THE GIFTED is currently in its first season on Fox, Monday nights. Matt Nix, creator of BURN NOTICE, adapted the project for television. THE GIFTED is set in Marvel’s X-Men universe, but the X-Men are nowhere to be found. Mutants are banding together against persecution by Sentinel Services, an arm of the government that “detains” anyone who does anything that might be construed as abuse of power. Ordinary humans Reed (Stephen Moyer) and Kate Strucker (Amy Acker) are astonished when both of their adolescent children, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), suddenly demonstrate their mutant powers in a big way. The family becomes part of the Mutant Underground, where Lauren and Andy are anxious to get into the fight, while Reed and Kate want to protect their children.
Creator Nix talks about how THE GIFTED resonates for him – and why he thinks of actress Acker as the Duck.
ASSIGNMENT X: You have not done big genre before. Were you looking to do big genre, or did you just think, “THE GIFTED sounds really cool”?
MATT NIX: I guess I didn’t sit down and say, “I really want to do big genre.” At the same time, one of the things I realized after some years of running BURN NOTICE was that I was essentially running a genre show that was dressed up not like a genre show. We were doing a lot of things that genre shows do, and I realized that that was something I cared about, and something I really liked, and so I certainly jumped at the chance when it came my way. To be honest, I would hear about the genre shows that were being developed, including the show that I’m currently doing, and always in the back of my mind was, “I should be doing that! I want to do that!”
AX: THE GIFTED feels a little like this type of indie film that was made often in the ‘70s, with a little group of people in an enclave who were fighting the establishment …
NIX: Well, slightly later than the ‘70s, but when I came in, I was like, one of the inspirations for me was RUNNING ON EMPTY. And when I went in to pitch [executive producer] Bryan Singer, in the middle of the pitch, he stopped me cold and said, “Have you ever seen this movie RUNNING ON EMPTY?” And I went, “Yeah. This is RUNNING ON EMPTY with mutants.” And he was like, “Why didn’t you just say that at the beginning? You didn’t have to do any of this pitch.” Because it was one of his favorite movies as well.
AX: Marvel’s Jeph Loeb was saying you came in with a whole audio/video presentation for your THE GIFTED pitch. What was your presentation?
NIX: It was a bunch of visuals, some of which I constructed and some of which existed from the comics, but not to be coy about it – I said, “I want this so bad.” [laughs] I’m fortunate that I’m not doing this for free, but I was going, “I would just do this show for free. I have to do this.” And so I went to my assistant at the time, who was super-good with computers, and I’m like, “We’re going to blow this out. We’re going to do the best, the biggest pitch ever.” He was like, “I’m in.” And so he ran it for me, and it was awesome. We comped [made visual composites] up – it was mostly still images, but it was basically like, we found stock images, we comped together stock images, we did images from the comics, we found actors and we put them in settings where they looked like the superheroes. So it was all of that. And it was also like, all of the thematics and the visuals along with music and, because I really wanted to give people a sense of, I saw it in my head and this is what it needs to be. I’m not saying, “I’ll figure this out later.” I know what I want to do.
AX: In RUNNING ON EMPTY, it’s the parents who are the erstwhile rebels, now trying to give the kids a normal life. Here, it’s the kids who require them to go on the run, and there’s really no way to give them a fully normal life in this version. Is there going to be a philosophical schism between the parents?
NIX: Those issues are something that we explore on an ongoing basis. One question that comes up a lot is, just because your kids have superpowers doesn’t necessarily mean that you like the idea of them going out and being child soldiers. At a certain point, the reality is, my son is fifteen years old. No matter what power he has, I don’t want him going out there and doing this. So when I think of RUNNING ON EMPTY, a lot of the seeds of it were, taking a family in this very heightened situation you could have played for intrigue and all those things, just showing the pedestrian reality of it, along with the heightened reality of it, like, you do have bad guys really chasing you and somebody has to cook dinner tonight. And that to me is a really interesting contrast that we haven’t seen a lot with superheroes.
When I think about what I care about most in science fiction, in fantasy, in any genre stuff, as a kid, the stuff that I responded to most was the stuff where I could look at it and go, “I want to go live there. I see where I’d fit in, in that world.” And to me, when people have to eat and when people have to live their lives and when mutants have to do laundry, that doesn’t make it less special, that makes it more special, because it means I can see myself in that world, I know that I share something with them. And that’s important to me. Just because you can rip a dimensional hole, that doesn’t solve any problems other than going from place to place. It doesn’t tell you what you’ve got to do when you get there. And that’s exciting to me.
AX: Does Marvel ever come to you and say, “Please don’t do this with mutants on THE GIFTED, because we’re doing it with Inhumans on AGENTS OF SHIELD”?
NIX: A little bit, but not in a bad way. It more comes out like, “You might want to watch this, because you don’t want to reproduce something.” So they’ve actually been incredibly supportive.
AX: In the makeup of an episode of THE GIFTED, how much is mundane, how much is fighting against the Sentinel Services and how much is X-MEN: PRISON BREAK? Because, at least at the start, part of the story is trying to break characters out of custody.
NIX: Yeah. There’s a bit of that. One of my writers worked on the last iteration of PRISON BREAK, and knows a lot of those tricks. But I’d say honestly, it’s not PRISON BREAK forever, because eventually, we don’t keep them in prison the whole time. There’s probably a third grounded family or real-life stuff, a third genre stuff, and then a third mythology.
AX: Are you getting to invent any mutants?
AX: So you’re going, “I’ve always wanted a character who could do …”?
NIX: Yes. Although I have to be careful – it’s like, “I’ve always wanted a character that can do this visual effect that we can afford under these circumstances.” But I’m all for it. It’s super-exciting.
AX: With casting, were you going for known genre people? Obviously, Stephen Moyer has TRUE BLOOD and Amy Acker has at least half of her career, with ANGEL and so many other projects …
NIX: Well, hilariously, my connection to Amy Acker – and no one knows this – is, years ago, I did, as a volunteer thing, a staged adaptation of PETER AND THE WOLF, the Tchaikovsky. In PETER AND THE WOLF, everybody is played by an instrument and there’s a narrator. I did a staged adaptation where everyone also has an actor, and I wrote dialogue for them. And I called a buddy of mine, and I was like, “I need somebody for the Duck.” And he was like, “You should talk to my friend Amy Acker.” And I was like, “Okay, great. Let’s get Amy Acker.” So Amy Acker did a brilliant job – Bradley Whitford was the Wolf, and Kiele Sanchez was the Bird, and we had this fantastic cast with this one magical day of doing this Tchaikovsky thing at the Broad Theatre in Santa Monica, so that was how I knew Amy. And we brought her in [for THE GIFTED], she was the first person to audition, and I was, “Oh, she’s awesome, she’s fantastic.” It was only later that I put together that she was this genre queen. It was like, “Oh, yeah, she was on ANGEL wasn’t she? And I know Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy Nolan], and yeah, she did PERSON OF INTEREST [which they produced]. Yeah, I guess she’s this big genre thing.”
AX: And she was in AGENTS OF SHIELD and ALIAS and CABIN IN THE WOODS and DOLLHOUSE …
NIX: Yeah. To me, she was the Duck.
AX: You had worked with Coby Bell in BURN NOTICE. He plays Sentinel Services agent Jace Turner in THE GIFTED. Were you looking to do something else with him after BURN NOTICE?
NIX: I love Coby. He was actually in my original pitch. One of the pictures I had in my original pitch was of Coby playing a different character. So it just sorted out that we needed someone for this character, and I was like, “Well, let’s try Coby for this.” And it worked out really well, because I wanted this Sentinel Services character to be really human, and ultimately, the idea of casting someone who’s as inherently likable as Coby as the ostensible bad guy was exactly the tone that I wanted to strike for the show. Because he’s got his own reasons for doing what he’s doing. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just a guy who’s trying to do his job. And Coby was perfect for that.
AX: Any possibility your BURN NOTICE regular Sharon Gless is going to show up?
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE GIFTED?
NIX: The biggest thing that I would say, I would want particularly genre fans to know, is that this is a show being made by a group of writers and a group of actors who go home at night and read the comics. We’ve got a writer who every day draws what we’re doing that day. He’s a comics guy and he draws it because he’s so excited about what we’re doing. And the amount of geeky enthusiasm for what we’re doing in the show – I don’t know if that will ultimately count for anything, but it’s made by fans for fans.
This interview was conducted during Fox Networks’ portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: Matt Nix chats about THE GIFTED – Season 1 – Marvel’s new mutant series