Based on The Sword of Truth book series by Terry Goodkind, ABC Studios' Legend of the Seeker has picked up where other fantasy shows left off – in New Zealand.
In the mid-90s, fans were wild for fantasy hits Xena and Hercules and producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert are just adding more fuel to their fire. LOTS, which made its debut in November 2008, follows the story of woodsman Richard Cypher (Craig Horner) who learns of the prophecy made at his birth that reveals he is destined to protect the world from evil. At his side are the confessor Kahlan Amnell (Bridget Regan) and the wise wizard Zedd (Bruce Spence).
Now into its second season, LOTS is a charming window into Goodkind's magical world, and minus the goofy quips a la Herc or Xena, it's intense plot lines can really drive you to keep coming back. But despite a growing fan base of dedicated viewers, the show has remained on the bubble of the top 25 shows in syndication. (To make matters worse, last week The Tribune Company announced it will drop LOTS from its stations' roster next season, which could spell big trouble for the show as far as a renewal is concerned.)
Still, when I talked with executive producer Ken Biller (Star Trek: Voager, Dark Angel) he seemed optimistic about a chance at a third season and let me in on of some of the things we'll see at the end of season two. (Hint: More monsters and a Lord of the Rings favorite.)
Allie Townsend: So obviously, adapting a book series with a dedicated following can be tricky? How did you approach creating your own version of the show without angering book fans?
Well I'm not quite sure that I didn't totally piss off at least some of the books' fans at least at the beginning, which I knew was going to happen. I completely respect the passion of the book fans, I'm a huge admirer of Terry Goodkind and the achievement of the thousands of pages that he wrote, but when I got asked by ABC Disney to do the show and what I was being asked to do was a 22-episode a year season and I read that first book, it was readily apparent to me that there was no way I could do a 22-episode series and stay completely faithful to the book. The book could have been very faithfully adapted if it were done as a movie or as a couple of movies, but the books don't lend themselves to stand alone story telling. And even though we have worked very hard to create an ongoing story thread both in season one and season two for the quest that our heroes are on because I think that's very important for this genre, I also had to mandate to try to create episodes that could stand on their own terms that had a beginning middle and end so that viewers could just come in and be able to enjoy a story every week.
There are lots of elements from the books and many characters from the books that appear in the television series and we've found the mythology that Terry Goodkind and it's a rich treasure trove to dive into. We always ask ourselves, well what happened in the book? Is that something we can use in an episode? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. We have kind of riffed on his mythology and expanded on it.
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For example, in Wizard's First Rule, Kahlan Amnell is already the only confessor left in the world. One thing I quickly realized was that this confessor mythology is really, really compelling. And if we were to say that she was the only confessor in the world right from the get go, we would be missing out on the opportunity to explore that mythology deeply and to tell certain stories. We told a story about a confessor who had gone bad and misused her powers and we were able to tell a story about Kahlan's sister still being alive and how they tried to protect themselves from Darken Rahl (Craig Parker) so it gave us a lot of rich story material by not limiting ourselves. Now I completely understand why Terry did that in his book, but for us, I wanted to have a bigger palate.
AT: You're filming in New Zealand, and the beautiful landscape really comes through on screen. Does it help to produce a show that has such an unlimited and amazingly beautiful backdrop?
It is amazingly beautiful, but I wish it were unlimited. It's a small country in terms of people, but it's a vast country in terms of landscape. And unfortunately, we're not able to on our series schedule take advantage of all the really varied typography of New Zealand. We're limited to what are still some really beautiful locations around Auckland, an area on the North Island.
AT: So the show draws a lot of comparison to previous hit fantasy shows Hercules and Xena, but perhaps not rightfully so. Was that discussed during the initial production of the show?
Well, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert very successfully produced Hercules and Xena for many, many years. Now, they're executive producers on LOTS. I think some of the comparisons came very naturally from people who were fans of Rob and Sam's work and again, filming in New Zealand which stems out of the production facilities and relationships that they created. That's a very natural comparison that one would make and this is a fantasy show as those were fantasy shows. I'm not surprised by the comparison, but I think the shows are very, very different in tone. I think we do have a lot of humor on the show and we pride ourselves on humor but we tend to play everything for real and we tend to play everything very high stakes and that is just our show. That's just what LOTS is and that's what works for us. It's about a character on a quest essentially who is trying to save the world against extraordinary obstacles so we try to never let it be too jokey. Xena and Hercules were wonderfully jokey and funny and winked at themselves. That style and that tone was successful for those shows. We have some of the same artists working on the show, but it's a very different writing staff and a different approach that we've taken. And again, you brought up the source material. The source material, which we don't adhere to slavishly, we respect. And the source material, it's not heavy, but it is very high stakes, so it doesn't feel right to have our characters be too jokey.
AT: Casting the hero of all heroes must have been really tough, but I think Craig Horner manages to bring something in that isn't just brute strength. How is it writing for Richard's character?
Well, I think we've gotten to know him over the course of a couple years and when we started with the show we were all new to each other. Craig had done some work before but this was his first big show. Over time, we've gotten to know what his strengths are. It's been a process of discovery that I think has gotten better and as we've gotten to know each other and as we've gotten to know the character that is in some ways different from the character in the book. For instance, we had a very young actor in this role and so we took the point of view in season one that he was a young and somewhat reluctant hero who was thrust into this role by fate and circumstance. It wasn't something that he initially chose. We tried to be honest too. What would it be like for a young man who grew up without magic to suddenly be thrust into this world where people are telling him that he has this great destiny? We tried to stick to the essence of the character, which is his incredible honesty and his want to do the right thing. We wanted to make him human and allow him to make mistakes, which I think he did more of in the first season. In season two he becomes more of a fully formed hero and yet he still has that vulnerability and that's a real strength of Craig's because is in real life he's a very caring guy so that's something we could naturally tap into. He's not just the guy who can beat people up or win a sword fight. He's a guy who, sometimes to his own detriment, will find himself putting aside what he knows is the larger quest and the larger stakes because he literally cannot let somebody go unhelped who needs his help.
AT: The strong role of the women is really appealing. Kahlan and Cara are such fun characters to watch as women who just kick ass.
Yes. On LOTS, women kick ass. We really really enjoy that. We always assume in the writer's room that Kahlan and Cara are not damsels who need to be rescued and they are almost just as often the rescuers as the rescuees. It's actually been really fun to explore the relationship of those two characters together because as you watch the season unfold they started off very weary of each other and in somewhat of a competitive and confrontational mode and they grow to mutually respect each other but what they definitely have in common is an unwavering desire to protect Richard and help him in his quest and the muscle to back it up. Now having said that, Cara is a very particular kind of woman and Kahlan, while she can really kick ass and you would not want to tangle with her, she has a real vulnerability. She's a real woman and though she's noble enough not to indulge it, in a weepy way, she really wrestles everyday with not really being able to have a normal life with the man she loves. And Cara, she'll just kick the piss out of anyone.
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AT: Speaking of Cara, it really seems like she's starting to regain her sense of human emotions. Will we continue to see that evolve?
Well the idea of Cara was that she was a woman who, as we demonstrated early on in season, had really been stripped of her humanity to be able to with stand pain figuratively and literally, that's one of the interesting things about the Mord Sith and that whole mythology. And where we'd never like to see her indulge and be wishy washy, we would like to see her slowly regain her humanity and that means dealing with love and loss but if you notice at the end of it, she was heartbroken and she did have real feelings for Leo (who was killed) that she couldn't quite admit to herself or to him. But in the end she sucks it up and says, “Let's get back to it.”
AT: So there's this little grassroots movement to get the show renewed for a third season by fans. They're writing letters in to their local stations and to Disney. I don't know that all shows have that kind of support. Could you talk a little bit about your fan base?
I love it! My writers spend a little bit more time tapping into all that stuff than I do, but yes, there are some really great fan sites and we‘ve gotten incredible fan feedback. The show is not so easy for some people to find in some markets, but people are finding it and watching it on Hulu and watching it on iTunes and hopefully watching it on broadcast where it looks the best and actually we've had a little bit of growth in our audience over last season which is remarkable given the limitations of some of our distribution, but we're in some 130 countries around the world and we've got a great international audience. So I'm very happy to hear that the fans are pushing to get the show renewed for a third season, which is something I'm very hopeful about.
AT: Do know when that decision might happen?
Probably not for a little while, I think it's too early, but I do know that the studio would very much like to see it continue. I've been busy writing the season finale with Stephen Tolkin and in the writer's room we've been coming up with all sorts of tantalizing story lines for season three.
AT: So some of your most notable work is still in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy: Star Trek: Voyager, Smallville, Dark Angel.
Yeah, how did that happen?
AT: But then I also see the 90210 reboot and North Shore.
Ah yes, the sexy surfing soap.
AT: Has any of that experience helped you tug on viewers' heartstrings on LOTS? Some of the scenes between Richard and Kahlan are really intense.
I'm really pleased that in my career I've been able to do some very varied material. I spent many years doing Star Trek: Voyager and after that I thought that I just wanted to do a show were people don't have phasers and there are no aliens. I just wanted to do shows about real people and relationships and after I did that I realized that it's pretty cool to do genre stuff because it allows you to rip on contemporary themes and dabble in metaphor and all that. I guess I would like to think of myself as not a genre writer or producer or director, but just as a writer or producer or director who likes to explore interesting characters and tell compelling stories and keep surprising an audience.
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AT: So we're in the second half season two. Can you give us any hints as to what's to come?
Well, we have an episode with Keisha Castle-Hughes who was nominated for an Oscar for Whale Rider and she plays a character who claims to be the creator and she may or may not be and she ends up posing a very unexpected threat to Richard and forces Kahlan to question her faith and everything she's been taught. It's a really lovely performance from a really lovely actress.
We will see the return of Sister Nicci, a sister of the dark who has become a nemesis for Richard. We will meet Kahlan's father, played by Michael Nouri (NCIS, Damages).
We're going to see some creatures we haven't seen before in episode 16. It's kind of a seeker twist on a classic creature.
We're doing a really cool episode called Vengeance, which is going to reveal a lot of the dark secrets of Zedd's youth. So we'll be seeing Gabriel Mann (The Bourne Identity) back playing young Zedd. Also, that episode will star John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings). He plays a character named Horace who claims to know the secret to Richard's success.
And in the last four episodes we will be paying off the quest that was set up in episode one: the tear in the veil. Richard and Kahlan and Cara and Zedd are going to be fighting an ever widening threat as the world begins to come to an end. They will find the stone of tears. The question is will they be able to get it to where they need it in time? And during the conclusion of the season they will find themselves with some very unlikely adversaries as well as some very unlikely allies. It's going to be big. It's going to be awesome.
In : Interviews
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