In the 2011 film LIMITLESS, Bradley Cooper played Eddie Morra, an ordinary man who gained extraordinary mental acuity, thanks to NZT, a (fictional) neuro-enhancement drug that lets the human brain access one hundred percent of its power. In the new CBS series LIMITLESS, Tuesdays at 10 PM, Eddie – still played in a recurring role by Cooper, who is one of the series’ executive producers – is now a senator, who is guiding Jake McDorman’s character Brian Lynch, who is enabled by NZT to help the FBI solve crimes.
Alex Kurtzman (of FRINGE, TRANSFORMERS and the new STAR TREK films) is one of the executive producers on LIMITLESS, along with his K/O Paper Products partner Roberto Orci. Kurtzman is also an executive producer on a number of other series currently on the air – HAWAII FIVE-0, SLEEPY HOLLOW, SCORPION – and is involved as a writer and/or executive producer on the upcoming CBS streaming STAR TREK reboot and a multitude of feature projects.
During CBS’ portion of the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Kurtzman spoke on a LIMITLESS Q&A panel about the series.
“Relativity had made the movie, and they had been thinking about turning it into a television show for a while. I think when you’re given the opportunity to turn a movie into a television show, you have to do it for a reason beyond the fact that it was a successful movie. There has to be something deep in the show, in the DNA of it, that feels like it’s made for television, and then there’s room for a continued story.
“One of the things that I really appreciated about the movie was the ambiguity of the ending and that it left a lot of very open-ended questions. And that’s always a delicious plate, because you go, ‘Okay, I need to know the answers to those questions.’ And so when they came along and they said, ‘Would you like to do a version of LIMITLESS?’, we felt it was worth exploring. And then talking to [series adaptor] Craig [Sweeny], for me, anyway, I think the Number One prerequisite is, do you have an emotional entry point to the story that the audience can get behind, and Craig beautifully came to this idea of a guy who had all these dreams and has reached that point in his life where he realizes that he’s never going to be the person that he really wanted to be. I think the minute Craig pitched that, there was something that resonated for me, in that I know that story from many people. And I think a lot of people feel that way. A lot of people come to the point in their lives where they say, ‘Who am I really going to be now that my dreams didn’t work out?’
“And oddly, when that guy gets a second chance, there’s always a price tag associated with the second chance. All of those questions suddenly madeit a very compelling prospect. So we got very excited about the potential for it from there, and Bradley was dogged about his involvement, and he was dogged about Jake and about the whole cast. And it came together beautifully from there. And CBS was wildly supportive from the beginning. They had earmarked it awhile back as something that they felt was going to be very defining for their network. So I think, as a diehard CBS fan and employee, it was an exciting thing to be able to deliver to them.”
Kurtzman adds that actor/executive producer Cooper has been extremely involved with character and story development. “One of the things that was really great on the pilot was that he obviously, because he’d made the movie, was already so deep into the world and into his character, so I think there were certain tonal things along the way that he could immediately flag as being correct or incorrect or opportunities for ideas that we could incorporate into scenes. And, as I think the best actors are, he’s so intuitive about what feels right or wrong in a moment. Does it feel honest? Does it feel real? Does it feel genuine? Especially when you’re kind of playing two different parts – you’re playing the NZT version and you’re playing the non-NZT version. So I know [Cooper and McDorman] spoke quite a bit about that.”
It was also Cooper’s idea, Kurtzman continues, that Brian’s first knowing foray into danger was to help secure a life-saving transplant for his father, played by Ron Rifkin. “We always liked the idea of, he has to save somebody in the pilot and those are the stakes for him, that he has to sort of make this deal with the devil and say, ‘I want to save the life of somebody I love, but it’s going to mean I get embroiled in this world and all these complications that I’m going to have to live with. Originally, it was a girlfriend. And Bradley said, ‘It’s a really interesting idea, but I think it’s going to paint us into a corner and it will lock him in, and it’s not as fun or in some ways emotional as saving a father.’ That was a big turn. I think we all heard it and we went, wow, that’s totally right. So he was very involved in some of the real critical DNA of the show.”
When the panel ends, Kurtzman follows up with a small group of reporters about LIMITLESS and some of his other work.
ASSIGNMENT X: Were you surprised that Bradley Cooper turned out to be such an astute producer in terms of his story sense?
ALEX KURTZMAN: The truth is that I go back a long way with Bradley, because we were on ALIAS together. So I started on ALIAS, and he was the fourth lead on the show, and we were good friends back then. So it was a really nice full circle moment for us in coming together on this show. We brought Ron Rifkin onto the show, he’d been with us on ALIAS. So I was very aware how talented he was and how much he knows about the world of television, having done so much of it.
AX: Is Ron Rifkin going to be a regular recurring actor on LIMITESS?
KURTZMAN: He’s coming back, for sure.
AX: What is your position in the producing of LIMITLESS? Are you essentially here to supervise it for K/O Paper Products?
KURTZMAN: Yeah. My company and Relativity came together for the show and then brought Craig on, so I’m really here honestly to be of service to the show in whatever way Craig needs as the show runner. We spent a lot of time working on riffing story together, and I just want to be helpful to him in whatever he needs in building the show.
AX: There are some unique visual flourishes on LIMITLESS, when Brian is seeing things from an NZT-enhanced point of view. Will those be a regular part of the show?
KURTZMAN: Yes, absolutely. Part of what is so cool about LIMITLESS is, when he accesses his memory, it’s literally dating back to things I remember from the womb, and things that I picked up peripherally twelve years ago when I was reading the newspaper, but heard in my subconscious. Those memories all come back in moments. And the fun of it is, throughout the entire show, we’re picking up those little pieces along the way and they help him solve the mysteries.
AX: As well as solving mysteries, or maybe as part of solving mysteries, are we going to see Brian be really good with kids because he can remember what it’s like to be a kid?
KURTZMAN: Yes. I think one of the things that’s really lovely about Jake’s character is, he’s sort of an innocent soul, he’s a kind soul. I think he’s just trying to do right by everybody, but he’s finding himself in a very complicated, moral quandary, and that’s the challenge for him.
AX: There have been some big changes in SLEEPY HOLLOW for Season 3. Who is now the show runner? Are there any writers who are still there from before? Are there major changes in tone?
KURTZMAN: Well, there are quite a few. Clifton Campbell is our show runner now. Heather Kadin is still around there. We’re still in a world where there are supernatural creatures running around all the time. We are staying true to the world that we built.
AX: Can you say what happened with Orlando Jones, who had been a regular as Captain Frank Irving in Seasons 1 and 2?
KURTZMAN: You know, Orlando had had a contract that ran to the end, and I think he felt that he had kind of played out his character. I adore him, I wish he were still on the show, I genuinely do. I loved him, I loved working with him, I think he brought so much to it, and I think he felt that it was time for him to move on. The last thing I wanted to do was force him to do something that was not necessarily the next step he wanted to make.
AX: What about SLEEPY HOLLOW co-creator Mark Goffman?
KURTZMAN: Mark is actually now on LIMITLESS.
AX: What can you say about the Universal Monster Universe, VAN HELSING, et al?
KURTZMAN: The Monster Universe is coming together very quickly. We’re very excited. I’m not going to tell you too much, but we have actually started doing a lot of design work, we’re getting scripts in, everything is feeling really, really good. So I don’t want to curse it by saying too much about it, but it’s going well.
AX: There was an interview with you where something you said was interpreted as the films not really being horror that got a very strong response. Did people interpret your remarks correctly?
KURTZMAN: I think it’s a fair response, and I think there was some lost-in-translation quality to the way that it was received, because I promise you there will be horror in these movies. It is our life goal to make a horror movie. The tricky part is actually how you combine horror with either adventure movies or suspense or action, and be true to all those genres together. In some ways, THE MUMMY, dating all the way back to the Karloff movie, was the first to do that. It was the first to combine horror with I wouldn’t say action, but certainly a lot of suspense. So it’s more about how you blend the different elements and stay true to each one, but there will definitely be horror in the monster movies. But by the way, I totally understand why [horror fans reacted the way] they did. They didn’t need to. We will hopefully serve it up good and plenty.
AX: Instead of writing a screenplay the conventional way, you reportedly did a TV-series-style writers’ room for the Monsters Universe, which you also did for TRANSFORMERS. Do you think that having a writers’ room is good for film in the way it has been for TV
KURTZMAN: Coming out of television and having grown up in writers’ rooms, I think the thing that I got out of it and that I learned so much from the experience of being in the writers’ room is that there are always one or two singular voices to the show, but it’s great when you have a group of writers who are talented in their own rights coming together to build a world. And we very carefully selected writers who, in each of them, have their own incredible careers, all of whom we admire hugely. Chris Morgan is my partner in this and we all pick people that we’ve worked with before, people who we really like, people whose work we admire, and some people that we didn’t know, and really thought long and hard about which writers felt right for which monster. So our goal is to have each movie retain the identity and individuality of the specific monster, but you’ll see how they start to fit into the universes as the movies unravel.
AX: You’re also producing the magician mystery film NOW YOU SEE ME 2. Can you talk about how this sequel may differ from the original?
KURTZMAN: It’ll answer a lot of questions and it’ll ask a lot of new ones. So I think we’ll stay very consistent and true to the tone of the movie, which is that it’s a guessing game. And whatever you think is going on isn’t actually what’s going on. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, it could be something else. That was the fun of making that first movie and of building the script. So we’re going to be doing that again this time.
AX: Most of the original NOW YOU SEE ME cast is returning for the sequel, but Isla Fisher is not …
KURTZMAN: She got pregnant. She was basically delivering the baby right when we started, so she just wasn’t available to do it.
AX: Can you talk about your new cast members?
KURTZMAN: Lizzy Caplan has joined the cast, Daniel Radcliffe has joined the cast. We didn’t recast anybody. I won’t give too much away. I will say that Lizzy has joined [the magicians’ group] the Horsemen, so she is one of the new Horsemen, and I’m not going to tell you who Daniel plays.
AX: What would you most like people to know about LIMITLESS?
KURTZMAN: I think how much fun it is and how it’s not a typical procedural in that the lead of the show is actually a fish out of water. He’s not a cop who’s trained to be there. He’s there sort of by accident.
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Article: Exclusive interview with LIMITLESS executive producer Alex Kurtzman who also talks SLEEPY HOLLOW and Universal’s MONSTER UNIVERSE