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‘Breakout Kings’ Creator Nick Santora Touts New Novel, Teases Season Finale (Q&A)

The writer promises “a really cool ending” to the season, as he talks about his book “15 Digits,” how he’s already planning the movie, and his big break on “The Sopranos."

Fifteen Digits Nick Santora Cover - P 2012

Nick Santora, the creator of A&E's Breakout Kings and a former writer on The Sopranos, Law & Order and Prison Break, just had his second novel, Fifteen Digits, arrive in stores.

It's the story of five men, who work as printers at a posh corporate law firm handling its sensitive—and possibly lucrative—legal secrets, that get caught up in an insider trading scam hatched by a scheming young attorney.

They set up a secret offshore account to deposit their ill-gotten gains. To protect the money, each man knows just three digits of the fifteen-digit account number.  Things seem fine until the authorities start to suspect something is wrong and mobsters want a share of the money. 

Fifteen Digits is a propulsive thriller that hurtles along to a brutal and--trust me--very unexpected conclusion. Santora has a TV writer's sense of pacing, but he also has an eye for character that keeps a reader emotionally engaged in the story. People looking for a Grisham-esque thriller with dash of The Sopranos will find the novel a great summer beach read.

Santora talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the book, the contest he’s throwing to promote it, how he's trying to jump start a movie version and what we can expect on the April 29 season finale of Breakout Kings.

The Hollywood Reporter: Where did you get the idea for 15 Digits?

Nick Santora: I was a corporate lawyer right out of law school and I noticed a big logic bump in how things were done. Lawyers had to go through tons of training to make sure they did not violate confidentiality issues or insider trading and then we would take these incredibly sensitive documents to people who barely graduated high school, who would copy and collate them. They would have access to every secret that would be next in week's Wall Street Journal and there were no checks on these guys. What amazed me was how no one discussed or even cared about it. No one thought much about the people in the printers' office in the basement. So I started thinking what if those guys in the basement, figured out they had millions of dollars passing through their Xerox machine every minute.

THR: It reminds me of dark version of the movie Office Space.

NS: Yes! I love that movie. You don't think enough of the people below you to think the can screw you over and they do. It’s an underdog story.

THR: How much is drawn from your own experiences? 

NS: I've never really felt like I fit anywhere comfortably and I think that bleeds into my writing. The only place I've ever felt where I reasonably belonged is with my family. These guys in the book don’t fit in. They become a makeshift family for themselves. People think at first it was done for money, but it was done for love. These are guys are looking for family—their own version of a family. It's why anyone does anything.

THR: Talk about the contest you’re running to promote the book

NS: I recently just set up a broad comedy feature with Adam Carolla, who I think is a comedy genius. So I have a contest set up and its important I say for legal reasons there's no purchase necessary. You can go to a library or you can borrow the book from a friend. I strongly prefer you buy the book [laughter]. Take the five main characters, rank them from most desirable to least desirable you wanted to go on a road trip with and then explain why.  Make it as funny as possible and post it on my website by May 15th. It’s a play on the hypothetical road trip bit Carolla does on his show. When this movie gets made, I will fly the winner out to the set for the day to watch the filming and hang out with me and Adam. It'll be a good time. [Information on the contest can be found here].

THR: You’ve already filmed a scene from the book, right?

NS: I want to convince studios that my book would make a great movie. I also want to convince them that maybe I could direct it ,so I decided to shoot a pivotal scene from the book. I asked Malcolm Goodwin, an actor on Breakout Kings to produce it for me. We got Jimmi Simpson, who was in Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia and is on Breakout Kings, and Gino Pecsi, who was in Battle Los Angeles, to star in it. We rented out Michael's Bar and Grill in Burbank on a Sunday morning and in five hours for about a $500 budget I shot a demo of what this movie would look like, the tone of it, the feel of it, the humor, the grittiness. It looks amazing. [The video can be found here].

THR: Your first job was writing an episode of The Sopranos after winning a screenwriting award at the New York International Film Festival. What was that experience like?

NS: I only did one episode because it was a freelance job but the one thing I learned from that experience was: Don't be intimidated. While I was walking into that meeting, I remember having the distinct thought the next hour is going to determine the course of your life -- either you're going to kill this meeting and make David Chase trust you with his show or be prepared to chase ambulances. I thought I have to show him I'm a writer even though I've never had anything produced before and this is the first screenplay I've ever written. If you think about it, Chase was insane for giving me that opportunity, but he did. To this day I don't know why. There must have been some divine intervention. That changed my life. He's like a magic fairy that floated down the sky, tapped me on the head, and flew away. I'm eternally grateful for it. 

TRH: The season Finale of Breakout Kings is coming up this Sunday.

NS: I have a role in it. I appear in two scenes. I get to call Dominick Lombardozzi’s character a dick.

THR: Why did you cast yourself?

NS: This is the first time I've acted since college. I'm not even sure you can call what I did acting. The truth is this business is fickle. You never know if you're going to get another season of any show, even though Breakout Kings has really strong numbers. It was the last episode of the season and I can say without exaggeration that I love our cast. I just wanted to have fun with them and I figured what's one more fat bald guy on TV.

THR: Speaking as a member of the club, there's not enough fat bald guys on TV.

NS: [laughs]

THR: On a more serious vein, you started this season with a death and a serial killer, who has been taunting the team all season. Are we going to get any sense of justice in the finale?

NS: Without giving away how it ends, I can say the breakout kings will run into the serial killer Damian and it will be messy and vengeance will play into that, but I can't say more than that. It’s a really cool ending. 

THR: Will we see a third season? 

NS: We haven't heard yet. Our DVR+7 day numbers are really strong. A lot of people are watching the show; a lot of them just don't watch it on the night it premieres. That's what happens on Sundays now.

The interview has been edited and condensed for publication.