Q&A: The Last Resort’s Co-Creators Shawn Ryan & Karl Gajdusek
ABC’s Last Resort is one of the only shows I’ve been looking forward to watching in this new TV season. The show stars one of my favorite actors, Andre Braugher, as Marcus Chaplin, the Captain of the nuclear submarine USS Colorado. When he and his XO, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman), disobey an order to nuke Pakistan, they are quickly attacked. After seeking refuge on a remote island, they set out to find out what happened and try and prove their innocence.
The show was co-created by Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Terriers) and screenwriter Karl Gajdusek who talked on a recent conference call about casting Braugher, Speedman and the rest of the cast, the lengths Braugher went to in researching his character, shooting in Hawaii and working inside a submarine.
Last Resort premieres on tonight at 8 pm ET on ABC
From watching the pilot, throughout the first season, can you talk a little bit about what the balance is going to be between the military from the sub, the characters from the island, and then also the characters that are back in the United States?
Shawn Ryan: There’s some crossover those. So it’s hard to say pretty exact percentage. What we’ve talked about is probably 60% of the action will take place on the island; 20% on the sub; and 20% D.C. Now, some characters can be fluid. Obviously, characters like Sam and Marcus will be on the island and on the sub. Sometimes there might be some communication with people in D.C., et cetera.
So there’s a fluid (basis) to this, but we’ll be on the island a lot. We are definitely going to use our submarine going forward. And we’re definitely going to play up the D.C. thing. Now, we don’t want to get too formulary with the show, so not every episode will match up to pie chart. But that’s in general pie chart that covers the whole season, I would say.
Many of Max Adler’s followers have enjoyed getting – the fact that he’s going be guest starring on the show. Is there any chance for him to be maybe return on the show a little but more? And how did you feel about the campaign that there was on Twitter for him to return?
Shawn Ryan: Well, first of all, Karl and I very much befriended Max during the filming of the pilot. He is a great guy and a really talented actor. Now, without spoiling too much for the various people who read all of your pieces, Max doesn’t have a good day in our pilot.
So the chances of him coming back in real time of the show are not existent. Having said that, we are a show that occasionally, you know, does some flashback stuff. And so, in that aspect, maybe there’s something we’d see at some point that would allow us to bring Max back. And I would do it in a second, I love working with him. And his fans were very passionate and we’re very careful, you know, to sort of, you know, talk about Max being in the pilot but not to over promise something because we knew that his fate wasn’t a good one in the pilot.
But he obviously has a very vocal group of extraordinarily passionate fans that we would involve to sample our show. And even with the loss of Max, maybe some of them will stick around.
Karl Gadjusek: You know, it’s a classic case of, you know, you know, (you have the) great actor in a role that may not pair so well and then you get to know the guy and realize what a great actor you cast and you sort of regret your choice perhaps. But that’s – you can’t change, of course, at that point.
Shawn, given the current political climate, like, how did you approach the development of the show to make it appeal to everyone?
Shawn Ryan: Well, you know, first of all, you just start off from a creative, dramatic point of view what is something I’d like to watch. So, you know, so I am – Karl and I, both, really considered what the political situation was in the world as of last year when we wrote this pilot and thinking about how did they get topical.
To get to the heart of your question, you know, listen, who knows how to appeal to everyone? And I don’t think any show does appeal to everyone. We do hope that the show has a mass appeal
You know, I would say that one thing we did is we’re really focusing on the characters in the situation. We’re not focusing on a political agenda. You know, we’re not naming political parties in this show — the president who seems to be going off the rails in our pilot, you know, we’re not identifying as one side or the other.
And really, this isn’t a show that’s about Democrat versus Republican. It’s more show about, you know, power versus the less powerful in investigating those dynamics. And in that way, I think, you know, anyone, no matter what side of the political aisle they’re on, whether – you know, whether they’re all the way over to the tea party side, or whether they’re all the day over to occupied now.
Now move for the side, you know, I think they share a certain distrust of certain government institutions and the belief that things could be better. And there’s a sense that a lot of people feel like many things are kind of off the rails in our country at the moment. And the idea that, you know, I could do better.
And in our pilot, we sort of touched on that with Marcus at the end that, hey, maybe we could do better right here, right now and yet the show, I think, as it gets past the pilot and gets in the future episodes will deal with the difficulty of that. That’s – you know, it’s to talk about, it’s easier to think that you can do better than the guy in the office or the guy running or (just) the guy in office. But the realities are much more difficult than that. And so, I think it’s just touch on things that are human as opposed to things that are partisan, if that makes sense. I think that’s how we’re trying to appeal to everyone.
What I like the best about the show is its casting – Andre and Scott. Did you have them in mind when you were writing the show? Or did they go to the auditioning part?
Shawn Ryan: We started off – we did not write any of these roles specifically for anyone. You know, so the pilot gets picked up and one of the first things you do is you have a phone call with the network and studio where you start to discuss casting. And they always want to, you know, aim really big to start with.
And so, you know, a lot of huge names (unintelligible) about but Karl and I also did mention the idea of, you know, what would be like – you know, what would you guys think if, you know, if we can get Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman. That was really something said. Those were people that we thought would be great for the roles that, you know, that were realistic to go after.
And the network agreed. You know, they wanted us to also, you know, consider some bigger names and explore to bigger names. But, you know, a lot of times, I find that that’s, you know, god help if it actually works sometimes (unintelligible), you know. You want people that really feel right at the roles that understand the world of television and the schedule that comes with making television.
And so, Andre and Scott were the two people that Karl and I had our hearts set on from the beginning. You know, there’s lots of procedures and hoops to jump through to get there. But we did eventually get there and we couldn’t be more thrilled that we have them.
Do you know what kind of journey did Andre had to go through to really get the essence of this captain?
Karl Gadjusek: He’s – I mean he’s a remarkable actor and he is a – he does his research I mean in depth. And so, shortly after we cast Andre and, you know, we had series of conversations and telling him what we loved about him and he talked about what – he responded to in a script.
But shortly after we cast him, he immediately started reading troves of books, both fictional and non-fiction, and just researching the role. He’s a researcher. I think the essential moral question of a character he had grapple with just as an actor but he is someone who backs himself up with interviewing people who’ve been there, researching books, everything. He’s a studied actor.
Shawn Ryan: We also had a couple of advisers, one, in the pilot preps stage, and then one, during the production stage; two different people who had been captains on naval submarines. And he spent time talking to those guys about stories in general and about how they might approach certain instance – from the pilot.
So he is someone that really studies and does his homework and comes – you know, arrives at the stage that they – with a real plan of attack, not only for that scene but how the scene will play within the scope of the whole episode.
Are any of the actors playing submarine crew are claustrophobic?
Shawn Ryan: No one admitted that probably because they like to keep their jobs.
Karl Gadjusek: It’s not claustrophobic on the set, but it is on submarine.
Shawn Ryan: Yes. I mean our set looks pretty claustrophobic on screen. It is actually a little bit bigger in real life. I mean one thing I consulted and told us as with our set is definitely roomier than the real thing, that they wish it was that roomy. But of course, we’ve got to fit cameras and various things in, in a way that they don’t have a real submarine. So no one has admitted claustrophobia. But I imagine if they have it that they’re keeping it to themselves for, you know, job security purposes.
Shawn, you mentioned this is a very ambitious show. So would you mind talking little bit about the challenges of shooting the submarines scenes? And also the challenges of shooting the on water and on an island.
Shawn Ryan: Yes. They’re all difficult. The submarine, you know, it was more difficult I think for the pilot that set has to be built. Now that it’s built and we’re understanding the best way to film it I think is going easier every episode.
You know, one of the things it’s ambitious is, you know, our production offices are in Los Angeles. We brought it and edit here, but we’re filming in Hawaii, so our set is five hours away. It’s a three-hour time difference for half year, and two-hour time difference the other half of the year.
You know, so you’ve got some separation there. You’ve got a big sprawling cast that you’ve got to – you know, that we’re trying to service everyone, so like the stories that are coherent. You’ve got action taking place on a fictional French Polynesian island. You’ve got action taken place in the D.C. area; action place in the Maryland suburbs where Sam’s wife lives.
And additionally, you have a lot of special effects and visual effects, and you reference the water. A lot of subs you see in the water and the pilot – you know, things were filmed sort of in around the water and then visual effects later. And so, that requires really being – really giving a lot of lead time to our special effects team. And to do that, the scripts need to be in early. You need to know what you’re doing in episodes so that you can start planning with these people a month and a half, two months ahead of time so that they can get the work done.
So it’s incredibly – it’s not something where you can just decide on Wednesday, well, we’re going to write some scenes that we’re going to shoot on Friday because – you know, because it’s just a hospital set and we’re always there and we can change it. You know, we really need to have a very firm plan. You know, we need to fly a lot of actors from LA to the Hawaii, you know the acting pool in Hawaii isn’t as deep as in L.A., or Chicago, or New York.
So you’ve got to plan ahead. You’ve got a lot of characters who are recurring, who are going to span over a certain number of episodes and you’ve got to manage that. And then to serialize show where things are changing week to week, and you’ve got to be able to keep track of all that story while it isn’t – and yet stay ahead of the game so that you can meet your production schedule. So that’s what I mean by it’d be very ambitious.
And then on top of that, we’re trying to tell great big stories with great big scope. So it’s a challenge. And if we pull it off, I think it will be a great treat for the audience. And if we don’t pull it off, you know, we’ll be a very public humiliation on our part. So the stakes are high and it inspires us to do the best we can.
How did you succeed to convince ABC to do a serialized drama?
Shawn Ryan: I would say that, first of all, we had our choice of a couple of different networks to go to. And we chose ABC because they’re the one network (last) that we’ll embrace serialized dramas. Grey’s Anatomy, Revenge, Once Upon A Time, Desperate Housewives before it ended last year, these are all examples of shows on ABC that have embraced that serialization.
And when you’re talking about the resistance of that kind of thing, I think it exemplifies the other three broadcast networks of the moment. And so, knowing that this one is going to be a serialized ongoing big show, ABC felt like the perfect place for us. Lost was – you know, people have talked about some comparisons to Lost but the fact was Lost was a big hit as a serialized show on ABC. And so, you know, so for us ABC was really the one natural place to try to make that work because they’ve had some success, and they will embrace the idea of serialization.
There are a lot of characters in the pilot. How would you suggest fans decide who to invest in?
Shawn Ryan: Well, take a few, not one.
You know, I don’t know what to say but to watch in and see who appeals to you. One of the things I like is we’ve really cast a very divergent different group of people. And so, I think they’re very different points of views represented on this show. And so, you know, the character that I might most plug into might not be the character that you would most plug into.
You know, what I will say is that we’ve ten series regulars on our show, five, five men, five women, and I think we’ve got great arks for all of them. So I won’t tell people who to invest in. but I would say that if you invest in one of those ten characters, that character is going to have a great storyline, you know, certainly within the 13 episodes that we’ve plotted out.
What makes Hawaii so ideal to shoot there?
Karl Gadjusek: Well, one of the issues is actually a practical issue of casting, which is that, you know, we have this amazing cast we’re so proud of. But we’re asking all of them, all of our series regulars to make commitment to being with this show for a long time. And knowing that we would have to shoot somewhere that would double for a tropical island, we were going to ask these very – these (unintelligible) to move to somewhere completely off the map for many years in their lives and success.
And so, Hawaii offers a chance to be somewhere exotic, beautiful, somewhat unknown for the (lands) although we are familiar with it to a degree and yet also say to these actors, hey, we’re – you know, this is a place you can make a home in. And so, that’s practical answer.
From an artistic point of view, Hawaii really does offer incredible vistas, dramatic places. One of the only challenges is that sometimes it’s too beautiful. We actually have to approach it and look at parts of it and say, okay, how can we sort of ugly this up for our show.