Zachary Quinto understands how life can take a sudden and sometimes irreversible direction — thanks to one singular, momentary event.
In “The Slap,” the eight-episode NBC miniseries debuting at 7 p.m. Thursday on WMAQ-Channel 5, the audience is taken on a journey of what happens to a family after Quinto’s character, Harry, slaps another couple’s badly misbehaving child. That solitary act launches a series of things that threatens to destroy the family and pull its members in different directions.
When I caught up with Quinto on the set, the actor expressed great delight to be working with a strong cast, director and writers in a kind of new format for network TV.
Along with Quinto, “The Slap” stars Peter Sarsgaard, Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Melissa George and Thomas Sadoski, and is directed by Lisa Cholodenko (“The Kids Are All Right”) and co-written by Jon Robin Baitz (“Brothers & Sisters,” “The Substance of Fire”) and Christos Tsiolkas.
“I think the way the landscape has changed has opened up a lot of opportunities in TV now,” said Quinto. “The people who run things have reimagined things and are figuring out new ways of telling stories. It started with cable and now is being done by broadcast, too.
“It’s great for us actors, too. Now we can immerse ourselves in characters and do good work that is well-written and produced and directed, but for a finite amount of time. You can tell a story in a reasonable amount of time, but then move on. It used to be that if you were committed to a series, you had to stick with for the run of the show, which could be years. While that job security is wonderful, it also limits you from doing other things. Today, there’s so many more opportunities.”
When people first hear about the basic premise of the series, Quinto said, the reaction is, “Wait! You can’t hit another person’s kid!” Yet, anyone who watches the show quickly sees that the overindulged child in question exhibits constant bratty behavior. His parents (played by Sadoski and George) never discipline him and still treat him like he’s a baby — though he’s now about 5 years old.
Quinto laughed when I told him there must have been times when the idea of Harry strangling George’s Rosie character seemed appealing!
“Harry and Rosie are set up as the polar opposites in this scenario. That’s part of what makes this story so compelling. It also raises issues that are very relevant in our society today.”
As for Harry, Quinto sees him as a driven person. “I responded to him a lot. While at first he seems a bit monstrous and brutish, you begin to see there are many different levels to him.
“He is easily misunderstood. He has a short fuse. He can have quite a temper. He often comes off as arrogant. He is the first member of his extended family who has succeeded in a big way financially. He is very wealthy, but it’s money he has made himself. He has a lot of pride in that. He has a big ego.”
There are reasons for all that. Harry was orphaned at a very young age and immigrated to America from Greece. He was basically raised by his aunt and uncle (played by veteran character actor Brian Cox).
“He’s someone who has a lot of unresolved grief and anger. He believes he’s protecting his son [who’s the target of the bat-swinging brat], he believes he’s protecting his family, doing what is right and what makes sense.”
Shooting “The Slap” takes him back to the early years of his career in New York City. In the show, Quinto’s character owns an upscale car dealership — which brings about some deja vu for the actor.
“I used to live in this neighborhood in Manhattan years ago,” he said. “I walked by this car dealership every single day. It’s kind of fun that we’re shooting here right now. Really reminds me of so many things from a long time ago. It’s nice how things often come full circle.”