Dean Devlin On ‘Leverage’, The Con-Con And Shooting In Portland

Transcription provided by Katrina Antonette King

Dean Devlin has written or produced many films that you have seen and that have become fan favorites, such as Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day and The Patriot. Recently he has shepherded two successful television projects for TNT, The Librarian movie series starring Noah Wylie and Leverage, now finishing its second season and gearing up for a third. We spoke with Dean on January 20th about the acclaimed weekly series, the upcoming Leverage convention and the merits of shooting a television show in Portland, OR. Note that the specific episode referenced aired the night of the interview.

POP CULTURE ZOO: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today.

DEAN DEVLIN: Oh, no problem.

PCZ: Even though it’s belated, congratulations on the third season pickup.

DD: Thanks! Thanks, we’re very excited.

PCZ: You guys got that within the first month of being back for season two. Did that have any bearing or factor in at all in your plans for the end of the season?

DD: It didn’t factor in for plans for the end of the season, but you know, it was a great morale booster for the writing staff, the cast, the crew. It was really great that they did it so early, because it really energized everybody creatively.

PCZ: Admittedly this may be because I watched way too much TV, but it seems that a number of series that get past the second season, the third season seems to be the slump season, for some reason…

DD: (laughs)

PCZ: Is that anything that you guys were conscious of in working to make sure that didn’t happen?

DD: Well you know, in a strange way, our third season is our second season, because, what with Gina Bellman’s pregnancy, we really had to kind of abandon our plans for the second season and really rethink how we were going to deal with that and how our storylines were going to flow. So in a way, season three is our opportunity to do all the storylines that we originally had planned on doing for season two.

PCZ: Oh excellent! Now speaking of that, Sophie stepping back for a little bit and bringing in the new character of Tara, what exactly did that bring to the table as far as storytelling and what you could do with your characters?

DD: It was a lot of fun. I mean, first of all, Jeri was such a great sport. She came in…it’s always strange to be the step-child, y’know? (laughs) And she came in, she had such a great attitude, the entire cast and crew fell in love with her. She was really a sport about being on the show and doing all this craziness that we do, week after week. And so that made it kind of fun on a production level. But creatively, it gave us an interesting opportunity to explore the Nate/Sophie dynamic in a way that we hadn’t done before, and to really challenge what’s going on between them, and you’ll see in [the remainder of the season], that it took us in a real surprise direction, and I think it made the show better. So again, going into season three, we’ve really kind of reignited that dynamic, and in large part by bringing in this other character.

PCZ: One of the things that I thought was really cool with Tara was that her first, well I guess her first whole episode as being part of the team, she kind of got to be the outsider but also as the audience, making comments like Nate “just says something and walks away?” Kind of plays with your format a little bit.

DD: Exactly! Exactly, we get to poke fun at ourselves, through that character.

PCZ: Exactly. Now, is there any hope that, once Sophie comes back, does that necessarily mean that’s
the last we’ve seen of Tara?

DD: I hope not, I mean we’d love to have that character reoccur. A lot will depend on what Jeri’s doing. But we’d love to bring that character back. As you’ll see how that character evolves, it really turns into a great character for our show. So yeah, we’d love to see her come back again.

PCZ: Now I also understand going into the last few episodes here, we get to see a couple familiar faces in the form of Nate’s ex-wife and also Sterling making an appearance?

DD: That’s right. They’ll both be in tonight’s episode. And we actually change Sterling’s character in this episode. So it’s a really fun one to watch the evolution of Sterling, so Mark Sheppard fans are gonna get a big kick out of tonight, I think.

PCZ: This season was set in Boston, what goes into picking what city you’re going to set the show in?

DD: Well I think we’re going to return to Boston again. It’s turned out to be a very good place for us, because it’s where Nate grew up. And in the first season, so much of our story was about Nate and his son. Now by being in Boston, we’re able to bring in parts, other parts of his history. We started the season by dealing with the Irish mob in Boston, and how he was somehow connected to them, in a peripheral way. Then in last week’s episode, we showed that the bar that he’s actually living above, it was his father’s old bar. And that his father had been a criminal! So by being in Boston, it’s allowing us to learn more and more about Nate and to slowly peel that onion.

PCZ: The other thing that I found interesting was that, it seemed like in the first season, the team they were kind of learning each other – but not necessarily trusting each other, which kind of led into the end of the season with the things going on with Sophie and them all going their separate directions. This season it feels more like they are family, and something like that wouldn’t necessarily drive a wedge between them anymore, and that they’re in it for good now.

DD: Yeah, I think really, the second season’s overarching storyline is, for Nate: if he’s not who he used to be – and he’s not a thief – who is he today? And he’s trying to figure that out, and it’s causing a lot of problems for him internally. As a team, in the first season, Nate was the guy holding them all together. In the second season, they’re kind of trying to hold Nate together!

So I think that the issues of trust and family are always going to be part of this show, because part of what drew
all these characters to be thieves, is their lack of trust for other people. And this is really kind of the first time
in their lives that they’ve found a group that they’re beginning to trust. And it’s opened interesting doors. Christian Kane actually, with his performance, altered our writing in that he came into the second season with this idea
that ever so slightly, Eliot’s heart is starting to open after being completely closed for years and years, and how that’s
causing conflict for him. And that actually affected how we wrote scripts. And it’s setting the direction of where we’re
going with that character. So, I think that essential conflict of a dysfunctional family trying to figure out how
they can function is at the heart of every Leverage episode.

PCZ: Right! And of course, the old ghost of alcohol has come back to Nate.

DD: Yeah.

PCZ: Is that going to continue to play out this year, or is that something that Nate can walk away from?

DD: I think that real hardcore alcoholics can’t just have that one good drink. So, the ghost has shown up, and he’s gonna have to deal with it. And the way in which he deals with it I think is going to be interesting for people.

PCZ: And of course, the season finale this year is going to go over the final two episodes, right?

DD: Yeah.

PCZ: All right, so, Christian Kane loves talking about the show on Twitter.

DD: (laughs)

PCZ: And he kind of slipped in one day, a little thing about, as far as the finale, we’re not gonna see it coming. Is that an accurate summation?

DD: Y’know what, it’s a surprising finale. I have to tell ya. Even after we made it, and we watched it, we were kind of surprised at not just the plot twists but really emotional twists of what happens to the characters and the directions they go. So yeah, I think that people are going to be very, very surprised about this season finale, and.. And in a way we topped what we did last year, which at the time we didn’t think was possible.

PCZ: So after doing, between the two seasons so far, after doing 28 episodes, and you’re coming back to do another 15. Does it at all seem daunting to come up with another 15 cons?

DD: I think that’s probably the toughest part. If you look historically at con shows – I think that we burn 2 cons per episode. So I think we’ve already gone through more con stories than any con show in the history of television. So that’s half the challenge. But what’s been easy actually is finding our villains. We have this thing in the writer’s room, where in the morning they pick up the paper and they start talking up the stories they’re reading, and some point someone’ll go ‘Oh I hate that guy!’ and they go ‘All right, that’s our villain’.

PCZ: There ya go!

DD: So, there’s no shortage of that.

PCZ: I definitely think that’s the aspect that kinda plays in, like the episode with the sweat shop – it seems like you’re definitely tackling targets that are not necessarily the huge corporations but things that people can relate to and maybe all of us have said, ‘y’know I wish I could do something about that, but I can’t.’

DD: That’s the wish fulfillment of our show, people are ever increasingly frustrated at how powerless we seem to be in the face of those who have power and use that power in a corrupt way. So our show is a little chance to punch those guys in the neck.

PCZ: And you do it so well! Now, as someone who lives in Portland, I have to say, we’re all very excited – if I can speak for all of Portland – but we’re all very excited that you guys are gonna be shooting here on the third season.

DD: Well thank you, we love it there. …it’s the best kept secret.

PCZ: What is it initially about Portland that made you want to shoot here and continue for the third season?

DD: Well the initial reasons were financial. There’s a wonderful rebate there, and prices are good, and it’s on the West Coast. And that’s what originally kind of drew us there, but what we discovered when we got there was the enormous amount of talent. And that was a shock to us. We really thought we were going to have to bring many more actors up there, many more crew people, many more behind the scenes people. And the reality is there is a wealth of talent in Portland. I mean, it is an artistic community, I think, at its core. And, we were just shocked at just how much talent we found. And then, we were also surprised on how many varying architectural styles there are within a short distance from each other. So we’ve been able to duplicate – well, you’ll see tonight – we do Kiev! And we’ve done middle America, and we’ve done Washington, and New York, and Boston. So we’ve been able to double Portland for all kinds of different environments. And that’s been – that was the other big surprise.

PCZ: And I assume everyone here has been very embracing of the production being here? Speaking as a person in Portland, it doesn’t seem like you’re gonna get a mass of people watching you shoot while you’re on location, stuff like that here, everyone’s low-key as far as that.

DD: Well, you know what we’ve noticed about Portland, is that it has all the accoutrements of a large city, but at its heart and soul it’s a small town. And we’ve found everywhere we went, people were genuinely friendly and helpful without any agenda whatsoever. And it was so refreshing, and it’s made for such a great experience. When you go to shoot a show in Los Angeles, for instance, and you go into a neighborhood, people turn up their radios, they honk their horns, everybody’s trying to get you to pay them some money to get quiet. You go to shoot on a location in Portland and people come out of their houses with trays of cookies and milk! And it’s just such a different – it’s such a welcoming, wonderful environment to work in.

PCZ: That’s definitely Portland. Now from a director’s standpoint, does it make it, when you’re shooting downtown, does it make it interesting in choosing your shots, making sure you don’t get anything that’s overtly not Boston in the shots?

DD: Well, when we think we’re in trouble, we’ll usually just digitally erase something and change it. But as I said, there are so many different looks to Portland, depending on where you’re, which direction you’re looking in, which part of town you’re standing in. We’ve had no trouble at all doubling it for all kinds of different locations. In fact, we actually had more options than we had storylines. So we’re reverse engineering storylines based on ‘Oh there’s a great location we haven’t shot and that place looks awesome, we gotta do something that takes place there!’

PCZ: We can go there and we don’t even need to go there!

DD: Exactly!

PCZ: Also as part of that, in March, you guys are throwing – I would say you’re kind of throwing Portland a party – but we’ve got the Leverage convention coming up.

DD: Yeah, we’re real excited about that.

PCZ: And what led to the decision to do that?

DD: Well, traditionally when you do conventions for shows, they’re science fiction, fantasy and horror. But the fan base that grew up around Leverage, even in the middle of season one, was so involved and so passionate, that we thought maybe this is a show that could lend itself to a convention. So we decided to run the idea out there – I put something up on Twitter and the response was overwhelming. We started to organize something – we opened up the website for tickets and within 24 hours, the servers crashed from all the people trying to get in. So we realized this is a really unusual fandom. Much more akin to a genre fandom. We thought this could be a real fun opportunity to throw a convention, a way to say thank you to our fans, a way to say thank you to Portland, and to let people have a little bit more hands on involvement in the fandom of Leverage.

PCZ: I noticed that there are a lot of crew members that are going to be there as well. That’s a little bit unusual and interesting. Are you making it so that the fans can interact with everyone in more than just ‘hey we’re here on stage see ya’ kind of thing?

DD: We’re trying to do a bunch of different things. We’re going to have writer’s panels, directors talking about the show. We’re going to be running episodes. We’re going to be doing a workshop on how to make fan videos. We’re going to do a walking tour of locations that we shot at. A select group will actually get to go to our sound stages and see the sound stages. There’ll be photo opportunities with the cast. So we’re trying to share the experience of Leverage in as intimate a way as possible. Tim [Hutton]’s even going to do a breakfast with five randomly selected ticket buyers, just sit down and have breakfast with him and just talk about the show and what it’s like making the show. So, everybody’s on board. The cast has been terrific about it. The people in the crew. Even Jonathan Frakes, who is the king of the conventions, who normally would not do something like this, he’s even volunteered to come down and be part of this. So I think it’s gonna be a real special event. For fans of the show, I think they’re gonna get something out of it.

PCZ: And speaking of Jonathan Frakes, are you still working at having him direct a few episodes for season three?

DD: Oh absolutely, he’s a big part of the Leverage family.

PCZ: Excellent, so just to talk real quick one of your other projects, The Librarian, what’s the status on that? I think last time we talked you were working on a feature film for that?

DD: We’ve been trying to work on that. We’re working on a script right now, and trying to figure out how to finance it independently. But, our little dream right now is to try to turn that thing into a feature. So hopefully we’ll pull that off sometime within the next year.

PCZ: Y’know, I’ll just throw this out there for free: Librarian/Leverage crossover!

DD: (laughs) You never know!

PCZ: Well, I think that’s all I have for you right now. Again, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to me!

DD: Oh no worries, take care.

Thank you very much to Dean Devlin for his time. Catch the two part ‘Leverage’ season finale airing February 10th and February 17th at 10:00 PM on TNT. ‘Leverage’ will return for a third season later this year.

About Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, fat red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As editor-in-chief and instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles and asks that you direct any feedback, criticisms, questions about life directly to him by clicking here.