Jonathan Tropper: The mind behind Cinemax’s Banshee

troppIn March, I talked to writer/creator/executive producer Jonathan Tropper about Cinemax’s Banshee. Here is the conversation as Season 4 preps for launch.

Banshee’s third season finale brought fans to their knees again with the death of another central character in Gordon Hopewell(played so well by Rus Blackwell), the capture of a fan favorite in Job(Hoon Lee) and ended with Proctor(Ulrich Thomsen) and Hood(Antony Starr) chatting no longer like rivals but possible partners in crime. Another hour that reminded us that the show is never letting up or slowing down. Co-creator and executive producer Jonathan Tropper spoke with me over the phone about the finale, unveiling Hood’s background, and how Season 4 will be completely different than what you expect it to be. Another chat between two guys who love Banshee.

Dan Buffa-How does the weekly anticipation for a new episode feel on the creator’s end?

Jonathan Tropper-Once it’s done shooting and on TV, it’s a piece of a cake for me. I’m halfway through season 4’s script. Season 3 can take care of itself at this point.

DB-Being the co-creator of these rich characters, how hard is it to ultimately plot their demise, like we saw with long time residents, Siobhan Kelly, and in the finale, Gordon Hopewell? 

When we aired episode 5(Tribal, where Trieste Kelley Dunn’s Siobhan is killed off), even though I planned it and looked over the script while seeing the early cuts, I haven’t let myself really watch the end of the episode until after it aired. It was upsetting. I love Trieste and the character. You love to keep everyone around. However, we made a commitment when we started the show that there has to be really severe consequences for what Lucas and Carrie have done. We don’t want to be the show where things get hairy for a little while and then everything is put behind them. Lucas has done some bad shit and so has Carrie. You don’t get to escape. The consequences don’t stop coming. 

DB-A lot of shows are complacent and resist making these dramatic changes to the show. Banshee goes full speed ahead. You are fearless.

JT-Our attitude always was, “We were damn lucky to get on the air and we were lucky to find our viewership, but the goal really is we treat each season like a brand new show. We try very hard to not make the same story twice or the exact same 10 episodes we just made without flushing stuff about the show that people really like. 

DB-One of the the highlights for me of “All of Us Pay Eventually” was diving back into Lucas’ past and connecting the dots between his army activities and his specialized skill set exploits? How long has this history dose been in the works?

JT-It’s interesting. We definitely try to create the sense of these characters’ past with the Welcome to Banshee website, anywhere from 15 years ago to 10 years ago. The idea is that you have come into the end of a very long story. Both (David, co-creator)Schlickler and I along with Greg Yaitanes are big Star Wars fans, so you are coming in at Episode 4. We didn’t have it all so carefully worked when we did our first season, because you never expect to get the chance. Once we got on the air, we realized we can go back and flesh out his past. A big idea when we were coming into Season 2 was “What if Lucas Hood wasn’t the first time he became someone else?” That’s when it occurred to us that he may have had another life before he even met Carrie.

DB-Lucas is pretty good at shedding identities and moving forward, unlike his adversaries Kai and Chayton, who know exactly who they are. 

JT-At 18, he’s in the army. Then he is in covert ops. He’s never actually been a real adult. Now, at the age of 40, he doesn’t have any idea who he is, which makes him a very complicated character. 

DB-That makes it great TV. Who wants a regular guy at the center of this kind of show.

JT-His tortured soul is spilling out over the entire town and torturing everyone else. 

DB-When I think of Lucas Hood, I remember this great line from a Showtime series called Brotherhood, where a man compared his gangster brother to a tornado because of the damage he inflicts on those around him.

JT-That’s a great line. Like Brock says, everything he touches turns to blood. 

DB-Being the creator and co-producer of the show, does every script that we see on screen have your fingerprints, in some way, on it?

JT-I plan the whole season with the writers. We outline all the episodes together. After the writer do a draft, I read it and note it. Adam Targum reads it first and it comes to me. I make a final pass and tend to rewrite certain dialogue. Being a bit of a control freak, I have a very specific way I hear these characters in my head. The writers obviously write a lot of great stuff that stays in there. Then there are certain instances where I know Job wouldn’t say something in this particular way, so I end up putting my spin on it. The final script goes past my desk, which is common for all shows.

DB-The characters are your babies, so there is a sense of ownership there, so it’s only right to step in when needed.

JT-Sometimes it may not even be fair, and it just sounds wrong to me. It doesn’t mean it would sound on TV, but you lose a certain objectivity at some point. You have to make sure it all sounds the way you created it in the beginning. My job is keeping it consistent.

DB-The finale serves up a dual sided revenge/rescue action extravaganza with Hood/Hopefull raiding Camp Genoa and Proctor taking down Frazier with Hector. How exciting is it to create and write action scenes for the stunt crew to bring to life?

JT-We love doing it. We sit in the writers room and imagine how it’s going to play out. We write them out scene by scene. Then we find the location and then we rewrite it to fit the location. When Marcus and his team get there, they are very creative and while respecting the story points, they present certain sequences and very often they add a lot to it. 

DB-Banshee’s action is second to none sir. I know you’ve said that you take a lot of inspiration from the old school action films that play in the middle of the night on cable, and I recognize a lot of that.

JT-We are just really determined. Any time we pay tribute to something, we’ll pay tribute to it, but we are really determined to not be derivative except in the best possible way. We want to pay tribute to everything from 80’s action to Tarantino, but at the same time we want it be unique to us. 

DB-The clash between Carrie and Stowe brought back memories of the Olek battle. A constant on Banshee are these signature all out brawls that feature men and women beating the crap out of each other. You don’t see that anyone else on TV.

JT-We don’t even think about it. We make our female characters every bit as dangerous as our male characters, so there really is no reason they shouldn’t fight each other. They are just as deadly. 

DB-That’s another way Banshee raises the bar. I watch way too much TV and most of the shows stay grounded and don’t explore anything that involves a certain risk. 

JT-Greg and I came from other gigs, so the philosophy that came about was, “We’d rather fail spectacularly than have a dull success.” I’d rather shoot for it and fail than play it safe and have a Season 3 that feels just like Season 2. 

DB-There are elements from other shows, but with Banshee, it’s that “HOLY SHIT” factor that keeps getting pushed up. 

JT-We don’t necessarily try to top ourselves. We just don’t want to get complacent.

DB-The abduction/extraction of Job at the end sets up a room full of possibilities for Season 4 but it puts our favorite wise cracking computer hacker in a horrible position. Captured and nowhere near a computer.

JT-The biggest problem is the guy they need to help find Job is in fact Job. He has always been the brains of the operation. How do you even begin to find him without his resources? I don’t really want to get into Season 4 because what we have planned is so surprising but this doesn’t play out like you would expect.

DB-The last scene of the episode didn’t full lay out but hinted at a possible Proctor-Hood alliance? Is that a wrong way to look at that conversation? Two men who may be more useful to each other than they are sparring against each other?

JT-Certainly now that Hood isn’t the sheriff, He and Proctor wouldn’t be enemies so we will definitely see that relationship head in a different direction. 

DB-Banshee doesn’t work like most shows, where there is a true good guy and bad guy. There are shades of gray involved so a possible Hood-Proctor alliance shouldn’t surprise the hardcore fans of the show.

JT-We’ve always been careful that our villains are never fully villains and our heroes are never fully heroes. Everyone has a certain level of humanity to them and sympathetic in their own way. No one is really good or bad. They are alpha males pursuing their own agendas. Hood and Proctor’s relationship will continue to evolve and change. 

Watching Antony Starr work is a weekly pleasure. How happy are you with the actor’s portrayal of your central character?

JT-It’s fantastic. The truth is when we wrote Lucas Hood four years ago, he was imagined as a different character than the way Antony plays him. He was imagined as a lot more verbose, smart ass, overtalking things and being this brash conversationalist. Then Antony came in and brought this gravity to it and this twinkle in his eye to where he gets it but he doesn’t have to talk about it as much. We then started writing more towards the way Antony played him. He’s become a very different character than we first envisioned but it’s hard to to remember that even because by the first three episodes, we were already writing him differently due to the way Ant brought him to life. Now I can’t imagine him any other way. 

DB-It’s amazing work. Starr does a lot without saying much. Most actors need that dialogue to properly build a character.

JT-Ant created such a sense of burden in the way Lucas handles everything and the weight that Lucas carries the guilt and the pain. When he did that, it changed the way we wrote the character and the show itself. He raised the stakes, like this wasn’t just an action show, it’s a guy who in tremendous pain and that angst ended up spreading out to the whole world of Banshee. That all came from the way Antony built the character. 

DB-You see that back in the first season with the pilot. That internal struggle of Lucas.

JT-We were always a character driven show. We try to not let that get lost in the action. That’s how we sold it originally to HBO before Cinemax had original programming. We told them it was a character driven show with a slightly preposterous premise. When we went to Cinemax, we amped up the action but we always try to be a character driven show.  

Banshee addicts, you can trust Tropper with your Friday nights and know that the show will never get lazy and always push the envelope. With these creators, you have a group that is determined to blow you away every single week. They go big or they go home. Tropper and Yaitanes are fanboys of old school cinematic action just like it’s audience, so it creates a trust between makers and receivers that something special is coming every week. As the real Lucas Hood said back in the pilot, “You can always reheat a steak but it’s never quite the same.” In a way, that’s Banshee. Always evolving but keeping the soul intact, thanks to creators like Jonathan Tropper.

Season 4 premieres in January, 2016. The entire third season of Banshee is available on Cinemax On Demand or Max Go.

(Photo Credit-Gregory Shummon/Cinemax)

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