How to Get Away With Murder, the groundbreaking drama that propelled Viola Davis to Emmy-winning superstardom, is gearing up for a third season of secret-filled, seductive, sexy, unpredictable, juicy goodness. (Davis is nominated again, by the way, for an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series). After the cliff-hanging Season 2 finale, HTGAWM fans can’t wait for Season 3, which will premiere September 22 on ABC. Whether you will be tuning in live or DVRing that episode and those to follow, we’re sure you will be happy to have a little something to hold you over in the meantime. From details of how the show’s actors developed their characters, lessons HTGAWM creator and showrunner Pete Nowalk learned along the way, to the reaction Viola Davis had after meeting the legendary and incomparable actress Cicely Tyson for the first time, check out some of the secrets behind the making of the hit Shondaland series How to Get Away With Murder.
In the Beginning
Wes, Michaela, Connor, Laurel and Asher – the prized interns at Annalise Keating’s law firm – have such a strong bond not solely because the actors that play them are great at their job, but because they bonded a week prior to filming of the show first began. Cast members were flown into Philadelphia and they hung out as if they had known each other for years.
Listen and Respond
HTGAWM creator and showrunner Pete Nowalk might have conceived Annalise Keating, but he owes a great deal of her character to Viola Davis, with whom Nowalk says he often has mind melds to figure out what Keating will do next.
Actress Karla Souza plays Laurel Castillo. It wasn’t until episode eleven in Season 1 that her Latin background was revealed – though that wasn’t initially supposed to be the case for her storyline. Souza told ET, “When I was cast, Laurel wasn’t supposed to be Latin at all. Then when Pete and Shonda [Rhimes] had that conversation about making her Latin, it was very important to have that be something that ‘could or couldn’t be,’ that wouldn’t ‘make or break’ the character, that it wasn’t the label of the character. She just happened to be Latin — and we could find it out later on.”
When Pete Nowalk pitched How to Get Away With Murder to ABC, the story arc he had in mind only carried the show through the halfway point of Season 1. Past episode nine, he didn’t know what would happen. But good thing he learned that HTGAWM is a character-driven show. “As long as you can unearth things about the characters,” he once said, “you’ll come to something.” You discover the show as you make it.
Annalise and Nate have had some hot and steamy sex scenes, and one of them made Viola Davis blow her back out. This occurred when actor Billy Brown threw Davis up against a wall. After that happened, Viola told HTGAWM producers that she’d have to slow things down for a minute.
In order to best portray Connor Walsh, actor Jack Falahee creates playlists for different scenes. He refers to them as emotional prep songs.
White Male Privilege
Matt McGorry based his character Asher Millstone, who has a frat boy past, on a specific person he knew, someone he referred to as a jerk, idiot, and the very epitome of White male privilege. How’s that for motivation?
Back in Season 1, Aja Naomi King, better known on screen as Michaela, had a scene with mother-to-be Mary Walker, played by Lynn Whitfield. Michaela was supposed to slap Mary, but Aja refused to do so. She told Nowalk that if she were to slap Mary, Mary would have to not only slap her back but knock her out for realism and authenticity’s sake. Nowalk and the writers compromised and Mary ended up catching Michaela’s hand as she tried to slap her.
Viola Davis had never worked with Cicely Tyson before, but she requested that Tyson play her mother, Ophelia, on HTGAWM. Tyson was already in character when she met Davis on set, and the acting legend did something that Davis did not expect. “When I walked in and I saw her standing at the door to greet me and this beautiful smile on her face, I knew if I broke that moment I would be finished,” said Tyson in a LA Times interview. “I totally rejected her.” And if you saw the two of them on screen, you know why Tyson made that decision. Said Davis, “I really felt like a child being reprimanded by a parent, that kind of smallness you feel, which I felt was appropriate.”
While Pete Nowalk doesn’t have any regrets about the stories he’s presented on screen, he does wish that Oliver’s HIV diagnosis was revealed in another, non-cliffhanger way. He viewed this reveal as “hacky” instead of as another layer or element that was simply integrated into Oliver’s character.
Charlie Weber plays Frank, Annalise’s ever-loyal associate. When asked what surprised him most last season, here’s what Weber told Entertainment Weekly: “How the relationships really took hold, how deep they go, and how you can see them on screen. It was great work last year, but this [season 2] we were able to step back a little bit, certainly in the second half of the season, and look at our characters, examine those people and why they are who they are. I think the show has really benefited from it.”
Even when not filming on set, British actor Alfred Enoch, who plays Wes Gibbins, stays in character, American accent and all.
Speaking of secrets, Viola Davis announced that a mystery will be solved in episode one of the upcoming season, a mystery that’s going to cost everyone something.