'The Bridge' Showrunner on Season 2: 'Fun But Scary as Shit' (Q&A)

Elwood Reid talks about giving the show a more sinister tone, coaching Diane Kruger on exhibiting the right amount of social awkwardness and the "f—king crazy things" FX encourages him to show onscreen.
Elwood Reid with writer Patrick Somerville on set of "The Bridge"

The Bridge is changing course this season.

After the Peabody Award-winning series spent its freshman run tracking down a serial killer menacing both sides of the U.S-Mexico border, showrunner Elwood Reid (Hawaii 5-0) decided he was fed up with police procedurals.

In fact, "I'm f—cking sick of them," were his exact words.

With the creative direction solely in his hands for season two, he has looked to transform the show into a grittier, more character-driven serial drama.

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Promising more blood, sex and emotional trauma, Reid says he has the network's full support. "She can be weirder, crazier, bloodier," read one of FX's notes on Franka Potente's new character, a shunned Mennonite who is largely responsible for the show's darkening.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Reid on the Santa Clarita set in late April to discuss stars Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir's adjustment to the drama's new direction, his rationale behind not addressing Kruger's character's Asperger's onscreen and how it feels to "never get the pullback note" at FX.

You're now running the show on your own. How does it feel?

It’s scary. It’s easy because, unlike last year where there was a shift in tone between each episode, now it’s all on me. Last year we were more of a serial-killer procedural, and now we’re much more of a weird-character crime mystery. Essentially the show is starting all over again. It’s made it more difficult for the actors. I could see when we started the first episode that Ted [Levine] and Diane were a little bit anxious about some of the scenes. They said to me, “Last year every episode we started back from zero again, much like a network show. You’re asking me this season to play an arc where I start out here then I go here. I have an emotional journey, and you don’t really do that much on network shows.” Last year every time we had a new episode, they were back to normal. They would just come in and ask questions like cops, but now they’re carrying that baggage with them.

Does the transition to more serialized storytelling pose any additional challenges for you as a writer?

On the writing side of things, it’s stressful too because I have to remember where I left characters off. Every week it’s a new week. What makes cable different is the arc-ed out storytelling. It’s fun but it’s scary as shit. I’m flying blind. I’m hoping I’ll do something that people will follow. At least when I get to the end of the season, hopefully I’ll be able to say, “I did a show you can’t do anywhere else.” That’s what FX is about for me.

Beyond the show's structural modifications is a significant change in tone. What does this season have that the freshman run didn't?

There’s more mystery to this season. Last year there were easy emotions. This season is more greyed. Sometimes good people do bad things and sometimes bad people do good things, and that’s the axis that the show is spinning on this year. I’m going to show you a character that you like and then I’m going to show them do something bad, and them I’m going to show you why they did it. Last year it was really black and white.

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You've expressed your contentedness working with FX. How does this experience compare to past ones you've had with broadcast networks?

I’ve been on a lot of network shows. FX, if you know anything about the brand, is the place to push things. When you’re a writer, I guess you go, “Oh fuck it. I’m just going to work on this show for ten years.” It’s essentially working at a McDonalds. The reason I got into the business was to work for a place like FX because they don’t give a shit about what you do. They just want it to be good. They don’t give me rules. They don’t tell me that a person has to be likeable or that it’s too gory or that it’s too violent. They never f—king say that, and as a writer you get that originality beaten out of you. FX is one of those places where you can do any f—king crazy thing you want and they’ll support you, which is rare in this business. For TV it’s super f—king rare. Because of that, when you get to a place like FX, you want to up your game.

What kind of notes do you get from the network?

They don’t dictate to the writer tone or intent. … They’re usually clarification notes, or a lot of the time they’re, “Can you push it further?” You never get the pullback note, which is what you typically get at a lot of networks. Again, networks are trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of people. FX is like, “No, we have a f—king cool brand. We’re niche. You come to us. We’re not catering to you.”

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You've written Kruger's character, Detective Sonya Cross, to have Asperger's Syndrone. What’s it been like to work with her in that role?

It’s been a lot of work. I was really worried about her taking the role because it’s one of those where if you get it wrong you’re going to get killed by the Autism community and made fun of by other people out there. Remember Monk had that guy with OCD? We’re not doing it for comedy. That’s what made it risky for her. When I saw the woman in the original Danish series that it's based on, I was like, “What the f—k is up with her?” I knew that something was wrong with her. A lot of people saw her and thought she was just another bitchy, cold, driving female detective and they hated her. But I was like no, no, no there’s something really up with this woman. What was cool about the series is that they never once addressed it, whereas I think on a network show you have another character poke someone and say, “Hey, I think she has Asperger’s.”

Why did you decide to copy the original Danish drama and not address her Asperger's onscreen?

Because in real life if you’re at a party and someone is weird, you don’t say to your friend, “That person over there, I think she has Asperger’s.” We all kind of assume there’s something different about them in a way and we just role with it. So why would I then address in it the show? There have been discussions about her maybe going to the doctors and the doctor asks her about Asperger’s, or another character says something, but that’s just cheating. I don’t see why we need to do that. 

Would you ever consider addressing her condition on-screen?

If it came up naturally. We had one of our characters call her a whack job. A lot of really successful people in Hollywood have Asperger’s, you would just never know it.

The show's Autism consultant, Alex Plank, has helped you, Kruger and the other writers navigate through some of the difficulties of depicting the social condition. What stands out to you as the most challenging aspect of that process?

The struggle in the first part of the season was to get her to where people did not have the reaction of people not liking her. I thought women were harder on her than men. It was really important to capture female viewership because you want them to like your lead. But she was prickly and weird. She would f—k people on the first date. She was unemotional. She was cold. I think as the season went on people started to appreciate Diane’s performance and like her. I never want her Asperger's to seem like a shtick. It has to be a modulated performance so it doesn’t go too big, because if it goes too big then it can seem like we’re making too much of it. That’s always the battle, finding the right way to illustrate that she’s different from other people. The biggest challenge with the whole show is to find that balance with her.

What do you think about the criticism Kruger's performance initially received?

People saw the colorations of her performance and realized that there’s something wrong with her — she’s on the spectrum. Once people understood that, it changed the way they thought about her performance immensely. Going in, people just read it wrong. Diane's said to me from the beginning, “I don’t care if everybody doesn’t love me.” Most actors, they want everyone to like them, but she’s not worried about being unlikeable.

Season two of The Bridge premieres July 9 on FX.