Heroes to Green Lantern to 'Kings' - A Writer's Journey
Cast and creators of the upcoming NBC series 'Kings'. Left to right are Susanna Thompson, Sebastian Stan, Christopher Egan, Greg Grunberg, Francis Lawrence, Erwin Stof, and creator Michael Green.
Over the years, the superhero community has been very good to Michael Green. After helping to chronicle the adventures of Clark Kent on Smallville and the gifted individuals on Heroes, the producer/writer is turning his talents towards the epic new television series, Kings. Now months before a pilot is even screened, Green took a break from spearheading the New York production to discuss his brave new world, Green Lanterns, as well as his own dynamic duo, Superman and Batman.
Newsarama: Michael, as a comic book writer, Heroes must have been a dream gig. Was it a tough decision to leave?
Michael Green: Heroes was one of the most fun I have ever experienced on a series. I have watched the commercials for upcoming episodes and am so sorry I am not there. Everyone there is a friend and someone I look forward to hanging out with. The only thing worth leaving that for is the opportunity to do my own series.
NRAMA: What did you take away from Heroes? Did it somehow prepare or inspire you for the NBC series you created, Kings?
Green: I got a lot out of the Heroes experience. First of all, it was very much a lesson in what television can do that people didn’t know it could in size and scope. Heroes owes a big debt to Lost that came before it and every show gets to look at the advancements the previous ones made and try to build on that. It was also a show where the writers worked very much together; no man was an island and everyone really relied on each other. That was a great lesson for me in working closely with a staff in a way I hadn’t before.
NRAMA: Can you lay the groundwork for Kings and what it’s about?
Green: Kings is a modern re-imagining of the King David story as inspired by the bible and set in a fictional monarchy. It is the story of a hero’s journey by a young soldier named David Shepherd who finds himself going from obscurity to living and functioning in a king’s court. We got to do something fun, wonky, and try to create what would be a plausible modern monarchy within an American setting. An incident happens where through sheer stupidity, David does a very heroic thing that catapults his life in a direction he never expected.
NRAMA: Who are some of the other characters that are integral to David’s journey?
Green: It’s a big cast. There are a lot of archetypes being played within. There is David the hero, Princess Michelle played by Allison Miller, and Sebastian Stahn plays young Prince Jack who is the rival of David. The lead is played by Chris Egan who is a wonderful, fairly new actor to America. He’s an Australian actor who is best known for Eragon. He’s a really nice guy and tremendously gifted. We have Ian McShane as King Silas, who is loosely based on the biblical character of Saul. He is one of my favorite actors ever and the chance to work with him was unbelievable.
NRAMA: Did you pinch yourself when Deadwood’s Ian McShane signed up for the part then?
Green: It was the most amazing thing. We had been having problems casting that character since it’s a unique role and a bunch of the show hinges on the believability there is a king. If you don’t have the right actor, the whole thing would really fall apart. We knew that. This is a premise that relies on the charisma of the lead.
All of a sudden, we heard Ian McShane would be willing to read the script and I said “One sec. I want to write a note.” Then it’s “How do you write a note to your favorite actor?” I got to tell him with complete honesty that as a general rule, I don’t write with actors in mind. I just write how I hear it but in the case of this character, I couldn’t help but imagine him in it although I never dreamed he would read and consider it. I sincerely hoped he liked it. I realized I got to write that note once, put it out to the universe, and declare anyone who comes after that Ian was my first choice. Anyway, Ian was in New York for a play, we messengered the script over to his place, and the next day the director of the pilot, Francis Lawrence, got to sit down with Ian who ended up being interested in playing the part. We just couldn’t believe how lucky we were.
NRAMA: As you mentioned, Chris Egan is a relative newcomer to the industry so what impressed you about him?
Green: Chris is a terrific actor, incredibly charismatic, but at the same time, David is a character who will hopefully really evolve. David starts as a younger naïve boy who is clearly new to the court and over time grows to over take it. We really needed somebody who could embody some boyish charm, innocence, and be Cinderella for us but also knew he could grow into someone who had thoughts and ambitions. Chris embodies all those qualities and he’s not just another pretty face. There is some intelligence behind what he does but there is also a lot he’s holding back that he can pull out later. We are excited to access that when the time comes.
NRAMA: How did you manage to get Constantine and I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence to helm the pilot?
Green: Blind luck! NBC was talking about reviving this project. It was something that they had and passed on in a different regime. The new regime that took over the network was reconsidering it and they felt it was a visually ambitious series. It is set in a fictional world so we get to create a city that doesn’t exist. For a number of reasons, they thought we should get a very visceral director and if we did that, they would be much more inclined to shoot the show.
You hope for the best, they mentioned one or two people, and Francis‘ manager, who is also a producer on the show, was given the script to read and liked it. He and Francis had been working on a film about King David but were never happy with a script yet were still interested in the story. When they read my version of it, they found here was something with the same subject but turned on its head because they had been looking to make an actual period piece. They felt television was the place to really get into the story they wanted to tell.
Most people know the King David story in that a kid comes and slays Goliath with a stone but that is really just the beginning. There are actually chapters of the bible thereafter about what happens to him from that day on. They were interested in that part and with television, it is an ongoing story so they thought this might be the right place to tell it.
The other big joke was he had never read a television pilot before so he went over it and said “Oh, that would be fun!” He had the time, the opening, and NBC said they would love for him to come do it. That’s what happened. He’s fantastic to work with and a supremely talented director. I learned so much sitting there watching him shoot. He really put a visual stamp for it that sets this world apart from any other.
NRAMA: What was so enjoyable about coming up with this alternate take on our world?
Green: Getting to create your own city. We got to sit there and ask what this world looks like. Early on when I was first thinking about this series, David Eick took me out for lunch and I told him “Look, I am trying to do this crazy thing where I want to set it in an alternate world.” He told me “Let me tell you the lessons we had in Battlestar Galactica. For us, it all came down to what door knobs look like. Do door knobs look like door knobs?”
The more they landed on reality, the more approachable their world felt. I enjoy sci-fi as much or more than the next guy but we want this universe to feel real and believable so we were trying to create the look of a city that is familiar but different. We shot in New York but took out some key landmarks so you don’t necessarily see the Chrysler Building but what we’ve CG'ed on top of it.
That was really fun trying to decide what goes where, what do the signs look like, are they on the metric system or not, and does it have European or American feel? Francis has incredibly good taste and I would just follow his lead on everything because usually he would be right.
NRAMA: Do you establish an actual city where this series takes place?
Green: The city and country are given a name but much like Springfield, we don’t say where it is on the globe. This country’s name is Gilboa and the city’s name is Shiloh.
NRAMA: Politics and religion can be two touchy subjects so were you nervous about incorporating those elements into Kings?
Green: The series are marriages and in marriages, you have to talk about religion and politics. No, those are the things that make for some of the interesting conversations on screen. Writing is not about being polite but it’s not an inflammatory show. Hopefully, it’s entertaining and about things, but it’s not a preachy show.
NRAMA: What kind of format can viewers expect over a weekly basis?
Green: I would say this is akin to one of my favorite series, which is Battlestar Galactica, in that there is ongoing stuff. Battlestar is classified as a "soap" because it is ongoing but it does episodes that are stand alone.
NRAMA: You’ve described Kings as "soft sci-fi". What exactly does that mean?
Green: We really enjoyed the process of creating a new world that is relevant to our own and looks like our own. In sci-fi, you usually imagine people in space or on a planet with different technology and here we were trying to do something I had never seen before. I was interested in seeing if we could pull off this new world that would still be passable as our own. Hopefully, if I told you this was a country in our world, you would believe it.
At the same time, there is something unique about it so it’s sci-fi in the sense we created a new world but not so much that they are carrying around light sabers. However, I would really like if they were.
NRAMA: Kings isn’t debuting until early 2009 so how does it feel to be a mid-season series?
Green: It is great for a number of reasons. When you come in during the fall, there is a lot of noise for other shows, a lot of competition, and a lot of people vying for the same audience. When you come on mid-season, it is just not the same volume.
The other reason is you get a lot more time to make your episodes and make them right. In a way, we get to make our first season much more like an HBO series. One of the reasons television is so hard is the sheer amount of episodes you are trying to craft while on cable, you are making 10-14 episodes which is a different task than doing 24. Having a chance to work on the series more lets us spend more energy on each episode.
NRAMA: On top of Kings, you have other projects on your plate. How did you become involved with the Green Lantern feature film?
Green: A guy I worked with, one of my long time co-writers and very good friend, Greg Berlanti, had been going after that job to write and direct it. He came up with an amazing take that blew Warner Bros.’ mind. One of his plans was if he got the job, he would call me and Marc Guggenheim and say “Hey, if I got this job, would you want to write this for me?” I have a rule that goes if someone calls you and asks if you want to write the Green Lantern movie, you say “Yes!”
NRAMA: What kind of approach are you taking with the Emerald Gladiator?
Green: Unfortunately, I have to be vague because it is really early but it is very dutiful. It is a fans’ take. We are all huge fans of the character. I like to think we understand the Green Lantern franchise. We all came at this like “How do we not screw up something that is really important to us? What would make us happy as fans?”
I can tell you it is Hal Jordan and hopefully something other people will enjoy. We want to introduce what we love about this classic character to everyone. Hal Jordan is interesting because there have been a lot of incarnations but he does have this indomitable will. One of the other fun things about Green Lantern is this idea that you are joining something bigger and larger than yourself.
NRAMA: This year’s Iron Man was lighter in tone than The Dark Knight’s grim and gritty. Which way are you leaning with Green Lantern?
Green: It is sort of its own version and I really can’t tell you much more. I can say it’s not the comedy version. A lot of people had it in their heads that there was going to be a Jack Black version. I don’t even know if that was an internet rumor or it may have been true for a while. We are not doing the stupid "Scooby Doo" version though.
NRAMA: Online, people are championing Nathan Fillion or Ben Browder to wear the ring. Do you have a wish list for actors too?
Green: Yeah, but right now we are trying to write the script and like I said, I try to write without specific people in mind because you aren’t always going to get Ian McShane. We’ve talked about it but right now we are focusing on the character and story. Warner Bros. has mentioned a few people and all of them are exciting.
Green: People are always asking what our continuity is and my answer is it is always 100 percent in continuity but sometimes the other comics are wrong. Sometimes, like the Crisis stuff, they don’t take into account what we are doing. I like to think we are the center of continuity and sometimes they miss it [laughs].
NRAMA: So what do you have on tap for upcoming issues?
Green: We have part two of the Little Leaguers which I just saw the art for and I think it is the most entertaining art I have ever seen. Rafael Albuequerque did the art and he is awesome! Every time I see some pages, I can’t stop laughing or giggling that we get to do this. After that, we are doing a story called The Super/Bat. I am going to hold off giving too many details but that is another four-part arc where Superman and Batman find a new perspective on each other due to some strange events.
NRAMA: Is it difficult coming up with new spins on these iconic superheroes that have been around for decades?
Green: I would never say writing comics is hard because it’s so much fun and such a joy. There is definitely a challenge in trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. At the same time, you have to free yourself of that and do what interests you.
Anytime you are writing such beloved characters, you are the custodians of something bigger than yourself so you want to work really hard at it. There are always going to be people who appreciate when you do something new but some people don’t enjoy the Superman/Batman book because they don’t feel it’s as relevant as the other ones. I enjoy the fact that it is something you can pick up and read even if you haven’t been following every issue of Final Crisis.
Sometimes those books require so much homework it becomes less fun for me.