Q&A with Intelligence Creator Chris Haddock

My interview with Intelligence creator Chris Haddock was slightly chopped up while he kept an eye on shooting (letting me peek over his shoulder – cool), but here’s the slightly edited transcript of our conversation that was the basis for the Blogcritics article “Intelligence Delivers Smart, Sexy Entertainment.”

(The picture, by the way, is not me and Haddock, but Camille Sullivan as Francine Reardon and Ian Tracey as Jimmy Reardon.)

How many episodes are you shooting for the season?

We have 13 ordered and this is the middle of our fifth episode. I’m madly writing the seventh. Generally I like to keep two or three scripts ahead, always at this point in the season. Especially when you’re starting your first year, I like to stay pretty close to what’s happening on stage. I don’t want to get too far ahead. I know where I’m going over the length of the season, and approximately what episodes certain milestones have been reached, but I like to be loose to respond to what I’m seeing on stage and in the rushes and so on so I can write to the strengths.

You have one season ordered?

Yes, we’re season by season, with 13 ordered. With the CBC, they won’t order until the new year. But I think they should be happy with the show, so I’m anticipating a pickup. But again, with Da Vinci it was year to year, you never knew, you were on pins and needles in the new year until you got the news. No matter how you’ve done critically or in the ratings, it’s just the nature of our broadcaster.

How would you describe the tone of Intelligence compared to Da Vinci?

Very, very, very different. Da Vinci evolved as a shambling, loose, very realistic procedural, but it was still a procedural. A lot of it was about the issues and the cases being unravelled at the same time, with a bit of character in there. This is shot stylistically in shorter scenes, with a different dynamic. I’m trying to borrow from the noir style, because I think we’re in similar kinds of times as when noir was born, post-WWII when the world was anxious and a little bit cynical about the experience of world war, and still anxious from the bomb. I think we’re living in a similar time where we’re starting to hear conversations about the bomb again, and there’s so much war, and so much anxiety and uncertainty in people’s lives. I think it’s psychologically similar, so stylistically we’re doing a bit from that.

It seems you’re very comfortable with moral ambiguity …

I am, I’m extremely comfortable with it.

Do you think audiences embrace that more now than they used to?

I think they do. I think audiences need a little bit of a pattern to something before they’ll commit to it, so they know they’ll get some satisfaction. So I think there’s a little more of that than there was in Da Vinci, where I really did leave it all out there to let the audience to decide how something was to be resolved. I thought it engaged people because there’s so little of it, and there’s so much moral certainty in the media now. I think a little moral ambiguity could be a welcome resting place where people can engage themselves and not have all the answers.

This show is character driven, it’s about gangsters and spies, so it’s very different.

But it’s not good guys versus bad guys.

No, there’s good in the bad guys and bad in the good guys. And I think that’s true to the nature of humanity. I think we’re also in times where people are looking for the kind of heroes that are a little less certain in their moral decisions, so I think this is going to appeal to that.

I think you could better describe both the leads, both Ian Tracey as the gangster and Klea Scott as the spymaster, as antiheroes. Klea’s character is fighting the system that she’s within, so she’s an outsider trying to upset the status quo. So that’s what makes her a bit of an antihero. Same with Reardon, he’s an antihero because he lives outside the law, but even though he lives outside the law he must be honest. He’s kind of a good bad guy. He really struggles with some of the things he comes up against, in terms of threatened violence, threats to his own security, things like that. I think we mix it up pretty good and really get people engaged but also thinking about what decisions would you make if you were in those shoes.

Because ultimately I guess that’s the thing, is to try to create characters that are charming enough, appealing enough that audiences identify with them strongly enough to want to come to spend some time in their shoes. I think when you can clearly identify with the adventures of the heroes and the antiheroes, you can really have a good time, and that’s entertainment. So I’m mixing it up. There’s times when you can sign on completely with the adventure, and there’s other times when you think, “wow, would I do that?”

Have you had cooperation from law enforcement agencies, or what is your research like?

So far, yeah. A lot of my research has been cumulative over the years, trying to keep an eye on intelligence both as a genre of drama and also because of my personal interest in the daily events of the intelligence in the world abroad, but also particularly Canadian intelligence or the lack thereof – the lack of capability thereof – which seems to be present in the news every day. When I created Da Vinci, I wanted to create a show where I’d be able to open a newspaper and be able to see stories that were completely compatible with the stories we were writing, so somewhere there was a shared reality, a shared common ground.

I didn’t set out to do that exactly with Intelligence in the same way, because I was looking at social issues with Da Vinci and I’m looking at different issues in this. But now I open the paper and it’s the same thing. So we’re writing parallel to events that are in the public consciousness.

So I’ve done a great deal of research on my own but I also have a very good advisor who’s run intelligence operations and has done that kind of large-scale policework. So I have a really good on-the-ground practical advisor who I can call up and say hey, how would we exactly hang some wire in this particular situation, and he’s able to tell me the legal ramifications and the practical ramifications and the overall dramatic reasonableness. So I feel like my bases are well covered there.

You don’t exactly show the postcard version of Vancouver. What’s your view of the city here?

I think the view they’ll get through Intelligence is that it’s a city with a lot of interest to criminals and intelligence agencies, because for one it’s a west coast port, where there’s a lot of coming and going of stuff from around the world. It’s also a city very much under the radar, with the west coast of lawlessness out here, so there’s certainly a lot of people who want to conduct business under the radar. It’s that kind of a far-flung outpost, so people hide out here, do things in a clandestine manner here. It’s just one of those overlooked spots where there’s a lot of action.

Historically, Vancouver and the west coast were active in the liquor prohibition period and also the dope prohibition period, so those are parallels I’m drawing on, with the history of Reardon’s grandfather as a booze runner, and building the family shipping business and what came out of that, and the crash of that, and now the resurrection of it. He’s battened his bank account by building a legitimate shipping business. So Jimmy’s carrying on the family tradition, both the good and the bad.

How is the series going to be different from the movie you did as the pilot? Is there a different driving force?

No, it’s pretty much the same. The series steps directly off the movie. When I was writing the movie, I was very conscious of using that movie to establish much of the look and the feel and the tone, and test a bunch of ideas we had. I was very happy with it, and it was also very critically well received, so we’re really just stepping right off from there.

How hard was it to gather everybody again for the series once it was picked up?

Not at all, everyone was thrilled to come back. I’ve been guaranteeing them, saying – except you just don’t say it – it’s good, it’s going to be good, it’s going to go.

You have a pretty good track record.

I’ve got a good track record, but it’s still delicate times. There’s nothing ever guaranteed. Certainly not in the realm of what I want to do, which is to continue to produce TV, continue to work in Vancouver, try to do stuff that’s specifically Canadian. That’s all kind of a rarity, and a privilege, really.

What were you looking for in your leads, and what did Ian Tracey and Klea Scott bring to the roles?

With Ian, I had developed the show for him. I had been wanting to develop a show for Ian and got the network on board to support that idea a couple of years ago. And they wanted me to develop a show to replace Da Vinci when it eventually retired. So I brought Ian to them and they said yeah, great idea, so I started thinking about ideas for him for a long time ago. What he brings is he plays this hard guy to perfection, but a guy who’s also got a lot of empathy, so he’s really easy for people to identify with, the essential good nature of him. I thought that was an essential quality. When you’re playing a bad guy, you have to find a place for people to find empathy, and Ian had that cornered. He’s a guy who has a lot of charisma as a leading man. He’s a handsome guy and he’s got a legion of female fans who find him easy to watch. So all those things wrapped up, it’s a pretty good package, and he’s a great guy and a good friend of mine.

Finding Klea was more difficult. I was looking for somebody who could really represent the struggle it is for a woman of colour to work in a bureaucracy and rise to the top and not be held to a lower level of competence, and really evolve into a leader. I knew it was going to be a bit of a tough find, to find somebody who could rise to the challenge. We looked in Vancouver and found a couple of good actors locally, and went to Toronto and put a couple more in the race, then we went to Los Angeles to find Canadians living in Los Angeles, and got Klea Scott’s demo tape from the casting director the day I was leaving LA. I met with her subsequently and talked her into taking the role.

You had to talk her into it?

No, not really. Klea herself had said she’d told her agents to pass on law enforcement roles because she’d done a few of them and found them limiting. But she read the script and didn’t find it limiting, found it intriguing, and quickly after she read the material she said yeah, I’m in. For her, she’d had a successful and thriving career in Los Angeles so I think it was a bit of a commitment and a roll of the dice for her but it turned out well.

So you wrote it as a woman of colour, that didn’t come out of casting her?

I really wanted that challenge and I felt it was important to throw that out there and deal with it, because it’s rare to have a female lead, or leads of any kind, that are any ethnicity but white. I thought I was kind of obligated to have one of the leads of a visible minority, and seeing as I’d already written the thing for Ian, I’d sort of left that one path. I’d seen all kinds of actors, a wide spectrum of great people, but Klea just really won it on her incredible acting skills. You see it every day – she can really deliver the stuff. And again, she’s also a very attractive, sexy woman, so that doesn’t hurt either, that kind of component.

I’m honestly trying to make this thing successful, and in order to do that you have to do whatever you can to draw the viewers in. It’s a really, really tough landscape out there to attract audiences to shows, especially new shows, when you don’t have the incredibly deep pockets of an American network to promote something. Especially Canadian material in Canada, whether it’s feature films or TV, getting any kind of decent promotion with all the noise out there is tough. I’m trying to do something that appeals commercially to people, because I want this thing to run for a few years. I’m not interested in making critically acclaimed failures. What’s the point of that?

I don’t feel I’m compromising. I feel this is adult material that I’m engaged with that people will find satisfying. It’s that kind of espionage/thriller sensibility that we used to get in movies all the time, but now the movies are going for a much younger demographic and finding adult material is harder. Television is where it’s going to be at.

It didn’t feel like you’d compromised.

I’ve found there’s much more creative authority for the writer and producer in television. With feature films, unless it’s a writer/director, the writer is one of perhaps many writers the studio or director will hire to tailor a script, so you don’t have that ongoing authority over the material. That’s what I want these days. I believe you have to stick with the material and shepherd it through all its stages to achieve what you intended, or achieve even more than you intended.

Do you worry about losing the audience, because it’s so intricately plotted?

I don’t. I’ve learned over the years that there’s a line where people will go with you, and there’s a line where you might start to lose them. And this is really a character drama. People will watch the show for the characters, and the plots are not the first and foremost and only thing about the show. I made a conscious decision to write it in a certain style so it’s more about the characters and their lives than it is about the specific details of the plot.

But it does have a taste of the procedural in it, because we’re talking about intelligence and the criminal world. I’ve mixed up a couple of genres. Most of it’s gangster, which is a genre, and there’s espionage, so that’s two genres in there I can go to when I need structure and to pick up the pace again and keep the narrative really humming along.

Who do you see as the audience for the show?

I think it’s going to be the same audience that’s attracted to criminal procedurals, and also the CBC core audience. But I think it’s going to reach into a male and female demographic. Ian has great sex appeal, and I think he’s going to help draw more of a female audience. And I think that the nature of the story, being gangsters, is going to appeal to younger men. It’s dealing with weed gangsters, and there’s a certain taboo about this. It’s been prohibited to talk about drugs on television for a while.

CBC didn’t have a problem with that?

Nobody has any problem with the material. They’re all quite excited, because it seems to be so contemporary, and it seems to be unique, and it seems to come out of a true place.

You worked in the American industry, too, didn’t you?

Yes, I did, I created a show for CBS called The Handler which was a huge critical success for the first four episodes, and then we started to decline rapidly.

What were the differences between the American and Canadian systems?

In the American system, there’s a lot more bosses. And there’s a lot more concern about using recognizable actors to draw the audience in. It’s a vastly different system of promotion and rewards. If the show, like mine did, had any sense it could be a breakout hit, they really throw a lot of money at it. The ability of the American system to fan the spark of a potential success is great. The Canadian thing is you can fan it as much as you want, but there’s really a limited penetration of the Canadian market you can make without really, really throwing enormous amounts of dollars at it, which we don’t. We choose, the networks choose, to put the dollars into the actual making of the show. That’s the more important thing, ultimately, or you don’t have anything to promote. That’s unfortunately where it is.

But the creative autonomy—in casting the leads on the show I did in Los Angeles, I had very little say in terms of picking the list from which the cast was chosen. There’s a pre-set list of approvable leads, and there’s some startling people on there you wouldn’t think would be on there. So you have to wade your way through some really poor suggestions.

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3 Responses to Q&A with Intelligence Creator Chris Haddock

  1. Kelly J. Compeau says:

    Fantastic interview, Diane!

  2. Tim says:

    excellent work

  3. Systemaddict says:

    great interview

Comments are closed.