EXCLUSIVE : UnREAL Season 3 Scoop: Interview With Stacy Rukeyser And Sarah Gertrude Shapiro

Lifetime’s drama UnREAL returns for Season 3 with more scandal, more salaciousness, more ratings stunts as the “show within a show” introduces a whole slew of unscrupulous folks all angling for fame and success — all tied to the idea that televised relationships can provide great television and lure in viewers into the manufactured world of romance. As proven time and time again, viewers are captivated by the quest for love and romance and are willing to tune in just to see what crazy antics ensue when men and women compete for the affection of one glamorized potential mate. While attending this Winter’s TCA Tour, the producers of Lifetime’s prestige drama UnREAL were on hand to talk about the upcoming new season for the show. In an exclusive interview, executive producers Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Stacy Rukeyser candidly offered their insights on how the show’s anti-heroes Rachel (Shiri Appleby), Quinn (Constance Zimmer), Chet (Craig Bierko), and Jeremy (Josh Kelly) figure into Season 3 and if they will finally learn to not engage in actual life-and-death stakes in the contestant’s lives and learn from their pat sins.

From the sneak peek, it looks like Season 3 is going to be a tantalizing season. Where do we pick up with the characters? What’s their mindset? Because they’ve pulled some pretty bad stuff at the end of last season.
STACY: They have. I feel Rachel’s way of dealing with it — with her guilt about what happened at the end of last season — is that she’s run away to a goat farm and she’s living a life of “essential honesty,” meaning that she does not tell any lies. She’s living in a very pure life on an organic goat farm, and she’s trying to stay very, very far away from reality TV. Quinn, on the other hand …
SARAH: So Quinn, at the end of last season, she found out that she can’t have kids and sort of preemptively broke up with John Booth (Ioan Gruffudd) because she thought that he wouldn’t actually be okay with that. So now Quinn’s like, “It’s okay. I’m not going to have kids. I’m not going to have a relationship. That’s okay. My career is going really well, and I have my career. That’s okay.” And now suddenly her career is really in jeopardy because the show’s been on hiatus for six months. Her reputation in the industry has taken a real hit, and she desperately needs to get the show back so that she can get back on top. But it comes from a very personal place. It’s not just about the show, it’s about her sense of self. And Rachel can see that in Quinn — see how important it is to her. So she agrees to come back. We also talked about how it’s very hard to go off in the woods and really having a reckoning with yourself — having to look at yourself and your own behavior. So to come back to work is much easier where you feel empowered.
STACY: And you know that you’re good at stuff.
SARAH: Yeah. It’s much easier.
STACY: I think the siren song of Quinn saying, “I’m in crisis. The show’s going to get canceled,” is just too alluring for Rachel to ignore.

But Chet and Jeremy are still there. They haven’t had to pay for their crimes.
SARAH: Well, not yet. They all do come together and agree to basically keep the secret of Jeremy’s involvement in that car crash And that has devastating emotional consequences for a lot of those characters. But Chet also has this 24-year-old swimsuit model girlfriend, Crystal. It makes life even harder for Quinn, because he says to Quinn, “You know, she’s just easier.” And that’s so devastating and unfair. This implication that Quinn, and how she is and who she is, was somehow the reason that their relationship didn’t work. But then he, over the course of the season, has to figure out if “easier” is what he really wants. And if that is truly what he finds attractive and desirable. And Quinn also has to come to terms with — over the course of the season — IF she does get her empire back, and she does get her power back, and her career does start to go really well again, Is that enough? Or does she ultimately need some form of human connection, whether that’s with Rachel or with a romantic partner? What is a “satisfying life” to each of them? And Jeremy, he’s sober now. He’s gone through anger management. He’s done all of these things that he feels he needs to do to make amends to Rachel for how he treated her last season. But he really believes that what he did to Coleman (Michael Rady) and Yael (Monica Barbero) was for her, and that she asked him to do it. That scene in the grip truck at the end of last season, where she’s saying to him like, “It’s terrible. They’re going to the press. I got to do something,” and everything, we left that scene deliberately ambiguous so the audience could decide for themselves whether she was producing him or not. But at the start of the third season, Rachel’s not taking any responsibility for that. She’s saying, “You’re crazy. This is you, this horrible thing. You completely on your own decided to do it.” So she has to come to terms with her own responsibility in that and Jeremy on an even bigger level. I mean, by the end of the season, he has to really accept the fact that he murdered two people.

So they’re in a state of denial and not wanting to be held accountable for their actions at this point. That certainly makes for some delicious drama.
STACY: That’s right.

You’ve introduced a new female suitor, Serena (Caitlin FitzGerald). That’s obviously going to change the dynamic a little bit, because it seems like this particular contestant is more in control of her situation. She’s coming into it more knowing and will want to dictate the terms of it.
SARAH: Yeah, and I think that the interesting thing about having a female suitor this season is that it really gives us a chance to have an avatar for Rachel and Quinn. They sort of project all their issues onto her. So she becomes a little bit of a prop for us to tell their stories — and the other interesting thing is that she is a really complicated, smart, strong woman who’s up to the task of taking them on — which makes their jobs a lot, lot harder.They’re used to manipulating everybody else to do what they want.
STACY: But Serena has her own insecurities. She’s here on the show because she hasn’t been able to find a man yet. She’s in her early 30s and is starting to get really worried about that. So she’s honestly here because she thinks this is the best way to maximize her chances and get the most potential suitors. Every man in America will know who she is. Because she honestly wants to find someone, and so there’s enough vulnerability packed in with that. When things don’t go so well, and she starts to have some trouble with the guys, she’s susceptible to Chet, who is telling her, “You need to change who you are and you need to be this completely other person. That’s what’s going to make you attractive to a man.” And she’s insecure enough to try, at least for a couple episodes, and see if that really is the way to be.

Is she more aware that she’s being handled and manipulated?
SARAH: She’s a little bit more. She comes in with her own end game, which makes her really hard to produce.

So there’s going to be some pushback a little bit there.
SRAH: Absolutely.

That’s always fun. The other thing is: we get a sense that from the first season to the second season, now the third season, we’re seeing an escalation of the danger they are bringing into their own show. Are we going to continue to see them go down that path?
SARAH: I don’t think it’s as much like physical danger this season.
STACY: Yeah, it’s more emotional danger.
SARAH: There’s a lot more emotional danger this season.

Because in prior seasons, they brought a contestant’s ex-husband, who was a wife-batterer — onto the show and they tend to set up all kinds of other nasty situations that tended to escalate.
SARAH: I think they maybe learned their lesson. I think they’ve learned their lesson with physical danger, but I think it’s very emotionally dangerous this time.

So maybe not escalation at that level then? That worried me a little bit, especially with there having been 3 deaths that they are responsible for.
SARAH: You’re like, “How could this go worse?” Yeah.

Who are we supposed to be rooting for at this point? I’m a little worried — as a viewer — about who am I supposed to be cheering on? They all seem like they have some bad motives.
SARAH: Yeah. I think that, at the inception of the this season, our hope is that you’ll always want Rachel to get out of there at some point, or to live a better life, and probably for Quinn to find happiness on some level. [Laughs] So we hope that you’re still rooting for Rachel and Quinn!
STACY: I think that we’ve always tried to find the vulnerability in both of those characters — to understand where they’re coming from. From Season 1, when we went home with Rachel and met her mother, that gave such great insight into where Rachel comes from, and why she is the way that she is, and why this relationship with Quinn might be so alluring on some level. So I hope that you can understand these characters. I really do believe, on a fundamental level, that Rachel and Quinn love each other very much. And I think you hopefully are rooting for them together as well, as a team.

In light of the “Me Too” movement, we’ve been all conscientious of how men treat women in power positions. In your show, do you examine the fact that Quinn and Rachel have abused their positions when it comes to the men around them?
STACY: For sure, we have.
SARAH: We really do. We’re in a really interesting position to sort of take a look at women’s role in exploiting men. I think the fundamental thing that we’ve talked about with the “Me Too” movement — that’s really important — is power differential. And I think that it’s important — when you look at these situations — to not automatically equate them with the inverse. But to actually look at who’s in power here, and who could be potentially a victim. Because it’s not necessarily a one-for-one.

A couple times, it did seem like they were pressuring some of these guys from a position of power. It’s worth considering anyways.
SARAH: Oh yeah. Oh yes.

What do you think fans should look forward to this season? What’s going to be the fun?
SARAH: Hot guys. No shirts.
STACY: [Laughs] If that’s your thing. Hot guys from all around the world, with no shirts. It’s true. But also, I think, a deeper exploration of these characters, and their emotional state, and the sort of emotional and psychological damage that has been caused by what’s happened in the last couple of seasons. As well as a real deep dive into Rachel’s psyche.

So the fun will be kind of just learning a little bit more about these characters we kind of still want to root for?
SARAH: Yeah, and I think getting to watch them try new things. I think that they are both trying new things, trying to feel better, trying to do different things. And we asked them to move forward. I think the place that Quinn and Rachel end up at with each other at the end of the season is incredibly beautiful. So I think that that’s something to look forward to.

To see what a delicious concoction of sex and scandal that UnREAL will be serving this season, be sure to tune in for the Season 3 premiere on Monday, February 26th at 10:00 p.m. on Lifetime. Let the games begin! To find out fun behind the scenes antics of the cast, you can follow the show on Twitter @UnRealLifetime and @UnRealWriters.

UnREAL Season 3 trailer:

UnREAL Recap: The Show So Far