Are you at all prepared to set foot in Wayward Pines…?
This Thursday at 9/8c, Fox premieres its 10-episode “event series,” exec-produced by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, who also directed the pilot) and adapted for TV by Chad Hodge (Runaway, Playboy Club). The psychological thriller stars Matt Dillon (Crash) as Ethan Burke, a Secret Service agent who is searching for two missing colleagues when he gets into a life-altering car crash. Afterward, Ethan wakes up in the titular hamlet, whose peculiar residents aren’t in any particular rush to help him get home.
The cast also includes Terrence Howard (Empire), Oscar winner Melissa Leo, the luminous Carla Gugino (Karen Sisco), Shannyn Sossamon (Mistresses), Toby Jones (Captain America), Reed Diamond (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Tim Griffin (Covert Affairs), Charlie Tahan (Gotham) and Juliette Lewis (Secrets and Lies).
Here, showrunner Hodge shares but a few of Wayward Pines‘ secrets….
TVLINE | How did you first meet up with this adaptation?
It started about two years ago, two-and-a-half years ago. As I was reading the first [Blake Crouch] book, about two months before it was published, I was like, “Whaaat?” with all these things that just don’t make any sense. I kept thinking that I need to know what happens, but there’s no way that this is going to end in any way that makes sense, or it’s just going to be some bulls–t explanation that has a ton of plot holes in it. And it was neither. It was, “Oh my God, that totally makes sense.” If you go back and try to find a plot hole, you can’t. It’s amazing.
TVLINE | What was the trick to then adapting it?
The trick, I think, was staying as faithful to the book as I could, at least for the first episode. I mean, when I finished reading it I was so excited about where it was going that I said, “I’m not pitching this. I’m speccing [writing a spec script for] it.” Because if I had tried to write that script with the involvement of too many people and executives and whoever…
TVLINE | They would have sanded the edges off of it.
Yeah. Or just tried to make it less confusing. “People aren’t going to understand what this means,” and yet that’s the whole point of it. It’s supposed to be confusing. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I knew exactly the main thing I wanted to change… so I said, “If I can make people feel about reading this script the way I felt about reading the book, I think I’ll be successful.”
TVLINE | As you were adapting it, did you sense people would make Twin Peaks comparisons?
I didn’t really pay attention to that. But the Twin Peaks comparisons are welcome. I love that show. And in the afterward of the first book, Blake Crouch talks about his love for Twin Peaks, so it’s not a secret. It’s not an homage to it or even a nod to it, but he definitely credits Twin Peaks with inspiring him when he was a kid. But you will see that this show goes in many different places. After even the first episode, it’s very different from Twin Peaks.
TVLINE | Aside from Twin Peaks, what other reference points would you hope to evoke?
[The 1960s TV series] The Prisoner…. But this really is a thing of its own, which is what I felt reading the book. What I was so surprised by and excited by about where this story goes is its originality and its humanity.
TVLINE | Because this was greenlit in 2013, I imagine that you actually got to work with Terrence Howard first, before the whole Empire thing.
Empire broke him out on TV for us. They got 14 million people watching Fox for us. Thank God for Empire!
TVLINE | How would you compare what Terrence is doing on your show versus Lucious Lyn?
He’s a terrorizing sheriff in Wayward Pines and I guess he’s a terrorizing mogul on Empire, so it’s not totally different. But his character in Wayward Pines is much more bizarre and is carrying many more secrets and has a very strange past that you’ll learn about. He also eats a lot more ice cream in Wayward Pines than he does in Empire.
TVLINE | That was actually one of my next questions. Will he eat ice cream in every episode?
He will eat ice cream in every episode that he’s in, yeah. That was actually something that I added the day before we shot that [first sheriff’s office] scene. I wanted there to be something weird that he was doing so that the minute Matt’s character, Ethan Burke, walks into his office, it’s like, “What the f—k?” He’s more interested in his rum raisin ice cream cone that he is in Ethan’s story.
TVLINE | What did you need when you were casting the role Ethan?
Ethan had to be our eyes and ears and soul into the show, because the whole first few episodes at least are very much from his point of view. So you’re on that ride, you as a viewer are learning as he learns and guessing as he guesses. He had to be the smart, strong guy who’s willing to play ball with these strange people in this town. It took a strong combination of intellect and humor, actually, because there are some funny moments in the episodes. I wouldn’t say it’s a comedy but there’s definitely dark comic stuff to play. With Melissa Leo’s Nurse Pam character, and Siobhan Fallon as the sheriff’s secretary…. Matt may be the straight man in the scene with Terrence, you have to understand comic timing to make that stuff work. And Matt has that.
TVLINE | Outside of Ethan, what was the trickiest role to cast?
That’s a good question…. The trickiest role to cast was his wife, Theresa, played by Shannyn Sossamon, because she’s not in the first episode so much, yet she figures into the show a lot. There was relatively little material with which to audition actresses and also to exactly know what that character needed to be from the very beginning. But Shannyn is amazing. She did a great job.
TVLINE | Would you say that Sheriff Pope is Ethan’s main adversary?
The sheriff is the main adversary at the beginning, yes. You could also say Melissa Leo [as Nurse Pam] is an adversary. You could also say Toby Jones (as Dr. Jenkins) is an adversary. There are many adversaries in the town, and they all reveal themselves as it goes on. But I would say Ethan’s main adversary is himself, because he has to be willing to play ball with these people in order to get answers. And at least at the beginning, he’s not willing to do that, because none of it makes any sense. He’s like, “Screw this.” He has to overcome that insane frustration.
TVLINE | What do you hope that Wayward Pines brings to TV that perhaps no other show has done recently?
I think the fun of this show for people is going to be, for the first five episodes, trying to figure out what’s going on in this town, guessing with each other — “Can you believe that happened?! I think it’s going to be this. What do you think it is? What does it mean?” At least in the two-and-a-half years that I’ve been involved with this world, nobody has ever guessed correctly what the truth is.
TVLINE | And yet some people may have read the books – which a problem similar to what I saw with ABC’s Secrets and Lies, where those who saw the Australian series tried to spoil the outcome for others.
I hope people don’t do that, because it ruins it for everybody else. I guess you have to not look at the Comments! But what’s just as interesting — because we reveal [the big twists] halfway through, in Episode 5 — is then it’s, “Oh my God, this truth is so massive and so gargantuan. What do we do with this now?” That becomes more interesting, I think, than the solving of the mystery, which is a fun new way of telling a story like this.
TVLINE | People can often be on the fence after seeing the first episode of a new series, not knowing whether or not to commit. Which episode do you suspect will grab people and lock them in?
There are weird mysteries and reveals in every episode; it’s not like you have to wait for Episode 5 for it to be interesting. But for me, Episode 3 is the one where people are going to go “all in.”