As one of Hollywood’s most bankable writer/producers, Alex Kurtzman has certainly heard the term “genius” thrown around, but on his new CBS drama Scorpion, he’s getting a taste of the actual world of bona fide giants of intellect.
Loosely based on the on the life of Walter O’Brien, an eccentric genius with the world’s fourth-highest IQ who created a company of brilliant misfits who use their mental muscle to defend the world against complex high-tech threats (think The Big Bang Theory meets Mission: Impossible).
SPINOFF spoke with Kurtzman about adapting the actual, but little explored, stories for television, and his upcoming directorial effort, Sony Pictures’ Venom film.
Spinoff Online: Since you got the show off the ground, what's been the fun learning curve episode to episode?
Alex Kurtzman: It's interesting, actually, because we just watched the fourth episode. We've now shot six of them, and we've cut four of them, and one of the things I'm most proud of so far about the show is that I think it comes out of the gate very clear about what it is, and it stays very consistently that. It doesn't feel like it's sort of finding itself, that you're not quite sure what it is, and what it wants to be. It's very clearly what it is. And the fact that it's based on real people, and the fact that it's really ultimately about how everybody feels like an outsider somewhere, to somebody, and to watch these characters who felt like outsiders find each other and realize that they become this kind of surrogate family together because there's really nowhere else they feel comfortable, and to say nothing of the fact that they're solving the biggest problems in the world. And, add to that the fact that the cases are based on real-life stories, it's kind of a wonderful stew. So I think we're really excited – every time we go through a script, not only does it go through the writers, it also goes through Walter and his team. So it has a level of authenticity. Obviously, they stretch certain things, but it has a level of authenticity that I think is unique and rare.
I’m thinking the writers and the production team are very intelligent people, but what's it like to be around somebody like the real Walter O’Brien and have that level of intellect poured into your mix?
It only makes you realize how not intelligent you actually are in comparison [laughs]. How small-minded you actually are.
Have you seen the team write themselves into a corner and see how easy it is for Walter, with his legendarily high I.Q., to figure out the key thing to solve a story dilemma?
I think what's been most interesting is that the motto of the company is basically that there is no problem without a solution. So what's very interesting is that you'll throw him a problem, and he won't necessarily have the answer for you, but he'll have three options that will lead you to more options that will lead you to the answer. So there's never really been a moment where you're like, “Oh, I don't know what to do. I guess we're going to give up.” And we fail. “Failure is not an option” is the actual motto. So that's been a very interesting process to watch, to watch him go through everything. Most people react very emotionally when they hit a wall. He's just, “OK, then I'm going to go left, and I'm going to keep going until I find the hole in the wall. Then I'm going to go through that. And then we keep going.” So it's a very different process.
Where are you now on Venom? Have you got your story broken?
Yeah, before last Friday came out, we started kind of roughing out a story. Ed Solomon's going to be writing it very soon. I can't tell you too much, but I'm really excited about it.
Did you have an easy choice as to which incarnation of Venom, which guy under the symbiote skin, you want to go with?
I would not say it's an easy choice. I would say that there are quite a few things about Venom that are interesting. Venom had several different iterations, and there are several things that are very unique, interesting and specific. And so I think we all want to make sure that we're making the right choices for a character that's so beloved.
Scorpion premieres Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.