The creator of Cinmax’s original spy series teases us about tonight’s “a-ha” episode and drops more hints about a third X-Files movie.
Cinemax’s latest original series, “Hunted” stars Melissa George” as Sam Hunter, an agent for the private intelligence firm Byzantium. Her current mission has Sam going undercover as a family’s nanny, and so far every situation has her fighting with or shooting at bad guys.
We got to chat with creator Frank Spotnitz by phone, while he is still in London where “Hunted” is based. We know Spotnitz from his years of work on “The X-Files” and “Millennium,” so we had to ask for an update on the third X-Files movie too.
CraveOnline: What feedback have you gotten so far as the first few episodes have aired in the states?
Frank Spotnitz: Pretty good. I’m pretty happy with the reviews. I’m one of those foolish people who goes online and looks at what people are saying on Twitter. It’s been pretty gratifying I have to say.
CraveOnline: We’ve seen two episodes so far. Where are things going to go from here?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, as you know, it’s very plot heavy, very dense and there’s lots and lots of twists and turns coming up. I’d say episode 5 is really the turning point in the whole show. I mean, everything changes in episode 5 but that’s not to say a lot doesn’t happen between episode 2 and episode 5. It does. More than I could summarize is going to happen in the next couple episodes.
CraveOnline: Even in episode 5, is that pretty soon to have a game changer in a first season?
Frank Spotnitz: It’s still the same story and everything like that, but there’s like a huge ah-ha moments where you understand how everything fits together in a way you may not see coming.
CraveOnline: How long does Sam’s undercover assignment as the nanny continue?
Frank Spotnitz: That story continues and it ends pretty definitively in the final episode. So in season two, knock wood, it’ll be a completely different assignment.
CraveOnline: How much fun do you have coming up with different encounters for Sam to fight and have action?
Frank Spotnitz: [Laughs] Well, I’m of a mixed mind I’ve got to say. I find those really hard to come up with, action sequences, because it is mechanical and you’re always trying to find the thing that sets it apart from any other action sequence you’ve seen before. You’re doing a TV timeframe and budget and yet you want to be as compelling as you can, so it’s a real challenge coming up with those things but they are fun. I mean, they’re really fun to put together and to see, so I’m not complaining.
CraveOnline: Did you get to direct any of those yourself?
Frank Spotnitz: I didn’t. I didn’t get to direct at all until the end. I directed just a few days towards the end because we were running out of time so I got to do some second unit at the end, but it was pretty much just acting scenes, no action.
CraveOnline: When you were casting actresses for Sam, were you looking for people who had experience with action, like she was on “Alias?”
Frank Spotnitz: Yes and no. Obviously she had to be somebody who looked a certain way because she’s supposed to seduce men in the show, so she’s got to be believable as a siren for men. Then she had to have that physicality which Melissa certainly does.
She’s incredibly fit. But the thing I was really looking for was, Sam is cold and invulnerable in her personal interactions, but if that’s all she is the show doesn’t really work. Most of the actresses I saw, they were good at playing the toughness and the coldness, but there was nothing underneath it. What I think Melissa brings to the role, I’m always aware there’s something going on underneath.
There’s this duality with her all the time, both when she’s Sam and you see there’s something underneath that surface that she doesn’t want you to see, and then when she’s undercover as Alex Kent, I can see the Sam poking through and that’s really hard to do. It’s easy to miss how difficult that is and that’s why the part was really hard to cast, just finding somebody who had that emotional depth.
CraveOnline: You’ve worked in FBI and government genres before. What’s different about the spy world of “Hunted?”
Frank Spotnitz: The thing that struck me is that if you’re working for the FBI or even the CIA, you assume you’re the good guy, and you are. You’re trying to do the right thing for the American people. But when you go to work for a private security firm, you can’t make that assumption because you’re working for a private interest who has an objective and in many of these firms, as in the firm in my show, if you’re an operative, you’re not told who the client is.
So I thought that was really interesting for a spy show, not quite like anything I’d seen before, especially if you’re trying to create paranoia which this show is. To not know who you’re working for and whether you really should succeed or not I thought was really an interesting dilemma.
CraveOnline: Also do these agents get into a lot more fistfights and gunfights than Scully and Mulder did?
Frank Spotnitz: Yes, for sure. It’s a different genre. It’s really an action show and that was one of our tasks every week was to find really exciting action and stunts to put the characters in.
CraveOnline: Because Cinemax is primarily a movie channel, did they have any means or facility to accommodate that?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, they knew it was what they wanted for their audience, but they really left it up to me and my partners at Kudos here in London to figure out how to get it done. It was challenging at times because, for instance, the opening of episode 1 we shot at Morocco and that’s quite a big action sequence there.
You’ve got the action outside the theater where Sam seems to get assassinated, then her being chased through the Kasbah and then that whole thing at the café where she fights off those three men, sets one of them on fire, it was a giant undertaking to do that in Morocco, but we managed to pull it off.
CraveOnline: Is it an advantage that you’re allowed to be a little more explicit on Cinemax?
Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, it’s nice. I think this is a really great time to be working in television. I guess that’s not a surprise to anybody but the creative freedom that all this original programming that cable channels are offering is unparalleled. It’s unimaginable, 15 years ago when I was doing “The X-Files,” that you’d be able to write things like this and have the kinds of situations and dialogue that you can do now.
Having said that though, I’m not eager to push things just for the sake of pushing things. There’s a number of fight sequences for instance that I pulled back. What was shot was far more explicit, but I decided you don’t really need to see that. It doesn’t help you tell the story in any way. So there’s a line. I think it’s a line that you approach it and it’s great and then you can go past it, and I try not to go past it.
CraveOnline: How do you get that blue tint that the show has?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, the blue really was noticeable especially episode 1 because the director, S.J. Clarkson wanted to make Tangier have this kind of golden hue to it and then Scotland this kind of green and then London this cool blue. That we did in the color correction sessions, but as the show goes on, we stay in London so the palette of that blue fades. It loses its purpose if you keep doing it so if you’re paying really close attention, it becomes more and more subtle as the series goes on and it’s very subtle by the time you get to episode 8.
CraveOnline: Is there something about the spy genre that lends itself to blue tinted cinematography like the Bourne movies?
Frank Spotnitz: She thought it was helping to tell the story because in Tangier, Sam was at her best. This was leading up to her being shot, she was at the top of her game. Then she goes to Scotland which is sort of safety, a refuge. And then coming back to London, it was sort of the cold, hard world of Byzantium and that’s why blue seemed appropriate. So it was more an attempt to key in on her emotional state.
CraveOnline: How many of the scripts for season 1 did you write?
Frank Spotnitz: I wrote five of the episodes and then I collaborated in our writer’s room, which is really unusual in this country, with three British writers, each of whom wrote one episode.
CraveOnline: How does this kind of writer’s room compare to what you had on “The X-Files?”
Frank Spotnitz: Well, it’s smaller because in “The X-Files” we were doing 24 episodes a year and here we’re only doing eight. They are eight full hours though. They’re 58 minutes long whereas “X-Files” tended to be more like 45 minutes long because it was on a broadcast network with commercial breaks.
CraveOnline: But “The X-Files” worked in those massive arcing story elements.
Frank Spotnitz: Yes, yes. It’s interesting because those story arcs were really only in six to eight episodes a year out of the 24. Now when I do shows with mythology, people expect them to be in every single episode and they miss it if it’s not there. That’s not the way “The X-Files” did it and I think that was one of the secrets to “The X–Files”’ longevity was that it didn’t move the mythology along that quickly.
CraveOnline: Have you gotten a second season order from Cinemax yet?
Frank Spotnitz: I am waiting with baited breath and feeling optimistic so I should know soon hopefully.
CraveOnline: When would you gear up to produce that?
Frank Spotnitz: That’s a good question. I assume we’d start shooting early in 2013.
CraveOnline: I know you’ve been busy with “Hunted” but has there been any talk or movement in the X-Files movie world?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, yeah. Honestly, it comes down to the studio saying yes, but I continue to talk to Chris Carter who wants to do it, as do David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. I have no news to announce sadly, but I am not giving up hope. I hope that there will be a third and final movie that brings “The X-Files” alien colonization story to a climax.
CraveOnline: So the next one would have to be the last?
Frank Spotnitz: Never say never, but my hope would be to give it the really satisfying, powerful ending that it deserves. I would be very content, speaking for myself now, I can’t speak for David or Chris or Gillian, but for myself I’d be just really happy to give it a great ending.
CraveOnline: Is that ending made up of material you’ve been sitting on since the finale of the series?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, yes. In truth, it’s changed because it took so long to get the second movie made and then we were hoping that this third movie would happen before 2012 which was a significant date in the “X-Files” mythology and obviously it hasn’t happened.
But there’s a core group of story ideas that Chris and I have been discussing for I guess about a decade now, hard to believe. Yes, we have a lot of ideas about what should happen in that movie.
CraveOnline: You mentioned David and Gillian, but would Agent Doggett have any role in it?
Frank Spotnitz: I can’t say. That’s sort of like a spoiler to say whether he’d be in it or not. All I can say is that I love that character and I love Robert Patrick, so it wouldn’t make me unhappy if he was in it.
CraveOnline: You also got to work with Vince Gilligan for many years. What have you thought of his success with “Breaking Bad?”
Frank Spotnitz: Ah, Vince is one of the nicest, most talented people I’ve ever met and a good friend. I think “Breaking Bad” is not just a great show, it’s one of the all time great shows. I love that show to death. I tune in every week like a fan and am just in awe of it. I’m just so proud of him and happy for him. It’s so well deserved because he’s worked for that success. It’s really remarkable I think.
CraveOnline: “Hunted” is really only the second original series on Cinemax. Do you feel like you’re on the ground floor of a new network?
Frank Spotnitz: I pinch myself because it was by accident. I came here to do “Hunted” and as soon as I got here there was a delay. So I found myself sitting around in London, like what am I going to do with myself, and so I said we’ll see if I can get a job writing something, which I’d never really done in my career, just looking for a job as a writer for hire.
Sure enough this show “Strike Back” needed somebody to help figure out how to make it a coproduction with the U.S. I ended up writing the first four episodes of that which became the first original show that Cinemax put on, and they were so happy with what I did that they said, “What else do you have?” And I go, “Oh, this show ‘Hunted’ that I’m going to be doing with the BBC.”
That’s how it happened. It was a complete accident. The people at Cinemax are the people at HBO. They’re terrific, really smart, really supportive. They do their jobs very, very well so I’m just really, really fortunate.