(Spoiler alert: This interview includes discussions of a major plot point from last week’s premiere of “How to Get Away with Murder.”)
HAVERTOWN’S Tom Verica is busier than you might think.
The actor, whose face was revealed at the very end of the pilot for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” to be that of the corpse wrapped in a rug, wasn’t just lying around: He was moonlighting.
As co-executive producer of ABC’s “Scandal,” whose season premiere he directed, the Haverford High grad and former “American Dreams” star spends his days thinking about things like casting and camera angles.
At night, Verica comes alive (in flashbacks) as Sam, the psychology professor husband of “How to Get Away with Murder” lead character Annalise Keating (Viola Davis).
And occasionally he plays dead.
“Not blinking and breathing. I think I’ve mastered it,” Verica said last week, adding that he’d discussed technique with “Murder” regular Katie Findlay, who played doomed Rosie Larsen on “The Killing.” “She’s quite good at it.”
Acting on one hit show – “How to Get Away with Murder” premiered last week to 14.34 million viewers, adding 6 million more in the ensuing three days – and directing and producing on another wasn’t something Verica went looking for.
But that’s how things can work in ShondaLand, the Shonda Rhimes production company that now programs three hours of prime time on ABC’s Thursdays.
Verica said that he was preparing to direct the Season 3 finale of “Scandal” “when Linda Lowy, who does the casting for all Shonda’s shows, said she had an idea and wanted to know if I’d be interested.”
He was, but didn’t know if he’d have the time, because he was “completely engaged in this sort of super-production of ‘Scandal’ ” that would overlap with the Philly-filmed pilot for “Murder.”
“Shonda called me in and said, ‘Your name came up to play the part of Viola Davis’ husband and . . . there’s not many scenes. I think we can make it work, would you be interested?’ ”
He told her he would be, but said he didn’t know how.
Rhimes and the show’s creator, Pete Nowalk, “figured out a way. And I was directing all during the week and then the weekends, I’d fly to Philadelphia and work one day. And I did this two weekends in a row and then came right back to set for ‘Scandal,’ ” Verica said.
“So it was a bit chaotic, but it’s the good kind of chaotic.”
And it’s not over. Verica’s character may be dead (and production has moved back to L.A.), but he’s figured in all seven of the episodes filmed so far.
“There are days when I am just dead on the floor and I’m there in my makeup, and that’s getting a little tiring,” he said, laughing.
But “the majority of the work is with Viola, and it kind of explores our [characters’] relationship. And we obviously meet this couple in a bit of a turbulent period. In the second episode, you do see a bit more . . . kernels of the history of their 20-year marriage.”
The pilot for “How to Get Away with Murder” dealt with that interracial couple matter-of-factly, something Verica appreciated.
“You fall in love with who you fall in love with. . . . I think that aspect of the show I really found quite appealing,” said Verica, whose wife of 14 years, writer/actress Kira Arne, is African-American. They have two children.
“Pete and I have had discussions about that, and he said that it was very important for him . . . that he didn’t want to have to make it a message statement,” he said.
“The great thing about Shonda and her world is that . . . you don’t have to identify it or make it the rare thing. It just is what it is.”
Verica, who made his debut as a TV director on a couple of episodes of the Philly-set ’60s drama “American Dreams,” where he played Jack Pryor, got his foot in the door at Rhimes’ company when he was brought in to replace a director who’d dropped out during the third season of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“I caught a good episode, and one thing led to another,” as he went on to direct multiple episodes of “Grey’s,” its spin-off, “Private Practice,” and, eventually, “Scandal.”
“When they like people, they keep you employed,” he said of ShondaLand.
After he directed a key episode of the first season of “Scandal,” which “set up the relationship between Liv [Kerry Washington] and Fitz [Tony Goldwyn],” he was asked to come on as a full-time producer and director.
So, what was the most outrageous thing he’d directed on “Scandal”?
“Every episode I direct there’s something outrageous. Probably the torture scenes with Huck – [that] gets pretty out there, and the challenges we have from a production standpoint of what we can show . . . without being exploitive,” Verica said.
His new gig offers different challenges.
“I had a production meeting at ‘Scandal’ and I was doing one of the death scenes [on “Murder”] and I had to get into makeup first and I forgot and went into this meeting and they were saying, ‘Are you OK? You don’t look good.’ ”