Legends of Tomorrow's Phil Klemmer on Fighting Nazis, Killing Characters and The Time Masters' Secret Agenda
DC's Legends of Tomorrow is set to be the largest gathering of DC superheroes and -villains ever assembled in live action when it debuts in early 2016 -- assuming they don't all kill each other along the way.
Handling the reins and keeping those conflicts interesting is Phil Klemmer, executive producer and writer behind shows like Chuck and Veronica Mars, who came on board the Arrow and The Flash spinoff after the cast was in place, the series was picked up and even a promotional trailer had been cut.
Klemmer joined ComicBook.com and a roundtable of reporters at Comic-Con International: San Diego in July to discuss the hugely-anticipated series, which went into production earlier this week.
What is your background with comic books?
I was sort of kept away from a lot of popular media. I remember being really into the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman at a very sort of proto-psychosexual way, and then at a certain point my parents tried to brainwash me into thinking that television was evil.
There's a story that at a certain point, somebody asked me about television and I said "Wonder Woman want your brains," because I believed -- I wasn't Amish or anything like that -- but I still believed that somehow...
So then I didn't really watch television for the rest of my childhood. I read books and it was terrible. It wasn't until I really was working in entertainment that I actually bought a television and started watching things, so I had a lot of catching up to do.
So what do your parents think of your success now?
They're totally happy. I don't know if they understand the shows. I don't know if they're the demo for this.
But they know you work in television and you're successful?
I think so, yeah. I was a Classics major in college, so I think they thought I was going to be a professor instead of writing superhero stories, but you never know what way life is going to go.
Same premise for a lot of them, right?
Exactly. All that mythology, I really think that seeing Clash of the Titans when I was a little kid...I think that the reason I became a Classics major was because of Indiana Jones. And doing this show, which has that intersection of Vandal Savage...that is my sweet spot, where it's history mixed up with the mystical, mixed up with...time? The fact that we have time travel on this show is like beautiful for me, because you can go back to the '30s and have Nazi bad guys and you can have ancient artifacts with mystical powers and to me, this show is like a dream come true.
When did you shoot that teaser with everyone in it?
I was not even involved with the show when that happened. That was done in the late winter/early spring. Dermott Downs, one of our directors who's going to continue on into the series, I think shot that in the course of an evening up on a rooftop in Vancouver. So like I saw that as a fan before I was actually part of this, which is a very surreal process where we don't have a pilot yet and so we're talking about something that only exists in a theoretical world.
You're dealing with an ensemble, where there isn't one superstar piece. How do you manage that?
You know, I think the fun is in not managing them. In what I've written so far, part of the joy is in the tug of war that's going on. Rip Hunter assembles this team, but he assembles a team of good guys, bad guys, mixed-up people, and it is like herding cats. It's not like the normal sort of Justice League, who are all shoulder to shoulder. It really is sort of amorphous, sliding alliances, people who have their own agendas, and to me, that's the real fun of the show in that it's always going to be sort of sifting sands.
You never really know when you start traveling in time. We're reportedly going back to stop Vandal Savage and save the world, but you've got people like Leonard Snart, where it's like if they're in the 1970s, they might try to go rob a bank or they might try to write some...if Ray Palmer was like, "Oh, my fiancee was murdered, maybe I'll try to change my own future." So part of the fun is that Rip is trying to marshal everybody to vanquishing Vandal, but at the same time when you're traveling in time, who could resist being able to change your own future so that when you get back there, life is different?
He says in the promo, "I'm a member of the Time Masters," which is very different from just being "Rip Hunter, Time Master." Are we going to see any of the other Time Masters?
We are. We are going to see, and part of the fun with Rip as with the other characters is, the story that we hear in the pilot is the onion that we sort of peel back and realize that he has a vested interest in taking down Vandal and maybe the Time Masters aren't always going to be...his agenda and the Time Masters' isn't always going to be in perfect concert.
So this really is about, it's like the Dirty Dozen. It is a show about a motley, ragtag bunch of eff-ups who are responsible with saving the future of the world. For me, the fun is, when they go back in time and they're trying to do something to stop Vandal, they'll accidentally or purposefully screw up the future in such a way that it's like we become our own enemy, you know? The butterfly effect of what happens if you do something that has these unforeseeable consequences in the future so suddenly it's not about, s--t, stopping Vandal Savage in 200 years, it's about, "Oh, man, how do we fix what we screwed up in the last episode?" Because when we look into the future, we realize that World War III is on the horizon because of something we did.
I really like having super-flawed, effed-up heroes because they're so much more fun than the sort of square-jawed, perfect ones.
There are three major components: Vandal Savage, Who is Jay Jackson?, and what is Rip Hunter's plan? Can you give us one new hint on any of those?
The thing with this show is, we have such an incredible ensemble that I almost don't want to take away from the characters we've already cast. And I think as we go from episode to episode, we will become our own worst enemies. We will have characters who die. We'll have characters who betray the team. We'll have characters who are left behind in time. So there will be the mythological bad guy, but I think week to week, we will be focusing on the characters you already know because damn, we've got a great cast. To not use them to their fullest would be crazy.
Jay Jackson is a big mystery. What can you say about Jay Jackson?
I will say he's probably the last person that Professor Stein wanted to share Firestorm with. I think for me it's all about tension and interpersonal friction, so this isn't the normal superhero story where everybody's on the same team, pushing in the same direction; it's really about us sort of turning on ourselves and whether we can learn to get along in order to save the world.
Will Rip Hunter be a regular?
Absolutely. He'll be in every episode.
DC has Suicide Squad coming. Do you think the notion of the hero is darkening somewhat? Your ensemble is not a traditional ensemble of goody heroes.
I agree. Not that our show is the sort of dark, though. I mean, in a weird way, I think this is going to be the most comedic of the Berlanti shows. I think Ray Palmer's hilarious; I think that Leonard Snart, in his own way, is hilarious. I think trying to force Victor Garber's Professor Stein onto a spaceship with this motley crew of people, it's not a sitcom, but it's a romp; it's a caper. It's like Ocean's, where you have this crazy team of people who shouldn't be working together except for their stated goal. But the way things go wrong is to me, that's the gold of this show.
You're right, it's not goody-goody, let's all save the world, but to me, there's a lightness to it in tone. There's some real fun. It's so much fun to write. I've worked on Chuck and Veronica Mars and shows that, you know, have a real darkness to them but they've also got a sense of humor or at least sardonic, snarky wit, and to me, that's how these characters sound in my head.0comments