Step aside mad men, the ladies are coming to town and they’re ready to shake their tails at a TV near you. This fall season, retro themed shows are all the rage, including HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” ABC’s “Pan Am, as well as a series that Hugh Hefner approves. NBC’s new ‘60s drama, “The Playboy Club,” chronicles the lives of the men and women behind Chicago's infamous hot spot where cocktails are just $1.50 and some of the most tantalizing temptresses tease and please patrons in satin corsets and not much else. It’s an era of sex, free love, and decadence-but at what cost? Innocent new Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) craves for adventure, only to be faced with murder. Then there’s Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), the ultimate swingin’ bachelor who happens to be one of the city’s top attorneys with complicated ties to the mob. Not all sparkles at this gent's paradise and Hefner wouldn’t have it any other way.
Starpulse participated in a roundtable Q&A with Heard, Cibrian, and Executive Producer Chad Hodge about collaborating with Playboy's founder, becoming Bunnies, and what audiences can expect from this steamy first season. For those that enjoyed last night's pilot episode and others who might want to tune in next week, here is some insight from the cast themselves.
Amber, even though there's a serious plot going on, it looks like you're having so much fun. Is that because of Maureen or you as Amber just having a blast?
Amber Heard: Well, the good thing about my job is that I get to have fun as both myself and the character I'm playing. The wonderful thing about Maureen is that I relate to her on a lot of different levels. I guess to answer your question, we're both having fun. The show is all about fun and it’s a blast to work on. We've got music, dancing, performances, spotlights, fishnets, lipstick, jazz, and martinis. What more could you want?
Did you learn a certain ‘60s Bunny style of dancing?
Amber Heard: Actually, we did. We work with Fatima Robinson and she is an unbelievable choreographer. She taught us a specific kind of ‘60s dancing, which is important. We have very specific dance numbers and more elaborate choreographed pieces. We also have ‘60s freestyle dancing. It keeps us very busy.
What were some of the challenges that the cast faced in the series?
Eddie Cibrian: This is a very ambitious series to shoot because, obviously, it's a period piece. Like Amber was saying, there are a lot of musical elements to the show. We basically almost shoot a complete music video every episode, along with a one-hour drama, which that in itself is very time-consuming. There are a lot of things that have to come together and it's not always as easy as it would seem to other people. But I think that we're getting into a really good groove right now. And like Amber was saying, we're all having fun and it's coming out on the set. You feel transformed when you enter those scenes and see all the extras dressed up in their ‘60s attire. Everyone has a cigarette and a cocktail in their hand. All of that makes you forget about time. It's a little different than just a normal procedural cop show that gets done in eight days.
Chad, has Hugh Heffner been involved, seen the show, or given his blessing? What's his reaction to it?
Chad Hodge: He's been involved since the beginning. He doesn't approve scripts, storylines, or things like that. He corrects us on historical accuracy and the history of Playboy. He absolutely loves the show. He tweets about it all the time. He sends more tweets probably than anyone on Twitter. He’s the narrator of the pilot. We don’t continue using him as a voiceover, but Heff is always sort of omnipresent in the show. He’s definitely part of the world.
Eddie and Amber, what do you most and least like about your characters?
Eddie Cibrian: I really relate to my character. This guy has a good heart. He actually wants to do good, but he has a very suspicious past. He’s done some very bad things, but he now wants to make it right and help people. I could relate to that. The one thing I don’t really like about my character is that he smokes all the time. He loves it. So it sucks for me because I don’t smoke. But my character really enjoys it so I have to do it.
Amber Heard: I would have to say that I like Maureen's strength. She’s a strong individual and I could not value a quality more in a person. I certainly have to say that her best qualities are her strength and bravery. But with that comes the alienation that often accompanies strength and bravery. I guess people with those qualities find themselves alone in one respect or another. And I think that Maureen is slightly alienated. Because of that strength and bravery she winds up in a lot of trouble, perhaps undeserved. But trouble certainly finds her.
What has been the most interesting thing that each of you discovered about the Playboy Club through your research and preparation?
Amber Heard: Part of why I wanted to do this project was because of the incredibly textured and rich backdrop that the Club takes place in. The era has all of these elements that serve as wonderful backdrop for our show. It’s just such a rich stage to tell any story on. When I was doing research I kept getting surprised by the things I learned about the Club, like the ethics and the man who started it. I continue to be impressed with him as he fought numerous political measures that tried to stop him from printing and saying what he wanted. I was impressed by the journalists that he decided to work with in the early career of the magazine. I was also impressed by the integrity of the journalism and the fight he often had to protect that.
Chad Hodge: When I first became involved with this project, which was over a year ago, I had initial preservations, like hmmm, what’s a scripted show about Playboy going to be like? The first place I went to was Heff’s scrapbook archive at the Playboy Mansion. He still employs five people full-time to archive his life. He has over 2,000-2,500 volumes of scrapbooks starting with Number 1 from when he was 15-years-old to now. He still archives everything from his life. It was unbelievably fascinating and really inspiring to see the direction and tone of the characters. Diving into that isn’t like going to the library and reading a book about Playboy or even interviewing people, which of course, I did both. Diving into those scrapbooks was, I think, the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen in terms of researching history. And I’ve done a lot of historical fiction in the past. This was really amazing.
When you’re in this Bunny outfit, there are certain ways of doing things. Amber and Chad, did you have to search those rules? Could you name some of your favorites and the most ridiculous ones?
Chad Hodge: Yeah. I'm wearing one right now.
Eddie Cibrian: And let me tell you, he can still do an interview…
Chad Hodge: Yeah (laughs).
Amber Heard: Well, the Bunny suit requires a whole number of things. It needs a small team to get you in and out of them. It requires a modification of how you do certain things, just like simply carrying yourself. It can be a challenge more or less when you’re also carrying a tray filled with drinks.
Eddie Cibrian: Well, you guys had to learn the Bunny Dip and-
Chad Hodge: There are several different poses and that’s part of the manual. There’s the Bunny Dip, the Bunny Perch, and the Bunny Stance. We’re all very good at it now. But that costume, it looks exactly the same and it’s made to the exact specifications. Our costume designer, Isis Mussenden, makes them in cooperation with Playboy. But, we modified them in some of the materials on the inside to make it more comfortable for the actresses to wear. If they were exactly the same as they were back then, I mean, there was actually boning in them. It would not be as comfortable as it could be. But sitting is a challenge, isn't it Amber?
Amber Heard: Yes, it can be. Doing a lot of things is a challenge. But, it's no different from when you want to go out with friends, on a date, or to a premiere. As a woman, you have to decide at some point what line you’ll draw your comfort level to look a certain way. I think we all do that probably.
Amber, how do you think the real Playboy Clubs of the ‘60s were necessary in order to bring about change for women at the time?
Amber Heard: I have no idea in terms of their necessity. They were certainly an important part of the era. This was, you know, the early ‘60s, the eve of women's lib and on the cusp of the sexual social revolution that we know in retrospect about. The thing that I like about ‘The Playboy Club’ is that it hearkens back to this time, this elusive Club, this very exclusive lifestyle created almost as a fantasy getaway. And it existed in a certain time and place that was more or less perfect for the social changes that were happening around it. I feel like the Club could have only existed in that way at that time. That's what's so special about our show and the fact that it takes place in the early ‘60s. Being that it took place on the cusp of all of these changes and revolutions we have an unbelievable platform on which we can tell our story. I think women stepping out and deciding for themselves how they wanted to earn their money is an important part of what we know now to be women's lib. They were brave enough to step out and say, ‘This is what I want to do with my life right now. I'm going to challenge the social norms and do it my way.' Many of them went on to become CEOs and entrepreneurs. We've met so many Bunnies that talk fondly about their experiences and are happy to be a part of this process.
Eddie, now that you've spent time as Nick, how do you think men of today are different than those of the ‘60s?
Eddie Cibrian: There was more of a swagger back then. You felt like gentlemen were gentlemen. They took pride in what they wore. They had a lot more accessories, which I think is pretty cool. Like Amber said, you were coming into this social revolution, a sexual kind of new expression for people. They showed that in the way they carried themselves and what they wore. I particularly loved the ‘60s in general just because of the style. Not only the style of clothing, but the style of architecture, and how cars were being designed at that time. I don't think we're going to look back on our present time in 20 years and say, ‘Do you remember 2011? Wasn’t that a great period for clothing and architecture?’
Chad, what does actress Naturi Naughton bring to the show?
Chad Hodge: Naturi is amazing. Her character, Brenda, is one of the first Chocolate Bunnies. Heff was hiring African American women as Bunnies. He was allowing anyone of any color and race to come to the Club when no one else was doing that. He wasn't doing it so much to make a statement. He just always did what he felt was right for him. And at the time, you know, not everyone felt that was right, but he did. There was a Club in New Orleans under the franchise and they would not allow African American patrons or Bunnies. Heff closed that franchise within six or eight weeks and reopened it himself with his own rules. He really wouldn’t stand for anything that went against his code of ethics. Naturi, who plays one of these Chocolate Bunnies and is part of this world, isn't viewed differently from any of the other characters in the show.
Where do you see Naturi’s character evolving to?
Chad Hodge: Part of her storyline is that she becomes an entrepreneur. She uses her money, the tips that she gets at the Club, to advance a big dream of hers. And I don't want to spoil exactly what that is but...
Chad Hodge: Well, I'll give you a hint. She wants to buy a building and become a real estate entrepreneur. She starts using her tips to do that on the sly.