Director Thomas Kail Reflects On "Fosse/Verdon," His Latest Emmy Nominations
Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon in the "Who's Got the Pain" episode of "Fosse/Verdon," which earned Thomas Kail an Emmy nomination for best directing in a limited series (photo by Michael Parmelee/courtesy of FX Networks)
Two nods come three years after he won twice for "Grease Live!"
  • --

Included in its haul of 17 Emmy nominations, Fosse/Verdon (FX Network) scored two for direction--one for Jessica Yu on the basis of the “Glory” episode, and the other earned by Thomas Kail for the installment titled “Who’s Got the Pain.”

As co-creator (with Steven Levenson) and executive producer on Fosse/Verdon, Kail also earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Limited Series.

SHOOT caught up with Kail who in 2016 won a pair of Emmys for Grease Live!--for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special (shared with Alex Rudzinski), and for Outstanding Special Class Program (in his capacity as an executive producer). Kail and Rudzinski also earned a DGA Award nomination for Grease Live!

Perhaps most gratifying for Kail about Fosse/Verdon’s Emmy showing is the recognition so many of its talented contributors received across the board. Praising cast and crew, Kail related “Every department came to work and played so far above the rim” day after day to bring “an ambitious and intense show” to fruition.

Kail was drawn to Fosse/Verdon on different levels, “fascinated” with the creative and romantic relationship between renowned director/choreographer Bob Fosse (portrayed by Sam Rockwell) and the legendary Broadway dancer, Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Both Rockwell and Williams garnered Emmy nominations for their performances.

Furthermore, Kail was attracted to another aspect of the story. “I was also acutely aware that the idea of a lone genius is completely untrue,” he said, viewing Fosse/Verdon as an opportunity to “dismantle” the “lone auteur” myth. 

The “Who’s Got the Pain” episode was challenging on varied fronts, perhaps most notably for all the significant ground it covered--from Fosse and Verdon’s first meeting to their breakup. Particularly daunting was a nine-page scene, “the first time our two heroes met, a completely imagined thing,” related Kail. “No one knows what the conversation was but we did it in real time. It all plays on continuous action, teaching and learning choreography.” This rehearsal scene had mirrors on one side (presenting its own set of shooting challenges) with two people in a room learning the choreography of a routine. Kail assessed, “It was a beautiful piece of writing by Steven (Levenson).”

Fosse/Verdon landed Levenson his first two career Emmy noms--for Outstanding Limited Series and for his writing on the “Providence” episode.

First-time collaborators
For Kail, Levenson became a trusted collaborator. Also becoming valued colleagues were such other first-time Kail collaborators as DP Tim Ives and editor Kate Sanford. The latter cut one episode of Fosse/Verdon, “Who’s Got the Pain,” while Ives served as cinematographer for the entire limited series.

Fosse/Verdon producer Erica Kay had recommended Ives and Sanford to Kail. It wasn’t that great a leap of faith to embrace the DP and editor as collaborators, observed Kail, noting their bodies of work. Sanford cut multiple seasons of The Wire, a lauded series greatly admired by Kail, as well as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Sanford became an Emmy nominee this year for her cutting of the Mrs. Maisel episode “Simone.” 

Meanwhile Kail cited Ives’ credentials spanning the pilot for Mr. Robot, four seasons of Girls, and serving as the main DP on Stranger Things. “Anyone who can do all of that is a talent I want to work with,” said Kail, adding that Ives also lensed many music videos earlier in his career, an experience which could also be tapped into relative to the music and choreography in Fosse/Verdon. “This was our first collaboration but not the last,” Kail affirmed.

Kail described Sanford as “diligent, hard working and insightful,” “putting together a wealth of material...hammering away at it,” cutting together wonderful performances, musical numbers. “We found so much together.”

As for Ives--a two-time Emmy nominee for Stranger Things--Kail related, “His crew is top notch. He handled so many challenges, the big rehearsal sequences for 'Damn Yankees',” as well as clearing logistical hurdles for shooting scenes for “Who’s Got the Pain” in Majorca. 

Kail made a special connection with his cohorts on Fosse/Verdon. “I spent most of my career in the theater and was very close with the crew. But you don’t get to know them in the same way as you do in television--15, 16 hours a day for 86 days. You get to form this very deep bond--at 4 in the morning when it’s 10 degrees in Majorca, when you have a location for only a certain amount of time. You bond very quickly. You watch other people do their work at a high level in a much more visible way. You develop a deep appreciation for the people and for the departments, like costume designers Joseph La Corte and Melissa Toth who are also (Emmy) nominated. You develop a sense of real deep appreciation for the totality of the effort.”

Both during the experience of working together--and now with the multiple Emmy nominees on Fosse/Verdon--Kail affirmed that he’s “humbled to be in their company.”

This is the 13th installment in a 16-part series that explores the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, producing, editing, music, production design and visual effects. The series will then be followed up by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on September 14 and 15, and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on September 22.

MySHOOT Company Profiles