LOS ANGELES — A year ago, Jack Falahee was a Lyft driver, Alfred Enoch had never worked in America, and no network television show would dare talk about eye-watering anal sex acts. But all that changed with the seismic debut of How to Get Away With Murder in September 2014.
Starring Viola Davis as the morally ambiguous law professor Annalise Keating, the ABC drama — created by Peter Nowalk and executive produced by Shonda Rhimes — revolves around a college student's murder and the five law students (Jack Falahee's Connor Walsh, Alfred Enoch's Wes Gibbins, Aja Naomi King's Michaela Pratt, Matt McGorry's Asher Millstone, and Karla Souza's Laurel Castillo) working with Keating to unmask the killer.
Ratings, fans, and awards poured in as How to Get Away With Murder became the season's breakout hit and turned each of its five burgeoning stars into bonafide celebrities. Falahee, McGorry, King, Enoch, and Souza recently visited BuzzFeed's Los Angeles office for an exclusive roundtable interview. In between fits of laughter, each spoke candidly about what they initially thought of each other, the fears they faced working on the series, life at the center of the media circus that is a new ShondaLand series, and the bond they forged a year ago — at an ice cream slumber party — that helped make How to Get Away With Murder the success it is today.
It's been almost exactly one year since you assembled in Philadelphia to film the pilot, right?
Jack Falahee: Yes. We got there the last week of February.
Alfred Enoch: Did we?
Jack: Yes, because it was week after my birthday. Which is coming up.
Matt McGorry: Subtle.
Alfred: It's strange because it feels like it's been a very long time in a sense.
Karla Souza: But I also feel like it's gone by quickly.
At this point last year, had everyone been cast?
Jack: I don't think Karla and I were cast yet. I got cast two days before my birthday. Which, again, is on the 20th you guys.
Alfred: (laughs) OK.
Matt: Two of you guys were cast at the same time, right? I remember the Deadline article had two people in it. Oh! It was Alfie, because I looked up Alfie and his IMDb profile was not up to date and I thought, I think this guy was a background player in Harry Potter... I mean, you were 9 years old in that picture.
Aja: Alfie, when you were cast, my managers were like, "Oh, Alfie, huh? I wonder if he's single. Are you going to date Alfie?" I was like, "He's 5 years old you guys."
Jack: When Karla got cast, I googled her and the first 25 photos were just...
Jack: Yes! Just bikini shots. Like, modeling photos from Maxim or something and I was like, "Ugh, they cast some model on this show?!?" (laughs)
Aja: I remember when Jack was cast I was like, "Oh, this dude is too good looking. He's gonna be an asshole for sure."
Do you always google actors you're not familiar with when you're cast opposite them?
Aja: Yeah, definitely.
Jack: For sure.
Alfred: My problem is I'm very unaware, so I don't know who anyone is. Then I google them and then I'm still none the wiser.
Matt: Alfie still doesn't know who Benedict Cumberbatch is. (laughs)
What was it like getting off the plane in Philly to start making this pilot?
Aja: I bumped into Matt on the Amtrak on the way down to Philadelphia.
Alfred: Did you?!
Aja: And I said his name and he looked terrified. I was like, "Matt!"
Alfred: He was probably like, "Who should I make the autograph out to?" (laughs)
Jack: "The fans! They're everywhere!"
Alfred: "And now I'm trapped on a train with one!"
Matt: I was like, "Here's my pre-signed picture. Let's move along. Don't make a big deal of it."
Alfred: Wait, so what happened? I love that you just went up to him.
Aja: He helped me with my luggage. He was very gentlemanly, and then we chatted the whole way down.
Matt: And, sorry to be a bummer, but it was crazy because my uncle had died that day and I got a call on the train and I broke down crying. Aja was the sweetest person ever. In tragedy, sometimes there are these wonderful moments, and it was foreshadowing for how the rest of this experience would be. Most people, if you're sitting across from them and do that, it's really awkward. Anyone here would have been a really good person to have in that moment.
Did you guys have an instant rapport as a cast?
Jack: I had some buddies that are from Philly, so I became the impromptu tour guide — even though I had been to Philadelphia once when I was 11. I got this really long list of things to do so I was like, "We're going to this bar, then to dinner here, then dancing out here, and there's an after-party place here." Everybody was like, "All right!" But, I was a total stranger and took us to kind of not a great side of Philly, so it could have been weird.
Karla: But it was great, and we got to see everybody's dance moves the first night.
Alfred: And then the rest of the week.
Karla: It was crazy. And then we had, again, because of Matt's fandom and famousness, free Ben & Jerry's.
Alfred: Oh my god, that was amazing!
Jack: Why did that happen?
Aja: He tweeted about Ben & Jerry's, so they sent ice cream over.
Jack: The other day, I was going through my hard drive and I found all of these photos of us having the ice cream party in my hotel room. I removed them from my phone because I didn't want that shit to leak because I look like a crazy homeless guy. I'm like in the hotel robe and I don't think wearing pants and I have this big oversize shirt and a winter hat and I'm like eating ice cream. It's awful.
So you guys had a slumber party the first night?
Aja: Honestly, every night.
Matt: Literally. We had all these ice cream parties at, like, two in the morning and we'd tweet about it and they'd send us all this ice cream with my Twitter handle written on it. But, literally, the first night, like, Jack passed out on my bed, Alfie and I passed out on my floor. We ordered room service. It was just a hilarious good time.
Alfred: Someone hadn't arrived yet.
Karla: I hadn't arrived yet.
Aja: Karla got there last, but I went and found her.
Karla: It was like 11:30 at night. I'm unpacking my bags, I'm organizing my things, and I get this text saying you guys were leaving the bar, so I just figured I'd see you the next day and then Aja texted, "What room are you in?" So I just told her, and literally, a second later (knocks on table).
Aja: It's because I was already, like, going up and down in the elevator, just waiting to get her room number.
Jack: That's insane. That's actually insane. You were just on the elevator?
Aja: Yeah, just riding up and down. That's how I got there so fast.
Karla: And then I peaked through the peephole and saw her dancing on her own in the hallway, and I was like, What's going on? So I open the door and she goes, "Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!"
Alfred: That's actually a really good impression. (laughs)
Aja: And she immediately was like, "You want to see pictures of my wedding dress?"
Karla: Yes, so we sat down, I could see remains of wine on her mouth, so...
Jack: You read the situation pretty quickly.
Karla: Yeah, I was like, "This is going to be fun."
Alfred: It was so much fun. It was really great. Like going on vacation and having everyone together. We did that occasionally on Harry Potter and then they stopped doing it because they couldn't let 40 kids run wild in a hotel somewhere in England. It was chaos.
Jack: And they're giving you money. That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard.
Alfred: It was no surprise when they stopped doing it. But it was like that for us in Philly. We were all working away during the week and then our weekends, which, because we had to shoot in courtrooms on Saturday and Sunday, were Thursday and Fridays, so we were always looking for the fun nights in Philly...on Thursdays.
Matt: Where there's a will, there's a way!
I'm kind of impressed you guys were able to actually get it together to film this pilot.
Jack: I think that's sort of a testament to how smart Shonda is with creating a cast. She brought us there a week early. She was like, "These guys are going to fuck about for a week, get to know each other, and then we'll get down to work." Which we did.
What do you remember about the moment you found out ABC picked up the series?
Jack: Shonda said to me, "You can call your parents and tell them you have a job," which I remember vividly.
Matt: Wait. She called you?
Jack: Yeah, when the show was picked up. There was a bunch of people on the line and Shonda said that.
Matt: Oh, I was like, "I didn't get a call from just her." I heard on Deadline. (laughs)
Jack: I remember being terrified because they called and were like, "We have Shonda Rhimes on the phone for you." And I was like, "Oh god." But it was great.
Aja: I remember I was in Athens, Greece — it was the last day of my trip — and I woke up to all these missed calls and I got scared. But it was everyone telling me the show had been picked up. I was freaking out. It was the greatest. I was in this beautiful hotel, this amazing view of the city behind me, and I was dying.
What's the experience like filming a show that has yet to air?
Jack: That was a cool time because we were in a little bubble. We got to work on it and it was our own.
Karla: But we knew it would change because everyone could comment on it. We were so lucky to be on a show with the ratings we had and the critical love. But, of course, as insecure as we are, we find the one person who maybe didn't fully die for the show and then it's hard to get back to work with that in your head. It changes the whole nature of your work within a group, within the show, within the storyline.
Alfred: I think we managed to protect that pretty well, I feel.
Matt: To be fair, you don't have social media. Critics wouldn't say anything like, "Oh, his hair was out of place." Which is, personally, the worst thing anyone has ever said to me — and it was Ben Bradlee. (laughs) But that's a constant thing. And I had to stop reading stuff.
What did it feel like Friday morning, after the premiere, when the ratings came in?
Aja: It was excellent. I definitely looked at TV by the Numbers and checked out all the ratings of everything we were up against to get an idea of what those percentages looked like.
Jack: Aja and I will be at brunch and she'll just whip out her phone to go to TV by the Numbers. You lose her for 10 minutes as she's tracking ratings.
Karla: When she said the number, like five point something, I didn't know what that meant, so I also had to look into, comparatively, within the years, with other new dramas, other network shows...
Aja: What else is at 10 p.m...
Alfred: Look at all the research you're doing!
Karla: You have to.
Aja: I've relaxed from that a bit now. (laughs)
Alfred: Aja's definitely the point person for that. Even during the pilot, she was making cases for why we would get picked up on the basis and performance of other shows, historically.
Jack: Oh god, it was insane.
Karla: Being my first job in the U.S., Aja was like, "Oh, we just had the table read" and she was scared we would be fired immediately. And I was like, "Wait, that happens?!?!"
Aja: It's a possibility! That's all I said!
Karla: Which is true.
Alfred: That terrified me because I had never heard that.
Aja: I thought that was common knowledge.
Alfred: I turned up, literally, off a plane from England, having never worked in the States, never done an American accent before, saying hi to everyone and she was like, "Yeah, people get fired at the table read." (laughs)
Aja: Oh my god, I did not say it like that! But, I will say, that was a great table read. Everyone really brought it.
Jack: The only table read better than that one was the one Denzel [Washington] came to.
Matt: We were all throwing down for Denzel.
Aja: Oh, when Denzel Washington's in the room, it's on.
Alfred: We were all Acting with a capital A.
Karla: We were all so nervous we actually met in one of our rooms to rehearse.
Alfred: Before the first table read?
Aja: Yeah. We rehearsed.
Jack: You were doing behavior exercises. (laughs)
Alfred: The morning of that first one, I woke up three hours before the table read — it was like five in the morning — and, like, did accent work for three hours.
Aja: You're welcome.
Jack: Yeah, you basically have a job because of Aja.
Karla: I was terrified because it was a Skype session and you couldn't see Shonda — she was in this little box.
Aja: It was just her voice.
Alfred: When we finished, there was just this silence. That was actually terrifying. I always thought table reads were about getting to know the script in a very relaxed environment, but all of a sudden, everyone was just really going for it. And then we all finish and there's just this silence and everyone looks around, and after three beats, Shonda's like, "Pete, call me back."
Alfred: It was terrifying.
Karla: That was terrifying. Especially because Pete got really flustered as well, and after Aja's information, I was like, "Well, we're all fired. We're all getting recast."
For most of you, this is the first American show you've been a series regular on, and it's one that's been critically well-received, garnered great ratings, and found an instantly engaged audience. What does that feel like?
Aja: To actually be a part of something you really love, with a character that challenges you, and then other people also like it? That's the dream.
Alfred: It's really gratifying because, as much fun as we have — and we really do — it's ultimately for the audience. So it's nice that we're not the only ones who like it.
How have your daily lives changed as a result of the show's success?
Jack: I remember being in Philly and having not experienced that ever, and going out with Matt and people coming up to us. Orange Is the New Black has a huge, passionate fanbase, and they came up to him all the time, and I just remember being like, "Whoa, this could potentially be what my life is like." Did I ever tell you that?
Matt: You did!
Jack: And then he Mr. Miyagi'd me. You were like, "Listen, young Padawan." He got me ready. But I was not ready.
Aja: We were not ready.
Jack: At all.
Karla: I remember Jack came back after the first episode and was like, "I just got approached by three people at the gym and I left."
Jack: Yeah, I canceled my membership. I literally went straight to the desk and canceled my membership.
Matt, what did you tell Jack to try to prepare him?
Matt: It's a lot of attention and it sort of depends how one deals with that. I think everybody deals with that in a variety of different ways. There's some part of me, as an actor, that likes attention and validation, but on any given day, depending on the style and volume of it, it can be too much. I wouldn't say it's ever really not enough. (laughs) It feels great, but it's also managing that and just managing how you interact with people and the boundaries you put in place, because sometimes you have to. It's a tricky thing and I feel like I was grateful to have had about a year of that with Orange Is the New Black to ease me into this.
That kind of attention is also something that Viola Davis knows a thing or two about. What kind of advice has she given you?
Karla: I remember her telling me that it's all about the work. All the noise that comes from it can be distracting. You shouldn't block it out, but take it for what it is. Sometimes they'll recognize you and sometimes they won't, so if you take that attention as you being successful, then when they don't recognize you, you'll just be lost again. Awards [are] temporary, but a career is a lifetime.
What has this experience taught you as an actor?
Aja: I think when you're shooting something like this that's so fast-paced, it really teaches you to trust your instincts, to go with your gut, to trust that you know what you're doing. And when you're working with other actors that also love to dig in, you know that they're going to be there with you. The trust we have has made being able to trust myself easier on set.
Karla: I feel like I've grown to trust the editors and directors. Maybe before, I would only give the take that was the one I wanted them to use, whereas now, I've relaxed into giving them different takes. I'm comfortable knowing the directors and editors will choose the best take. It's freed me up in that way.
Alfred: Everything moves very, very fast and then it goes off to someone else who cuts it up and it can look entirely different. So it's sort of about embracing that. I've learned you're not the final point of contact with the audience — it goes through other filters, other people do their work from what you give them. It can be really freeing because you have to develop that trust and it gives you a lot of options.
Matt: Relinquishing control has been an interesting life lesson for me. I tend to do a variety of different takes, and Asher is the comedic relief, so sometimes I do things where if they used the most Asher-y take, I would be very distracting throughout the whole episode.
Alfred: But they're wonderful.
Matt: And I sort of get attached to the take I really want, and really hope it shows up on screen. Sometimes the episodes run long, or it doesn't fit.
Alfred: Or other people can't keep a straight face.
Matt: Or that. It would look like a sitcom if I was editing it.
Alfred: I would love to see the McGorry cut.
Aja: Thirty minutes of Asher!
Karla: How to Get Away With Being Asher. (laughs)
After spending a year with your characters, what do you like most about them?
Karla: I like that she still surprises me. Sometimes you feel like you know someone and suddenly find out something you didn't know, or are surprised by how they react in a situation. That 3D nature the writers have given Laurel is something I like.
Aja: I love that there's so much about my character I still don't know.
Jack: I know everything about Michaela (laughs). I've been journaling as Michaela since 1987.
Aja: I also really love how, um, what's that word? I don't know, but that thing about her that keeps her moving forward? I like it.
Jack: Connor's really confident. He's a confident guy. I admire that. I wish I was as confident as he is.
Alfred: I think Wes is very courageous in the way he takes responsibility for things and acts on what he's committed to. He's not an armchair. He goes and does something about the things he cares about, and I respect that.
Matt: I really admire Asher's optimism and enthusiasm. And it's not that he's stupid. He knows what's happening, but he chooses the fun option, which is really great. He's honest and up-front about who he is, and that might not vibe well with everyone, and he understands that. But I admire that he doesn't alter who he is to try and appease people.
He's also got some pretty sick dance moves.
Matt: Yes, but I also have those dance moves. (laughs) I've done a lot of sketch comedy and improv, and even on my social media, I try to show a lot of things. I had that Magic Mike audition sketch, and I think my job with Asher — more than many other roles that I've played — is to put in things that are not in the script. And a lot of that means dancing or like a single dance move. Or, for the sake of that one scene, I asked Don, our prop guy, to bring me a bunch of hundred dollar bills so I could make it rain, even though it wasn't in the script. So I think for me, it's like a playground.
Jack: Whenever I ask Don for a prop, I'm like, "Hey, can I get potato chips?" And he's like, "No." But Matt's like, "I need chips" and Don's like, "You got it!" (laughs)
Matt: "I need three gallons of milk and a fake chicken."
What was the first thing you did after wrapping?
Karla: Sleep was it for me. I just slept in like 10 hours the next day. I also found my sides from the last script, and they're all watermarked, but I don't have a shredder, so I thought, "I know, let me burn it."
Aja: "Let me burn it?!?!?!?!" (laughs)
Karla: I tried to burn it in my sink.
Jack: What is wrong with you?
Karla: I had to get rid of it and it's a lot of paper.
Jack: So put it somewhere in your house. (laughs)
Karla: No! Because I'm moving so I had to like, get rid of all these papers. So I decided to burn it and suddenly I was choking on the smoke. My house was filled with smoke and it was like a fire.
Alfred: What did you think was going to happen? (laughs)
Karla: I know, I know. So then I threw water on it, but then it just became this whole pool of burned paper, so I just took out all the paper and threw them in different bins in my house, so that way, if someone looks in one they wouldn't find the whole thing.
Alfred: Don't tell people that! (laughs) That's not good.
Jack: Yeah! Now people can track down the finale script in all those bags.
I would have thought after a year on this show, you'd be better at disposing of things.
Karla: I tried. I tried.
Looking back, what are you taking away from the experience of filming the first season?
Aja: The show is great and I'm very grateful for it, but the thing that I leave with the most is these guys. Like, I intend to be in their lives forever.
Karla: That felt like a threat. (laughs)
Aja: I went to London and met Alfie's family, I went to Karla's wedding. We'll be together forever.
Alfred: Aja just announces that she'll be coming to things.
Aja: I am not letting any of these people go. These guys are the best thing about it.
Alfred: I would disagree, there are much better things about this experience. (laughs)
Matt: I guess how lucky each one of us is to work with people that we really love. I feel very fortunate because the two shows I've been on, we have all gotten along very well, but as much as Orange is an ensemble, I only had scenes with two or three people. Here, we're together, like, all the time. We're all there 12 hours a day in scenes where we each have one line. So basically, we're keeping each other entertained. At some point, you're just happy to be a working actor, but to be able to do it with people you really love and enjoy spending time with, it's just such a rare thing. You hear so many horror stories.
Alfred: Yeah, that's been a big thing for me. Jack and I talked about this around Episode 5. I'd never been to the West Coast, I'd never worked in the States, and suddenly, here I am on this show that takes up all of my time. And I expressed that to Jack, and he said, "It's lucky it worked out like this." This could have really not been good. I could not have been doing something I loved on a great show with great people. I feel very, very, very fortunate for that because it's challenging, it's demanding, and it wouldn't have been the pleasure it has been if it weren't for these guys.