It’s the truth: “House of Lies” is aiming to be just as ferocious and funny in its second round.
The edgy Showtime series returns Sunday, Jan. 13, on the strength of Golden Globe and NAACP Image Award nominations for star Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan, the slick management consultant always striving to keep himself, the equally sharp Jeannie (Kristen Bell) and the rest of his high-living “Pod” team (Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson) a step ahead. That’s crucial now that they’ve evaded an unwanted merger … but there also are personal matters to attend to, sometimes mixing uncomfortably with professional ones.
“It took a second to try and find who he was again, to get back in the groove again,” Cheadle tells Zap2it of stepping back into Marty’s skin for Season 2. “I was coming right off of filming ‘Iron Man 3.’ I had about five days, then I started the show again, so it was a little tricky.”
Indeed, Marty consistently operates with all pistons firing, so Cheadle also has to.
“It’s pretty interesting,” Cheadle says, “and we were lucky that we had a lot of time to develop the scripts. I was seeing them before I had to go back and finish ‘Iron Man 3,’ so at least I had an understanding of what it was going to be like.”
Cheadle actually had a concept of that even before reading the words, since Marty always will be the driven, in-your-face Marty.
“I think the foot is on the gas fully,” muses the veteran of “Hotel Rwanda,” “Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and many other movies. “It’s daunting, the energy output it requires, and you have to stay healthy. In TV, there’s never enough time. We’re sometimes shooting 12- to 14-hour-days; the crew is always working that long, so it’s a lot to ask of everybody involved, but it’s a job that I love to feel exhausted from doing.”
The same goes for co-star Bell, who has been making the new “House of Lies” season while expecting her first child with significant other Dax Shepard (“Parenthood”).
“She’s a well of vulnerability and manipulation and perversion,” Bell says of Jeannie, “all these emotions that women are not supposed to have as the female on a television series. She’s written so well, she’s just an onion. There’s always a new layer I can peel back.”
That extends to the shambles Jeannie’s personal life was in when Season 1 ended, having lost her fiance along with copping to the questionable business-world liaison that torpedoed the planned merger.
“I felt it was pretty honest,” Bell reflects, “for a woman who’s had a power position most of her life to not consider the consequences of most of her actions. She was not out to hurt anyone; it simply was that she wasn’t thinking … which is the unfortunate reality of why a lot of people get hurt.”
However, that won’t keep Jeannie from trying a new relationship with an adult-toy marketer played by Adam Brody (“The O.C.”). However that turns out, Bell — the former “Veronica Mars” star who recently ended her run as the voice of The CW’s “Gossip Girl” — is enjoying having somebody new to match wits with.
“Adam fits in perfectly with the show,” she says, “because he’s so talented in his bantering style. Working with him now, it seems like he’s been on the show from the beginning.”
Marty also experiences big developments in his after-hours life, given his young son’s (Donis Leonard Jr.) decision to live with his mother (Dawn Olivieri), Marty’s rival on multiple levels. More family concerns are posed by his activist brother (Larenz Tate) and an ex-classmate (Nia Long) who’s another work opponent. Plus, Marty develops more than a passing interest in a political consultant (Lisa Edelstein, “House”) who may be his match in every possible way.
“All of us have had consultants come up to us and say, ‘Let me tell you a story … ,’ ” Cheadle says, though he credits “House of Lies” creator and executive producer Matthew Carnahan with keeping the template for Marty. “They’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what it was like’ or ‘That’s nothing like what it was like.’ We get it every which way.”
Television work was hardly new to Cheadle when he began “House of Lies,” which also earned him an Emmy nomination for its first season. He’d had co-starring roles on the “Golden Girls” spinoff “The Golden Palace” and “Picket Fences” and also did a guest arc on “ER.” Still, with his very active film career, it took something on the order of “House of Lies” to bring him back to the home screen regularly.
“There was never a ‘no TV’ mandate in my charter,” Cheadle maintains. “We always keep an open mind about good work wherever it may exist, and this was just one of those pieces that came to our attention, with a character different than I had played before … on the screen, anyway.
“It also was an opportunity to be in a great ensemble cast that’s really supported by the network and the studio, so there were many more reasons to say ‘Yes’ than excuses to say ‘No.’ “