Back in July, ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk with “Kings” creator Michael Green and director Francis Lawrence, so here are our exclusive interviews:
ComingSoon.net: Those 20 minutes you showed was really interesting because it doesn’t really seem to be in any specific genre.
Michael Green: Yeah, we’re trying something different. People always say they want something different on TV and we hope they mean it.
CS: There you go. You mentioned earlier that you saw this more as a hero’s journey, not really a biblical thing, just taking the story and following it, but there seems to be a lot of mention of God and religion and war, things you don’t really see on network prime time TV. How did you pitch that to NBC?
Green: I pitched it to NBC as “I want to take one of the classic stories that no one has ever retold and find a way to re-conceive it while still being faithful to the original material but at the same time exploring the themes, modernizing it in every way.” And I actually did bring a King James Bible and put it on the table when I pitched it to them. What I did was I told them the story I wanted to tell and then I told them it was based on the story of David, so they sort of found themselves accidentally captivated by the same story that’s in there and didn’t know where it was from.
CS: So you didn’t tell them it was the story of David until after you pitched it?
Green: 15 minutes into the conversation, I said, “I’m going to tell you a story” and I told them the story you saw with a private doing his best to do something heroic and in the next twenty minutes, he enters court and you get to see the world where the royal family lives, and it’s that sort of Cinderella fish-out-of-water story of coming into that and his adventures there and his life beginning in that way. Just when they seemed to like it, I said, “By the way, you should know that this is based on something.”
CS: I was surprised that there was more after the 20 minutes when we actually see him face Goliath.
Green: Most people know about David and Goliath. Very few people know what happens after, and to me, that’s where his story really begins. Fighting Goliath really started the day.
CS: You also talked earlier about how you cast the various people. Ian McShane is coming from playing this iconic TV character and he successfully made the shift to movies, so how did you convince him to come back and do another show?
Green: I have to say, it’s literally one of those dream come true things, because he was the prototypical actor for it. When I pitched it, I said, “Someone like Ian McShane, if we could get him” assuming we couldn’t and I was told all along, “No way” so we were looking at other people and no one really felt like they were what we wanted them to be. His representation called us and said, “I read it and we’d like to give it to him,” and I said, “Wait one second” and I actually wrote him a note that I put on it where I told him that in all honesty, I usually don’t write with people in mind, but in this case, I wrote this with him in mind and that I was honored he was reading it. And then I realized I can only write that note once because this is the only time it’s going to be true. He read it and we met him the next day. Strangely, he’s very open to television. He was a little skeptical about network television specifically because it’s such a dicey landscape, but he has always felt that in this country, some of the best writing comes out of television.
CS: These days, that’s definitely true. Also a lot of people from comics and movies are going to television as are some directors.
Green: Sometimes television writers go to comics.
CS: What’s the plan as far as the first season? Do you have a certain number of episodes you want to do and a certain beginning and ending? Do you have a bible of sorts?
Green: We have a plan for the first year. I have some ideas for the second year, if we’re lucky enough to have one. We have 13 episodes for the first year so far. It can expand, we’ll see how we do, but by coming on mid-season, you only have a certain amount of time but I like to think of it as sort of an HBO sized season, so we’re going to tell a lot of stories really hard, really fast, keep it moving, keep it exciting. Pull no punches, and I think you have to treat every script like it’s your last.
CS: And you have time, so you can get a lot of episodes in the can…
Green: Yeah, we’re going to do a lot of it before it airs, so we’ll have that freedom.
CS: I was surprised to see that you were shooting in New York and you don’t really see that a lot. I guess in the pilot you can get away with it.
Green: NBC was really on board with the vision of the show and as I explained to them, this show takes place in the city and it had to be something as grand as New York. The city was very much a character in it. We were inventing a new city but we wanted to impress it on New York. They were really on board with that vision and then something interesting happened in the boring nuts and bolts of television, but New York came out with this 30% tax break, which suddenly invites a lot more television to New York and suddenly we were one of many shows that will be filming there this year. We’re competing for resources with a lot of others, so we’re glad to have that sort of friendly competition. I think it’s going to make for an excellent softball league. “Kings” vs. “Ugly Betty.”
CS: Well, as a New Yorker, I have to say that we love to have you there… but we also hate it sometimes.
Green: People love it but they hate it, and there are certain neighborhoods that have said “Alright, we can’t handle any more traffic. You can’t shoot here anymore.” I think this year in New York, people are going to get a little annoyed but I’m hoping they’ll forgive us because they like us.
CS: I wanted to ask you about the orange in the visuals from the flags, because they really jump out at you as soon as you see it. That’s not a very common color on television but it’s a very prominent thing.
Green: When you see the whole thing, the idea of a monarch butterfly is a sort of motif that runs through. It’s the national symbol for the country in sort of the way we have the bald eagle, one of the national myths of the country on which it’s based. That’s (Silas’) George Washington and the cherry tree type of story, and that’s a motif which runs through, so it appears proudly on the flag. In a way, to me, it looks a lot like a corporate logo, and we really did take this idea of “What is a modern monarchy?” and we took this idea of CEOs and corporations as American royalty. We also took the idea of a celebrity for the kids, Jack and Michelle, they sort of live as celebrities in that world, hounded by paparazzi, that sort of thing that we’re familiar with. You put them together and we had a template for what’s this sort of American aesthetic of royalty and monarchy.
CS: Francis mentioned (in the interview below) that we’ll see some of the other places in this world.
Green: Yeah, we’re going to get to know different countries where we get to know the enemy over time. Right now, we really focus on the country and essentially the enemy but we really thought to invent a world, so slowly, we’ll get to meet other places over time. For this year, it’s really focused on the country of Gilboa.
CS: Do you have any visual ideas on where you’d want these other places set?
Green: We’re shooting in New York so everything is going to be in and around. I doubt we’ll suddenly go to Hawaii and shoot there. (chuckles) Unless the first season goes really well. That would be a different softball league, wouldn’t it?
CS: It’s interesting that this isn’t really science fiction but it is an alternate world.
Green: Yeah, I look at it as sort of a soft sci-fi. I’m a huge sci-fi fan myself, and it’s some of the shows I’ve worked on, so I’m really comfortable with something that is both slightly heightened world, maybe it appears on our planet, maybe it doesn’t. I just tell everyone to think “Gotham City” and everyone understands that. A “Gotham City” happens to be in America. We’re not. We’re our own country, but that’s the approach I bring into it.
And here’s our interview with director and the series co-producer Francis Lawrence:
CS: Coming off “I Am Legend,” you went to do this television show, so are you just doing the pilot or have you committed to directing more shows?
Francis Lawrence: I’m on the show as a producer and then because I don’t have another movie yet that I’ve jumped onto, I’m going to do at least the next one or two episodes but I’m definitely staying involved. I love the show, I love the cast and Michael, and it’s such a great world that I have to build so I want to make sure that we keep the continuity.
CS: It’s always tough when you have a known director do the pilot because you create this look and in this you’re creating an alternate New York City in Shiloh, which is very much a created setting. What I’ve seen is kind of defies genre, because it’s not really science fiction even though it is sort of an alternate world, based on a biblical story.
Lawrence: Well, it is. Because it’s based on a biblical story, people say it’s biblical and it’s really not. It is actually more sci-fi but I think what throws it out of that genre a little is how familiar it all is. I think people think that when you create an alternate world, for it to stay sci-fi, you have to change the look of cars and make the buildings look like you’re in space or things have to levitate. The truth is what we tried to do is just find what other things, when you jump from one country to the next, what are those things that make it feel like it’s not America or not England. We started with the foundation and built our way up, yet keeping everything familiar.
CS: Are we going to see a lot of the rest of the world as the series goes on?
Lawrence: Yeah, I think it’ll start to grow out. I think as the seasons go on, you’ll start to get a sense of the geography, the idea of these four warring nations and King Silas unified three but there’s still one remaining, the one they’re at war with, and I think in time, you’ll start to get the geography and who’s who.
CS: It’s kind of creepy, since the original story takes place in the Middle East and they really haven’t gotten along since then, but then to see New York as part of that sort of feud is very strange, especially when you think about what might happen if we went to war with New Jersey.
Lawrence: Yeah, exactly. (laughs)
CS: There’s also a lot of orange in the pilot from the royal seal. Was that just something that came out of the design process?
Lawrence: The butterfly theme was definitely part of the script, and butterflies are very central to the king himself and that became a part of the country, so when we brought in our production designer, she actually brought in the orange from the monarch butterfly and so that ended up becoming the flag and the banners and the corporate logos. It’s a pretty regal color. What’s nice is that it’s a monarchy and if you’d gone with a red, which is a very royal color, it actually starts to look a little fascist, and we wanted to stay away from that. It’s a slightly more optimistic color, which is nice.
CS: And you don’t really see that color very much on television. It really stands out.
Lawrence: Yeah, which I really like and it’s very specific to this world, which is great, so even when you do city streets and you get the pop of the flag and the mailboxes and things like that, it’s just one of those little little things that just kind of tweaks the world enough.
CS: Earlier on stage, Michael was saying that this isn’t really a religious or biblical show, but there is a mention of God and there’s also a war going on, and I wondered if NBC was okay with all that? Because you don’t really see those things on a prime-time television show.
Lawrence: Yeah, but again, it’s odd because in that first 20 minutes, I think God is mentioned more than in the entire hour and a half, and it’s just because it’s part of the inauguration speech. NBC has been nothing but supportive about everything we wanted to do from the battle sequences to the speeches that Ian is giving in these things and the ideas. It’s something that’s honestly attracted them. It’s the great thing about the show was that it works on so many levels. There’s great human stories, it’s really emotional, it can be scary at times, it’s intense, it’s funny at times. It just works on a lot of levels.
CS: I asked Michael about this but how far ahead did he go in planning the series because the story of David is very much with a beginning, middle and end and somewhat limited in that sense.
Lawrence: That’s the great thing because most people know David and Goliath. What people don’t know is what happened after he slayed Goliath, which is his rise to become king and then once he was king, what happened there? He’s actually one of the most complex heroes in stories that has ever been created. It’s really interesting and he’s done so many things and there’s so much material for Michael to mine.
CS: It’s strange to see the David vs. Goliath thing in the first 20 minutes because you wonder where they can go from there.
Lawrence: Well, that’s part of it. You almost imagine that if you’re going to do that story, that’s where your movie would end, but the truth is, that’s really the beginning.
CS: You’ve been developing a lot of movie projects even going back to the “Constantine” days, so are any of those further along since you started on them?
Lawrence: Well, there’s something on my IMDb page called “Eddie Dickens and the Awful End” which is not happening. That was an animated project I was going to do alongside with “Legend,” and that we decided with the studio not to do. Then there’s a Disney thing, “Snow and the 7” that I’m still working on which is sort of a modern retelling of the Snow White story.
CS: So that will be more of a family film than what we’ve seen from you?
Lawrence: In a sense of something like “Pirates,” if “Pirates” is a family movie to you. It’s in that kind of a vein. It’s 19th Century China, a British girl who discovers who she really is, and it’s a great action-adventure story, really fun.
CS: How’s the progress on that one?
Lawrence: That one’s a ways away, but we got this great writer in, we’re working on the script. It’s a great world and great ideas, so doing that, and just trying to get other things together.
CS: And what about another “I Am Legend?”
Lawrence: We’re actually trying to crack that, but yes, it would be a prequel.
CS: You’re in L.A. based guy, so I’m really surprised to see you filming so much in New York.
Lawrence: Yeah, well I love New York. Akiva and I really wanted to do “Legend” in New York, just because it’s such an iconic city, and that it’s just more striking to see it abandoned than Los Angeles, because honestly, parts of Los Angeles can look abandoned in the middle of the day, so we pitched to shoot it there, so I went there for a year to do that movie. And then when Michael and I got together, it was like, “You know what? Los Angeles is not a capitol. We have to go to New York.” He’s from New York, I love New York, I know it. What’s fun is that we sort of did was that in creating Shiloh, we went back and you just look at the silhouette of the city and just take out the things that are familiar. Take out the Chrysler Building, you take out the Empire State Building, you put in our buildings in, the Unity Plaza Towers, and now it’s the new place.
CS: If you do an “I Am Legend” prequel, you’ll have to do all that work you did to make New York look abandoned and overgrown with vegetation, so will it be easier this time?
Lawrence: Yeah, but even as we went through the movie itself, it got easier. The first time you go out there and shut down 6th Avenue, it was like, “How are we going to do this day after day after day?” But by the end, it’s just like you know how to do it. You got the P.A.s, you know the system and you know how to shut it down, you know how to let the traffic through in between set-ups. You just sort of get the routine down so that’s not the issue. In the prequel, it’s slightly different because it’s earlier. We were three years later, so we had done a lot of research in the way that nature would have overtaken the city, so with the cracks in the street and the weeds and all that. So if it’s just back earlier, it’ll be slightly different, so the approach will be different. Also, we’re not positive on the time of year, ’cause you go in winter, you can do some entirely different kinds of things.
CS: Are you getting the blessing of Richard Matheson in creating a spin-off from his book?
Lawrence: Well, we involved him… Matheson was actually very happy. It was a great moment when we showed him the movie. He had read the script and I invited him when we were done to see the movie and he brought his family and I called him while we were on the international junket in Japan. I was really nervous, because it’s an adaptation and it’s different and he knew along the way, but it’s Richard Matheson. He really loved it and I have this great letter from him about it. I’m sure we’ll definitely keep him involved in the prequel just in terms of updating him and inviting him and asking him to read the script and seeing what he has to say.
CS: Will hasn’t done many sequels so is he into doing more with this?
Lawrence: Yes, he is. Absolutely.
“Kings” premieres on NBC in a special two-hour TV movie event on Sunday, March 15.