Ten Minutes With Clyde Phillips
A writer and TV show runner known for hits like "Dexter" and "Nurse Jackie"
Photo by Ali Paige Goldstein
Clyde Phillips is an award-winning television and film writer/producer, known for blockbuster series like “Dexter” and “Nurse Jackie,” and has also penned four best-selling crime thrillers and is currently executive producer and showrunner for AMC’s new ten-part series, “Feed the Beast.” Phillips has made Wilton his home for the past 14 years, where he lives with his wife, Jane Lancellotti, an editor at Narrative, and their daughter Claire, a college freshman at Barnard.
“Feed the Beast” was adapted from a Danish television series, “Bankerot.” How did you learn about the story?
My agent sent me the first two episodes and told me they wanted an answer that night. The first episode just ate me alive. I loved it. I reached out to Lion’s Gate and they asked me to adapt it as an American series.
Describe what a showrunner does.
A showrunner does everything from creating the story to hiring directors and actors. I make all the decisions. There is not one aspect of the show that I’m not aware of—I hope!
What’s the most exhilarating part of your job?
That what I dream about at night I can put into the groundwater of the American conversation. “Dexter” became this huge phenomenon in television and that was me dreaming this stuff up.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Managing hundreds of egos every day—I hold them in my hands like eggs! I’ve got to make sure that we all remember it’s not about any of us, it’s about the show. As Shakespeare said, “The play is the thing.”
You’re a life-long reader. What book was most influential?
Actually it’s a play—Death of a Salesman.
You’re drawn to characters who have flaws. Why?
Because I’m not unflawed. I had a very messy childhood. Dramatically and professionally, I don’t want to watch characters that are unflawed and I don’t think the audience does either. People have fatal flaws—hubris, addiction, sociopathy, and psychopathy.
What was your worst summer job?
Working for a moving company. Being the youngest guy on the crew, I was the one who had to carry the convertible sofa up the stairs by myself while the older guys carried up the lampshades.
What’s the biggest risk you ever took?
Moving to Connecticut from California at the height of my career not having a job.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
Every time I write a script and am waiting for the notes, I am clutched with anxiety.
How and where do you write?
I can write on airplanes and in airports and train stations but when I want to do my best work, I retreat. I need silence and darkness. I live in a beautiful house, but I built myself an office up in the attic with cardboard over the windows and one light. I write in longhand in spiral notebooks and then enter it into the computer.
What is your personal motto or philosophy?
We can do this. There are 409 scripted television shows right now. How do you cut through that clutter?
Make it different and make it something you’re proud of.