Produced in association with Marvel Television and set in the X-Men universe, the Fox drama series The Gifted follows Reed and Caitlin Strucker (played by Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker), whose ordinary lives are suddenly turned upside down when they learn that their teenage children (played by Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White) possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a government that’s hostile toward mutants, the family seeks help from an underground network and realize that they must rely on each other and fight to survive.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, showrunner Matt Nix talked about why he had to be a part of The Gifted, that it’s Running on Empty with mutants, telling a fully serialized story, how different this show is to make from his previous series Burn Notice, finding the right directors, and just how far ahead he’s thought about the story they’re telling.
Collider: When The Gifted came your way, what was the appeal for you?
MATT NIX: As an idea, the project had kicked around Hollywood for awhile. I had heard about it and was like, “Man, I should be doing that!” So then, it came to me and they were like, “Hey, would you be willing to take a crack at this?” And I was like, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And then, when they said, “Do you want to come in?,” I went in with a full presentation with pictures and music. There was no way that I was not getting this job. I wanted my pitch to haunt them, if they didn’t hire me. I wanted them to be like, “Oh, we screwed up!” I was really intent on getting it. So, there were a lot of elements that came together for it.
A big thing for me was thinking a lot about what’s gonna to have the most legs on television and what’s gonna to allow me to explore the world a lot. The comics that I enjoyed the most were the comics that really dealt with the most grounded situations in the X-Men universe. I was always the biggest fan of the comics and the movies when I looked at them and I went, “That could be me. I could be there. I recognize that world.” When the action gets huge and it’s just mutants fighting each other, I enjoy it, but it doesn’t have the same pull for me, as a geek kid who longed to live in that world. So, I came up with the idea of starting with a family.
There’s an old movie, called Running on Empty, with River Phoenix, that I was a big fan of. I wrote down in my notebook, “Running on Empty with mutants?” And then, as part of the pitch process, I had to go through and pitch everybody, and when I sat down with Bryan Singer, before he was gonna direct it, I was in the middle of the pitch and he was like, “Have you ever heard of this movie Running on Empty?” I was like, “Yeah, that was my pitch!” He was like, “You didn’t need to do any of the pitch. You could have just said Running on Empty with mutants, and I would have been on board.” That was a big connection for us. That was a movie that had a relatable family in an extraordinary situation, where they still feel real and grounded, and it didn’t spin off into FBI space. It was just, this family is on the run from the FBI, and what would that be like?
The family at the center of this gets separated in the pilot. Did you have to think about just how long you were going to keep them apart and when you’d bring them back together?
NIX: Yeah. In a serialized show like this, I wanted to give everybody something urgent to do, the next minute. I didn’t want people to feel like, when they were going into the second episode, we were settling into a rut, saving a mutant every week. Separating them gives everybody a really deep emotional connection. On the mutant side, Eclipse wants Polaris back. On the Strucker side, they all want Reed, and they’ve gotta figure out where he is. There’s a lot to do. I wanted to set up the pilot with plenty to do and a big emotional connection to what they’re doing, to keep the story personal. Audiences are sophisticated about what a franchise looks like, but I didn’t want to know where it was going to go next. I wanted to be excited about it.
Are you telling a fully serialized story, or are you also going to have things happen weekly?
NIX: Both. It is a fully serialized story, but if you watch an episode, you will see a story with a beginning, middle and end. There’s no franchise engine that kicks in, at a certain point. It is not a mutant saving of the week story. The first show that I really studied was The Shield. I love that show. And one thing that I think that show did really well was that, every week, you knew that there was a thing to do, but at the same time, it was highly serialized. When I did Burn Notice, I took elements of that. Certainly in the later seasons, we were very serialized, but we still always had a very clear thing, so that if you just watched one episode, you could watch it.
From Burn Notice, you clearly know how to do action, but how much more challenging is it, when everyone has different superpowers?
NIX: I’ll be honest, I knew it would be more difficult, but I did not know how much more difficult it would be. Having come from Burn Notice and the world of practical effects, once you blow up an airplane, you can put as many cameras as you want on it. There’s all this fun little stuff that happens when you do big practical effects. When you do visual effects, nothing happens by accident. There’s nothing you can just point the camera at. You’ve gotta come up with everything, and every shot makes it more expensive. It’s actually kind of the opposite of doing practical effects. Once you do the practical effect, every shot makes it cheaper. You get to reuse it. You’ve got all this production value, so you might as well shoot a bunch of it. But, it’s the opposite with visual effects. Everything is hard. We’ve had to learn as we go.
Is it very crucial to find the right directors, as a result of all of that?
NIX: Yes, it is. We were very fortunate to get Len Wiseman for the second episode. That’s a bigger episode and the production accommodates the fact that it’s a bigger episode that takes longer to shoot. But going into the regular show, we only had eight or nine days. The challenge that I find with directors, particularly for the kinds of shows that I do, is that I need people who are really ambitious and want to do big stuff, but at the same time, understand when it’s time to bail out and just get the scene. You have to get the show in the can. It’s tough. Directors have to remember, if you run out of time and you only have half of the scene, you don’t have half a scene, you have no scene. If you shoot everybody talking in one direction and nobody talking in the other direction, you’ve got nothing. That can be a big challenge.
You also have a great ensemble of actors for this.
NIX: We were really lucky. The cast came in and they were so enthused. They wanted it, and we wanted them. You won’t believe me when I say this, but they were all ridiculously good looking, and that wasn’t what we were selecting for. We were just going through and finding people that really connected with the characters. After we put them all together and I saw them in a room, I was like, “Oh, my god, what have we done?!” They’re ridiculously good looking.
How far ahead have you thought things out for this series?
NIX: I’d say a couple of seasons, in broad strokes. In super broad strokes, we have an idea of where the show could go, as a show. That said, in my experience, whatever you thought was going to be your 12th episode is actually your 8th episode. You tend to bring things up. That happened on Burn Notice, certainly. I had an idea of where that show went, overall. In some ways, I was exactly right, and in other ways, I was totally wrong. We used elements of what I thought was the end of the show by Season 3, but the end of the show was very much in the spirit of and contained elements of what I imagined it being, from the very beginning. With this, I’m confident that I have a sense of where it goes, and a sense of what Season 1 is and what Season 2 is. One of the challenges in contemporary television is that there’s such a temptation to make everything a 10-episode mini-series because there’s so much stuff out there. If you say, “We’re going to give the secret away in Episode 10,” people are like, “All right, I’ll stick around for Episode 10.” But, I want to be doing this show for a long time. This is a show I really care about and really love, and I hope that comes across. I’m trying to think a lot about what’s a satisfying end of the season that doesn’t feel so close-ended that you’re like, “I’m all done with that.”
The Gifted airs on Monday nights on Fox.