Q&A: The Cape’s Tom Wheeler

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SciFiChick.com was recently able to participate in a Q&A session with the creator and executive producer Tom Wheeler of NBC’s newest superhero vision – The Cape. The Cape premieres with a two-hour episode on Sunday, January 9th at 9pm EST with an encore broadcast the following Monday. Then, the regular time period will begin Monday, January 17th at 9 pm.

Could you tell us a bit about The Cape universe, some of the ideas behind it and how it will differ from other superhero shows?

Tom Wheeler: Sure I mean I think one of the kind of fun challenges of – I mean I’m a lifelong comic book fan. The idea of sort of writing my own comic was always really appealing, you know, writing any comic. I just – I’m just a fan of, you know, I just have always been sort of attracted to those stories.

The opportunity when I thought about writing the Cape it was – it came sort of in stages. I knew I wanted to write a story about a father and son and a father who takes on the persona of his son’s favorite comic book hero. But then it took a while for me to settle on who that hero should be.

And I also wanted it if I was going to write it for TV I really wanted to kind of wrap my arms around something that felt like its own comic book universe, still grounded and emotionally grounded and sort of high-stakes but I sort of wanted to create my own kind of playground.

So the idea of creating a fictional city seemed to fit in a sort of kind of silver age fashion just sort of create, you know, a hero with some silver age sensibilities for even though it’s set in the 21st Century and just larger than life characters but see if we could maintain a really sort of strong emotional thread throughout and kind of what’s some of the great character driven superhero stuff we’ve seen.

I knew I wanted costumes. I knew that would be a challenge. But I also feel that that sort of in a sense what embodies a superhero or at least the ones I grew up with.

And I’ve been sort of approaching it from a couple different places. I want it to have kind of a pulp sensibility. I wanted it to feel – I wanted Palm City to feel like it was – it had some timeless elements to it. The nightlife I wanted to feel sort of old Hollywood. I wanted there to be some – I didn’t – I wanted to have different – a feel of different worlds with in it and yet still be a relatable world.

So I think you’ll see kind of a mixture of both. But those were some of the – that was the genesis of some of it and how they ended up combining a little bit.

In looking at the longevity of the superhero-based series like The Cape, where does the focus need to be beyond superpowers and saving the day?

Tom Wheeler: Well I think that’s kind of the – that’s sort of the key. That’s a key question.

One of the things that I wanted to establish was even though, you know, our guy would wear a mask and it was going to – we were going to sort of tackle this whole idea of kind of costumed superheroes, I also didn’t necessarily want it to be super powered.

Now The Cape does some extraordinary things and obviously we will push the envelope in kind of, you know, science and what is conceivable.

But it’s also, you know, it’s also going to be sort of limited in what characters can actually do. I prefer that because I feel that will bring us deeper into our characters. And there’s a fugitive aspect to this story about a guy trying to get home. But we tackle it in a pretty realistic way. It’s not sort of just we set up the premise and then he just goes and sort of punches bad guys in the head.

I mean I kind of approach these things as a novelist. And I think – and the material that I’m most drawn to whether it’s, you know, growing up with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, I mean I tend to tackle these things with a sort of lot of ambition and scope. But I think they have to start from a very intimate emotional stakes place.

So what launches The Cape into existence is this struggle to get back to his family and to send a message to his son. What will keep him as The Cape as we go along will, you know, we’ll approach very realistically. I mean his family is going through the loss of a father and husband. He’s going through this struggle of this decision he’s made to protect his family to keep his identity a secret.

And we – that’s a – it’s brutal on them both. And we sort of deal with that and at the same time things will change in the course of the series.

And even though there is an adventure of the week aspect there is still for those who will tune in every week there are undercurrents of change and developments that will sometimes subtly and then sometimes quite suddenly change and reverse course.

So I have big plans for, you know, The Cape, the character of The Cape who The Cape is, the mythology of The Cape, the mythology of these characters like Max Malini and Orwell. And I also, you know, love to sort of dig deeper into Palm City and the history of Palm City.

For instance the digital comic that we’re doing which Michael Gaydos is doing the art for and is just doing this beautiful job, that comic book is not just sort of drawing our characters like drawing our actors. That’s actually the comic book that Trip, the son reads in the show.

So it’s sort of a second Cape mythology within the show for those who want to get a better feel for this world and the rules. And so I think it’s maintained to sort of, you know, give you a completely long-winded answer. I mean I just I think it’s the emotional stakes that have to be constantly sort of serviced and then refreshed as we go along.

Have any comic books that you’ve read influenced The Cape?

Tom Wheeler: Sure I mean I’m, you know, current and former. I mean I grew up reading mostly Marvel stuff. I mean I would say Daredevil was my favorite character. But I was, you know, I was into X-Men. I mean the first X-Men I, you know, picked up was 136 where the whole Phoenix saga was kind of underway.

And I was always really just, I was drawn into the Marvel characters. But over time Green Arrow was a favorite of mine, the Mike Grell Green Arrow was amazing.

The, you know, the Daredevil though was sort of the Frank Miller electric bulls eye run which was just I felt such a great – it was such a great kind of music between crime story and superhero.

And it was all street level and it was – it had a really sprawling mythology but also, you know, but it was also still, you know, it was kind of an adventure in a comic book. So I loved that run.

I loved Brubaker’s run on Captain AmErika more recently. The whole winner soldier thing I just thought was great. And I’ve – I’ll read everything Grant Morrison writes. And I won’t always understand it but I will read it.

And he’s just brilliant. I mean his ideas are just – just they go by in a panel too. He’ll come – they’ll just be something that sort of flies by and you’re just – you’re like wait what, what? Did he just say? I envy his imagination.

And so but I would say I favor, you know, I think I’m more drawn to, you know, the heroes who are – I think there’s a certain wish fulfillment aspect of the regular guy sort of thrown into a situation or having to take on a responsibility.

And I do like the – and even though I mean I love, you know, the sort of larger than life or space epics or whatever and I do kind of favor the more Green Arrow, Daredevil, Batman. I just I sort of relate to them best and I feel they were the most influential.

Although The Cape itself kind of has those – has aspects of even, you know, going further back like The Spirit or, you know, The Shadow, you know, something sort of torn out of that era.

And the fact that The Cape itself is a sort of straightforward, there was something in its simplicity that I kind of loved and felt like it could sort of straddle both those worlds, the kind of heroes I grew up, you know, reading and then something that sort of harked back to an earlier age kind of.

But I also – oh Power Man Iron Fist I was also way into. Iron Fist is a big favorite of mine. And that Matt Fraction run on Iron Fist recently was just outstanding. I just thought that (Dave Aja Ardin) and his – the (stack) contest and those – all those heroes he came up with, it was just a great run.

Do you envision working with any current comic book writers on the show as well?

Tom Wheeler: Oh I would love to, yes absolutely. And a lot of these guys that I mentioned are really damn busy, you know? I mean I’m – I think I, you know, was thrown out some calls to some of these guys, it was like they’re doing quite well, you know, writing their ten books.

But yes, anytime Ed Brubaker wants to give me a call or any of the other, there’s some wonderful, wonderful writers and some of my favorite writers are writing comics right now. And I have a lot of respect for what they do And so yes definitely. And I think some of their agents were called earlier on in this process.

What about the show will appeal to those unfamiliar with comics?

Tom Wheeler: It’s – that’s a great question and one that I think, you know, is sort of addressed within the show. And it also has to deal with the regular guy in extraordinary circumstances aspect to the story and the wish fulfillment aspects of the story.

But more specifically, you know, there’s a whole side of this story that yes, we’ll have some larger than life villains and wonderful actors will play them, but there’s a Palm City, you know, real people living their lives part of this story.

For instance Vince’s wife Dana who is just played terrifically by Jennifer Ferrin, you know, she’s a single mom now suddenly who has been forced to move to a scarier part of town who is now responsible, you know, the sole breadwinner for her family who is, you know, kind of now plunging into Palm City as a public defender and coming up face to face with sort of the corruption and the stuff that’s going on.

There is a really sort of romantic angle to, you know, this woman who sort of lost the love of her life and but The Cape is now in her life. And I – it’s we – you know, we’re – she’s wrestling with like how long, you know, how long do I mourn and what does that mean and when is it appropriate to move on with my life?

I think all of these sort of aspects to this story just ground us and ground it all the more because I do – I think you can tell a story that embraces, you know, 7-years-olds and 70-year-olds and people that are fans of comics and people that are not into comics through stakes that are real and emotions that are real.

And so I I’m sensitive to that. And I think the story itself and my influences do, you know, they go beyond – I mean some of my favorites whether it’s sort of Philip K. Dick or HP Lovecraft, I mean there’s sort of – I mean what I love about The Cape is we’re – you know, we tell one story that deals with something that is the cutting edge, mostly sort of high tech sort of dangers and things we fear in this world and sort of feels like a story that’s sort of tipping into science fiction.

And then the story we’re telling now or shooting right now is a really sort of Gothic creepy sort of wonderfully scary kind of story. And I’m just continuing to sort of, you know, feel out like where we can go. And so I think there’s influences and story influences that are pretty embracing to all audiences.

Could you tell us about your decision to cast David Lyons and what you envisioned in the superhero that you created?

Tom Wheeler: Sure I’d be happy to. One of the real challenges I mean when we got into this was that real question was, you know, people – some actors come in and they, you know, they play the superhero. You know, they got the fists on the hips and they do the whole profile and you’re kind of going oh geez, what have I done and this is going to be lame.

And there was something – we said David actually on tape because he was in Australia. And, you know, we had seen some good actors and but it was – but we had for certain not found Vince. And there was something about David who is not only really super, just compelling in his look, but beside that he was only one that – well he was the only one that convinced me.

You know, he was the only one that his conviction and his sincerity immediately brought the scenes to a place where you can only sort of hope they go. And he continues to do that. I mean the awesome thing about him is his total commitment.

And through him we’re able to go through these crazy worlds and these experiences and meet these characters but he never as an actor ever loses sight of what it’s about, why he’s doing this.

And so I really think he’s – we just couldn’t have a better sort of just kind of hero to sort of put this on his shoulders. And his – and he’s also just like physically – I mean this first day, you know, he was running around with the gun and doing all this detective stuff. And you were also like damn, he’s like a really good action hero guy. I mean he just – that stuff just comes so naturally to him.

I think we’re slowly killing him with everything we’re putting him through and beating – you know, having to fight (Vinnie Jones) on top of a train and everything else. I mean it’s – I’m hoping he’s okay at the end of this. But he is just like 1000%. And really you just again, there’s a vulnerability and a conviction and a reality that just put him – that there was no question in our mind.

What can you tell us about some of the villains we might see this season?

Tom Wheeler: Well we are super fortunate to have a – kind of two regular villains. I mean I’d say they’re sort of the – they’re kind of polar opposites.

But James Frain, you know, who plays this billionaire, Peter Fleming who is a – he’s this corporate titan. He’s this sort of industrialist who has chosen Palm City for these sort of charter private policing programs. But he’s got his, you know, finger in a lot of pies all around the world. And he really seems to be using Palm City as a stepping stone for a real experiment. And that becomes sort of clear as things unfold.

But he moonlights as this sort of psychopath terrorist. He’s a real – he’s this character of chess, this sort of dual identity that he has who is sort of a killer and a master strategist and really kind of – more embracing those kind of comic book, you know, comic book larger than life figures.

We have Vinny Jones who plays this mobster named Scales. I mean he doesn’t like to be called Scales, the character doesn’t. But he is this really brutal crime lord. He actually – he and Peter Fleming don’t always get along so well but they’re the two sort of initial kind of, you know, villain forces that The Cape has to contend with.

But we quickly start bringing in some other characters. For instance early into the series we meet this character from Max Malini’s past as we tell a story that really has a lot to do with the history and the mythology of the physical Cape itself that the Cape uses. And we – it just suggests that they Cape has a darker history than we might realize. And this character played by Thomas Kretchman comes to town to reclaim what he feels is his. And he’s a great villain.

And like all the villains we try to give them a real drive and a real, you know, I think in some ways the best villains are the ones that are, you know, they’re the heroes in their story these villains. I mean I feel the best ones are motivated from a relatable place in some ways. So we tend to kind of – we’ve gotten in a little bit of a pattern sort of introducing our bad guy first.

And, you know, we told Scales origin story in a recent episode. And there’s like I said Mena Suvari will come in as a – this mysterious and dangerous woman called Dice who has a real grudge against Peter Fleming with good reason. And they Cape gets embroiled in this sort of almost romantic triangle, you know, as this woman sort of torn between these two very different figures.

So it’s always just sort of character first and find the most interesting story. Although in Episode 2 this character Kane who is a poisoner for a – this group that we introduce called the Tarot. He’s a pretty straightforward bad guy. He’s just pretty awful. And he’s really he’s a great deal of fun. So that’s just a sampling of what’s to come.

Could you talk a little bit about the tone of the music for the show and Bear McCreary’s influence?

Tom Wheeler: He is – Bear is a force of nature. He is just – he’s awesome. And even from our first meeting I mean his enthusiasm and his mind, I mean it goes past music. I mean he really wants to organically figure out like what’s the best relationship between the music and the show. And he has – his ideas are always terrific.

We’ve been talking to him a lot about our, you know, our main title sequence. And he has done a theme that just I – just rocks. And it’s really our, you know, it’s our big superhero theme, you know. We want to rival any of the best sort of Spiderman or Batman themes.

I mean we’re going for it. I mean it’s a big full orchestra sound that I just think he manages to kind of ride this emotional wave through his music and through the show that is – that doesn’t shy away from the emotion but it also doesn’t spoon feed it.

He’s a really gifted composer and musician. You know, the themes that he’s come up with for the carnival he, you know, he loves to sort of, you know, he loves to kind of come up with themes for each character and then sort of dovetail them through the music. So I think it’s going – I think the show is going to sound outstanding. And I’m – I mean he’s to me is just a huge integral part of it. And I just love what he’s doing so far.

What can you tell us about Summer Glau and her character?

Tom Wheeler: She is wonderful and she is amazing. Well we – yes I was – it was another kind of moment where I was saying like I don’t know, The Cape just seem to have this lucky energy around it because, you know, summer – we had been searching and searching for Orwell and just one day in like the casting office I didn’t even realize I mean and Summer walked in.

And a friend of mine I was working on the show with, you know, from Berman, Braun, I mean we were both like that Summer Glau’s here. What’s – Summer Glau is here. So she was just great. She was fantastic and obviously perfect for the role. And we, you know, hired her immediately and she will not disappoint.

She is just terrific. And the – and the character of Orwell is one of my favorites because she’s sort of this mystery box. She’s this – there’s a lot in her background sort of to be revealed. She is this almost an alias like character. She plays a lot of different characters. She’s, uses a lot of different disguises. She’s a woman that’s been on the run for a long time and is really a pretty mercenary.

I mean she sees herself as a, you know, a revolutionary in a police state. I mean she’s really quite military in her thinking. She’s a sort of glamorous military person but she – she’s pretty hard-core. And that creates a lot of tension with The Cape who was not a corrupt cop and was actually a pretty, you know, pretty straightforward kind of family guy and although there were aspects of his past that hinted some darkness as well.

But she’s a – Summer is just doing terrific. There’s big plans for her character. She is – she’s not just sort of behind the computer all the time. I mean we really, she’s like I said, she’s sort of out there and quite in the thick of it. And yes we’re very lucky to have her.

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