'House of Lies': Dawn Olivieri on going toe-to-toe with (and being manipulated by) Don Cheadle
"It's a constant struggle and they're always at odds with each other," she says. "There's a very intense level of competition, even amongst the people that you work with. Nobody's safe -- everybody could be exposed and eaten alive, pretty much."
But the high-pressure world of consulting is not the only reason why Monica Talbot comes across as nuts -- it also has something to do with the fact that the story's told by Don Cheadle's character, Marty Kahn, who just so happens to be Monica's ex-husband.
"In the breakdown, she's supposed to be this pill-popping psychopath," Olivieri says. "But honestly, if you ask my ex-boyfriend, I'm a pill-popping psychotic crazy psycho ex-girlfriend. My take on it is she's extremely passionate, intensely ambitious, a bit narcissistic. Let's be honest -- if you are the money-driven closer that she is, you have to be [that way]. Nobody's going to look after you but yourself. With that motto in life, there's going to be some stigmas that are going to catch on."
Marty and Monica have a love affair that everyone can relate to, Olivieri says. "You've got that one person who just really knows how to push your buttons and you kind of love that, but you kind of hate it at the same time. You want it all the time, but you can't stand it. It's like a really bad drug habit," she says. "That's what we have, and neither of us want to kick it because we're intoxicated with the game -- the game of what we do for a living, the game of closing, the game of relationships, the game of emotion. It's all a game. It's sad, but I think it's true."
Olivieri has gotten to play that game with Cheadle on a weekly basis. Since their characters go toe-to-toe each week, the actors have shared a playful relationship since their first chemistry read together.
"We had this really interesting moment in the room together where he trumped me and I trumped him back. He came back at me again, and then I did it again to him. He put his hands up, and it was pretty much a white flag saying 'This girl, she gets it. She got it.'"
Working with Cheadle is a dream, Olivieri says, because she learns something new every time they share a scene. "I feel like I'm a protege almost, listening and learning. We talk about really vulnerable things together. He tells me things about himself lets me into those dark rooms that people rarely get to see, and then I feel safe enough to do the same for him. When we go on screen, we carry that with us. I can't figure out whether he's so smart that he's creating this situation mentally or not. I'm always thinking about it that way. I'm like, 'Is he manipulating me psychologically? Because I kind of feel like he is but it's working and I love that he's doing it, because it's bringing things out of me that I would've never found without that.' He's just wonderful."
One time, Olivieri was frustrated with the way a scene was playing out, but Cheadle helped talk her through it. "I couldn't figure out what was happening but it wasn't what I wanted," Olivieri says, "and he spun it in a way that made sense to me. He said, 'Well, what if it's this? What if this is what the character's actually feeling?' We almost had this impromptu little class on set. It's little things like that that I'll never forget and I'll carry with me to future projects. I just think it's wonderful of him to even take the time to do that with me. I think it's a testament to not only what a great actor, but what a great human being he is."
"I think it's a parenting technique that a lot of parents decide to go with. And I think it's really interesting to watch in this show just how it affects the child," Olivieri says. "Of course a lot of it has to do with the writing and what the writers decide to do with it, but I love the idea of the mom that doesn't really know what she's supposed to do."
The only way Monica knows how to deal with Roscoe is to treat him as she would anyone else. "I don't have any children, but I'm positive that if I had them soon, I would always have this thought in my head like, 'What the f*** am I doing? I feel like a kid! How am I supposed to lead this child into this world?' You do whatever you think is right, and for Monica, she's had her work," Olivieri says. "That's what's been important, that's what validated her. It hasn't been her relationships, it hasn't been her family story. It's just work. If that's her strategy in life, why not pass it to her son?"