TNT is giving us one heck of a Christmas present: the return of Leverage. The series returns to finish out its third season with a two-week event - first with its Christmas episode on December 12, and then with a two-hour season finale the following week. To get you ready to get even, I sat down on Wednesday with series stars Timothy Hutton (Nate Ford) and Beth Riesgraf (Parker) to dish about what's happened over the season and what fans are about to dig into.

The first episode back is a holiday-themed episode. I have a dislike for holiday episodes, because a lot of the time, they come off as corny or forced. What about Leverage's holiday installment is going to break that mold?

Timothy Hutton: For me one of the things that avoids that nicely is that here you have the Leverage team infiltrating this mall for kind of the sole purpose of saving Santa’s reputation, and it makes for a great show. Things that are kind of sacred in people’s minds about what the season is about and everything get kind of trampled on and the team comes in to restore that, and they do it as kind of another case without any kind of sentiment. And it ends up being kind of a nice twist where they get pulled in to the holiday spirit in a way they didn’t expect. It’s one of my favorite shows, the holiday one coming up.

How was it like having a season long subplot this season, with the Damian Moreau story?

Timothy Hutton: It’s been great because we didn’t, of course, have that in the first season or the second season, to sort of have this kind of ongoing nemesis [in] Damian Moreau.

[It's] about keeping the stakes high, the team having to kind of be on their toes, and every single character that you meet along the way in the third season ends up having some kind of pointed relevance as to what the team needs to do to get to Damian Moreau and that their mission isn’t going to be complete [until they do]. So it gave us all kind of something.

Each episode of season 3 had its own kind of specific goal, but there’s this larger goal, with twists and turns that were always kind of put in our way. It finally gets realized and comes to this amazing kind of place in the final two episodes where there’s the confrontation with Damian Moreau and the web that he’s cast across everything and everywhere.

Beth Riesgraf: I’m going to go ahead and let you take over, Tim, because you’re doing great. No, I agree. What he said.

Beth, of course, inevitably a lot of these episodes see you manuevering through air vents or off the sides of buildings. How much of your stunt work do you actually get to do?

Beth Riesgraf: Sometimes I do things I probably shouldn’t. No, I’m kidding. I don’t know. You know, if it’s written and it’s something I can do safely and there’s time for me to do it, obviously I’ll do it. But sometimes because we’re shooting so fast, they’ll have to have a stunt double do something that maybe I could do. There’s definitely stuff I cannot do at all, so of course she fills in.

There is a some fun stuff I got to do in the finale and some other things I got to do that I hadn’t done before. And it’s fun for me, but at the end of the day I’m not a stuntwoman, so I need to be realistic about my limitations, and they're very good at helping me, [as far as] what's safe for me to do.

Part of what makes your characters so compelling is that they're both rife with personal issues, struggles that we can identify with. Tim, in particular, it seems like Nate has been through the wringer. Are we going to see more of that dealt with at the end of season three and into season four?

Timothy Hutton: With Nate, his starting point was pretty bad. Over the years the writers have come up with these interesting ways to not just keep him having this one kind of cycle of problems, but to have other things happen to him. People coming out of the woodwork that he was hoping he wouldn’t see or have to deal with, along the lines of Sterling, his old nemesis when he was an insurance agent and then his father shows up. So beyond the drinking and the grief of losing his son and his marriage falling apart and all those very real things, since he’s chosen to go on this path with these other characters, some other things start to happen.

He’s definitely got a lot of issues and we haven’t seen the end of problems with Nate Ford. I think there’s going to be more to come.

Beth, the same could be said for you, with Parker's social awkwardness and her personality. Where do you see her heading from this point forward?

Beth Riesgraf: Actually, I don’t think about that stuff. For me it’s best not to think about trying to create any sort of effect with that kind of stuff, but just play the truth in the moment and sort of how she would feel about situations.

I don’t think Parker’s a vain girl and she doesn’t think about her appearance in the way maybe some other girls would or whatever. I think her mind is like a computer so she sort of processes things differently than many other people would.The nature of what she does and her viewpoints on life, those types of things shape the way she talks and thinks. Her life experiences have shaped where she’s at now. And some of those barriers have started to come down a little bit because of being part of the team, and everything she’s experiencing with them.

Celebrating the holidays has to be interesting for both your characters because of those things, I would assume.

Beth Riesgraf: She loves the holidays. That’s one of the great things, I think, about Parker is that at any moment she gets really excited about things, and in [the] holiday episode you get to see that side of her. With Christmas and her enthusiasm about Santa Claus and all that stuff, there’s some pretty great stuff in that episode.

Timothy Hutton: I think he’s miserable when it comes to the Christmas season and everything, because of the loss of his son and the break-up of his marriage with Maggie. The whole idea of people celebrating and joy and all this sort of stuff just makes him absolutely miserable, and he wants to just be alone.

The episode starts in one of my favorite ways. I always love it when Beth and I have scenes together. It just becomes kind of fun and it’s so easy to make her laugh in the middle of a scene. Whenever we’re with Beth in a scene and the camera is on her, any little thing can get her going.

Anyway, the episode starts off with this really nice moment with Parker and Nate where Parker is just so into it being Christmas and the holidays and everything, and Nate is just not. He wants to be left alone and Parker is just bugging him, you know, with the Christmas spirit and everything. It was one of my favorite things that I read, this little scene that we get to do in the beginning of it. In those situations Nate would rather just, you know, be somewhere else but around a lot of people.

My thanks to Timothy Hutton and Beth Riesgraf for this interview. Leverage returns December 12 on TNT.

Need to catch up? Full show coverage for Leverage is available in the Leverage category at my blog,