Dean Devlin has introduced a modern day thriller that rallies a band of equally talented specialists who work together under group leader Nathan Ford, played by Timothy Hutton.
The show works on every level; the pistons are firing in the writing, casting and crafts.
John Rogers and Chris Downey’s percolating caper scripts and Devlin’s directorial eye make for a great new series to dive into, as Devlin enthusiastically described his latest series as “a modern day Robin Hood” during an interview with Monsters and Critics.
Devlin was quick to note that the look of the show was a big tip of the hat to his seasoned film crew who worked with him in the past. “Dave Connell... when he was 24 he was the DP for ‘Neverending Story’, he is a huge part of this show; he’s like the Buddha on the set. And all of our dept heads, our costume designer came from ‘Raising the Bar;’ production designer Lauren Crasco, editor David Siegel – everywhere we have people at such a high level, even Gary Camp on the steadicam, working straight for eight hours, and because we have such a level of talent we can be really ambitious with this show.”
Last month, TNT invited Monsters and Critics along with other press to interview the cast including star Timothy Hutton, who plays Nathan Ford, the mastermind who cobbles a crew of skill-specific thieves to steal from the rich and greedy.
Chris Kane for me is the break-out star as the very funny retrieval expert and enforcer Eliot Spencer; Gina Bellman is the grifter and hapless actress Sophie Devereaux, Beth Riesgraf as nimble and volatile Parker and Aldis Hodge plays IT guru Alec Hardison.
“Leverage” is part serious, part high action romp, but the mythology springs from Nathan’s life; the pain from the preventable loss of his son. His focus changes and he relishes getting satisfaction for other people with his assembled crew of badass specialists for hire.
John Rogers explained how the idea came to be: "[Executive producer Chris Downey] and I were drinking in our garage, which is not as sad as it sounds, and were talking about how heist shows at the time had gotten really grim…you missed half an episode even and you were lost,"
He continued. "We talked about the shows we liked — Rockford Files, The A-Team, Mission Impossible — and why not do one of those?"
Rogers described the group of damaged people on Leverage; “adrenalin junkies” who together get to reach new heights of excitement; Nathan Ford is the glue that binds their wild energy.
Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) loves technology. His love of gadgetry derives from the writing and past life of John Rogers. Rogers noted that in his previous careers, he was a stand-up comic and physicist, allowing him to add both humor and science to scripts.
Hutton's Nathan Ford goes through a transformative arc. "He's more and more tempted by [the thieves] and enjoying the life that they come from," Hutton said. "He draws a line here, and by the third choice it's 'Well, maybe we'll make it here,' and the line keeps moving. But in the end, he feels OK about it because he's helping people." Hutton described Ford neatly: “I like to think that I pick up where the law leaves off.”
The entire cast is reveling in the writers taking liberties with the limitless abilities and situations they find their respective characters in. "It's been nothing but playtime," said Aldis Hodge, who plays the computer hacker Alec Hardison.
Gina Bellman (Sophie) added, “But it's not always easy. My first instinct is always to say, 'No, I can't do that,’ said Bellman. "In one of the episodes they gave me, I was playing English, Southern belle, and had three conversations in Mandarin.
I went to John and said, 'I can't do the Mandarin, I absolutely can't do it' . . . which then gives you the encouragement to go away and do it…then this week with Arabic, I can’t do it..It’s a ritual now, (laughs), I think my first instinct is I can’t do it, but then my brain kicks in and I just go for it."
Noting that America was leading the way for quality TV drama right now, Bellman talked about her character Sophie’s penchant for bad acting. “You know, it’s really liberating to be silly, a lot of actors don’t like to be seen as silly, but you have to perform without a sense of inhibition...I played an Indian, spoke Chinese, that’s the fun of the show, what is interesting is we all get along so well, the writers are morphing our chemistry in our scripts as we go along, and our characters start learning from each other."
Country singer and Okie wrestler Chris Kane was over the moon to be part of the ensemble. "You can develop your character each week; it’s a different mini-movie every week. Was he happy about the opportunity? “Oh man, it’s a dream come true, this is the role I got down on my hands and needs and prayed for when I was 16 in Oklahoma, to be an actor."
The trained wrestler and fighter elaborated on the fighting styles on the show. 'We've been using Kali close inside, elbows and other stuff, and its bone breaking, I wrestled my whole life, I took Ju-jitsu, I am a wrestler…you know I’ll take the leg out...I was in MMA training at the time when I got the call – I never specialized in one thing but that’s what’s great about MMA, but we are actually using Kali."
His weight class on the high school wrestling team? “I started at 165, and then in my senior year I wrestled at 123. I'm 185 now.”
The premise sets up with Timothy Hutton playing Nathan Ford, a disaffected former insurance investigator whose personal loss liberates his preconceived ideas of right and wrong. The line simply gets moved according to the circumstance.
Ford is dulling his pain drinking when a corporate fellow approached him under the aegis of rightful revenge in a case of corporate theft.
The pilot episode uses Chicago locations nicely in particular a 44-story building that Paker (Riesgraf) hangs upside down from doing her own stunts at 4 AM during a very typically windy day; not too shabby.
Director and executive producer Dean Devlin summed it up. "its pure insanity, luckily even though we are doing a mainstream show, no studio is involved, very few voices are involved so we don’t need to get anyone’s permission…insanely challenging but it’s made it fun...I like to think of it as an onion that slowly gets peeled, as the story goes on. It is essentially a modern day Robin Hood ...you need the band of Merrymen, the rich villains, and we live in a time where you can just open a window and throw a rock and hit a rich villain...”
"Leverage," TNT's new heist with a twist show, starts Sunday night. Make sure to watch; you’ll become addicted. A really fun show; highly recommended.