*My interview with Michael Seitzman and Marlee Matlin was made possible by ABC TV. Disney invited me to the #InfinityWarEvent in LA this past week. Photo credit: ABC TV. All opinions are my own and not swayed by outside sources.*
I was so sad when season 2 of Quantico ended. As a big fan of the show I had no idea if it was coming back or if it did, it would have the same feel as the prior 2 seasons. However, when I heard it was coming back, I was jumping up and down. My husband and I have watched that show since day 1, every episode, and were elated to hear this news. I was even more excited when I was invited as part of the Infinity War Event, to meet the showrunner Michael Seitzman and Academy Award winner, Marlee Matlin who joined the cast.
We had the chance to watch the first episode at the event, which you all probably saw last week. The show was full of excitement, surprise, and suspense. After we watched we were introduced to Michael and Marlee . From the moment they came out you could see just how excited they were for the show.
INTERVIEW WITH: MARLEE MATLIN & MICHAEL SEITZMAN
Question 1: How did you come up with the three-year time jump?
Michael told us he wanted an element of surprise when he came up with the idea of the time jump and also of the relationship between Shelby and Ryan. He told us shock does not happen much on television and he wanted to bring that back. He wanted to shake the show up and change what it is that people are expecting and frustrate the viewers.
“I mean we are as storytellers, I think people that watch television or watch a movie, they don’t realize that the primary job of the writer and the filmmaker is to frustrate the audience, not to give the audience what they want. To put it another way, the audience always wants their favorite couple to get together. And we sit in a room. The bulk of our time is spent trying to figure out ways to keep them apart. That’s the biggest job is how do you keep them apart?
So, when I started, I thought, well, they got everything they wanted. At the end of Season 2, Ryan and Alex flew off into the sunset together. And what’s left? So, are they going to have marital disputes for the next season? Is that what’s going to happen? Is that the show right now? Or, did something go wrong? And maybe if something went wrong, and I could buy that by giving us three years. I could buy a lot by giving us three years.
If you think about it, you want to invite new audiences into the show as well as serve the loyal audience. So, give the new audience and the loyal audience an unknown back story that they can both share as opposed to the new audience not being able to share the two years prior.”
As a fan of Quantico, I loved that he wanted to stay loyal to the fans but bring in the new generations too.
Question 2: Might we have flashbacks?
He joked with us that he made the show so he knows the answer to that one. He said there will be flashbacks periodically but not the flashbacks that we are expecting. The flashbacks will be moving the show forward for the audience in the hope that the audience will go along with the character and experience what our character experiences when he/she experienced it.
Question 3: Is there any going back from that?
“I don’t know. I mean I think that one thing you’re going to find is that we took what I feel like were your favorite characters. I know some of your favorite characters aren’t on the show this season. But we took your favorite characters. We added some new favorite characters. They will become your favorite characters. And I think that you’ll grow with them and that you will find new things that you love also.
That’s the idea. There are going to be things that frustrate you. But hoping that in the aggregate there are things that satisfy you more.”
Question 4: How did Marlee’s character come into play?
Marlee told us basically Michael asked her to be on the show. She told us knowing Code Black, she was a big fan of his work. They met up at a party and it went from there.
“Let’s put you on a show. He really honored his promise of putting me on a show, and so sure enough I heard from him just a few weeks later about making an appearance on Code Black. And I had such a great time working with Michael on Code Black. And I feel like I’m his personal publicist here.
So, fast forward. I appeared on one episode of Code Black. And we had so much fun together. And Michael said I want to work with you again and give you a character on Code Black. While that did not work out, something else did.
I think about two months later he texts me and says I have a great idea for you. And I said, sure, what is it? Tell me what it is. I want to write you into Quantico. And he told me what the character was. And I said, oh, my gosh, I’m so interested. And let’s go for it. And then before I knew it I was on the set in New York City playing Jocelyn Turner for him.”
A few weeks after this they started shooting and Marlee was suddenly in the show.
“And what was really wonderful about it for us in the writer’s room was to write a role for Marlee where we at times ignored the fact that she was deaf so that she’s just somebody who was in a car accident and with a relationship and a situation. And then at other times we utilized her deafness to help us tell the story and to create a problem in the story and a solution in the story.
And that was electrifying. And part of it began because when I met Jack and Marlee, they told me that they had been working together for over 30 years. And on Code Black very often we’re trying to introduce relationships and see what happens when those relationships come apart and then we heal them. And so I thought, well, what if we took a relationship like that and we did the same thing? And it changed the way that I was thinking when I was writing. It changed the way all of us were thinking.
I want to work with that actress, with that talent, and also with what looks from the outside from people who are not deaf to be a disadvantage and to find the advantage in it. And then and that’s what we did in the show was we found the advantage in it, which is basically Marlee’s life as I see it from an outsider, is someone who’s taken something that looks like a disadvantage to some and has made it an advantage. And that’s very exciting and very gratifying.”- Michael Seitzman
Marlee then said he had to give credit to Michael because he’s one of the few people in Hollywood who understands how to use someone like her, who understands not to dwell on the disability, not to dwell.
“I mean the “dis” in ability, but to look at the ability. I could name other people, I mean people like Aaron Sorkin and David E. Kelley and Ilene Chaiken. These are people like Michael who understand where I can fit into a role without having to be a person who is deaf.
It just happens to be deaf, the positives as Michael just said. And this one was extremely unusual because playing FBI agent and dealing with the people in situations, dealing in crises, being a sniper, being someone who uses my eyes as a means and surveillance, where a lot of people who aren’t deaf don’t use as someone who does have the ability with my eyes. So, that was great.”= Marlee Mattson
You can tell how special the working relationship between Marlee and Michael is. Regardless of any disabilities, they are both there to tell a story through the acting. They also said episode 6 is going to be an epic story for Marlee’s character.
Question 5: Was Marlee able to change anything in the script?
Michael said they had Marlee come in, in the beginning and sit with all the writers. She spent a lot of time teaching them about her. Everything they do in her storyline comes from conversations with her. They needed help and she gave it to them.
“I felt that the writers needed to see me in person and to get a feel for who I am, a feel for the kind of person I am, just to be able to pick up the different situations that I might find myself in and the situations that I’ve been in in my life or what I envisioned could happen as a result of the character that I’m playing. And the writers are all brilliant. It was really helpful that I was able to be there in the writing room.”- Marlee Matlin
“It was a great session for us because we had to learn, and we also had a deaf writer in the room, which helped us. But, really, the session with Marlee was the most illuminating for us because we got to ask the questions head on and ask how it feels to be in this situation, how it feels to be in that situation. And we got to learn a little bit. And then we text constantly as she’s shooting and when she gets scripts. We’re constantly texting with each other so that we can make adjustments to make it work.
Here’s a good example. A hearing person, somebody who’s not deaf, I wouldn’t think right away that everybody has to look at her when they’re talking to her. It wouldn’t occur to me.
It was interesting to watch the process of having them realize to learn a whole new way of looking at a situation with the deaf factor in it. And they picked it up like that. Thank goodness they picked it up like that. It took a while for some, but this one they got it right away. And they had my back. For example, Priyanka, the first day, we were shooting, there was a scene and Priyanka said, guys, you need to look at Marlee.”- Michael Seitzman
It took only a bit and the cast adapted right away to this. They started looking at her rather than the interpretor.
“The actors got aware very quickly. The characters have to be aware, but it also changes the way that we shoot. So, for example, these are things you don’t think about when you’re watching. You shoot an over the shoulder, two people talking. You can shoot it. This is the camera. You could shoot it out here, and I can see him. And he’s talking to her. Or, I can start to shoot it here. It pulls his eye line closer to the camera. And all of a sudden I’m now feeling more like she feels as the viewer because I’m watching what she’s watching.
It starts to change the way that you think about it. It changes the way that you block, and it changes the way that you shoot. And that starts out as being a challenge. It very quickly just turns into the way that you do it. It started out who do I look at? And it became, oh, I look at the person who’s communicating with me. It’s a different way of thinking about it. And it’s interesting, isn’t it? It is interesting.”- Michael Seitzman
I would also throw in that first day in that first episode the cast fascinated with sign language. And a couple of them wanted to learn. I want to sign, they said. I want to sign. So, I called Michael and said is it okay for these characters to sign because I didn’t know if it made sense for the characters to know. And he said yes they will make it work.”-Marlee Matlin
Michael also told us that they put the subtitles in the upper part of the action, rather than at the bottom. He wanted the audience to watch the character rather than having the subtitles be very obtrusive. This way you didn’t stop to read them, rather focus on the action.
Question 6: Was it organic how she talked sometimes and sometimes signed?
Michael said it was very deliberate.
“And so the choice was very early, and this was in the original pitch. My original pitch for the character was that we would have a combination of ways that the audience would communicate with Jocelyn, whether she’s communicating or other people are communicating to her. The net result is that the audience will be communicating with the character. So, you have to give them a lot of ways to do that so that it starts to feel seamless. So, you’ll notice where we started was that Blair’s character Owen speaks as he signs.
So, just by doing that it immediately made you feel like you were also in the conversation. And you didn’t feel like you had a lot of homework to do right away. Sometimes a lot of subtitles feels like homework. So, you didn’t have too much to do. So, we sort of eased the audience into it a little bit. And then we added other things. So, sometimes people sign. Sometimes she’s reading lips. Sometimes it’s subtitles. But all a deliberate attempt to get the audience used to you, so you can communicate with a deaf person in a whole lot of different ways without feeling like there’s some thing you have to do that there’s some homework.”- Michael Seitzman
Question 7: Did the characters stay close from the second to third season? How did you decide which characters to bring back?
He said they shot 13 episodes which will bring it through the summer.
“The idea was if we started three years after the last season ended that people would’ve scattered to the winds. Alex is in Italy. I know that this whole thing was by design that she comes home. She walks in the door. We hear a male voice. We see she suddenly kisses him, some guy. And you’re going, wait a minute, what happened to Ryan?
Were you guys all heart broken? Did you go ah! I know, I know. You screamed? Yeah, that’s good, that’s good. I mean, that is what you want. You want a certain amount of frustration and also a certain amount of leaning in. So, the idea was limit the amount of information that you give the audience as long as possible so that you as an audience are leaning in. And you’re trying to figure out, and you’re trying to catch up. How did she get in Italy? And where the hell is Ryan?
So that when you finally see Ryan in Zurich, when he walks in and suddenly she’s got the gun on him and it’s Ryan. It’s in there. It’s kind of thrilling, isn’t it? Like, oh, my God. So the idea was treat this like we’d been away for a long time. And this was almost like a sequel to a movie that you loved years later. Like Star Trek years later or Star Wars years later, whatever it is, pick your movie. Whatever the movie is, that years later here we are. Where are all our characters? And then to give each one an entrance into the story so that one by one each one enters.
We know somebody who works for people like that. Cut to Harry on the roof of that building. Or Owen under the Queens Borough Bridge and that conversation, one by one. And then where’s Shelby? Tied up in that garment factory. How great was she? And then bring in our new character in that moment where Ryan says where are you going? And he says Quantico. And then we’re at Quantico where Jocelyn is a professor. There is teaching.
The idea was to bring them all together piece by piece and then create a team out of them. So you felt like you wanted that team to come together, and you wanted them to stay together.”- Michael Seitzman
They both agreed that you do not need to watch the other seasons to enjoy this season. They did this intentionally so it would bring in new television fans who never seen the show. At the same time, the true fans would love the show! I think they did an excellent job with this.
“We will tell you a story every week that you’ll enjoy. And it’ll be in this particular style with this particular tone. I think you’ll all agree that there’s a tonal shift in the storytelling. And it’s not that we wanted to get away from something so much as I’m new to the show, and I wanted to take these pieces and make something that I was interested in.”- Michael Seitzman
Michael said this show is a reboot and in some ways, a throwback to some spy movies.
We ended the interview talking how wonderful the addition of Marlee Matlin is to the cast. Michael said her character was such a welcome addition to the show and to especially watch out for episode 6, as he feels she deserves an Emmy for this episode.
I know, I can not wait to see more. As a true Quantico fan, I know the rest of the season will be a real treat to us loyal fans and to the new fans. I know this will be one show that will captivate you from start to end. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season unravels.
Quantico airs on ABC Thursdays!
ABOUT TONIGHT’S EPISODE:
AGENT RYAN BOOTH GOES UNDERCOVER TO STOP THE DISTRIBUTION
OF A DEADLY STRAIN OF TUBERCULOSIS,
ON ABC’S ‘QUANTICO,’ MAY 3
Alan Powell Joins the Cast as Agent Mike McQuigg
“Fear and Flesh” – In tracking down the origin of a deadly strain of tuberculosis threatening Americans, Agent Ryan Booth must go undercover and infiltrate a white supremacist organization – an assignment that threatens the life of another member of the team, on ABC’s “Quantico,” airing THURSDAY, MAY 3 (10:00–11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network, streaming and on demand.
“Quantico” stars Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish, Jake McLaughlin as Ryan Booth, Johanna Braddy as Shelby Wyatt, Russell Tovey as Harry Doyle, Alan Powell as Mike McQuigg, with Marlee Matlin as Jocelyn Turner and Blair Underwood as Owen Hall.
Guest starring are Erik Jensen as Damon Grosch, Amber Skye Noyes as Celine Fox and Vandit Bhatt as Jagdeep “Deep” Patel.
“Fear and Flesh” was written by Dave Kalstein and directed by Alex Kalymnios.
Executive producers include Michael Seitzman, who is also the series showrunner; Russell Lee Fine, Adam Armus, Robert Sertner, Mark Gordon and Nicholas Pepper.