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Tom Verica: Adventures in ShondaLand

Shonda Rhimes tapped Tom Verica for her TV drama empire, Shondaland. He’s “playing dead” on How To Get Away With Murder and co-producing/directing Scandal.

If the chances of making it in Hollywood are about as sure a thing as shooting craps, Tom Verica is currently throwing consective sevens, and an admiring and growing crowd is gathering around the table.

Of course, it took the Philly native about 20 years to hop on this hot streak, but you’ve seen him all over the damn place: Among many other projects, he was Bill Castroverde on LA Law, Dick Gordon in From the Earth to the Moon, Kyle Moran in Providence, and the doctor who discovers the tube of fungicide medication in Elaine’s medicine chest on Seinfeld.

It seemed like a cinch that producer Shonda Rhimes, TV’s newest and most respected creative force, would tap Tom for her TV drama empire. Upon landing in ShondaLand (the name of her production company), he planted a flag on some impressive career ground: He’s giving new definition to the term “playing dead,” appearing (and disappearing) as recent-Emmy-winner Viola Davis’ late husband on How To Get Away With Murder.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - "We're Not Friends" - Annalise takes on a tough case defending a minor who fatally shoots his police officer father. Meanwhile, Annalise and Sam continue to argue over his relationship with Lila, and Wes and Rebecca begin to question Annalise's motives. In flash-forwards, we learn more about Laurel's relationship with Frank and why he was calling her the night of Sam's death, on "How to Get Away with Murder," THURSDAY OCTOBER 23 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Nicole Wilder) TOM VERICA

The difference, and it’s a big one: In addition to his Murder gig, he’s serving as co-executive producer for Shonda’s other blockbuster, Scandal. And he’s established a Plan B+ career for himself as one of TV’s go-to directors (the long list includes Private Practice, The Mentalist, Ugly Betty, and Boston Legal).

Yo, Tom, what are you going to do next? Disney World?  Or at least crawl into a hammock and maybe take a short nap?

“I always have my eye on the next step, the next level,” he tells me in a recent call from LA. “But with that said, I do feel incredibly fortunate to have my cake and eat it too. That’s in regards to working on a show that I truly enjoy creatively, and executive producing and directing. And on the same lot, right next door, being able to work as an actor opposite Viola Davis. If you can write down what scenario would be great…”

Well, he pretty much just wrote that scenario, rather accurately. As far as acting, he’s done plenty, but directing is a whole new animal.

“Directing is not easy, but it’s thrilling and challenging,” he says. ” [It requires] the ability to change up and navigate. Some episodes are thrillers, some episodes are dark comedies, some are flat-out action and drama. As a director, that excites and challenges me. It really gives me the freedom to play in the sandbox, in different genres. I call it riding the bull. You get on and stay with it and not try to control too much of where it’s going. You have to be willing to go where the script takes you.”

Rhimes’ scripts, and her ShondaLand production company, are taking Tom on a wild bull ride, and look how he’s holding on. In 2014, ABC happily gave over its entire Thursday primetime lineup to ShondaLand dramas: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder


“It’s the mark of her talent,” Tom says, regarding the reason Rhimes plugs into audiences, in an age where attention spans are dwindling. “I think she taps into more than just a female market. I think she managed to navigate into different types of drama. She makes it seem effortless. She really has her finger on the pulse of how people are thinking and what they are going through. It transcends normal and basic relationships. She asks a lot of questions and mixes it with some humor. It’s very difficult to do, and to pull off in a landscape where there are so many options. She’s really in a groove and it’s exciting to be around.”

Tom may know a little bit about navigating relationships too. He and his wife, Kira Arne, have a marriage that offers something unique in Hollywood: mileage.

“We’ve been married for fifteen years, and in Hollywood that’s about 75 years,” he says. “My wife — not that it’s important, but since we’re talking about this — is African American. We don’t lead with that. We attribute the success of our marriage to communication and working through issues. We’re not dealing the way interracial couples in the Sixties had to deal, and it will be different for our kids when they get older, but at the core of it, it’s built on love and respect for one another. She makes me better, smarter, and more talented with the challenging nature of who we are as people. It’s such an alive and spirited partnership that we constantly feed off of one another, in a good way.”

Seems like Tom is multitasking his career in a good way too.


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