone’s minds for a glistening stack of reasons. The star power (Glenn Close! Ted Danson!), the writing, the crazy two-stepping flashback story line, the hypnotic Evil Queen brutality of Close’s lead, attorney Patty Hewes. As the first and subsequent seasons unfurled, and then made its way over to DirecTV, another rare quality emerged: the relationship between Patty and her former acolyte Ellen Parsons, played by Rose Byrne. A wide-eyed baby lawyer who thinks her gravest sin and greatest peril is “selling out” her ideals when she accepts a job with Patty, Ellen soon realizes what she knows about sin and peril could fit on the nail of Patty’s little finger.

But Ellen learns — oh, my, yes, she learns — moving from protégée to victim to adversary under Patty’s gaze, which itself shifts from sadistic amusement to admiration to fear. There are many types of male relationships on television, many variations of brotherhood and paternity; for women, it’s a much narrower subset — BFFs, odd-couple partners, frenemies. Certainly, there is nothing like the Patty/Ellen bond, now a wary-eyed circling of two wounded but still deadly warriors who are to each other a little more than kin, a little less than kind.

In the end, the main narrative of “Damages” is not Patty’s fall but her twisted love for Ellen. On set, the bond between Close and Byrne is far less complicated and much more loving. The two told The Envelope about some of their best times together.

What was your favorite scene to shoot?


Glenn Close: What I love about the writing is that they would periodically come up with something that added new, unexpected insight into Patty Hewes. My favorite such moment was a scene that took place after a picture of Patty’s husband kissing a strange woman appears in the newspapers. Ellen finds Patty drunk, sitting on the side of her bed, having thrown all her clothes around her bedroom. The image says it all; Patty was distraught and out of control enough to violently empty the contents of her closet. It’s as if her confident and powerful self-image has been blown to smithereens and lies in shambles about her. She has been deeply betrayed by her husband. Yet even though she is inebriated, she intuits the fact that Ellen fed the damning, humiliating picture to the press. Patty has been doubly betrayed. By seeing her valiant effort to hold herself together, to maintain her dignity in that disastrous bedroom, Patty earns our empathy. It’s a great moment and was wonderful to play.

Rose Byrne: The flash-forward scenes where you see Ellen and Patty in the future were really fun, very surreal and heightened.

What is your favorite off-camera moment on set?

GC: Definitely when the horse peed in Patty’s living room! Rose was on set with it — a lovely old shaggy horse. It was, of course, a dream sequence. Rose was very nervous to begin with, but I’ve known horses my whole life, so when it started getting into a particular stance I knew what was coming. Rosie had no idea. The horse didn’t just pee — it peeeeeeed! Like a fire hose turning on, right in front of Rose.

RB: Every time Glenn and I get to have a gossip ... !

Tell us something about each other that most people don’t know.

GC: What I will reveal about Rose is that she can get into serious fits of the giggles that are hilarious to watch. It starts with her looking down at her feet, and then her shoulders start shaking. Next, silent tears start coursing down her cheeks until everything explodes into a burst of helpless laughter. By then the whole crew is laughing because they know what’s coming — Rosie’s valiant effort to contain herself against huge odds.

RB: I call Glenn Trish, as in Patricia, as in Patty, all the time.

In what ways has your character evolved throughout the series?

GC: “Damages” began with Patty Hewes in control, at the peak of her power, with a [family], a loyal second-in-command and an untried but talented newcomer to the firm. “Damages” ends with Patty Hewes perhaps even more powerful, but she has lost her daughter, her son, her husband, her loved uncle, her loyal colleague and her relationship with the younger, gifted woman whom she taunted and mentored. Yet, if anything, she is more deliberate in how she presents herself to the world — her hair is more coiffed, her makeup thicker, her smile more deliberate and her dark glasses more carefully placed.

RB: Ellen has gone from child to adolescent to woman.

What do you hope audiences got out of “Damages”?

GC: I hope they got a strong, fascinating character that they won’t forget. I hope they got good entertainment out of carefully crafted plotlines that kept them guessing and engaged. I hope the themes that we tackled in “Damages” got them thinking about relevant issues in our culture: greed, power, morality and family. I hope they got some laughs.

RB: I hope the fans enjoy getting to see Ellen and Patty finally pitted against each other over a case.