TV

My Favorite Scene: ‘Looking’ Creator Michael Lannan on That Flirty Moment on the Train

by Stacy Lambe 10:50 AM PDT, July 22, 2016
Photo: HBO

No one loves a great scene more than the person who first dreamed it up -- the writer. We're asking shows' creators and writers to tell ET all about getting to see their most cherished moment on their series make it from script to screen.

For Michael Lannan, creator of the HBO series Looking, which concludes with a 90-minute film on Saturday, July 23, it’s a flirty moment in the pilot episode that sets the course for Patrick’s (Jonathan Groff) journey on the show.

After a sour date, Patrick is on his way to meet his friends at his ex-boyfriend’s bachelor party when he is unexpectedly approached on the San Francisco Muni by Richie (Raúl Castillo). A handsome stranger, Richie flirts with Patrick, who doesn’t quite know how to handle the attention.

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The train scene is very close to something that happened to me in my early 20s on the uptown 2 train in New York City between the 42nd Street and 72nd Street stops. It was a chance meeting with someone from a totally different world that changed the course of my life.

It’s a simple scene but Jonathan and Raúl nail every moment. I love the way Richie drenches Patrick in charm and Patrick tries to be cool but just can’t. I think that became a defining scene as we were trying to figure out what the show would be and who those characters were. It was the first time we saw Jonathan and Raúl together on camera, and seeing their chemistry together that day was a huge relief and very exciting. It also had a simplicity and an emotionality that helped us figure out where the show would live in terms of style and atmosphere. 

The actors all brought so many different things that affected their characters -- their own experiences, wit and interests. Raúl definitely brought a swagger to Richie that we loved. Richie was always going to be a cool customer, compared to Patrick, but Raúl just gives these looks to Patrick in that scene that are so confident in the sexiest way. I remember watching the monitor and exchanging a look with [director] Andrew Haigh like, “Jesus Christ, those eyes!” Jonathan has such command over his craft that he doesn’t really seem to have any craft at all. He's incredibly smart and extremely natural at the same time. In that scene he figured out how to balance Patrick’s frustrating behavior and his adorable qualities in a way that makes me want to hug Patrick and shake him at the same time. 

In a conversation with Groff, he revealed that this was his audition scene and opened up about what it was like to film such intimate moments on screen:

It's funny, because at the audition for this show three years ago, there was a scene with Richie in the train where he hits on me. I prepared the lines at home and then I came into the audition and during the scene, I broke out into a sweat. I think now, in retrospect, with this show, you're doing these very intimate scenes -- even if it's just a scene on a train with someone hitting on you -- and it makes my palms sweat.

On this show, everything is stripped away. It's very intimate filmmaking, which is Andrew's thing. The camera is right there, it's about you and the other actor and you're just very exposed. This whole experience has been that for me, which has been great. It allows you to feel all those things.

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