Welcome once again to our second season of "On the Futon With...," a semi-weekly feature where I sit down and talk TV with some of my favorite people in the industry, all the while trying to give the impression I'm not some overgrown fanboy.
THIS WEEK'S GUEST: "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" executive producers Josh Friedman, James Middleton, John Wirth & David Nutter
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview was done as a roundtable with other reporters at the San Diego Comic-Con this past summer. Questions not asked by me are denoted as "Reporter" and paraphrased for time.]
Brian Ford Sullivan: What made you decide to set the series between "T2" and "T3?"
James Middleton: Well, I developed and worked on the movie "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." And after that movie was released, I felt like I really - as a fan of the franchise - I really wanted to see Sarah again. And the idea of seeing her on a television show was even more interesting to me because you get to see more of what makes Sarah an iconic character. And I was intrigued with the dramatic question of "What happen to Sarah after the events of 'T2?' What happened when she left that boundary? What's in store?" So that's how the process started.
Reporter: Why did [you film the pilot] in Albuquerque?
Josh Friedman: Albuquerque suited a lot of our production needs. It was a very kind of "Route 66" type of pilot, it was really kind of a family on the road, on the lam. And we really liked the kind of big sky, "Route 66" thing and Albuquerque's a very production friendly...
David Nutter: ...and financially it was feasible to help us, you know, with all the tax credits and so forth to help us put the money on the screen.
JF: Coldest winter in 200 years. [Laughs.] Coldest winter in recorded history. [The crew] just kept on looking at us saying, "It never snows here. It never does this."
DN: But more importantly were our actors here complaining about it? [Laughs.]
Reporter: And where is production based now?
DN: It's all in Los Angeles. Everything we shoot is in Los Angeles. The pilot relocates [the characters] to Los Angeles specifically.
BFS: Are you prepared for the inevitable dissection of the show by the hardcore fans of the franchise?
JM: There's a really important phrase that comes out of "T2" which is "This is no fate but what we make...." The franchise, this mythology that James Cameron created allows us to do that because of the issue of time travel. So I think we're going to just acknowledge the fact we're creating a new timeline. But the most important thing is bringing back this iconic character...
Reporter: Can you talk a little about the casting process that went into the show, specifically John and Sarah?
DN: We saw a lot of actors and actresses for both of these roles. We [had] to cast two iconic heroes that everyone knows about and how do you find basically someone that's unique enough and brings their own personality and tone to this character, gives a dimension to these characters that you haven't seen before? Because the last thing you want to do is... we didn't want to make the TV version of "Terminator" we want to make it its own thing and finding an actor who can do that as well. And also, I think we looked... everywhere, all over the world to find people to play these roles and two people really rose to the top. Lena Heady is perfect for this role. She gave everything that was necessary to make Sarah Connor strong with the strength of a mother but also vulnerable. And also Thomas Dekker was someone that came in pretty early in the process. And it was a situation of going through many, many young actors to find the right John Connor and who John Connor's going to be... To find an actor that's going to have that kind of range and Thomas Dekker was definitely the one to play the role.
Reporter: Why does it seem like all the Brits are taking over American TV?
John Wirth: You know, what makes them charming is their accent and then they drop it for these American shows. [Laughs.] What is up with that? If I went over there I'd probably be a star. [Laughs.] "He talks so interesting!"
DN: It's a situation where, you know, a show like "Rome" there must be four or five actors off of "Rome" that are starring in series. It's amazing. And also too, you have to realize, a lot of actors in Britain and Australia, this is a very big payday for them. This is quite a wonderful financial opportunity for them to do projects... and build a comfortable life for themselves.
Reporter: Do you think it's because they're more classically trained than Americans?
DN: I think it's a lot better [there]. I find that more and more, the more people we cast we find that the training is everything.
Reporter: Can you talk about the decision to bring Summer Glau into the fold?
DN: That's more of a Josh question.
JF: I'm, like many, unusually obsessed with Summer Glau in a wonderfully platonic and not creepy way. [Laughs.] Like all the other thousands of people [at this convention] who treat her like the fifth Beatle... I had seen Summer a number of years ago on another pilot I did and really wanted her for [that] and it was right before "Serenity" went into production. And so, the casting people - who used to be Joss's casting people - brought her into [see me] on this other pilot and she was fantastic and then basically said, "Oh, you can't use her, she's going to go do 'Serenity.'" And so I've always wanted to work with her. I don't think there's another, I don't think we saw anyone else who was close. She brings with her that otherworldly beauty and also she's just so, she can kick ass.
DN: She was born to play this role.
JF: She was.
BFS: Not to jinx it but it's no secret you [David] have the Midas touch with pilots - 13 in a row have gone to series. Does that add any pressure as far as which project you pick next or is it just another day at the office so to speak with each project?
DN: Well it's a situation where like anything, I just gotta find something to fall in love with. And it happens every year. You can't think about anything else. If I can find something I can fall in love with and move me, then I can take that to the next step. That's my main goal every year to find that mistress in some respect of a job I can fall in love with.
JF: We kind of, to go with the romantic comedy metaphor he's using, we had kind of a "meet cute" on this project or "cute meet" I don't know what they call it now. We ended up sitting next to each other at a screening and I had just finished writing a draft and some common producer friends that we knew, we were sitting next to each other at a screening kind of going, "Oh, what are you up to?" And I kind of said, "Um, I'm working on this 'Terminator' TV show." And he went, "Hmmm...." [Laughs.]
DN: And what's interesting is that prior to that, I was here last year with my son as a fan sitting in the "Heroes" screening of 2,000 people in a room and I said to myself, "God, I sure wish I could be here next year with something." A month later I ran into Josh, he mentioned "Terminator" and I went "That sounds like something I'd be interested in!" [Laughs.] And it all came true which is great.
JF: I mean I can say this now but he's sort of gained this mythological sort of thing [with the pilot streak]... and it's almost a Joe DiMaggio level streak at this point and I think we both, James and I, while we were prepping, I don't know how many times we looked at each other and after watching him tirelessly outwork us, outprepare us, outpassion us, everything, and we just sort of sat there going, "We get it." It's not just picking a project, he brings a level of focus and preparation and emotion to his projects that it's inspirational. You literally just sit there and think, "God, I've got to keep up with this guy but I don't know how." We'd bring up some actor at casting and the next day he's come in with a dossier on them. [Laughs.] Pictures, DVDs of them, within 24 hours he becomes an expert. It's really kind of embarrassing really.
BFS: Really quick, what do you think are the key elements that are going to attract people to this show?
JF: I think human emotion is really where it starts. I think that one of the great things about "Terminator" is it's a wonderful sci-fi concept, there are great characters and I think thematically, what's really important about the show and the movies, is that it's really about the value of human lives. It's really about these things that come, that hate mankind, that loathe us, that come back to eliminate us and it's sort of about what is the value of a human when you take on a war against another being that doesn't care about survival? What are the depths, the lengths you will go to defeat them and still retain your humanity? So it's about humanity in the big sense and humanity in the personal sense, where Sarah's always battling herself and her nature, not letting herself turn into one of them.