Jonathan Prince is the Executive Director of the new CBS drama Cane. He recently answered questions about how the cast was brought together and the direction of this high quality serialized show, and what audiences can expect each week. The story focuses on a wealthy Cuban family living in Florida running a sugar plantation. It has all the elements of Dallas with a Latino flair.
How did you assemble such an amazing cast? And who signed on first?
Jonathan Prince: It's simple. If you write it, they will come. Cynthia (Cidre) wrote a beautiful pilot. And the commitment from CBS to give it the production value it needed, we kept saying we really want to do something big and epic and felt like it wanted to get bigger each week. So the first cast member to come on board was Jimmy (Smits). And Jimmy came on board early enough that he could help us shape the vision and the script, and so then a good script got greater. And suddenly, I guess -- the most fun about the casting process is this: Who will be Jimmy Smits' wife? Who will be his adoptive parents? And as you begin to look at lists, you guys know how it works. Some casting director gives you a bunch of lists, and suddenly the list is Hector Elizondo. You say, "Well, he would never do this. He would do this show? Oh." Or Rita Moreno. "Rita Moreno wouldn't do this show. She would do this show? Oh, sure." And then you get surprises. We had never met Paola (Turbay).
We had never met Lina (Esco). We knew Nestor's work. I'd never met Eddie (Matos). He came in and auditioned on a weekend one day. It's not the way it sounds. He was charming and blew us away. I'd never met Michael (Trevino). So some of them were complete surprises. Others, Cynthia and I kept (thinking) - we would go home at night, thinking, "We got Hector." It was crazy. But Jimmy led the way by, I think, example, but also helping us create a better script for these roles. One of the people who is not up here today is Polly Walker, who is a British actress. If you watched the show Rome, you would know who she is. She plays -- it's a small part in the pilot. It's a very large part in the series. She plays a woman who is having an affair with Nestor's character. She plays the nemesis. She plays Ken Howard's daughter. When she signed on, it was sort of like -- it was icing on the matza. It was like, "This is crazy." So the cast got better.
The production values are pretty broad, like you said, epic. And it's a very dark show. Now, with The Sopranos off the air, are you trying to fill the void?
Jonathan Prince: I hope we get all of the critical acclaim and three times the viewership.
Going back to the very large and cinematic nature of the pilot, it automatically begs the perennial question of are you going to be able to keep up those production values through the run of the series?
Jonathan Prince: It's an incredibly astute question because ... the pilot shouldn't be your best episode. But in order to get a pilot picked up, you have to do a pretty good episode. Lost couldn't crash a plane every week, but it was a hell of a way to start a series. I feel like, for us, the production value that we deliver in the pilot, we are convinced we can do every week, not just because of a good cast or good sort of beautiful sets that we're building or the many trips to Florida that we're going to take to continue to give it a Florida feel, but more to the point of CBS and Paramount have been extremely wise in giving us the money that we need to make this show. I want it to be hungry. I want audiences to look out and say, "Did you see what they did last week?" Not a gimmick, not a tank rolling down the street, not a helicopter flying out of the sky. That's beautiful in a promo. Epic in its scope, meaning one family in the sugar cane, another family in the rum business, to have the music -- music's a big part of the show - to bring on musical people. When I did a show called American Dreams, we brought in a lot of musical performers. That will be a part of this. It's about budget. It's about the wisdom of spending that money wisely. That's a repetitive statement. And it's about continuing to shoot in Florida as often as we can to give it that look.
But someone had said earlier it's a dark show. It's also a blue-sky show. This is about an incredibly successful immigrant family who has made it in two generations. These people come here with nothing, with some yeast and a recipe for rum. And three generations later, look at these kids. These two kids were born on third base and thought they hit a triple. So it's about the immigrant experience. It's about wealth and influence. It must be big. It must feel wealthy. So we'll deliver that every week.
Cane debuts this fall on CBS.