Josh Shwartz and Chris Fedak Interview – CHUCK

     August 8, 2008

Written by Rachel

During comic con I got to go to a couple of interviews, the first of which set my geeky heart to new levels of excitement as I got to interview the cast of Chuck.

First up were the show’s creators Josh Shwartz and Chris Fedak, and really, it is always heartwarming to realize that the creators of your very geeky show are also about as geeky as you are. It just builds a bit of confidence and trust, you know. It’s okay, they understand.

They talked for a bit about Comic Con and the reactions they had the previous year.

JS: We operate from a place of “only disaster can foster at ever turn.” We were horrified last year going into it. We were terrified last year cause we were like, you know, people are going to be like “what the hell is Chuck and who are these people?” Do we have any credibility in this world? And [the panel] was very fun and it felt like a good way to launch the show. So this year we are expecting the opposite.

CF: We feel like we raised expectations, and this year is all about lowering it.

They also mentioned a few special things that were going to be presented at the panel, namely a 6 minutes footage reel for season two, showing off scenes from the first six episodes, (also showing come guest stars’ appearances, so as Tony Hale and Jordana Brewster) and also a special Comic Con introduction “to the troops” by Adam Baldwin.

The previous day Josh Schwartz had mentioned that Chuck would be starting up 2 years in the future for season 2, apparently this isn’t so.

JS: No, no. I think I was being sarcastic at the panel and I think it might have been misinterpreted. All of the Lost fanatics that were there paying much more attention to the time travel between Desman and Penny. But it was really, um, I was kidding. I was just saying that it feels like it’s been two years since we were last on the air. But, yeah, that’s an interesting idea actually, we’re gonna come back and Chuck is 48 years old. No it takes place a sort of indistinguishable amount of time since the last episode. It’s sort of designed like a second pilot, I think within the first two minutes of the show you’re caught up and you’re on the new adventure.

So, possibly they are trying to get us off the sent, or he really was being sarcastic. We’re not going to find out until the premiere!

Q: Can you tell us what is in store for fans of the show.

JS: More! More of everything!

CF: Bigger explosions, more romance.

JS: Wanna talk a little bit about the sort of deepening of the mythology this year a too?

CF: Yeah, that was something we sorta figured out last year. When we first started working on the show we kinda thought it would be stand alone episodes, each week Chuck would have a new mission. The more we worked on it and the more episodes we made, we realized the people were really interested in the mythology; why Chuck, why was he chosen, why did Bryce send those secrets to him? And just, what was the back story of all these characters, cause they were so interesting. So as we were heading towards episode six of last were we thought, well, let’s get into that. So this year I think we’re really going to focus on kinda deepening the mythology of the show, and really kinda going, from the first episode, in the first ten minutes of episode one we kinda had to do an immediate change up for the season. And from that point on, each episode to another we’ll learn more secrets each week.

JS: It’ll still have this sorta like “villain of the week” storyline, it’ll be a close ended story, but everything is built under this large umbrella of the season. Something catastrophic happens at the end of the first episode that will sorta launch us in. And we’re also really owning the romance right out of the gate this year. The show is swooningly romantic this year I would say. And there is a moment at the end of the third episode between Zac and Yvonne that even I get a little misty at. So we’re really coming out of the gate and owning the romance, and I think it’s really heightened. You know it’s something we found that both of them could do, Zac’s really funny and Yvonne can kick ass in a very credible way, but she’s also really great at playing vulnerable and that real side of Sarah, that woman who longs for a real life and yearns for that simple life of hanging at Chuck’s apartment with Ellie and Captain Awesome and being a real girl and tapping into that. And Zac also is really great in the dramatic scenes so we want to write towards that as well.

CF: We really take pride in our actions scene, but sometimes the most riveting scenes are just the emotional moments between our stars. They’re really fantastic.

JS: I’d say we have a lot of fun guest stars this year too. But I think in a way that feels . . . We found out last year we did the episode where Kevin Weisman from Alias was the villain, and people really responded to that. And I don’t know necessarily that that was our most nuance villain we’ve ever had, the former Olympic gymnast with the truth serum, but people really responded to it. You don’t have a lot of time to get traction with some of these villains, you come in. . . but people gravitated toward him cause they knew him and it was fun to see him in a very different roll. So we sort of built off of that idea a little bit, so we have a lot of sort of familiar faces, but in rolls I think that feel earned, it doesn’t feel like it’s becoming The Love Boat.

Q: Can you name some of these guest stars?

JS: I sure can, I can name them quickly, too. Michael Clark Duncan in the Season Premier, John Larroquette plays Rome Montgomery…

CF: The master seducer . .

JS: Yeah the Master Seducer, former spy, now a drunk, who has to help Chuck seduce Sasha Banachek, the Black Widow, played by Melinda Clark. Bryce Larkin (Matt Bomer) comes back. Tony Hale joins the cast, Buster from Arrested Development, as Emmett Milbarge, the officious new manager of the Buy More who’s very suspicious of Chuck.

Q: Is he recurring?

JS: Yeah yeah, he’s in for a long run. He’s really funny too. First day on set, we say the footage, we’re like “this guy just feels like he’s part of the Nerd Herd.” Which he can take as a compliment or not, I guess, I’m not sure. Michael Strahan of the New York Giants is, by the way, actually hilarious, and he plays the manager of the Mighty Jocks, sports store, which actually was a story line when Damon Lindelof moderated our chuck Panel at the Paley Festival, he pitched us this whole storyline of like, the Sports Jocks, who were like this sports authority store in the stripe mall next door, and we were like, that’s really funny.

CF: And we had that opportunity with Micheal Strahan and we were like, lets use that Mighty Jocks idea!

JS: And he’s really funny in it. And I think Nicole Richie, some of you may have heard about in a shower scene involving Kung Fu. And Jordana Brewster as Jill, Chuck’s childhood sweetheart, who has come back to turn his love life upside down. And she’s really good, so . . .

Q: How hard was it to get Nicole Richie, was it hard or . . .

JS: No, she came in and read! I mean she was . . . We were like, “okay, that could go either way, it’s gotta be good, you know, I’ve worked with Paris Hilton before on The OC, it was . . . you know, a limited range sometimes with these people.” But she came in and was really funny and surprisingly . . .Cause we were like “isn’t Yvonne like, several feet taller then she is in an action scene?” But it’s totally credible when they beat the crap out of each other with lead pipes.

CF: It’s really vicious and exciting, we’re working on that episode right now and the fight scene is amazing.

JS: And when you see what Sarah looked like. . . you’ll get a glimpse of it at the panel of what Sarah looked like in High School. It’s pretty fantastic.

Q: What kind of challenges are you guys facing after the strike? What are you planning on doing to kick off the new season, to get new people on board and bring back people who were already in love with the show?

JS: Well to be honest, some of this casting is about making some noise and being like “Remember us? Little Chuck, we’re coming back.” Cause it’s been a while and it’s a crowded time period, and you know, we’re not a “for sure” show, so there’s a lot of challenges. But mostly were out to deliver the best possibly episodes we can. Honestly, we’ve finished three episodes, the first three episodes, and they are better then any episode we did last year. So creatively we feel really good about it, and now hopefully it’s just about getting the message out. NBC’s supporting the show, and everybody writing it, and [pushing] to get the post Superbowl slot.

Q: How do you keep the balance to prevent Chuck from becoming too confident?

JS: Too confident? That’s never a problem.

Q: ‘Cause he did grow a little bit over the first season, where he became a little bit more sure of himself.

JS: True.

CF: I mean, Chuck does get a little, I mean, he’s a little more sure of himself, but in truth there can never be a point where, like, Chuck is holding a gun and is like the confident superhero. It’s just not his character. He’s a regular guy. So it’s super important to us to protect his character; whenever we sort of create a spy situation to put him into, it’s like something we can imagine ourselves in, like “What would I do in this situation?” and that’s usually what Chuck does.

JS: Run and scream.

CF: Run and scream all the hour.

JS: We’re very protective of Chuck. I mean, he has a sex scene this year. And we’re like, “Can Chuck have sex?! Our little Chuck?!” So it’s never a worry about him becoming too kick-ass.

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Q: How does Zac feel?

JS: Zac doesn’t mind at all. We’ve given him a slew of attractive women to make out with over the last couple seasons, so he’s been happy about that.

CF: Yeah there was a whole fight in the pilot where he was like, “he can hold a gun and walk around all cool like,” and we were like, “It can never happen.” I don’t think he had realized at that moment just how protective we were about this character.

JS: But he’s embraced it now.

Q: One of the most endearing things about the first season was that he was this normal guy working at the Nerd Herd. So are we going to have more scenes in the second season centering around him just trying to be a normal person fixing computers and just being kick ass at that?

JS: Yeah, I mean, one of the things we really felt like we wanted to get connected back to that was very prevalent in the beginning was that, you know, story of a guy who was not where he thought he would be in life, who had bigger plans for himself, how did he get there? You know, reconnecting with him as an actual human being and a character who’s sorta an under-achiever. So, certain things, like finding out that maybe his time as a spy is going to be over and what does that mean for his future? What is he going to do now that they can rebuild a new Intersect? And Jill, the girl from his past, coming back. He always envisioned that moment when he’d see her again, and being incredible, and instead he’s doing an install in his Nerd Herd outfit, and he has to create this complete lie that he owns a computer software company and the CIA has to bankroll this ridiculous tale of the Charles Carmichael dream of who he was going to be. So every episode we have to try to drive back through that Chuck is a real guy.

Q: It’s my favorite part.

JS: For us, too. The spy stories are always hopefully going to be getting some time, but it’s about these characters and feeling like they are real people, and rooting for that romance between them to grow, that’s what keeps you, hopefully, coming back week to week.

CF: We always start with the inner-personal story. It’s usually not about the, you know, “the gas that’s released at the convention center,” it’s actually about “I’m meeting the girl who was my old girlfriend and I’m not impressive as hoped I would be.”

Q: Is there a limited lifespan to the show?

JS: We’re trying to get through this year, you know. We’re not taking anything for granted and we’re sorta taking it one episode at a time. We’re looking for that back nine, and we’ll go from there.

Q: Is there an ultimate end, or something you had in mind for the end?

JS: There is an escalation. I mean we had an end to last season that we had planned that obviously we didn’t get to do because of the strike, and we’ve been able to kinda reboot and relaunch the show, but we’re building to that same endpoint and the end of the season that will, I think, move the show. . . It’ll still be the same show but I think it’ll have a pretty fun twist on it. And we talked about year four, what the escalation would be. So we have a plan to get us through the next couple of years.

CF: But again it also sorta goes back to the idea of the mythology of the show, just where can we go with this, and by the end of this season we’ll shift it up a bit and there are plenty of exciting twists along the way. We never hold back on story, when we have a good idea we definitely go for it, it’s not like we hold it back for like six episodes from now, we do it right now.

JS: Let’s do it!

CF: Yeah, let’s do it. Right now.

Q: We’re still going to see a lot of the Nerd Herd?

JS: Yeah, you’ll see the new main titles today, everybody’s a series regular. So, uh, Lester gets a promotion temporarily as assistant manager. He gets a vest. Doesn’t play well.

CF: It’s fantastic, in three episodes all of his terrible ideas for management essentially come crashing down. It’s really a lot of fun. Vik [Sahay] is fantastic in the part too.

JS: We have a whole King of Khan homage episode where the codes for a missile launch are in the kill screen of the 1980s video game “Missile Command.” So they have to find the guy who was like, the king of “Missile Command” back in 80s and it turns out it was Jeff, of the Nerd Herd. So it’s a real intersection of the two worlds in the same episode.

Q: Last season we got a little bit of a glimpse into Casey’s personal life, are we going to see more of that?

JS: Absolutely, I mean, one of the conflicts that we play with right out of the gate is the idea that if the Intersect becomes, you know, rebuilt and Chuck is no longer necessary to the American government, and they can’t have this dude walking around with all their secrets in his head, it’s going to be up to Casey to. . . “disappear” him. And you’ll sorta start to see a little bit of a conflict in Casey as he starts to develop “a feeling” for Chuck.

CF: Yeah, one of the ideas we always thought was kinda cool was that, Sarah and Casey were sorta these master spies, these sharpened knives, and as they fall into this life of Chuck and his friends it’s fun and they all are such great characters, are they as good a spy as the story goes along. And even in our first episode back, that story of what happens when Casey is given the word to plug Chuck, that will come to a head in our first episode, and that will play out throughout the season. But we definitely want to get into his character as well. They are all such fascinating characters; you know, Sarah’s back story, how do you become Sarah Walker, with so many aliases and so many different characters that she played. And when it comes to Casey, how to do become “Robocop?” Ho do you become that hardened Terminator type character? It’s going to be fun.

Q: How do you go about splitting your time between Gossip Girl and Chuck? Do you think there will ever be a crossover?

JS: (laughs) Yeah we’ve talked about it. Like Chuck from Gossip Girl going over, or even Chuck from here going to the other Chuck and flashing on his scarf or something, it’s very confusing, I get very confused. Chuck Bartowski gets a flash off a Gossip Girl email blast. Well for me, I guess I’m very lucky cause I do Chuck with Chris who’s fantastic, and I do Gossip Girl with Stephanie Savage, who’s also fantastic, and that makes my life a lot easier to be able to bounce back and forth between these two super talented people who are running the shows in a really successful way.

CF: Every once in a while we threaten, as the writers of Chuck, the Gossip Girl writers are on the second floor of the building, to walk up and break an episode with the Gossip Girl writers. So the explosions will be in their episode and in our episode there will be some really good fashion.

JS: Everyone got along really well until the two shows got put up against each other, now it’s ugly in the halls.

CF: Yeah, Stephanie and I don’t talk any more. (laughs) Just kidding.

Q: How did you come up with these characters in the first place?

JS: It pretty organic. I mean, it started, you know, Chris had the initial idea for the premise of the show, and we started talking about what the comedic version of the show would be, and I don’t know the characters are all sort of reflections of us and people we’ve known. It’s a very personal show in a lot of ways, I think, about being in your 20s and about trying to figure out who you want to be in your like, about wishing you could be this super hero, about being fascinated with this unattainable woman. You know I think there are a lot of elements in the show that are effectively who we are.

CF: The idea for the show is very high concept, to turn it into a TV show . . . Josh was very fascinated by doing a show about a guy who . . . it’s really hard to do, to make a show about a guy who’s 25 years old and the navel gazing part of it, but if he’s got these secrets in his head and he’s got these villains coming after him, it’s kinda much easier to do and it’s kinda worked that way. Kinda a smorgasbord of interpersonal and high concept action.

JS: I will say I thought in the beginning I thought it was gonna be, you know, Fedak would come up with all the action, I’d have to do the emoting, but he’s great with characters and comedy, and it’s just made my life a lot easier.

CF: It drives me crazy that in our first episode back, the best action scene that we’ve ever seen in our episode, which is Adam Baldwin in his apartment, it’s a fantastic scene of a man . . .

JS: Don’t give it all away.

CF: I’m not giving it all away, you’ll actually see a little bit of it in the trailer. It’s awesome, and it’s written by Josh Schwartz.

JS: I’ve learned! I’ve grown! You know, my testosterone level has increased just by my proximity to Fedak. (laughs) You don’t understand, in the very first episode, the pilot that Chris first wrote was called “Scenario Five!” . . .

CF: Oh please!

JS: I’m sorry, you heard some of this at the Paley Festival. It was like the craziest, it was like if it were a movie it would be like this is an eight hundred million dollar budget movie. And I’m like, we’ll have about four million dollars. So every time Chris has an outline, it involves Chuck on an airplane being sucked off the plane. It was in the pilot. . . He wrote my favorite episode of last year, which was the Thanksgiving episode, you know, Black Friday and Bryce and Pineapple and all of that, and so he writes the outline, and by the way the whole showdown and Pineapple and all that, that was the end of the third act, and the fourth act went to the airplane.

CF: There was an airplane!

JS: And I’m like, “Fedak! You’re going to backrupt the show!”

CF: I just thought it would be so fantastic! Chuck being kicked out of an airplane at the end of the episode.

JS: So that’s what the comic book is for. The comic book is like a receptacle for all of Fedak’s ideas that are too expensive to do on a television show.

CF: All the seventy hundred million dollar ideas.

JS: And there are a lot of them.

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