Jeffrey Donovan Explains How 'Shut Eye' Found Its Footing Creatively in Season 2 (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Jeffrey Donovan is getting candid.
The 49-year-old actor opened up about changes that took place creatively behind the scenes for the second season of his Hulu series, Shut Eye. In the sophomore drama, Donovan plays Charlie Haverford, a failed magician who finds second life working as a psychic and starts to have visions that may or may not be real. The new episodes see Charlie struggling to give his wife, Linda (KaDee Strickland), and their teenage son, Nick (Dylan Ray Schmid), fulfill his promise of providing a home and, as the season kicks off, it’s clear their lives (and relationships) are anything but stellar.
Recently, the Burn Notice alum sat down with ET in one of the ornately decorated rooms inside the uber-exclusive club The Magic Castle in Hollywood, where he waxed poetic about why the latest episodes are a better representation of what the show is all about.
ET: What excited you about the second season versus the first?
Jeffrey Donovan: The first season was very exciting to be a part of. I think we lost our way a little bit. That wasn’t one person or anybody’s fault. We just didn’t know what we were trying to create. I think the second season, we got in a room [and said], “OK, this is what we’re creating.” Once you know that, and this is the irony, then the opportunities kind of expand. The writing staff all had this similar vision of, these people are so fascinating and the characters are so damaged, let’s not make it easy on them. Let’s make them really difficult to get along and the struggle is good drama. You want to watch people struggle and that’s what’s exciting. We created a season’s struggle.
Has it been creatively freeing this year because there is an end goal that you’re all working to achieve?
It feels like a lot of weight is off our shoulders. We’re not afraid of what we’re making; we’re actually courageous about what we’re making. I think last year, there was a lot of fear. This season, we all said, “F**k fear. Let’s just make what we want to make and let the chips fall where they may.” You see it in the performances; you see it in the writing. I think there is an abandon. We’re going for something dangerous and we’re not afraid. It’s been very freeing.
What has surprised you as you went on this journey in the second season?
Sitting down with [new showrunner] John [Shiban], what was important to him was he wanted to create a backstory on everybody and show flashbacks, which we never used in the first season. It was really surprising to say, "Hey, this is where these people came from." I don’t even think we knew as actors how emotional it would be for the viewer to go, “Oh, that’s where they were.” And you root for them because you know they’re not bad people. Having John introduce that element [of] flashbacks [that] reveal who these people were, their whole lives ahead of them, their idealism, their naivete. Then, cut back to two people who are married with a teenage son and they’re just [miserable] was gratifying.
That really comes across in the first episode, where Charlie and Linda really seem to hate their life.
Yeah. I don’t know if you know that if you didn’t see the contrast to who they were, which I thought was great.
What surprised you about your character that you didn’t expect through the tool of the flashbacks?
I realized early on when I was creating Charlie that he didn’t believe in himself. That was going to be his mantra. As an actor, I was like, “This guy doesn’t believe in himself.” What surprised me was when he started to believe in himself, how quickly he embraced it. It was like an addict. He did that first snort of cocaine and thought he was like, “I will never do cocaine,” he did it and he was like, “Oh, my God! This is the greatest drug ever!” I’m surprised by how much he desires to be famous. There’s a fine line in some people, and it is with me, where I’m almost afraid to believe it. Someone goes, “You’re a really great actor,” and you go, “No, no, no.” It’s almost like, who doesn’t want to hear that, but why am I telling this person don’t say that? Think about this: What if you start hearing that and that’s all you want and then it goes away? That’s where Charlie’s living right now. He’s never heard it and all of a sudden he’s hearing it and it’s like, keep it coming.
What’s one thing you want viewers to know about this season?
To be ready to see a Shut Eye 2.0. It’s kind of a refreshing reimagining of what this world is without losing the first world. Everyone who was on the fence about it, give it another shot because I think we’ve definitely defined the world this year in a more complex and engaging way.
The second season of Shut Eye is streaming on Hulu.