fbpx Skip to Content

Exclusive Interview with Italia Ricci + Jessica Grasl from Designated Survivor #DesignatedSurvivor #ABCTVEvent #PixarCocoEvent

Thank You For Sharing!!

One of my new favorite shows is ABC’s Designated Survivor. “Designated Survivor” airs on Wednesdays at 10|9c on ABC. Episodes are also available via streaming and on demand. While in Los Angeles for the Pixar Coco event, we had the awesome opportunity to interview Italia Ricci (“Emily Rhodes”) and Jessica Grasl (Co-Executive Producer/Writer) and chat about their roles in this awesome show.

Exclusive Interview with Italia Ricci + Jessica Grasl from Designated Survivor #DesignatedSurvivor #ABCTVEvent #PixarCocoEvent

“Designated Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 10/9 on ABC and can also be watched on the ABC App and On Demand (and on Hulu!).

Interview with Italia Ricci + Jessica Grasl

Q: What does your storyboarding process look like? Is it whiteboards, is it sticky notes; what is that creative process about.

Jessica: The process changes for every show, but for Designated Survivor, it involves a ton of whiteboards, and a copious amount of markers and cleaner fluid. Basically what we do is we start by writing things up on whiteboards and thenonce you get down to, like, the nitty gritty, we put things on big index cards and you do find story. For example, if we’re doing in Emily’s story, Emily would probably have her own color. If we are doing Hannah and Damian’s story, that would have its own story. So you can look at the board and track if you haven’t seen blue in a while or that there is a ton of green, so we need to break that up. Then the part of the process that I’m at with my episode is where you take these parts down off the board, and you have a big stack of them, and then you try to make it make sense on an actual, like, document, which is the really hard part. So, it goes from marker boards, to index cards, to computers. I’ve also worked on shows where you have magnets, which is really cool, so you can move the magnets around and shift things around as opposed to erasing and rewriting. So every show has a little bit of a different process but all involves a lot of writing, and erasing, and rewriting, so it gets into your brain.

Q:  How hard is it to keep those stories cohesive? Each episode has its own storyline, but it all has to fit in under your own part.

Jessica: Right now, I am off doing my prep right now, but the train is moving forward on somebody else’s episode. So just on my way over here, one of the writers was texting me and like, wait, so in your episode, where do we leave off with this character, and do we establish this? I said no, we don’t. I think we’re setting that up in the next episode so I mean, it’s a puzzle, and the challenge is that if something changes in episode fourteen, it affects what’s happening in episode fifteen and sixteen. That happens a lot, where you’re like, oh wait, I thought that you were killing off this character, and it’s, like, actually, no. So, I mean, that’s the fun of a serialized show is you’re not just like, doing the beginning, middle, end in every episode, that these things are continuing, but you’ve gotta be flexible because it’s all gonna change. Sometimes it’s right before it starts shooting.

Q: Is there ever a point where it too much drama, or is like, more drama? 

Jessica: There’s no drama on our staff but, I think that the challenge is probably more to make the drama compelling rather than complicated, and one of the challenges of storytellers is that we have six acts to tell in an X amount of time, so you have to have a certain amount of drama. You need to have the story and it has to keep moving. What we always have to be aware of is how many times are we sort of twisting things and is that intriguing, or does that just become confusing.

Q: In talking about the story because you know, it’s so unpredictable and contemporary. How did you guys as writers know what to write? It’s like you are right there in the White House.

Jessica:  Luckily we have really good consultants. We always have somebody on our staff who used to work in the White House, and so I knock on his door all the time, and I’m like, well, you know, what do you call this? Or what would you do about this but we also have consultants on the episode that I wrote which was last week, it took place on a Navy ship. I know nothing about the Navy, so you can go to Wikipedia, and then you grabbed a lot of books, and there a lot of really boring books on my desk about ships. I also got to spend a bunch of time on the phone with an admiral and actually he’s a contributor on CNN, and I was like, bragging to my dad that I was friends with that guy! That’s really fun about a show like this because it’s the White House, you’re not just solving crime every week; you’re not just dealing with political or law stories every week- every week it’s like a new sandbox that you’re gonna have to play in. Sometimes it’s NATO, and sometimes there’s war brewing. The topics are endless. It’s challenging because you’re never gonna feel like an expert. I’m never gonna be like, nailed it. I know there is to know about the government. Every episode, you have to dive into this whole new world and become an expert, and then you are expert enough to not sound like an idiot before forty-four minutes of television. Which is where our consultant helps us not look like idiots, a lot.

Q: So the showrunners make a huge, beautiful story for you, and they work like you like crazy. How much time do you receive before you actually go and film the episode? 

Italia: Get the script? If we’re lucky, we’ll get the script maybe three days before we search to the end, but there will be more days where I have to learn ten minutes before I work that.

Q: How do you feel working in this environment like that when there are tweaks; when there are changes all the time? Do you love doing it, or is it a little big stressful? 

Italia: It is my literal worst nightmare, but you just develop this muscle that is sort of like fear and panic and it’s great because it keeps you on your toes, and the writing is usually for the better, so it’s great in that aspect. In your performance, you feel like you haven’t really been given the time to prepare, so you feel like, if only I had a couple more days, but it happens like that on every show- that’s the struggle on television is that all has to happen so quickly. It’s more that television is more based in directors, media, and then it all is like one person on set could have a change to a line, and then you know, by the time all the phone calls are made, it’s changed- the scene, or the ending of a scene that somebody’s spent so long working on, and you’re just like, oh, but, oh god, here we go, saying- just sort of hold your breath and say, let’s do it.

Q: I love that you play the Chief of Staff and that you’re in a position of power as a woman. So what does that mean to you? What do you want to share with other women and girls who watch? What is that you wanna portray with your character?

Italia: I hope that she is able to portray that women are just as smart, just as strong, and just as tough and present, and capable as a man in that world, if not better. I think I’m definitely a better Chief of Staff than Aaron was, but you know, I’m a little biased. So I like the idea of saying, hey, we can do it, too, and we can wear killer heels while we do it. Since she didn’t think she was ready for it, and then so push your own limits and really see what potential you don’t even know that you have. So I’ve really enjoyed that part about Emily.

Q: It looks like they literally work twenty-four hours a day on the show. Like the day never ends. How does that work for you guys when you’re shooting?

Jessica: It takes about nine days to shoot an episode.W e’re two episodes at once, so it’s a lot. Our days are averaged, I wanna say, between thirteen to sixteen hours, and then you go home, and you have to learn your lines, and you go to bed, and you wake up. It goes by so quickly through because it’s so fun and when you finish it, you’re like, did we really shoot that full episode already?

Q: After working such long hours, do you ever have your own internal dialog with your character when you’re at home? 

Italia: In my character, it’s all very politically purged storyline with my dad and the occasional sort of romantic stuff. It’s all very business oriented and I’m Canadian, and politically completely inept. You should see my texts with Kal. It’s just, what does this mean? How do I pronounce this? Do I say the letters or pronounce the word? Like, I feel, why, why on Earth did they pick me? I’m the least qualified for this job. It feels like it’s non-stop. You’re forced to sort of live within that, that building because you never go home, and you never have a chance to relax. That sort of is your life, and then touching back on the authenticity- shooting with Kal, who was in the White House, is amazing because he’ll be like, that would never happen. That would never happen- that would never… And they’re like, oh, artistic incorrectness- stop it, stop it. Not everybody watching is an expert, so it’s just so funny to see how it affects different people.

Q: Do you have any freedom to incorporate your ideas? Like, I would like her to be stronger for this, or I would like her to shy away from this political issue.

Italia:  I can, but not really. I mean, there’s so many people involved, and so many storylines and stuff and I have a lot of trust in our, our writing team. It’s just the sort of thing where everybody gets their episode. If I feel she should be more dominant, it’s like, just hold on and wait. Just wait, you’ll see. Then it’s like, oh, okay, it makes sense, so I trust them and, and they haven’t done her wrong yet.

Q: How similar or what personally traits you share with anybody and what you’re trying to shoot on?

Italia: I seem always to get lucky enough to play very, confident, smart ambitious women that I kind of feel like if I wasn’t an actor, I would hopefully have been. I want to relate to that, I would like to think that that’s what I would be like if in an alternate universe.

Q: So in writing a political drama, how do you balance the politics in the drama without making it too political?

Jessica: I think that the Kirkman White House lives in a different universe. Obviously it started from a very unique place which, God forbid, our actual U.S. history has never experienced — the destruction of the entire seat of government. I think it’s been really exciting to sort of live in a space that feels so different from real world. Regardless of who is in the White House, it’s very different from Tom Kirkman being in the White House and something we’ve really gotten to explore a lot this year because we’ve sort moved past the crisis point and the rubble, if you will, and now it’s like, about Kirkman and his team, and he’s in administration moving the country forward into Kirkman’s vision. As writers, that’s the world that we live in. Obviously, we all read the newspapers, and we follow the news, and sometimes we pull stories from things that are happening like last week, you know, it was based on the thing that actually happened.

Italia: Sometimes, we will shoot an episode, and while we’re shooting it, it will actually happen. We were shooting an episode about the statue that whole rally happened.We were shooting an episode about the ship happened. I can’t go on farther or I’ll be spoiling it, but things just keep happening, and you know, who would write an episode where Emily wins, like, a million dollars. It was just, Freaky!

Jessica: It is freaky and sometimes that’s awesome because you’re like that’s great, we’re really sort of tapping into something that people are living through, and sometimes it’s really complicated, you know? When an episode really pre-dealt with the Confederate statue issue, and then all of a sudden the Confederate statue issue became something the whole world was talking about. That’s awesome, but it’s also that you wanna be sensitive so it’s a fine line that we walk as writers. I just get really excited that I get to go to work every day and live in Kirkman’s world and his vision for America and be a part of that, and escapism is maybe not a place you wanna live in all the time, but we’re artists.

About Jessica:

Jessica Grasl has worked in television production for fourteen years and as a writer since 2008. Her credits include Leverage (TNT), Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), White Collar (USA), Proof (TNT), The Player (NBC), and Shades of Blue (NBC). She is currently writer/Co-Executive Producer on ABC’s Designated Survivor.

About Italia: 

Italia Ricci stars as Emily Rhodes, Secretary Tom Kirkman’s chief of staff, on ABC’s popular drama “Designated Survivor.” Most recently, the Ontario native Ricci had a recurring role on the CW series “Supergirl,” playing villain Siobhan Smythe – otherwise known as Silver Banshee. Ricci starred on ABC Family’s (now Freeform) “Chasing Life,” where she played the lead role of April, a twenty-something smart and quick-witted aspiring journalist, who is trying to work her way up the ladder at a Boston newspaper by trying to impress her hard-nosed editor.

Exclusive Interview with Italia Ricci + Jessica Grasl from Designated Survivor #DesignatedSurvivor #ABCTVEvent #PixarCocoEvent

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR – ABC’s “Designated Survivor” stars Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Ricci’s additional television roles include guest-starring on “CSI: Las Vegas,” “House,” “Greek” and “How I Met Your Mother.” She has also appeared as Chase Ravenwood on Disney XD’s original series “Aaron Stone,” Sasha on the Comedy Central series “Secret Girlfriend” and as Maggie on the hit Cartoon Network live-action series “Unnatural History.” Ricci’s film credits include playing Samantha in the college comedy “Resident Advisor.” In 2014 she played an early love interest for title character Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the fall comedy feature “Don Jon,” and was seen in the lead role of Allison in the 2014 Sony thriller “The Remaining,” a film that follows a group of friends trying to survive the end of the world according to the Bible, written and directed by Casey La Scala.

Exclusive Interview with Italia Ricci + Jessica Grasl from Designated Survivor #DesignatedSurvivor #ABCTVEvent #PixarCocoEvent

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR – ABC’s “Designated Survivor” stars Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Ricci’s first film role happened when a friend asked her to be an extra with him on the movie “American Pie Presents: Naked Mile.” It was during the filming of “Naked Mile” that Ricci was noticed which led her being cast in the next “American Pie” movie, entitled “American Pie Presents: Beta House.” Ricci began her career in entertainment at the age of nine, performing in numerous local theatre productions in her native Ontario, Canada.  Ricci is involved with the non profits Stand Up To Cancer, where she serves as an ambassador, and she volunteers with American Cancer Society (ACS), Children’s Hospital L.A. (CHLA), and Stupid Cancer. Ricci currently resides in Los Angeles.

Exclusive Interview with Italia Ricci + Jessica Grasl from Designated Survivor #DesignatedSurvivor #ABCTVEvent #PixarCocoEvent

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR – ABC’s “Designated Survivor” stars Kal Penn as Seth Wright, Adan Canto as Aaron Shore, Natascha McElhone as Alex Kirkman, Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, LaMonica Garrett as Mike Ritter, Maggie Q as Hannah Wells and Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Tonight’s Episode Details


“Family Ties” – When a Turkish activist ignites protests in the U.S., Turkey’s president demands his extradition while the first family unknowingly finds themselves in the center of a battle that could threaten Leo’s future, on ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00—11:00 p.m. EST).

Photo Credit: (ABC/Ian Watson)

“Designated Survivor” stars Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Natascha McElhone as Alex Kirkman, Paulo Costanzo as Lyor Boone, Adan Canto as Aaron Shore, Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes, LaMonica Garrett as Mike Ritter, Zoe McLellan as Kendra Daynes, Ben Lawson as Damian Rennett Kal Penn as Seth Wright and Maggie Q as Hannah Wells.

“Family Ties” was written by Pierluigi D. Cothran and directed by Milan Cheylov.

Photo Credit: (ABC/Ian Watson)

“Designated Survivor” is from The Mark Gordon Company and ABC Studios. David Guggenheim is creator and executive producer. In addition to Guggenheim, the series is executive produced by Mark Gordon, Kiefer Sutherland, Simon Kinberg, Nick Pepper, Jeff Melvoin, Suzan Bymel, Aditya Sood and Keith Eisner, who serves as showrunner on the series.

Photo Credit: (ABC/Ian Watson)

Designated Survivor on Social Media

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/designatedsurvivor
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/abcdesignated
Instagram: https://instagram.com/designatedsurvivorabc
Hashtag: #DesignatedSurvivor

Thank You For Sharing!!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cynthia R

Wednesday 15th of November 2017

I've heard so many great things about this series but haven't had a chance yet to watch.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.