From writer/executive producer Glen Morgan (The X-Files), the BBC America drama series Intruders is about a secret society devoted to chasing immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of others. A missing wife (Mira Sorvino), an assassin (James Frain) covering his crimes and a child (Millie Brown) on the run are all seemingly unrelated, but will intertwine to reveal a conspiracy that will lead former LAPD cop Jack Whelan (John Simm) to question everything.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, Glen Morgan and director Eduardo Sánchez (who directed the first four episodes, with Daniel Stamm directing the last four) talked about how Intruders came about, where it’s sticking close to the book and where it’s deviating, what drew them into the story, shooting the series in blocks of four episodes, instead of as eight separate ones, keeping a cohesive look and tone, approaching the show as a drama with human elements, making sure to answer questions, the challenges of shooting everything on location, and thinking ahead to a possible season 2. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
GLEN MORGAN: BBC had tried to develop the book, set in England, as a two-hour movie. I went to a meeting and they said, “Look at this,” and I thought the book was outstanding. I was like, “Can I do this?”
How closely are you following the book? Are you using it as a guide, or are you deviating quite a bit?
MORGAN: It did deviate. When I read it, there was the mash-up of genres that Michael [Marshall Smith] had, with a Raymond Chandler detective story in there, the paranoid movies of the ‘70s tone, a horror possession story, and all of these things that are so great. So, when I went in there, I said, “We’re doing this book,” and they said, “Yeah.” As we went on, the way we had to shoot it, Eduardo [Sánchez] shot the first four and Daniel [Stamm] shot the second four. And John [Simm] had to go back to England to do The Village, so there was a natural break. BBC Worldwide said, “Let’s go this way. Let’s veer from the book here. You can read the book and know how it ends.” We talked to Michael Marshall Smith the whole time, and he was like, “Yeah, go!” So, the first half sticks to the book and the second half veers from it.
Glen, what was it about this story that drew you in?
MORGAN: I think it is an intelligent story. You’ve got adult characters who are in search of some things that are out there that we sense are out there, but we don’t have any proof. John’s character stumbles into that situation.
Eduardo, how did you get involved with this?
SANCHEZ: Julie Gardner, one of the executive producers, and I had talked about doing a film, but it didn’t work out. She said, “There’s a TV thing that’s coming up that I think you’d be great for.” So, she sent me the first couple of scripts and I was blown away by the writing. Glen did a great job of bringing the book to life. I was actually shooting another show, but I had to read it. I read it at night and tried to prep because they wanted me to do a call to meet Glen and talk through my vision. It was just one of those things where I knew Glen from The X-Files, but it was the perfect blend of mystery and pay-off. Every time you were like, “What’s gonna happen?,” it gives you something to hang onto. It just kept me going. I wanted to read more of the scripts. Luckily, they hired me to do it. They knew they wanted to have two directors, so they had to decide how to split it up. We decided on four episodes at a time, which was crazy. It was like shooting a two-and-a-half-hour movie, at the same time. But, it was great. I had never shot in Vancouver, and the crew was amazing. It was just a great experience. I feel really lucky that I was a part of it.
SANCHEZ: We talked about what we wanted it to look like. Glen and the producers brought this crew together that had worked together, and it seemed like they had picked the right people to bring the vision to life. It was very much Daniel and I talking about how we wanted it to look, but there was also a lot of collaboration with the D.P. and the production designer. Glen was also on set a lot, so there was always somebody there to say, “Let’s try to do this,” or that would bring in a new idea. The flow and the look of the show developed itself. Once Daniel took over from me, the crew was already heading in that direction. Daniel also added his nuances, but the show had already evolved. It was pretty painless.
Glen, typically, a TV show has a revolving doors of directors, who each taking on a new episode. Is it very different to only have two directors for the entire season?
MORGAN: I know exactly what you’re saying. I don’t recall a show I’ve ever been on that had the same director do two episodes in a row, but in England, they do it all the time. In England, they’ll just have one director for eight episodes. That was the British system that Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner wanted to bring to the States. I think there was a nice merger of the two systems. They might have gone with one director, but John had obligations on The Village, and he had to leave and come back, so it seemed like a natural place to break it up.
You both have genre experience and know what works and what doesn’t. Did you think about things you wanted to avoid, or did you intentionally want to go in certain directions because of that?
SANCHEZ: It’s a really intelligent book, and the material that Glen produced from the book was very intelligent. There are these supernatural things occurring, but happening to real people, like Jack. John’s character is the everyman. He’s like, “What the hell is going on with my wife?! What are these people?!” He’s really the audience, at least through the first few episodes, trying to figure out what’s going on in this world. It’s not a slasher show. It’s not a complete horror show. It’s definitely intelligent. You have to formulate it as a drama, and then bring in the elements. What was great about it was that we would plan to do things, and then they would be like, “We want more! We want to see the blood!” I was trying to restrain the instinct to go bigger, and they were like, “No, let’s do this!,” and they were right. They made good choices. It’s the show that surprises you, just like the script did for me. You thin you know what’s going on, and then it takes a curve. It’s really beautifully structured. So for me, I was trying to keep it smart. With the crew, the writing and the actors, there was so much to work with. I was just trying to stay out of the way and guide them as little as possible, so they could figure it out themselves. That was my thing. I just wanted to keep it as real as possible.
MORGAN: Once questions start getting answered, it starts to ramp up. The fifth episode is noticeably, visibly darker ‘cause everything is spinning out of control. The good part was that you introduce all of these mysteries that you don’t necessarily answer in the first two episodes, but you knew the answers were in Michael’s book. I’ve been on shows, and we’ve all seen the shows, that keep laying out these great mysteries, but they’re never answered, and after some given number, you give up on it. But, we always knew that the answer was in the book. Even if we weren’t satisfied with what the answer was, we didn’t move on until we had it.
Were you also thinking ahead to future seasons and ways that you could continue this story?
MORGAN: Next year will be hard because there is no book, if there is a next year. But, we know what we want to do. If a piece is good and you’re paying attention, it sounds nutty, but it talks to you. Mid-way through shooting it, you’re on a set and you go, “Oh, we could do that! That’s what this is! I get it!”
SANCHEZ: There’s plenty of material to spin off in a million different directions. I’m hoping that there’s a Season 2 and they ask me back, but I’m just looking forward to seeing what Glen comes up with, if there is a Season 2.
SANCHEZ: The biggest challenge was that we were shooting mostly everything on location, just to give it a different feel. And the fact that we were shooting four episodes at the same time was crazy. You’d be in one location and have to shoot something from each of those episodes, at that location. It was really hard for us to keep track of what was happening, but at the same time, it really solidified the four episodes as one big movie. You weren’t thinking of it as, “Okay, this is going to be later on, and it has to look this way.” There was a little bit of that. As the scenes continue on in Jack and Amy’s house, it starts to get darker and there’s a different tone and palette, as you go further into the season, but there was this cohesiveness. There was just so much stuff going on. With a film, it’s a little different because you’re not dealing with these hard breaks, where you have to go to commercial. With this, we had to build those in. We had to come in from there, and we had to go out for that. It was definitely challenging, but that was the hardest part. Once we were in a location, we had to shoot everything out. The actors did a great job. They’d have to start in the middle, go to the beginning, and then go to the end. John was only there for four weeks, and the amount of material he had to memorize, it was a pretty amazing feat.
For people who aren’t familiar with this book, what would you tell them, when it comes to watching this show?
MORGAN: The basic idea is that there is this group that, over the centuries, has learned to control reincarnation. John’s character stumbles into that realization, and it’s a lot closer to him than he would ever have wanted to know. It’s a metaphor for when you get in a fight with your significant other and you go, “Who is this?,” or you look in the mirror and go, “Why did I say that?” It’s the intruder. When you threw a temper tantrum at two years old, it’s them.
SANCHEZ: It’s like when you drive home, but you have no recollection of how you got there. They take over. The strength of Glen’s writing and the idea has a lot of similarities with The X-Files. It’s a close cousin of what Glen’s been doing, and what I’ve been doing. What I love about it is the human element. Without the horror beats and the mystery, it still is a story of people losing significant others in really horrific ways. They’re physically there, but somehow they’re not there. Having the actors play off that was the most interesting thing to me. The show has a lot to offer. It’s very smart, and there are a lot of little things for different audiences. Hopefully, people enjoy it.
Intruders airs on Saturday nights on BBC America.