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Exclusive: The cast and creators of Powers on bringing Brian Michael Bendis' superhero police story to TV

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Mar 10, 2015, 1:36 PM EDT

In case you haven't booted up your PlayStation console in a while,  there's some news: Three episodes of Powers, The Playstation Network's first scripted series, dropped today.  Based on the long-running graphic novel  of the same name written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming, Powers posits a contemporary world in which superheroes live among us.  Some, like Retro Girl (Michelle Forbes), Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor) and Wolfe (Eddie Izzard), are even household names, the celebs of this reality with wannabe groupies called "Powers Kids."

And just like "normals," some of those with powers are good guys, and plenty are serious a-holes.  In Los Angeles, the team helping to police the more nefarious individuals is the Powers Task Force, including former power Christian Walker (aka Diamond) and his newbie partner, Deena Pilgrim (Susan Hayward). Guided by novelist and executive producer Charlie Huston, Powers' freshman season will consist of 10 episodes, with new ones dropping every Tuesday on the PSN (so no binge watching, to start).

We recently had an opportunity to chat with Bendis, Oeming and the cast exclusively about Powers' long development path, how the show differs from the books and how the cast became their characters. 

Creators: Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

Powers originally went to pilot for FX in 2011 with Jason Patric as Walker. Why didn't it go back then?

Bendis: Everyone involved was very talented, but sometimes it's just off. However, Charlie Huston was hired to be in the writers' room, and he wrote an episode that was fantastic. It was funny and dark and dangerous. I literally emailed the president of the network and said, "If you are looking to find Powers, that [script] is it." So many other people agreed that they fired everybody else but Charlie, who is now running the show, and that's how we got to PlayStation.

Huston has changed a lot of your plot points and character dynamics for the TV series. As the creator of Powers, was that a hard pill to swallow?

Bendis:  No, Charlie Huston is the showrunner and a powerful literary voice. We have a very similar mindset and goal for the show, which is the books are the books and the show is the show, much like Dexter, which was very successful in that the show did their thing and the books did their thing. They run parallel universes examining similar elements. We did not want at any time a word-for-word, shot-by-shot carbon copy [for Powers]. The language of comics and television and cinema have similarities, but they are very, very different. We'll do our version, and we hope they make the most in their medium. They can take the characters into places we may have never thought of, so that's exciting. With that in mind, I'm constantly reminding the writers' room to cherry-pick from the books -- which they did -- but let them breathe and come alive in their own way. It's amazing to watch. I was there the first days of shooting in Atlanta, and I got to see [the cast] literally put on their metaphysical clothes to become the characters, and it was as magical a moment as you could ever hope for.

David Slade, of Hard Candy and Hannibal fame, directs the first two episodes and helps set the aesthetic for the series. Michael, did they pull a lot from your art in the books?

Oeming:  Actually, I've done a lot of art work for the show, as there's a character who draws in the show, so I had to do all the artwork for his room. Otherwise, like Brian was saying, there's a tag game going on back and forth between the comic and the show. Now, as we're relaunching Powers again, I'm now looking at the show for clues, like the way set designers are telling a story with the set, I am totally stealing that for the comics. [Laughs]

Bendis: The other cool thing that Charlie came up with is the idea of Retro Girl and her persona; Mike's artwork represents that in the show, so he's a voice on the show in a way that most comic book artists aren't. Once [books] get adapted, they're gone. Even with Watchmen, Dave Gibbons is the greatest artist of all time, but there's no sign of him in the [film]. You see Mike in Powers, and I'm so excited about that.

Powers Partners: Sharlto Copley (Christian Walker) and Susan Heyward (Deena Pilgrim)

Christian is a lot different from the quiet detective he plays in the books. Did you have to ignore the books when you prepped your performance?

Copley: I wasn't familiar with the comics, and Charlie advised me to not go through the comics and take Christian from the first three scripts, because they wanted to do something different. It was important for me that Brian was aware, and behind, changing the character, because a lot of times you see people adapting things with the creator having little say. But Brian is actually writing some of the episodes, and they are some of my favorites.

What about the Powers script grabbed you initially?

Heyward: I felt like I got the rules and there was a strong sense of need from every character, which is exciting, because when those needs are at cross purposes there's a chance for real deep conflict. The world isn't always glamorous. We've got a great metaphor for superpowers as huge celebrities with endorsement deals and money and fans, but it's not always shiny and glittery. I'm also a homicide detective, so I see people are their worst and their deadest. I go sniffing around their history about why someone killed them. So the sparks of Walker coming from his world and his privilege and Deena coming from her world and the seediness of being a detective is really great tension.

Who is Christian Walker to you?

Copley: In this version, he is a very complex character, and I like that. He's multi-layered, and you get to know more about him as you go. He's quite guarded in the beginning and comes across as a stereotypical, grumpy, Clint Eastwood-style police officer. But as you go, you realize he was a superhero back in the day, one of the most famous, like a rock star. I love Bendis' description of it as "VH-1 Behind the Music for superheroes." My guy in his heyday had agents and managers and lawyers and people helping him get publicity deals. Then he lost his powers, and the loss literally and figuratively has a huge impact on him. When you meet him, many years later, he's still struggling with the loss, and his archenemy, Wolfe, played by Eddie Izzard, holds the key to him getting them back.

How much will Retro Girl factor into him becoming whole again?

Copley:  They have a very complicated history. They were the Brad and Angelina of the scene, but he's extremely emasculated now that he is no longer powerful. He's going to be a man with issues. But he does have a real connection to her, and she understands him better than most people. 

The Rogues Gallery:  Eddie Izzard (Wolfe) and Noah Taylor (Johnny Royalle)

How did Huston lure you back to television?

Izzard: Charlie Huston wrote me a poetic letter about Wolfe. It was so unusual, I showed it to my producing partner. It was about the poetic vision of the darkness and beauty behind Wolfe, so that intrigued me as an opening gambit. Wolfe comes in as a drip feed through the season. He's only in for one scene in the first episode and gradually gets more and more involved, so [Huston] couldn't show me much. I'm not someone who has read the comic books, though I should be. I think it's my dyslexia. I wait for films to come out because I'm very visual. But I'm very ready for this role. It's difficult because he needs to be charming and dark as f***. I want to drive that, and I'm ready to drive that. Coming out of Hannibal into this, it's great training. Plus the fact that Noah Taylor was in it as well, because I've liked his work for a long time. I just thought, let's go do this and see where we go.

In the series, Johnny Royalle was assumed dead for awhile, but we discover that he's been working in the shadows of L.A. How did you develop this guy?

Taylor:  I wasn't really familiar with the comics, but I've read the ones I could get out of sequence. I'm a very visual person myself, so when I read a script, it's just the text, so I always sketch what I think the character looks like. It helps me feel the character. But to already have a visual representation is really great for me. It's little things in the way Michael has drawn him, like the way his eyes arch so you strike that pose and you can feel it flowing inwards.  He's a fascinating, mysterious character, and quite damaged on some layers. I like characters that unveil slowly, so you're not judgmental about them, because circumstances create people's actions. For me, I've got to love him and support him no matter what he does.

Powers Kids: Olesya Rulin (Calista) and Logan Browning (Zora)

In the books, Calista is a little girl, but your character is aged up for the series?

Rulin: Yes, she's older, maybe 18 or 19, and it's about her discovery of becoming a young woman and what it means to be strong. But she also goes on this really interesting path of wanting powers but not having them. She struggles with instability, and I can't wait to develop her more.   

Zora has powers  in the book and series, but she's been aged down for the series, so she's more Calista's peer.

Browning: In the comic books, you meet Zora full-on powerful. In the series, we meet Zora as a teenager finding her way with the Powers kids, as well as with Deena and Walker as their world and her world collide. It's similar to Calista in terms of coming of age, but they have every different paths and obstacles they are going through. Zora wants to be a hero and not just another one of the Powers kids. 

Were the comic books any source of inspiration for your takes on the characters?

Rulin: I didn't do any research with the comic books. I got hired in like three days. My character's changed so much from the comic books.

Browning: Because it takes so long for Zora to show up in the comics, I relied on Charlie's vision for her and took it from there. I'm glad he explained her story to me, because I love where her story goes. Even though she has a big power and is skilled at it, I don't think she completely understands the world she's getting into.

You can watch the first episode of Powers on Youtube right now -- check out the embed below, and let us know in the comments if you're on board for this adaptation