EW talks with show creator, ''American Beauty'' screenwriter Alan Ball

By Dan Snierson
Updated June 05, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

The following is an excerpt from a feature in Entertainment Weekly’s June 1, 2001, issue. See the magazine to read the story in its entirety.

In life, one must face one’s own mortality because it is the inevitable course of nature, an unfathomable destiny finally realized. On the set of Alan Ball’s new HBO series, ”Six Feet Under,” one must face one’s own mortality because… well, it’s lying naked on a gurney right in front of you. In a clinical embalming room filled with creepy tube sprouting devices and colored fluids, Brian Poth, ”Six”’s dearly departed guest star of the week, is killing time between takes of a scene in which he plays — now stay with us here — the spirit of a gay-bashing victim who taunts the semicloseted mortician who’s restoring his contusion-covered, autopsy-scarred corpse.

While the camera repositions, the swollen-faced actor watches the special effects artists touch up his prosthetic body double, impeccably detailed down to the nasal hairs. ”Hey,” snickers one of the artists, nodding to the small towel covering the corpse’s groin, ”do you want to see yourself?” The actor nods cautiously and the modesty cloth is removed. ”Whoa,” he says, eyes widening. ”Look familiar?” asks the artist. The actor chokes back a laugh and shakes his head wistfully: ”Not really.” Ball appears equally impressed with the deceased masterpiece. ”This is amazing,” he mutters to fellow exec producer Alan Poul as they survey the scene. ”The makeup looks fabulous. It’s so upsetting.”

To say nothing of the dialogue.

Gay-bashed corpse: ”You should have just left me the way I was, let the world see me for who I really am — an abomination of nature.” Closeted mortician: ”Shut up. Who you are is nothing to be ashamed of.” Gay-bashed corpse: ”That’s a little hard to buy, coming from somebody who cruises for d— on the Internet and has unsafe sex with prostitutes.”

Hmm, just a typically morose day on the set?

”I think this one’s a little more intense and more, um, brutal,” Ball says, checking out the monitor: ”But we have a lot of f—ed up scenes.”

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