In Season 2 of the Starz drama series Counterpart, the Crossing between parallel dimensions is closed and Howard Prime (J.K. Simmons) is going to work and living his life while his counterpart Howard Alpha (also J.K. Simmons) is locked in a mysterious black site and cut off from everyone he knows, each stranded in the other’s world and adapting for their own survival. As war between the worlds escalates, both men find the lines between them blurring in ways they never would have expected.
At the Los Angeles press day for the new season, Collider got the opportunity to sit down 1-on-1 with show creator Justin Marks to talk about what he learned from making the first season of Counterpart, directing an episode of Season 2, what it’s like to be a first-time showrunner, how much of Season 2 was always in the plan, what he knows about the endpoint of the series, adding to the cast, and the show’s female perspective. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Since this is the first TV series that you’ve taken on, as a showrunner, did it get any easier for Season 2, or did it provide a whole new set of challenges?
JUSTIN MARKS: It did get easier. I never thought it would, but it did. I wouldn’t say the show makes itself, but the amount of work it took last season, just to know what I was doing, I don’t have to worry about t anymore. It’s also just the typical first season to second season thing that happens with a show. In the first season, you’re busy, throughout the process, with asking, “What is the show?” Well, we know what the show is now. Now, it’s about, how do we execute it as well as we can, and how do we keep the surprises going? There are no questions about tone. There are no questions where an actor says, “Who am I?” There’s none of that stuff. For the incoming cast, we needed to prepare a Bible that said what the show is and what the influences are, but it’s generally gotten a lot easier this year. I actually got eight hours of sleep a few times, and that was nice. The first season, that didn’t happen, at all. This season, I got to direct an episode, try new things that I hadn’t really done before, and take some bigger risks, and I’m very excited about it.
How did that come about? Had you been hoping to direct the show, at some point?
MARKS: It didn’t really come into my mind until the episode was written. It’s a very unique episode that takes place and divides the season in half, and it changes quite a lot about what we know about the show. After it was written, I realized, “I have to direct it. I really want to do it, and I don’t want to let it down by passing it off, and then not communicating well enough to someone else. I want to do it myself.” I was very reluctant, at the beginning. I never would have believed, a year ago, that I would’ve done it, but I fell in love with it, on the page.
Now that you’ve done it, do you want to do it again? Do you want to direct more episodes, or direct an entirely different project?
MARKS: I would. I would never default to it. It always has to be coming off of the page, like falling in love with something. I’m a writer, and I feel like my best strength, as a director, is as a writer. If I write something that I truly fall in love with again, then I’ll do it again, and if not, I am happy that we have very, very competent and excellent directors on the show, especially this season.
Would that be the same with a film?
MARKS: Yes. I would consider it. It would be fun. But, I wouldn’t just show up and direct. I would have to find something where I truly felt that I had something better to add than the next person. Like a TV show, it really is a marriage, and you can’t get into a marriage lightly. It’s tough.
What is the experience of being a showrunner like? On day one, did you know that it was what you were supposed to be doing, or did you have moments of panic?
MARKS: I had total moments of panic, all the time. It’s sink or swim, and fortunately, I had a lot of great people to teach me. I had Amy Berg on Season 1. Erin Levy, who’s #2 on the show, is really experienced from Mad Men. We have great producers, line producers, directors, and people who have done it before, and you really listen to them and try to learn. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s really fun. My background is in architecture. I love drawing and designing worlds, and all that stuff, so it really suited me very nicely, when it came to getting to build the look and feel of the show. Actually looking over my shoulder and realizing, “Oh, I’m the one in charge,” is crazy. You’re accountable to almost no one, and that’s really fun. You don’t get that in features.
How much of what we’re seeing in Season 2 is what you thought this season would be, when you first developed this TV series?
MARKS: I’d say a perfect 50%, which if we’re doing our jobs, it should be, every season. We always ruminate on and talk about what the show should be, in the future in the writers’ room. We set goals – goals for revealing the twists that we’ve always had in our heads, or a character moment, or who this person or that person is – but then, there’s this other 50%, that is the unknown. That’s what you find, along the way, that really pulls you in a different direction and guides you in a different way. That’s the stuff that makes for the best part of the show. That’s the stuff that made for Clare and her reveal in Season 1, or Baldwin and the fact that she even survived it. Those are the things that you find by accident, as writers, as you go through it. So, it’s always about being open to that other 50%. We have a lot of stuff that we knew was coming, and some more information, reveals and plotlines about characters that we were really hoping to see, but then there’s this other stuff that we just figured out, on the way, that have really became some of the best parts of the season.