From its premier in 2014, the show has grabbed headlines for its genre blasting approach and the shocking revelations of its deliciously twisted storyline. While its core of fans has been hooked by the winning combination of legal drama, murder mystery, and hook-up among the characters, the show has also come under fire for everything from legal inaccuracies to its frequent gay sex scenes. That doesn’t seem to trouble series executive producer Shonda Rhimes, whose production company ShondaLand is also responsible for ABC’s mega hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, even though she has frequently gone to Twitter to take on the critics herself.
It looks like the critics agree. The show and its stars have racked up an impressive list of awards, including Viola Davis, as the first African-American woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015. While overall viewership fell from Season 1 to Season 2, the show actually gained ground in the coveted 18 to 49 demographic, ending the 2016 season in the top 10 in that market segment. Here’s a look at some of the details, trivia, and secret backstage facts that go into depicting the trials and travails of Annalise, the Keating 5, and the rest of the Middleton U scene.
15. Viola Davis Had To Take A Break From Bedroom Scenes
Naturally, the list has to include some dirt on those ultra daring TV hook-up scenes. Earlier this year, Viola Davis had to take a break from taping the steamy sex scenes How to Get Away with Murder is so rightly famous for. Yet, the reason may not be what most fans would have initially thought. Davis actually injured her back taping a sex scene. She told a SiriusXM show that the super hot scene where Nate throws Annalise up against a wall in the heat of the moment, blew out her back. That’s some commitment to acting! She claims she had to slow down for a few minutes before she could finish the scene. Viola uses body makeup all over to help prepare for shooting, and the Emmy-winning actress also revealed that she often has a shot of vodka before filming the sex scenes to get her in the mood. In real life, Viola is a happily married mother of one, and while her husband knows that she’s involved in some sex scenes for the show, she doesn’t tell him exactly when they happen. It seems that the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seems to work out in this particular instance.
14. Is HTGAWM Street Legal?
Does the legal wrangling on How to Get Away with Murder hold up to real world scrutiny? The answer is yes, and no. The show does take its general direction from the American legal system, and employs a legal consultant (who happens to be the lawyer husband of executive producer Betsy Beers). But, while some aspects of the series are true to life, including the general structure of the legal system, and the specific points of law that are discussed, legal commentators have pointed out that the scripts also deviate a great deal from the real world in many ways. In the pilot, Annalise begins the first class by saying, “Unlike many of my colleagues, I will not be teaching you how to analyze the law or theorize about it,” but theory and analysis actually form a huge part of legal studies. The show contains many scenes where the Keating 5, as law students, sit in on Annalise’s consultations with her clients. In real life, that would mean her clients are waiving their attorney-client privilege since the students are under no obligation to keep their secrets. Also, in practice, law courses typically look at the various aspects of case management in isolation. In other words, one class for evidence, one for criminal procedure and so on, and not the single, all-encompassing course that Annalise offers. Many lawyers and commentators have mentioned that the violence and ethical issues on the show aren’t exactly realistic, but obviously portraying the realistic version of law students spending hours and hours hitting the books wouldn’t exactly make for exciting TV.
13. The Series Was Created By Pete Nowalk
New York Times writer, Alessandra Stanley, caused a furor with a piece that called Shonda Rhimes an “Angry Black Woman” and said that the series star Viola Davis was “less classically beautiful” than other, lighter skinned actresses. Along with charges of racism, it turns out that her facts weren’t all together on the level either. She credited Rhimes with creating the series, when in fact, that honor goes to first-time showrunner Pete Nowalk. As he told Variety in an interview, his concepts often revolve around the idea of an ordinary person who gets thrown into an extraordinary situation. HTGAWM started with the idea, “What would happen if I murdered someone?” He added some key elements like the notion of featuring legal procedure, law students committing the murder, and playing around with the timeline to reveal secrets and a backstory a little bit at a time, as well as throwing out flash forwards to add another hook to the storyline. Nowalk is also responsible for writing what many have applauded as a realistic gay character in Connor, played by Jack Falahee.
12. That Scene Where Annalise Took Her Wig Off? That Was Viola Davis’ Idea.
Annalise Keating’s power wardrobe on HTGAWM has gotten a lot of attention, from the designer labels of her dresses to the striking jewelry she wears. It’s generated reams of stories in the media and more than a few shopping tie-ins. Yet, the biggest buzz came during Season 1 when Annalise sat at the mirror and removed off her wig and makeup. As Viola Davis told interviewers, the idea was hers. She wanted Annalise to be sexy and confident, but also real. In the scene, Davis wanted to underline the idea that Annalise is two very different people in public and in private (opposites, in fact). Davis got a lot of positive feedback from viewers about the unprecedented scene. Jack Falahee (Connor) has said it’s his favorite scene thus far. The scene was filmed in one take so Davis didn’t have to put all the makeup on again, only to take it off over and over.
11. The City Of Angels Doubles As Philly
HTGWM is set in Philadelphia and the show’s creative team does a great job of making it look like the series takes place in the City of Brotherly Love. In reality, while the pilot was shot on location in Philly, most of the shooting since then takes place in Los Angeles. That perfect streetscape of Philly Victorian townhouses where Annalise’s house is located is actually 1130 W 27th Street in Los Angeles. It’s only the exterior of the house that is shown, and the interior shots are taped in a set at Sunset-Gower Studios. In fact, it’s the same set that formerly housed the Dexter production. In building the set, they made sure to recreate the stained glass door of 1130 W 27th Street from the inside. The exterior shots of Middleton University are filmed at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. While Los Angeles masquerades as Philadelphia, those first wide shots of Annalise’s classroom in the pilot were done at Ursinus College, a private college about 30 miles from Philadelphia in Collegeville.
10. Laurel Castillo Is A Megastar
The role of Laurel Castillo is her first exposure to mainstream North America but the actress that plays her is no stranger to the spotlight. Karla Souza is a United States-Mexican citizen and while she makes Los Angeles her home nowadays, she was born in Mexico, where she has definitely achieved star status. Souza has been featured in a string of hits in her native country, including Gaz Alazraki’s We Are The Nobles and Eugenio Derbez’s Instructions Not Included in 2013, along with Que Culpa Tiene El Nino? in 2014. The three films ended up as Mexico’s highest grossing movies of all time. She’s committed to using her acting gift in roles that go beyond the typical Latino stereotypes, and Laurel Castillo fits the bill as a smart, intuitive law student. Laurel’s the one who keeps her cool and rallies the troops, so to speak, when the going gets tough.
9. HTGAWM – Plot Twists Are Written On The Fly
HTGAWM hooks its viewers with a plot that has so many twists and turns that it’s become almost impossible to keep track of the body count and all the convoluted schemes that have been devised to cover them up. According to published interviews with Pete Nowalk, the emotional part of the roller coaster ride is shared by the writers as HTGAWM is plotted out only to the next week’s show. Sometimes script issues are actually worked out as they shoot. In fact, Annalise’s character was still under development as the pilot was being made. Nowalk says that many of the characters ended up developing on lines he hadn’t anticipated. He started out with Bonnie as a “bubbly” character, for example, completely in contrast to the fairly bleak and abrasive persona she’s known for in the series. Wallace Mahoney’s murder will be solved in HTGAWM in Season 3, but the exact identity of the killer will remain up in the air until shortly before the reveal.
8. Wes, Harry Potter, And Sci-fi Cred
Wes Gibbons is played by Alfred Enoch and any Harry Potter fan will have immediately recognized the actor from his portrayal of Harry’s friend, Dean Thomas. While the character of Wes in HTGAWM is pretty deliberate and serious (which is pretty much the show’s method of operation), Alfred, or Alfie as the other cast members call him, is much more daring in real life. To celebrate the end of the Harry Potter movies, he spent his last moments on the production streaking naked through the set. Jack Falahee related in an interview that he found a copy of a Harry Potter book in the part of the set designed at Wes Gibbons’ apartment, and Alfie didn’t even know it was there. Once Jack pointed it out, Enoch found it so distracting he asked to have it replaced. Born in Westminster, U.K., Alfie works with dialect coaches to smooth his British accent into American inflections. The acting trade runs in his family since his father, William Enoch, was a regular cast member on the long-running British TV series Dr. Who as the companion, Ian Chesterton.
7. The Drama Is Only On Screen
On screen, Annalise, Wes, Connor, Laurel, and the others plot, scheme, lie, and connive to and against one other. Even the hottest character couplings like Annalise and Nate have included their fair share of betrayal and lies, and then some. But by all accounts, the drama happens in the script and on screen, but not in real life. A week before the pilot episode was shot on location, producers sent the young cast to Philadelphia to check out the city, hang out together, and bond, a process that Jack Falahee (Connor) said in interviews included eating a lot of ice cream and cast slumber parties. The experiment seems to have worked. Cast members are known for the odd prank and joking with each other, and with his Harry Potter background, Alfred Enoch is sometimes the brunt of the mockery. The younger cast members all look up to Tony and Emmy winner Viola Davis, who has been known to help them with their characterizations.
6. The Secrecy Is Real
It’s no secret that the success of How to Get Away with Murder lies largely on the crazy, convoluted, ever more shocking script revelations about the characters and their dark deeds. What’s interesting is that none of the surprises or eagerly anticipated developments have ever been leaked to the Internet and/or media in advance, in contrast with so many other popular television shows. The same is true of Shonda Rhimes’ other shows, including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Her secret to keeping all the details of the show from being leaked is a tight lock down on the script writing process. Everything is done in old-fashioned paper and not hackable emails. Scripts are only delivered to the actors in person, and they need to be signed for. Cast members receive what is called a daily call sheet that outlines in detail and timing and sequence of scenes being shot on each day. The HTGAWM call sheets are watermarked to ensure authenticity, and cast members are obliged to pull a Mission Impossible and destroy the sheets after the scenes are shot. For pivotal episodes like the season finales, the set goes into total lockdown and even family members aren’t allowed anywhere near it.
5. It Was A Cold Day In Philly
It was a chilly season when the pilot for HTGAWM was shot on location in Philadelphia (interestingly, one of the coldest winters on record). That resulted in some unexpected issues when it came to costuming. For instance, Alfred Enoch got in the habit of wearing multiple scarves to keep himself warm, even indoors. He asked that the scarf be made a part of his character’s wardrobe, and it’s been a steady feature of his costume in many episodes since then. Enoch just felt that it helped build Wes’ sense of realism. Later in the series, the script featured flashbacks to the events of the pilot episode, so the cast had to get back into that same wardrobe. The only problem was, it was now summer and filming had moved to Los Angeles. The cast was getting really hot and uncomfortable but the genius wardrobe people had a solution, which was the implementation of ice vests. An ice vest is very much like a wearable ice pack, and it helped the actors keep their cool while wearing their woolens in the Southern California heat.
4. HTGAWM Promotes #LoveIsLove After Censorship In Italy
In July 2016, an Italian television network aired an episode of How to Get Away with Murder with one important difference: A hot gay sex scene between Connor (Jack Falahee) and Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) had been not simply censored, but deleted from the episode. It didn’t take Italian fans long to figure out that the scene had been doctored, and they let Falahee know about it on Twitter with the addressee @RestingPlatypus. Falahee tweeted his outrage, and then executive producer Shonda Rhimes and creator Pete Nowalk added their tweets against Rai Due, the Italian broadcaster. Falahee took the step of sharing a Change.org petition calling for the station to rescind the censorship, promoting the hashtag, #LoveIsLove. The social media furor gathered steam, and the following week, Rai Due caved to pressure and aired the episode unaltered, claiming there had been a misunderstanding during the initial doctored episode.
3. The Onset Sex Diet
How to Get Away with Murder has gotten a lot of press for its envelope-pushing sex scenes, and just about every character has found themselves between the sheets (or in the back seat of a car, or on the floor, or up against the wall) at one point or another. While the regular cast members must be accustomed to the exposure by now, Season 2 guest Kendrick Sampson, who played Caleb, said in an interview that he wasn’t quite prepared for how far his scene with Aja Naomi King (aka Michaela) would actually go. He claims the mammoth sex montage scene in Season 2, where nearly every character is hooking up, had the cast on a “sex diet” and avoiding the service tables full of food. With all that skin on set, the one getting the most attention was Billy Brown, who plays Nate Lahey. With his ripped physique and six-pack abs, it comes as no surprise that Billy’s a fitness buff. His enthusiasm for keeping fit has been revealed in various interviews, where Billy divulged that he doesn’t use a personal trainer but has come up with his own workout routines.
2. Annalise’s Mom
You may know 91-year-old Cicely Tyson as Annalise’s mother, but the actress has had an incredible six-decade career in show biz. She’s been appearing in movies, TV, and on stage since 1956, and became the oldest person to win a Tony award for acting in 2013. Long before that, the Harlem native was one half of the era’s power couple when she married legendary jazz musician and composer, Miles Davis. The pair were married in a private ceremony at Bill Cosby’s house in Massachusetts, and both later admitted it was a troubled union from the start, although the marriage lasted from 1981 to 1988. During an interview, Miles Davis later claimed that Cicely almost got into a HTGAWM situation herself in 1984. As Davis told the story, Cicely got so jealous of another woman he was friendly with that she jumped her on the sidewalk, beating the woman severely in broad daylight. Although she’d never worked with her before, it was reportedly Viola Davis’ idea not only to include Annalise’s mother in the story, but to use veteran actress Cicely Tyson in the role of Ophelia Hartness.
1. The Keating 5 And The Keating Five
It may be just a coincidence, but the name “Keating 5” or “Keating Five” is hardly new. Charles H. Keating Jr., a lawyer and businessman from Cincinnati, owned a company called Lincoln Savings & Loan. He’d bought the bank, which had twenty-six branches in 1984. Because of relaxed laws, he began to take the deposits and put them into high-risk investments. High-risk can also be high-yield, and at first, he more than tripled the initial investment. He siphoned off about $34 million for himself and his family, continuing even after the losses began to mount. When he faced government scrutiny over his dealings, he called in favors from five powerful US senators who had benefited from his large campaign contributions. That group, which helped him to avoid scrutiny and continue for another couple of years until he’d lost the savings of 23,000 of the bank’s customers and become part of the huge so-called savings-and-loan crisis, was dubbed the “Keating Five.” Charles Keating passed away in 2014, when the show premiered, putting the old scandal in the papers again. For those familiar with this situation, it might call into question the ethics of the writers using the moniker for Annalise’s picks to work in her law firm in the script.