The actor, director and executive producer talk about their new NBC series
Kings is set to premiere on Sunday, March 15 with a two-hour debut starting at 8 PM ET on NBC. Three very important elements to this series are one of the series' stars Chris Egan, who portrays young David Shepherd, Francis Lawrence, who directs the two-hour premiere and the following two episodes and executive producer Michael Green. The trio held a conference call to talk about the new series and here's what they had to say.
Chris let me ask you, what attracted you to this character?
Chris Egan: I was always, you know, well initially I was, I mean I was always interested in the story of David growing up. I heard the story in church and I was always very inspired by the story. I, actually I always imagined, you know, it was kind of like a dream to do - to play David. But I kind of imagined it as a sort of period piece, you know, like a swords and sandals piece. But then when I heard that, you know, Michael Green had, you know, translated it into a modern day world, I was very interested to see how that would read. So yes, I was just - I was very inspired by the character and, you know, to see a story like this come to life, yes, I was happy to go for it.
Francis, tell us about how this story unfolds. Tell us about the first four hours and what we can expect right off the bat.
Francis Lawrence: About the first four hours? Well I think the, you know, the first - the two hour pilot is a real introduction into the world and the characters and what we can expect. And then the following hours are really just all the way the different stories that can evolve from, you know, our kicking off point. You know, the pilot we meet David, sort of the innocent, you know, kid, naïve, wide-eyed kid that's sort of been, you know, through a series of circumstances, brought into this, you know, the world of royalty in this country. And the relationships are set up. The characters are set up. And then the different stories that follow are just all the ways that the stories can go. You know, you have got so many great characters and rich textures and, you know, I do not want to give away too much.
Francis, I am just wondering on your end, you have done features. You have done music videos and here you are directing television. How different is it truly? I mean this stuff we saw looks very (filmic) but you are still in the real world of TV. How different was it?
Francis Lawrence: You know honestly, it was not that different. It was, you know, me doing music videos is obviously very different, but look, doing the two-hour pilot was like doing a small movie. It was, you know, a huge difference in budget, a huge difference in time. You know, the last movie I did I think was, you know, the budget was about $150 million and we shot for 95 days and, you know, it took three years of my life. And this thing, from the time we sort of kicked off and got going was, you know, was about three months. So it is eight weeks of prep, 20 days of shooting for a two-hour pilot, a lot less money, and, you know, that was the real challenge. But it was also the real joy because I sort of found it freeing to not have the pressure of all that big money and to really, really focus on the simplest and most efficient way of getting the ideas across and the emotions across in the story. And so I sort of thought it was fun. It was kind of the most fun I have had, you know, telling a story on film.
How involved will you be as an Executive Producer here on in, and will you be back to direct more?
Francis Lawrence: I would love to be. I mean it is all sort of dependent on whether or not I am making a movie. You know, if I am not making a movie and the new season gets picked up, I would be happy to come back and do a couple of hours. You know, I did the pilot and then came back and did the first two episodes after that here, then stayed on very involved. You know, I came back and helped another friend do an episode. I am, you know, looking at all the scripts. I am looking at all the cuts. I am, you know, talking to most of the directors. I, you know, I sort of kicked into gear with the crew to make sure that the esthetic and the feel and the tone all works. You know, I would go and talk to all the actors to make sure that they were sort of clear with what they are doing and that they could always come to me if they had questions. So, you know, I tried to stay as involved as I could be, not actually living in New York with them and being there every day. So.
You did mention doing another film. Is Eddie Dickens next or is that just, you know...
Francis Lawrence: No, Eddie Dickens is on the shelf. That was gone a long time ago. That was sort of a mutual decision of the, you know, the filmmakers and the studio to not go down that process. It was starting to feel a little too nichey. It was an animated film that was a bit too scary for kids and a bit too childish for adults. So it was a little, just did not quite fit. And next I do not quite know what is going to be next, but I am just developing a lot of things and, you know, we will see what happens.
Chris a while ago a movie guy said that Australia has a disproportionate amount of talented people to the size of its population. And the more I thought about it, it really is true. Can you think back, what is it about Australia that kind of nurtured you or kind of helped you, got you interested in acting and kind of molded you?
Chris Egan: I think it is something in the Australian water or kangaroo meat. No I - I mean, I grew up with a love for acting. You know, I think I was sort of always, you know, my parents and my mom always taught me to, you know, with the creative arts to sort of focus on everything like dancing, singing and acting. And all my family were, you know, were sort of were actors and we grew up in an agency doing commercials and, you know, and they sort of fell out of it but I just kept going with it. But I do not know, it was just always what I, you know, I always, always loved doing and always had a passion for it. There was really nothing else that I loved so much. So, you know, there is also some great role models too that have come out of Australia like, you know, Mel Gibson, and, you know, Nicole Kidman, a lot of great actors that I have looked up to and just wanted to sort of follow in their example.
In a way, we think of Australia as the best of both worlds. You obviously have a lot of artistic stuff because, I mean you even went to a high school for the arts, and like you said, dance and singing and that, but we also think you guys get access to kind of fairly physical stuff, macho stuff and that. Did you get a chance, I mean you grew up in the city. Did you get a chance to do the other stuff - surfing, getting out in the country, going out in the outback, anything like that?
Chris Egan: Yes, I think, I think, yes, everybody in Australia because it is sort of, you know, it is really just a very large island and, you know, most people, you know, well yes, you grow up on the beach. And the sun and the weather is incredible, and, you know, you definitely, you get out and you get to see it all.
Chris I was curious, how did playing opposite Ian McShane help you with the role of David?
Chris Egan: Well he is just such an - he is an incredible guy and very talented. And, you know, I had some pretty sort of frightening stuff to do, you know, some big scenes and, you know, I was a fan of his before from watching Deadwood, so I was a little nervous to meet him and, you know, just interested to see how it would all work out. And, you know, our characters have such an interesting journey together, so it is kind of this love hate back and forth relationship. And so, him being such a great guy and just so generous and he really gave me a lot of great advice and, you know, helped me out a lot. So it was a blast working with him.
Francis, I was curious, now the show is being described as a contemporary retelling of David and Goliath.
Francis Lawrence: Um-hmm.
Now, how much does religion factor into the show? Are there other biblical stories tied in there?
Francis Lawrence: No, I mean, it is really following the template of the original stories and then with a lot of sort of fun and added creativity to it. I mean I kind of like doing these things which is you sort of take an old mythical tale and sort of reinvent it in a newer world because the characters are sort of classic, and, you know, they are such great archetypes. And it just seems to work and people seem to connect with it because it is sort of in our narrative DNA. But there is not a lot of God of it in this story. There is mention of God and you can sort of feel the hand of something sort of maneuvering things, that there is a hand helping David along at times, helping other people along at times. But it is not specifically a Christian God, necessarily.
New York is clearly a template for Gilboa but it is like slightly different. Like what were some of the things you did to make it familiar but not exactly New York.
Francis Lawrence: Well we thought from the very beginning to shoot this in New York. Michael and I, we both really wanted a city that feels like it could be a capital. And New York City feels like it even though it is not the capital of the United States. It feels like it could be the center of the United States. And so we fought to shoot there, but we knew that we were going to have to reinvent it. So the first thing was to change the profile of the city, so that if you are looking at the city it would feel different. So we would erase buildings, the iconic ones. So we erased the Empire State building. We erased the Chrysler building. We paint out the sign on the Met Life building. If you are looking south, you do not see the Statue of Liberty. We do that and then we added our own city center. So the idea was that we created our own Unity Plaza where you have Unity Hall and you have got Crossgen and you have got the other buildings that sort of surround that area. And, we started to map out where these buildings exist. So they really exist in our minds right around the Bryant Park area.
And then what we did was we sort of went to the street level and said okay, what is it we can change about the street that does not A, cost too much where we do not have to do too many effects, but that we can sort of change the feeling instantly. And so we started to think about what is it when you go to other countries that change the feeling of the streets. It is street signs. It is the esthetic of the graphics that are used - that the city use. It is the address systems. You know, it is all those kinds of things. It is how clean a city is. So we started to clean things up. We started to do wet downs. We put street signs on buildings rather than on signs. We used a different system. We used different color palettes. And without doing that much, we could sort of just shift it a little bit from being straight up New York into our own country.
I have a question for I guess Francis and Michael just about the challenges of taking essentially kind of a biblical tale and setting it to modern times. Is the morality today's or is it the Bible's?
Francis Lawrence: Hmm, Michael.
Michael Green: That is a good one. You know, the challenges of taking something ancient and making it modern is to find ways that it - is to highlight the ways that it is similar to today.
Francis Lawrence: Yes, the way that it overlaps.
Michael Green: Yes, and that there are so many universal themes in it, and then looking at them and realizing some things do not change, whether it is war, whether it is, you know, interpersonal conflict, whether it is sort of the natural law of everyone wanting more than they have. So that is part of the fun of it of seeing what is so universal and what does not need really that much adapting. And then there is the parts of the story that are baffling and really do not quite make so much sense. And we get to try to find ways to make it make sense. Then lastly is just the idea of monarchy at all. How do you take a very antiquated idea, something that is uniquely un-American and make it feel not only believable but enjoyable to an American palette. And we looked at what we considered American royalty, which is the world of celebrities and CEOs and occasionally a little bit the President. But I think we look much more the corporate model, and built our world around that esthetic so that, you know, the character of the Prince is treated like the way Justin Timberlake is treated in our country, with that level of access and that level of media attention. So, and then for the adults really, treating them the way the, you know, multi-billion dollar CEOs are treated in our world.
With the backgrounds that you guys have like in comics, are there any fantastical elements to the series at all?
Francis Lawrence: Yes absolutely. I mean one of the things that I loved about the script from the first place is the magical realism. You know, A, I mean it had sort of all the things that I love. One of the things I love most is to create worlds and this was a world to create which was a lot of fun. But it is also a world that is based, and it has to feel real, has to feel grounded, which I like so that it is not complete fantasy. One of the other things that really attracts me to stories that this has is magical realism which is there are moments in the series where things happen that probably normally could not happen, but they have. But they are done in a way and presented in a way where you could believe that they actually could have happened, and I am really attracted to that.
Chris, earlier you mentioned that you had to do a lot of big scenes, lots of frightening stuff. What kind of scenes were there? I mean is there some stunt work involved? What was scary for you when filming this?
Chris Egan: Just, I think because I wanted to sort of develop the character of David step by step from the, you know, the beginning in the pilot where he is, you know, this simple farm boy to by the end of the sort of, you know, as the episodes progressed. And the drama that is surrounding his life with the King and the Princess and all the sort of dysfunction that - all those things sort of bring out his characteristics and, you know, he starts to become a man. So with Silas, you know, it was kind of as the series progresses, he, you know, their relationship is constantly changing. And, you know, it was - there wasn't really so much stunt work. I mean, you know, Ian has to sort of, you know, beat the crap out of me a few times, but, you know, a lot of blood on the face. But, no he just, you know, he just became, you know, a great mentor and a great friend and I, you know, I could not ask for anybody better to work with. So, you know, he has been a real champion.
And in some of the scenes that do get a little bit rough, I mean was Ian feeling bad afterwards or anything like that - apologetic for, you know, having to beat you up a little bit?
Chris Egan: No. He was - we were just probably laughing more than anything. No, we had a lot of fun.
And also you had mentioned that, you know, the story of David has always fascinated you and inspired you and everything. Was there ever a point, you know, growing up that you did kind of feel like you were in a David and Goliath scenario, maybe with like a bully or, you know, even just in acting (morals) or anything like that?
Chris Egan: Yes, well I always found it fascinating that just the story of David and Goliath, you know, that this one young man would go out and face this giant,. And when there was this army that was so afraid of this giant and he just went out there with, you know, five smooth stones, and, you know, took this guy out with a slingshot. You know, I mean, I came to the U.S. when I was 19 years old. And that to me was - felt like a, you know, that was a pretty scary transition to come on my own and, you know, to sort of try to break into Hollywood. So that for my, you know, I spoke up with very much like a Goliath I mean.
Chris, I just wanted you to follow up on that because I thought that was interesting. Nineteen years old is real early to jump continents like that. What - first of all, what was it that got you to think okay this is the time to do it?
Chris Egan: I had been working on a TV show in Australia for about four years and it just, you know, it felt like the natural progression, you know, to, you know, like TV, people that have done TV in America, you know. Naturally they would just progress into doing more TV or getting cracking into the films and so I do not know, after doing four years of this TV show, I just, you know, I was really ready to sort of jump out and just do something crazy, take the risk and see what happens. So, you know, it was just - it was something I always felt, you know, since I was young that, you know, I was going to, you know, go to Hollywood. That is just the - it just felt like that was always in my heart.
Had you developed your American accent because your American accent is real solid now. Had you developed it by then - by the time you headed - went here or?
Chris Egan: I spent like six months before coming to L.A. with a coach in Australia. But I just think that it doesn't really matter how much coaching you have, you really have to be living in America. And I think over the years just living here and being around Americans and, you know, just listening to people. That has really helped. But you always have to keep working at it because it does slip. And, you know, you can become lazy and forget, you know, just forget sometimes. So you just have to keep on it and keep reminding yourself you are American.
And just give us one example of this. It must be so many culture shocks, give us one example just kind of a culture shock when you got here that just felt a lot different from home.
Chris Egan: Probably the coffee, or... the coffee isn't that good. No, probably L.A., coming to L.A. the biggest thing was seeing how many talented people there are in L.A. and how actual, you know, how few jobs there really are. I think that was - that was a big thing for me, you know, coming in to seeing how many people were in L.A. You know, really going for it.
Kings kicks off with a two-hour premiere on Sunday, March 15 at 8 PM ET on NBC.