Atlanta: Hiro Murai says directing 'Teddy Perkins' was 'very unnerving'
In the creepy episode that aired April 5, Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) goes to pick up a free piano from Teddy Perkins, a reclusive, Michael Jackson-esque pop star who lives in a mansion that doubles as a museum for his abusive father. What should be a simple transaction devolves into a frightening and odd encounter that ends with the murder-suicide of Teddy and his piano-playing, wheelchair bound, and disfigured brother Benny Hope.
When the episode aired, many viewers guessed Glover was the one behind the whiteface mask even though the credits said Teddy played himself. Derrick Haywood, who portrayed Benny Hope, told Vulture that Glover was Teddy; however, Murai is still honoring those end credits.
“My official stance on Teddy is that he’s being played by himself. I can’t really comment on that,” Murai tells EW when asked about his experience directing Glover, who reportedly stayed in character the entire time.
That said, Murai was more than willing to talk about what it was like directing Teddy Perkins.
“It was very unnerving,” he says. “As unnerving as it is to watch him in that episode, giving him direction between takes was like staring into a doll’s face. You could never really tell if things were registering with him, and his reactions were very muted. It was a very, very strange process, and there was just a weird, quiet tension on set every time he was around. Everybody was just so uncomfortable being around him.”
Even though he couldn’t tell how he was feeling, Murai says Teddy was very responsive to direction. “He was a total pro,” he says.
For Murai, having to pull off such a stylistically different episode in the same amount of time as a typical one was also challenging. “It felt like we were doing a lot more with the same resources, both time and money, and there’s stunts involved. We knew it was special and we knew that we wanted it to be great,” says Murai, who went on to explain some of the episodes stylistic choices. “Atlanta is a relatively still, static show to begin, especially for a comedy, but we really leaned into the violence and static frames. I think the pacing is way more deliberate than usual. We focus a lot more on the silence between lines. I think you’ll recognize ticking clocks in the background more. And visually, too, I think we slightly stylized it less. There’s a little more of naturalism, or a matter-of-factness, visually, than usual. But it was about calibrating that stuff.”
One of the most uncomfortable parts of the episode was when Teddy cracked open and began eating an ostrich egg, which Murai says was real. “It smelled like 10 hardboiled eggs in a giant bowl,” he says. “When he opened it and was digging around in it, that was an actual soft-boiled ostrich egg.” Thankfully, Teddy was spared having to actually eat any of it. “When he was eating it, we swapped it out for an egg with custard and pudding in it.”
Atlanta airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on FX.