Creator/writer Michelle Lovretta has played in the supernatural sandbox, determining the fates of succubi in Lost Girl and witches in The Secret Circle, but she's set her creative sights on space now with her latest series, Killjoys.
Debuting June 19 at 9/8p C on Syfy (Disclosure - Syfy is Blastr's corporate parent), Killjoys is set in a future in which humanity inhabits all the vast corners of space. There's the obvious need to rein in the more nefarious citizens who are trying to bypass the law, so enter Killjoys: intergalactic reclamation agents (or bounty hunters) who operate under warrants to bring fugitives back to the omniscient Company to pay their debts. Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen) and John (Aaron Ashmore) are a skilled team who suddenly turn into a trio when John's estranged brother, D'Vin (Luke Macfarlane), comes into the picture.
We talked exclusively with Lovretta about the gestation of the Killjoys premise, why her space-based story got greenlit, and what she's hoping to explore through her motley trio ...
When did Killjoys take shape as an idea you wanted to make?
Michelle Lovretta: Basically, I was coming up with pitches for network, and I like to come up with a batch, so you're challenging yourself, but you're also not wasting anyone's time, including your own, by coming in saying, "This is my ONE idea! You're gonna love it!" Then you are screwed. I had my heart set on continuing to work in genre, which is my first love as a viewer and as a creator. Since I had done Lost Girl and a show about witches and was so steeped in the fantasy side of spec, I wanted get into the sci-fi aspect of it. I found everything coming out of me involved a ship and guns. [Laughs]
Space-based shows have been on the outs for a few years, so were you surprised there was any interest?
I think Syfy was very aware of the appetite out there and feeling the hunger. I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of a lot of excitement. They were eager to get back to space. I didn't anticipate that would be the response. Shows are hard to do in space, and they come in waves. I was really happy to find they weren't just happy about it, but as eager as I was.
What was your storytelling hook for the show? Did it evolve out of Dutch?
There are quite a few elements that simultaneously build upon one another that we use in our stories that helped me find the series. The relationship between the three of them is key. It's how I find stories. In general, the most fulfilling aspect of any plot is how is impacts the people you care about. But I think the device of having warrants to chase was an important one too.
Was there sci-fi inspiration that informed how you developed the show?
The two most formative films for me when I was a kid was Aliens; I felt invited into space with that movie. And the other was Outland, and it was basically a cop in space on a moon. What was fascinating to me as a kid was all of this exotic space, but also the normalcy of an everyday guy in an everyday job. We've morphed it into bounty hunters and given our world cool new rules, but the ability for us to have jobs -- not to just build plot -- but as a way to have structure to their own individual lives, I found compelling.
The Company that issues the warrants and directs the RAC agents has a very Weyland-Yutani feel. How do they play into the universe?
Obviously, it's very fertile and well-trod terrain to go with the evil mega-corp. It's a nice, convenient shorthand for audiences in terms of what it's been for other science fiction shows and for our everyday real world. There's a lot of emotional connection that can be had with those stories. On the other hand, that's something we intend to spin. We're introducing it in a way that everyone expects to be seen but, hopefully, with other seasons, we hope to subvert that as well.
There's a lovely simplicity to the RAC agents' edict that "The warrant is all." So will that be the guiding principle for your narrative stories? Break that and beware?
What ties every single layer together, whether it's the character dynamics, the politics of the Company within the Quad or the RAC, I like dealing with independence versus systems. Yes, you need systems in order for things to thrive, but you also want to have independence from that, so there's this push and pull. The job of a Killjoy is uniquely situated to really mine that tension, because they have to live by the edict "Take no bribes, take no sides. The warrant is all." They are living in a fictional universe that is making it harder and harder for them to stand by that. We also have three different backstories that give a different perspective on the edict. One is a soldier who thrives when there is order. John is independent but likes a leader, who is in this case Dutch. He defines himself as someone who supports that person. With Dutch, she is meant to be independent but is trapped by her history and the job by entities that she is indebted to. It's a juicy way for us to insert really valid and rich emotional stakes. With all of that our goal is to make sure that we are fun and entertaining but not frivolous.
There's some chemistry between your trio, but will that feed a lot of story?
They go through a lot of challenges defining their loyalty and the hierarchy of it. D'Avin really drops in as a bomb between what has been a really blissfully functional partnership between best friends. It was important to me that we didn't do a sexy, sexy love triangle; which brother will she choose? I didn't want to tell that story. There's no telling if he'll become the Pacey if we make it to Season 5, but that's not the intent. I've had a lot of wonderful platonic relationships with amazing dudes in my life, and I don't think they get enough respect. My cynical side says they aren't shown as much because they inherently show less boobs. [Laughs]
Dutch is a very strong female anchor character. Was she born that way, or did she evolve?
I did lean a little on the stereotypical "she's sexy and everyone loves her with Dutch." But now I would describe her as respected and strong and intensely loyal. She has lost some of the more overt coquettish things. She's a leader, and what I really adore about the dynamic is that she's a genuine leader. I respect D'Vin and John, but I have no problem at all believing that D'Vin comes in with his military background and yet is very comfortable with Dutch calling the shots, because she is a Level 5. Watching the team work as a trio exceeds what I intended.
Aaron is a genre vet and fits the world really well, but Luke is atypical casting, since he comes from more traditional dramas. Talk about their casting.
Aaron on and off camera is a lovely dude. Funny and good to be around. What's great to me is that, because it's a larger role, he shines here even more than he has in the past. When he's on screen there's a calm with him that makes me feel, "That's Johnny." With Aaron, I knew he would be good, but he's even better than anticipated. With Luke, I saw his audition and immediately forwarded it to my writers, saying, "Holy sh**, that's the D'Vin-est D'Vin that ever D'Vin-ed!" [Laughs]
Shifting to the look of the show, there's a very punk landscape to everything. How did the aesthetic evolve?
We had a lot of people involved in our look, and one of the chief architects was Chris Grismer, who was our consulting director and worked closely with our DP, Michael Marshall. They helped me figure out how to tell this story visually, and how to differentiate the worlds we go to so there is a subtle style about them. You want to have some eye candy, and there are ways to do it with a budget so you don't have to have six episodes in a bottle. [Laughs] It's a challenge, but it's why I constructed the show, which was, rather than getting on a ship and going to new places like Star Trek, I said, why don't we have a ship in a more contained environment so what you lose in novelty you gain in familiarity and relationships in communities? We get to create a feeling of home and get to break it and threaten it and see what that does to our characters.
As for what we can expect structurally, will it be a "warrant of the week" type of show?
The onus on us as storytellers is that we had to take a couple of episodes and via the warrants use them as a vehicle to take a tour through the Quad. We learn who the important people are, and the politics and culture. Once we did that by Episode 4, it freed us to still have our warrants, but we are driven more and more by the serialization, which increases in the season.