The Cinemax action series Banshee tells the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, PA. It’s the perfect cover for him to try to win back the love of his life (Ivana Milicevic) and hide out from the dangerous gangster (Ben Cross) that they both betrayed years earlier, while attempting not to get into too much more trouble.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, showrunner/executive producer/director Greg Yaitanes talked about how he came to be a part of Banshee, what it was that drew him to the show, the challenge of having so much story to tell in 10 episodes, how liberating it is to work with the freedom of cable television, and having so many criminal elements to explore. He also talked about always knowing that he’s wanted this career, his meeting with Joel Silver when he was in his 20’s, and his preference for digital over film. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
GREG YAITANES: I would say that I was the show’s stalker. I executive produced the last four seasons of House, and as I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, I knew I wanted to work with HBO, who I’d never worked with, and I wanted to work with Alan Ball. I did not imagine that both things would collide by working through HBO, through Cinemax, and working with Alan Ball, through running one of his shows. I had heard about Banshee when it was originally titled Hood. That came on my radar in early 2011, and I followed it all through 2011. By the end of the year, my agent had called me to tell me that it was go time, and I put together a pitch video. I made a trailer for Banshee out of other movies and showed that in the room. I used that as a way to show people what the show could be. I just was very passionate about the characters and the world. I went at it like, “I’m going to go get this job! This could not be a better situation, and this is everything that I want to do next.” I had been on the end of creating shows, finding material and getting things off the ground, but this was something that, where that’s exciting, this felt like a world I had to be a part of and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Because House was so often confined to the inside of the hospital, had you been looking for something that would be more out in the open?
YAITANES: No. I think some of the best episodes of House got out of the hospital, like “House’s Head,” which was the one that I won the Emmy for, and “Nobody’s Fault,” which was the episode I was doing with Jeffrey Wright, when I got the call to go meet on Banshee. I never fault claustrophobic doing that show, so I wasn’t looking to find myself out with big vistas in Amish country. I was just looking for good material. Sadly, I think there is a real lack of good material. As good as TV is, I think there are a lot of misses going on. So, to find something that I so deeply connected with was rare. I not only wanted to continue to tell the stories, but I also wanted to know the story behind the story. That’s why we started the Banshee origins with the comic book and a series of backstories that I shot for each character, so that you get some insight into each character prior to the pilot starting. The great thing about building a cast that most people aren’t aware of, and building a crew and having writers that are new to television, is that I got to geek out with every dream that I had. Eventually, I hit the wall with House, in terms of people being game with stuff. I got the In House app launched and I got some nice accomplishments and innovation out of it. But with Banshee, I could say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see how Siobhan became a deputy? Let’s write that and shoot it.” We shot backstories for every character, that give everybody a nice insight into aspects of how they came to be, which is cool. I was just riveted by all the mythology around the show. I’m a fan, as well as the showrunner.
YAITANES: Exactly! When I met with Alan Ball for the first time, I said, “When I watched True Blood, I knew exactly how to watch the show from this one shot that you did when he lays the Tru Blood on the counter in the bar, in the opening of the pilot. You were telling me that it’s a little bit unreal, and not to take it too seriously.” With Banshee, I wanted to set up the town immediately. One of the pleasurable things about moving over to cable, and especially with telling the story of Banshee, was that we could have the first 10 minutes of the show have barely anybody talking. It was just great to show rather than tell, and to see the journey of the character. We opened, and there was a certain iconic-ness to catching up with this guy as he was getting out of jail. He’s coming from some place and leaving something behind, and there’s a story there. There’s also a story before it that put him there. I liked that, right out of the gate, you were dropped into the middle of what’s happening. We just drop you into the middle of what’s going on, and we don’t shy away.
Do you like having the freedom of cable television, where you can make each episode a mini-movie?
YAITANES: Having those additional brushes to paint with is very liberating. You always want to be grounded in the character and the story, and be organic. I don’t want to ever exploit the fact that we can have nudity and violence. Everything comes from Lucas’ character and his impulses. But, it is a new sense of challenges. You’re doing a 42-minute hour on network TV versus being able to tell these stories, as long or as short as you want. It’s great and freeing. Every episode of Banshee feels very satisfying because it’s exactly the length the story needed to be told in. Some are longer than others, but ultimately, I wanted to create an experience where we even used the title sequence to tell a story and we added a scene at the end of the credits, just to give everybody a little extra something. If people watch the show and feel like we cared to give them that experience, it will only encourage us to give them more in the second season. Everything about the show is teaching you the way to watch it. Hopefully, we’ve moved the ball forward in television, in some ways. Everything is giving us some insight into the character, and I don’t want to leave a minute on the floor, that I could be using to tell some sort of story for the audience.
YAITANES: I like that we’re not a gun show. We have some guns in it, but it’s not a shoot ‘em up show. There’s a lot of fist-fighting, throughout the season. The intimacy of fighting is evoking some sort of emotional connection. The fact that it’s so intimate, Lucas craves that.
Who would you say is a bigger threat to Lucas Hood, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) or Rabbit (Ben Cross)?
YAITANES: In a way, Lucas’ biggest threat is losing Carrie (Ivana Milicevic). I see Proctor and Rabbit very much as these external elements that could drive a wedge between them. Proctor is on a collision course for Lucas, and Rabbit is on a collision course for Banshee. All those things will come to a head. Lucas’ impulse to pick up that phone is going to have consequences that ripple throughout the season.
How did Job come about, and what was it about Hoon Lee that made him the right actor for that role?
YAITANES: Hoon made that character come to life. There was no second choice to Hoon. Hoon was the first person we saw read it. I saw about 100 people after him, and none of them were as good as Hoon. The thing I love is that you don’t know if the character is gay or straight. He has a unique style and he’s fierce. I love it!
How much of Job is actually on the page?
YAITANES: It’s all on the page, especially once we cast Hoon and they could write to him. He just brought his own thing to it, as well as took it off the page. The guys (David Schickler and Jonathan Tropper) love writing Job. And Jonathan even wrote the script for the comic book because we want every part of Banshee to be canon and part of the show. So, Jonathan was like, “I have to control myself. I can just keep going with Job. I could write him for days ‘cause he’s just so much fun.” It’s a great character, and they really have him down. It’s great, and Hoon is amazing at it.
YAITANES: There’s so much narrative out there that our challenge is that we have only 10 episodes, so we go for broke. The audience gets 10 phenomenally satisfying episodes, and each episode gets better than the one before it. It just keeps escalating. There’s no filler, anywhere. There’s so much stuff that we can tap into and there are so many worlds that it barely fits into the season.
How deeply will you explore the Amish and the Native American elements?
YAITANES: It will always be in the background, but it will come more into play. Carrie’s alter-ego, Lucas’ double life and Rebecca’s double life will all collide with each other and continue to be a threat to both Lucas’ identity, as well as part of the backdrop of what we’ll explore. So, at different times during the season, the Native Americans will come into the foreground or the Amish will come into the foreground. The tribe is a mix of old and new culture. Benjamin Longshadow is a dear friend of Kai Proctor, but as his sickness continues, Proctor tries to make an alliance with the younger son and they jockey for power. And the clash in culture from the Amish to the Native Americans will come to the foreground. We will have represented that with stuff left to discover about Banshee, in future seasons.
Who will Odette Annable be playing?
YAITANES: The thing I love about this show is that, come Episode 8, we’re still introducing new characters. The show keeps getting bigger, all the way to the end of the season. She plays a Native American assassin that is the sister of Alex Longshadow. She’ll come back to Banshee and be present for some of the goings-on of the finale.
Have you always just had a very clear idea of what you wanted to do, for a career?
YAITANES: I picked up a camcorder when I was 14, and it felt like home, in my hands. It started there, back in the early ‘80s, and continued on as a hobby, and then became a passion and a career. It was always what I knew I was good at. It’s good being good at one thing, and I’m good at this, so it made it very easy to follow that path.
YAITANES: At that point in my life, I was in my early 20’s and I had nothing else to do. I grew up on Joel’s movies and I was sitting in his office, surrounded by giant posters. There was all this history around me. I was sitting on the lot at Warner Bros., in my early 20’s, and I wasn’t going to just go home and watch TV. I was going to wait him out. I had something to show, and I wanted an audience . The joke is that I would have waited 24 hours. I would have spent the night in that lobby, for the chance to present my material. And frankly, that’s a side of me that hasn’t changed, even at this point in my career. Anybody that wants to sit down and take a meeting with me, I’ll go. I went through five meetings to become showrunner of Banshee because HBO’s vetting process is phenomenally thorough. My agents were like, “We’re done! No more meetings!” I was like “Dude, I will go all day long and talk about this show. I will talk to anybody about it, as many times as they need to hear it.” Being hungry and staying hungry is something that I really try to take pride in. No matter what level of success I’ve achieved, I always love being able to talk about the craft and continue to talk about my art.
As a director, do you have a preference for film versus digital?
YAITANES: I’ve always had a preference for digital, all the way. I grew up through video and camcorders, and I was part of the VHS generation. I made all my stuff in high school on video, and worked for public access. Staying in digital is a very familiar, very natural progression of the things that I’ve worked in before, and I always try to break as much new ground as I can. When I did Children of Dune, we were the longest thing that had shot on digital, at the time, shortly followed by Lucas doing the Star Wars prequels. I shot the House finale on the Cannon 5D. We were using a DLSR photo camera to shoot video, and shot the finale on that. I’m always looking to advance that. And we played with some new camera systems and some new ideas on Banshee. I love digital, especially for television. I just see it as a great aesthetic and a great tool. I love it!
Banshee airs on Friday nights on Cinemax.