After a wildly popular debut season and some of the most-talked about sex scenes on network television last year, ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder is ramping up for its sophomore debut on September 24. We caught up with the show's creator and “Shondaland” veteran Peter Nowalk to discuss Season 1's acclaim, Viola Davis’s scene-stealing, those award-winning moments and, of course, the sex.
Jack Falahee’s portrayal of Connor Walsh — the confident, cocky, and overtly sexual law student — is one of the things that gave HTGAWM a signal boost early on. In one of the first episodes, his character’s tryst with Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) introduced the network television masses to rimming, whether they were ready for it or not. After that, the rest was just icing on the cake.
“Sex is a big part of the show,” says Peter Nowalk, executive producer of Murder, “especially with the character of Connor. He’s sexually driven, has a high sex drive, and that’s not going to change all of a sudden.” Fans won't forget Connor and Oliver's high-drama romance that involved exploitative hookups, a non-relationship, breakup of said non-relationship, and getting back together to give a real relationship a try, just to be left with the volatile news that Oliver was HIV-positive in the season finale.
“It’s a big decision for Connor to make about whether this is something that he can deal with in a boyfriend, or if that’s something that scares him,” Nowalk explains. “Oliver was only supposed to be in the pilot, but we kept bringing him back. They have such good chemistry, and I definitely want to explore that relationship now that one of them is negative and one is openly positive. Can you have sex like that, how do you do it, what kind of sex do you have?”
Being in a position to even ask these educational questions, however, makes it an integral part of Connor and Oliver’s relationship moving forward. “I don’t think 10 years ago I would have been so bold or OK with writing a character as kind of flawed and acting so selfishly, being a bad boy, involved in murder, and happens to be gay like Connor,” Nowalk admits. “You don’t have to write characters to be perfect or good all the time: They can be human; they don’t have to be representative of a whole community.”
Though a large portion of the show’s early attention focused on what some thought was groundbreaking realness when it came to the portrayal of gay sex, that facet of the feedback surprised Nowalk and made him wary for Season 2. “We’ve always written a lot of sex of all types, and I don’t want to say there’s such a thing as gay sex,” he explains. “There’s just sex: Sex between men and men, men and women, women and women.” Nowalk says he wants to remind everyone that somewhat graphic sex between men on television isn’t a new thing, and that Queer As Folk was doing the same thing (and more) 15 years ago (on Showtime).
If sex was half of what got people talking about HTGAWM, then Viola Davis was the other half. The 50-year-old actress plays the cunning law professor Annalise Keating exceptionally well, and has the accolades to prove it. Davis received the Screen Actors Guild Award for the role and an Emmy nomination. "She’s so pivotal in the creation of this role — all the credit goes to her,” Nowalk says. Indeed, Davis’s character manages to garner sympathy for something she does in one scene, and a love-to-hate feeling for something manipulative she does in the next. “She built this character who could have been extremely unlikable and polarizing and made her compelling. She makes daring choices and pushes me to make even more daring choices.”
But don’t expect award nominations and wins to light a bigger fire under Davis than is already there. “She’s always on,” Nowalk explains. “She’s theater-trained and so pure about the craft that she’s always giving it her all.” He praises Davis for inspiring him when writing Annalise’s continued growth and exploring the character’s past, who she is, and how she will change in the future. “I joke that I always see her [Davis] yawning behind the scenes because that’s how hard she’s working on-screen.”
As with any good series associated with Shonda Rhymes, Murder’s first season finale answered a couple burning questions but left us with even more. We finally found out who killed Lila, just to be left with another murder mystery now in who killed Rebecca. The show is very much an ensemble cast, and Nowalk was willing to tease some nuggets of Season 2's storyline and the rest of the people in Annalise Keating’s sphere.
Don’t worry, the question over who killed Rebecca won’t linger, and will be answered in this season’s premiere. Nowalk says viewers should “think of the entire ensemble as involved in that.” Here's some things to get you ready for the premiere next month.
[WARNING: Potential Spoilers Ahead]
Laurel and Frank (Karla Souza and Charlie Weber): “We left them on a sort of cooling off period. They’re going to pick up steam again once you see the premiere. I really like them together and they have a lot to learn about each other.” And one of the only concrete spoilers Nowalk gave away? Frank will definitely be shirtless this season.
Michaela (Aja Naomi King) and Laurel: These two always butted heads, but in the finale they were on the outs even more. Michaela found out that Laurel stole her engagement ring to keep her explicitly involved in the murder and disposal of Sam’s body. “What’s really fun about Michaela is that she’s single now,” explains Nowalk. “She’s no longer engaged, and her life is very different now.”
Asher and Bonnie (Matt McGorry and Liza Weil): The bro-ish law student and Annalise’s associate are still together, and we’ll find out what the district attorney, who has an axe to grind against Annalise, wants from Asher in the premier, according to Nowalk.
Nate (Billy Brown): After framing him for her husband’s murder, Annalise gave Nate Lahey, who also happens to be her lover, a mysterious number to call that she promised would help. We still have to deal with Nate’s trial and we’ll find out who that number belonged to and how they’re going to help.
Wes (Alfred Enoch): One of the characters that probably had people screaming at their TVs and computers more than any other, Wes will be entering this season as an extremely different person. “He’s obviously a suspect in Rebecca’s murder, and has to get over her too,” says Nowalk, “and that’s hard for a very sweet, kind person like Wes.”
How to Get Away With Murder premieres Sept. 24 on ABC.