ABC’s The Family, created and co-executive produced by Shondaland alum Jenna Bans, is packed with ambiguities. Tracking the fallout when the young son of a mayor returns ten years after he was kidnapped, it features a cast of characters whose motivations and moral alignments are ambiguous, and who often hold dark secrets that could destroy them. That’s especially true for cast member Andrew McCarthy, who plays “Hank”, a convicted sex offender. His taking the role and how that came about was discussed at length at Saturday’s TCA Panel devoted to the upcoming show, which premieres March 3.

In attendance, cast members Alison Pill, Andrew McCarthy, Floriana Lima, Liam James, Rupert Graves, Zach Gilford, and Margot Bingham, along with Executive producers Laurie Zaks, David Hoberman, and Bans. Perhaps the biggest surprise the show has in store that doesn’t come from its central mysteries is that it’s Andrew McCarthy’s first foray into acting in several years. He’s focused mainly on directing – and even directed several episodes of The Family. To return to acting with such a loathsome character seems on the surface like an odd choice, but as McCarthy said when asked, it was an easy role to take.

“People have asked me why I would do a role like this. Why would you play someone  and really, the answer is I just didn’t care, in the sense that I had nothing to protect as in acting,” McCarthy said. “Well, is this a good choice for a career move? Because I had been directing, like you say, and I hadn’t acted in years, about five years or so. And I had no interest, really, intention of acting in the near future. But when it came up, I thought it was so compelling that I wanted to do it. And so I was liberated by the fact that I just didn’t care how it was perceived, so I was able to just go do it.”

Were the show’s producer’s surprised? Yes. “We had been looking at so many actors, said Zaks. “It was not an easy role to cast and people had different
interpretations of the character when they came in.” McCarthy was on a location shoot for a show he’s directing on another network when he auditioned, as it turns out. Bans received the tape without being told who it was. “The subject line just said “watch this,” and I went oh. And it was like 10:00 at night and I was in bed and I had watched like – I don’t even know how many people read for this role,” she said. “It was so hard, because I think the danger of this role is… it could come off as just unequivocally evil. And when I watched it, I was just like  we all were, I mean, across the board. We just immediately knew he was the person to play Hank.”

That’s in part because, as Hoberman put it, McCarthy was “probably the most normal person that ever read for the role.”

McCarthy revealed that they had initially talked to him for a different role. “Then I thought, well, I like this kind of guy, this wounded animal over her; what about him? And so I went and auditioned for that, and that was that. And for some reason, it’s something that I knew how to do,” he explained. “I mean, I’m playing basically a sexual pariah. The worst thing that anyone could be in our society is someone who would prey on young children, and that’s a complicated thing in the sense that we just want to label those people as evil. You know, I have three small kids. If someone tried to go near my kids, I’d be in jail for killing them. And yet they’re complicated people.”

Noting that everyone has secrets they grapple with, McCarthy added that the show’s examination of that was what he loves about being a part of it. “Everyone seems to have a secret. Everyone has an agenda. And everyone has a version of the truth. And where do they all convene on each other? So I think he fits in the world of the show in a certain way, that he has a secret, and he has a secret life. There’s the public life and then there’s the private life he’s living. And so he’s just a complex kind of guy that I find really interesting to play. He’s full of self loathing, and when people are full of self loathing, they do all sorts of things to justify their existence.”

2016 Winter TCA Tour - Day 5Bans agreed. “There was a humanity to him. I think that was so necessary for this part. And to follow his story over 12 episodes, you have to sense the humanity in him. And one of my favorite things… about casting Andrew was I was sitting on the set on the first episode and the script supervisor who hadn’t been with us for the pilot, but was for the filming of the first episode, was like, “Oh, I love Hank.” And I was like, “I do, too. But you realize he’s a convicted sex offender?” And she was like, “I know, but I love him.”

To that, McCarthy quipped that “it’s because she loved Pretty in Pink.”

Meanwhile, Bans was of course asked about working with Shonda Rhimes and going off to do her own thing. “[Shonda is] a great friend and mentor, and I worked for her for years and years,.” said Bans “She has so many overall rules for television that are so smart that you sort of take with you… she’s a big proponent of pushing stories forward. You know, we’ll be
in the writers’ room on Scandal and we’ll be like, ‘We should probably do that episode 10.’ And she’s like, ‘Episode 2!’ And we’re like, ‘Well, what are we going to do after that?’ So that’s definitely something I’ve taken to heart and implemented, I think, on this show, is don’t worry about what you’re going to do next. You’ll figure that out.”

“I think it’s like it’s writing without fear and without fear of that you won’t be able to think of what comes next, so that’s something huge that I’ve taken from her,” Bans said. She also emphasized how supportive Rhimes has been to her. “I remember she read this pilot. And I have done a show with her and this one I did with Mandeville. And she is  was just so supportive and like, ‘Oh, God. This better get made.’ Like, she just really genuinely liked it… So she’s sort of a great sort of ‘do what I do here and imitate me here, because it’s my show, but then go off and do your own show and I’ll support you in that, too’.”