“It’s a hard thing to kind of present in a very simple, one-sentence way,” says creator and executive producer Dmitry Lipkin of FX’s wildly unconventional drama “The Riches.”
“Just the notion that there’s this guy who was in an RV with his family and within a day or two he’s a lawyer and he lives in a big house. ... It’s sort of the upwardly mobile American dream magnified times a hundred,” Lipkin says.
Debuting March 12 (10 p.m. EST), “The Riches” is billed as the cable channel’s first “family” series. It stars British comedian Eddie Izzard as Wayne Malloy, a grafter who with his recently paroled wife, Dahlia (the Academy Award-nominated Minnie Driver), and three kids go on the run after stealing money from the clan of itinerant con artists they’d been living with in Louisiana.
While avoiding capture, they’re involved in a tragic accident and Wayne decides to assume the identity — and tony neighborhood digs — of the now-deceased Doug and Cherien Rich.
“It’s like he’s trying to lie and cheat and steal his way toward legitimacy,” says Izzard, “except the American dream is logically, legitimately going up sort of the ladder. This is a very low-rent kind of disorganized-crime way of doing it.”
This new life often puts Wayne at odds with Dahlia, whose secret drug addiction is exacerbated by her new Stepford world.
“Every day she wakes up in this dead person’s house, which is counterintuitive to every spiritual thing she was raised with, a lot of superstitious stuff,” says Driver. “And every day she knows it might be the last day that she is free, and yet she continues on this kind of knife edge, which puts her slightly in a different place than the rest of the family.”
The series intends to capture “the feeling of being an immigrant while having kind of a criminal aspect as well,” says the Russian-born, Lousiana-bred Lipkin, who patterned the show’s gypsies after those who roam the rural South.
“They are one of the few cultures in the world that’s fairly off the radar. They’re off the grid. They don’t pay taxes, they’re kind of hard to track,” he says.
That remote feeling is evident on location in the Santa Susanna Mountains north of Los Angeles, where, in the episode being shot, the Malloys return to their gypsy encampment.
Izzard exits the communal tent in the middle of a dusty clearing, where a dozen or so rusty trailer homes are cramped together in a circle, unhitched from their pickup trucks.
“Welcome to our gypsy village,” says a deadpan Izzard, the obvious comedic foil of this drama. Having parlayed his stand-up success in the U.S. and Britain (including the 1999 HBO Emmy-winning “Dress to Kill”), Izzard has made some notable dramatic appearances recently in both film (“The Cat’s Meow”) and on stage (“A Day in the Death of Joe Egg”).
“I’ve pushed hard to be able to just do dramas, and so crossing them over is maybe something I can do,” says Izzard, also an executive producer on the FX series. “And I learned in ‘Joe Egg’ ... that I was making people laugh and then making people feel ill, because I managed to learn how to pull the rug away in such a way that it was kind of unnerving to people.”
Reveling in that uneasy feeling has become the signature of the FX brand, where audiences have found themselves rooting for the unsavory leads in shows like “The Shield,” “Rescue Me” and “Nip/Tuck.”
“Our network is about rebellion, it’s about risk taking, it’s about the notion of refusing to be constrained,” says president and general manager John Landgraf. “And I have to say you won’t find characters, you won’t find stories, you won’t find a tone that’s like this show.”
Certainly Driver, who plays Dahlia to the hilt — backwoods drawl and all — has never had a role like this come her way.
“I’ve been waiting my whole career to have a chance to play someone like this,” she says.