“Powers” fans rejoice: Your wait is finally over.
A live-action adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming‘s acclaimed comic book series has been mired in developmental hell for years. At one point, a pilot starring Jason Patric and Lucy Punch was actually filmed for FX, before the project was ultimately discarded. However, on March 10, 2015, “Powers” at last takes flight on the PlayStation Network.
As in the comic source material, the show follows Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, two homicide detectives assigned to cases involving people with extraordinary abilities. In the “Powers” universe, humans and super-powered individuals co-exist; even Walker once possessed his own powers, until he lost them. As expected, not everyone can handle these gifts or use them for the benefit of mankind, a fact that will take our leads down some twisted and dark paths as the show unfolds.
Executive Producer Charlie Huston spoke with CBR News about adapting the “Powers” source material into a TV series, the necessity in reinventing some of the characters for the live action format, including Sharlto Copley as a very-different-from-the-comics Det. Walker. We also go into the benefit of airing on the PlayStation Network rather than an over the air network or cable, and where he’d like to take the show post-Season One.
CBR News: Superheroes seem to be taking over television these days, with “Arrow,” “Gotham,” “The Flash” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” with “Daredevil,” “A.K.A. Jessica Jones” and more on the way. That said, the general concept of “Powers” is different from anything else out there, but can you give us some specifics on how it stands apart?
Charlie Huston: There are a couple of things. We’re not bothering with origin stories. We’re starting from the assumption that this is a world where superheroes exist, and it’s just a part of everyday life. It’s just normal. There are no comets that come by or a secret serum that infected the water supply. This is just a part of everyday life. We’re not interested in, “Oh, what a weird and wacky and tortured life it is if you have superpowers.” We’re interested in how fucked up it would be to live in a world where there are people who have laser eyes and can fly and can spew acid and all these weird things.
It’s not just what a dangerous environment that is, but how it changes being a human when superhuman beings exist. What does it do to your mentality? What does it do to your whole culture? Then, the specific themes we are really interested in are celebrity and power, like how you manifest your will in the world to do things within that environment. What we’re trying to do is tell the human story, within a superhuman universe, as opposed to the, “Gosh, gee. They blew that up really well,” being of a superhero.
Introduce us to your version of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim. Who are they and what can viewers expect from them on a weekly basis?
For Christian Walker, we’re playing against the idea that his backstory is a secret and went in a different direction with it. Christian Walker is a cop who works at the Powers Division and investigates Powers-related crimes — and he used to be a Power. He used to be a total rock star named Diamond, but he lost his powers. His personal struggle is, he had powers from when he was a teenager, so his whole mentality has been geared towards being special and exceptional and being treated that way. Because of that, he’s emotionally stunted. His journey is the journey of a guy who is trying to grow up. He knows more about this world and this environment than anybody else, but he’s poorly equipped to deal with the basic human stuff of how you get along with other people, like how you go to the grocery store. He’s a complete dunce when it comes to that part of life.
Deena Pilgrim is his new partner at Powers Divisions. She’s a crackerjack detective with a withering sense of humor or type of sarcasm. She has a pointed sense of justice, even more than law and order. She believes that things are out of balance in this world and need to be put into balance. She’s interested in working with Walker, not because he’s a superstar, but because he has special knowledge she can get from him to help rebalance the scales of justice.
Were you a “Powers” reader before becoming involved with the TV series, or did you have another entry point into the comic book?
When I had my chance many years ago to pitch at Marvel, I wasn’t really an active comic book reader. I had been as a kid, but I was out of the loop, so I started hanging around the comic book shop and reading stuff to get up to date on what people were doing. There were a couple of writers that I got hooked on. Brian [Michael Bendis] was one of them. Two of his titles, “Powers” and “Alias,” really got me. It’s not just that I was a fan — I taught myself comic book writing by reading Brian’s work, so I’ve been a fan for a long time.
Why did you choose not to adapt the “Who Killed Retro Girl” storyline for your first arc?
We’re jumping off from a completely different place. We are very true to the world and very true to the characters. We are definitely mining the books for characters and story elements, but we’re not just trying to play back the series. In point of fact, we felt Retro Girl was one of the great losses of the comic book series. Brian has said they never expected to do more than a half dozen issues because they didn’t think anyone would buy it, so they killed Retro Girl right away. The weakness is, you are killing a huge hero in your world, depending on everyone talking about her and telling you how awesome she is to have an impact. When we went into it, we thought people needed to know who she is for her [death] to mean something. Then we were like, “Why do we have to kill her at all? Because she’s a really awesome character.” So, quite the contrary — Retro Girl is a major character. We’ve changed her in some very significant ways from the character in the comic books, so she can play the role of the elder statesman, superstar celebrity in this universe. She’s someone wearying of playing a certain kind of game and gives us that perspective on fame, specifically on the quality of fame in our universe.
For those in the comic book community who will call foul on this, what are your thoughts on remaining faithful to the source material?
It depends on the strength of the source material. For some stuff, what’s most valuable is something that’s really high concept and frames the whole thing, but you want to start from scratch with everything within that. We’re fortunate that we have material where we’ve been given a terrific world with what’s become a more common perspective on superheroes, in print anyway. But, at the time it was completely revolutionary. We have really rich characters. It’s the same thing with Johnny Royale. Johnny Royale disappears from the comic book very early, but we’re making him a major player in our universe. I’d say not only do we find that there’s tremendous value and need to be true to the characters because they are so great, but we’re finding characters that Brian and Michael [Avon Oeming] disposed of early on who have potential to really be grown out in our world.
“Powers” was shopped around to all the networks. What made PlayStation a good home for the show?
Part of the deal is that PlayStation knows what their audience is. They know what their genre appetite is. It’s a very educated genre audience. It means the kind of shorthand Brian and Michael get away with in print, we can get away with a lot of that, too. We don’t have to do the kind of deep exposition that we might have had to do. A lot of the stops and starts they had in development before had to do with people not being comfortable with the idea of jumping into the deep end of this world. Whereas, with PlayStation, we can go right in there, head first.
It’s also nice because Brian and Michael write an R-rated comic book. We want to be able to be true to that. Some elements we are, and some elements we’re not. Our language is very salty. Our level of blood and gore is high. We’re a sexy show, but we’re not delving into a lot of T&A at this point. Who knows what the future will bring, but we wanted to be able to have that and PlayStation gives that to us. We can be true to that style of the comic book.
Sharlto Copley’s career has been a steady diet of feature films, including “District 9,” “Maleficent” and “Chappie.” How did you entice him to become a part of “Powers” and what kind of energy does he bring to the role of Christian Walker?
Honestly, I don’t know how we got him. We talked a good game. We did not think we would get Sharlto when we approached him. We thought he was doing features and we would not get him. It was the strength of the core material. We had a really good group of creative people doing a full-court press on him, convincing him this would be a grown-up show and a place for him to explore some work that he hadn’t had a chance to perhaps, or not as much.
I think Sharlto does a tremendous amount of character work in features, and this was an opportunity for him to bring his approach for building these really strong characters to a leading man role, which is not something I think he’s had an opportunity to do a whole lot in features. That may have been part of it.
What he brings to it I think more than anything else is an inventiveness and imagination. Walker is an abrasive character and Sharlto has the intensity to carry that, but there’s also something inherently playful about him that helps to take some of that edge off.
If “Powers” resonates with the audience as you hope it will, how would you like to build on the series’ mythology and universe in future seasons?
It’s hard to know how to answer that. We want to be able to branch away from place work a bit. I’m not saying the core of the show wants to shift — what we want is for our stories to take us into different places of the world. We want our stories to take us into religion. If there is a universe where people can fly, then some people are going to think they are demons. Some people think they should be hunted down and killed. Others think they should be worshipped. We want to be able to get deeper into the world of fame and celebrity. We would like to have stories that take us into the realms of science and politics and see how people think differently and behave differently. You’re always working for that human story that has a twist on it, that shines a different light on people.
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