'Imposters' Creators Discuss Bravo's Dark Comedy and Casting a Con Artist

Series creators Adam Brooks and Paul Adelstein talk to THR about why Bravo was the right fit and their long-term plans for the dark comedy.
Eike Schroter/Bravo

In recent years, Bravo has been actively expanding its scripted slate of originals to add to its deep bench of housewives, top chefs and millionaire real estate agents.

First, there was 2014's Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, a dramedy following a woman struggling to start over as she faces an impending divorce. Then in 2015 came the half-hour comedy Odd Mom Out, about a woman struggling to navigate the upper class cliques of New York's Upper West Side. However, for its third scripted series, Bravo is turning the spotlight on a decidedly less relatable group of individuals: con artists.

Premiering Tuesday, Imposters centers on Maddie (Inbar Lavi), a woman who makes her wealthy marks fall in love with her and marry her before she disappears with everything they've got. Every mark requires a new persona and a new disguise, and the premiere picks up right as Maddie flies incognito to a new city to steal the heart (and bank accounts) of her next unsuspecting victim.

But while Maddie is ready to move on, her past spouses are not. Instead, three of them (Rob Heaps, Parker Young and Marianne Rendón) band together to try to channel their inner con artist and track her down.

Although Bravo might seem an surprising home at first, the creative team behind the series make it a more logical fit. The hourlong dark comedy hails from writer-director Adam Brooks (Definitely, Maybe) and actor Paul Adelstein, who met on the set of Girlfriends' Guide when the former was directing and the latter was acting, producing and writing on the series. It's a creative departure that, according to the two, the network has thus far embraced.

THR jumped on the phone with the duo to discuss what else made Bravo the right fit, casting the con artist at the center of it all and whether Maddie is redeemable.

The two of you met on Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, but how and when did you start kicking ideas around to do a show together?

Adam Brooks: It started because Dawn Olmstead, who was a producer on Girlfriends' Guide and partners with Marti Noxon, after I directed the pilot, she approached me about developing something when she became head of development at [Universal Cable Productions]. We started batting around some ideas and we started talking about this idea, and it had a lot of things I was interested in. It was really fun, there was a lot of stuff about identity and also in the way that it was about love as a kind of projection or con – it all just seemed real fun.

I started working on it and I realized I hadn't worked with anyone for a long time, and I was craving company. Paul and I had become friends over the course of doing Girlfriends' Guide. It wasn't just that we became friends, it was like you know when you feel you've known somebody [for a long time], we had this common language, and we especially had a common language in talking about movies, stories and stuff. Paul had written an episode for Girlfriends' Guide which I read and really liked. I just had a gut instinct that he would be the right partner for me on this. And so when I came back to do the second episode of Girlfriends' Guide after it got picked up, I took him out for dinner and I asked him if he would be interested. I think he thought I was kidding at first. I pitched him the story, as far as it had gotten, and UCP was very excited about the idea. Then we became partners. I was in New York and he was in Los Angeles and we really worked out the entire story in a series of Skype conversations. We would have a Skype date twice week...

Paul Adelstein: ...over the course of a few months. What was really fun about it is we talked for a good while about what we wanted the show to be about before we talked about plot, even. And then we kind of had an operating principle to work with when we talked about plot and that was a really fun way to work. I had written before, obviously, I had written on Girlfriends' Guide and I sold a pilot I had worked on with somebody, but this is a different way of thinking about things: What is this about? What are we referencing? What do we like? What do we want it to feel like? We did a lot of that and then the plot kind of came quickly, and then we took it back to UCP and to Dawn.

Brooks: They gave some notes and then we went out and pitched it.

Adelstein: And Bravo really wanted it.

Obviously you both had ties to Bravo, but aside from those connections, what made you confident that it was the right network?

Adelstein: Like you said, we have a relationship there, so there's a kind of creative comfort. And they really went out of their way to reassure us that they were going to let us make the show that we want.

Brooks: They were so passionate about doing it, and we were surprised at first, but they were very clear. They wanted to expand what they were doing there and they felt that our story was the right kind of thing for them to do that. And we also felt like they needed us like we needed them. It was a good fit that way. They really were excited to have another show.

Adelstein: And this kind of show. It's obviously a little off-brand for what we know of Bravo thus far, and they want to go a little more far-field and thus they felt this was a good fit. So it was kind of a mutual pitch process where they said, "This is why this show belongs here, and we'll give you guys a long leash," which has really borne out.

Brooks: They were constantly saying, "We want you to do your thing." Obviously, there were notes and there was feedback and there was back-and-forth. But from the beginning, they were very, very supportive of us realizing what we wanted to realize.

The marketing for the show was also very different than anything else on Bravo. The early teasers took the less-is-more approach by asking vague questions like "Who is she?' without providing many details about the show itself. How involved were the two of you in those discussions? What were those conversations like?

Adelstein: Like we said, they're trying to expand the brand a little bit and what marketing was really wonderful about, I have to say, was that they really came to us and it was less content-wise and more about, "What do you guys think the show is about? What ideas do you think are compelling?" There's a lot of plot twists, there's a lot of stuff that they could have easily leaned on, but that very question – Who is she? Who is anybody? How do you know somebody? How do you know the person you're with? – we kept reminding them that that's what the show is about, and they really took that idea and ran with it in the marketing campaign.

So much of the series really hinges on the casting of Maddie. How was that process? How did you know that Inbar Lavi was the right fit?

Brooks: We saw a lot of people, obviously, in trying to find someone who could play both of these different parts and bring these different perspectives to it, and also – it's hard to say – felt right as someone who would be doing this.

Adelstein: One of the things that we're really interested in is not just who can be a chameleon, which is obviously important. But we kept reminding ourselves that it's not a woman-of-a-thousand-disguises show, it's a con show – that it's something in her psyche and soul to be able to con these people and not just the way that she looks or can look different. A lot of people can look different and be con artists – but what makes this person tick? Why is Maddie doing it? And we want to spend time with Maddie as the season goes on, so we wanted someone who, underneath it all, might be doubting this life, might want to change.

Brooks: There was something believable that Inbar connected to about it, almost like in being an actress in a way. There was something sort of mysterious and soulful and a little sad beneath it all that.… In the scene when she's by herself smoking a joint and watching television, you really connect to her.… Not a lot's going on, there's no dialogue, but you get her, you get that there's something she's yearning for that she can’t have, and we felt like Inbar had that quality. And also, she kind of wowed us. She came in two or three times and the third time she came in to do one of the characters, and when she arrived, no one recognized her. She put on a wig. It was almost like a kind of a movie casting scene where she wins a part for herself by creating a character. It was very impressive. She looked entirely different than she did the first time she came in. So we got the sense that she could transform herself in a real way. Because what we always liked about the story is that she's creating different persona for her target but that each time, part of her believes it, feels it, that she's in it, in the way that an actor – if you read about Daniel Day Lewis doing a part – that she's in the thing and part of her is in love. And Inbar seemed to be able to capture that idea.

The series opens with Maddie going on a new con and taking on yet another persona, which extends beyond the premiere. How long will this particular con go on for? The whole first season? The whole series? How would you describe the long-term framework?

Adelstein: Well, we don't want to say how long it lasts because that would be a spoiler, but that is the assignment, and let's just say it gets complicated. There's a little more to it, it's a little more nefarious than she originally believed or was told, and other complications come along to make it hard for her to do her job.

Brooks: In the sense of how people watch or binge-watch the 10-episode season as opposed to 22 episodes, we wanted to play that long-form story like it's one big, giant movie in a way.

How much of a backstory do you have figured out for Maddie in particular? How will that backstory will be revealed?

Adelstein: They have pretty full backstories that we give them and they slowly get revealed over the course of the season. With Maddie in particular, there are some flashbacks in the season that give us a little bit of a glimpse into how this person chose this life and why she chose this life and how that happened.

[Maddie] is much more secure in being Alice or Saffron or Ava than she is being Maddie.… Putting on this persona, you can decide all these things about someone because it's a fiction, but in terms of her own psyche and what may be pulling her on way or another, the character's a little less secure, and that's a fun juxtaposition to watch.

Brooks: Inbar once asked us, "Is Maddie redeemable?" And Paul and I said to her that's the question. We don't know. That's the interesting thing we want to explore with the character. That's the ongoing thing.

On the Maddie side of things, one of the other characters introduced is this mysterious Doctor figure. Long-term, how do you space out those kinds of reveals and twists? You show him briefly but what can you say about him going forward?

Brooks: That is something that we sort of tease over the course of the season. That you'll have to see, but from the beginning, we liked the idea of him more as a hovering specter than as an actual person. So that's something that we continue to tease out over the season. What represents him is Lenny Cohen played by Uma Thurman. That would be the way he's properly represented in the way that he imposes himself on the plot.

Aside from Maddie's ongoing con, there's also the journey of Maddie's exes who band together to find her. Can you talk about the balancing act between those two stories? Did that make it more challenging to plot the 10 episodes?

Adelstein: When we pitched it, by the time we went back to Bravo and UCP, we had the idea of our arc for the season in terms of, while Maddie and her crew are trying to do their con, the victims -- who we got to calling the 'bumblers' -- are trying to figure out how to become con artists, and when are these two worlds going to collide? How do we build the tension of that? And did the audience really feel the impending collision?

Looking down the road, how much beyond season one do the two of you have mapped out?

Adelstein: We wanted to know as much about the characters as we could, and there were things we just decided not to put in season one, that we could hold and reserve for season two.

Brooks: We have some definite ideas, but at the same time, what's fun about television is you see what the actors are doing and what they're capable of and what their strengths are. We're in the middle of reassessing that – of what we think worked in season one and what we want to take advantage of. When we started, we didn't know that Lenny Cohen would be played by Uma Thurman, so that's very intriguing in terms of going forward and how we might use that or not.

Imposters premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Bravo.

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