June 21st, 2011 by thetvchick
Doug Liman is best known for directing and producing such movies as “The Bourne Identity” and “Swingers.” However, more recently, he has made the transition into television with the USA Network CIA drama “Covert Affairs.” This week, his new show “Suits” premieres on the same network. The show centers around a hot-shot lawyer who hires a young whip-smart kid who didn’t pass the bar. I recently had the chance to chat with Liman on a media call about the new show as well as some Covert Affairs intel as well.
So what can you tell us about this – about Suits and what we can expect from the first season?
Well, you know, Suits is at it’s heart, you know, an amazing buddy story between Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams. And at the same time it is a – it’s a legal show but it’s unlike any other legal show you might have seen because it’s not – doesn’t take place in the courtrooms. And it’s really about, you know, hitting the jackpot and working at one of the elite New York City law firms where, you know, you’re young, you work crazy long hours but you make a ton of money. And that’s the situation that Patrick Adams finds himself in. Obviously, you must know the concept that it’s… That he actually, you know, he’s doing all of that without ever actually having to go to law school and there’s the threat that at some point he’ll be found out and, you know, he’ll have to, you know, leave the ball. But – and Gabriel Macht plays his boss and his mentor. And, you know, the thing that – what I love about television especially working at USA is that it is about characters. And it’s – this show is so much more about the dynamic between these characters than it is about, you know, solving the case of the week. And they have, you know, I think the chemistry — you can see if when you watch the ads for — the chemistry between Patrick and Gabriel is – is extraordinary. I mean it’s – I haven’t – I haven’t been involved in bringing that kind of male chemistry to the screen since Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Swingers.
So where did the actual idea come from?
You know we, the thing that I love about television is that, you know, it sort of goes through these cycles where you’re like, “Okay, now let’s start to develop.” And writers come into our office — and we have offices in New York and L.A. — and sit down with us and we just bat ideas around…until something clicks where, you know, we love it and the writer loves it. And then we go sell it. So it’s sort of a very organic process and it’s not, you know, it’s not — early on when we started doing television we would – I would just sort of come up with ideas and Dave would come up with ideas. And we would just go find writers to write them and we learned very quickly that it’s, that doesn’t, you know, that never left success for us. And we’ve had success when we sort of collaborated with the writers and found stuff that we mutually love. this really – this show in particular really speaks to me because my father ran a very high powered New York law firm. He passed away 14 years ago but – so I grew up around a law firm like this. My brother currently works in law firm like this. I live in New York City. I’m surrounded by people who work in law firms like this. And it’s — and obviously my personal experiences are much more grounded than the show where somebody has impersonated, you know, is impersonating a lawyer never having gone to law school. But, you know, it’s not that far from my own experiences because ten years ago I almost took the bar never having gone to law school just to see if I could pass it.
How does it compare to working on the first season of Suits with now you’re in the second season of Covert Affairs, what do you find the difference is now that the show is already established?
Well, you know, the, you know, we’re working right now concurrently on Covert Affairs and Suits. You know, second season of Covert Affairs and first season of Suits. And we actually both – they share a production offices and they share sound stages and so, you know, it’s – it’s – it’s a very interesting experience to have two shows in such proximity and have one in it’s second season and one just starting. So just comparing that experience where, you know, the experience in Covert Affairs of working on a show that was a hit in it’s first season, you know, going to a second season is just really exciting because the creative energy around it, is so amped up. But what’s really extraordinary about Suits is just the incredible enthusiasm of everybody involved in it, even though it hasn’t aired yet, so it’s not a hit yet. There’s such a feeling on the set that it’s going to be a hit. And that there’s something special happening here that it actually at the end of the day, walking from one stage to the other is, is the same – the sort of energy and the enthusiasm excitement from the cast and the crew. It’s almost identical which is unusual because one show is already on the air and a bonafide hit and the other one just hasn’t aired yet. But I think they just think everybody just sort of knows. You know, you don’t always know this but sometimes you just know when it works and Suits is just one of those shows where is just is working. And you just – you’re reminded of it everyday on the set. You know, because so many of the themes with Patrick of Gabriel and like all you have to do is put the two of them in a scene together and there isn’t anybody on the stage who isn’t going okay this is a hit show.
I was wondering if the actual legal proceedings are going to be relatively realistic or is this one of those legal shows that we shouldn’t watch with our lawyer friends because they will just yell.
Well, I am, you know, I have no choice but to watch it with lawyer friends because I live in New York City and my friends are lawyers…my relatives are lawyers. So it is – it actually is pretty grounded. I mean it is – you know, the amazing thing about what (Aaron) has done with this series is that, you know, it set in a high powered law firm. So the kinds of cases they’re doing are sort of – are operating in the sort of rarified air. Of elite New York and, you know, elite, you know, so it’s CEOs and Fortune 500 companies and those are the – those are the clients of, you know, (Pierce and Hardman) that, you know, is based on one of the, you know, major New York law firms. Like, you know, my father’s law firm with Paul Weiss and my brother’s law firm with Cleary Gottlieb and, but, you know, it sort of has been a rule of television that, you know, it’s hard to just root for the rich person and, you know, all the clients are rich basically. Or the companies are rich because that’s who can afford a fancy law firm like this. And yet (Aaron) has found a way to allow us to root for these stories. And – but through the TV show take us into these board rooms and take us into the elite world of the people who hire these kinds of law firms. And, you know, so it’s more realistic and more grounded than you might expect and, you know, it draws a lot from, you know, the things I personally witnessed growing up in a household. And so I’ve tried as a producer of the show to push the cases to make sure that they are realistic in terms of the kind of scope of stories and scope of cases that a firm like this would handle. So well I think it’s safe to watch with your lawyer friends. But it’s certainly not limited to – to lawyers because the – this is not a courtroom drama kind of TV show. And, you know, the only danger in watching the show with your lawyer friends is they may get upset that they shelled out, you know, hundreds, over a hundred thousand dollars to go to law school when we’re sort of showing a guy who sort of skipped some of college and law school and got to work on one of these awesome jobs anyhow.
A Covert Affairs question — If there was anywhere in the world that you could take the show to, where would it be or have you already planned on going there?
Well, you said where else would we go, I mean there’s basically nothing off limits and we – we were going to shoot in Iraq because I shot in Iraq for Fair Game. So I mean that doesn’t get sort of much more extreme than going to Iraq. And figured, you know, my movie shot that week on the TV show. Unfortunately, we’re going to Jordan instead because some of the infrastructure that was in place for me to shoot Fair Game in Iraq is no longer there. And so it wasn’t – we just – really wasn’t technically feasible to go back to Iraq. But, you know, if you told me like, If could choose any place on the planet to take an episode and take some of our cast, you know, it would be North Korea. And there like no more dangerous or exciting place for a spy to go today than North Korea. Plus I’d love to see it – I’d love to see it myself.
Are you guys going to go into the character of Jai Wilcox at all? Like his history and what’s his story and delving deeper into his story line?
Yes, very much so. I mean we love Sendhil, it’s so we’re that’s a big part of this season.
I just wanted to go back to Suits really quickly. I had question about kind of casting you kept talking about the chemistry between the two characters. And I’d love to know more about like the whole casting process.
I mean we wrote the script first. You know, we wrote this sort of very hot shot attorney named Harvey Specter and we wrote this other character, this, you know, super street smart young guy, drop out, but just this brilliance. And I love – it’s my new thing like the superhero whose super power is brain. And it’s – I’m doing that with my next film and I’m just maybe I’m at a stage of life and obviously Jason Bourne that was main power was his brain. So it’s something you know as I grew up with a very smart father and mother. I sort of got – I got, you know, sort of imprinted on me that, that’s, you know, I’ve – my films have always been driven by really smart characters. And I mean to actually like – this smart actually being so smart that basically it’s like a super power that obviously Jason Bourne’s super power is his brain and it’s, you know, in Suits Mike Ross’s super power is his brain. He’s got a photographic memory and he never forgets anything that he’s ever read. And so we came up with these two characters that would sort of butt heads. They’re sort of very alpha, completely different in a lot of ways, way too similar in lot of ways, way too different. You know, because the older one Harvey has gone, you know, did go to Harvard and did sort of do the correct route but he meanwhile is so smart and such an alpha personality that he really does things his own way. And then there’s the — his protégé in the firm who does things so much his own way he didn’t even go to college. He didn’t finish college or go to law school.And then forcing them to sort of work together is, you know, was in (Aaron)’s script for the pilot. So we had that when we went out looking for cast. And Gabriel obviously brings that, you know, is able to nail that kind of charisma and arrogance where you still love him. And in fact the more arrogant he is and the more sort of obnoxiously arrogant he is the more you love him. And that’s sort of a unique movie star, TV star quality that – that was essential for this show to work. Because we wouldn’t have wanted to downplay the character’s arrogance. I like, you know, which is why it was critical for me to cast Matt Damon as Jason Bourne because I didn’t want a soft petal Jason Bourne’s dark past. So I wanted somebody who would allow me to – to have a very dark past for Jason Bourne and have you still root for him in the same way for, for Harvey Specter in Suits. I wanted us to be able to really embrace his arrogance and his confidence and have you still love him. And not have to worry ever that the audience wouldn’t love him. And Gabriel brings us that and the same thing with the character of Mike Ross where you have somebody who’s so smart you could, you know, you could end up hating him for being so smart. And who is – doesn’t follow any of the rules that the rest of us follow. And Patrick, you know, in a totally different way than Gabriel makes you love him for his – for being both sort of the smartest guy in the room and in others sort of the most clueless. You know, he’s able to sort of imbue the super intelligence also with a sort of a naïveté that just makes you want to take care of him even at the same time that you know that he’s the smartest guy in the room. So, you know, we – this show only works if you find the exact right actors to play those two parts. They’re so specific and they are not, you know, they’re exactly the kind of characters you’d expect in a project that I’m involved in because I’m a huge fan of antiheroes. And if you look at most of my films there all antiheroes. I mean Vince Vaughn plays a misogynist in swingers and every character in Go is doing something illegal and/or immoral. In Bourne Identity Jason Bourne is an assassin and a, you know, a murderer. Mr. and Mrs. Smith they’re both murderers who have no regret whatsoever. And even, you know, my latest film Fair Game, you know is — takes a sort of very critical harsh look at both sides of the conflicts between (Valarie Flame) and the Bush Administration. So and basically treats both sides of the story as being antiheroes. So it’s – those antiheroes are very close to my heart and (Aaron) is created with Suits like two antiheroes in the same show. And I’ve – I haven’t had two antiheroes since Mr. and Mrs. Smith and, you know, it’s a really sort of fun world for me to explore.
Covert Affairs airs Tuesday nights at 10 pm and Suits premieres Thursday, June 23rd at 10 pm on USA Network.Tweet