‘The Boys’ Showrunner Eric Kripke Talks Season 3, Breaking Down The Superhero Myth, And Hitting “The Zeitgeist Bullseye”

You don't want to use it to just spice up a line. And it doesn't want to ever become like a crutch. Obviously, we're not doing it that much, because there's a ton of profanity all over the script, but [EP/director] Philip Sgriccia and I will have conversations, where we're leaning too heavy on the “C” word, and we're leaning too heavy on the “F” word. You want to use it because the character needs to say it in that moment. If anything, we're given such freedom from Amazon, our instincts in the dialogue go to self-policing. It wants to be honest to the character. KRIPKE: I never feel that way, writing the language.
Carlin was talking about broadcast television, of course, and you're in a different environment. And you're certainly saying some of them. But are there times when you’re like, "I can't believe I'm writing this word and it's going to be said.”? DEADLINE: Watching the series I had a flashback to George Carlin and his famous routine about the seven “dirty” words you can't say on television.
DEADLINE: One of the most remarkable aspects of the show is how you take on contemporary social issues—authoritarianism and celebrity, for instance, which we just lived through for four years. How are you able to somehow explore these timely issues, through ostensibly a kind of unreal world?
The emotional intelligence with which you approach the work is laudable. DEADLINE: We've all heard about really awful behavior committed by some showrunners.
How often on a TV show do you get to say that? And that's exciting. Every episode we do really get to show the audience something they've probably never seen before.
But I'm just so high on this gag that we're pulling off. And it's certainly something nobody has ever seen before, probably for good reason. So all that's really exciting. Who knows? Without giving away any spoilers, I was just in editing yesterday, and we're doing something here in the season 3 premiere that is not only I think the craziest thing we've ever done, it's got to be up there with the craziest thing anyone's ever done. Maybe it won't work.
This is definitely not my favorite production experience. It's no one thing, but it's the cumulative amount of annoying things that all pile up. So that's an extra hour, hour-and-a-half out of your day, every single day. Every two or three hours you have to give them 20, 30 minutes, to just be able to drink water. The crew aren't allowed to drink water on set. KRIPKE: I find it really difficult.
So, we want to explore what it means to be in America, really. I'd say in previous seasons the boogeyman for you to be scared of used to be, “The terrorists are coming to get you." And now it's sort of metastasized into, I think, a much more ominous, “Your neighbor is coming to get you.” And that's scary to me, how politics are turning us on each other.
He was a slam dunk. “Ants” consistently gets angry when we're on panels and people talk about, "You're the best villain." And he'll say what a good actor should say, which is like, "I'm not the villain. He was definitely the only actor we put forward for that role… He attacks this as seriously as any actor attacks anything. How many times do I have to tell you? I'm misunderstood.”
So, full-on production. ERIC KRIPKE: We're in the middle of shooting. I went through the quarantine and was on set for about three-and-a-half weeks, just in the beginning, to get everybody off and running. But since then I've been here [in L.A.]. We're just over the halfway point by a couple of weeks. It's all happening.
And that ultimately, at the end of the day, he just really wants to be loved. KRIPKE: He has such a brilliant way of finding the little boy inside that character too, where you realize what a broken child this massively powerful monster is. That layer just makes that character so tragic, as well as completely terrifying.
He developed the hit Amazon Prime series, based on the comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, and has served as showrunner since its inception. The Boys subverts the superhero genre, imagining a present day where awesome avengers, controlled by the unscrupulous Vought corporation, purport to stand for “truth and justice” while secretly committing heinous acts. Filming of Season 3 is underway in Toronto, with Kripke—who previously created the series Supernatural, Revolution and co-created Timeless—again at the helm. Behind the scenes on The Boys, Eric Kripke is the man.
But what I really responded to was he had this take on the character from the jump, that was the American hero whose mask is cracking and revealing the sociopathy underneath. Just from the jump he had that charming American smile, that almost game show smile down pat, but you could see it in the corners of his eyes that he was very, very dangerous and psychotic.
And so, if anything, we tend to be more like, "Well, should we do that?" rather than the glee with which we get to do it. And so, I don't take for granted that I'm in a space where I can just pull this stuff off. Now, the thing that I do with great glee, pinch myself all the time, I can't believe we get to do this, are the visuals we pull off, the 12-inch penis, the smashing into a whale broadside, facing-sitting a guy to death. Those are the ones that, for me, I sit in editing with my hands over my head, just giggling. Because I was in broadcast for so long.
We try to give it the psychological focus of an indie film, in the middle of these flying lasers and fights and whatever. And only then when that's over, we say, "What does that remind us of politically and satirically that's happening in the world, that we really want to talk about?” And then only when that's over and literally in the last week, we're like, "All right, where's the exploding whale, or the giant dick, or where's all the things that go on the front of the cereal box?" But that happens very late, because we try to really make sure our infrastructure is on solid ground. We, in the writers’ room, spend 75-percent of the break talking about, "What would that do to them psychologically? And what is their level of insecurity at this point, or paranoia?” We spend the vast majority of the time talking about getting inside these characters’ heads. And where are they?
DEADLINE: It’s a character-driven show, unlike a lot of superhero content.
The terminal, most destructive thing you can say in a writers’ room is, "Give me a day or two to think about that.” It's death on a stake. And once a showrunner starts saying that, you know that odds are that show's going to be in trouble, because you have hundreds of people waiting on you and you have to answer them, so they can keep doing their job.
But when you have a visual effects shot it takes three times as long as a normal shot. So visual effects has to step in, to tile all of our crowds. But we're a show that often has crowd scenes of 500 or more. In Canada, you're not allowed to have more than 50 performers on your set at any given time.
DEADLINE: I doubt you want to divulge any season 3 spoilers, but maybe you could talk about your goals for the season as you set to work on it.
KRIPKE: We've been certainly a political and satirical show. We were really interested in exploring both the recent history of Vought, the company in the show, but also through that the recent history of the United States… We got really interested in the myths we tell ourselves, to feel that we're righteous, really exploring America itself as a myth.
And then I realized he really believes that. And that's what makes a great actor great, that it doesn't even occur to him that they're the bad guy, because they're so deep inside, making that character human. At first I thought it was shtick.
You really literally are running it like you would a train. And then even if you're wrong and you come back the next day and you say, "Hey, guys, I was wrong, but now I know that we're going in this direction,” even that's okay, because it's always moving. And I found that to be the best advice I've ever gotten. A showrunner's job, at the end of the day, is to keep the momentum of your team moving forward so that everyone knows what they have to do.
I always really loved it because you got to see how the superhero phenomenon didn't just affect the present, but how it affected parts of the past as well. And so we have this character, Soldier Boy, played by Jensen Ackles, and he's been around since World War II and was the first Vought superhero. Through him and through his story, we're able to explore a lot of the history of the country, really. A big element of the comics actually are flashbacks to World War II and Vietnam.
So it always blows me away, but hopefully it's on its way out.” /> I find myself, whenever I hear the horror stories, just amazed. KRIPKE: Thank you. At the very least, it's an inefficient, poor way to do your job. That's very kind of you. Because even if you put aside that you're being a bad human and racking up terrible karma and, it's horrible management.
DEADLINE: What are the challenges doing a huge television series in the midst of COVID-19 protocols?
DEADLINE: You have assembled a wonderful cast of actors, many of whom were not super well-known beforehand. One of the standouts is Antony Starr, who’s from New Zealand, playing the all-American "Homelander."
KRIPKE: Bob Singer, who is my mentor and my partner on Supernatural, really taught me how to do the job. It doesn't actually have to be the right decision." Literally, the very first thing he said to me was, “Here is the first rule of show running: You are in the business of making decisions.” He said, "Now let me give you a corollary to that rule.
From your point of view and all you've learned, what makes a good showrunner? DEADLINE: You’ve become one of the most experienced showrunners in Hollywood.
I love living in that sort of deconstructed space, of just simple questions like, if you were The Flash, you would be blowing up people all the time. One thing we do, though, probably even more than the comic is we really try to hew to a very ruthlessly logical, grounded place of what would really happen, what would it really look like…if “Supes” were really real, and if you applied the complete fucking absurdity of the superhero myth to the actual world we live in. Where those gears grind are funny and strange and absurd. If you were Superman and you had eye lasers it would not be a cute little puff of white light when it hits you, it would be a horrific evisceration. Exploring all that makes the world feel more credible, but it's just great fun to break down the superhero myth that way.
KRIPKE: Part of it was, I do admit, dumb luck, because all good genre is a metaphor for something. I got handed this beautifully tailored suit and felt I just had to strut in that as much as I can. Part of it is just really relishing this world Garth Ennis created that is about celebrity and authoritarianism, and social media and misinformation, and how corporations present a shiny, happy mask to the world, when what is behind that mask is the most ruthless drive for capital. I've been waiting my whole life to stumble into something that hits the zeitgeist bullseye, and I don't take for granted that I finally found one. I happened to stumble into this great job that had the perfect metaphor for the exact second we're living in.
DEADLINE: Where are you in production?
Outside of that, the thing that makes a good showrunner is you always want to punch up, and you never want to punch down. Be aware of the power dynamic and that everyone working for you is trying their level best to do great. And fight tooth and nail to get them what they need, to do their best work. And be kind and reward them with praise when they're doing good, and comfort them with understanding when they don't. I think with that you win their loyalty, because they know that you're there to fight for them. And take all of that good will and put it towards your crew, and then fiercely protect them from the powers above you. And I think one, that's just being a good person, but two, I think it gets the best work out of people, because not only are you a benevolent leader, but they also see you going to bat for them over and over and over again.
DEADLINE: In an odd sense, I find myself rooting for him as much as any other character.
You're guessing on some video that you're looking at. KRIPKE: Casting for me is a lot of luck, because you never really know. It was just like he was on Mars, sending this tape to us. And it took him a while to even get to a place that had the internet to send it. For him, he was shooting some indie movie in the high desert somewhere and did a selfie audition in his trailer.
I would say every single thing is just harder. So, say I'm bringing in Giancarlo Esposito to film one scene—it’s very, very difficult to get actors in and sit in a hotel room for two weeks just to do a day's work. We're figuring it out, and I think the material's really great, but it's just every bit of it's more difficult. Canada has a two-week quarantine.
KRIPKE: When I was working with Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] to create the show in the beginning, one of the things we quickly landed at was, everyone will expect us to be shocking and outrageous and gory. That's the one thing that people weren't expecting on this show. Part of it was just the nature of, what can we do to really surprise them? So, we said the most surprising and subversive thing we could do is have an incredible amount of emotion and heart and hook people into the characters.

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