The upcoming CBS drama Person of Interest, premiering on September 22nd, is a crime thriller about presumed dead, former-CIA agent Reese (Jim Caviezel), who teams up with a mysterious billionaire named Finch (Michael Emerson), to prevent violent crimes by using their own brand of vigilante justice. While Finch is a software genius who invented a program that uses pattern recognition to identify people about to be involved in violent crimes, he does not have the ability or skills necessary to solve the crimes before they happen. But, it is Reese’s actions that draw the attention of the NYPD, and most specifically Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who becomes curious about the mystery of it all.
During the CBS portion of the TCA Press Tour, show creator/executive producer/writer Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel) talked about his first time doing television, the process of developing an ongoing idea for television, as opposed to a finite story for a movie, what intrigues him about the way cameras provide surveillance of our every day lives, and why J.J. Abrams was the perfect person to produce this series. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What was your process for developing an idea that can be applied to different plots every week, as opposed to a finite story for a movie?
JONATHAN NOLAN: Well, I didn’t set out to create a show that was this type of show or that type of show. We really started with the idea, and the idea seemed to suggest a case-of-the-week structure. I’ve always loved shows that combine both approaches — that have a mythology and a set of characters, whose stories develop and change, and where the relationships evolve and fracture. But, I grew up watching shows like Magnum, P.I. and The Equalizer, and I loved them. They had a case-of-the-week structure that was natural to them. With this, we started with the idea of irrelevant information falling out of some part of the national security apparatus that would simply go unheard, unless someone was listening for it, and that seemed to lend itself really well to a case-of-the-week structure. Television is very different than working on film. With films, you get to develop a set of characters, and then, at the end of the film, you have to throw them away. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a franchise set of films, where we continue to go back to those characters. For me, the attraction of TV is that you continue to get to tell those stories and refine those characters. The other thing is that TV, in the last 10 or 15 years, got really, really, really good. There is some fantastic drama on TV, so I was hoping to swim in those waters.
Why do you think the interest in this show is so high?
NOLAN: I think our kick-ass cast is a big part of that. I think we have the best cast on TV, and we’re really excited to share that with audiences. I don’t really know. It’s very gratifying to hear that, of course. It’s always gratifying to hear that people are excited by something that you’ve been excited to make. I think we had a great experience making the pilot, and we’re having a great experience right now, making the next episodes, and I think that comes across. We’re really excited to get it out to that big CBS audience, to see what they think.
What is the appeal of this story and these characters?
NOLAN: I don’t know. I love crime procedurals. I always have. I love cop shows. But, I was more interested in writing something that was a little more dangerous. There have definitely been shows like this. I’ve just always been more drawn to characters who were on the periphery, or who had an arm’s-length relationship with law enforcement. That suggests a natural drama to it. I think Americans have always enjoyed these kinds of stories, but I haven’t seen so many of them on TV lately.
How did Jim Caviezel come to this show?
NOLAN: I first got excited about Jim when I saw a film he made with Terrence Malick, 13 years ago, called The Thin Red Line, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. His performance in it is just unbelievable, and he’s done some amazing roles since. When we heard that he might be interested, I was just amazed and thrilled to be working with him.
Is there any kind of through-line with this show and elements from The Dark Knight, where you had Bruce Wayne/Batman setting up that vast surveillance network in Gotham City? What is so interesting about that?
NOLAN: I’ve just been fascinated by it, since I was a kid. That was a small feature of The Dark Knight. It was part of a storyline that ran in the comic books, when they examined Batman and the lengths to which he would go, and there are some connections there. I’ve always been drawn to those stories and drawn to that aspect of Batman. I was a kid in England, in the 1970’s, and cameras started going up everywhere. In fact, at that point, there were already a lot of cameras up in London. It was during the Troubles and the IRA attacks in and around the UK and Ireland, so the response was to put up cameras everywhere. And then, when I moved to the States, when I was 11 or 12 years old in Chicago, there weren’t cameras everywhere, but 20 years later, they started popping up. After 9/11, you started seeing cameras everywhere. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a surveillance state. Who’s watching? What are they doing with that information? I felt like it was a really rich story to tap. I have a lot of questions and ideas about it, that I think will give us some really fertile ground for storytelling.
Are you using any actual surveillance cameras around the city to film this?
NOLAN: One of the ideas behind this was that the look of the show should help remind the audience of the concept of the show. You want to be feeling a little bit like you are peering through layers, spying on people, or that our cameras were spying on our actors. Actually, this is the first project that I’ve worked on that hasn’t been shot on film. My brother is a huge believer in film, and probably will always remain an advocate of shooting on film. Television went digital a couple years ago, almost exclusively, so for me this was a really cool opportunity. I said, “If we’re going to shoot on digital, we’re going to embrace it and we’re going to find radical new ways to take advantage of the fact that you can now find cameras on virtually anything, and that you can shrink cameras down to infinitesimally small size. I don’t want to reveal too many ways about how the show is made, but the prevalence of cameras in this city and elsewhere gives us some interesting production techniques. I always love it best when you have a project where there is this commingling of the subject matter and the way in which you’re recording that subject matter. It’s been great fun, in that regard.
How much will you delve into the machinery behind the numbers?
NOLAN: Following the J.J. [Abrams] rules, we’ll do it one piece at a time. But, because I’m so interested in the machine, its inception, and how Michael’s character put it together and the backstory of that, we’re pushing ahead and exploring a little bit more of that. It gets to some of the questions of the show that I’m most fascinated by, which is the case with everything I work on. It’s set in a real world. It’s New York City. It’s right now. But, you imagine there’s something just a little more interesting and a little bit secretive happening underneath it. We explore the way in which technology has started to become odd and the way all of this information is swirling around. The hardware is very much in place. Everyone has a device in their pocket, which the police now use more than anything else to determine what happened when something goes wrong. It’s your phone. It’s a live microphone for the government, should they choose to turn it on. It’s a location tracker. All this information is out there. We’re at this very odd moment, standing on the precipice of seeing what happens when you start harnessing all that information, which is why it’s not really a science fiction show. It’s more science fact. We really are planning on exploring that a little bit, but of course, not to the exclusion of kick-ass explosions and amazing, soulful relationships and character moments.
What’s it been like to develop this series with J.J. Abrams?
NOLAN: One of the things that I love about J.J. is that he’s not precious. He creates material. He likes to work. He likes to put kick-ass shows out there. The nature of the TV format is that it’s a big risk. This is my first time doing it. It’s not like a movie where you put it out there and people judge it on its merits. Sometimes it finds an audience later, but it’s a one-shot gig. TV is, as I’m discovering now, a marathon. You have to keep going and going and going. Personally, I think J.J.’s track record in film and TV is unsurpassed.