Interview Date: 04/11/2011
Run Date: 05/12/2011
Fact: there is no television network with as solid a track record for drama as AMC – yes, that includes “Rubicon,” too (you may recall that it made the cut in a previous Power Rankings) – and their latest endeavor, “The Killing,” keeps their winning streak alive. Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to talk with Veena Sud, the show’s executive producer, on the eve of the show’s premiere, but the running of the interview was postponed due to circumstances beyond our control, and we reached a point where we decided that we’d just hold onto the conversation until the Spring 2011 TV Power Rankings premiere, figuring that the odds were pretty good that “The Killing” would make the cut. Little did we know that the series would end up tied for first place with its AMC brethren, “The Walking Dead,” but we can’t say we’re surprised, either. Truth be told, we knew it was going to be awesome before you did.
Bullz-Eye: I just wanted to start by saying that I was fortunate enough to be at the TCA presentation for “The Killing” back in January, so I’ve been psyched to see it premiere ever since.
Veena Sud: Oh, that’s great! So you got the chance to see the four minutes we brought for everyone to watch?
BE: I did. In fact, they had sent me a link to watch the first episode in its entirety online, but I was so swamped with work that I hadn’t been able to watch it. As soon as I saw the presentation at the beginning of the panel, though, I felt like an idiot for not having made the time.
BE: So given your background on “Cold Case,” I’m not at all surprised to find you as a part of “The Killing,” but I am curious how the original property, the Danish TV series, first crossed your path.
VS: I had just left “Cold Case” and I was looking to develop something really dark and definitely for cable, preferably for AMC. And my agent told me about a Danish format called “The Killing,” and Hughes Entertainment owned the rights to it. And the minute I heard the title, I was so excited, and it sounded right up my alley. And I saw the first few episodes of the Danish format and absolutely fell in love and knew I wanted to develop it for American television.
BE: What were the challenges of doing that adaptation? I haven’t seen much of the original version, but I’ve seen enough to know that it has its own unique feel.
VS: You know, there were multiple challenges. I’d never done an adaptation before, so to learn how to do that and retain the skeleton and the foundation of what worked so well on the original was important to me. To not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but then to breathe in my own life and the distinct differences in American culture and Danish culture into our version of “The Killing.” It took time to find the physical space I felt might be the perfect place for our story, and it took time figuring out who the characters were. Stephen Holder, who plays Sarah’s partner, is, I think, the most clearly different character from the Danish format. And there were variations. I took pieces of the story and pieces of the characters that I really loved and built on that.
BE: As far as the casting goes, I was thrilled to see Michelle Forbes, because she’s just coming off of…well, “True Blood,” of course, but also “Durham County,” which I’m a big fan of.
VS: Oh, yeah! You know, I’ve heard about that show, and I know Paulie Dale, who I think directed a bunch of them. And Michelle told me about it when we were shooting the pilot. I’ve just heard great things about that show, but I haven’t seen it yet.
BE: It definitely has a dark, moody feel to it, so I’m sure Michelle felt right at home on “The Killing.” (Laughs)
VS: Yeah! It’s a Canadian show, right?
BE: Right. So with the casting for “The Killing,” did you go in with very specific names in mind, or did you just kind of take a look at who was available and consider how the fit your vision for the parts?
VS: I didn’t have anyone specific in mind. For the Mitch role, Michelle Forbes is an actress I have admired for a really long time, so when I knew she was coming in to read for the role, I was so excited. You know, I’ve been a fan of her work since “Homicide” and…just a real big fan of her. I think she was the first day of readings we had for Mitch, and Michelle came in and just blew us away, so we knew that was it. We’d found Mitch. The other part of the hope for the series, and along AMC’s track record, is finding just really good actors and not thinking in terms of names or any of that. Just finding the people who actually really help you suspend disbelief and fall into the story because of their talent and what they bring to the role. That was how we looked at casting for “The Killing.” And we had great casting directors.
BE: Now, where did you film “The Killing”? Was it actually in Seattle, or was it in Vancouver?
VS: We’re actually in Vancouver. We shot the aerial stuff over Seattle, but we’re actually in Vancouver.
BE: I feel like I’m a proponent for Canadian television, but I was also pleased to see Brandon Jay McClaren in the show, because I’m a fan of his work from “Being Erica” and “The Best Years.”
VS: Oh, yeah! He’s such a great actor. Very talented. We found so many incredibly talented young actors in Vancouver. It’s been very exciting. Him and Kacey (Rohl) and Richard (Harmon) Gharrett Patrick Paon. And Katie (Findlay)! You know, they’re all Canadian.
BE: As far as the show itself, it feels like it’s one-third murder mystery, one-third family drama, and one-third political thrilled. Are you trying to keep it pretty even keeled with the thirds like that?
VS: Yes! It’s a tapestry. It’s a tapestry of all three worlds that are connected somewhat tenuously. Well, either very, very tightly or tenuously by the murder of this young girl. So, yes, very much so.
BE: When you approached the material, what did you see as your points of reference? I mean, obviously, with the young female victim in a city in the northwest, I see “Twin Peaks,” but I also see “Se7en,” with the old-hand cop doing the last crime before wrapping up and the new buck not having the right mindset to handle the situation.
VS: Right. You know, there were so many influences. “Twin Peaks” was actually not one of them. I have never seen “Twin Peaks.” (Laughs) But I keep hearing that, because we’re set in Seattle and there’s the murder of a young girl, we’re like it. So I should probably see that show sometime, because it’s obviously a great show, and David Lynch is a genius. The classic kind of cop shows were a big influence. “Prime Suspect,” “Homicide,” and “NYPD Blue.” I’ve always been interested in cops and, you know, who are characters and who are deeply steeped in the reality of their work, versus the hyper-stylized reality that we too often see them in in network television. Visually, there were many, many, many influences, some of them international. “Michael Clayton” is one. Definitely “Se7en.” “Se7en” was a really big influence. “The Sweet Hereafter” was another big one, specifically because I think that was such a beautiful, dreamy film, and at the heart of it was this horrible tragedy of a busload of children drowning in a lake. And what I felt was so interesting aesthetically about that film was that, again, instead of being told visually that you’re in a horrible place and then knowing that the story is a horrible tragedy, you’re living tragedy in a beautiful place, in a beautiful frame, in a beautiful aesthetic. Which sometimes makes it sadder. “Jennifer 8” was another influence. There were so many great movies and TV shows that were just rolled together and definitely inspired us.
BE: As the father of a daughter, it was emotionally draining to watch the show, which I’m sure is what you would hope for with a film…sorry, I mean “show.” But I do keep finding myself calling it a film. It has a very cinematic feel to it.
VS: Oh, thank you!
BE: But, anyway, I’m sure that you’re trying to keep it as real as possible, but it must be a tightrope walk to make it real without turning it so dark that it turns off viewers.
VS: You know, I have a lot of faith in viewers. I think…I heard John Wells once say, “Never underestimate your audience,” and I think, you know, that we as Americans are ready to look at the crime genre in a different way. And every time we’ve had that opportunity in the past, we’ve eaten those shows up. I mean, I’ve been hungry for another “Homicide” and another “Wire” and another “Prime Suspect,” so… (Trails off) You know, it’s a brave show. We don’t pull punches. And I’m a mother, too, so it was not easy material to write, it was not easy material to research, but I think there is a certain amount of respect that has to be given to the price of a life, and the authentic representation of a child’s death in a story like this, and not gloss things over and not make them easy. Part of my goal, if there is a goal with “The Killing,” is that, as Americans who live in a high-profile culture, when we hear on the news that a child has been murdered or we hear that there’s an Amber alert, it resonates with us because of the show, that they’ll know now about all the people that are affected by it.
BE: If you can answer this without offering spoilers, can you give an idea of how “The Killing” will play out over the course of the season? For those who prefer their payoffs sooner than later, will you be providing answers along with more questions?
VS: Yes. I mean, there are big arcs over the course of the season, there’s definitely going to be a very, very satisfying ending to Season 1 and this investigation and this story. There’s also small mysteries here and there that will last over several episodes and then be resolved and answered. It’s like walking through a haunted house. There’s many doors, many hallways, different turns and corners and places to go. That’s the structure of this show: all sorts of secrets behind all sorts of doors.
BE: Lastly, AMC programs have a very nice track record of their episodes ending on cliffhangers that take your breath away. Can we expect the same from “The Killing”?VS: Absolutely. (Laughs)