Behind the scenes on The young, Eric Kripke is the man. He developed the successful Amazon Prime series, based on the comic strip by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, and has been a showrunner since its inception. The young undermines the superhero genre and envisions a present day where great Avengers controlled by the ruthless Vought Corporation pretend to stand for “truth and justice” while secretly committing heinous deeds. Season 3 is filming in Toronto with Kripke, who previously created the series Supernatural, revolution and help shape it Timeless– back at the helm.
: Where are you in production?
ERIC KRIPKE: We are in the middle of shooting. We’ll be just over halfway in a couple of weeks. So full production. It all happens. I went through quarantine and was on set for about three and a half weeks, just beginning to get everyone working. But I’ve been here ever since [in L.A.].
: What are the challenges of a huge television series amid the COVID-19 logs?
KRIPKE: I find it really difficult. This is definitely not my favorite production experience. It’s not a thing, but it’s the cumulative amount of annoying things that all pile up. The crew is not allowed to drink water on set. Every two or three hours you have to give them 20 or 30 minutes just to be able to drink water. So that’s an extra hour, an hour and a half of your day, every single day.
In Canada, you cannot have more than 50 actors on your set at the same time. But we’re a show that often has crowds of 500 or more. So visual effects need to step in to tile all of our crowds. But a recording with visual effects takes three times as long as a normal recording.
Canada has a two week quarantine. Let’s say I bring Giancarlo Esposito to film a scene – it’s very, very difficult to get actors and sit in a hotel room for two weeks just to do a day of work. I would say everything is just more difficult. We’ll find out, and I think the material is really great, but it’s just every bit harder.
: I doubt you’d want to post season 3 spoilers, but maybe you could talk about your goals for the season as you work on it.
KRIPKE: We were certainly a political and satirical show. We were really interested in exploring both the recent history of Vought, the company in the series, and the recent history of the United States … we really got into the myths we tell ourselves to feel that we are sincere to explore America itself as a myth.
A big element of the comics are actually flashbacks to WWII and Vietnam. I’ve always loved it very much because you could see how the superhero phenomenon affected not only the present but parts of the past as well. And so we have this character, Soldier Boy, played by Jensen Ackles, and he has been around since World War II and was the first Vought superhero. Through him and his history we can really explore a lot of the history of the country.
I would say in previous seasons, the boogeyman you were scared of was “The terrorists are coming to get you.” And now it has turned into a kind of metastasis, I think, into a much more ominous “Your neighbor is coming to get you”. And that scares me how politics will turn us against each other. So we want to find out what it really means to be in America.
: One of the most notable aspects of the show is how you deal with contemporary social issues – authoritarianism and celebrity, for example, which we just experienced for four years. How are you able to somehow explore these topical issues through a seemingly unreal world?
KRIPKE: Part of it was, I admit, stupid luck, because every good genre is a metaphor for something. I stumbled upon this great job by accident that had the perfect metaphor right the second we are living in. I’ve waited all my life to stumble into something that hits the mark, and I don’t take that for granted. I’ve finally found one. Part of it is really enjoying this world that Garth Ennis created, which is all about celebrity and authoritarianism, as well as social media and misinformation, and how companies put a shiny, happy mask on the world if that’s what’s behind this mask hides, the most ruthless drive for it is capital. I got this beautifully tailored suit and felt like I had to wear it as best I could.
One thing we do, however, probably even more so than the comic, is we are really trying to find a very ruthlessly logical, grounded place for what would really happen, how it would really look … if “supes” were really real and if you have transferred the utter absurdity of the superhero myth to the real world in which we live. Where these passages grind is funny and strange and absurd. I love living in this kind of deconstructed space where just simple questions are asked, like if you were The Flash, would you blow people up all the time. If you were Superman and had laser eye surgery it wouldn’t be a cute little touch of white light when it hits you, it would be a horrible evisceration. Exploring anything that makes the world more believable, but just great fun breaking the superhero myth this way.
: It’s a character driven show, unlike a lot of superhero content.
KRIPKE: When I was working with Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] To create the show in the beginning, one of the things we quickly landed on was that everyone will expect us to be shocking and outrageous and bloody. So we said the most surprising and subversive thing we can do is have an incredible amount of emotion and heart and get people involved in the characters. That’s the only thing people weren’t expecting on this show. Part of it was in the nature of things, what can we do to really surprise them?
We’re trying to give it the psychological focus of an indie movie, in the middle of those flying lasers and fights and whatever. We in the writer’s room spend 75 percent of the break talking about it: “What would that do to you psychologically? And where are you? And what is their current level of insecurity or paranoia? ”We spend most of the time talking about getting into the minds of these characters. And only then, when that is over, do we say: “What is the political and satirical reminder of what is happening in the world that we really want to talk about?” And then only when that is over and literally in the last week, we ask ourselves, “Okay, where is the exploding whale or the huge tail, or where are all the things that are on the front of the cereal box?” But that happens very late because we are trying to really get our infrastructure on solid ground.
: You have put together a wonderful cast of actors, many of whom were not so well known before. One of the outstanding ones is Antony Starr, who comes from New Zealand and plays the all-American “Homelander”.
KRIPKE: Casting is good luck for me because you never really know. You’re guessing on a video you’re watching. He shot an indie film for him somewhere in the high desert and did a selfie audition in his trailer. And it took a while before he even got to a place that had the internet to broadcast. It was like he was on Mars and sent us this tape.
But what I really reacted to was that he had interpreted the figure from the jump as the American hero whose mask shatters and reveals the sociopathy underneath. From the start he had that charming American smile, almost like a game show smile, but you could see in the corner of his eye that he was very, very dangerous and psychotic.
He was a slam dunk. He was definitely the only actor we suggested for the role … He attacks this as seriously as any actor attacks anything. “Ants” gets angry all the time when we are on panels and people talk about it: “You are the best bad guy”. And he’ll say what a good actor should say, which is, “I’m not the bad guy. How many times do i have to tell you I am misunderstood. “
At first I thought it sucked. And then I realized that he really believed it. And what makes a great actor great is that he doesn’t even think about he’s the bad guy because they’re so deep down and make that character human.
: Strangely enough, I find that I adore him as much as any other character.
KRIPKE: He also has a brilliant way of finding the little boy in this character where you can see what a broken kid this enormously powerful monster is. And that at the end of the day he really just wants to be loved. That layer just makes this character so tragic and utterly terrifying.
: When I saw the show, I had a look back at George Carlin and his famous routine of the seven “dirty” words you can’t say on TV. And you surely say some of them. Carlin was talking about television, of course, and you are in a different environment. But are there times when you say, “I can’t believe I am writing this word and it will be said”?
KRIPKE: I never feel like writing the language. If anything, we have such freedom from Amazon, our instincts in dialogue go to self-control. Obviously we don’t do this that often because there is a lot of profanity in the whole script, however [EP/director] Philip Sgriccia and I will have conversations in which we rely too heavily on the “C” word and too heavily on the “F” word. And it never wants to be like a crutch. It wants to be honest with the character. You don’t want to just use it to spice up a line. You want to use it because the character needs to say it right now.
And if anything, we tend to be, “Well, should we do that?” rather than the joy with which we do it. Now what I do with great pleasure, pinching myself all the time, I can’t believe we can do this, are the pictures we draw, the 12 inch penis, hitting a whale broadside, looking at- sit a guy to death. Those are the ones where I sit with my hands over my head and just giggle while I’m cutting. Because I’ve been on TV for so long. And so I’m not assuming that I’m in a room where I can just pull this stuff off.
Without giving away spoilers, I was on the cut yesterday, and we’re doing something here in the season 3 premiere that’s not only the craziest thing we’ve ever done, but also the craziest thing someone has done before. Maybe it won’t work. Who knows? But I’m just so high on this gag that we pull it off. And it’s certainly something that no one has ever seen before, probably for good reason. So the whole thing is really exciting.
In each episode, we can really show the audience something that they’ve probably never seen before. And that’s exciting. How often can you say that on a TV show?
: You are one of the most experienced showrunners in Hollywood. In your opinion and after everything you’ve learned, what makes a good showrunner?
KRIPKE: Bob Singer, my mentor and my partner at Supernatural, really taught me how to do the job. The very first thing he said to me was literally, “Here is the first rule of running a show, you are in the business of making decisions.” He said, “Now let me give you a conclusion about this rule. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the right decision. “
And I thought that was the best advice I’ve ever been given. The ultimate job of a showrunner is to keep your team dynamic so everyone knows what to do. You really literally drive it like a train. And then, even if you’re wrong and come back the next day and say, “Hey guys, I was wrong, but now I know we’re going in that direction,” that’s fine too, because it’s always moving.
The worst thing to say in a writer’s room is, “Give me a day or two to think about it.” It’s death at the stake. And once a showrunner starts saying that, you know the show is likely to get into trouble because hundreds of people are waiting for you and you have to answer them so they can keep doing their job.
That being said, what makes a good showrunner is that you always want to hit up and never want to hit down. Be aware of the power dynamic and that everyone who works for you is doing their best to do great things. And be kind and reward them with praise when they do good and comfort them with understanding when they don’t. And take all this goodwill and turn it to your crew and then protect them violently from the forces above you. And fight tooth and nail to ensure that they get what they need to do their best. And I think first of all it’s easy to be a good person but second of all, I think it gets the best work out of people because not only are you a benevolent leader, but they see you over and over again fight for her again. I think that way you gain their loyalty because they know that you are there to fight for them.
: We have all heard of really terrible behavior from some showrunners. The emotional intelligence with which you approach work is commendable.
KRIPKE: Many Thanks. That’s very nice of you. I find myself just amazed every time I hear the horror stories. Because even if you put aside that you are a bad person and accumulate terrible karma, it is terrible management. At the very least, it’s an inefficient, bad way of doing your job. So it always knocks me out, but hopefully it’s on the way out.