Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
Writer/producer Hart Hanson’s Bones spinoff The Finder premieres Thursday on Fox, following Geoff Stults as Walter Sherman, an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and a knack for finding anything — or anyone. Alongside his legal advisor Leo Knox (played by Michael Clarke Duncan), U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masöhn) and paroled teenager Willa (Maddie Hasson), Walter takes on clients and locates what they’re missing — even if what he finds isn’t always what they were initially looking for.
According to Hanson, The Finder would never have come about if not for a Fox executive handing him a novel.
“I have an overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV — I owe them a pilot each year,” he said. “I was actually thinking this year of trying to weasel out of it because I’m busy on Bones. One of the executives at 20th Century Fox, Lisa Katz, brought me a book called The Locator by Richard Greener. They sucked me in. First she said, ‘Do you think this would make a good series? How do you think it would make a good series? Why don’t you write the pilot? How about you just produce the pilot? How about you just get the series up and running?’ I thought it was a very, very clean way into a network series, a guy who can find everything. Everyone’s always looking for a way to do a P.I. series and nobody wants to do a P.I. series. I just jumped at the chance to do that.”
Stults, who previously appeared in She’s Out of My League and The Break-Up, said Walter’s PTSD is a focal point for many of the character’s actions.
“At the root of Walter, he’s a former military policeman who suffered a little brain trauma when he was serving in Iraq,” he said. “That’s what allows us the entry point into the series and also into Walter, we certainly want to say it’s very important to emphasize that in no way are we trying to make light of PTSD and those people that actually suffer from it. It’s a very real disease and a very real problem for our troops and people for many other reasons. It allows us this really interesting dramatic license. It’s the focal point for all these different things Walter does. His PTSD has manifested itself in a lack of social grace, he’s paranoid, he doesn’t trust new people and he’s not the perfect dinner guest, but he’s fun. If he’s thinking of something, he may say it even though it tends to be insulting. It’s just kind of a matter of fact to him. That’s the kind of behavior that will get you in trouble, but it’s fun to watch if we do it in the way that Hart and the rest of the writers have done it, which is lighthearted and entertaining and fun.”
The actor’s involvement with the series came after reading the script and taking a meeting with Hanson. “It turns out that Hart has this big-time man-crush on me that none of us knew about and it was just the weirdest thing,” Stults joked. “When I finally went into the room, he just threw himself at me. I felt bad and said, ‘Okay, I’ll do this.'”
Turning more serious, he explained why it took some time for him to come around to even consider taking the meeting.
“I was a little apprehensive after coming off of a couple dramas,” he said. “It’s an interesting lifestyle. You kind of live there when you’re the lead of a show. I made a decision that I was only going to do half-hour [shows]. When this got sent my way, I didn’t read it, and it got sent my way again, and the casting director had been a fan of mine and very helpful in my career and asked me to read this as a favor to him. He said, ‘If you like this at all, just do me the favor and sit down with Hart Hanson.’ And I was like, ‘Who the eff is Hart Hanson?’ I read it and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I like this. All right, I’ll meet with him.’ I purposefully grew out a beard, I didn’t shave, I tried to look as rough as I could because my goal was to walk in there and have Hart be like, ‘This isn’t a guy.’ Everything I did backfired on me. I should take that technique into more of my career.”
Hanson also recalled the first meeting with Stults, describing the actor as a combination of a leading man who can also act. “I had a darker, quieter, more internal character in mind when I first wrote the piece — someone not as voluble, not someone who was as accessible,” he said. “Geoff came in for his meeting and, I don’t know if you’ve seen Geoff Stults in person, but he’s very tall and ridiculously good looking. … I’m an old fart in this business and there are actors — there are leading men and there are leading men who are actors. You jump at number two. A leading man who can’t act, you jump at that guy. You get a leading man who can act and you do anything to get them. The third element was that Geoff is a very good-looking guy, he could just get along on that. He’s self-deprecating, he’s funny and he’s goofy when he wants to be. All of a sudden, right in that meeting, five minutes in, I think I grabbed [directing producer] Dan Sackheim’s knee and started squeezing because we’d been casting for a long time. It’s a very difficult process, but this guy is a TV star, he would be funny — I honestly thought he was a mix between Tom Selleck and Timothy Olyphant. What TV guy would not run at him?”
While the original backdoor pilot on Bones featured Saffron Burrows as pilot and bartender Ike Latulippe, the actress is no longer attached to the show, which now has Mercedes Masöhn and Maddes Hasson as its two new female roles. However, Hanson says there are no plans to address Burrows’ departure on the show.
“If it was a normal pilot, then what we would have done is looked at it and decided what changes we were going to make and done a bunch of reshoots and the world wouldn’t have known or it would have been a byline that we’d made casting changes,” he said. “You’ve seen that many times. In our case, everything that we did is out in public. We had no time because our ‘Pilot’ was a special episode of Bones, so there was no chance of that happening. The decisions were made after the pilot aired. Poor Saffron was in the enviable position of everyone seeing her and then now they’re going to wonder where she was. The reason decisions are made are spread over a studio. There’s lots of arguing and lots of fighting that I’m not really too interested in getting into, but in the end, the decision was made to go in a different direction to expand the show with two characters instead of the one character of Ike, and we never explain the change in our series. We never say, ‘Hey, whatever happened to that woman who used to be here?’ We just move on. It’s just one of the costs of doing the show the way we did it.”
Hanson also spoke to Hasson’s character Willa, and the fact that she was a minor on probation working at a bar. “It comes up quite often in the series, what she is and is not allowed to do in a drinking establishment that serves food,” he said. “She can’t serve drinks but she can serve food and she can’t go behind the bar. We actually make a huge deal out of the fact that she can’t go behind the bar for two reasons: Legally, she can’t be back where the alcohol is poured, and Leo doesn’t want her anywhere near the cash register. Her probation officer would love to see her back in juvie, and so poor Willa has to watch her P’s and Q’s very carefully. We had to be very careful about that realm. I worked on Judging Amy, so that would be a whole arc in the story in Judging Amy. I’m not sure it’s as interesting to the audience of The Finder.”
Leo Knox, Walter’s friend and legal advisor played by Michael Clarke Duncan, remains on the drama in a part Hanson says was changed specifically to fit the actor.
“The original character of Leo Knox was Sam Shepherd, an elderly, skinny, white cowboy,” Hanson said. “I believe the person who first said to me, ‘Is there a role for Michael Clarke Duncan on the show?’ was the head of casting, Sharon Klein at the studio. I believe that’s where it came from. Whoever it was, I don’t believe she got through ‘Clarke’ before I said, ‘Yes, there’s a role for him’ and just totally rewrote Leo. If you have the chance to get someone like Michael Clarke Duncan, you don’t stop and say, ‘Hmm, does that really match the character?’ You re-write the character to match him. He has his aura and charisma and his whole being that you want to go running at. That’s what we did.”
Stults worked with Duncan previously on the 2004 action-comedy D.E.B.S., where the two became close after Stults kept making the actor laugh on set.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time, we did D.E.B.S. together. He was coming off of a giant thing around that time and I had no idea what was going on,” Stults recalled. “I didn’t know where to stand, I didn’t know what a grip was or a D.P. [director of photography] was. I just knew there were four hot girls in that movie and I wanted to do it. Mike showed me the ropes a little bit and all we did the whole time was laugh. Like junior high kids, we got separated by the director and we got yelled at for not being able to stop laughing. Once I figured out I could get him laughing, because it was as pissed off as I could make him, he’s a giant kid and he’s got a giant sense of humor. He likes to laugh, he’s a goofball and it’s the easiest thing in the world to get him going. He likes to tease people and I mess with him like he’s my big brother. I’ve gotten to know him like we grew up together, and he gets mad and he laughs, so we have a lot of fun.”
For Stults, that fun is key to his job as a television drama actor. “In a network drama, the days get long and you have to be able to get along with the people you work with,” he said. “For me, it’s very important to laugh and have fun and I want it to be an enjoyable experience for the lowliest crew member on up to our savior Hart Hanson.”
Fox is doing a big push for The Finder, and seems to hope fans of Bones will carry over to the spinoff — something Hanson called a “measured decision.” However, he said he believes The Finder can stand on its own creatively.
“I think it’s important to make a distinction between the creative and the marketing,” he said. “I know, believe me I know, they’re counting on the Bones audience being — it’s a measured decision to go after the Bones audience to try and get them to come over. There’s a big experiment in this way of making a pilot. Creatively, the show stands on its own, in my opinion. It lives in the same universe as Bones, meaning it’s a heightened reality, I hope largely humorous for people. It will make you cry, it will make you think, a little philosophy, a little laughs. Unlike Bones, we won’t try to make you throw up. It lives totally on its own, but we are trying to get the loyal kind of audience that Bones has: a nice chunk of people who follow Bones from timeslot to timeslot. If we can get a part of that audience on The Finder then it benefits everyone.”
Stults agreed, saying the cast and crew of The Finder are aware of the situation.
“Hopefully, obviously we’re counting on some people coming over. We realize that there are some die-hard Bones fans that might be disappointed because we are not the same thing,” he said. “Like Hart said, we come from the same world, but the way I look at it is — I actually call Bones the varsity team and Finder the JV team. We’re born from Bones, we exist — The Finder and its 200 crew members — exist because of the success of Bones. David [Boreanaz] and Emily [Deschanel] and the rest of the cast; John Francis Daley and TJ [Thyne] are both on our show. Even before that, TJ and Michaela [Conlin] were a part of the spinoff, so we really exist because of them. We’re grateful for that and understand that without Bones, Finder doesn’t exist, but we are different. It’s a little quirkier. Number one, the actors on Bones are smarter than the actors on Finder. We couldn’t even say the words the actors on Bones do, so we have to have a lot more action to fill in for the lack of intelligence by us.”
As for more crossover between Bones and The Finder, John Francis Daley’s character Dr. Lance Sweets is already slated for an appearance in the second episode. However, Hanson did say there are no concrete plans for any of The Finder‘s cast to cross over to Bones. Still, he called it “a high-class idea.”
“This season, we haven’t considered it yet,” he said. “We don’t know how The Finder is going to do, so it hasn’t been in our wheelhouse of things to think of, but that’s kind of a good idea.”
Hanson and Stults also spoke about the guest stars who’ll appear in the first season, something the producer conceded Bones doesn’t get the opportunity to exploit. “On Bones we never had a chance to have really great guest stars because the way it’s structured is there’s a dead body and we try to figure out who killed that person and everybody’s a suspect,” he said. “Finder‘s a little different. A client comes through the door, it’s a little bit of a throwback. We have opportunities for guest stars then.”
Those will include Creedence Clearwater Revival leading man John Fogerty as himself, musician Michael Des Barre as a character named Ice Pick, Amy Aquino as Willa’s probation officer, Greg Evigan and Mario Van Peebles as a version of “a well-known cop duo from the ’80s” and 50 Cent as a hip-hop mogul.
“When he was on our show, he was delightful — upbeat, delightful, very serious about acting,” Hanson said of 50 Cent.
“It cost him money to do our show, and he literally was fantastic, maybe my favorite,” Stults said. “He never left the set, he was there, he knew his lines, he was a pleasure to work with. He was entertaining, he was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Hanson also teased some upcoming plot points. “An ongoing discussion with the network has often been ‘What starts the case?’ I’m a big fan of a guy coming into the bar carrying Cinderella’s shoe and saying, ‘I have to find Cinderella’ and it leading somewhere else,” he said. “Another one of our stories starts with a magician coming in and saying, ‘I lost my lovely assistant. My lovely assistant actually disappeared during my trick. You have to find my lovely assistant’ and it taking a fast turn into some other world.”
As for the show itself, Hanson says The Finder‘s team continues to work on balancing the formula of drama, humor and emotion that has been such a challenge on Bones.
“If you raise the stakes too much, does it make the scene not funny anymore? How much lightheartedness can you get away with before the story becomes too light to sustain over 43 minutes?” Hanson said. “It’s what we wrestle with on The Finder. We have the equivalent on Bones, too. For example, we found out on the first season of Bones that if the remains were of a child, you weren’t going to have a very funny episode. It’s the same on The Finder — there are certain moments, and you’ll tell us at the end of 13 episodes, were we successful in juggling sentimental and melancholy or dramatic scenes with the lightheartedness of our characters trying to find things. If we do this right, and I hope we are, in every episode, people find things they don’t want to find and that’s the world Walter lives in. That’s why he’s a bit callous about it. People think they want something, but they don’t. They want something else. He’s always blundering into that. He’s very literal.”
The Finder premieres Thursday, Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.