Tag Archives: Breaking Bad

Practising what you preach: Sam Catlin talks AMC comic book adaptation

Comic book adaptations take a dark turn with AMC’s forthcoming Preacher. DQ speaks to showrunner Sam Catlin.

While the current trend for comic book adaptations has largely focused on Marvel and DC’s stable of superheroes, things are about to take a decidedly darker turn.

This Sunday, US cable network AMC launches Preacher, a 10-part series based on Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon’s books about a conflicted reverend in a small Texas town.

Sam Catlin
Sam Catlin admits he wasn’t a graphic novel reader before taking on Preacher

It tells the story of Jesse Custer, played by Dominic Cooper, who is inhabited by a mysterious entity that allows him to develop a highly unconventional power. He sets off with his ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and an Irish vampire called Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) on a journey to find God. Literally.

From the start, the series lays down its intentions with a blood-splattered sequence that alludes to what is to come, while those familiar with the original comics will know to expect plenty of action, violence, sex and some colourful language.

So when series showrunner Sam Catlin first picked up a copy of Preacher, his initial reaction is not unsurprising.

“When I first read the comic I thought, ‘We can’t do any of this,’” he admits to DQ while writing the final episode of the first season. “It was too profane and the scale of it was too huge and violent. I couldn’t get my head around it.

“But once we figured out how it could start, now there’s nothing in there I don’t think we can do with a little creativity. There’s sex detectives, angels, demons, cowboys and crazy violence and our plan is to do all of it, whether it means explicitly what’s in the comic or not, but in terms of Garth and his world, we have no plans to pull any of our punches, that’s for sure.”

The series, which is produced by Sony Pictures Television and AMC Studios, was developed and championed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – both longtime fans of the comics. Before he joined the project, Catlin didn’t know either personally and had never heard of Preacher.

“It was a crude commercial marriage at the beginning,” he says, frankly. “We had the same agent and they were looking to do the comic book that they love, which turned out to be great because we came at it from very different perspectives.

Preacher is set in a West Texas town “corrupt and soaked in sin”

“They were huge fanboys and I wasn’t a big graphic novel reader at the time so it was a great marriage of fanboy and someone coming to it with fresh eyes. It’s been a great collaboration. I’ve loved working with them and they’re super-involved in the show. For huge celebrities, they’re super-down-to-earth and approachable, responsible guys.

“It always helps when you have Seth and Evan passionate about a project; it definitely helps any process. It’s a very ambitious show in terms of the resources AMC and Sony are putting into it and the creative lam we are walking out on here. Everyone’s really excited about it and we can’t wait to see what people think of it.”

In the beginning, that collaborative effort focused on how the show would start and what would remain from the source material, and which scenes, stories and characters would be held back.

“I wrote the script based on all those conversations we had and then I was on set while they were directing, so it was very much a hive-mind experience,” Catlin explains. “You hear so many stories about these types of things where people and personalities clash or the big, arrogant movie stars take over and throw their weight around. It’s just not been like that at all. I’ve become friends with these guys, they’re super-smart and it’s our show. I feel like it’s been a blissfully smooth collaboration every step of the way.”

To this end, the big change fans of the comics will notice is that it doesn’t open with Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy drinking coffee in a diner, learning how the preacher got his power. Instead, Catlin describes the early stages of the series as a prequel in terms of Jesse’s backstory. “But in no way are we not going to get to the other great Preacher stuff,” he adds. “Some stuff we actually bring earlier into the show than the comic does, and then some stuff we hold off until later.

Preacher Ruth Negga
Ruth Negga plays Jesse Custer’s ex-girlfriend Tulip

“I’ve said before if people don’t see what they’re hoping to see from the start it doesn’t mean they’re not going to see it. It just means they’re not going to see it yet. That was the big challenge – how do we start Jesse. What’s he doing? Is he on the run, is he still a preacher? What’s his relationship with God? Once we figured that out, it was a lot easier.

“In a way, this first season is a lot more of an ensemble. A lot of the action takes place in this one little West Texas town – corrupt and soaked in sin. So we’ll meet other people in the town, some of Jesse’s parishioners. So it’s Jesse and all these people and then you have Tulip and Cassidy on either shoulder. But eventually Garth’s comic is very much a three-hander. And we’ll get to that. It’s just a question of when.”

Unlike a traditional novel, Preacher offers Catlin, Rogen and Goldberg a visual template from which to draw, and the showrunner admits Steve Dillon’s artwork has influenced them during production.

“We want it to feel like a TV show but we also want it to feel like a comic book,” he says. “So striking that balance is one of the big challenges of the show. It’s not like Dick Tracy, where it’s so stylised it feels like the panel [in the comic book]. To me, it’s more of a tonal thing. You want it to feel heightened. It’s not Breaking Bad – it’s not hyper-naturalistic in every single moment. It does have that playful, absurd comic book atmosphere to it. To us, it’s that Gonzo tone we’re really trying to honour.”

Preacher frontman Dominic Cooper’s previous TV credits include Marvel’s Agent Carter and miniseries Fleming. But it was his dual turn in 2011 movie The Devil’s Double, in which he played two characters, that meant the actor was on Catlin’s radar as they searched for their titular preacher.

On casting the star, he says: “He was presented to us during pilot season in LA and he’s very much a known quantity, which means – as the agents will tell you – he’s not going to audition. You have to offer him the part. It’s always very scary. But it’s all very professional now where they have actor reels, this slickly produced thing where you get to see highlights of Dominic’s stuff.

Catlin praises lead actor Dominic Cooper’s “natural screen presence”

“There was so much good stuff on it but it was his work in Devil’s Double, where he plays Uday Hussein and his lookalike who is hired to be an impersonator for security reasons, that stood out. But we just didn’t know how good he was until we started shooting the pilot and we realised how lucky we’d gotten with his natural screen presence. We couldn’t be more thrilled about Dominic and the cast in general.”

Working with AMC, a network not known to shy away from graphic material (think The Walking Dead), has also ensured Catlin and his creative team haven’t had to tone down any element of the series, which will also air on Amazon Video in the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan.

“We keep waiting for them to act like network executives and say, ‘Can we make the character more likeable?’ and all those horrific notes you get. But AMC wants to do Preacher. They don’t want to do any sort of watered down version of the show. They’ve been great partners and they have a track record of success in pushing the limits of what you can broadcast on TV. They’ve been nothing but encouraging.”

Preacher marks the first time Catlin – best known for his work as a writer on another AMC hit series, Breaking Bad – has been a showrunner, a position he describes as the “ultimate job in Hollywood.”

“It’s definitely as much pressure as I had been told, as much terror,” he says. “It’s all that is advertised but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s very exciting building something from the ground up. As a writer, it’s the ultimate job in Hollywood, which is to be a showrunner on a great network like AMC. The amount of creativity, responsibility and authorship you have – there’s nothing like it. As hard as the job is, you don’t want to do any other job after this, that’s for sure.”

And with his experience on Breaking Bad, it’s only natural that Catlin looks to creator Vince Gilligan for inspiration now he’s in the top job.

“I’ve always had tremendous admiration and respect for Vince but ever since I became a showrunner I have that much more,” he admits. “Vince taught me everything about how to run a show and how to empower your writers and be diligent. Preacher’s very different from Breaking Bad and there are certain things that we do on this show that if Vince were dead, he’d be screaming in his grave. The rules are very different from Breaking Bad but his attention to detail, artistic integrity and the gentleman-like way he ran that whole operation is something I try to emulate as hard as I can.”

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Breaking the mould

After starring in one of the most acclaimed TV shows of all time, Breaking Bad actor Laura Fraser’s new role couldn’t be more different. She tells Michael Pickard why she’s heading to Neverland this Christmas.

This Christmas, one of the centrepieces of UK broadcaster ITV’s drama line-up is a spellbinding new take on JM Barrie’s classic children’s story Peter Pan.

Peter & Wendy, which airs on December 26, opens in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, where a young girl called Lucy is awaiting treatment for a serious heart condition.

The day before her operation, she reads Peter Pan to a group of sick children in the hospital – and when she falls asleep that night, the story is brought to life in her dreams as the doctors and nurses who look after her become characters from Neverland.

Fraser as Lydia in Breaking Bad
Fraser as Lydia in Breaking Bad

Stanley Tucci’s kind-hearted surgeon becomes the wicked Captain Hook and Laura Fraser doubles up as both Lucy’s mother Julie Rose and Mrs Darling. Hazel Doupe plays Lucy and takes the part of Wendy in her dream, while a group of junior doctors become pirates and other children at the hospital appear as the Lost Boys.

Other cast members include Zak Cutliffe as the eponymous Peter Pan, while singer Paloma Faith earns her wings as Tinker Bell.

The one-off family film, which sees the action split between the hospital and Neverland, is produced by Headline Pictures’ Christian Baute and Stewart Mackinnon in partnership with Catalyst Global Media. It is written by Adrian Hodges (The Musketeers), directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and distributed worldwide by Red Arrow International.

Peter Pan is indelibly linked to Great Ormond Street after Barrie gave the hospital the rights to the story in 1929 along with all royalties from any performance or publication of his work. The story itself stems from the death of Barrie’s elder brother David who was killed at 14 years old in a skating accident. His mother would say that David would forever be a child, sowing the seed for the tale of Peter Pan.

It was the connection between Barrie and Great Ormond Street that Hodges focused on when asked to adapt the story for television, allowing him to tell it in a fresh way while ensuring the original themes of childhood, adventure, innocence, motherhood and death were preserved.

And it was the theme of motherhood that struck a chord with Fraser, who has a daughter of her own. She was filming forthcoming movie I Am Not a Serial Killer in Minnesota last winter when she was offered a role in Peter & Wendy and flew straight to London for filming.

“It’s an interesting way of telling a story everybody knows,” she says of Hodges’ take on Peter Pan. “I was also drawn to the fact that this mother’s struggling to deal with her daughter’s illness and trying to be brave and strong and not quite managing, and the fact she’s a single mother made it a wee bit more interesting. Stanley Tucci being attached was also appealing to me. It just looked like a fun thing to do.”

Peter & Wendy is split between Great Ormond Street (pictured) and Neverland
Peter & Wendy is split between Great Ormond Street (pictured) and Neverland

The hospital is so engrained in the story that the cast and crew actually spent several days there earlier this summer filming external shots and scenes in and around the reception area, which proved difficult and emotionally stirring for many.

“It was quite hard to film there, it was quite moving,” Fraser admits. “We did have to stop for a few minutes four or five times during the day because even though it was a quiet day in the hospital – it was chosen specifically for a day when there weren’t too many operations in the ward we were in – you’d see parents coming in with their sick children, some in wheelchairs, some couldn’t walk, some were lying down. It was just gut-wrenching. Some of the crew were crying. It just makes you really grateful for your kids being healthy.

“As a mother I’ve had these worries and fears constantly niggling at me, like most parents. I just indulged them and exaggerated them and allowed myself to feel them. I would also listen to really morbid audiobooks to keep me in that state of mind where you think death is so close. I was relieved when it was over, in some ways.

“I did have fun and there was a lot of laughing as well. When the pirates are on set, they’re just hilarious people, I loved them. I was supposed to be upset in one of the scenes I have with them when they’re playing the junior doctors, and I was just corpsing all over the place. I couldn’t hold it together at all.”

Scotland-born Fraser, who has recently moved back to Glasgow, also enjoyed the opportunity to play dual roles – a technique that keeps the cast list down despite the vast array of colourful characters in both the real world and Neverland.

“It’s a very old tradition of actors playing dual roles,” she explains. “I’ve met a few people who have been in the Royal Shakespeare Company and they’ve played several different parts at the same time and I just couldn’t understand how they do it. But then your brain is capable of much more than you think. It wasn’t particularly taxing for me – I only had a few lines as Mrs Darling. It would have been a wee bit worrying if I couldn’t handle that. It was fun – it was a nice introduction to playing dual roles, although I don’t think I’ll be doing two Shakespeare plays simultaneously any time soon!”

Acclaimed actor Stanley Tucci plays Captain Hook
Acclaimed actor Stanley Tucci plays Captain Hook

Having starred in the final two seasons of US hit drama Breaking Bad, Fraser notes the growing trend for darker, edgier television drama, which is why family friendly Peter & Wendy appealed to the actor, who also appeared in ABC drama Black Box.

“My husband and I are really inappropriate about what we let our kid watch! She’s seen The Hunger Games – she’s nine,” the actress admits. “That aside, I don’t think it’s good to show violent images to children, so it is nice to have something you can all watch together. My daughter is interested in seeing stuff that I’m in but there hasn’t been much that I can show her, legally. So it will be nice to watch it together.”

Having worked across TV and film – her movie credits include Vanilla Sky, A Knight’s Tale and Kevin & Perry Go Large – Fraser is now taking advantage of the increasing quality of television drama, most notably as Breaking Bad’s Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, who supplied drug ingredients to both Gustavo Fring and Walter White.

“I love doing both TV and film and I find them very similar,” she says. “The quality of TV is going through a really good patch. I’ve been really enjoying the TV scripts for the last couple of years. They’ve been so much better. It must be nice as a writer to take your time to tell a story and not feel rushed. And also to be working for a length of time – that security is nice. To have character like Lydia, which was so well written, it would have been a shame to only have that in a one-off feature-length drama.”

Joining Breaking Bad in season five, Fraser looks back fondly on her time on the AMC hit but remembers being incredibly nervous at the prospect of joining Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul et al.

“I was living in upstate New York at the time so what I remember most is getting to Albuquerque (in New Mexico, where Breaking Bad was shot) and back, because I would commute during filming,” she recalls. “I also remember seeing Albuquerque in winter and summer. Even though it was only one season, it was shot over two years. Albuquerque was just so foreign, with huge skies. Every day the sunset would blow your mind.

“There was a surreal aspect to being part of something so well known. I still go, ‘What was I doing there?’ I feel really lucky that I got to be part of something like that. During filming, I was quite intimidated and a wee bit scared. I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly a lot of the time. It was almost like a very mild, sustained panic-attack shoot. But in retrospect I loved it.”

Fraser will soon be appearing in fellow ITV drama Houdini & Doyle, executive produced by David Shore (House) and airing on ITV Encore, Global in Canada and Fox in the US in 2016. It stars Stephen Mangan as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Michael Weston as Harry Houdini, who together solve crimes in this supernatural series.

She will also be on screen in BBC1’s One of Us, in which she plays a detective solving a horrific double murder involving two close-knit families. It is written by Harry and Jack Williams, who previously penned The Missing, and will air sometime in 2016.

“I was worried I was only going to be able to play total bitches after Breaking Bad but it’s actually been really varied,” Fraser adds. “In Houdini & Doyle I play a prominent suffragette who gets embroiled in a murky murder case, and in One of Us I play a detective solving a grisly double murder. So lots of murder! I actually enjoyed playing a detective, it was fun.”

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Where are they now?

Moira Walley-Beckett won an Emmy last year for the thrilling Breaking Bad episode Ozymandias
Moira Walley-Beckett won an Emmy last year for the thrilling Breaking Bad episode Ozymandias

Few people would be surprised to learn that Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and Game of Thrones duo David Benioff and DB Weiss were nominated in last year’s Emmys for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. But how many of us would know who won without resorting to Google? Well, the answer is Moira Walley-Beckett, who became the first solo woman to win in this category since 1994. Ironically, perhaps, Walley-Beckett won for a Breaking Bad episode called Ozymandias, thus beating Gilligan.

Walley-Beckett started her career as an actress and dancer, which probably explains why her first post-Breaking Bad project, Flesh and Bone (which she created), tells the story of a young dancer who has just joined a New York ballet company. Scheduled to air on Starz from November 8, the series features Sarah Hay (Black Swan) as “an emotionally wounded but transcendent ballerina navigating the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world.”

Part of the challenge with projects like Flesh and Bone is ensuring the dance sequences look real – a bit like trying to write a script about footballers or stand-up comedians. Recognising this, Walley-Beckett made heavy use of real-life accomplished dancers.

While this will undoubtedly provide Flesh and Bone with an air of authenticity, it does present logistical difficulties in terms of renewing the show – because it’s hard for professional dancers to juggle their day jobs with their acting commitments. This may explain why Starz has already decreed Flesh and Bone will come to an end after a run of eight one-hour episodes. Chris Albrecht, the channel’s CEO, told Deadline: “Moira is one of the most talented auteurs in television today, and the work she and her team have done on Flesh and Bone is nothing short of spectacular (but) after seeing all the film, we realised this is not serialised TV, but rather an eight-hour movie.”

The Flesh and Bone trailer suggests the show will further enhance Walley-Beckett’s credentials, so it will be interesting to see what direction she heads in next.

While the Writing for a Drama Series Emmy category was dominated by US talent last year, Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special resulted in a win for British scribe Steven Moffat. His work on Sherlock: His Last Vow trumped rivals on titles such as American Horror Story, Fargo, Luther, The Normal Heart and Treme.

Steven Moffat is working on a Sherlock special set in the Victorian era
Steven Moffat is working on a Sherlock special set in the Victorian era

Moffat has become something of a screenwriting icon thanks to his work on Doctor Who and Sherlock – and it is these projects that continue to occupy his time. His most recently finished Sherlock project is a special that will place the show’s central characters in the Victorian era, rather than the contemporary setting that has been used for the first three series. Commenting on this at a recent event, he said: “The special is its own thing. It’s not part of the run of three episodes… It’s Victorian. [Co-creator Mark Gatiss] and I wanted to do this, but it had to be a special, it had to be separate entity on its own. It’s in its own bubble.”

When not working on series four of Sherlock (due in 2016), Moffat’s remaining time is largely taken up with Doctor Who, which will return for series nine later this year. Although Moffat shares screenwriting duties on Doctor Who with a number of others, he has already confirmed that he is writing the first two episodes of the new series, a double-header. Titles for his episodes are The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.

The other Emmy-winning writer last year was comedian Louis CK, whose sitcom Louie secured him the Writing for a Comedy Series award. That’s quite an achievement when you see that he was up against writers from Episodes, Orange is the New Black, Silicon Valley and Veep. However, it’s not the first time CK has picked up this award, having previously won it in 2012.

Louie, which airs on FX, is an unusual show that combines stand-up and scripted comedy, often involving special guest stars. Echoing the earlier observation about Flesh and Bone, it manages to pull this off because CK is a genuine stand-up, not an actor pretending to be one. This blurring of genres is exacerbated by the fact that the show doesn’t always feel like a comedy. Its slow pacing and lack of rapid-fire gags make it much more like an indie film than a traditional sitcom, with some comparing Louie to Woody Allen’s work. This was certainly the case with So did the Fat Lady, the episode that won CK his 2014 Emmy. The last section of that episode was a poignant insight into the psychology of dating that barely resorted to jokes.

Louis CK has twice won Emmys for his show Louie
Louis CK has twice won Emmys for his show Louie, which airs on FX

The recent fifth season of Louie finished on May 28, taking the total number of episodes to 61. There have been no announcements yet about the possibility of a sixth run. But alongside his commitment to this franchise, CK also has a deal to create new comedy series for FX. This has led to a greenlight for Baskets, a 10-part comedy that CK is co-writing with Zach Galifianakis. The series, which will also star Galifianakis, is scheduled to air on FX during 2016. It tells the story of Chip Baskets as he haphazardly pursues his dream of becoming a professional clown.

The Emmys, it should be noted, have a slightly less well-known sibling called The International Emmys which, as the name suggests, are for shows from outside the US. The International Emmys don’t have a specific award for writers, but 2014’s winner Utopia owed a lot to the unique voice of Dennis Kelly, who created and wrote the show. Kelly’s work to date has mostly been for theatre – with his best-known project being Matilda the Musical, co-written with musical comedian Tim Minchin. However, he also co-wrote sitcom Pulling for BBC3 with Sharon Horgan and, more recently, wrote Black Sea, a Kevin Macdonald film starring Jude Law.

Utopia is the story of five comic-book fans who become targets of a shadowy organisation called the ‘Network’ after they discover an unpublished manuscript for The Utopia Experiments, a sequel to a cult graphic novel that appears to predict a range of global catastrophes. It ran for two series on Channel 4 and was then cancelled, much to the irritation of its fans. C4’s response was that “it’s always painful to say goodbye to shows we love, but it’s a necessary part of being able to commission new drama, a raft of which is launching on the channel throughout 2015.”

There’s no word yet on what Kelly’s next screen project might be, but Utopia is set to get a new lease of life in the US. HBO, no less, has ordered a US version that will be directed by David Fincher (Se7en) and written by Gillian Flynn, who worked together on the film version of the latter’s novel Gone Girl. All it needs now is for Scarlett Johansson and Carey Mulligan to sign up as stars and it would be the coolest conspiracy drama in the history of Hollywood.

Drama heavyweight Stephen Poliakoff is among the confirmed speakers at this year's C21 Drama Summit
Drama heavyweight Stephen Poliakoff is among the confirmed speakers at this year’s C21 Drama Summit

And finally, C21’s Drama Summit has started revealing the identities of this year’s speakers. One standout session will see writer Stephen Poliakoff examine his present and past work and discuss the challenge of writing drama in the 21st century.

Poliakoff started his career as a playwright, coming to prominence in the 1970s. While he still writes the occasional work for the stage, the balance of his output has moved much more towards film and TV in recent years. Among his best-known works (all for the BBC in the UK) are Perfect Strangers, The Lost Prince and Dancing on the Edge, which was nominated for three Golden Globes, winning one. His latest project, which he will discuss at the Drama Summit, is Close to the Enemy.

A six-part series for BBC2, Close to the Enemy is a Cold War drama set in a bomb-damaged London hotel in the aftermath of the Second World War. It stars Jim Sturgess (One Day) as an intelligence officer trying to persuade a captured German scientist to work for the British RAF on developing a jet engine. The production is being shot in London and Liverpool with planned transmission in 2016 on BBC2. International rights are with All3Media International.

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