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How Nicole Fosse Told Her Parents' Story Behind the Scenes

Fosse/Verdon

How Nicole Fosse Told Her Parents' Story Behind the Scenes

The Fosse/Verdon co-executive producer and creative consultant revealed the great lengths series stars Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams went to accurately portray Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.

FX's Fosse/Verdon is the story of legendary director and choreographer Bob Fosse and Broadway star Gwen Verdon, a story brought to life with the help of their only child: actress, dancer and producer Nicole Fosse.

Fosse, who oversees the Verdon Fosse Legacy, was intimately involved with the production of the new limited series starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. When the executive producers came to visit her to talk about their idea for the show, she instantly became a valuable resource for all things Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.

"[Executive producers] Thomas Kail and Steven Levenson came up north to Vermont to talk to me and spend a long weekend. They brought with them the Sam Wasson book Fosse. We had a think-tank session, and there was a lot of personal archival material that I gave them to look at. On their drive back to NYC, they realized they wanted to do Fosse and Verdon," said Fosse in a conference call with press.

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From that moment on, Fosse served as the key creative consultant and a co-executive producer, contributing to both the storytelling and the writing. She also became the primary source for information about both her parents, but particularly her mother.

"Wasson's book is only about Bob Fosse," said Fosse. "We had no real in-depth source for Gwen Verdon. [The producers] used multiple sources for information on Gwen Verdon but there's a lot less information available about her.

"I became a primary source for that information and I became a primary source for what the family life was like … because that's not included in the Wasson book. [Through this process] it became more and more important for me that my mother's story was told."

She added: "Fosse/Verdon brought light to my mother, which is long overdue. She was in [my father's] shadow for a long time. She was not the director or choreographer, although she contributed behind the scenes a great amount. I'm really happy she's being brought forth to the public eye."

Fosse/Verdon brought light to my mother, which is long overdue.

Nicole Fosse

Fosse/Verdon is unflinching in its portrayal of the two stars and the unraveling of their marriage. However, they managed to keep their professional partnership intact even after they separated in 1971.

"My mother was always bringing the joy and the fun and was very nurturing to my father," Fosse said. "They knew that they could trust each other even when their marriage was no longer a marriage. They had a lifelong relationship with each other. I don't know how that happens but they had a lot of trust with each other and a lot of loyalty to each other. They spoke every day, twice a day, on the telephone."

She also appreciated that the roles of her charismatic and talented parents were played by Academy Award® winner Sam Rockwell (Fosse) and four-time Academy Award® nominee Michelle Williams (Verdon).

"I loved working with Sam and Michelle," said Fosse. "They are so fantastic. They are so thoughtful. They are so nuanced and detailed and they are so curious about finding truth that might be buried deep within something. They both really cared about all the details, such as how you wear a hat to the kind of shoes you have on or the clothing or the type of teacups.

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"They felt this all informed them as to who their characters' sensibilities were and it helped them create authenticity from a genuine place rather than as an imitation of Bob and Gwen. I have so much respect for both of them as actors and for the deep-dive research that each of them did."

Fosse revealed that both actors took the time to learn everything about her parents, from their mannerisms to their personalities to even how they moved.

"Sam would be in his trailer watching my father doing a television interview and he had my father's voice in his ears from his iPod. I would watch him do a scene and I felt like I was watching my father. He understood the spectrum of emotion that my father experienced," she said. "The same goes for Michelle. There was one scene where she's having a throat problem while talking to Bob and drinking a glass of wine. I said, ‘wine has alcohol in it. Gwen would gargle with that to help her throat.' That's just a real Gwen-ism. Michelle could take something like that and apply it in a different scene. [Gwen] was a little oddball and funny and wonderful and genuine."

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Fosse said she learned a great deal from the experience watching her family's story unfold on the screen. "I have recognized a lot about my parents. They are a storybook unfolding in front of my eyes, in a sense," she said. "I'm much more aware of how distraught my father could be internally. Being raised with him as my father, that was normal to me — the obsession with work, the crazy hours. When I watch it on screen or I read it in a script, I really see how enveloped he was by show business to the point where he didn't really develop a lot of another life. Everything was show business to him — film and theater.

"As for my mother, it's really wonderful to see her sense of fun and her sense of joy in the way she dressed and fixed her hair and laughed at situations. She found humor in situations where others may not have seen it. I think that has been really wonderful to watch unfold."

In the end, Fosse says the setting and the characters might be glamorous and intoxicating, but the heart of the series comes from telling a "very human story."

"We all feel the same feelings. My parents just happened to live in an orange crushed-velvet living room and wear sequins. That's uncommon but the feelings are all the same."

Fosse/Verdon airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX. Catch up on previous episodes, ad-free, by upgrading to FX+