A last day of school vibe was in the air at the Louisiana Music Factory last Wednesday for the signing of the DVD set of Treme season two and the CD Treme, Season 2: Music From the HBO Original Series. The series wraps shooting for season three on April 17, and some of the actors are finishing up. Clarke Peters (Albert Lambreaux) is done and has shaved his head in preparation for his next role, and Wendell Pierce (Antoine Batiste) has shot his last scene with his high school students. “I looked up and realized it was the last scene,” Pierce says. “I’m glad it snuck up on me because if I would have known, it would have been an emotional departure. They say never work with kids. I love working with kids.”
Pierce, Peters, Khandi Alexander (LaDonna Batiste-Williams), Rob Brown (Delmond Lambreaux) and producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer were on hand for the signing at the Louisiana Music Factory, and Tom McDermott played musical accompaniment at a piano onstage while they signed. He has a track on the season two CD, “Heavy Henry,” with Evan Christopher and Treme‘s Lucia Micarelli.
The cast and producers are understandably tight-lipped about season three, but one plot point couldn’t be hidden when Antoine Batiste’s fictional high school band marched and performed in the Krewe of Carrollton Parade this past Mardi Gras.
“I’ve been in a parade before, but to be with those kids -” Pierce says. “I’ve really grown close to the kids. They were so excited, but by the time they got to the last mile, they were ready to end the shoot. When they were finished, all the joy came back because ‘Wow, we marched in a parade.’”
Some fans along the route recognized Pierce and, typical of the meta-nature of show, called out “Antoine” not “Wendell.” One person walked out to tell Pierce how great it was that he was marching and that they should shoot it. “The realization that it was in the show came later, so the authenticity was there,” Pierce says.
The parade was shot so discreetly that when Rob Brown saw Pierce and the band parading, he blew a take.
“He ran in, ‘Whassup?’ Pierce says. “‘We’re shootin’, man.’”
Since Brown’s storyline in season two involved finding musical connections between New Orleans and contemporary jazz, he spent much of the season acting with musicians including Jonathan Batiste and Ron Carter. He partially credits the directors for getting good performances from the musicians, but he also gives them their due as well. “They’re all artists,” Brown says. “Kermit’s great. He gravitates toward it. Dr. John’s the man. Whatever’s on the page is out the window. We let him do his thing. That is very pleasurable working with him; he writes his own dialogue.”
“If you try, you just provoke him to even deeper levels of Dr. Johnism,” producer David Simon says.
Brown is doubled on trumpet by Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, who’s on set and performs during the musical segments. Rob Brown moves his fingers, and he works to make sure he moves them correctly. “I’m at a B-level in terms of accuracy.” He has in general become more comfortable with the musical element of his role. “I’m improving,” he says. “I stress out a little less. ‘Okay, we’re going to play the head, I’m going to take my solo, Irvin’s going to take his and then we’re out’ – I can say that now. I didn’t know what that meant before.”
The jazz musical sequences do pose challenges, though, since musical freedom is at the heart of jazz, while shooting a television show requires repetition. “We have to do the same thing a bunch of times and make it look like we just did it for the first time,” he says. “Musicians, especially down here, are used to doing whatever they want, and when they have to do it again, they do another set of whatever they want. When they’re forced to recreate something that kicked – ‘I don’t know what I just did.’”
In season two, Brown’s character Delmond connects his creative worlds by connecting Mardi Gras Indian music and jazz, in the process involving his father, Big Chief Albert Lambreaux.
“The father and son dynamic is one of the best things on the show,” Simon says. “Watching from the writers’ room, it’s one of the things we’re most proud of.”
The DVD set of Treme season two and the CD Treme, Season 2: Music From the HBO Original Series are on sale now.