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Interview with Dan Futterman

Adele holding Pauls hand

HBO

The biggest audience reaction, understandably, seems to have been to Sunil's storyline. Did you feel reluctant about bringing in such an extreme twist into a show like In Treatment?

Dan Futterman

We were aware that it was something of a departure. When we first came up with the story we talked about that with the people at HBO. It was important to me and Anya, as well as writer Adam Rapp, that it not just be about a character who plays Paul to get what he wants, but also someone who made genuine progress in his therapy. Paul did help him get out of the rut he was in, just not in the way Paul expected to.

HBO

How much of Sunil's treatment was "real," so to speak? Was this always his plan?

Dan Futterman

Sunil says to Paul in the final episode, "There was a moment when you told me what it would take for you to report a patient." It might be interesting for people to go back from that point and see if they can identify when Sunil begins hatching something up. In our minds, the moment for us occurred in that episode, around week four, and he went home that day and formed his plan.

HBO

That moment occurred after the first threatening comments he made about Julia, so there was some truth even to how he was using him.

Dan Futterman

No doubt. He had very complicated feelings towards Julia. He was very angry with her for many reasons. The disrespectful and belittling way she treated him. The way she Americanized his son. The way she was raising his grandchildren. Also the way she may or may not have flirted with him, making him both uncomfortable and titillated.

HBO

At the end of Frances epsiodes, we see her decide to use Paul as a way of maintaining a relationship to her sister. Is this closure? A healthy basis for therapy?

Dan Futterman

To my mind, if you're someone who needs it, the important thing is to be in therapy, and to be in the room with someone who is competent. Whatever your feelings are about Paul, he is a generally good therapist. Even if she's not there for the right reasons, she's there for reasons that are good enough, with a good enough therapist. I actually think he's been pretty effective with her through all the narcissistic meshugas. She gained a degree of clarity with regards to her sister's death and dying wishes.

HBO

Is there a character on the show whose therapy was actually detrimental to his or her development?

Dan Futterman

Well, obviously Alex's treatment didn't end well in the first season; though whether that's Paul's fault or not is open to interpretation. One of the reasons we made a change by going with Adele instead of Gina, is because we didn't think she was a particularly effective therapist for him. We wanted Adele to be tougher, more objective and to force him to look at himself in ways that Gina was never really able to do. Much in the same way Paul is wrapped up with other patients, Gina was emotionally wrapped up with him.

HBO

Early in the season, Gina's book was a point of interest, but wasn't really picked up on towards the end. Was the character indeed based on Paul?

Dan Futterman

That's a question we never had to answer in the show. There was a thought at one point that Paul would confront Gina about this, but we were never able to arrange to have an episode or two where Paul tracked her down. Had we done that, we probably would've answered the question, but not having done so, we thought it was better left open. Paul probably thinks it's more him than it is, but I don't think he's crazy for being suspicious.

"People can act in unpleasant ways, but if you understand the motivation behind those actions, you develop of sense of empathy for those characters."

HBO

It's interesting that with all the characters on this show, Paul is the only one that gets called back from one season to the next. Is it a conscious decision to keep moving forward and not revisit patients, even the ones who were still in treatment with Paul when we left them?

Dan Futterman

Part of it came from the structure of the Israeli show. In that version, the Jake and Amy couple actually came back the next season as the parents of the Oliver character. I wasn't part of that decision. But for us, with the possible exception of Mia from last season, we didn't really know where else to go with any of the other patients. We opted for a fresh start instead. Also, with this show you never know when it's going to be the last season, so we wanted to tell contained stories that had something of a beginning and an ending.

HBO

By some consensus, it seemed Sunil was a widely popular character and Frances less so. Do you pay much attention to the fan response to the characters?

Dan Futterman

Not a lot. We felt confident in the Sunil story, both in terms of its foundations and its thriller element, as well as Irrfan Kahn, one of the greatest actors in the world. It's not that important to me to write a character who is viewed as "likable." Frances might not have been seen as "likable," I'm not sure how people felt about Jesse, and Adele is passionate but keeps her emotions under wraps, so people are more likely to project onto her. Gabriel is an actor who can generate a lot of sympathy for his characters, but it was not important that we paint him that way. Sometimes he's boorish with Adele or ineffective with his patients; however people are going to react to that is how they react to it.

HBO

Speaking with Dane DeHaan and Sarah Treem, they both bristle when people refer to Jesse as "unlikable," yet he certainly can be grating at times. What balance did you try to strike between having him act troubled without turning people off?

Dan Futterman

I'm interested in why people behave in certain ways. Jesse does things that are aggressive, angry, uncomfortable, lashing out at his mother or Paul or both. But I think the character was executed in a way so you could see why he was behaving that way. People can act in unpleasant ways, but if you understand the motivation behind those actions, you develop of sense of empathy for those characters.

HBO

Though it's only been three seasons, there have been so many episodes of 'In Treatment' that it becomes very easy to compare characters across different seasons. Is that a trap you try to avoid or something you embrace?

Dan Futterman

It cuts both ways, so we tried to put a different spin on the familiar when we could. We were aware with Jesse, for example, that we've seen Paul slip into the role of a father figure before with Sophie, April, and Oliver. We wanted a different twist on that with Jesse, an adolescent male who is gay and aggressive, unlike any of the other characters. We also had Max move in with Paul, which brought up a whole host of other issues that put a slightly different spin on this father-child dynamic we've explored in the past. With Sunil, it was entirely new to have a patient that Paul identified with so strongly. That overidentification is what blinds Paul to what Sunil is doing. Then with Adele, we had a chance to put Paul on the other end of the transferential emotional relationship.

HBO

Is the concept of transferring romantic feelings onto a therapist or patient as common as it comes up with Paul or does it just make for good dramatic television?

Dan Futterman

In discussion with our psychiatric consultant Justin Richardson, we established that it was fairly common. The meat of any analytical therapy is what goes on in the room between the patient and the therapist. Romantic feelings could be part of that, as well as anger, resentment, rejection -- everything that comes up is important to look at. In terms of romantic transference, we were aware that we may have been taking something that would ordinarily develop over months or years and compressing it into a much shorter time. But these are real feelings that Paul's feeling and confused by. And from what I understand, not uncommon in therapy.

HBO

Does Adele reciprocate those feelings for Paul?

Dan Futterman

There might be hints that it's a possibility. She's better than Paul at dealing with those kinds of feelings. She realizes the danger in expressing them. Paul falls for them much more easily and readily. When he asks if she ever thinks about them being together, she doesn't respond, even after he's ended treatment. It's a question Paul might've answered in that position. That's why he's an interesting character, because he struggles with boundary issues and knowing when to stop.

HBO

One of our therapists participating in the Talk Therapy discussions, Rachel Seidel, wonders if we should accept Paul's threat to quit therapy at face value. Is he trying to lure Adele into a relationship? Could he just as easily resume his treatment and practice? Or are these all true aspects of Paul's divided self?

Dan Futterman

I love that someone would have those questions about the end of that story. It is entirely possible that he'll reconsider and come back the next day. It's entirely possible that he'll quit. What we were trying to evoke was a man who was genuinely confused and has reached a point in his life where things are not making sense. Adele is saying to him, this is the exact moment when you need to examine your options and consider what you're doing, because you've never been in this position before. He seems not to be listening to it, but it's entirely possible that he'll wake up in the morning and think differently about it.

HBO

Another common topic in the Talk Therapy discussions is Paul's frequent crossing some sort of professional line with his patients. Do you think he is a good therapist?

Dan Futterman

This might be an unpopular thing to say for fans of the show, but I don't think he's a great therapist. He's an intelligent and empathic guy, who has some major obstacles in the way of being a great therapist. As I said, I think he's a "good enough" therapist for most of his patients. The most interesting stories to make drama out of are the ones where his relationship with the patient is complicated and compromised. I think we're meant to believe that the other 35 hours throughout the week are more boring and possibly more effective because of that. These are the challenging ones and the interesting ones. He doesn't always do the right thing, but he tries.

FAN QUESTIONS

HBO

Dan Futterman answered some fan questions from the In Treatment Facebook page.

Lorrie Kazan

Was Paul's hesitation and answer to Frances actually a yes to her question about being in love with her sister?

Dan Futterman

I think Paul had complicated feelings towards Tricia. We were trying to express that this was early in Paul's career, and maybe this was the first person who posed those sorts of challenges to Paul. Maybe he had some unresolved feelings for her. Whether you want to call that "love" or not is an open question.

Pasha Bahsoun

It seems to me that Paul takes the person-centered approach to his therapy, while still incorporating Jungian principles of dreams. Is there any particular therapy approach that Paul's practice is based on?

Dan Futterman

I'm not so familiar with Jungian dream interpretation. The intention is that Paul's is a pretty typical, post-Freudian, interpersonal therapeutic approach, which is fairly standard among the psychoanalytic institutes along the East Coast.

Rita Khrabrovitsky

If the show comes back next season (and PLEASE tell me it will!) would Dan Futterman consider being one of Paul's patients? He's a great actor and I would love to see him in a role on the show!

Dan Futterman

Probably not. Maybe if someone else was writing it and they thought I was the right person for the role. But I'm not comfortable writing a part for myself. Those feel like very separate endeavors to me.

Diane Payne

On the whole, what kind of feedback do you get from therapists who watch the show?

Dan Futterman

It's a guilty pleasure for a lot of them. There are very few shows where the therapist is a hero character.

Interviews