‘Ginny & Georgia’ Director James Genn Talks Season 2 and More

It’s hard to believe it’s already been nearly two months since Ginny & Georgia returned for its sophomore season on Netflix. Season 2 quickly followed up on the first season’s success — by the first week of February, the title had been viewed for a whopping 504.77 million hours. It’s still going strong, remaining on Netflix’s Top 10 global list for English TV shows.

Ginny & Georgia follows teenage Ginny (Antonia Gentry), her 30-year-old mother, Georgia (Brianne Howey), and nine-year-old half-brother Austin (Diesel La Torraca) as they attempt to start a new life in the seemingly picturesque town of Wellsbury, Massachusetts — however, Georgia has more than a few skeletons in her closet. Defying genres, it’s a teen drama, comedy, romance, and murder mystery all in one. The series was created by Sarah Lampert, who serves as co-executive producer alongside showrunner Debra J. Fisher.

Season 2 picks up immediately after the cliffhanger of the previous season, which saw Ginny running away with Austin after she discovered Georgia killed her last husband, Kenny, in an attempt to protect her. Ginny has also fallen out with her friend group (“MANG”) due to her former best friend, Max (Sara Waisglass), discovering Ginny secretly slept with Max’s twin, Marcus (Felix Mallard). The overall tone of this season is darker, and the first few episodes waste no time getting into the heavy stuff.

The Nerds of Color had the opportunity to speak with James Genn, who directed Episodes 1 and 2 of this season (“Welcome Back, Bitches!” and “Why Does Everything Have to Be So Terrible, All the Time, Forever?”) and also served as an executive producer for the remaining episodes. We discussed how Genn set the tone for Season 2, how the show approaches mental health, and all things MANG and Marginny. Check out the full interview below!

Amanda Matlovich/Netflix © 2022

Warning: Season 2 Spoilers ahead!

THE NERDS OF COLOR: So first, can you just tell me a little bit about your background? You’ve been a director for quite a few TV shows like The Good Doctor, Charmed, and The Hardy Boys, and you’ve also been a writer. 

GENN:  I’m a bit of a writer. I did a lot of development in my 20s and 30s. And I come from Vancouver. My dad was a painter, but he also had cameras and film cameras around the house. I have an older brother who’s a musician and a twin sister who is a visual artist. I come from a family of people that can’t do anything else and would be in trouble if we tried to do normal jobs.

I worked in post production in my 20s and made short films. I started directing professionally when I was about 30. I’ve built my career in Canada. I started on lower budget, half-hour comedies and sometimes kids’ shows. So yeah, my background is, I’ve just been a director all my life.

You weren’t involved with Season 1 of Ginny & Georgia. Did you watch the show before you joined?

I was unavailable during Season 1, so it honestly wasn’t even on my radar when they shot in Toronto. But luckily enough, because I was working out of Toronto at the time, I knew a lot of the cast and some of the production team involved. I, like everybody else on this planet, went on Netflix and [watched the show]. I was just honestly delightfully surprised at what an unexpected hit this thing was. It sort of flew under the radar and had such a charm to it. It was just such pure, excellent entertainment. There’s something for everybody in this show. 

I didn’t know Deb and Sarah. I contacted my agents and I went after it. The first time that I met them would have been a year and probably six months or so before we even started prep on the first episodes. I had a Zoom with them and I think, just the first time we met, we hit it off. I got a sense for where they were at with the show and what they wanted to do with the second season. And I was happy that they brought me on as an executive.

When you started filming Season 2, the cast hadn’t been on set together for a long time because of COVID. What was the first scene you shot?

That first scene is actually kind of an interesting story. We just picked a pretty random scene from the middle of Episode 2. It was a scene where Ginny walks into the kitchen and her mom is sitting at the kitchen island having thrown all the food in the house out. Ginny opens up the fridge and nothing’s there, and then she opens up the cupboards and nothing’s in there. She turns to her mom [who tells her] she threw [the food] out, and then Ginny storms out the door. I remember there being this kind of, like, Christmas Eve anticipation/anxiousness about getting the show started again and rediscovering it after a couple of years. I was so amazed and delighted at how quickly the cast could just fall into the characters and how easily the material worked.

Season 2 obviously starts off on a very dark tone, but there are still some moments of lightness and humor there. How did you approach that balance?

I love the way the show has this playful, almost a reverent way to jump around genres. It’s sort of genre defiant. And I think that’s so much a part of its charm. It can be a murder mystery one moment, a goofy comedy the next, and then a coming of age teen drama in another moment. And it’s the tone that kind of glues it all together, right? Somehow, in the midst of all that, it’s able to touch on some really important and serious subjects and give them a voice. I’m really proud to be a part of a show that takes that seriously and has such a wide audience. Absolutely. 

How do you approach jumping around? Well, the beautiful thing about the second season is that we had the first season, and we knew how well it worked. The cast understood the way the show could mix up the genres and still be wonderful and survive. So we had that as a guide. And our job in the second season was just to honor that and deliver on the promises that the awesome cliffhanger of the first season left off with. You can’t restart the show and not address the dramatic fallout of the previous season … One thing I know for sure about these writers is that they have a very clear plan going forward through future seasons. And they knew exactly where they had to be at the top of Season 2.

The scene where Ginny confesses her self-harming to Zion [Nathan Mitchell] is such an emotional moment right off the bat. How do you even prepare for shooting a scene like that?

[Antonia and Nathan] were amazing in that scene, I have to say. The scene was shot very simply. As a director, it was [about] giving them a comfortable environment and letting them explore that scene … These actors knew their characters very well, and they knew where they had to go. So honestly, the best thing you could give them is the space and the time and the environment to be there and be present, to just experience it the way their characters did. I have that one entirely over to Antonia.

It’s nice when people point that scene out because, you know, on a show like this that has such a massive audience, the filmmakers themselves have no connection to that. We don’t know. When people say, “Oh, I saw this thing you made. I cried or I laughed here,” the first thing I want to ask them is, “Well, where did you cry? What was it that upset you? Or what was the moment that made you laugh?” [Those of us in] television don’t get to sit there and experience it with the audience, so I love it when someone points out a particular scene or moment that they really connected with. Because when you’re editing these things, you’re honestly wondering how the audience response is going to be.

At the start of the season, Ginny and Marcus are figuring out their relationship. Antonia and Felix have really wonderful chemistry on screen, but things between their characters are, well, complicated. What emotions were you trying to hit with their scenes?

Amanda Matlovich/Netflix © 2022

Oh, it changed so much. It changed scene by scene. And yeah, I mean, these actors are very familiar with each other. They have a very strong bond. And they’re both very professional. Every actor is a little different — Felix intellectualizes the work a lot; Antonia is a little bit more spontaneous. But the two of them together are just beautiful to watch. One of my favorite scenes in that first episode is the one where Ginny first comes home on the motorcycle and shows up in his driveway. It’s just such a very understated little scene. They say very little to each other, yet the scene is loaded up with this interesting tension. They’re giving each other so much performance without actually saying anything.

Speaking of tension, when Ginny goes back to school in Episode 2, she’s not exactly welcomed back with open arms by her friend group. It’s such a stark contrast to Season 1. How did you work with Sara Waisglass (Max) and the other actors to convey this kind of coldness?

The funny thing is, I believe we shot the scene with Sara in her kitchen, the one where Katie Douglas [Abby] comes in, before we shot the MANG scene. I remember being really excited to shoot some more regular MANG stuff in Episode 2 and seeking that playful, fun, goofy side of Ginny & Georgia. So I had the experience of coming at it from sort of backwards where I got to see Sara being that [colder] side of herself. What Sara said in her interview with you was so interesting — the way she approached her character and having to explore this side that she didn’t in Season 1. So much of what I love about the show is that it celebrates and embraces our diversity and our flaws. No characters are all completely good or all completely bad. They’re just doing their best to get along and figure it out in this very particular world.

That scene in the second episode where Ginny walks down the hall and people are giving her trouble, that’s about just playing the beats moment to moment. The cast understood it based on what their whole experience in the first season was, and they were able to extrapolate this and build it into the particular beats of that scene. For us, we connect so much to it because we’ve experienced so much with Ginny in the first episode. We’ve seen the trauma in her life.

Yeah, absolutely. And Abby is also in the background of that scene, and she’s clearly being iced out and isolated too.

[Katie] is an actor I’ve worked with a whole bunch of times on other shows. I did a show called Mary Kills People [with her] and I’ve also had her as a guest star. She’s so fantastic; I just love her. And it’s just heartbreaking when you see Abby all alone.

Georgia is obviously a very complicated character — on one hand, Ginny is having nightmares that she’s being smothered to death by her, but on the other hand, Georgia is also doing stuff like Friyay. How did you and Brianne work together to convey all of these layers?

Amanda Matlovich/Netflix © 2022

She’s an exceptional actress. She can literally shift something on a dime and it will always come out as beautiful, truthful, and interesting. It’s just phenomenal what that actress can do. Georgia is really easy to fall in love with. We see someone who’s coping with her struggles. She’s finding ways to get along and make it work. She’s a survivor, right? She’s not a victim to her circumstances. She’s found ways — however, you know, morally good or bad they may be — to cope. Brianne has a really lovely, playful, and fun personality on set too. She’s just a delightful person.

Can you tell me about filming the flashback scenes?

There’s a really important flashback near the end of the first episode where we go back to the day that Austin and Ginny took off… That was actually us going through the footage from the first season and trying to match the set and match the lighting and match the wardrobe and match the tone and all the props that have to do with the fire. 

The other flashbacks that I spent a lot of time on were all the young Ginny and Georgia in their earlier life. Four-year-old Ginny [is played by] the same twins that are in the first season, Tianna and Tiara. They would have been cast in the first season and of course a good two years went by before the second season. So we just sort of adjusted their ages and made them look a little bit younger. We also cast another girl; her name is Camilla and she played the seven-year-old version of Ginny. Those scenes were sort of standalone. Camilla or Tiara and Tianna would have never done scenes with the older cast; they would have only met them socially in the studio, walking around and saying hello. They’re in a different part of the studio with the amazing Nikki Roumel, who plays young Georgia. We did little rehearsals with Tianna and Tiara where Nikki came and brought coloring books and they reacquainted themselves with each other. So I have [Nikki] to thank a lot for helping build those scenes.

Something that also stands out to me is the therapy scenes. That’s not something we see portrayed on TV very often. Actually, I feel like more fictional characters should go to therapy, especially on this show. So yeah, how did you approach these scenes?

First of all, Zarrin [who plays Dr. Lily] is another amazing actor that I had cast before out of Toronto. She’s fantastic — I had worked with her about a year before. And just on a general note, I’m proud to be a part of a show that takes its responsibility for these things so seriously. It gives mental illness a voice and says it’s okay to not be okay. And again, we get to see these characters managing their problems instead of being a victim to them. So I was delighted to be able to do those things because you get to see a character who is taking the right steps and the right conversations to help manage mental illness. [The therapist’s office] is a little tiny set in the corner of the studio. Almost every episode after Episode 2 had a scene there up until maybe about Episode 7. We’d spend a few hours just shooting multiple takes of the actors experiencing that.

In addition to directing the first two episodes, you were also an executive producer for the rest of the series. I read that you were a non-writing producer; what did that entail?

So I direct the first two episodes and then I stay on with production and help the writing executive producers manage production. It’s a creative leadership role. The regular episodic directors manage their own shows, they direct their own shows, they deal with their own casting, and they do their own cuts. And I’m there to support them. Also, when there’s changes to schedule, or things that are reshot. I’m shooting stuff all the way through the end of the show. So every now and again, you’ll find little shots that I’ve done, and you would never know. And it involves post production, [like] editing and sound. I’ve done the job of producing director a few times, but I’ve also seen it done by a lot of other producing directors that I’ve been a guest director on. And I can say the ingredient to it is actually quite hands off. The episodic directors are in control of their domain; they direct their own episodes. I’m there to make sure that they’re supported and fill in the blanks.

Were there any scenes that changed significantly or had a lot of reshoots?

That scene in the driveway with Ginny and Marcus was actually [shot] about four or five months later because it started to snow. We originally had it scheduled in December to shoot it, and halfway through, it was just dumping snow. So we came back in, I think probably April, and put fake fake fall trees and leaves in the background and then we shot the scene. But otherwise … There are things that are adjusted and improved, the timing is changed or the wording of things can be changed. But for the most part, this show went from script to screen in a very linear straight ahead.

The crazy thing that people don’t realize when you see the show is that we shot this all in COVID times. The moment the camera cut, the actors would put on a mask over their face and then they would get scurried off to another room where they’re isolated from everyone else. Everyone on set wore masks, and at times we were wearing glasses or goggles; every morning we’d come and get tested. 

Finally, if the show is (hopefully!) renewed for Season 3, would you return as a director?

I would love to. The reach of the show is just amazing. It’s one of those where, from my 13-year-old nieces to people I went to high school with to people in their 50s or 60s, people reach out and say, “Oh, I watched this show, and I loved it.” It just has such a great audience. I’m delighted by the responsibility this show took to that, and I just love the intrinsically diverse world that it creates. And I’m really proud to be a part of it. I do know for sure that these writers have a very clear plan for where the show will go. So, you know, stay tuned!

Brooke Palmer/Netflix © 2022

Here’s hoping we get that Season 3 confirmation very soon! Seasons 1 and 2 of Ginny & Georgia are streaming now on Netflix.

Note: Interview responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.