Interview with ZOS Showrunner Malcolm MacRury, part oneComplications Ensue
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CRAFTY: It's a hell of a show. How did you guys come up with the idea for it?
MACRURY: There was a first attempt made driven by the director, Mario Azzopardi. It was peacekeeping more as a cop show. He wasn't happy, though. [Producer] Paul Gross approached me because he's kind of obsessed with DEADWOOD--
CRAFTY: -- and you wrote on DEADWOOD –
MACRURY: We met and the idea we came up with was, could you tell the story of a whole community in the same way that Deadwood told the formation of a civilization out of illegal opportunity and opportunism. Could you tell a story about a community that had had law and order and then descended into chaos and anarchy. Could you tell the story of that community, giving equal weight to all the partners, to see what happened to it. And clearly there are parallels to DEADWOOD and Westerns. I was just joking with Rick Roberts [who plays the head of the Canadian peacekeeping force] that he's the "new sheriff in town." And Colm Meaney's Muslim bar owner is the Al Swearingen character. Mila, Lolita Davidovich's character, is Tolliver... This was a place divided by ethnicity and religion, and right in the midst of it, these outsiders, who have the unenviable task of making peace where it's not wanted.

We wanted to tell it in the present rather than back in the 90's when the worst of the war was going on. Two reasons for that. One, I wanted to tell this post-9/11. How would all that paranoia affect the situation? I mean, the Americans were heroes in Croatia and Bosnia, but after 9/11 all these mujahedeen disappeared out of there. So we wanted to play with that.
CRAFTY: And you got a Donald Rumsfeld look-alike with a George Bush accent--
MACRURY (LAUGHS) -- This was a pretty secularized Muslim world. It's only a couple hours drive from Budapest but you drive through the hills of Bosnia and you'd see spires of mosques like you'd see church spires in Québec. These are European Muslims. Rooted there, intermarried, secularized-- though that's changing a bit. The Imam in ZOS asks if "only the Red Cross will be allowed to do this?" becaues in Sarajevo you have all sorts of Muslim money coming in. And religion is become more a mark of id. Sometimes you see women wearing the hijab. So the old Sarajevo model of everybody lives together has really been tested.
CRAFTY: Did you go there?
MACRURY: Sarajevo is a great city but not the meeting place that it once was. People live in their own neighborhoods. There are ethnic and religious identities that weren't so strong before. But you go to Belfast, and 10, 15 years ago you'd have said that was hopeless, and now everybody's getting along.
CRAFTY: And the other reason to tell it in the present?
MACRURY: We wanted something more like a fable than a historical recreation. That's why we use the terms “Christians" and "Muslims” rather than Croats or Serbs and Bosniaks. More archetypical. Because, who are we to try to tell this story in a historically accurate fashion?
CRAFTY: And somebody would always say you got it wrong--
MACRURY: --everybody would say we got it wrong. The good thing about setting it now but based in a struggle that had its climax over a decade ago is ... if you were to try to tell Iraq or Afghanistan now, you'd be too close. You want to take something that's got a little distance, a little time to settle – you can see things that you couldn't when it's in your face.
CRAFTY: What was the point at which you knew you had not only a territory but a show? Was there a point at which it crystallized for you?
MACRURY: That happened in the room really. We got together, Peter Mitchell, Jason Sherman, John Krizanc, and me, and the producers said okay, take a week, the four of you, sit in the room, see what you come up with. We brought in a military observer, Maj. John Russell, a real UN "swimmer" who'd been to all sorts of places, Sierra Leone, that sort of place. He gave us the overview talk that he gives to various places. It's therapy for him, giving this talk. That started us off. By the end of the week we had the bones of what the thing was.
CRAFTY: And you and Pete Mitchell are serious TV vets--
MACRURY: And Jason and John come out of theatre, Governor General Award winnning theatrical people, so that made a good combo. And we had a real freedom in that room. We realized, we can do anything we want. We're making it all up from nothing.
CRAFTY: But what was the moment creatively, the point where you knew you not only had a bunch of things you wanted to explore but a TV series?
MACRURY: A turning moment was coming up with the character of Speedo Boy. And that wasn't something Major Russell told us, that came out of John Krizanc's research. You come up with an image, and it sort of defines, "Okay, that's the kind of show we wanna do." It has some Monty Python sides to it. Or M*A*S*H, or CATCH-22. If you create a character like that, it informs how the world is going to be shaped. If a figure like that is allowed to exist in this world--
CRAFTY: John Boorman once told me that Nicol Williamson never really grasped his character in EXCALIBUR until he got that silver skullplate to put on his head, and then he felt he really had it. And for Laurence Olivier it was the nose -- he had to have the right nose for the role to come together for him.
MACRURY: Here's the weird thing – when we were actually filming in Tuzla, in Bosnia, they're very wary of the UN. It's no a happy history. We say in the show, "if all the sides don't hate your guts you'renot doing your job" but on the other side, there's a real skepticism -- So we're shooting, and Enrico came in late in the production -- we're doing block shooting – filming above the town – and he's wearing his leather trench coat over a Speedo, and the locals all come around and say, "who's he supposed to be?" And we explained, and they said, "Oh, I like him, he's real!" So that was kind of humbling. Four smarty-pants writers sit in a room in Canada trying to come up with something outrageous, and that's the thing they say, that's real.
CRAFTY: And on FLASHPOINT he's the most buttoned down guy in the world and on ZOS he's this flamboyant, crazy--
MACRURY: And by the way, talking about that, one of the things I learned on this shoot was, I really like actors. I hang out with them more now – I'm not uptight or precious about my words with them. Because what they bring to the character is so much more important. And you can write all the words and the actions – it's what they do on film that gives you anything you've got. They are creators along with the directors and the writers and the producers. I'm almost embarrassed to be learning this at my advanced age. I was at a writer's thing making this point and being shot down – showrunners were all saying "you can't let them go off script," "the script is what's vital to save." I think it's like the Bible. You have to let people interpret it and make it their own.
CRAFTY: But there's a difference, isn't there, between working with actors so they're comfortable with the lines -- which may mean rewriting them -- and having actors improvise. Because they usually start saying the subtext an sounding like they're from Southern California.
MACRURY: I had one guy come in, "I'm so used to coming onto shows and changing all the lines so I'm comfortable with them," and I didn't rein him in much, except here and there where he might have missed some information we needed to get out. But after a while he comes in and says, "I'm kicking myself, because I'm starting to hear the rhythms of what you wrote, and I'm starting to hear it in my head." So I guess we're saying the same thing. I do feel a bit liberated. When you have really good actors you can just trust them to run with it.

ZOS premieres Monday, January 19th at 9 pm PST on Movie Central, and at 10 pm EST on The Movie Network.

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I just finished reading all three. interesting stuff, thanks!


By Blogger Mef, at 12:07 PM  

The website is pretty cool - it has the best interactive game component I've ever seen for a tv series fan site. Last Tango in Jadac is a living nightmare that tasks users to collect the illicit currency of war torn Balkans. Participants must collect drugs and vhs tapes to barter with border guards.

By Blogger rob, at 11:44 AM  

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