Michael Green: Creating 'Kings'

This Sunday, the reign of Kings will begin.

Created by former Heroes writer-producer Michael Green, who’s also the co-writer of Superman/Batman and the Green Lantern screenplay and directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) the ambitious new series takes viewers inside a modern-day monarchy that combines the backstabbing tales of the past with the politics of today.

Kings is set in Gilboa, a fictional country that boasts modern-day technology, but is grounded in a traditional monarchy system (Green says that the explanation of where and when the series takes place is “part of the journey” for the show). Ruled by King Silas Benjamin (Deadwood’s Ian McShane), Gilboa is in the midst of a long war with the neighboring country of Gath. But when a young soldier named David Shepard (Chris Egan from Eragon) single-handedly takes down one of the Gath’s “Goliath” tanks and inadvertently saves the life of one of the royal family, the tide is turned…and David finds himself swept into Silas’ court.

The series revolves around both David’s journey into this new world, where he finds romance with Princess Michelle Benjamin (Allison Miller) and rivalry with Prince Jack (Sebastian Stan), while Silas’ supportive queen Rose (Once and Again’s Susanna Thompson) looks on him warily. As David adjusts to his new life, he must learn to contend with the forces of Silas’ court while standing up for his own beliefs.

Meanwhile, Silas sees in David both a surrogate son and potential upstart, as he struggles to maintain his power base and his own compromised principles with his minion General Abner (Wes Studi from Last of the Mohicans and Mystery Men) and cagey industrialist William Cross (Dylan Baker of many roles, including the Spider-Man films) whispering in his ear. (For the record, Cross has an evil company called CrossGen, though Green swears he’s never heard of the former comics publisher).

There’s plenty of drama, romance, and the odd assassination at play, as prophecies from Silas’ confidant Rev. Samuels (OZ’s Eamonn Walker) indicates that David and Silas’ destinies are intertwined. There’ll also be guest appearances from an eclectic variety of actors, including Manhunter’s Brian Cox, Crossing Jordan’s Miguel Ferrer, Leslie Bibb from Iron Man and Macauly Culkin from Home Alone and Saved.

The idea for Kings was something Green has been developing for years, inspired in part by a trip to Israel and the Biblical story of King David. As it happened, working on Heroes helped inspire Green to develop such an elaborate show. “(The writers) were all in a mode to be encouraged to think of things that were different,” says Green, who we grabbed between trips to the editing room. “At the time, we were doing, ‘Future Hiro comes back with a message for himself and a sword on his back.’ So we were working with an ‘anything is possible’ feeling.”

When given the opportunity to develop his own series for NBC, Green wanted to do a series with a similar feel. So he went to the network with what he calls “the weirdest idea I had.”

“It was this sweeping, epic family soap based on some of the stories in the Bible and reimagining them modern times,” Green says. “Some of it was probably influenced by the fact that I was spending all this time on my job coming up with crazy stuff for superheroes to do!”

Kings was allowed a long development period (footage from the initial pilot was screened at the San Diego Comic-Con last summer), which allowed Green to flesh out the story and the world of Gilboa. “I haven’t had to modify the show I wanted to do one bit from my original intentions,” Green says.

“NBC listened to it, and helped shape and mold it. And an epiphany came to me as to how I could tell this story: I spent a lot of time thinking of what could be a modern venue for telling the King David story, and I wondered if he would be a governor or in the White House or CEO of a company, and then I had the larger, stranger idea of setting it in a modern monarchy, and creating a whole new country, and fictionalizing an entire nation.”

Indeed, Silas holds court in a boardroom with a crown on his CEO’s chair, and Gilboa’s capital of Shiloh is a computer-manipulated version of New York City, where the series films. “The aesthetic is based on the modern U.S., because we were going to be shooting it here, and I wanted it to be familiar to a U.S. audience,” Green says.

“But there are also European features to the city itself – the very careful viewer might find the country’s on the metric system. But the aesthetics of the monarchy were really designed to be plausible to an American audience. So when we imagined what the monarchy would be, we looked to what I consider American royalty, i.e. CEOs, presidents and celebrities.”

Green says that Francis Lawrence, who also serves as an executive producer of the show, helped flesh out the look and feel of Gilboa.

“He came on board and he had a lot of amazing ideas how to take a world I’d typed on paper and fill it in – what the city’s like, what’s the look of it, the feel of it, what’s it like walking down the street,” Green says. “He brought a strong visual POV to it that made the world a much more interesting place for me to inhabit.” The series’ official website (www.nbc.com/kings) further helps fill in some of the details of the country.

As we mentioned earlier, the time period and exact location of Gilboa are deliberately left ambiguous, though some viewers and critics have expressed confusion on this issue. Green admits that the series “defies quick and easy description,” but that people should not have trouble understanding the basic human drama of the series. “There shouldn’t be any confusion when people watch it as to what they’re seeing, and all their natural curiosities will be fleshed out over time,” Green says.

“We’re very sensitive to questions. But in the short-term, the exact nature of the globe and the map are not as relevant as they might seem. I will say that a lot of careful thought has gone into those questions.”

In fact, the long lead time on developing the series allowed Green to hire writers and develop storylines while the pilot was still being shot. “That was a really wonderful, extraordinary thing to be able to do,” Green says. “While we were writing the DNA for the series, we were coming up with ideas for it.”

As a result, not only are all 13 episodes of the first season already finished (shooting on the season finale was two days from completion when we spoke with Green), but there are already ideas for a second season. “I wanted to tell this story for a very long time, and I made sure that when I got the opportunity to tell it, I knew what I wanted to do,” Green says. “I don’t know every line of every episode, but I knew in great detail what the shape of the first season and second season were going to be.”

The series has already attracted a positive critical buzz, and such acclaimed talents as McShane, for whom. Green wrote the part of Silas. Green calls writing for this cast “is a huge responsibility.” “First of all, we got very lucky in getting the cast we have,” Green says. “We felt like most of the show’s success was done for us, because who wouldn’t want to watch them? And you have to have the humility to let the cast’s talents start helping shape what happens to the characters, because sometimes you’ll see that they can do things that help the characters come alive in a way that you never imagined. So you have to let them exceed your own expectations for what they should you be doing.

“It’s a huge responsibility to earn their efforts. Every day they come in and work their ass off on what you give them, so you have to make sure what you give them is worth their time.”

As Kings’ two-hour premiere approaches, Green is confident that his show will find an audience in the crowded TV landscape. “Our goal with the show is to do something different, something that hasn’t been seen on TV a thousand times already,” says Green, who cites shows like Battlestar Galactica, Rome and The Sopranos as inspirations for the storytelling style of Kings. “If the Newsarama audience wants to know what it’s about, they can tune in from 8 p.m. to 8:05, and if they’re bored after 8:05, then I thank them for their time!”

And while we had Green on the line, we took the chance to ask him about the Green Lantern screenplay he’s co-written with Greg Berlanti (Everwood) and Marc Guggenheim (Eli Stone and more comics than we could possibly list here).

Green calls Green Lantern “one of my favorite characters.” “I grew up reading him, and I always loved him,” Green says. “What it meant to me writing him was that we had a huge responsibility to not [mess] it up. I know he’s a character people are very passionate about, and we felt like we were introducing this character and this world to a lot of people, and we wanted to do it right.

“A third draft of the script is in to the studio, which they said they quite liked, and that helped bring Martin Campbell on board as director. We don’t know that much more, but we hope that the movie gets made soon, because we’d all like to see it!”

Kings begins its reign with at two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 15 on NBC.


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