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Prodigal Son exclusive interview: Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver on Bright, Lou Diamond Phillips, and more

Prodigal Son is back for season two on FOX this week, we spoke to the showrunners. Pic credit: FOX

Prodigal Son is back for season two on FOX this week. This is very good news for the fans waiting to exhale and see what happens to Dr. Martin Whitly, AKA “The Surgeon” (Michael Sheen) and his son Malcolm Bright, his sister Ainsley Whitly and the whole law and order cast left dangling from the epic finale from season one.

FOX network’s thriller series is the creation of executive producers/showrunners Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver who we spoke with during the holiday break ahead of season two’s anticipated return this week.

The series focuses on a NYPD homicide consultant and profiler Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), who has PTSD and psychological problems. This is stemming from the fact that his father, Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), is a very good-at-his-job serial killer, now incarcerated in a criminal mental institution.

Bright saw and heard things no kid should have seen, and he is still paying the psychological price.

What we learned in our interview was that there will be more twists and turns than ever for season two, and the best is yet to come.

In season two, Malcolm’s workload increases and further ties him back to his dear old dad, as his mother Jessica (Bellamy Young) and his ambitious TV journalist sister Ainsley (Halston Sage).

And we get to savor the fine work of Lou Diamond Phillips as Gil Arroyo, a lieutenant with Major Crimes in the NYPD who also has involvement with the Whitly clan in several complex layers of personal intrigue.

The action starts immediately from where we were left hanging and picks up with Bright’s (Tom Payne) personal life in disarray after the shocking season one finale in which his sister, Ainsley (Halston Sage), followed in her father’s footsteps.

Now, he must protect her and protect his mother, Jessica (Bellamy Young), from a secret that could tear the family apart all over again. Further complicating matters, Martin (Michael Sheen) wants to deepen his relationship with Bright, his “prodigal son,” but forging this bond leads to shocking twists and revelations.

Lou Diamond Phillips will also be directing episode seven of the series, as Jessica (Young) copes with witnessing Det. Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips) becomes critically injured in an attempt to protect her. Gil and Jessica have just realized their feelings for one another, but there will continue to be a will-they-won’t-they aspect to their character arcs

With Gil’s injury at the end of last season, fans will see roles reverse with Dani (Aurora Perrineau) and JT (Frank Harts) guiding Gil through his recovery and continues to provide a sounding board to JT and Bright, while JT fills in for Gil as a lieutenant.

The showrunners also promised storylines that weigh heavily on real-world issues such as COVID and racial profiling within the police force.

Exclusive interview with Sam Sklaver and Chris Fedak of Prodigal Son:

Monsters & Critics: Because of the Ainsley twist, I feel like Prodigal Son energetically has become more female-focused. Are you playing with us?

Chris Fedak: Since we are writing a thriller, I think we’re always being a little bit manipulative in regards to how we’re telling the story and how we want it to be thrilling and exciting and how are twists and turns are going to work?

So we apologize for that, but that the show was still, you know, keep even here in season two, it’s still Malcolm’s perspective that leads us into the story.

But I think that over the course of season one, we just realize that you have these wonderful characters and you also have amazing actors and like Halston, Sage, and Bellamy Young. So we want to explore those characters.

Also, and not really a secret that our writing our writers room is predominantly women, and Sam and I have been trained very well by our wives. And we just do what we’re told. It is a perspective that we really do appreciate.

M&C: You have a truly diverse cast, and Lou Diamond Phillips’s Gil Arroyo character has attracted a lot of attention in the series outside of the two main stars…

Chris: First I’ll thank you very much for that. That’s very good to hear. And, for us, when it comes to Lou Diamond…when you cast the movie star in a TV show, it’s hard not to want to write for him and explore that character.

And when we were first working on this, I think in our description and the pilot script was like, [Gil] he rocks a turtleneck, and then Lou came in for his audition. I think that after his audition we just looked at each other, and it was like, that’s the guy, it’s effortless.

Not only does he have this great leading man vibe, but he’s also an incredible actor who is warm and caring and we’re going to see as this year goes on, Lou is also a director [on the series]. He’s going to be directing an episode [episode 7] for us. And we couldn’t be more excited for him to be doing that.

A funny thing about working with Lou is that very early on when we were talking about the character of Gil Arroyo, Lou was like, you know what? I am Filipino. All of the roles he had in his career, he’s never actually played a Filipino character. This is just speaking to the diversity of the show. We were like, then the name is Gill Arroyo. And he will be Filipino.

From our initial meeting, Chris and I knew we would have to be better because Lou Diamond Phillips is going to be so good. You can’t give him a bad scene. He can’t perform a bad scene. It’s such a privilege to have him in the show and make, he makes our lives very easy,

M&C: A big Rubicon to cross in any, in any TV series is chemistry. Bellamy Young’s character initially was tossing out the WASP-y rich lady one-liners and yet you grew her character and she also filled in the character and that chemistry blossomed with Lou’s character. It is an alchemy you can’t plan when you’re writing a pilot. Talk about how you, as creators of the show and writers watched that unfold?

Chris: It’s so interesting because when we filmed our pilot, when you think about Bellamy’s character, Jessica Whitley, Jessica Whitley did have all of her walls up. Her son had been at the FBI and she had just been trying to live in high society. New York City, wherever was always shooting her glances.

But as our show became more of a family show in that Bright moved back to New York City, and he started working with Gil, and Gil Arroyo reentered Jessica’s life, we kind of got to flesh out Bellamy’s character.

I think being able to see more of the humanity that was in these characters is something that Bellamy had been hiding, in those first few episodes for good reason and just her character opening her up in this way, it has been such a thrill because Bellamy can break your heart just with like a very small movement in her eyes. She’s such a talented artist.

M&C: How are COVID and racial profiling within the police force – these timely storylines that are going to be woven in. Can you kind of expand on that?

Chris: I think what that means is that our show is taking place in 2021. We look at the world around us and even though we’re making an elevated thriller that’s delightfully disturbing, we also know that we can’t ignore the world. So when it comes to things like COVID, our characters will make mention of it.

You will see masks in the background because again, we’re shooting in New York and we are making a TV show. So we’re not going to have characters wearing masks in every dramatic scene, but we’re trying to address the world around us.

I think the same thing goes in regard to racial profiling in the police force is that when the world has exploded so many different times over the course of 2020, but we always reach out to our cast to talk about what’s happening in the world.

When it came to George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, we talked to all of our cast members to say, like, how can our show address this? And in some type of intelligent way? We’ve come up with our way into that real story that we think lives inside our world, but also allows our characters to also kind of reference and also help us explore 2021 in an intelligent way.

M&C: The use of gallows humor and a noir sense of humor… it’s not just a straight-up procedural. There’s a very sophisticated blend of comedy in the horror, which is not easy. Who has surprised you the most in their performances, with their ability to play both?

Chris: I think the first off, thank you very much. Anyone using the term sophisticated for Sam and I, that’s always thrilling for us, but and the show is secretly has a comic side.

Sam comes from comedy and like, we’ve worked on light comedy action in the past too. So it’s like everything we do, we want it to have that sense of humor because if it was purely a straight-up, dark disturbing murder show. I don’t think that wouldn’t be the show we would write. That’s not our thing.

We want the show to have that humor to offset, to leaven the kind of dark and disturbing stuff that we do as well. When it comes to performances, it’s always amazing to watch what our actors do with stuff.

Michael Sheen is one of the most gifted actors of his generation. And he also will find comedy and fun in the most disturbing of things as well.

But when we have actors like Bellamy, they’re all very gifted in finding those comic moments, that thing that exposes a little bit of their life outside of the show that they’re bringing to it.

It is always a lot of fun. It is something that we get excited as by writers. What do you think, Sam?

Sam Sklaver: Isn’t that interesting? I was going to say, yes, the easy one is that just what Michael Sheen is able to do both because of his talents, of course, but also because of the character that he played, like he gets to play a serial killer, Who we all know is a terrifying monster.

We know he’s a terrifying monster, but he gets to be in scenes with his son where, as an actor, Michael knows, I’m trying to make my son laugh right now. I’m trying to be funny. I’m trying to tell a joke. So you got to write him jokes that he can nail and they’re sweet and heartwarming, and you smile.

And then he’ll say something in his next line, and you’ll start to shiver because you remember that this guy killed 23 people. So just the power that “The Surgeon” [Sheen] has in his cell … to ride every emotion. It’s so interesting.

When you talk about tone, I do kind of think about like a rollercoaster has a tone, there’s that slow part when you go up and they’d go crashing down, and then you got a few minutes of just going really fast. And I think we try to hit as many beats as we can, as often as we can.

I know that maybe doesn’t sound smart, but whenever we’re writing a scene and it starts to get a little boring, we just know that we have to find another gear for it. And we’re just blasted that we can give everything to every character.

It’s not to say that JT [Frank Harts] can do the same joke that Edrisa [Keiko Agena] can do, but they can both do jokes and they can both do heartbreak, and we are just so fortunate to have so many tools in each of our actor’s hands, we can make every scene, do everything, which is what keeps us so excited.

Chris: You know, just one other thing to kind of point out there is there’s the other amazing thing is the watch what Payne can do going from the kind of like being the grounded son to his wackadoodle father, then becoming the fun, outrageous Sherlock Freud within the cop world is an incredible balancing act that I think the show is essentially built upon.

And if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be here. So it’s like what he does on a regular basis, and it’s pretty amazing.

M&C: Psychopaths are sexy and interesting. Aren’t they?

Chris: They are. Yeah, exactly. In TV shows…not in real life.

M&C: I’m sure your hair must stand on end when you consult with people who actually work in this field to get resources to base fictional storylines on, and you get to hear the real stuff.

Sam: Emails! My favorite emails come from our special effects makeup or our hair and makeup. Whenever we have these crime scenes that we do, they’re often very, very disturbing tableaus, which is something that we love.

And we’re going to keep going to love them. My favorite emails from them have all caps, ‘graphic images beware.’ So you don’t sit there with your morning coffee, and then click on links of people’s heads ][that have] exploded, but those do come for us and you have to be in the right place to look at it,. It is pretty awesome on-screen. it gives the show a great vibe.

M&C: To your point, it is a roller coaster ride and we don’t want to fall off the roller coaster, but we sure enjoyed the ride. What does season two, what can you tell the people who are invested in the show and that love it and, can’t wait, what can they expect?

Chris: Well, first off, here’s what I will tell you is that if you are worried that we’re going to hide our secrets and playing so close to the vest for a long period of time, you don’t have to worry because Sam and I have very limited attention.

We want to be exciting and we want to bring people in who enjoyed season one [right up to speed]. In our first episode, you’re going to get answers. You’re going to understand what happened that night after Ainsley’s shocking moment.

I think for us, season two is dealing with the aftermath of that. There were a lot of those secrets and also set up new ones. And like Sam has said before, it’s like, the show is still, even though we’ve made it in, with COVID and new restrictions and stuff like that, it’s still the craziest TV show around.

And it’s going to have a crazy thing, lots of thrills and excitement. It really is the most densely packed, 43 minutes of television you could possibly imagine.

Prodigal Son Season Two Premieres Tuesday, January 12 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

April Neale
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