How Sir Ben Kingsley, Jimmi Simpson & Jacki Weaver Achieved 'Perpetual Grace, LTD'

Ryan Berenz
Preview Lewis Jacobs/EPIX

“Once there was a fireman who ran away from a fire. That was me.”

And so begins the strange odyssey of James (Jimmi Simpson) in EPIX’s 10-part drama Perpetual Grace, LTD. Wracked by shame and guilt, James becomes a drifter who gets involved in an elaborate scheme to steal $4 million from Pastor Byron “Pa” Brown (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his wife, Lillian “Ma” Brown (Jacki Weaver). It should be an easy swindle, since they’re just a couple of old people, right?

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“Film noir is about people who are smart enough to hatch a plan but not smart enough to pull it off,” creator, writer and director Steve Conrad says, with a nod to Roger Ebert. Inspired by classic film noir, Conrad takes many of the genre’s conventions and spins them in ironic, absurd and spellbinding ways.

Conrad and the cast shared what it was like to achieve Perpetual Grace, LTD:

A 10-Hour Film
“It’s rooted in honoring a great craft, and really making a 10-hour movie rather than a television series,” Kingsley says of the show’s depth. He found “deep resonances of Shakespeare” in the way the character-driven narrative renders the human experience. “It’s as if [Steve’s] invented a set of extraordinary characters to populate this almost biblical landscape. And they all coalesce, interact, betray, honor, rob and give to one another. Each individual has a kind of purity to them, which is so wonderful to play as an actor.”

When Jimmi Met James
“I just hadn’t read anything so beautiful in years, even out of a television script,” Simpson says. “It became a process of fighting hard to see if I could have a shot at articulating this character, James. He’s this drifter who’s lost, and becomes lost unwittingly like a lot of us. We don’t mean to be, we don’t really intend to lose our way, but we do. And then what happens?” “Every one of these characters is incredibly flawed, as we all are in real life,” Weaver adds. “But part of the story is the audience coming to feel enormous affection for even the most wicked ones.”

Motel Girl Gas
In one scene, James drives up to a truck stop along a desert road in the middle of nowhere. The sign reads “Motel Girl Gas.” It’s not just a typo. Conrad and his cohorts put great effort into tweaking the genre’s expectations. “It’s black and white. You kind of got this guy who’s down on his luck who’s pulling into a truck stop. You’ve seen that before, and you’ve seen that sign before,” Conrad says. “So we thought, ‘What if we did that? That would make it the most despondent place.” But they went even lower: James walks into the club on ladies’ night and the only dancer is a guy in a firefighter costume.

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Weaver On Wheels
Ma drives along a dirt road in the Browns’ old Plymouth, peering through the small space between the dashboard and the car’s wide steering wheel. “Welcome to my everyday life!” Weaver says, proudly noting that she did her own driving. “I’m a very tiny woman. I could barely reach the pedals. I’ve always been a driver. I drove a Rolls-Royce for 12 years. But those low-slung 1960s cars, they’re really tough. I was very brave that day. For miles and miles and miles. ‘Faster!’ they kept saying. ‘Faster!’ There’s no seatbelt, and I’ve got a knight of the realm in the back!”

Perpetual Grace LTD

Perpetual Grace, LTD, premieres Sunday, June 2, 10/9c, EPIX