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Wyatt Russell in Lodge 49

Lodge 49's creators on their The Big Lebowski-meets-Knights Templar TV tale

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Aug 20, 2018

As the summer light starts to fade, one new series is attempting to offer audiences the chance to extend the chill vibe with one of the most distinctive genre shows out there right now. AMC’s Lodge 49 stars Wyatt Russell (Kurt and Goldie’s son) as Dud, a Long Beach, California surfer in a life rut. His dad is missing and presumed dead. He’s got no job and a recent snakebite means he can’t do one the thing he loves – surf – until it heals.

But a series of occurrences that bear a striking similarity to destiny bring Dud to the door of the it’s-seen-better-days Fraternal Order of the Lynx’s Lodge 49. Inside, he meets old-timer Ernie (Brent Jennings) and, from there, the most unlikely, modern-day knight and squire story starts to unfolds.

The description alone is a head-scratcher, like the Big Lebowski mashed up with a Knights Templar tale, all told whimsically yet with a distinctly literary pace. But that’s exactly what creator Jim Gavin was going for, and he got executive producers Paul Giamatti and Dan Carey to buy in, along with TV veteran Peter Ocko (Pushing Daisies) to sign on as showrunner.

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In a sit-down with the gentlemen in question, Giamatti and Carey first explain they were looking for new TV shows to shepherd into being after their first foray with Outsiders (2017). “We mostly follow things that just speak to us,” Giamatti explains. “And genre stuff interests us. This was a script that was sent to us. And Dan read it and gave it to me, and we responded to so many things about it. And then we met Jim, and we liked him so much.”

Carey says even though the script was not exactly typical, they brought it to AMC and the network backed it. “I think they believed in Jim, which was really impressive, because it's one of those shows that I can't really actually just encapsulate it in one line, or something,” he chuckles. “But, at the end of the day, as many things as there are out there, there are few people who have as clear a vision as Jim does.”

For Gavin, the author of the short story collection Middle Men and a contributor to The New Yorker, Lodge 49 was born of his own experiences growing up in Long Beach, and the distinct characters he met, and interacted with, in the area.

“As a writer, I think I have a comic point of view in the sense of the universe, itself, is comic,” Gavin says with a smile. “And characters living in the wake of loss, or tragedy... for me, that's the only way I know how to deal with that, so I think personally, as a writer, my goal, is to spend time with those characters. And my great goal for this show would be for someone to say, 'I would love to sit in a tavern with those people.' If we can do that, and I think our cast does that in an amazing way, then people will go along for the ride, ‘cause I don't think we're a show that's gonna have crazy cliffhangers. In the end, it's about kinda falling in love with the characters and watching them hopefully have struggles that are both relatable and take turns into stranger places that are illuminating in their own way.”

Those “stranger turns” are where his creative executive producer, Peter Ocko, lives authentically, and he leaned into that as they developed the pilot into a series. “Jim had written a beautiful pilot," he says, "and I was just taken with the world and what it was saying, and how it was saying it. When we met and talked about, 'How do you make this a series,' what poked out of the sand for us was this idea of a knight-squire journey that, on the one hand, you have a bunch of real people living hard lives, who happen to share this lodge as a place of community.

"But, on the other hand, you still have people who are searching for something, and maybe can't do it on their own and need a mentor to guide them. And, sometimes, the mentors need a little more optimism in the way they see the world. I think that started to give us almost a storybook fable feel, and once we saw it as the Kingdom of Long Beach - even though it's not explicit in any of the show — it unlocked that we're telling a quest here. It's a knight, and a squire, and the first season is about the mad king who's dying, and the transition of power.”

There’s also a very clever allusion to something in London having an important part in the overall story, about which Gavin teases, “We do get to some of that in the first season. In general, there is a mysterious aspect of the lodge, itself, that will influence things. It’s all the history of alchemy which will send us on different paths and quests and stuff, but we always remain grounded. Even our knight and our squire on their quest, they still have to pay rent,” he laughs. “But, in the end, it’s the characters bumping up against these strange worlds alongside their very ordinary worlds.”

And helping to find some of those characters became the work of Giamatti, who has a stable of character actor friends that he’s been able to help cast in the show, including and upcoming appearance by Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead). As the executive producer, Giamatti says he took up the task of enticing great character actors to come play on Lodge 49. “There were times when I would come in and be like, ‘I know that guy, and if we talk to that guy, I bet we could get him to do it.’ And Bruce is one of those people ‘cause I do know him. And I knew all the [actors] from New York.”

Lodge 49 airs Monday nights on AMC.