Westport Magazine recently sat down with prolific TV writer and producer Clyde Phillips, the brains behind Showtime’s hits Dexter and the last three years of Nurse Jackie. He took time out between takes on the set of his new hour-long AMC drama, Feed the Beast, to dish about his TV career and how he wound up calling Wilton home.
After moving to L.A. in high school and living there for many years, Clyde and wife, Jane, were drawn to the East Coast after they had their daughter, Claire, and decided to send her to school in Wilton. For almost fifteen years, they have lived in a handsome, stucco Craftsman-style home built by artist E. Boyd Smith; it’s close to town but pastoral enough to resemble a small country compound. Having grown up in Boston, Phillips quips, “New England is in my soul and, naturally, I’m a Patriots fan.”
We spoke with him in the midst of filming episodes for the new series Feed the Beast, based on the Danish Bankerot. Airing in May, it is a drama about two best friends, Tommy Moran (David Schwimmer) and Dion Patras (Jim Sturgess), on the brink of losing everything. Phillips says, “Their pipe dream of opening an upscale restaurant in their hometown of the Bronx is their last-ditch attempt to turn their lives around.” The two take on the insanity of the New York restaurant world and navigate its underbelly of petty criminals, corrupt officials and violent mobsters. “We decided to set the story in the Bronx, the final frontier of New York—not yet gentrified and right on the edge, where it’s still rough and tumble.”
As a showrunner, Phillips is intimately involved in every aspect of the production, from writing the pilot and episodes to casting and hiring talent to producing. He says that part of the appeal of this project was that the action focuses on “what it takes to get food to the table in a fancy restaurant in a business that’s not unfamiliar with the seedier side of life.”
He is attracted to the duality of the story. “The upside for the characters is making money; the flipside is that, at some point, you’re pushing people out of their neighborhoods. I was on that side of it, being pushed out of Dorchester, Massachusetts, when I was younger. I know what it’s like.”
He draws on his experience working for his father’s butcher shop, and on his Italian wife’s penchant for cooking and good restaurants, to help make the restaurant scenes realistic. He even hired a food stylist to make sure the dishes look authentic: “She’d say, ‘You’d never put anchovies with lamb.’ ”
Known for flawed characters, his new ones are no different. Schwimmer’s fans will be taken aback by his gritty performance. “He drills down and goes deeper and darker than I imagined,” says Phillips. “People will be wonderfully surprised.” In fact, to sum up the show in a few words, he deadpans: “Surprising. Kick Ass. More please.” We’ll be watching.
Jim Sturgess and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast
DISHING WITH CLYDE PHILLIPS
Favorite Food Haunts…
“Elm in New Canaan is one of our favorites. We go there frequently and have become friends with Executive Chef Luke Venner.”
“We hit up The Double L Market in Westport. When I’m filming, I keep an apartment in Manhattan and load up on provisions at Lloyd Allen’s market before heading into the city.”
“For those nights when we need a sushi fix, Pink Sumo in Westport has become our go-to.”
“Village Market is a regular stop for groceries and everyday stuff.”
WORKING IT OFF
“We’ve discovered the Wilton Loop of the Norwalk River Valley Hiking Trail—Sharp Hill Road to near Twin Oak Lane in Wilton. The trail itself is an amazing thirty-eight miles, connecting Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk and Rogers Park in Danbury, passing through Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding on the way. I can go on an extended jog, and my wife walks our dog there.”