4:18pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Charlie Huston on Bringing 'Powers' to PlayStation, Plans for Season 2
Powers, which debuts its first three episodes on PlayStation Network on Tuesday, has had a long journey to the screen, including being developed as a movie and a television series for FX. The missing ingredient required for success might have been Charlie Huston, who goes from being the writer behind the Joe Pitt Casebooks series of novels to showrunning a television series for the first time.
Here, The Hollywood Reporter speaks with Huston about finally seeing the project come to fruition, changes from the long-in-the-works FX drama as well as plans for a potential second season.
You're well-known as a crime novelist, and you and Powers co-creator Brian Michael Bendis have both worked on Moon Knight stories for Marvel, but how did you end up working on the Powers show?
I was one of the freelancers that got hired [for the aborted FX series] and I wrote one of the scripts. In the end, they passed on that approach but Sony liked my script and asked if I wanted to pitch my own version. My own version was, basically, to say, "I think some of the earlier approaches have veered too far away from the comic book, and I think we should just be doing the comic book as a TV show." That made sense to them at the time, and that's what we went after.
You were obviously a fan of the comic book, then.
When I first got a job as a freelancer for Marvel, I was not really up on what was happening in comic books and I hadn't really been an avid reader as a teenager. I started lurking around the shops again and trying to learn what was going on. Brian was one of the writers that I really got into, and Powers was a title that I really fell in love with. To a large extent, I learned how to write comic books by reading Powers.
What was it about the comic book that you specifically wanted to keep central to the TV show?
The core concept — the genre concept of cops solving superhero-related crimes — is just gold, and is easily communicated. It excited networks and studios over the years. It's easy to grasp and it just sounds cool.
When we were figuring out the TV show, what I was really interested in thematically was fame and celebrity and power, and how these can be really caustic, destructive forces in the world, whatever end you are on. Possessing celebrity and fame can really destroy a human being and scrub away all of the need there is to interact and relate to people on a human level, and not having it in a world where it's overvalued can make a person feel that, not only are they less than they are, but that there is an attainable level of happiness that they don't have access to because they will never be famous. The way we attack that on the show is through Walker (Sharlto Copley), who had super powers and has clearly been damaged by it and left inadequate and not the man that he was, and through Calista, on the other end, who is so desperate to possess power and possess fame that she'll do literally anything […] to try and make herself complete.
We tried to be profoundly and consciously faithful to the world and characters that Brian and Michael created, and we revel in and enjoy all of the same things that they do, but we have things that we are interested in and, very much with Brian and Michael's endorsement, we are pushing those things and those themes to the forefront — at least for the first season. In upcoming seasons, we want to iris the lens open and not be single-mindedly focused on celebrity and fame, but also get into politics and science and religion — all the different areas where the world would be altered if superpowers existed.
The first season, as you said, focuses on the theme of how Walker and Calista deal with their powers, or lack thereof. It plays out like one extended narrative across the entire episode, instead of a weekly procedural cop show.
Part of it had to do with who I am. I do not have a procedural mind, and I never pitched that to anybody. I never walked into a room and said, "Hey, we're going to crack a case every week!" I am a novelist, I have a novelist's sensibility and I like longform storytelling. I came through the door with that in mind. I told everybody that I really wanted to tell the story about this guy who is emotionally stunted and crippled by his own fame and loss of fame, and I want to tell a story about what happens over a short period in his life when all of the dust in his past gets kicked up and he's forced to try to come to terms with all of this stuff he's been burying and refusing to cope with. Is this an opportunity for him to regress, or to start growing up, which is a process that never began for him? He got powers when he was a teenager, he became so powerful and beloved that he never had any reason to mature.
Is this your first TV show? You're a novelist and you've worked in comics, but is this your first time working in television?
I had a pilot that was produced at HBO but never went forward. This is my first time really doing it.
I can only imagine the culture shock going from writing novels to showrunning a television series.
Everything is different. [Laughs.] Start at the most basic level: being a novelist is you and a monitor, and working on a TV show is profoundly collaborative. By the end of this thing, I will have worked with — me, specifically — hundreds of people. And then there a couple hundred people that I've never had the opportunity to meet, who are working on things that are completely invisible to me.
So, it's deeply social, it's deeply collaborative, and — if you're someone like me, who is coming into things with a level of experience that is for all intents zero — you are really dependent on the experience and expertise that these other people are bringing to things. You have to trust your own judgment, but not assume for a second that you know everything, not assume for a second going into any interaction that you have the best answer or know the answer. You have to be able to let people's ideas change your ideas or trump your own ideas if they're better, or are more aware of the practicalities of what's involved.
And then there's the medium itself — instead of creating voices that are meant to be heard inside the reader's heard, accompanied by whatever images they have on the inside of their skull, you have to deal in pictures and the tangible and buildable. It's vastly different, and that's part of the appeal, to do something so different from what I'm used to.
You sound very excited about it, so obviously you enjoyed the challenge.
Oh, yeah, I love production. I come out of a theater background, and I'm many years removed from it by this point. I did a lot of theater, and I went to school for theater. My life just went in different directions away from it. Returning to it, on this scale, feels different certainly from anything I ever did as an actor or in the theater, but the nuts and bolts — the human interactions, it's very similar. They're all show people, there's a kind of personality within that community that makes it feel very familiar and comfortable.
So, is showrunning something you'll stay with? Do you already have plans for Powers season two?
We came into this with a plan for where this story goes, and what the characters do and what goes on for multiple seasons. You want to see it through to the end, you want to see characters grow and change. You want to have the opportunity to be inspired, to do things that aren't expected. The most exciting thing in any art form, to any creator, is the thing you didn't plan for. It's the moment you thought you going to do being altered by someone else's idea, or by the way the wind is blowing — the fact that you're getting rained out and you have to move the scene inside, or an actor gets sick and you won't have them for that day or whatever it is. Those things turn your expectations on their head, and quite often, you discover new ways of doing something. That's the most exciting thing. That's the most fun.
Powers is available on Sony PlayStation Network starting Tuesday. Stay tuned to THR for more Powers coverage.