Executive producer/showrunner Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) brought actors Alexa Davalos, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Joel de la Fuente and DJ Qualls from his upcoming Amazon TV adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle to talk fascism and adaptations at New York Comic Con. Based on Dick's 1962 novel of the same name that posited a new global order after Japan and and Nazi Germany win World War II, High Castle will bring to life an America run by the totalitarian regimes.
Spotnitz says the book was a personal favorite from his college days because "the good guys didn't win. As Americans, we don't like to think that's possible." He explains that he wrote a pilot for Syfy two years ago that was ultimately passed on. However, he says it was resurrected when an Amazon development executive asked Spotnitz for any scripts he had that would make an impact. He passed along his High Castle treatment, and they loved it.
Explaining the most interesting themes explored in the series, Spotnitz says, "In this show, the bad guys are here, and a lot of them are us. The bad guys up close aren't psychopaths but have rationales for what they do. Some characters I kind of like are saying things that almost make sense, and that makes me think twice. America is a beautiful idea, and every generation has to live up to that idea, and it's built into the DNA of this story."
The eclectic cast said they were all moved by the depth of the story and characters they were able to explore in the series. For Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who was born in Japan but raised in the American South, the story had particular resonance. "It reminds me so much my life," the actor said thoughtfully. "The idea of the stranger in a strange world. It was a great opportunity to explore those things again -- the good and the bad."
Tagawa was also particularly proud of the fact that the series is "presenting something to make people think and that power is so important now, especially for Millennials."
For actor DJ Qualls, the series wouldn't leave him alone -- literally. "They came to me and I was shooting Z-Nation, so the script came to my email box, and I was so tired that I passed," Qualls admits. "They kept coming back, and I remember I was home and the phone was ringing, and it was director David Semel going, 'What the F is your problem? This will be the best job you ever have. Be at Ridley Scott's office today at 3 p.m.' So I went over, and they pitched it to me and I wanted in."
Qualls also praised Amazon for giving the production the luxury to think about, and talk through, what we were doing with the series. "It made me excited to be an actor again," he enthused.
Later in the panel the audience asked some smart questions of the guests, including how the show handled the slippery slope of stereotypical representations of the Japanese and Germans. "It's true Nazis are so overused, and we love hating them," Spotnitz concedes. "But what helped is that most Nazis in the series have American accents, and that throws you. But to me, the show is not anti-German or Japanese but anti-fascist. My slight worry is we do such a good job humanizing the fascists."
Spotnitz also confirmed that Philip K. Dick's daughter, Isa, who is a producer on the series, is profoundly involved in every decision they make. "She watches every cut and is an excellent producer. She wants to protect her father's work and vision but understands this is a TV show. Sometimes she has ideas to faithfully extend ideas from the book."
Right now The Man in the High Castle has not been renewed for a second season by Amazon, but Spotnitz says he is already planning future storylines where the show will delve into the issue of internment camps and a deeper exploration of the horrors being committed against people of color and the Jews.
The Man in the High Castle Season 1 streams exclusively on Amazon Prime on Nov. 20, 2015.