Being placed in a high-pressure situation, in which you have to develop and execute an error-proof plan to obtain the results you want, can lead to continuous burdens. Veronica and Roxie, the two main characters of the new Crackle Web series ‘Cleaners,’ need to mix their clashing over-analytical and impulsive personalities together to complete their job. Similarly, lead actress Emmanuelle Chriqui and writer-director Paul Leyden, who both served as producers on the series, also had to work quickly with little preparation time to complete shooting the action-based show.
‘Cleaners” follow two gorgeous young women, Veronica and Roxie (Chriqui and Emily Osment), who go on an errand for their boss, who goes by the nickname Mother (Gina Gershon). The two women turn out to be a team of highly trained and lethal contract killers. Their current job goes bad when they find a sedated 8-yr-old boy, Tyler Madden (Jakob Salvati), in the trunk of their car and quickly find themselves the target of their boss’ client, the FBI, led by Special Agent Frank Barnes (David Arquette). Even their own boss has a team of assassins that’s now out to eliminate them to get the valuable boy back.
‘Cleaners’ joins Crackle’s acclaimed portfolio of original, award-winning content that includes the hugely successful suspense thriller ‘Chosen,’ starring Milo Ventimiglia; long-form anthology series “The Unknown,’ starring Dominic Monaghan; and the Webby and Telly-Award winning series, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,’ from Jerry Seinfeld.
For additional information about ‘Cleaners,’ visit the series’ page on the digital network’s official website, and on Crackle’s Twitter and Facebook pages. The show, which was produced by Sam Worthington’s Full Clip Productions, features six 30 minute episodes, which are now all available on Crackle.
Chriqui and Leyden generously took the time recently to participate in a press conference call recently to discuss filming ‘Cleaners.’ Among other things, the actress and writer-director discussed how Leyden had Chriqui in mind for the role of Veronica when he first came up with the idea for the series a couple of years ago, and how she readily agreed to work with him, as she loved the idea of the character; how filming ‘Cleaners’ was similar to their previous experiences working on television shows, except that the Web series had a much faster shooting pace, which they felt added to the story’s energy; and how it made sense for them both to make their Web series producing debuts with ‘Cleaners,’ since they both worked on developing the story for so long, they had a clear vision where they wanted to take the show.
Question (Q): Emmanuelle, how much fun is it to be playing this character?
Emmanuelle Chriqui (EC): It was beyond fun. It is what I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. It was fun being outside the box and surprising people, because I think people think of me in a certain way. I think this goes against the way that everyone sees me.
Q: So what were the particular challenges for you playing this role?
EC: We were doing some pretty heavy duty physical training for this, which was fun, but that was definitely a challenge in a way. I definitely wanted to look a certain way and be able to do specific things, and some of it was met. I got hurt, unfortunately, so I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted.
Q: Paul, did you have Emmanuelle in mind for this when you were writing the role of Veronica?
Paul Leyden (PL): Oh, yes. The idea for this came up a couple years. I approached Emmanuelle, as I’ve known her for a long time. A couple of years ago, we were at a barbeque, and I said, “I want to write this thing about these two kick-ass women and you are my girl.” Emmanuelle was like, “Look, I’m in. Whenever and however we get to do it, I would love to play that.”
Then this opportunity came up, quite quickly actually, with Sony and Crackle. It started to move very quickly, and we got to do it. So a few years of an idea came to fruition quickly, and it has a lot of fun for both of us.
Q: Did she end up being everything you wanted in the part?
PL: She ended up being way more than I ever expected. The thing about this there was that it did come up quickly. We didn’t have a massive amount of pre-production, so the girls really had to throw themselves into it. Emmanuelle just went straight into it and did an outstanding job, given the small amount of time and prep she had.
Q: Emmanuelle, what do you think people will talking about most when it comes to the show?
EC: I know that Emily Osment is going to shock a lot of people. She comes from the Disney world of ‘Hannah Montana,’ and I don’t think her fans are ready for what they’re about to see. She is so bad-ass in this, it’s out of control.
PL: I think both girls are really going to shock people, as we haven’t seen them play these types of roles before. Both of them just fit into their roles like a glove. This show’s a fun romp and the girls really embrace that tone. They embrace the spirit of it, both physically and performance-wise.
Q: Emmanuelle, you’ve previously spoken about being from Canada and making the transition to working in Hollywood. Now that you’ve had some more experience working in the business, how do you think you’ve grown, either as an actress or as a person?
EC: I think what we do is so untraditional. Our job is much more of a lifestyle, and I think that the highs and the lows really teach you about yourself and about life. I feel like there’s a lesson at every turn.
So whatever turns out to be like a professional decision always somehow seems to affect me spiritually. So I think my evolution and growth is hand-in-hand with moving out here 15 years ago. Just keeping both my feet on the ground and always looking forward and hoping that things keep moving, which they have, is the best way to live.
Q: Paul, what do you think being on the Crackle platform allows you to do that a traditional television model might not?
PL: While this model is still so new and fresh, it is the future. It’s such an incredibly exciting space to be in. It’s just given us a lot of kind of creative freedom. All the execs and the people over at Crackle have been so supportive and unbelievably hands off. They say, “we like the scripts, we love the cast, we like your sensibility-go and have fun.”
I think with a show like this, every single person on the cast and the crew had fun on it. No one’s making money on this, but the vibe and the sense of fun is on the screen. That stems from the suits and everyone up top. They probably don’t like being called suits-they’re way cooler than that.
EC: I also think the online platform just has a much bigger reach. That’s what’s so exciting about this, as it has the potential to be seen by millions of people, which is a lot greater than just doing a pilot on a television channel.
PL: Yes, exactly, and it’s a nice release platform. You can slave away on an independent film and people can really like it, but there’s limited space to show it and for people to actually watch it. This is an exciting content and platform where you work on something, you get it made, you’re proud of it amd people are going to see it.
Q: Following up on that question, this is a Web series, and you’ve both acted on network and cable television shows prior to this series in your careers. How does working on ‘Cleaners’ for an Internet platform like Crackle compare and contrast to the television shows that you previously worked on?
EC: I would say interestingly enough the actual process of shooting ‘Cleaners’ was truly like being on set of any of the things I’ve ever done, whether it was ‘The Mentalist’ or ‘Entourage.’ We really shot ‘Cleaners’ as though we were shooting a television show or a movie, for that matter.
PL: With only with a quarter of the time.
EC: Well, with a quarter of the time and a quarter of the money. On average we shoot four or five, or maybe six or seven pages, if it’s a giant day on a television show or on a movie. But we were averaging about 13 pages a day on our show. So I would say that’s the biggest difference. But other than that, it was about the same, really.
PL: Well, you’ve still got to bring the same amount of preparation and performance energy to this that you do anything. But we’re not working with any big budgets and we’re shooting with no time at all. Everyone was on their toes the whole time. That energy was all pervasive from everyone.
No one got a chance to sit and enjoy it. It was just all on the move and go, go, go. I think that infuses the energy of the piece, which is high energy and fast moving. That fast moving energy shooting comes across in the performances, as well.
EC: Right. We just don’t have much of a choice. We have to get it.
PL: Exactly. If we don’t get it, we lose it. So we didn’t have the luxury of going back and doing pick-ups.
Q: Speaking of having that shorter production time overall, how did that really influence the way you rehearsed? Did you have any rehearsal periods before you actually began filming?
PL: That would have been nice, but we didn’t have any rehearsal time.
EC: That would have been great. We did a table read.
PL: We did a table read and that was it. But you know what-with something like this, it’s serendipitous, and fortuitous; it’s all those kind of words. It’s chemistry. We didn’t have any rehearsal time. But the great thing was that people really enjoyed the scripts. We got a really great tell of the cast, but even more than that we got a chemistry, and you can’t rehearse that. You can’t do anything about that – you either have it or you don’t.
The girls instantly, from the first time they met, had the most incredibly electric chemistry. That was the same with David Arquette and Gena Gershon. They all came on set so thrilled to be there. They’re doing it because they enjoyed the product, so that chemistry was amongst everyone. Missi Pyle came on and brought this whole new energy to the set.
It was just really an outstanding experience because of that. We probably didn’t need rehearsal as a result of that fortuitous casting.
EC: It was definitely a very interesting exercise as an actor. We have the luxury of time sometimes, where you’re reading and rehearsing and breaking something down. You keep thinking about it, and then begin doubting yourself.
I think there’s really something to just going with your gut feeling on something. Having the chemistry with something, it becomes a trust exercise. We think, let’s just do this. We know where we’re coming from, and we know what these characters are about. Let’s just do it.
There’s something very freeing about that, and I’ve never experienced before. It freaked me out, but it was a very freeing experience.
PL: I think it helped being an actor myself, and having worked with directors who really don’t communicate very well with actors. Working so quickly, as we had to do, I think that the cast trusted me if I came in and gave them a note-it came from an acting point of view, as opposed to something like, “You’re blocking the light.” It was more that I was able to talk to them very quickly and then get that performance to be even more electric. I think that helped a lot in communication.
Q: Emmanuelle, you do have great chemistry with Emily Osment. Did you and Emily know each other before you began shooting?
EC: No, I didn’t know her at all beforehand. It’s hilarious how I actually met Emily . We knew that we got Emily and we were super stoked. The first time I met Emily was actually at martial arts training in the Valley. We had to get in a fight. We met with our trainer and I just saw her commitment and her spirit, and actually right after our fight session, I called Paul and was like, “Oh my God, I’m so excited.”
PL: When I saw Emmanuelle calling me straight after that, I was like, “Oh God, please let it be good.” I met Emily and I just adored her for this. She wasn’t initially what I had in mind. But as soon as I met her and got her take on it, I was like, “her and Emmanuelle will be perfect.” I thought they would be great because they’re polar opposites-a classic odd-couple.
So when Emmanuelle called me after that and said, “Paul, oh my God, she’s amazing,” I was happy. Then Emily called about 30 seconds later and she said, “Are you kidding? Emmanuelle’s ridiculous and is so awesome.”
EC: Her first table read turned out to be actually very funny. I walked in and I was doing a food program, a delivery program of like super healthy foods. I was really sticking on it because I wanted to be in tip-top shape.
So I walk in with my little lunch bag of super healthy food, and Emily walks in and she’s got Pringles, a cup of noodles and a Diet Coke, and we were like, “Oh my God, this is Roxie and Veronica.”
PL: Yes, we made Veronica all tai chi on the rooftop and listening to a classical score and blending her own juices. Then you meet Roxie and she’s been partying all night. Not to say they’re exactly those characters, but it was as I say it was very serendipitous.
Q: Going on your background a little bit, Paul, this is your third time directing, correct?
PL: Yes, but that’s not counting stuff I did years ago. I did a short film (called ‘Bye Bye Sally), going back to 2008, with actually a mutually dear friend of both of ours, Malin Akerman. I wrote that specifically for her, and that was a really strong female character.
So actually there are a couple of things I’ve written that are out there at the moment, set up at different studios, which are also very female driven. I don’t know why but I really enjoy writing for women and infusing a male sensibility in the female character which makes them strong and resilient. I don’t like the shows for women, as the characters are nothing like none of the women I know.
Q: Also, how do you both feel about the fact that Crackle has everything from a four inch screen to a 65 inch TV someone is playing it off of their PlayStation? Are there also design concerns, both as an actor and a director, for doing a show for the Web?
PL: We didn’t have any time or preparation; it got going really quickly. We were scrambling the whole time and again, as I said before, that energy really helped this piece.
The budgets weren’t huge. But I always said, we’re going to shoot this as if it’s going to be on a big screen. So we shot on the Red Epics, and we had two cameras. I don’t think anything on TV or the Web actually looks like this show. I really went for those very saturated colors that had a Tony Scott feel to them. I don’t think the fact that I was shooting a Web series ever came into consideration once during the shooting or the post-production process, apart from the very, very, very limited amount of time that we had.
We watched the premiere (on September 26) at the Cary Grant Theatre at Sony and it was projected on a big screen. It looked gorgeous, and it’s going to look just as good on the hand-held device someone’s watching on the subway on the way to work.
That’s the way everyone is consuming content. Whether it’s $3 million an episode for general television or no money for Web things, at least they’re consuming the content all the same now-it’s on the go.
But I think if you start out thinking, I’m just shooting a Web series, I’m not going to worry about the lighting, then I don’t think you’re going to make the content that people deserve to see. I used an amazing DP (Director of Photography), Joe White, and he prides himself on his lighting. He’s done multi- million dollar movies, so he’s not going to come on board to just point and shoot.
EC: To be honest with you, it’s really not something I have spent that much time thinking about. As Paul said, we shot it like a TV show and a movie. Everything from hair and makeup and wardrobe, that’s we’re used to doing. Nothing was different, besides the fact that this might be on the Web.
Of course, like anything, I would way prefer that somebody watches it on a clear, beautiful TV screen, rather than their tiny little iPhone. But see I can’t help that. The flip side is that the reach is so tremendous that it’s like, well, if we’re reaching a lot more people because people can watch it on their tablet or their phone, so be it.
PL: Yes. If you look at a show like ‘Breaking Bad,’ and the time they have, and the amount of money they spend per episode, and the fact that they shoot on 35 mil film, most people are consuming that on their iPads while walking on a treadmill, or while sitting on a plane traveling.
So I don’t think it matters these days, whether you make a show predominantly for the Web or you should make something for TV, the way people are consuming them is all on the go. So it’s all blurred lines now.
Q: Does the ‘Cleaners’ story have an angle so that there could be a potential for a second season?
PL: Yes, it is definitely open ended, as this is just the set-up of the characters. In the next time round, we explore their world and their back stories more and open it up. So it’s very exciting where we hope this will go.
Q: Emmanuelle, besides starring on the series, you also served as an executive producer, and this was the first time you produced a show. Why did you ultimately decide to act as a producer on the series?
EM: This was something that Paul and I had been discussing for a number of years. So we already had very, very particular ideas of how we wanted this to go. So when we did meet with Sony, we both agreed to work together before we said, “Yes this is where we want to put this.”
Ultimately, we developed it for so long, it made sense to come one as an executive producer and have some say in some ideas that we’re exchanging. It is just an absolute organic fit to be an executive producer on this project.
PL: Have you seen the movie ‘Horrible Bosses?’ That’s Emmanuelle; she’s just so mean as an executive producer. She was all whips and chains. You just whipped them into shape.
EC: That was a nightmare.
PL: It was just so great being on the set with and just having a look across and realize, we’re actually doing this. We’re actually sitting here and someone wants to see this, and we’re playing and having fun.
That was one of the greatest things to get out of this is that we chalked it up. We did it and we had an absolute blast doing it.
Q: Paul, this was the first web series that you also produced as well as wrote and directed. So how did you ultimately decide to make that transition into making a web series, after working on television and on films?
PL: It wasn’t a conscious decision; it just happened organically that way. A good friend of mine, who I went through drama school with and who I’ve spent a lot of time with over the years, has this company, FullClip, which is Sam Worthington’s company. They had a meeting with Crackle, and they were excited. They walked away going, “This is the future. This is a great space to be in.”
They’re like, “We’ll limit that idea that you had with Emmanuel. That’s something that would be perfect to pitch there.” You know what? It was just a great fit. Though as a template, as characters they kind of hit all the sweet spots of so many of Crackle’s key demos. I was like, “You know what? Yeah. This is exciting.”
To be on the ground floor of this digital revolution, it just was a good fit. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it just kind of again serendipitously worked out really well.
EC: Yes, agreed.
PL: We’re not reinventing a world, but we’re having an absolute blast. It’s a really fun show. It’s fast paced, furious and it’s a fun romp.