The second season of the YouTube original series Impulse sees Henry (Maddie Hasson) continue to try to unravel the mystery of her teleportation superpower. While she has friends and family on her side, helping her gain control over her abilities, there are also dangerous forces that have taken an interest in her, leading to a lingering question of whether Henry could end up as a hero or a villain, herself.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Doug Liman talked about how he’s dreamed about doing certain things with this series that he’s had the desire to make for 10 years, how Henry came to develop her superpower during a sexual assault and the impact that’s had on the story that they’re telling, whether having a superpower is a gift or a curse for Henry, opening up the world in Season 2, and the family dynamic. He also talked about re-shoots for his upcoming feature film Chaos Walking, with Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland, and why he decided to change the ending, as well as what he thinks the chances are of the Edge of Tomorrow sequel actually happening.
Collider: Were there things that you were waiting to get to Season 2, to be able to do? Were there things that you couldn’t do with Season 1 because you had to establish this world, that you’re excited about getting to delve into with the second season?
DOUG LIMAN: Yeah. I’ve been wanting to make Impulse for 10 years, so there are dozens of things that I’ve dreamed about doing with somebody who can teleport. Part of dreaming about Impulse, is dreaming about what my version of a superhero story would be. It’s the anti-Marvel version of a superhero ‘cause that’s how I approach things. The Bourne Identity was the anti-James Bond. I’m always going, “If this is how everyone else does it, this is how I’m gonna do it.” I’ve been fantasizing, dreaming and amusing myself with all sorts of fun things that I’d love to do with Impulse, only a teeny portion of which fit into the first season because, for no rhyme or reason, just a gut instinct, I chose to have Henry develop her superpower during a sexual assault. This was before the #MeToo movement.
I think part of why I live in New York and don’t live in Hollywood is because I feel like I have my finger more on the pulse of what’s going on, and so, I was sensing something, long before it interrupted in the mainstream press. I had this instinct that, instead of it being a frivolous avalanche, as it was in the book, that I should replace that with a traumatic sexual assault. But what I hadn’t taken into consideration, because it’s not something that I’ve ever experienced or had any connection to, in any way, was that, once you open that can of worms and go down that path, that’s gonna pretty much consume the whole first season.
So, in terms of Henry really starting to control the power, that had to wait for the second season, and even then, she’s just taking baby steps. My version of a superhero story isn’t one where somebody gets a superpower, and then can master it, 10 minutes later. Anyone who’s ever tried to take piano lessons can attest to the fact that it’s really hard to get good at something, and so Impulse really embraces that.
It definitely seems like Henry isn’t even at the point of deciding whether or not she wants to be a hero. It’s still at that point of wondering, is this ability a gift or a curse, and for her, at least currently, it seems like it’s more of a curse. What do you think it would take for her to see that ability as a gift?
LIMAN: That is a very good observation. Hanging over whether or not to see it as a gift is this idea that’s hanging over the whole show of, does Henry get to have a normal life or not? Does she apply to college? When you get a superpower, what kind of life are you gonna lead? This is not my first foray into a teen show. My first one was a show called The O.C. I’m really interested in the teenage years because we’re trying to figure out who we’re gonna be. And so, this is just an amazing dramatization of it. If you have a superpower, do you take the SATs, or you don’t anymore? So, part of whether it’s a curse or a gift is, if the plan you have for your life is no longer achievable ‘cause you’ve now been plunged in a different direction, it cane take awhile before what seems like a curse might turn out to be a gift. But again, hanging over the whole show is a real anti-hero. She may look beautiful and sweet, but she’s had a troubled childhood and getting a superpower isn’t gonna suddenly turn her into a girl scout.
Especially when you have a power that is dangerous and scary, and can kill people, it’s certainly not an easy road to go on.
LIMAN: I’m interested in where high-concept meets reality. If you look at my TV shows and my movies, it’s about what would really happen, if there were somebody like Jason Bourne? In particular, with The Bourne Identity, what would it be like, if you tried to date him, which is what hangs over the first movie. When I was a kid, I just wanted to make big, dumb action movies. I don’t have a great pedigree like Quentin Tarantino, who watched all of these esoteric movies in a video shop. I grew up watching mainstream movies and being like, “I wanna do that.” And then, when I finally was given the opportunity to do a very mainstream movie, with The Bourne Identity, I discovered, much to my horror, that I wasn’t interested in making mainstream, high-concept movies. I was interested in the high-concept, but I was actually interested in the characters in those high-concept stories.
With Impulse, I love the teleportation. It’s one of the things I’ve been fantasizing about, for 10 years? What would it really look like, and would it be messy? If you look at the Olympics and the people ice skating, and they’re amazing. But if you look at them when they’re trying to learn it, it’s messy and things are being broken. In the pilot, the superpowers are so messy that it parlyzes the person next to her. I’m very interested in the superpower and all of the fun that you can have with it, but what I’m really interested in is what it does to the people in story, and what it does to Henry. What I don’t think it would do, if it really existed, is just turn you into a hero. All around the world, you can see people who achieved huge success and have become incredibly powerful, usually with money, and they don’t suddenly become heroes. They’re still the same person. It’s just that the same person is more powerful. So, I was really interested in exploring Henry, this deeply flawed character. What happens to that person, when everything gets amplified and they’re given what is, for sure, a curse? It just, one day, might become not a curse. And then, I’m really interested in the people around her. What would it be like, if your sister got a superpower, or your daughter got a superpower?
If you looking at my film, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it’s a pretty serious exploration of marital fidelity, and mistrust and trust in a relationship, but they have automatic weapons. I’m interested in exploring real issues, but giving it a high-concept veneer allows us to have more fun exploring things that are otherwise a little heavy. And in the case of Impulse, the sexual assault is going to forever be connected to her superpower. Every time she uses it, it’s connected back to that traumatic event in her life. Our show exists in a real world where people have real problems that have nothing to do with having a superpower. People have real stories and lives, and just because you have a superpower, it doesn’t mean that all goes away. That gives us a license to tackle any issues confronting teenagers and single mothers, trying to make a go of it while working a nickel and dimes job, and trying to provide for a daughter on a minimum wage salary in America. You can live in that world and still be popcorn and fun. Those two things can co-exist.
When we spoke about Season 1, we also talked about Chaos Walking, which still hasn’t hit theaters yet. I read that you recently had another test screening for that, with some new scenes and a different ending. Why did you feel it was necessary to add some scenes and to change the ending, and how close are you to being done with it?
LIMAN: We’re pretty much done. There’s a lot of technical stuff. It’s the most creatively challenging film that I’ve ever worked on, and I seek out creatively challenging projects, or take something that’s supposed to be more mainstream, like The Bourne Identity, and make it creatively challenging, by saying that I’m not going to do any of the tropes. One of the things you discover, when you veer off into not doing the tropes, is why those tropes exist. They just work, even if they’re predictable. And I’m interested, in all of my projects, including Chaos Walking, in finding alternative ways to deliver mainstream audience satisfaction, but not in the predictable way, and that’s just challenging to do. Many of my films, I’ve actually gone back in and shot things, especially from the third act, because I’m intentionally not doing the obvious. When I was doing The Bourne Identity, the obvious endings of the movie was to grab Franka Potente and take her hostage. In fact, they had a name for that in film school, which was the WIJ, or woman in jeopardy. Every single action script ever written was grabbing the girl hostage in the third act, and then the hero would have to save her, and choose between saving her and what his original goal was. With The Bourne Identity, I was like, “We’re not doing a WIJ.” And then, we were having trouble making the end of the film work, and at a certain point, I said to Matt Damon, “I don’t know, maybe there’s a reason this trope exists. Maybe we have to have a WIJ.” And Matt was like, “You promised me no WIJ.” He didn’t go to film school, but I taught him the term and he was like, “You said no WIJ. Figure it out.” So, I was like, “Okay, I’ll figure it out.” And you can be sure there’s no WIJ in Chaos Walking.
Was that a situation where it became fairly obvious that you needed to change the ending, so you had to go back and do those re-shoots, or was that something where you weren’t sure why it wasn’t working, and then realized that it was the ending?
LIMAN: In any kind of action film, there’s always something you’ve gotta shoot for the ending. It’s the rare action movie that doesn’t see a character opportunity that wasn’t taken advantage of, and you go in and take it. It’s just a moment that we’re changing. It’s not a whole re-conceiving of the movie. I’ve always just pushed and pushed and pushed, until I’ve made the film the absolute best it could possibly be. It’s infuriating to the studios and the people around me that I’m not gonna stop until we’ve made every moment as strong as it can possibly be. I treat movies like relationships, so I’m not even thinking about what the next one might be. It’s my entire life, so I’m gonna put everything into it. Even though I know this movie is gonna end and another movie is gonna start, while I’m in it, I’m 100% in it.
You’ve said that the script for the Edge of Tomorrow sequel is done, but what would you say the chances are, of that film actually getting made?
LIMAN: I honestly have no idea. Between my schedule, Tom [Cruise]’s schedule, and Emily [Blunt]’s schedule, it’s tough. Certainly, it’s a world that I love, and like with Impulse, there’s a lot more story to be told. What I love about TV is that you can get future seasons because they’re built into the process. And there’s a lot more story to be told, with Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise, in the world of Edge of Tomorrow. It’s the same thing with Impulse, where I was like, “Wouldn’t it be fun if . . .? Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .?” All of Edge of Tomorrow literally came from Tom Cruise and myself just sitting around saying,“Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .? Wouldn’t it be fun if . . .?” With most of those things, there just wasn’t room for them in the movie. I start from a place of, “What would be fun for me to see?” I start from the place of the audience. It’s not about, what do I want to shoot? It’s about, what would it be fun for an audience to see, and what would I wanna see, if I were in the audience? With Impulse, I was fantasizing about all of the different things that you can do with teleportation, but what I’m really thinking about is, what’s it gonna feel like when you’re watching that? What would be really fun to see on screen?
It’s an exciting show to watch, and it feels like there’s so much story to tell, even after two seasons.
LIMAN: And with Maddie Hasson and Missi Pyle, they have this incredible relationship where, even if you didn’t have superpowers involved, that’s a five-season relationship, right there. And then, you start to populate it with Matt Gordon and Sarah Desjardins, and suddenly, I want to spend my evenings watching that family, long before you add the powers and long before you add the forces of evil that are lurking in the town and beyond. Season 2 focuses on that beyond. If Season 1 was very much about the goings on, in and around Reston, in Season 2, we start to see more of the world.
Impulse is available to stream at YouTube.