“Leverage” is old-fashioned entertainment, a little bit “Mission Impossible,” a little bit “A-Team,” a touch of “It Takes a Thief,” and a lot of fun. It premieres tomorrow night on TNT at 10/9 Central.
Tim Hutton plays Nathan Ford, a former top insurance investigator turned agent of justice, who has assembled a crack team of experts who can turn the tables on any bully or big shot. It plays into the audience’s fantasies about the ability to use all kinds of cool skills, from breaking and entering secured locations via bungee cord or breaking and entering secured data banks and computer systems via hacking. And of course each of the characters has some attitude and some issues along with the skills. I spoke to producer Dean Devlin (“Independence Day”), who created the series, and Aldis Hodge, who plays Alex, the team’s master tech guy.
One of my favorite parts of the pilot episode was the scene filmed in Chicago’s magnificent Millennium Park. How did that come about?
Devlin: When Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech we were all watching it together and going “Hey! That’s where we shot the scene!” When I was young I worked on a film my dad made in Chicago called “My Bodyguard.” I always wanted to go back. We were filming there and had a scene that was supposed to be set in an intersection, but when we saw Millennium Park we had to move it there. It is such a great space. We shot the pilot in Chicago and the rest in LA but we go everywhere in the show.
I liked your episode about the disabled Iraqi war veteran.
Devlin: The actor is a real Iraqi war veteran, stoplossed for years of duty. His manager also manages my wife and James Franco and he said, “I have the real guy.” He was great in the role. I think he will be very successful as an actor.
How did this series come about?
Devlin: I created The Librarian for TNT and when we finished the second one, they asked, “When do I get a series out of you?” I immediately told them I wanted something not heavy, dark, cold, and procedural, which is what we have a lot of on TV right now. I wanted to do very smart, mainstream con stories like “The Hot Rock” and the original “Oceans 11.” I always wanted to do a show about high tech thieves who become modern day Robin Hoods. Coincidentally, John Rogers, who is a top writer, said he was thinking of doing something like those kinds of shows, too.
Aldis, you play a member of a team where everyone has skills that almost amount to a super-power. Which are the most important?
Hodge: One thing I’ve learned is that every skill gets used equally, On some shows some are more necessary than others but everybody is vital. Beth’s character (the fearless, athletic break-in artist) is absolutely crazy. She will jump off any building any time. You also have to have the classic grifter, someone who can convince anybody of her reality. And Eliot (expert in defense and hand to hand combat played by Christian Kane) saves me many times.
How are your tech skills?
Hodge: I can type. I can also do graphic design, art and architecture, super geek, but don’t know how to hack into anyone else’s computer.
Devlin: We hired Apollo Robins to teach us how to be thieves, not just how to steal but to think like a thief. It was so much fun. When he came in everyone would be holding their wrists or checking their wallets, and you could see the actors react start to adopt the pattern of thinking. Beth was the best at pick pocketing. If we don’t get picked up, she has a new career.
This was your first time directing, right? How did you like it?
Devlin: It was an absolute ball. The trick is to surround yourself with good people. We had one of the best scripts ever, an amazingly talented cast, talented director of photography, a phenomenal editor. So all I had to do was say, “Okay, do it again!” “Are we done?” “Can I go home?” “Thank you!”
What did you look for in assembling the cast?
Devlin: Talent! Well, you might say, duh, but these days it is against the trend. More often they want to know who had a sex tape and is really famous. Celebrity has trumped talent. But Michael Wright from TNT is a former actor and I am a former actor and we know what matters is who can act.
We needed people who were going to be outstanding. I had someone else in mind for the role, but the agent kept saying, “You should see this kid.” He knocked it out of the park, really redefined the character for me. And he got the word that he had the part on his 21st birthday.
What was your idea of the character that was so different?
Hodge: I didn’t see him as a geek, He is a nerd, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t see the general geek outlook, to me he was just a person not a character. What I wanted to show was that he loves his job and he loves his life.
You certainly see that in the brief flashback showing him living it up on Mick Jagger’s credit card!
Devlin: Yes, and a shout-out to George Lucas, who gave us permission to put the girls in the “Star Wars” costumes!