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Why 'The Patient' Star Steve Carell Chose to Be Chained on Set Even When He Was Off Camera

Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson star in 'The Patient' as a therapist and his serial killer client who takes his therapist hostage, respectively.

Danielle Turchiano
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Steve Carell in 'The Patient'

FX

One thing that is apparent from the trailer for The Patient is that much of the story is set during therapy sessions between Dr. Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) and his patient Sam (Domhnall Gleeson), who reveals himself to be a serial killer and ends up taking his doctor hostage in order to get more round-the-clock treatment. While that sets up a lot of psychological conflict for its characters, it is a bit limiting physicality for Dr. Strauss and, as the cast and executive producers revealed during a Television Critics Association press tour panel for the upcoming series, for the production process itself.

Once Sam kidnaps Dr. Strauss, he chains him to a bed in a basement. This meant that for much of the 10 episodes of the limited series, Carell had a very limited range of movement.

"When we were on that set, we were really in it for the duration of the day. And when I got chained in, there was a real lock with a real key, and I thought, 'Boy, if there's an earthquake or a fire, I hope somebody thinks about letting me out of here,'" Carell said.

The actor shared that he also chose to be chained on set even when he was not on-camera for his coverage because "it adds to the vibe of that space." 

"Being there for so long, it really took on an ominous quality," he noted.

For executive producer and director Chris Long, there was an inherent challenge in making conversations between two characters in a scene visually interesting, but with one character being unable to even really walk around to mix things up, he pointed out that the set design itself was essential to "have different looks based on the time of day and the light." Still, though, the intention was to make it feel "claustrophobic," he said.

Not all of The Patient takes place in Dr. Strauss' basement prison, though. There are many flashbacks to moments in his life that he is reflecting on, and there are also moments of following Sam in his day-to-day life. In fleshing out these men's stories, Dr. Strauss' Jewish faith becomes an important part of the story, as does Sam's foodie nature and job in the culinary world. 

"You don't ever really associate serial killer with foodie, so it seemed like it would be good," co-creator Joe Weisberg said.

And when it came to incorporating Judaism, Weisberg said that it was also to "add specificity and depth" to the character.

As co-creator Joel Fields explained, "The Jewish themes are very personal and important to each of us. My dad was a rabbi. ... We were able to tap into something very personal for us. Ultimately, I think a big part of our belief as storytellers is what we're doing is trying to amplify our common humanity."

In speaking further to the idea of humanity of a serial killer, the creators shared that in their research process for the show, they were drawn to the idea of a serial killer who really did want to "get better." As the story unfolds, Fields says, there is ample opportunity to allow Sam to explore what he says he wants but really has no real language for, but there is also just as much of a chance for Dr. Strauss, who has the insight and language, to have to confront his own issues.

"For Sam, control plays a big part in his life," Gleeson said, noting that the reason he kills is to feel some of that control. "The relationship with the therapist is interesting because he's asking how to control his own desire to control — and yet he's with somebody who he [has] total control [over] by having him chained up in a room."

Whether this killer created can curb his murderous desires — and how Dr. Strauss will deal with his current situation and the memories and personal shortcomings it stirs up — though, will be answered when The Patient streams

 The show premieres Aug. 30 with its first two episodes and then streams one episode weekly up to and including the finale on Oct. 25.