Season 1 of USA Network’s Shooter was about how former Marine Corps sniper Bob Lee Swagger (played by Ryan Phillippe) was framed for the assassination of a foreign dignitary, and his subsequent mission to clear his name.
Season 2, premiering Tuesday at 10/9c, won’t repeat that formula at all, but instead give a face to Solotov, the infamous Chechen sniper who years ago was responsible for killing Swagger’s best friend, Donny Fenn — and now has the rest of that unit in his cross hairs.
On the heels of bingeing the thrilling, tight first season, TVLine invited executive producer John Hlavin to lay the groundwork for the series’ sophomore run.
TVLINE | First of all, how did you juggle — or perhaps give into a bit — the temptation to “go bigger” for Season 2?
We had the luxury of Stephen Hunter’s books. We skipped over the second book (titled Black Light), which is a story we do want to tell, but coming off Season 1, because we enjoyed telling the story that size, we jumped to the third book, which is the return of Solotov. In the book, Solotov returns to sort of finish the job he started in Afghanistan, so we liked taking that idea and sort of expanding upon it. A season about “your past coming back to haunt you” felt like the right place to kick it off. Of course, after the first book, the Nick Memphis character — we made that person Nadine Memphis (Arrow‘s Cynthia Addai-Robinson) — doesn’t really have a role, and Isaac Johnson (House’s Omar Epps) — who has a different name entirely in the book — is killed in book one, so we had some stuff to do to keep those characters alive in our story and keep them interesting.
The goal this year was to elevate from last year and not make the mistake of getting too comfortable. We definitely start a little bit bigger and the show contracts as time goes on, but it contracts almost in ways that the acceleration builds every episode. You sort of thin out the plot, spiraling toward hopefully a very entertaining conclusion.
TVLINE | I feel like Solotov’s “revenge” is a very organic place to go, and it kind of helped you in the way in that you didn’t have to, you know, throw another identical, almost random crisis at the Swaggers — as in the Die Hard movies. It makes sense that Solotov (photo) would surface at some point.
Correct, it was organic to Season 1 and it wouldn’t feel like, “Oh, how’d this happen to me again?!” We wanted to avoid that.
TVLINE | What do you want to say about Solotov’s larger agenda and what in particular triggers it now?
That’s part of the mystery of the first half of the season. Let me start by saying the guy we cast, Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds), is absolutely amazing. The trick of any casting in this regard is to try to find someone who’s going to feel like a real foil for Ryan [Phillippe], for Bob Lee Swagger, and they are so evenly matched. As a new member of the cast, Josh is sort of joining an organization where a lot of relationships were already formed, but he really stepped in nicely. He’s a very skilled actor in that he’s able to master a lot of languages, he’s able to change his look a lot…. Solotov’s return to sort of “clean up” a problem that was created in Afghanistan a number of years ago was really the jumping off place, and as the story expands we try to humanize it and you see that he maybe wishes he would have had Swagger’s life, and consequently, as they say, “complications ensue.”
TVLINE | How have the events of Season 1 shaped each of the Swaggers during the one-year time jump?
Interestingly for Bob Lee Swagger, Season 1 was harrowing and all that, but for a guy like him, who is really far more comfortable on a battle field than not on one, he probably has changed the least. Unfortunately for his wife Julie (The Flash‘s Shantel VanSanten), who is not a hardened warrior, her actions in Season 1 — specifically the killing of Jack Payne, and the daughter being taken — have a much, much more psychological impact.
TVLINE | Yeah, she looks a little shaken in all the promos.
Yeah, we wanted to spend a little time on the other side of the violence, to show that we weren’t being blasé about taking life or blasé about the world that we live in, that it wouldn’t have an impact on someone and it wouldn’t have an impact on a marriage and it wouldn’t have an impact on how she relates to the world. I thought Shantel was great in Season 1, and when you work with someone who’s great you sort of go, “Oh, this person can carry more weight,” and it’s very easy for us to put that weight on her because she’s willing to carry it and likes to do a really good job with it. [Season 2] opens up another dynamic inside the marriage, and the scenes between the two of them are a little more energetic because there’s real conflict there. How do you talk to a guy who basically kills for a living about the trouble you’re having with the one kill you’ve done? It’s very hard.
TVLINE | What has Isaac been up to during the past year, and what percent reliable a resource is he to Bob Lee?
In the finale of Season 1, Bob Lee gives Isaac some portion of the diamonds that were in play and basically tells him to get lost, and that was very much his plan — but Isaac is tied to the events in Afghanistan, and if Solotov is going to find Bob Lee and the rest of his unit, he’s going to find Isaac as well. So the idea for Isaac was, “Here’s a guy who just didn’t want to be involved anymore who gets drawn back in, in the most violent way possible,” by an event occurs fairly early in the season. We figured we’ll take this guy who is very calculating, very compartmentalized, and obliterate his world. He has no friends, he’s destroyed his relationships….
TVLINE | He’s even more of a live wire now.
Yeah. And again, I’m so lucky that we were able to pull this cast together because Omar is one of those guys who can do anything. You can put anything on him and he’ll make it work. You really believe it. You really believe it. [Bob Lee and Isaac] have to work together to solve a problem when they don’t like each other, because Isaac did, frankly, try to kill Bob Lee in Season 1, so the fact that Bob Lee needs another gun and Isaac is the one that’s available makes for like a really interesting dynamic.
TVLINE | In appears that Agent Memphis has somehow been punished for a job well done. What do you want to say about that and the opportunities offered to her by NSA advisor Gregson (Beverly D’Angelo)?
Here’s the thing about the FBI: they don’t really want heroes. They don’t want individuals rising to the top or getting their name in the paper. Although Nadine did “solve it” in Season 1, it’s not going to result in her being promoted. Instead the result was like, “Well s—t, where do we bury this person because we don’t want any more conversation about what happened?” So, that situation is really shocking for her because she assumed “I did everything right, I should get rewarded,” and when she doesn’t, that really gives an opening for Gregson to say, “Look, let’s stop f–king around. Come work for me.” Which is in many regards a deal with the devil.
TVLINE | Is Gregson an Isaac-type character where we’re just never really going to have a good grasp on what she’s up to, what her play is?
I mean, she recruited Isaac and that means that you should never really know really where she stands. I think ultimately Gregson is somebody who understands the world operates in a certain way and her job, her role in the American government, in her mind is containment. It’s making sure when the glass is broken somewhere that it gets swept up quietly and put away and no one talks about it. And if that means that some people have to die to serve what she can do for the greater good, she doesn’t have any moral issues with it!