Interview with the creator of Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia, Barbara Hall
BustedHalo: You’ve talked about your rebellion in past interviews and how you’ve come full circle, sort of by becoming a Catholic. What was that journey like?
Barbara Hall: The search just started out of curiosity and I started studying all the world religions and all their similarities and what connected them. And then just because of who I am I got interested in the mystical aspect of all religions from Sufism to Kabala to Catholicism. But I wasn’t a participant I was at an arms length, you know just interested. And then I guess September 11th accelerated that search. But that had been lifelong to me. For a long time even when I was a self described atheist or agnostic I was still searching through literature and art and intellectual pursuits.
BustedHalo: What writers in particular in that search moved you or maybe at least kept you tethered to some sense that ‘maybe there is something beyond me?’
Barbara Hall: All writers…I mean all writers that are any good, let me put it that way. When I read a perfect novel you know when I read The Great Gatsby or I read The Sound and the Fury or I read Doris Lessing or Madame Bovary. I mean you could read Madame Bovary and believe in god all by yourself, you know what I mean. And Flaubert certainly wasn’t a believer but it doesn’t matter because to me the evidence of perfection or profound talent is always suggestive of something larger. And then of course I was so drawn to poetry my whole life, so all the good poets. And music. All that stuff is evidence of God to me. So it wasn’t like I had to read religious texts…you know Graham Greene is probably one of my favorite writers if not my favorite writer but it wouldn’t have had to be Catholic to make me believe in God.
BustedHalo: There’s an intellectual component certainly to the characters you’ve created, I wonder if you sense a movement in your own self from creating Judging Amy who is clearly an other-centered person to the questions dealt with in Joan of Arcadia which point beyond doing good works and concern for others to a more God-haunted sense of the world.
Barbara Hall: Well yea but it’s an extended version of that because I’ve always been interested in social justice and the people who are drawn to it and why? I mean a lot of people had no religious beliefs and certainly there weren’t any in Judging Amy but these are people who are drawn to good and bad and right and wrong and social justice and I’m fascinated by those people. And you can call it secular humanism even though that’s been demonized and it shouldn’t be because we should all be really impressed and drawn to what makes people want to be good. Even if it isn’t god or at least an acknowledgement of god or religion. So you know I just took it a step further and just extended it to going ahead and admitting that there was a god and giving him a character in the show.
BustedHalo: In a post-Passion world what’s Hollywood’s take on religion. Clearly they’ve realized they can make money with these themes, has that affected what you do at all?
Barbara Hall: Slightly. Joan was already up and running before the passion came out and given that it’s a TV show it was in development even a year before that. But all it does really is make the subject of religion less taboo. People aren’t as terrified of it as they used to be. People can have a discussion about it now where it used to be just completely off limits.
BustedHalo: Television is not generally known for its nuance and complexity and you’ve certainly created shows that have that. Do you ever wonder if you might be thinking yourself right out of that medium and into something else?
Barbara Hall: Well, first of all, I love television. I’m an unapologetic television writer. I don’t love everything on television obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full episode of a reality show. I don’t watch it much because I just don’t have time. But there is absolutely inspired stuff on television from The Sopranos to Arrested Development; you
could just go on and on. My thing is ‘have you been to the movies lately?’ I mean television gets a bad rap, are you kidding me? Part of why I don’t go anymore is because I can watch something on HBO that is way better. I’m always interested in other mediums just because I’m restless. I have a band and I’m always doing music and writing music. One of my songs was used in last years season and one this year. So I’m recording and playing out and just doing the whole thing its full throttle.
Barbara Hall: Yea, under the name The Enablers. Although I’m also finishing up another cd that will probably just be a Barbara Hall thing.
BustedHalo: Wow, when do you have the time to do this?
Barbara Hall: Well I consider it my social life. I don’t go to a lot of parties and I don’t watch a lot of television. And this is what I do. You know my friends are all in the band and my friends who aren’t in the band are in other bands, so we’re always following each other around town and that’s what we do, you know.
BustedHalo: You’re very productive…
Barbara Hall: Well, thank you.
BustedHalo: Any plans for the future?
Barbara Hall: I think I’ll do Joan until it’s done. That’s my feeling but that doesn’t mean I’m not always doing other stuff, you know I still have this book to work on. Even though I’ve finished it I still have changes to make in it. And I want to keep doing the music and I have a young adult project that I’m kind of pursuing. I’ll just sort of see what comes up. I always just sort of follow my interests and fortunately I have the luxury to do that now.
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