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Exclusive Interview ith Leverage Producer/Director


iF has the scoop on Devlin’s favorite episodes, where the season is heading and Jeri Ryan as Tara

By CARL CORTEZ, Contributing Editor
Published 2/10/2010 (Source)

Season Two of LEVERAGE is coming to a close with the two-part season finale, so it was about time we caught up with executive producer Dean Devlin (who also directed these episodes) to get the scoop on what we’ve seen and where everything is going into the home stretch.

“The Three Strikes Job” which airs tonight at 10:00 on TNT, finds the team trying to take down a corrupt mayor while stealing a baseball game and while Devlin didn’t want to spoil the surprises in store for the next two weeks, in this exclusive interview, he discusses the growth of LEVERAGE in Season Two, the temporary addition of Jeri Ryan as Tara and what his favorite episodes have been.

iF MAGAZINE: Let’s talk about the two-part season finale.

DEAN DEVLIN: It was one of these where we wanted to go out with a bang. We wanted to end Season Two with something really memorable. We were very proud of the two-part season finale in the first season. There was a general feeling that we couldn’t beat it. And I kept saying, “we’ve got to beat it.” And John came up with this show that was really big, and it was bigger than we could afford. We called the network and said, “we need some extra money to pull it off, what do you think?” And they said, “we’ll give you a little extra to pull it off,” and getting that extra support gives us the chance to do a little more.

iF: What did you spend the extra money on?

DEVLIN: You’re going to see big crowd scenes, lots of extras, giant sets and a lot of locations. We have things blowing up and people jumping off buildings. We have the gamut of all the “cake” from all our episodes rolled into one.

iF: You do get away with a lot with your budget.

DEVLIN: I’ve been reading a lot of articles about other shows where they’re saying “what a tight budget and we have to shoot it in only eight days with almost $3 million.” We have to shoot this show in seven days, with under $2 million dollars per episode and our show is bigger than any show on cable television. There is no show that does per week, what we do and we have the smallest budget than any other show.

iF: Can you talk about what the stakes are in “The Three Strikes Job?”

DEVLIN: Over the course of the year, we’ve introduced this idea that our characters need to find out who they are and it’s going to come to a head. The Sophie/Nate relationship got very complicated this year. She had a boyfriend and had to leave to find herself. While I say that doesn’t get completely resolved, that relationship does come to a head in the two-part season finale. And a lot of questions about Tara come to head. A lot of the arcs we were building in the background will all collide in the end and Eliot’s true feelings about baseball will be uncovered.

iF: What’s being stolen in the last two episodes.

DEVLIN: I can’t really say. The underlying victim in our two-part season finale is someone we know and we don’t do that, that often. That storyline is what drives the two-part season finale and hopefully it will be a surprise for people since it’s someone they’ve fallen in love with over the course of the show.

iF: What were some of the surprises you found as the season went on that you didn’t expect when the season began?

DEVLIN: The biggest surprise was Gina [Bellman] showing up pregnant. That really changed a lot of what we had planned to do with story arcs. It was actually an exciting creative experience. We literally threw out the entire plan for the year and had to rework it on the fly. What they say about “necessity is the mother of invention” is true. This show really came out great this season and a lot of it had to do with being forced into re-evaluating what the season was about. In a way, Season One was Nate and his son and how that affected him and how he’s trying to keep this team together if they’re splitting apart. Season Two was really more about the team trying to keep Nate together as Nate is falling apart. The entire arc of the show for all the characters, Nate especially, is “If we’re not who we used to be, who are we now?” and that climax is in the season finale for Nate. All of them have to re-evaluate who they are in this world.

iF: What was the original plan for Season Two then?

DEVLIN: The original plan for Season Two will now be Season Three.

iF: Jeri Ryan’s Tara character seems to have polarized fans.

DEVLIN: Any time a new character joins a show, you have the step-mom effect. No matter how nice step-mom is, she’s not mom. People love mom and want to defend mom. If you go to Facebook and Twitter, the first couple of episodes they were against her, they warmed up to her and the last couple of episodes they begrudgingly said, “oh, she’s not so bad.” And today, I got a bunch of questions about “will she back in Season Three.” Jeri did a great job winning over the cast and crew and winning over the audience as well. I think by the time we get to the season finale, people will really be in love with that character.

iF: That said, knowing people like her, is there a way to bring her back next season?

DEVLIN: We would love to bring her back for some more episodes. We’ve fallen in love with the Tara character and we would love to have her come back at some point. As we’re forming Season Three now, it’s all about, “how do we bring back some of our favorite people.” We want to bring back Wil Wheaton, for instance, and a lot of people from the “Two Live Crew” episode. Some people from Season One we want to bring back like Jack Hurley [Drew Powell].

iF: What do you think Tara brought to the show that was different than the other characters?

DEVLIN: She brought a raw, sarcastic, street sexiness. She’s the polar opposite type of grifter than Sophie is. She’s much more getting her fingernails dirty and laying it out on the line. Sophie is more finesse and more of a seductress rather than a seducer. We wanted someone who wasn’t going to try to have a debate with Nate, she would just rip the drink out of his hand and drink it herself. That’s where she comes from. There’s also a secret back story that makes her different than Sophie and that will get exposited over time.

iF: Anything else you learned making the show this season, story-wise?

DEVLIN: I think what we’ve learned is when we anchor the underlying story and the story of the victim, it buys us more leeway to have fun and humor. But when the underlying story isn’t anchored down, if that seems a little bit light or funny, the whole show tends to be over-the-top. We’ve really tried in the last three episodes, to anchor the emotional story, both within the victim and with some member of our cast to give it some weight, and it really allows us to have some more fun without it getting too far over the top.

iF: What were some of your favorite episodes this season?

DEVLIN: One of my favorites is “The Future Job.” That one came about because my mother-in-law was about to give a lot of money to a psychic and she kept trying to convince me that the psychic was real, and I kept trying to convince her the psychic is fake. So my plan was, I was going to drag Apollo [Robbins] with me and blow this person out of the water. But Apollo said something to me that surprised me, “the more you disprove this person, the more tightly your mother-in-law is going to cling to her beliefs. That’s why these guys never get busted, it’s that there’s this thing called persistence of belief. The people who want to believe will believe and the more evidence you throw at them, the stronger they believe.” When I realized busting this psychic wasn’t going to work, I thought “how can I get through to my mother-in-law” and we both said, “let’s do an episode.” And the writers came up with this fantastic episode and Apollo got involved with explaining exactly how they are able to do what they do. And it was miraculous. In a way it is miraculous in the skills it takes to do it, but it isn’t psychic ability.

iF: Do you miss it when you’re not shooting an episode?

DEVLIN: With the show shooting in Portland, it’s a split for me. I love being on set and working with the actors, at the same time we’re doing all the post here and writing it in L.A. When we’re discussing stories in the early stages and when we’re in the editing making those last decisions that make or break a show we do it in Los Angeles. I have to split my time. Wherever I was, I wanted to be at the other place.

iF: There were a couple of episodes this season that had to be scrapped before they were shot. Could you talk about that – particularly “The Bottle Job” which I believe was written in only a few days.

DEVLIN: That was an episode that wasn’t working. We had a story that we really really liked, but it wasn’t coming together. In fact, it was while we were shooting “Two Live Crew” and John was on the set, he had this little room off to the side with cards on the wall. And every time I came in he said, “I can break this story,” and finally he walked in and said, “We have to throw this one away.” And I said, “really, alright?” So we only had a few days to write a script and it turned out to be “The Bottle job” and it’s one of our favorite episodes.

iF: Weren’t you working on a train one too?

DEVLIN: Still haven’t solved that one yet.

iF: The ones you can’t solve, what are usually the problems?

DEVLIN: We can figure out anything budget wise, but it’s usually the problem is we have five characters and they all have to do stuff. It’s just finding who the victim and villain story are and finding something for the team to do that’s different and funny. Our show is very difficult to do. Most shows that deal with cons or capers do one on a week, but we always do two. The first con, they try and fail and the next one they have to do it to get out of the jam. We’ve already done more cons in two seasons than any other show in history.

iF: How are the ratings?

DEVLIN: Better than ever. Our winter season opening is the second highest ratings we’ve ever had. Traditionally the winter is 20 percent less than the summer and we’re matching or beating the summer every week, so we’re very happy about the ratings.