“Unfortunately, in Perpetual Grace LTD, each time you go, ‘That’s right, [but] this is better,’ shit falls apart even worse,” says Jimmi Simpson of the neo-noir series currently airing on Epix.
Perpetual Grace, LTD stars Simpson as James, a low-grade grifter who gets caught up in an attempt to defraud an elderly man of the cloth, Pastor Byron Brown, played by Ben Kingsley. While Brown has been using his church to defraud people of their life savings, it turns out to be far more dangerous than anyone had anticipated. Created by Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris, who previously helmed the series Patriot together, Perpetual Grace, LTD wraps its painstaking slow-burn narrative up in a dusty, sepia-toned neo-noir package.
Over the weekend at the ATX Television Festival, we spoke with Simpson, his co-star Luis Guzmán, along with co-creators Conrad and Terris about how they hope Perpetual Grace, LTD will break more of TV’s storytelling conventions. Like a lot of shows, this one’s filled with morally dubious characters, but Simpson says the writing by Conrad and Terris is what helps set it apart from its contemporaries.
“It’s so… specific, but it’s also illuminating,” Simpson says. “It puts that in your brain, the rhythm. It’s inherent in the script and then it’s almost like they’re offering you the road, not just the text, but the tone. Television’s normally about getting exposition across in your moment of trauma, [but] Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris write in this very tapestry style, and it’s unavoidable. It’s not actors kind of coming up and chewing scenery. The scenery’s in there. It’s written in there. That’s the time it takes. It’s that slow from the genesis. As an actor who’s used to being in television where everything’s about, here’s this, and you get a reaction out of this moment, and you do this bit for a laugh or for a shot, it’s different. [It’s] straight into this organic presentation. It’s like, ‘Nobody else wants me to do that, are you sure you want him to do that? Does that work?'”
“TV is a whole new ballgame,” says Steve Conrad. “The era now, I think it invites explorations like that. If you are the beneficiaries of The Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire, if those are the shows that you absorbed as a filmmaker, what do you do now? You can’t repeat them and you can’t be less than them. You can’t have lower expectations or lesser goals than those shows. You must try to rise to the occasion that they created for you.”
Guzmán, a veteran character who stars here as Mexican sheriff Hector Contreras, echoes the sentiment, explaining that along with the writing, he was drawn to the part thanks to the show’s intricately structured mystery.
“I’ve never read anything like this before,” Guzmán says. “It was so mysterious and so well put together, so well structured. The words, to me, were kind of poetic. There was a rhythm to it. I discovered my rhythm like going in on it. I’ll put it to you this way: It challenged me. It challenged my senses. It really racked my brain in the best way.”
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While the creators view the first season of Perpetual Grace, LTD as a 10-hour movie, a common sentiment among showrunners today, Conrad says the distinct style of writing is partially owed to his work with Terris, and they wanted the series to feel like the second album from the same band.
“I learned two things when I was very young about writing that really lasted,” explains Conrad. “There are very few elemental things about writing because it should be ruleless, generally speaking. But, one was a don’t write past your ending, and the other was to know your ending before you start. And we do that with the season. We did that with the series, we know the end of the series, we know the end of the season and we know the end of each episode before we started.”
As far as scoring an actor the caliber of Kingsley for his first ever recurring TV role, Conrad again credits the groundwork laid by shows that challenged the medium while the way for today’s Peak TV era.
“It’s really crazy, it used to be we went to the movies for the art, and watch TV for entertainment. Now it’s the exact opposite,” says Terris.
Perpetual Grace, LTD also stars Oscar-winner Jackie Weaver (Bird Box), Dana DeLorenzo (Ash Vs. Evil Dead), Damon Herriman (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Terry O’Quinn (Lost), Kurtwood Smith (That 70’s Show) and Timothy Spall (Early Man). You can catch it every Sunday night on Epix.