|Posted by MissNanse-SSI on April 29, 2010 at 2:00 PM|
Today I am interviewing two of the best up and coming soap writers: Brian Hewson and Greg Turner creators and writers of the wonderful new web series Empire. They are amazingly gifted and have written an intriquing web soap with interesting and exciting characters and actors, two of which new to season two are Tina Sloan and Orlagh Cassidy (ex-Lillian & Doris) from Guiding Light..
Season 2 will be ready soon. As you will see they are very likeable and forthcoming and I am proud of this interview. Take my advice and watch Empire you will not be sorry. Start watching Season 1 now.
Missnanse: I would like to thank you both for agreeing to this interview. My first question is: How did you come up with the idea of Empire?
Brian: We are both big soap fans and have always wanted to write for a soap. It’s a hard thing to break into and rather then giving up, we decided to create our own show and put it on the web. The idea itself sprang from a lot of back and forth between the two of us, but we knew we wanted it to focus on a powerful family. We also liked the idea of starting the first season with some sort of mystery. Little known fact is that at one point the Havens were the head of a pharmaceutical company and a family of chemists. We thought that we might have better luck writing about a family run newspaper. A lot of the relationships and stories that we wanted to tell were already in place, but when we decided to make this family the rich and powerful newspaper moguls they are now a lot of it came together. It also helped us to create an identity for the show.
Greg: It may have still worked out if they were giants in the pharmaceutical industry. Or maybe not.
Missnanse: The first ten episodes had all of the elements needed. Love, hate, greed, sex, mystery. Will next season have these same exciting textures? What is in store for the Haven family?
Brian: Even when writing the first season, we knew the basic trajectory of the second season. Once the first season ended, we went back and took a look at our plans for the next season and made some adjustments. As much as I loved our first season, we have taken it to a whole new level in the second season. All of those features and more are present. One of the most exciting things about this season is Sandra and Cubbie being alive and getting to interact with a lot more of the characters on the canvas. We’re also going to see more of Cane’s life outside of his family. We established that prior to coming back to investigate his parent’s disappearance, Cane had a whole life away from them. We’re going to get to see that life and we will meet his boyfriend Alex Russo. Alex is one of six new characters that we are introducing, but don’t worry all of your favorites from season 1 are front and center. We put a lot of thought into these new characters and each one of them is crucial to the story of the Haven family. I have a feeling some of these new characters will quickly become fan favorites. We’ve amped up the romance, the intrigue, the scandal, and while we don’t have an overarching mystery like last season there are going to be some hints for things to come. We put everything into these episodes for a reason.
Greg: I think when Brian and I started writing Empire our first story ended up being something that we’ve now slated for the third season. We were like, oh okay great, we love this story, but I think we need to build up a back story, so we went back a few seasons to a place where we thought it made more sense to start from. We didn’t have a show with a forty plus year history of characters and families and we were writing very short episodes, so we had to establish a lot very quickly. And of course as we go along things change. The actors bring a lot to their characters and we start seeing where it should go a different way. So the first storyline we came up with this family may now end up in the forth season, or we may never work our way around to it, but that’s ok as long as we’re true to these characters we’ve created.
Missnanse: Your opening sequences are very original as is the interplay of the past and present. who came up with this concept?
Greg: We wanted a concept that could unite the season as a whole and we came up with the idea of flashing back to the night of Thomas and Marin’s engagement party, which is of course also the night that Cubbie and Sandra went missing. So as our story progresses and Cane investigates his parents’ disappearance and Marin and Evan learn more about Thomas than they maybe ever wanted to know, we start each episode with a piece of that night. In essence, giving the audience a peak at what went down that the characters may not have been privy to.
Brian: Greg and I knew that we wanted to unfold this mystery of Sandra and Cubbie’s disappearance, but we also wanted to get to know these characters and their relationship to the rest of the canvas while at the same time giving all of our characters a motive to have had a hand in Sandra and Cubbie’s disappearance. The transitions were conceived by our director and editor, Steven Slate. We had a fantastic product to begin with but Steve took it to another level with these transitions. It really helped to define the identity of Empire. Steve has made some changes to the transitions and they are even better then they were the first season. They give us a sense that this is a family that is controlled by the headlines of this newspaper.
Missnanse: Where did you find the actors for your series. They are very different from the normal "mold" of soap actors?
Brian: After Greg and I wrote it we decided to cast the show. We jumped straight into the deep end. Once we cast it, we knew that we were going to have to go full steam ahead. We had a friend who had some experience in casting and she recommended some websites that we could put casting notices on. We got a really good response from it. Some roles were easy to fill. The actors walked in and were the embodiment of the characters. That happened with Kathryn Neville Brown and Richard Flight, who play Sandra and Cubbie Haven. They even read for us together. We knew that they were the heads of the Haven family, and they have not disappointed. If anything they have exceeded our expectations. Other roles were harder to fill because we had a number of people come in who we really liked. When casting for Marin and Katherine it came down to three actresses: Kate Forsatz, who we cast as Marin, Annalisa Derr, who we cast as Katherine and Lise Fisher. We really had to think long and hard about wh o was right for which role because each of them brought something fantastic to the table. We weren’t able to cast Lise when we were doing our first season but when the role of Rachel developed we knew we wanted Lise for that role. Thankfully, she came back and has inhabited the role of Rachel perfectly.
Greg: I would say Lise’s audition left a pretty lasting impression with us. We probably wrote Rachel with her in mind. We definitely didn’t hold a casting for that part when we found out we could get her to do it. And this is a year later, we were still thinking about an actress we couldn’t cast in season one. Honestly with Lise, Kate and Annalisa it was like eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Because Annalisa originally auditioned for Marin, who she could have easily played and Kate originally auditioned for Katherine. We love all three of them and we’re so glad to finally have them all on the show. I think they all have a scene together in episode 2 this season.
Missnanse: You set Empire in New York. Is this where you are both from? What is your backgound?
Greg: I’m from Vermont. I moved here in 1999 when I started at NYU. Which is where I met Brian.
Brian: I’m from NY. I was born in the Bronx, but moved upstate when I was very young but I always knew that I wanted to come back here for college and that is what brought me to NYU. Empire was set in NY because that’s where we are. We knew we didn’t want it to be in the city, but we wanted to have the option to reference NYC and send our characters there, ie Cane’s life away from his family and Alex’s bar.
Greg: Fun fact, when Brian and I were roommates we essentially lived upstairs from the bar where we filmed Alex’s bar.
Missnanse: Is this either of your first professional writing experience?
Brian: This is my first professional writing experience. I have written my entire life, but I have never had anything produced before. I studied Communications at NYU which was a program that is very writing intensive, but this is a type of writing that I have always done on my own but never had go anywhere so it’s been exciting to see all this come to life.
Greg: My major in undergrad was Dramatic Writing and I also went to the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU for grad school. I’ve written several plays. Mostly I have self-produced them. I had one of my plays premiere in Germany last May at Germany’s oldest English-speaking theatres. A musical I wrote called All Fall Down was produced last fall in the New York Musical Theatre Writing Program, which Brian helped produce and served as the general manager on that production. My good friend Sara Sahin has directed almost all of my shows in New York. She is assistant director this season on Empire. Her sister Selda wrote the musical with me. I love working with my friends!
Missnanse:To the delight of Guiding Light fans you are adding Orlagh Cassidy and Tina Sloan to the series. What was the main factor for bringing them on board?
Brian: We knew that both Tina and Orlagh would be fantastic additions to our cast and we were thrilled when they expressed interest in joining the Empire family. Tina is playing Theodora Grant Haven who is a far cry from the character of Lillian that she played on Guiding Light. Theodora is there to cause trouble for the entire Haven family, and she loves every minute of it. All of her twitter fans are abuzz with the line she says in the trailer, “The Bitch is back”. It’s a fantastic line and really sets up what this character is going to bring to the show. Orlagh is playing Colleen Lively who is Marin’s mother. She has another daughter played by Afton Boggiano, Lucy Lively. Colleen is a stage mom who goes out and parties with Lucy, who is a teen starlet. Orlagh makes this character so much fun but at the same time she gives us glimpses of maybe a little bit more depth beneath her partying exterior. Colleen has some of the best lines of the show. Her fans are going to love her as Co lleen Lively, and she is going to be gaining many more fans because of her amazing portrayal of this character.
Greg: Brian and I were fortunate enough to know a few people who worked behind the scenes on Guiding Light. Our friend Nidhi Mehta was a writer’s assistant and our friend David Brandon was a producer. David agreed to help us out with our second season and when he heard the read thru – where Brian and I read the lines of the yet uncast Colleen and Theodora, he said “I’m calling Orlagh and Tina tonight.” Of course it was beyond our wildest dreams when David called us and said, “they’ve read the script and they both said yes.” Outside of being such phenomenal actors, Tina and Orlagh are extremely kind, friendly, fun, generous, giving, loving, hilarious and wonderful women. To do our little baby web soap, which is how I loving think of it, since we’ve been nurturing from birth, is really classy and incredible and a dream come true for Brian and I.
Missnanse: They add a new excitement to the series. Will you be adding any other stars from GL or As The World Turns? Fans of these two canceled soaps are longing to see their favorite actors?
Greg: As The World Turns has been my show for close to twenty years. I’m so sad to see it go, as I was to see Guiding Light go. To lose a show with such a long, rich history is really heartbreaking to me. And I’m still a little in denial about my ATWT. I was at their fan club luncheon a few weeks ago and I was armed with my Empire business cards and I was handing them out like candy. There will be new characters popping up and I would be thrilled to fill the roles with my favorite actors from ATWT and GL. That having been said, we don’t want to overload our show. It’s an internet show and people don’t watch the episodes if they get too long and frankly we can’t afford to make them too long. We also can’t afford to pay any of actors what they are worth right now. Everyone who’s worked for us on Empire has given us their all. For Tina and Orlagh to join a web series with no money, they are saints. But really ever yone in our cast and on our crew is doing it for the love the series. And we do have a fun time together, but hopefully one day we will be able to throw some money everyone’s way. Mine included.
Brian: We would love to have any of the stars from Guiding Light or As The World Turns on Empire. We’d love to have stars from any of the shows come to be on Empire. In terms of GL and ATWT, there are so many fantastic actors that come from them but the person that tops my personal wish list is Julie Pinson. I have watched her since Port Charles and followed her career all the way to As The World Turns.
Missnanse: Thanks again Brian and Greg and best of luck and much success on Empire and your certain glowing future as Soap writers.
Nanci Hughes "Soap Savers Inc."
Check out season 1 of Empire and register to join the site for more news info and the lastest episodes as season 2 begins.
To view series click image below