Rose McIver may be the face of the CW's iZombie as the lead character Liv Moore, but one of the key players behind the camera is writer/producer Diane Ruggiero-Wright. Ruggiero-Wright developed the show along Rob Thomas after working with him on Veronica Mars, writing and producing many episodes and the feature film that came out last year. You may have also seen her credits on such shows as Bates Motel, Dirty Sexy Money and That’s Life, which she created.
Loosely adapted from the Vertigo comic by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, iZombie has been one of the surprise critical and fan hits of the past TV season. Now, while the show’s toned down some of the more supernatural elements from the source material, it’s still got plenty of comic book flavor – from the credits to the comic book-inspired act openings to the people behind the scenes. We found out several people on iZombie were huge comic book fans – and so, with the season finale airing this coming Tuesday, we set out to speak with them for a trilogy of very, very geeky interviews, starting with Diane Ruggiero-Wright.
Ruggiero-Wright was happy to talk with us about her comics love, iZombie and even a detail about her upcoming work on a major superhero. If you haven’t been watching iZombie, we warn you – this has SPOILERS for several episodes this season (including the death of a major character).
Newsarama: Diane, congratulations on season two coming up.
Diane Ruggiero-Wright: Thank you! We’re very excited.
Nrama: Now, Chris Roberson and Mike Allred were saying you were big into comic books, so while we want to talk about the show, we love getting into people’s fandom. So feel free to let your geek flag fly. [laughs]
Ruggiero-Wright: You know what’s funny? I’m super-behind on everything. I’m not reading what’s new now, I’m reading what’s like forever ago. You read The Unwritten?
Nrama: Mike Carey and Peter Gross, yeah.
Ruggiero-Wright: Oh my God! I hadn’t read it and just started, and Pornsak Pichetshote, he’s our former executive at DC, he has – I’d just read the first one and liked it and was just overwhelmed and didn’t keep going. But Pornsak had all this original artwork from it in his office, and I saw it and went, “Oh, this is incredible! I have to get back into this!”
So that was a portion of my home life – when my two-year-old wasn’t screaming, I was reading The Unwritten.
You’re going to laugh at me – I have a magnifying sheet for reading comics, because they’re so small…! So I’m that dorky lady with the reading glasses, and then I have a magnifying sheet over my graphic novel and comics.
Nrama: Not going to make fun! That’s half of why the iPad and comiXology are so popular, they let you zoom in.
Ruggiero-Wright: Exactly! You want to see more, and have it be effortless reading. But if it’s dark, and you’re kind of cozy in your little den and don’t want to get up…[laughs]
And the problem with the iPad is you want to touch your comics – go to the store and have them pull your card and hand them to you…in Los Angeles, there’s Golden Apple Comics, and for a while there was Rocket Video, which had all this great obscure old stuff, and there was a time it felt like I was dating the guy from Golden Apple and the guy from Rocket Video, because the only people I saw were the guy who got me my comics and the guy who got me my DVDs. [laughs]
Nrama: I get that – working out of the home, I’ll take retail jobs just to get out of the house! But Wednesday at the comic shop, you get to have a nice discourse with the clerks and fans you know.
Ruggiero-Wright: Exactly! Especially if you have a relationship with them, and they know your tastes and can tell you, “Hey, I think you’d like this! Check it out!” I feel guilty buying stuff on the iPad because it just seems like you’re missing that connection, though it is a little bit easier.
This is the biggest thrill of my life – I’m a huge Wonder Woman fan, I have been since I was a kid. I’ve always been kind of old-school – I wasn’t even reading 1970s Wonder Woman, I was reading the 1940s stuff at the library. And I’ll be doing a digital Wonder Woman story for Sensation Comics!
Nrama: Awesome! When does that come out?
Ruggiero-Wright: I’m still writing it right now! But it’s awesome because with digital comics, there’s no constraints. You can put Wonder Woman in any time period, you can use any villain, and it speaks to whatever you want once they approve it. For me, this is like the biggest thrill of my life. [laughs]
I’m pretty excited, I’m trying to finish it before we start writing season 2 of iZombie. I can’t tell you what it’s about, sorry! I can tell you it’s Golden Age, so I’m pretty psyched about that.
Nrama: Very cool – I did an interview with Jill Lepore about her book on the origins of Wonder Woman last fall. There’s some crazy stuff in there.
Ruggiero-Wright: Oh my God. So my husband is the artistic director for a small theater, and back when we were just friends, he kept telling me to write a play. So I started writing a play based on that relationship that Lepore goes into detail about in the book – the kind of open marriage with the Marstons and that young inspiration for Diana Prince. I’ve been working on it for a while and might still finish it. That book was amazing! Did you love it?
Nrama: Oh yeah, that was a great book – despite the things attributed to George Marston, he really accomplished a lot with that character.
Ruggiero-Wright: It’s amazing – you go, “That’s the guy who created that character?!” Michael Allred posted a thing for me about an original Wonder Woman concept art for sale, with Marston’s notes on what he wanted her to look like, and it was…a little unsettling, but fascinating nonetheless. I just love that he helped invent the lie detector, and that and the Lasso of Truth came from the same person.
Nrama: I could go on with you about this for the entire interview, but –
Ruggiero-Wright: Yeah, we do need to talk iZombie! [laughs] I know what you mean.
Nrama: Before we go to far, I hope the PR people let you know I have a bone to pick with you –
Ruggiero-Wright: Oh no! They didn’t! What did I do?
Nrama: I was #TeamLowell, dammit! And then you just blew him away! I’m very sad!
Ruggiero-Wright: It was all Rob Thomas! I told him that I was going to do that in the press, tell him it was his idea, and I fought hard against it.
I have to say, we knew from the beginning we knew that was what we wanted to do. But then we cast Bradley James, and…imagine a world where we cast someone else as that character. Who can compete with Robert Buckley, you know what I mean? To cast someone you want this character to be with when Robert Buckley’s out there loving her…really hard to do.
But then they were just so great together, and the characters had such chemistry, and you were just rooting for both of them. Halfway through the second episode with them, I was watching the dailies with them and thought, “Oh my God, the audience is just going to hate us. What are we going to do?” But by the third episode, I thought, “This is great! They’re going to hate us! It’s going to be so compelling!”
So I’m sorry, but it did make for good TV…!
Nrama: I know! And, look, he’s obviously doing all right, he’s the Anti-Christ on A&E’s Damien now, that’s obviously a pay bump from being a zombie…
Ruggiero-Wright: [laughs] That’s like the next evolution.
Nrama: I shouldn’t kvetch. But that temporary GBF sequence was the sweetest thing! I felt ‘shipper pangs, and I do not like to go there!
Ruggiero-Wright: I feel so sorry for you! But let me tell you, that final sequence with Liv on the rooftop – I was saying on Twitter, I wish everyone could see the dailies with Rose. That girl was amazing – she’s cold, getting rained on in like two-degree weather, and she gave an unbelievably heartbreaking performance.
I was watching the dailies in my office, and Rob was coming in and laughing at me because I was just sobbing. He was also moved, but I’ll cry for hours. Rose was unbelievable, and she was just so real! There’s something about the Lowell character, he was just so perfect without being annoying. He was so normal. I’m sorry, but it worked out great.
Nrama: Well, I feel some closure from this confrontation.
Nrama: I have to say, I love how Rose embodies Liv. She’s so good at being deadpan and sarcastic, and then when she smiles – she’s like a little kid.
Ruggiero-Wright: Here’s what I’ll say about her, it’s kind of mind-blowing: She’s just so damn likable! She’s just charismatic and – if I met someone and they didn’t like her, I couldn’t take them seriously. They’re obviously a person who kicks puppies and old people.
She is undeniably just likable, and there’s something about her that’s compelling, and you feel like you’re her buddy, even though you’re just watching her on TV – “Oh, she’s my pal!” Every time I see her, I think, “Oh, there’s Rose, my pal!” It’s a little fan-geeky of me, and it probably shouldn’t be that way, but I can’t help it. She’s so amazing. I’m a big fan.
Nrama: With your background and the format of the show, you’re going to get Veronica Mars comparisons – well, there’s actual brain-eating in this one.
But when you’re crafting this – what did you want to do that was similar to Veronica Mars, and what did you maybe want to do differently?
Ruggiero-Wright: Well, there was brain-eating on Veronica Mars, we just didn’t get to it.
No, I’d say one thing we definitely want to do differently was that Veronica Mars, being a noir, you had to rely very heavily on the A-story, the case of the week. Those had to have a lot of twists and turns and we had to spend a lot of time on them, because with a noir you need all the elements – the twists and turns, and you go down one route and then it takes a strange twist in a different direction.
We didn’t have that kind of story time for iZombie because we also wanted to cover things like the zombie apocalypse, and the hunt for the cure, and Blaine, and so on. So we didn’t have enough real estate to do a Veronica Mars-style mystery. We realized that when we were breaking the pilot, we didn’t have a two-hour pilot.
So we’re judicious about our mysteries – we don’t have five red herrings, we don’t spend as much time as them when we were on Veronica Mars.
We knew we’d get comparisons – and Rob and I have a similar voice anyway. We purposely didn’t try to make Liv sound like Veronica, but we knew if you get a petite blonde girl being sarcastic and deadpans, people are going to see similarities.
Nrama: It’s funny, I actually saw iZombie as less serialized than Veronica Mars, but that might have been because you had, as you said, that more red-herring-based mystery format – I was always looking to see what elements from the case of the week might tie into the overarching plot.
Ruggiero-Wright: I think also, with Veronica Mars, in the beginning you’re preoccupied with who killed Lily and the people in Veronica’s daily life who might have done it. So every time there was a conversation with a character like Logan that could just be about the A-story or just a high school scene, you’re having it with someone who’s potentially a murderer. Which is very noir and I think part of why the show was as good as it was.
With iZombie, there’s the question of what happened on the boat, and is Major going to find out, but it’s not a giant mystery – it’s not as overarching.
Nrama: It’s more “What’s going to happen?” as opposed to “What did happen?”
Ruggiero-Wright: I don’t know – I’m not sure if the audience is itching to find out what happened on that boat or if they just want to know if she gets better. [laughs]
Nrama: You want her to be a happy zombie! Or less zombie-ish.
Ruggiero-Wright: Exactly! There’s a way to be a zombie and not have to eat brains. But you’d miss her chowing down and getting all those new personalities.
We’re gearing up for season 2 and doing my episode pitch homework for all the brains she could eat is just so much fun. I’m out in the world and meeting people and thinking, “Wow, this jackass’s brain is just someone Liv needs to eat, because we need to lampoon this guy on iZombie.”
Nrama: But that creates a unique kind of emotional involvement – in any TV show, you want that procedural, week-to-week element, but in this case, she’s literally walking in someone new’s shoes every week…well, brains. There’s this emotional correlation between who these people were and how they change her.
Ruggiero-Wright: Yeah, I love writing that. There’s that moment in the pilot where she experiences how the prostitute was killed, and just kind of feels that weird connection to her as a result. I feel like that emotional connection is important – it helps make her a hero, someone who wants to right a wrong because they feel compassion for someone we don’t really know.
Nrama: We’re running low on time, so I have a few very quick questions. First – I know you had to streamline the more supernatural elements from the comic in adapting this, but is that something you’d ever consider bringing in for the future – ghosts, were-terriers, etc.?
Ruggiero-Wright: Yeah – that’s not really something that works, considering…we feel like that’s been well-tread. Like, True Blood kind of covered everything, they introduced so many underworldly creatures and did it so well that it’d feel like copying. And Being Human covered similar ground as well. We don’t feel like we’re reinventing the wheel, but…there’s not too many fake psychic zombie detective shows on the air, so we’re trying to be a little bit different.
Also, production-wise – it’s hard enough to do the zombie effects. The zombie eyes are just a thorn in my side trying to do them well. So the budget to do a were-terrier well, one that looked awesome and moved, we just wouldn’t be able to do it. And I feel like they already have that kind of world in True Blood and we’re trying to do something different. I loved True Blood, you might have guessed it.
Nrama: And last question: With this running just before the season finale, what can our readers expect?
Ruggiero-Wright: I can tell you – Episodes 12 and 13 are a two-parter with one mystery, and I have to say, it’s pretty frickin’ amazing. We see a whole different side of Major –
Nrama: Poor Major! He just keeps getting it in the face.
Ruggiero-Wright: Poor, poor Major. I have to say, I like him a little beat-up. He’s just so damn pretty that I feel like someone has to consistently smack him around to keep him a little rugged.
I love Robert Buckley – he’s so funny and such a great guy that one of the great things about the show is getting to see him do different things, drama and being funny and not just the sexy guy who walks around in shorts. Yeah, we do get to see that, [laughs], but he gets to show his acting chops and range and be funny as hell. But the Major storyline is – almost said “a major part,” that’s so dorky – a big part of the final episode and things with Blaine go off the chain.
It’s a pretty explosive finale. We went all-in.
And again, I feel so sorry about Lowell. Blame Rob Thomas!
Next Week: Things get even geekier when Rahul Kohli (Ravi) talks his own comics love, sneaking into a Star Wars set and…mango juice? And just in time for the season finale, Robert Buckley reveals his very hardcore fandom in an interview that just might make us #TeamMajor.