Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience was always meant to shake things up. With every season of the Steven Soderbergh-produced anthology series about the world of high-end escorts, the plan was to move to a new city, a new story, new “girlfriend experience” providers, new clients. The only constant between the show’s critically-acclaimed first season and the follow-up, set to air in early November, is who’s behind the camera—writer/director/executive producers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz.
In Season Two, Kerrigan and Seimetz are taking that commitment to starting over even further, by blowing up the format and splitting their 14-episode run in two, each writing and directing their own complimentary seven-episode storyline. Kerrigan’s stars Anna Friel and Louisa Krause, focusing on D.C. corruption and super PACs. Seimetz’s sees Carmen Ejogo going into Witness Protection in New Mexico to escape a dangerous former client.
The first two episodes of each story premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend, and Paste sat down with Kerrigan and Seimetz— separately, which seemed only fitting—to talk about their decision to switch up the show’s format for Season Two and why they’ll be changing even more next year, by passing the show on to a new pair of filmmakers.
Paste: I know the initial concept for this show was something of an experiment, bringing two filmmakers together. But this season, you’re mixing it up again.
Lodge Kerrigan: The idea was, we wanted to break the format and try to push the boundaries of what television can do, and what stories you can tell on television. In Season One, we co-wrote 13 episodes, every episode, and then we split up directing duties. But in Season Two, we each separately wrote and directed our own seven-episode storyline. There’s no crossover at any point, but they do deal with similar themes. So, in a way, it’s a conversation between Amy and myself and Steven about those themes. We’re continuing the conversation as filmmakers.
Paste: How early on did you decide on that structure, basically trading episodes each week?
Kerrigan: We pitched the idea for Season Two in February 2016. Right after we screened at Sundance, and before it was broadcast. They asked us how we wanted to broadcast it, ideally. And we said in pairs. So it would be a seven-week run and each week would be one hour. You would broadcast the first episode of Amy’s and the first episode of mine. Week two, you broadcast the second episode of Amy’s and the second of mine. That way an audience can watch either Amy’s or mine, or watch them both and see how they interplay. And what’ll be really interesting is to see what the audience connects between the two shows, and whether that was intentional on our part or not.
And then all 14 will be available at once online. So you can watch it any way you want. You can watch it that way, which I think, for myself, would be the ideal way. Or you could watch all of Amy’s seven episodes first and then all of mine second or vice versa, or however you want.
Paste: When you were making it, were you thinking about people potentially watching it that way? All in one big chunk?
Kerrigan: Amy and I each are making a three-and-a-half-hour movie. If you’re the writer/director and you have final cut, in essence—Steven has final cut and he gives it to Amy and I—really the line between filmmaking and TV gets even further blurred. To be perfectly honest, the only difference between what we’re doing and film per se is structurally. It has to work on a three-and-a-half-hour level, and then it has to work every half hour. That’s the only difference.
Paste: Well, you premiered Season One at Sundance. You’re premiering Season Two here at the Toronto [International] Film Festival. If that line was blurred before, it’s really blurred now.
Kerrigan: Definitely. It’ll be interesting to see how an audience responds to it. I’m really curious. I mean, this season’s been super fast. We started prep January 15, we’re delivering the entire show September 22, and it’s broadcasting November 5. That’s pretty fast.
Paste: Were you able to both shoot at the same time, because of the way you’d structured the season? I’d imagine that’d really help speed things up.
Kerrigan: We were. We shot in different locations, but we had the same delivery date and we were in touch. We were separate productions, but we were very aware of each other going through it, and we’d send each other our scripts and cuts and have conversations along the way. We understood that we were part of a larger, unified television season, so we wanted to make sure that it worked in the way we intended.
Paste: Your storyline takes places in D.C., planning for the 2018 midterms. And I think the world of super PACs is probably as foreign and strange to most people as the world of GFE providers. Why was the collision between those two worlds an interesting place for you to explore?
Kerrigan: I wrote this in 2016. Right before the election. And then I rewrote it after the election. After Trump won. And what I was really interested in, on a personal level, is the relationship between three women. Three women [who] are very self-serving in their own specific ways, and the power dynamic that takes place in those relationships. When you start a sexual or a romantic relationship, there is a power dynamic that constantly shifts. I was trying to track that, and see the consequences of that. And then it seemed that on a political landscape, it’s become clearer and clearer that money is dominating and ruling politics, and self-interest is dominating politics. So it seemed to be a perfect framework, to put these individual stories against that. So you could see [self-interest] both on a personal and on a professional level. It seemed to be a good fit thematically.
Paste: How much did the story change when you rewrote it after the election?
Kerrigan: There weren’t any radical changes, just more showing the corruption in politics. Being more upfront about it, putting it more front and center. Changing some of the dialogue. Having characters be just more open about the corruption. I think we had a very thin veneer of democracy, and now it’s just been shredded and people realize that there is no real democracy in this country. The influence of money is just too overwhelming and too corrupting. So, really, just nudging that a little more into the foreground.
Paste: Have you thought about a third season at all? Are there stories in this world that you’re still interested in telling, or are you ready to pass the torch?
Kerrigan: I think there are stories in this world that are interesting. But I spoke with Amy and we’re both making the decision independently to leave at the end of this season. I think the idea was—with Steven, too—we do two seasons and then we bounce, and he brings in new filmmakers. And I think it’s positive on a lot of levels. Because one, life is short, and I’m not so sure I want to commit another two years to exploring stories with escorts. I have other interests in life. And two, I think it’d be interesting to get a fresh perspective. To bring in new filmmakers. And this format for Season Two kind of wipes the slate clean for any incoming filmmakers. We blew up the format, so they can do whatever they want. Now they’re completely free. So we were conscious of that, the whole long-term setup, when we were writing. This way, they don’t have to follow any specific format. The new filmmakers can do what they want.
Paste: The direction you guys decided to take this season is really intriguing. You’re essentially splitting it in two. What was behind that decision for you?
Amy Seimetz: It was really borne out of the idea of doing something new with the limited series. But it was immediate for me. I was like, if they allow me to do this, I’ll do it. Because there’s that aspect as well. Starz has to say yes. And they’re really bold. I think at first they had to wrap their minds around it. Just understanding that it was pretty cool to do, and that it’s a talking point that will be really fun for audiences. And hopefully sort of break open the mold of what TV can be. Not get into this, like, “franchise” idea.
Paste: Right. You’re not just swapping new actors into the same formula.
Seimetz: Yeah. I don’t want to throw other limited series under the bus but… I’ve seen it. I’ve seen where they plug another actor into the same aesthetic. And it inevitably fails. Because especially if the first season was successful, they’re constantly comparing the next season to the first season. And as filmmakers, I don’t want to ape my own shit, you know? Audiences, yes, they want more. But leave them wanting more. Then give them something new.
Paste: Last season was set in a pretty high-end world. The Erica and Anna storyline has elements of that to it as well. But with yours, you’ve got someone suddenly thrust into a much less glamorous life. Why was that an interesting angle for you to explore?
Seimetz: I didn’t grow up rich. So I always have an affinity [for] the struggle of the underclass. I think especially right now, in the time that we’re in… Maybe I couldn’t stomach writing about rich people right now [laughs]. Or just didn’t find it interesting.
Paste: Last season, you got 13 episodes to tell one story. This season, you’ve only got 14 to tell two. How much did that change your approach to breaking the stories?
Seimetz: I just wanted to start running. Like a film. Last season was like a film, too, but a very slow burn. I also felt more comfortable in myself. Because I hadn’t directed television in an episodic way until last season. I started to fall in love with how much you could do in a half hour. Especially in a half-hour drama. And then I felt like I could do more. I felt like last season was like, “Wow, so much happens in an episode!” And this season was like, “So much more can happen.” Not to use a yoga metaphor, but you can find the space in the tightness.
Paste: I know the lines between TV and film are blurring. But, that said, it feels like there’s more cultural conversation around TV right now. People seem more into discussing the shows they’re watching, diving into them. Especially with a show like this.
Seimetz: I was an actress, but I’ve been directing for quite some time. But in a public sense, it went from like “relatively obscure director” to directing television, overnight [laughs]. But I knew that, in a different way than with my independent films, people are going to see [this]. It actually encouraged me to be a little riskier. Mostly because I think with TV, there’s such an opportunity to present really obscure ideas, and people just accept them. I don’t want to push the art side of what this show is—and it’s super arty—but I think because it’s on television, people like my mom engage with it, and forget the pretentiousness of it being an art show. Because it’s on TV. And I think that’s really interesting. I liked playing with that. But I do like knowing that there’s a built-in audience.
Paste: I think it’s interesting, the way these are going to be paired this year, one episode after the other. Does seeing it that way change the way you look at your own episodes at all?
Seimetz: No. But I know we both were very aware that it would change other people’s perception of it. And we find it super fascinating. Whatever combo you watch, psychologically, you make different connections. Whether you watch mine first or his. Even doing interviews is really fascinating.
Paste: You acted in three episodes in Season One. Are you going to be showing up in any more this year?
Seimetz: No. There wasn’t a role for me! …I love that. I’m the writer, and I’m like, there wasn’t a role. No. When I direct, I’m not looking to fit myself in everything. It’s a lot of work to write, direct, and also we do a lot of producing. So it’s too much. But [Season One star] Riley [Keough] and I had such a natural sisterhood anyways, that was actually the reason I cast myself. I wasn’t intending to do it, but when I met her, we did another movie together and we just felt like sisters. And still do. We’re still friends. I’m like her big sister. So it just felt like, “Oh, I don’t think we can cast better than this.” That was really the only reason I appeared last season. It wasn’t because I wasn’t getting cast, and I needed the work [laughs].