‘The Boys’ Showrunner Reflects on Pressures of Adapting Fan-Favorite Property

Eric Kripke also explains why the superhero genre is the perfect vehicle for a satire for our perilous times.

When Eric Kripke heard that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were turning Garth Ennis’ comic book Preacher into a TV series, he was filled with envy. He had long been obsessed with the Irish writer’s oeuvre and wanted badly to be the one doing the adapting. Intent on airing his frustrations, Kripke got together with one of the producers behind the show. “I set a meeting with him just to tell him, ‘Fuck you for giving Preacher to somebody else,’ ” he jokes. To Kripke’s surprise, though, the producer had another Ennis property up for grabs. “He was like, ‘Well, we have The Boys. You want The Boys?’ ” says Kripke. He’s since turned the dark, biting superhero comic into a high-spectacle series for Amazon. Here, he opens up about the pressures that come with adapting a fan-favorite property, infusing modern-day headlines into the show and what’s coming up in the third season.

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Were you at all nervous about adapting a beloved comic series?

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I would say that I went in oblivious to the stress and challenges of an adaptation. I had never adapted anything before. I’d always written original stuff. Like an idiot, I walked into it feeling like, “Well, this will be great! Someone already did all the hard work of coming up with all the characters and the situations. I’ve just got to find a way to translate it to film.” Now I think adapting is 10 times harder than original material. It’s really fun and satisfying and challenging, but it’s way harder because they’re inherently different mediums. The thing that you’re making for television is not going to be that other thing, right? It just can’t be. So you find yourself in this minefield of “How do I adapt it in a way that captures the spirit of it and the tone of it without alienating everyone who loves it?”

Sure, no pressure.

It’s like the world’s most stressful game of Jenga. You’re pulling little pieces and you’re like, “Is this the piece that’s going to knock the whole thing over?” I can’t say that I figured out some methodology that was effective beyond just sweating over every single detail and agonizing over every alteration from the book.

Is there anything from the source material that you tried to get into the show but couldn’t?

There are a lot of storylines from the comic that are amazing that we couldn’t get into the TV show. That’s probably the thing I would have loved to have done the most. So many of the storylines in the book are pretty short stories. The book would have really worked as a rated-X procedural where every week is a different perverted thing.

The show feels extremely timely. How much of that was intentional and how much was luck?

Garth Ennis was clearly ahead of his time, writing the book in 2006. When I had my very first dinner with him, I said, “Tell me what inspired the book and help me get into your head.” He said, “I was really interested in what would happen if you were to combine the worst of celebrity with the worst of politics and what an absolutely dangerous combination that would be.” The world sort of crashed into the reality of the show like a freight train right when I was writing the pilot. There’s an expression we say in the writers room a lot: “Bad for the world, good for the show.” I found myself suddenly in this position where I was working on something that happened to speak to the exact second we were living in. I wish I could say that was some brilliant, long-planned strategy, but it’s not. I’ve run a lot of shows and I’ve been waiting for that zeitgeist to fall into my lap, and here it was. I approached it with some mix of responsibility and glee. I really had the opportunity to talk about things that were really fucking bothering me — and to talk about them in the genre space. I always tell my writers, “Not only should we tell these stories, I think we have to.” From there, we tried to make it as topical as we could. The superhero metaphor just worked for every single element of our society for the moments we’re living in right now.

Dominique McElligott as Queen Maeve on The Boys. Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios

One of those very topical issues you explored last season was white supremacy. How much did you find yourself drawing from the daily headlines?

It was the daily headlines that inspired it. We drew from them pretty extensively. Those were the early days of the Trump administration. A really toxic xenophobia was just starting to spread. And then there was Charlottesville. White supremacy and Nazis, they scare the living fuck out of me. And it’s just so insane that it’s a controversial opinion that, like, Nazis are bad. It’s just fucking insane to me! I really walked into season two with the direction of “We’re going to tell a story about a modern-day white supremacist.” The books have a Stormfront, but it’s a man and he’s very German. It’s all pretty much what you see is what you get. But modern-day white supremacy is so insidious with social media and the way it draws people in. It’s not weird dudes with strange mustaches — it’s cute girls on YouTube talking about how they’re independent thinkers. I think that’s so scary and really needed to be talked about. And again, yes, it’s a superhero show — but we have a show where we can actually talk about that stuff. I was really passionate about exploring that.

Why do you feel like the superhero genre is the perfect vehicle for this kind of satire?

Because it’s exactly at the cross section of celebrity and authoritarianism. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another fictional character or archetype that does it as well. The notion that people can use their celebrity and their social media presence and their ability to appear on certain news networks to espouse straight-up hatred, like a full shotgun blast in your grandma’s face of hatred and xenophobia ­— it’s really dangerous.

What can you tease about the upcoming third season you’re currently shooting?

I can say that we spent the first two seasons exploring a lot of things that are going on in the United States, and in the third season we got interested in the history of the Vought universe and its fractured reflection of the United States. It’s like how people say that there are “good old days” and that somehow there’s some sort of past that we need to be great again and return to; the issues we talk about on the show — racism, white supremacy, violence and sexual predation — have always been here. Make America great again for who exactly? We have this character Soldier Boy, played by Jensen Ackles, who has been around since World War II, and through him we’re able to delve into issues as disparate as toxic masculinity and racism and some of the wars we’ve been through. We’ve been able to explore not just the here and now but the past — and that’s exciting.

What’s it been like to film during the pandemic? Are you having to rewrite scripts to make them more filmable during this time?

It’s by a mile the toughest production year of my life. There’s not any one thing; it’s a million problems. And probably to the irritation of some of my benefactors, my attitude from the beginning has been no creative compromises. The audience will not grade us on a curve. They will not say it’s OK that it’s not quite as good as the second season because, gosh, it sure was hard to make. We have to make sure the audience never knows the difference. But behind the scenes, everything’s different. The amount of work we can get done in a day, the amount of crowds we can put in the background, how we travel from place to place — every single thing. It’s all slower and harder and takes longer. It’s been really, really challenging. The crew, to their credit, have been champs — they’ll wear their masks for 14 hours a day, every day.

What can you tell us about the Boys spinoff you’re also developing?

We’re writing furiously. I think it’s coming along really great. It’s exciting in that sort of perverted Marvel way — in the way that different Marvel projects are very different: One’s a thriller, one’s a comedy. This feels like that, too, but with a ton more dick jokes.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

And the Odds Are… 

Amazon campaigned quite aggressively for The Boys, its R-rated superhero drama that could easily have been written off as fanboy fare. But its broad appeal and improved critical showing for the second season managed to make it a viable awards player. The Boys has zero chance of winning this year, but its inclusion ensures that the streamer isn’t shut out of what’s historically been the Emmys’ top race — and that’s worth almost as much as a win itself. — MIKEY O’CONNELL

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.