Lou Diamond Phillips, Tom Payne and Bellamy Young in PRODIGAL SON - Season 1 - "Eye of the Needle" | ©2020 Fox/David Giesbrecht

Lou Diamond Phillips, Tom Payne and Bellamy Young in PRODIGAL SON – Season 1 – “Eye of the Needle” | ©2020 Fox/David Giesbrecht

Fox’s PRODIGAL SON returns for the back half of its first season on Monday, March 16. The series concerns NYPD consultant Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), who excels at understanding the criminal mind, and his family: wealthy socialite mother Jessica (Bellamy Young), ambitious broadcast news reporter sister Ainsley (Halston Sage), and brilliant serial killer father Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), who has been locked up – with privileges – in a psychiatric hospital for the past several decades.

When PRODIGAL SON left off at its midseason break, Martin was in the hospital, recovering from being stabbed in the heart by Malcolm, who was trying to commit the act with surgical precision to avoid actually killing his father (an innocent would die by the hand of an unhinged person if nobody committed the act). Jessica is thus far taking the fall for her son.

Sam Sklaver, who created PRODIGAL SON with fellow executive producer Chris Fedak, talks about the latter portion of Season 1.

ASSIGNMENT X: In working on PRODIGAL SON, as it’s developed, has anything changed for you in your concept, your vantage point, your view of the characters?

SAM SKLAVER: I think we’ve just grown to love them a lot more than we did at the beginning, if that doesn’t sound too silly. These are characters that we were figuring out in the beginning, and very interested in, but now my investment couldn’t be higher. I hope our audience feels the same way. But what we’ve been able to do with a twenty-two-episode order, which is not something you see every day, is, we’ve really been able to explore the family dynamics a lot more. The case of the week procedural is something that’s always fun and exciting that we like, and I’ve always loved Bellamy Young and loved Michael Sheen, but the way that I’ve come to love Jessica and Martin Whitly, it’s very deep for me now [laughs].

AX: Martin Whitly was missing onscreen for a few episodes before the midseason break. I understand from Chris Fedak that Michael Sheen had to be written out for a little bit because he was expecting a baby …

SKLAVER: Yes. More specifically, his partner was pregnant, but yes, they had a lovely baby girl, and it was perfect. What was very nice was, Michael’s in prison in the show, and we were really able to dramatically play it off, because he did some very bad things in Episode 7 that landed him in solitary confinement, just long enough to have a nice baby. And what’s nice about our back order is that mom’s doing well and baby’s doing well, so Michael’s right back to work, and we have him nonstop. Which is very fun. We get to learn how to make the show without him, but you really want him in the show, and it’s exciting to have him back full force.

Tom Payne in PRODIGAL SON - Season 1 - "Wait & Hope" | ©2020 Fox/David Giesbrecht

Tom Payne in PRODIGAL SON – Season 1 – “Wait & Hope” | ©2020 Fox/David Giesbrecht

AX: And when you were writing him into solitary, and Jessica’s thinking, “Oh, if I can prove that he committed a murder the authorities didn’t know about before, then Martin can be put …” He’s already locked up – where does she think he can be put? New York doesn’t have the death penalty …

SKLAVER: She wants him back in gen pop. She wants him around a lot of big guys who will be angry with him, and mad at him, and do mean things to him.

AX: Would they really, though? I thought that only child molesters were automatically in danger in the general population; murderers sometimes get respect …

SKLAVER: Well, that’s a fair point. I think he’s very comfortable right now, in Claremont Psychiatric. And what’s very exciting in our back nine is, we’re going to learn a little bit more that set-up, and how Martin Whitly was able to get himself into such a cushy situation. But Jessica looks at him with his phone time, and his screen time, and his cardigans, and she definitely wants to make his life a lot harder than it is. And I think it’s understandable any divorced woman might have the same feeling toward her ex-husband.

AX: Jessica also seems to have boundary issues and be somewhat oblivious to her effect on her children, especially Malcolm …

SKLAVER: I think she’s not oblivious, I think she is committed to helping her children as much as she possibly can. Which, to your point, she could probably ease up on a little bit. But her intentions are perfect. I think maybe she has a little bit too much time on her hands. She definitely thinks that she’s helping her children. If she is, is up for debate. We’ll see.

AX: You’ve sort of resolved the mystery of what happened on that significant camping trip that Malcolm went on as a little boy with his father. Do you have ideas of what other things Malcolm may be struggling with regarding his father?

SKLAVER: A hundred percent. I think what’s really fun is that, in our world, Martin Whitly has twenty-three victims that are known. And Season 1 is all about an unknown twenty-fourth victim. So there are multiple victims that we can go back to. We’re fascinated by the idea of the first kill, and what that was for Martin, and what age he was. I don’t want to spoil it now, but the boundary, the threshold that someone crosses to become a killer – for some people, it was accidental, for some, it’s a crime of opportunity, and we’ll explore more into Martin’s back story, and what makes a man like that become a killer, and how they maintain being a killer. We always loved that the Son of Sam would just drive around every single night, looking. He didn’t kill every night – he didn’t even kill every other night. But he was driving every night, looking. And just when we get deeper into the psychology of a serial killer, and why they do what they do, and how they do what they do. There are so many more stories we’re very excited to tell for Martin.

Tom Payne in PRODIGAL SON - Season 1 - "The Job" | ©2020 Fox/David Giesbrecht

Tom Payne in PRODIGAL SON – Season 1 – “The Job” | ©2020 Fox/David Giesbrecht

AX: Are we going to discover that Martin did anything to Ainsley when she was a child that she may not remember?

SKLAVER: Well, we know that Ainsley as a little girl did meet the Junkyard Killer [played by Michael Raymond-James], possibly on more than one occasion. Martin had a very healthy work/life balance, and I don’t think he was doing nefarious things with his children at all, but I do think Ainsley grew up in the same house as one of the greatest serial killers of the twenty-first century, and she was not sheltered from everything. Halston Sage is so amazing in the role, and whenever we get stuff for her, we just want more. So that’s a character that we’re very excited to explore further.

But when it comes to Martin, there was never a sexual component. He was very much a scientist, and a doctor. He was much more interested in those sorts of things. He was an equal opportunity killer, if you will.

AX: Did Martin feel like, “Well, I go to the hospital, and I do X, Y, and Z to help people as a surgeon, and then in my off hours, I can do X, Y, and Z to hurt people, and it kind of balances out”?

SKLAVER: Well, it’s almost like a mechanic who works on cars all day, and then he has an old junker that he’s trying to work on at home. And I do think Martin was honing his craft – he had a little Da Vinci in him, where maybe there were a few tests or ideas that he had for procedures that he couldn’t do under normal medical regulations, so he had to become home hobbyist, so that’s how he’s doing it.

AX: So Martin might have done something to a victim that actually would be a successful surgery, but then had to kill the person to keep them from saying what he did to them?

SKLAVER: Yes, but the lessons learned in the killing he would bring back to the hospital and save a dozen lives. That’s something he’s actually brought up with Ainsley [when she interviewed him for her broadcast news program]. He’s killed twenty-three people that we know of, but he’s saved hundreds. And these things to him are related. He needs to learn [in order] to do. It’s what makes the character so fascinating, and it’s why Michael [playing Martin] is so captivating to look at. He’s a serial killer, but you like him, and you understand him in a way, or at least you want to understand him.

AX: So Martin’s not just being glib in the interview he gives Ainsley, he actually believes what he’s saying …

SKLAVER: A hundred percent. And we’re going to go into that a little bit more in coming episodes. But it was more than a hobby to him. He really was trying to become close to God by doing these things, and some of it definitely did make it back into the medical community.

AX: Has research turned up any new interesting areas for you?

SKLAVER: We have a weekly email that one of our research assistants sends out to us, which are serial killers in the news. So every week, I get a terrible email that all of our writers click on and read. And sadly, there’s more than enough material out there to rip it from the headlines. There are a lot of killers that we’re interested in.

AX: So far, PRODIGAL SON hasn’t dealt with this, but it seems like in reality, a lot of serial killers target people of color, and trans people, and trans people of color. Will you be dealing with that at all on the show?

SKLAVER: I think in terms of a procedural case, like you’re saying, it does exist, and it’s fascinating, and any way that we could tackle that, that could be informative and help the discourse – it’s not something we would want to do to sensationalize it in any way.



AX: Is it that, at least at present, you don’t have any trans people on the investigating side, so you don’t want to have the only trans person on the show be a victim?

SKLAVER: Yes. That’s it a hundred percent. I think our goal would definitely be to have representation – I would be much more interested in a trans FBI agent than a trans dead body on the slab. And [the victimization of trans people] is not something we want to glorify in any way. So we’re very interested in that dynamic, but it wouldn’t be [showing a trans person as] a victim for me. Not that we glorify murder in any way, but [PRODIGAL SON wants to show cases that have unusual aspects].

AX: Cases where you feel like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of this happening before”?

SKLAVER: Yes. That would be interesting.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about the rest of PRODIGAL SON Season 1?

Michael Sheen and Tom Payne in PRODIGAL SON - Season 1 | © 2019 Fox Media LLC/Mark Seliger

Michael Sheen and Tom Payne in PRODIGAL SON – Season 1 | © 2019 Fox Media LLC/Mark Seliger

SKLAVER: We don’t let up on the gas, and I think that’s really the network, Fox, pushing us. All of the intensity that we’ve loved in this, that we’ve launched the season into, Fox keeps asking us to turn it to Eleven while we’re going to Ten. And I really do think we’re doing that. But we’re so grateful for the fans who are watching the show and loving the show, and we really feel a commitment to them to keep our foot on the gas. So we definitely don’t let up. Sadly, I can’t say if there’s going to be a happy ending for anyone, but it’s going to keep going, and the intensity is what we love in the show, along with the humor and the family stories that are really the heart of the show.

This interview was conducted during Fox’s party for the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

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Article: Exclusive Interview with PRODIGAL SON Co-creator Sam Sklaver on the second half of Season 1


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