Kickin’ It

Six Feet Under’s Alan Ball on grief and dying, American-style


| September-October 2005



sixfeetunder

Photo courtesy HBO

Who better to unpack our culture’s bizarre relationship with death than Alan Ball? The creator of the funereal drama Six Feet Under, which recently ended its 5-year run on HBO, Ball also penned the Oscar-winning screenplay for the 1999 film American Beauty. Utne recently caught up with Ball, 48, to chat about mortality and the sweet hereafter. 

What inspired you to come up with Six Feet Under? Why tackle the subject of death?  

Actually, I wrote the pilot, but the idea of doing the show set in a funeral home belonged to Carolyn Strauss [an HBO executive]. Granted, I think I responded to it because when I was growing up a lot of people in my family died, and I spent a lot of time in funeral homes. 

When you were 13, your sister Mary Ann died in a car accident while she was driving you to a music lesson.  

And my dad died two years after that. And in between, a grandfather, a grandmother, a great-aunt. There was a period when we were always going to funerals. 

What kind of impact did that have on you?