Creator Tom Wheeler Exclusive Interview THE CAPE

     January 24, 2011


The NBC drama series The Cape follows Vince Faraday (David Lyons), an honest cop on the corrupt Palm City police force, who finds himself framed for a series of murders and presumed dead. He is forced into hiding, leaving behind his wife and son, and becomes so fueled by the desire to reunite with his family and battle the criminal forces responsible that he decides to become his son’s favorite comic book superhero, The Cape, and take the law into his own hands. Along the way, he will encounter varies allies and enemies, as he sets out to take back everything that he has lost.

During a recent exclusive interview with Collider, show creator/writer/executive producer Tom Wheeler talked about how The Cape came about, some of the great things coming up that viewers can look forward to, that Episode 7 and 8 will be a big two-parter, how Orwell will have the backstory that viewers will be most shocked to learn, who his favorite villains are, how he plans to carry out the story told in the 13 episodes that will make up Season 1, and the chance of a Season 2 pick-up. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

The-Cape-image-NBCQuestion: How did The Cape come about? Did it start with an idea that you had, or did the network come to you with this idea?

TOM WHEELER: The only thing that we knew was that I was going to write something for Gail Berman/Lloyd Braun. We wanted to work together. I had worked with Lloyd before, and we were just excited to do something. I knew I wanted to try my superhero story, whatever that would be. I’ve been a lifelong comic book fan, and I had never tackled that yet, even though I was always excited when X-Men came out, or the new Batman movies came out. And, I had had this story about a father and son in mind, where the father would become his son’s favorite hero, but I thought it was really important, who the actual hero was.

I love magic, and I love the old circus energy and old carnivals, and I was thinking about those worlds and those characters in those worlds. I wanted to do something that felt 21st century, but still had elements of being thrown back to a different age and time. Gradually, out of that world, and knowing that I wanted him to be non-superpowered – I wanted it to be a costumed crime drama – I knew that I wanted to go with masks and really try to lead with my chin, in terms of the comic book aspect of this thing.

So, The Cape was something that felt simple but iconic, and fresh but in some ways pulled out of the time of cape comics in the ‘30s. Then, NBC signed on because they loved this emotional story point of the father and his son’s comic book superhero, The Cape, and I realized that we really had a chance to do the whole thing and create our own comic book world. I’ve been just having a ball within that. We’re writing The Cape comic inside the show itself, so we now have two Cape mythologies. We’re slowly rolling out villains, and that part of it is really fun.


Is that comic book online?

WHEELER: Yeah, that is at for The Cape. We also have an iPad app. for The Cape, which is really cool. You can see our comic to the soundtrack of Bear McCreary’s score, and it works really well. It’s cool! There’s beautiful art by Michael Gaydos, and an Alex Maleev cover, and an Alex Ross cover. That’s been pinch me, comic geek stuff for me. Frankly, some of the coolest stuff that happened with this show was talking with these guys and seeing these brilliant artists do their version of The Cape. That’s really special. We had John Cassady do our Comic-Con cover. I idolize those guys. That was great. It was cool.

What can you say to people who wonder if they should tune in, to make them understand that this is a very different take on the genre?

WHEELER: I love what’s out there. I’m a big fan of Watchmen and Kick-Ass and The Dark Knight, but I’m also celebrating the superhero. It’s a celebration of the thrill of the superhero. I think we go to dark places, but it’s not constantly questioning the why of the superhero. The answer in being the superhero almost seems retro now, in a way. I’m just speaking to the kinds of stories, and want to tell the kinds of stories, that got me loving comics in the first place, when there was still emotion. They were still grounded and great characters, but it was also heightened.

So, for audiences that are worried, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s TV. But, I think what we are balancing really well is the ability for an audience to drop in on an episode and have a great ride, meet a great villain and touch base with this journey that Vince Faraday is on. And then, if you don’t tune in for a few episodes, you can still come back and have a great adventure. We’re not saying, “Get on the train now, or you’ll never be able to get on the train ever.” We’re mostly an adventure-of-the-week show, but for those who are committed to the show, they’ll see things change.


What hints can you give to what’s coming up with the story arc for this season?

WHEELER: Well, we have a lot of great stuff lined up, and it all has different tones to it. One tilts a little more science fiction, where Mena Suvari plays this character Dice, who is a mathematical savant, but to such a degree that she actually is a savant in probabilities. In some ways, she is able, through the connectedness of things, to use it as a predictive tool. She has quite a real grudge against Peter Fleming (James Frain), and yet they’re really similar. Chess is this creature of strategy and being one move ahead, and he’s just completely fascinated by her, at the same time that she is actively trying to kill him. It’s a great, weird romance that develops between those two.

We have a really fun crime episode with Vinnie Jones as Scales. We reintroduce him. We’re seeing the rise of a great gangster in Palm City, and we will be tracking Scales progress to becoming this other criminal titan. He’ll come face-to-face with Peter Fleming and Chess. As we move along, we will see things that were developed in the first two episodes. We haven’t forgotten the premise. We haven’t forgotten that this is a guy trying to get back to his family. We haven’t forgotten that his best friend betrayed him. So, I think you will see those threads circle back, even though we go on these wild journeys in between. The first arc ends very closely tied to what we’ve set out to tell. There will be big moves and the resolution to big storylines there.

At what point will that start to happen?

WHEELER: I’d say that mid-way through our first arc, we have a big two-part episode where we introduce a huge villain of our season and a great cast with Glenn Fitzgerald, Illeana Douglas and Tom Noonan from The X-Files. It’s a really great group of actors. That’s our big mid-season, two-parter. It has huge implications for Summer Glau’s character, Orwell, and sets in motion a storyline that is pretty intense for her character. By the end, that’s when you’ll see a lot of the chickens from the pilot coming home to roost by 13.

So, you’re doing a total of 13 episodes then?

WHEELER: Including the pilot, it will be a total of 13.

The-Cape-image-NBCWhat made David Lyons the perfect person for The Cape?

WHEELER: We saw him on tape, in something he had done in Australia. We had seen some great folks, and we’d also seen folks who took a certain approach to the superhero, where there was an invincibility to that character. You do think, “Well, they have to look cool in a mask or a cowl, or whatever we go with.” But, way more important than that was what he brought to it, which was this vulnerability of being connected to what he lost. You immediately believed him and, if you believe him, than the sky is the limit, as to where the show can go. We go to all these places, but we need him to be the gravity that keeps us rooted to Earth, and he never forgets what he’s fighting for or why he’s doing this. He’s so smart. We talk a lot about where he is, emotionally, in this journey and how it connects to getting back his family.

It’s not just a premise where we go, “Okay, the poor guy lost his family. Let’s go have some fun. Let’s go beat up some bad guys.” We really stick with this and we allow the reality of that to impact his life and the life of Dana Faraday, played by Jennifer Ferrin, and his son Trip, who’s played by Ryan Wynott. It was clear to us, pretty much immediately. I get something stuck in my head, as far as casting. Even though there are hills to climb and you’ve got to sell it to the network, I knew it was him. Then, we actually talked to him ‘cause he wanted to know what he was potentially getting into. You’re putting yourself out there on a concept. But, he’s great. He’s so great to work with and a great guy. His commitment, emotionally, is really creating the engine of the show.

Had you always wanted to go after such an ambitious cast of actors? Were you surprised that so many film actors were interested in doing a TV show?

WHEELER: We hoped that we had a concept where playing a villain in The Cape became one of those great things, but I actually thought it would take awhile for us to get that. It’s a credit to my writers that we have been really lucky. Even though we are an adventure-of-the-week, in some respects, I didn’t want just 13 villains. To me, it’s really important who we bring in and that I had plans well in advance. I knew who, more or less, would show up and we’ve stuck to that. We’ve had a lot of time to plan, so it’s given these characters a real sense of roots into the story. When people read them, they’re not just thrown together. We’ve worked really hard and it’s a varied, interesting, curious, quirky, obsessive, disturbing, violent group of criminals, but it’s not easy. Each one is a concept that has to get delivered. You have to be able to pay it off, and it has to be cool and fun.

We’ll see maybe six or seven new villains in the first 13 episodes because we also have James [Frain], who’s brilliant. I worked with James on an ABC Roman mini-series called Empire, and just have always loved his work. He’s so low-key and diabolical and charming, at the same time. One of the challenges is to make him less watchable. He’s great. He’s so much fun. We get to know Peter Fleming, as a character, and we come to realize that he is Chess, but Chess thinks he’s Chess. It’s complicated, sometimes, having a dual identity. He’s not a super-villain who has everything go his way. He plays it great, and we can do all these different things with him. And, Vinnie Jones is a polar opposite. He also feels like he’s been pulled out of some different era. He, himself, is larger than life. He’s great in this episode where there’s this train robbery. Having the two of them means that I don’t have to go to the well and pull up somebody new. We really are developing these relationships with each other – not liking each other and battling it out for control of Palm City – and also against the Cape himself.

The-Cape-image-NBCDo you have a favorite villain on the show?

WHEELER: James and Vinnie were wish list gets for me, and it’s very hard to choose a favorite. We’ve had excellent performances and guest cast. I recently saw what will be our seventh episode, and I can say that I’m super-excited for that villain. It’s a big roll-out and it also takes The Cape to a much darker, scarier place than I even thought we could go. It just opened up this whole new arena, genre wise, for us to tackle. It’s our The X-Files episode. It’s cool. It’s really fun. I thick people will like it.

Does that villain have a name?

WHEELER: He’s called The Litch. There’s a legend in Palm City of an almost supernatural crime lord called The Litch, but nobody has ever seen him or heard from him. He just exists in these old police files where you throw these cases of things too weird, creepy, violent or scary. Essentially, someone connected to Rollo’s (Martin Klebba) life dies, but then appears to have climbed out of their coffin and out of their grave. It starts this really tense mystery, and is cloaked in this Palm City family founder legend of this Chandler family. We’ll get to know Palm City better. We’ll get to know the history, and we’ll get to know Rollo’s life a little bit better. It’s fun. It’s cool.

How far are you into the writing? Do you have all of the scripts finished yet?

WHEELER: We’re pretty close. The wind is at my back. I was fairly stressed around October or November because it’s a new kind of experience for me to write like this. There’s a production train coming, so you have to make sure that you’re there. We have scripts written, or almost written, up to the 11th episode, and then we have very clear plans for what the last two will be, which are a big two-parter, in and of themselves, which I’ll be writing. I got a little break. I wrote 109 with my brother, and then I get to oversee the next couple, and then I’ll dive in and do some more writing.

Are you going to go into why Chess wears the contact lenses with the chess pieces?

WHEELER: As far as Peter Fleming goes, by the end of this first arc, we will know him better and we will understand what his problem is, not just with the world, but what his problem is. Elliott Gould plays this physician named Samuel who watches over him. I would just say to stay tuned to that relationship because it will have big consequences for Peter Fleming and the Chess character. Chess is very committed to his look and the origins of that. It’s good fun.

summer-glau-the-capeIs it challenging to find the balance between Vince Faraday’s story, the Carnival of Crime and all of the villains?

WHEELER: Some episodes will not have the same sense of humor as other episodes. Some episodes will play it straighter. We have an episode with these characters, Goggles and Hicks, which is this very quirky, curious assassination team that is set loose on The Cape. They have this fun energy that is just them. It’s just who they are. The episode is deadly serious. Vince is running for his life. There’s a black-out in Palm City and they are these absolute hunters. But then, the next episode, things turn around quickly. I think the best humor comes out of the pressure of the actual situation, not to turn and wink and say, “None of this matters.” It’s more the characters reacting to the pressure of it, so it should really help the tension versus deplete the tension. We’re never making fun of ourselves or saying, “Don’t take this show seriously,” because it’s very serious to the characters involved in it. We just get to go to more fun places than the average show. I think you have to follow the honesty of that particular story and, whatever that dictates, you allow for.

Are there any characters, either hero or villain, that you think audiences will be most shocked to learn the backstory of?

WHEELER: Summer’s character, Orwell, is a real mystery. I would say that hers is the most disturbing  journey of self-discovery. The next one would be Max Malini (Keith David). He will also be someone who you will peel away one thing and think you know who he is and what his motives are, and they will suddenly become something else, and then they will become something else. He’ll be tough to get a handle on. He’s been through a lot in his life, and this seems like his moment of redemption, but we’ll see there are real tensions in his relationship with Vince Faraday. It’s not like the Carnival’s now simply happy to be his henchmen. They’re like, “What’s going on? We’ve got a cop in our mist.” I like playing all those tensions. Vince has been thrust into a situation of, “Who do I trust?” You’re stuck with the allies you’re given, and that’s going to create enormous complications for him.

Are you planning to resolve things by the end of this season and then start fresh for Season 2, if there is one, or are you leaving some things open-ended as well?

WHEELER: I’m really sensitive to the fact that audiences deserve resolution in some things. What I would say is that it will be a little bit of both. I think some things will resolve in a pretty surprising way and, at the same time, we throw open the doors to a number of new elements that will require The Cape to dive into. I think we finish off telling one story, and then we set the table for what could be a long, bright future.

Have they given you any indication yet about a Season 2 pick-up?

WHEELER: No. All I know is that they are really happy and they feel really good about it. They have been great partners. I cannot complain about the way they supported the show and promoted the show, and the way they’ve supported me and the stories I want to tell. That’s usually a good sign. I’ve been in different situations than that, but this has been great.