"It's a modern day Robin Hood show," says executive producer Dean Devlin about his new drama "Leverage," premiering this Sunday at 10:00/9:00c on TNT. The series stars Timothy Hutton as Nate Ford, a insurance investigator who, after his employer denies his son's insurance claims and allows him to die, decides to strike back against those who use power and wealth to victimize others. I had the chance to sit down with Devlin, Hutton and the rest of the cast and crew during a recent press day for the show's launch.
Devlin continued, "And like any great Robin Hood myth you need your band of merry men and you need the Prince John and the rich villains. We're living in time where you've just got to open up a window and throw a rock and you hit a rich villain so we've got a lot to choose from." Joining Hutton's Ford then are Beth Riesgraf as Parker, an expert thief; Aldis Hodge as Alec Hardison, a computer specialist; Christian Kane as Eliot Spencer, the resident martial arts expert; and Gina Bellman as Sophie Devereaux, an actress with a panache for grifting.
As for the villains, co-creator Chris Downey confirms that many are indeed based on real-life bad guys. "[A] perfect example is 'The Stork Job,' which was we [found] a bad guy who was a woman who was behind a foreign adoption scam in Serbia where she took money from families looking to adopt Serbian orphans and then buggered off, leaving people devastated. And we started to come up with a character and we thought, well maybe, what could she be? She's a former Russian model/actress. So once you have that, you kind of have an idea of what her weakness would be. So her weakness was not going to be money, it was going to be vanity. So then we thought, where are we? We're in Serbia. What do they do now in Serbia, what do they do now in Eastern Europe? Well, they make movies. And that kind of led to the con is going to involve stealing a movie. So that was like an example where when you build a bad guy and you find a setting, the con kind of like grows out of that. And that's really like where I think the real work on the show and the writers' room is from the get go."
Fellow co-creator John Rogers echoes his comments, adding that there's one element that's unique to the show you won't find in other procedurals: fun. "The entire show was meant to refute the grim, gritty, serialized crime drama. You know what, I got an hour a week to maybe not be so pissed off at the world, I should have some fun and watch 'Leverage' take down some of these scumbags that had it coming to them."
That uniqueness spills over to the production side. "Even though we're doing a very mainstream show, we're producing it like it's an independent film," Devlin notes. "There's no studio involved. The network is basically two people we talk to at the network so there's very few voices involved and we don't need to get anyone's permission. There's never a moment where we say, 'Let's ask them if we're allowed to land the airplane on the 405.' We just do it. So it's been insanely challenging but I think it's also made it fun."
Devlin also touts the freedom he, Chris and John give the actors: "There's also a lot of improvisation that went on during the course of shooting that's in it. Literally some of the best [lines] in the show were these guys just going on a little bit longer. They've so just gotten to own these characters and they know them even better than we do behind the scenes writing it... There's been a lot of stuff happening on the set, unplanned, that's made it into the show and I think that also keeps it fresh."
It's these facets that helped draw the Oscar-winning Hutton ("Ordinary People") to the show. "Literally on page three, there was a line. I think it was page three of the script, the pilot script that said, 'We're having fun people. This is fun,' that John Rogers wrote," Hutton reveals. "And I put the script down and I made a phone call and said, 'I want to do this.'" He also turned the praise on for Devlin and company: "We're very lucky to be working on a show where that environment allows us to do that because I think it if this was anywhere else other than Dean's company or TNT, you'd have a committee saying, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa! You can't say that, you can't do that!' So he's created a great environment [to feel] loose enough to get to those places." When pressed about how "Leverage" compares to his last TV gig [NBC's short-lived "Kidnapped"], Hutton smiles - "Let's just put it this way: this is a great experience."
Hutton's co-stars are just as excited about the show and the various "hats" they get to wear as part of their cons. "That's the great thing about this show," Christian Kane notes. "You can develop your character and really get to know your character but it's not over... you get to play another role, you're not locked into this character and a lot of times that's where this stalemate happens."
John, whom eagle-eyed viewers can spot in a cameo during episode two, feels their pain: "We know actors in Hollywood who work on these procedurals and it's - walk in, look at the dead body, saying something about fingerprints and DNA, and walk out. These guys, we put them [to Gina Bellman] - how many accents have you gotten? In 13 episodes you've done something like 10. She did Indian, she did Australian, she spoke Chinese - she did one episode where she spoke like Southern and Chinese in the same episode... that's the fun of the show. We get to see what they can play."
More importantly, according to Aldis Hodge: "I get to play a character as cool as I'd like to think I am." Kane adds that, "This is the role that I got down on my hands and knees and prayed for when I was 16, 17 in Oklahoma and said, 'Please Lord, if it be in your will, can I be an actor.' And so every day on this set has been a gift for me." Everyone however is quick to tease Kane and his tough guy image, which ranges from country western singer to Filipino Kali student. "Enjoy your time going back to bars all over America my friend," John quips. "'Hey, you're that kick-ass guy on TNT!'"
So with the metaphorical table set of taking down the Prince Johns of the 21st century, what else can viewers look forward to? "I like to think of it as an onion that's slowly getting peeled," Devlin says. "As the show goes on you're going to find out a little bit more about each character, very slowly over the course of the season." As for Hutton's straight-laced Ford, he reveals that "as the
season goes on he's more and more tempted by and enjoying the life that they come from. And I sort of looked at it like, he draws a line here and by the third choice, he's like, 'Eh, maybe we'll make it here.' The line keeps moving. But in the end he feels okay about it because he's helping people."
The driving force of the show however will continue to be Ford's pursuit of justice. As Devlin notes: "There's a great line in the show where his nemesis confronts him and says, 'You're breaking the law.' And he says, 'I like to think I pick up where the law leaves off.' And that's really how they've come to rationalize what they're doing."
Catch the premiere of "Leverage" this Sunday at 10:00/9:00c on TNT. Then tune into all-new episodes on Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c starting December 9.