With Person of Interest season three now airing Tuesday night’s on CBS, last week I got to participate in a group interview with executive producers Jonah Nolanand Greg Plageman on the Warner Bros. lot here in Los Angeles. During the wide ranging interview, they talked about what’s coming up on the show, the real-life parallels to government surveillance, how they know what the last scene of the series is going to be (including the last song), their thoughts on a Person of Interest spinoff series, exploring the ramifications of living in a surveillance state, the serialized structure of the show, and so much more it’s impossible to list it in an intro.
Hit the jump for what they had to say. I’ve also included a list of 17 things I learned during the interview.
- Each season focused on a different character; the first season was about John Reese’s past and the second season was about Harold Finch. The third season we will be learning more about Joss Carter’s backstory and her motivations.
- There will be a conflict between Finch and Root coming into play soon.
- Plageman and Nolan know what the last scene of the series is going to be, what the last few moments are going to be, and the last song that’s going play.
- There is a new area in The Machine now that it has more control that is able to not just predict what’s going to happen, but also plan events around these predictions. Through this The Machine will be taking a much more active role in events this season. One of the “Big Questions” this year is “what is The Machine’s plan, what is it up to?”
- Episode 5 of this season will have a backstory storyline for Shaw. Plageman said, “The episode that airs two weeks from this one (episode 5) is a pretty eye-opening story about her character, in terms of who she is and how she became the person that she is today.”
- At this time, there are no plans for a spin-off series. Nolan said:
“Our line from the beginning—and it’s not a line, it’s a philosophy—has been, we want to make this the best show possible. When we introduced Shaw last year a lot of people were talking about a spinoff there and with all due respect to the amazing folks, some of whom we know, who have managed spinoffs over the years and had to pull that off—look we got a lot of story and if it grew into two hours of TV a week, that’s fine. But the reality is, it’s challenging enough to write and produce a well-executed episodes week in, week out just within the parameters of what we do.”
- This season they are going to explore the ramifications of living in a surveillance state, both with the emergence of “Vigilance,” an anti-surveillance group out to bring down organizations that collect information, and by exploring exactly the real life ramifications of PRISM.
- This season is going to have a little more insight into what the government is doing with the information that The Machine is feeding it.
- There will be more Elias coming up this season.
- A lot of Carter’s storyline this season is going to revolve around her and H.R., what she will have to do to take them down and what danger they might pose to her in her efforts.
- Boker, who plays Bear on the show, just had puppies.
- Nolan and Plagemen discovered while casting Bear that Belgian Malinois do not actually growl.
- The serialized structure of the show is modeled off of shows like X-Files and NYPD Blue.
- They were still using storylines from the original pilot script as far into the show as the second season finale. Nolan said:
“Well we finally only exhausted the material from the pilot in the second season finale. [Laughs] The original pilot outline, I remember Greg read it and he was like, “This is a lot of story here, dude.” Just coming from the feature world, you just get it all out because that’s it. This is what you’ve got your two hour window.”
- We will eventually find out more about how The Machine chooses which numbers to feed Finch.
- Finch has not yet revealed to what extent that he can and does interact with The Machine.
- There is a big story arc revolving around Fusco coming up this season.
Here’s the full interview.
JONAH NOLAN: From the beginning, we get pitched an episode like this pretty much every week by our writers. We’re really very excited for it. We were just talking about this at Paley the other day, the fun thing about introducing new characters is you have new relationships. As the world of the show has sort of expanded from Season 1, you get to see those three ladies together, which is just great fun because they each have such a sort of unique spin on what they do—putting them all in the same situation. We were just thrilled. Amanda Segel was the writer of the episode and she pitched sort of a team-up.
GREG PLAGEMAN: She even snuck a kiss in there.
NOLAN: She did, I know. She forgot our “no kissing” policy.
And what did the gals think of it when they read it?
NOLAN: I think they were thrilled with it.
PLAGEMAN: I think they were delighted. It was a bit of a departure in tone—at least that story for us, which is a lot of fun. Every time we bring Paige [Turco] back, she seems to bring a different sort of chemistry and Sarah [Shahi] lets her hair down, so it’s a little bit more fun too. I think everyone kind of looked at it as a little bit of a fun departure.
NOLAN: Whatever it gets to get out of the tactical clothing for an episode, which I think is also a little bit of fun.
PLAGEMAN: As long as we counter that with Root (Amy Acker) shooting people.
NOLAN: Yeah, exactly—you get your kind of balance.
What can you tease about where Root and that storyline goes after this episode?
NOLAN: What can we tease? I don’t know, Greg and I are terrible teasers, we realize.
You can tell us everything if you prefer.
NOLAN: As she said, her relationship with The Machine is different yet again from Finch’s relationship with it, Control’s relationship with it, and where that’s headed in our show, inevitably all roads lead to conflict. It’s not heading anywhere safe or relaxed. I think it’s going to get intense and dangerous, and even more so.
PLAGEMAN: I think it’s going to become increasingly unsettling to Harold Finch how The Machine is reaching out to her and in what capacity and why is that different than the way in communicates with our guys.
NOLAN: We said a couple times for the season, you know—the bigger question this season—if the machine has a plan, what is that plan? And it obviously involves Root, which we’ll see through her the beginning of the sketches of what The Machine is actually trying to do now that it has a little more autonomy, a little more control.
Have you started thinking, “We’re gonna be on the air next year again too, where are we gonna go?”
NOLAN: We don’t know what we’re doing for the rest of the day. It’s kind of a mixture.
PLAGEMAN: We kind of break these things up in seasons and I think in the first season we talked a lot about John Reese’s backstory and sort of culminated in the finale with understanding a little bit more about his character. And then last season we learned a little bit more about Harold Finch and we’re gonna learn more about Carter and her backstory this year, as we go along. That’s just sort of the personal aspect and obviously The Machine is continuing to evolve and grow. And we think there’s a really fun conflict coming into play between Root and Harold Finch in that regard.
NOLAN: Yeah, we tend to—from the beginning Greg and I felt like, to do this responsibly we need to know when we shot the pilot where the last, last episode was going to be. We know what the last song we’re going to be is. We know what the last few moments are and then it’s like a sandwich you’re building, where another season you get to add another fun flavor, somewhere in-between. We know what the end is, what the beginning was, and we know some of the important signposts along the way. We know what next season—if we’re lucky enough to get a fourth season—we know what that’s about. I think viewers who have as much of an affection for science fiction—film, television—as we do, and a really good ear, will already know what next season is going to be, based on the first handful of episodes here.
NOLAN: Fireworks, in a word. Nothing but trouble. Those guys are not a lot of fun.
PLAGEMAN: Yeah, obviously Carter has an axe to grind with what happened to Cal Beecher. That’s something we’ve seen at the end of the premiere, she’s starting to track and pursue on her own—who is the leader of H.R. and what is she up to? How is she planning about taking them on? We think that’s a really juicy storyline that we’re gonna continue to evolve. Also, I think the end of Episode 2, we saw the character Collier emerge as someone who’s espousing something that is very counter to the surveillance state or Orwellian state that we played on the show. I think that’s an interesting conflict as well.
NOLAN: Yeah, first couple seasons you saw various groups who sort of knew about The Machine or wanted to take advantage of The Machine or wanted to set The Machine free. But now you finally have a group—sort of the missing piece of the puzzle—which is a group who aggressively and violently want to shut down any version of The Machine, if they knew about it. So, the question of, what Vigilance will do when they become more and more aware of technologies like The Machine that are already in place, is one we think will provide all sorts of fun stuff for us in Season 3.
Between now and Christmas, what are the arcs we’re focusing on the longer going on to next year?
NOLAN: Breaking the season up roughly in half, I think we’ll have Episode 11 by then. H.R. is a big story waiting for us this year and so is Vigilance. The question of how Root connects to Vigilance and Control, what The Machine is trying to do, what The Machine may be anticipating other groups will do. One of the graphics that we built into the end of the season premiere was this sort of new space, new graphical space inside The Machine’s mind—if you will—in which we see that it’s now not just analyzing and predicting but actually planning and trying to figure out, “Okay, if I do this, what might happen here? What are the intended consequences?”—taking on a more active role. If the show is sort of a reflection of where we think technology is at now, sort of the heightened, more dramatic A.I. science fiction version of where we think it’s at right now, we think we’re in this space where data is starting to reach out in ways actively in which is hasn’t to this point. Long answer but you’re gonna see all of the storylines that we’re talking about continue to build and grow through the first half of the season. We know that we’re writing a really big, sort of novel-like, universe here with the serialized aspect of our show. We know that some people are interested in these pieces and some people are interested in these pieces, so it’s a balance of sort of continuing to further each of those stories week in and week out.
PLAGEMAN: The episode that airs two weeks from this one (Episode 5) is a pretty eye-opening story about her character, in terms of who she is and how she became the person that she is today. We get a little bit of a glimpse of an origin story of her there and I think the difficulty with that type of character is what we refer to as “The Groucho Marx Conundrum,” never wanna be part of the club or have you as a member and that’s sort of how we see her character. At the same time, she’s an extremely valuable operative and I think even Reese acknowledges that. And we’d like to think that her skills—some of the things she brings to the table—are complementary to Reese. The challenge with that type of character who is emotionally a bit standoffish, is finding the connection and the heart of that character. I think that’s sort of fun challenge for us.
NOLAN: You get little glimpses of her humanity as we did with Finch and Reese in Season 1. All of these characters are characters that are very private people—as Finch would put it—and they’re also difficult people, lots of secrets, lots of history. Finch has formed this loose coalition of lost souls, as we put it. How long that actually holds together, is something we very much want to play with in the show. We’re all on the same side—now will that always be the case? Who knows?
This show takes place in New York and it’s hard to imagine that there’s not storylines that could exist in other cities. Has the network ever said to you, “Would you think about a Person of Interest: London”?
PLAGEMAN: That’d be like the last place Jonah would want to be [Laughs].
NOLAN: Yeah, I’ve shot a lot of stuff in England, the crews are fantastic but it’s a different conundrum. I know Elementary went out there at one point, earlier this season and I wished them well. It’s a—
PLAGEMAN: You were thinking of Ibiza.
NOLAN: Yeah. Polynesia. Person of Interest: Manawatu.
NOLAN: Our line from the beginning—and it’s not a line, it’s a philosophy—has been, we want to make this the best show possible. When we introduced Shaw last year a lot of people were talking about a spinoff there and with all due respect to the amazing folks, some of whom we know, who have managed spinoffs over the years and had to pull that off—look we got a lot of story and if it grew into two hours of TV a week, that’s fine. But the reality is, it’s challenging enough to write and produce a well-executed episodes week in, week out just within the parameters of what we do. We live in New York City, we spend so much time—the New York question, we were joking about this last week at Paley, if New Jersey came up with a tax credit, we’d be happy to shoot something in New Jersey. We were talking about this with my brother when we were working on The Dark Knight, because he always loves to sort of jump out and let his films kind of sprawl around the world and there’s a sequence in the Dark Knight that takes place in Hong Kong, which I thought was a very cool sequence, but my point in that film was that Gotham—or in our case New York, we’re doing the real world version of it—is kind of a bounded infinity. We’re always looking for the worlds hidden within New York and that’s kind of enough of a challenge for us. Last season, episode two took Root and Finch to Texas, which we were able to build pretty great facsimile of that of Queen and Ordos, China which we were able to—
PLAGEMAN: And certainly, it was very interesting all you guys if you read the press on PRISM, you find out exactly what the NSA was building but also its connection to other countries and how much of their intelligence they were actually collecting, gathering and feeding back to those foreign countries. You really get a sense of the scope of something that’s burgeoning and starts here but has tentacles throughout the world. The character of Greer, played by John Nolan, was an interesting character in that regard, some representative of that organization.
NOLAN: That’s a really good point, I think in this season as we start considering the ramifications of the existence of a surveillance state, as we’ve other countries reacting to PRISM. You know Americans tend to view it through the lens of, “Wow our government is spying on us.” Everyone else out in the world said, “Wow, you guys are—” The government at the very least would say, in our official manual, we don’t spy on you guys, we’re not supposed to, we accidentally spy on you guys. Just like the show, it’s all the irrelevant stuff. We just throw all that shit away. The rest of the world would say, “Wait a second you’re just admitting that you’re spying on—” Everyone in Germany who has a GMail account, everyone in England who has a Yahoo! account would say, “Okay, so you’re basically just coming out and saying that this is a massive Trojan horse that you guys have built with the cooperation of Silicon Valley to spy on every individual outside of the United States.
So, watching the kind of international fallout from that, hugely damaging the relationships between our country and other countries, and American business abroad. Watching the international fallout from that has been kind of fascinating. And the show this season we’ve always talked about there being a little more of a push into the federal government space, a little bit more of what are they doing with the information, and a little more of an international bit in the sense that—Finch’s sort of self-assigned mandate was just to look out for people kind of in the 212 area code—the reasons for which we still need to explore further. But stemming from this slightly quixotic mission that he assigned himself in the aftermath of his best friend’s murder, which is that he is going to do what Brett Cullen’s character Ingram was intending to do, which is to help people one at a time and sort of limit the focus for the first couple of seasons to the Five Burroughs. We felt like we got tremendous value out of concentrating our stories there in New York, New York being kind of the capital of the world and things come to New York. And that’s been great for us to the degree that we’re able to execute it on a great level practically, which is always a way that I like to make stuff. We’re going to let the show grow a little bit outside the bounds of that this season and in the next season, you’ll see a little more of that.
You mentioned you’re doing the arc for Episode 11, will we be seeing Elias again in that?
NOLAN: We sure hope so. We love working with Enrico, he’s a phenomenal actor, phenomenal character. As long as we get him, that guy’s busy. We have a couple of fun beats planned for him.
Are there any other guest stars you can talk about or people we’ve seen before who are coming back?
PLAGEMAN: Absolutely. Paige Turco is one obviously, we’ll definitely have Paige back. We’d love to have Leon Tao back if he’s available.
NOLAN: Ken [Leung]’s great. Again, you have folks who are going in and out of series regulars, jobs with other shows but we always make it work. We always sweet talk the other network and we’re very, very lucky that we have a growing group of incredibly talented actors who really love doing the show and love the characters. We get them back when we can and when it sort of dovetails with the story direction that we’re trying to pursue.
On that note, do you have plans to bring back Warren [Cole] anytime this season or is that sort of a dangling thread you’ll pick up at some point?
PLAGEMAN: Kind of a standing policy we have, if somebody pops and people really respond to them and we like them, and they’re good people, we’ll write for them. We’ll tell somebody, “Throw them back in, see if they’re available.”
You talked about how H.R. is going to be more prevalent. They sort of threatened Carter, to each other not to her. How in danger is she going to be as the season goes along, since they have their eye on her?
PLAGEMAN: Well, it’s a dangerous situation.
NOLAN: They play rough…
Is her life in serious danger at all times?
NOLAN: I think the big question for Carter is, if she’s going to take on an organization like H.R., you gotta remember they were crippled when FBI and Special Agent Donnelly went after them, and then they managed to rebuild themselves. The question becomes, what is she going to do differently if she is going to take them on?
PLAGEMAN: They’re very dangerous and I think all of our characters need to be very careful.
Including Fusco who just accessed her back when he wasn’t supposed to?
PLAGEMAN: Yeah, Fusco definitely could be in jeopardy.
Is there ever a thought in your brain about having characters from another show, if it’s ever possible, walking by in the background?
NOLAN: Who’s in our universe?
PLAGEMAN: The Elementary guys.
NOLAN: The DC universe, right? They have to be. Sometimes the writers of the show come to set with a Marvel t-shirt and they get sent home.
So does that mean it’s possible to see some Gotham paper?
NOLAN: It’s a tricky one, I guess technically we are in a very similitude to New York which makes it difficult. Who are the other characters who would come in and out of this universe? I’m trying to think of the other shows we watch. Game of Thrones, you know, we’re in Westeros, which part of the kingdoms are we in? Who else could pop into our universe?
PLAGEMAN: That’d be really strange.
NOLAN: Walter White’s out there… Obviously, everyone loves that show but one of the things I love about that show is they had that slightly heightened—and people will forget about it—the finale for Breaking Bad was kind of a reminder for people that there’s this slightly heightened aspect to the proceedings there as well, which in line with some of the shenanigans that we pull here—obviously very, very different shows. But sort of the M60 garage door opener is something that I think Reese and Finch would have been very proud to have developed.
PLAGEMAN: You know what’s really interesting is that I heard them talk about how hard it was to get certain actors back so they had to change on the fly—change the story. I was like “Wow, we’re not the only ones.” That shows amazing to think people would be killing themselves to get back on it and sometimes they’re not available.
NOLAN: That’s another great example of a show that took full advantage of, like I said, that sort of bound infinity. By the time you’re done watching five seasons of that show, you felt like Albuquerque was—and I spent some time shooting in Albuquerque and I was not in a hurry to get back there—but they got incredible cinematic scope out of that locale. I just think there’s something to be said. It’s fun, on the movies work on and on the television’s great fun to jump around and shoot in India one week and shoot in China the next week but I think one of the things that we’ve been able to execute really, really well in our show is taking full advantage of New York City. I challenge you to find a TV show that has it any more—we’re New York, we’re up to 11 on the New York City meter. All the other shows that shoot there, they’re great shows, but they all shoot on stages. They’re all on stages, 5-6 days out of every episode. You’re looking at elaborately, beautifully, furnished offices, built inside a giant warehouse in Queens somewhere. We have some of those and they’re gathering dust, we sort of shoot a day of the week there. We’re out in New York all the time.
PLAGEMAN: You should ask Jim [Caviezel] how awesome it was to shoot in New York in February.
NOLAN: January, we were miserable.
Can we talk about my favorite character Bear?
NOLAN: America’s favorite character!