CBS’ SCORPION, Mondays at 9 PM, is about a group of diverse geniuses, headed up by Walter O’Brien (played by Elyes Gabel), who help the FBI solve unusual crimes. O’Brien is a real-life person who is one of the show’s executive producers, as well as heading up a consulting group that is the inspiration for the team on the series, which has been renewed for a second season.
Nick Santora, who created the series, and Nicholas Wootton are two of SCORPION’s other executive producers who also serve as the series’ show runners. They are known to the production team as “the two Nicks.” Santora and Wootton were previously executive producers and writers on PRISON BREAK together; before that, they worked together on LAW & ORDER. Santora’s other credits include BREAKOUT KINGS, LIE TO ME and VEGAS; Wootton also worked on NYPD BLUE, CHUCK, GOLDEN BOY and THE TOMORROW PEOPLE.
Santora and Wootton are together at a party that CBS throws for the press and again when the network allows the Television Critics Association press tour to visit SCORPION’s Manhattan Beach, California, soundstages.
AX: So your protagonist, Walter O’Brien, is based on a real person …
NICK SANTORA: Yeah, the real-life Walter O’Brien, who grew up in Ireland. When he was a young boy, he was taken into custody for hacking into the space station and NASA, because he wanted the blueprints for his bedroom wall. We open up the show with that moment. He’s a real dude, and a lot of this stuff is based on his real-life experiences.
AX: Some of what Walter and his team do on SCORPION has to do with computer crime. As CBS is also CSI: CYBER, did the network ever come to you and say, “They’re doing that over there, so try to do less of that over here”?
SANTORA: You know what? We never actually had that conversation with them, because the shows are really quite different. SCORPION is based on a real-life company called Scorpion that Walter O’Brien started, and their cases go outside the world of hacking and computers. They can be anything from the pilot episode, which deals with an imminent aviation disaster, to issues at a casino, to issues up and down the line in the spectrum of storytelling.
AX: Did you have to work on, “What do we do to get our guys out of doors?”
SANTORA: Yes. What we did is, we had a long conversation with Walter when I first met him. He’s such an interesting guy. I said, “Tell me about the different types of geniuses that you’ve worked with.” And he went through different geniuses that have different skill sets. And there are some that are engineer fabricator geniuses who can build anything. There are behavioral/psychological geniuses who know everything about the human condition. There are mathematical geniuses. We took all of those types of geniuses that he has in his real-life Scorpion company, put them together and made this team for television, a fictionalized version of those types of people.
NICHOLAS WOOTTON: And they’re brought in a lot of times when other agencies fail, because they really are highly specialized and have this enormous intelligence range. They do get out into the field more than just typing.
AX: So they’re essentially a consulting firm that works for the government, but they’re not actually part of the government?
WOOTTON: That’s correct.
SANTORA: They’re separate from the government, they’re geniuses for hire, they’re motto is basically, “Any funded problem – solved.” Give them the money, they’ll figure out a way to handle it.
AX: At least in the show, do they ever work for free?
SANTORA: They can. They have hearts. At the beginning of this show, where we pick up, we start with this team with their very nascent beginnings, where they’re failing and working out of a crappy warehouse, which is how Walter really started, with nothing. And now he’s incredibly wealthy and successful. And we’re going to hopefully get to take that journey with him.
AX: What was the genesis of SCORPION? Did you hear about Walter O’Brien and go, “That’s a good story,” or …?
SANTORA: No. It’s a really roundabout story, which I’ll try to do succinctly. Scooter Braun, who is Justin Bieber’s manager and has a huge empire that he’s created, was working with Walter on a completely separate project. He and his team realized, “Walter is an interesting guy, maybe there’s a TV show here.” They brought it to Justin Lin and said, “Would you be interested in directing this?”, Justin said, “Absolutely,” they brought it to CBS, CBS said, “We have a deal with [K/O Paper Products, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s production company], we should bring them aboard,” Kurtzman/Orci said, “We need a writer, let’s bring Nick Santora aboard,” and that’s how it started. I got a call from Kurtzman/Orci through CBS, saying, “Would you like to meet with this guy? We have his rights, and we’re trying to develop a show.” I met with him just out of curiosity to see if there was a show there, and kind of instantly thought there was, and then it just progressed from there. After I met with Walter, I just found him so interesting, it all fell into place.
AX: How involved are your fellow SCORPION executive producers Roberto Orci and/or Alex Kurtzman?
SANTORA: It’s always great having producers involved that you can bounce ideas off of, and that whole company’s there to hear us out when we have thoughts or to run documents by them after we write an outline or a script. Heather Kadin and Aaron Baiers at their company have been invaluable with giving us feedback.
WOOTTON: They’re always our first line of defense. They read everything first before it goes forward. They kind of give us the first impression outside of our own group, and then we go on to the network. But they’re involved.
AX: When did you come into it?
WOOTTON: I came in about five weeks before shooting. I was brought in to be sort of a co-show runner with Nick should the series go forward, and usually they bring in somebody in that period of time to get to know the show, help anything going on production-wise, and I met Walter then, too. That was my first introduction to the process, was meeting Walter.
SANTORA: And Nick’s had success on CBS, too – he created GOLDEN BOY and he really knows the network and knows very much what they’re looking for and has been just indispensable just with helping get that type of show that CBS wants.
AX: What is the division of show-running responsibilities between you?
SANTORA: We’re doing it together. We worked together on PRISON BREAK, that’s where we met, and we’re friends.
AX: Will we be seeing any PRISON BREAK people on SCORPION?
SANTORA: There are so many PRISON BREAK writers that Wootton and I love that we would have loved to bring on this staff, but they’re always booked. The actors are always – they’re all so talented, they’re always booked, but if we are fortunate enough to get to work with them, we’d love to, but they’re never available. What an underrated show. How come people don’t talk about Season 1 of that show more often as one of the better television seasons? I love that show.
AX: Can you talk about casting of Elyes Gabel as Walter O’Brien? There has been a lot of discussion about diversity in casting in the media, but not too many people mention that you have a person of color playing someone who is Caucasian in real life.
SANTORA: Yeah. [Gabel] came in very late in the process, and he just read so well and was so perfect for it, we didn’t care if he wasn’t a hundred percent Irish. We’re big believers in “hire whoever the best person is,” and his performance was just wonderful. So we just changed the back story a little bit, where Walter has a one-hundred-percent Irish father, and maybe possibly a Mediterranean mother. We never really define it, but that’s kind of why he doesn’t look one hundred percent Irish. But his performance is so good, who cares?
AX: As far as creating the other regular characters, are they all based on real people in Walter O’Brien’s company, or did you think, “What are the best kinds of people to have surrounding Walter?”
SANTORA: Yes. It’s funny – they’re not based on anybody, but when I spoke with Walter and I said, “I think this team that I’d like to put around you should have a genius behaviorist, because of this or that reason, or someone who can build anything, so we can have those MacGUYVER moments and so on. Walter said, “Yeah. In real life, there are lots of geniuses who can build anything and lots of geniuses who study human behavior.” So it was good to know that the instinct was right, that that stuff is real.
AX: It seems like Robert Patrick, who plays the team’s FBI liaison Cabe Gallo, is somebody who should have been on PRISON BREAK …
SANTORA: We had so many actors on that show for four years, I’m surprised he wasn’t on PRISON BREAK.
AX: Was he somebody who you’d been looking to do something with?
SANTORA: I’m a fan of his since I was a little kid. He punched me in the stomach for saying, “Since I was a little kid.” But I remember when we found out, and Wootton, you tell me if I’m exaggerating – when we found out that we were considering him, my first response was, “Well, we’re not going to get Robert Patrick.”
WOOTTON: Yeah, it’s crazy.
SANTORA: “Yeah. He’s not going to do this – everyone wants to work with Robert Patrick, he turns down television all the time.” We couldn’t believe our good fortune when he said he’d do it.
WOOTTON: And he has fulfilled every dream of the guy you want to work with. He really is an amazing guy, killer actor, everything you want. So he’s a good guy.
SANTORA: He’s the most positive human being I’ve ever met in my life. He is just so ready to go to work every day. He’s like having a coach on the team for some of our younger actors. They just look up to him, they like him so much personally, and it’s so wonderful we have that guy on the show.
AX: Are you writing the character more towards him now?
SANTORA: Maybe a little bit. He’s so good at playing that hard-edged gruff guy, but underneath him, he’s a softie, and I think we’re letting that bleed into Cabe a lot more.
WOOTTON: Yeah. I think we discovered in the final process was how well he could play the softie. He really has that gear right there, and it’s amazing to see him play that, because he really plays it beautifully and effectively.
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Article: Nick Santora and Nicholas Wootton on SCORPION: Part 1 – exclusive interview