The Story Behind Ray Donovan

Joseph Viles/ SHOWTIME

As Showtime's Southie-fixer-in-L.A. drama returns for its second season (July 13), creator Ann Biderman discusses its hard-boiled origins.

Q: How did you come to merge these two American mythologies: L.A. noir and the Boston gangland thing?
A: Yes, it’s kind of a strange mash-up. Even though I’m a Jew from Miami, I was obsessed with the Catholic Church abuse scandal when that happened [in Boston] in 2002. Forget the religious aspects, or the moral aspect—as a crime story I thought it was fascinating. And then I had a long-standing interest in Whitey Bulger [the fugitive Boston crime boss who was caught in Santa Monica in 2011]. Along with that I’d always been interested in noir and detective fiction.

Q: What are some of your favorites?
A: As a kid I didn’t long to see Gigi all that much. I wanted to see Big Deal on Madonna Street  [a 1958 Italian crime comedy directed by Mario Monicelli]. I made my father take me to the hotel in Miami where they filmed A Hole in the Head [1959] with Frank Sinatra. And later I discovered Sunset Boulevard [1950] and Double Indemnity [1944], and I loved Cassavetes’s Minnie and Moskowitz [1971]. Specifically, a lot of films that took place in California. And books! John Fante and [Dashiell] Hammett and Nathanael West....

Q: The fact that Elliott Gould is in your show inevitably brings to mind Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), too.
A: It’s so funny you say that. When Allen Coulter, who directed the first two episodes [of Ray], read the script, the first thing he invoked was Long Goodbye. He bought me a beautiful one sheet from the film with Elliott on it. That was his present to me.

Q: By writing a character that out-toughs Tony Soprano and Don Draper, you fly in the face of a lot of these typically male-run shows. What drew you to Ray (played by Liev Schreiber)?
A: It’s not a contrivance to out-macho the guys. It’s my sensibility. I’m kind of heterosexual in my life and weirdly ambisexual in my writing, if that makes sense. I just really believe that men can write women and women can write men. And I’ve always refused to be ghettoized. I’ve always liked tough guys. You know, I’m sure there’s some deep Freudian explanation; I just don’t know what it is. Maybe I write the protector I’m always looking for, or something I didn’t have with my father. I don’t know!