TV Goodness Q&A: William Fichtner and Producers Discuss NBC’s Crossing Lines [INTERVIEW]
Warning: Spoilers ahead
It’s probably no secret that we like cop shows and that we love a procedural done well. In Crossing Lines, William Fichtner joins aÂ unit mandated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate cross-border crimes and ultimately bring global criminals to justice. TV Goodness participated in a press call with series starÂ William Fichtner as well as EP/Showrunner Ed Bernero and producer Rola Bauer. They talked about the genesis of the show, how Ed and William became involved, and discussed what we can to look forward to throughout the season.
Q: This show is so international in its scope. Where are you based and how far afield do you go? Are you trying to recreate all these countries in one place or are you actually going around to them?
William Fichtner: “Well we went on tour last fall into the winter. Our home base is Prague where we began shooting. Rola, I would say that’s a home base. Correct?”
Rola Bauer: “Yes. Prague was definitely our home base. We spent the majority of the 22 weeks in Prague. I’d love to hear Bill’s perspective on this adventure that we put him on.”
William: “I’d love to talk about it because it surely was an adventure, different than anything I’ve ever worked on before. I’m speaking from the perspective of the character of Carl Hickman, an ex-New York City cop living in Europe, living in Amsterdam. It was great for an actor to not be searching, being a little bit of a fish out of water because it’s exactly what it was – not that I felt that way – certainly not in the beautiful country of the Czech Republic and the wonderful City of Prague. But that’s where we began. And also part of our episodes – the opening episodes took us into a park in Paris and different places in Paris, France. So we shot there for a couple of weeks. And some of the episodes took us into the South of France and we shot there. So I think you can get the idea that as we went on this tour it was remarkable because the places changed and the people changed and the locations changed. And it was fascinating and unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced. Sure I’ve shot films where we’ve gone on location but nothing quite like this. And the scope of this.”
Q: Tell us about working in Prague.
William: “Prague just has everything. Sure, you can find the sleek office building but you can find anything in Prague. And I really mean that. Including amazing places too. I lived in old town Prague with my family when I was there. And there were days where we were shooting at locations that were literally a half a block away that I could walk to work. And other times we were at our home base at the Barinda sound stages. But it’s a beautiful city, very modern and at the same time very old. I mean so much was available not only for visually but for the experience. Not only as actors but as people because this was our home. This is where we’re together. I said it earlier on this call and I’ll say it again that I’ll never forget. It was really truly that remarkable. There was nothing about it that felt like oh boy, I can’t believe it. Man, I got to get out of here. No. Quite the opposite.”
Rola: “And if I may add to what Bill is saying, we also wanted to protect the look and the credibility of the story. We didn’t want to put any of our talent in front of a green screen, which is why we made sure that we had the ability to go to these places.We shot Prague for Prague. We doubled it also for other European cities but we also made sure that Paris and Nice and the South of France were very much a part of what the story location was and not pretending to be something else.”
Q: What is it about this series that really speaks to people?
Rola: “I think one of the things that is the DNA in the project is that as the title says it crosses lines. We’re living in a global world. We’re connected by the Internet. We are trying to have certain things that are common to each other through television. Hollywood has been an example of it in that films transcend the boundaries and are released everywhere. But what we sometimes forget is how we protect our families. And that is what the challenge was about for us. When we started developing the idea and we pitched it to Ed, he loved it because he said for him it reminded him of how America had been when there was not an FBI, when criminals could cross form one state to the other and where essentially there was no sovereign structured entity that could look after people. And from that Edgar Hoover had set up the FBI. And over here in Europe it doesn’t exist. So criminals can travel the borders, can cross over without being really monitored or checked anymore. And Europe didn’t have anything that was proactive. There’s Europol and there’s Interpol but they didn’t really have a structure like that. And I think what attracts people is that ultimately these crimes we can see them anywhere in the world. And this is a team that is proactive. You’ve seen it in different features where there have been teams from different parts of the world who come together and crack the case. And I think that’s an international subject that allows an audience to really connect from a fear factor of how do I protect my family in a normal situation.”
William:Â “I think that what also is going to be appealing is living in the states we occasionally get incredible actors from around the world doing different – being on series and – I love the aspect. I know the first time that I read the first couple of episodes of the show and I loved the fact of having the American guy be the fish out of water. Have the American guy join in with his sensibilities. And because we have a multinational cast, it’s not just a gimmick or something that’s like oh, we’re the A team. It’s not that at all. It’s just that our experts come from different places. And you truly get – like you get the Italian girl with her own culture behind her. And Marc Lavoine, the leader of the team, the French singer and actor and his French sensibilities. And all of this plays in and all of it comes through. And I found that that was not just something that was kind of a nifty thing about the show but part of the heartbeat of the show.”
Q: What was the toughest or most challenging part of this role for you or this show for you so far?Â
William: “Whenever I work on something, that it’s. It hits me in a challenging sort of way. It’s all challenging but it’s all part of the joy of doing things. I’m trying to find a guy. I guess it never hits me like it’s a real job or it’s a real challenge. It’s just all part of what I love to explore and to try to find who is this guy. What makes him tick? And what does he care about? And what’s his world about? And what does he want and what does he dream about? And all that stuff, all the actor speak that I have the most fun thinking about. And hopefully at the end of the day fully realizing somebody that you made to be a real person. I have to tell you this that I had a tremendous amount of support and help from the material because I guess I’m a little old school but if it is not on the page, it is not on the stage. And Ed Bernaro knows how to put it on the page. The first two episodes alone, I as an actor, I’d love to keep reading it and reading them over and over and over because I think good scripts gives you more and more details and you get more and more layers as you work on them. And I was not disappointed working on this material ever.”
Q: Can you kind of talk about just how the whole project came about and how you each became connected to it?
Rola: “Okay. Well it started actually that we have been working predominantly in the limited eight-hour miniseries. You might know one of our productions Pillars of the Earth. We wanted to get into the one-hour series. We looked around at all the different showrunners who were available or interested in working in a different independent way and were introduced to Ed Bernero. I’m sure you’re aware of Ed’s pedigree and his many, many years of experience. So we’re considered ourselves very lucky to be able to have a chance to brainstorm with him and talked about this idea. And he just immediately broke the story. I mean he said, ‘Oh my God. I have been wanting to do something in this direction.’ At first I thought oh, this is Hollywood speak. But he truly did have it in his head because he broke the story in literally a matter of weeks. And we have met and we’re starting to work together in February. And we went straight to an order of ten episodes on the middle of July. And we started shooting in the beginning of October. And we shot ten episodes and had them all wrapped in the can in the third week of February. So it happened in literally one year from meeting and getting to know to developing, producing it and delivering it. So that was the – that was the genesis of it. We were concerned about what was happening in Europe, how similar it was to what has happened in the U.S. and how could one create a new team, a team European FBI [agents] that could transcend the boundaries and help people. And that’s how it started in that. We sat with the broadcasters and we told them our wish list as filmmakers, as producers and the people we would like to have for each of the roles. And Bill was number one for us in the role of Hickman. I mean we had to give them three names and he was number one. I have been hounding, tracking – what’s the word I’m looking – stalking Bill for many years.”
William: “Stalking is good. Stalking is good.”
Rola: “And when I gave his name to Ed, he was like oh I love him. That’d be great. That would be fabulous. And so once we had a script we sent it to his agent and then I’ll pass on the baton to Bill.”
William: “And then I had a conversation with Ed Bernero. I have to tell you though first I’m very bummed out that on the list of three, I thought I was going to be number one, two and three but I was only number one. That’s okay. I got over it. I got over it. I read it and I liked it but it’s a challenge. It was a big thing. This is not like I’m going to commute to California and see the family. This was a big commitment to go because I wasn’t going to do this without traveling with my wife and my entire family, which I did. But I did speak to Ed and like I said earlier, you can talk about anything and imagine anything but if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage. And I thought the first two episodes were exceptionally well written. And if I didn’t have that right off the bat, I don’t think I would have entertained it any further. And then I spoke to Ed, had a few questions and I wondered about characters and where it was going and every time I had a conversation with him, it was better than the one before. So it didn’t take long. Just a matter of a few shorts weeks and a lot of deep conversations with my wife and onboard we were and away we went. Glad it all went that way.”
Q: Was there anything about this role that wasn’t originally scripted for you that you added to the character?
William: “Good question. I mean every character with every show, this is like everything. You take a first step and by the time you take ten steps you’re better on your feet on the tenth step than the first step. So we started from the beginning. We had a super strong base right off the bat. It’s so clear in the first two episodes who the character is. It’s the back story that for me as an actor that I like to fill in because even though that’s not something that may be said in the production but it’s the understanding of the base of where somebody comes from and who someone is that really, really feeds who they are today. Those are the conversations over the phone and in Prague over many a pilsner with Ed Bernero that I just loved talking to him about and sharing my ideas of who I think the guy is. And so yes, the back story elements get deeper and deeper. But so much of what was there from the beginning, who he was and what his difficulties were and some of the crutches that he was leaning on in his life, Ed Bernero put that in the story I’m happy to say. Most of it was just to go deeper with all of the thoughts that he’d already put out there for me.”
Q: There’s an event at the end of the pilot episode, which involves a kidnapping. Is that an event that emotionally invests Carl in the team and their mission? And also how guilty and responsible is he feeling going forward into season or into episode 2?
William: “I don’t want to give too much away because one of the things that I find that is fascinating about our show is that it isn’t just the weekly events. Who these people are and the events that are happening and shaping their life – it continues on from episode to episode. So I’d love to speak about what the kidnapping is but I don’t want to say too much. So where do we go with that Ed?”
Ed Bernero: “I think [you’re] talking about the Ann Marie thing in the beginning, not the kidnapping that comes up later. But it’s an interesting question and actually something that Bill and I talked quite a bit about during the whole season – about how committed the character is to the team and when he sort of commits completely to them.Â I think for both of us the complete commitment is going to happen [even] more next year. I think that he was pretty betrayed by the police world. I think he’s very reluctant to sort of join another group and be part of another team. I think that what happens in the pilot in the first two hours is certainly something that sets him on the course. But I think the most important moment is when Louie asked him if he wants to feel like a cop again, because Bill and I had many conversations about his state of mind and what he feels like and how he feels betrayed and sort of lost his identity not only with his wounding but also with the betrayal of the police department and his sort of leaving the NYPD. So it’s an ongoing process for him. I think it’s something that the Hickman character may never fully embrace being part of the team. Wouldn’t you say that that’s probably true Bill?”
William: “Yeah. Absolutely. There’s many things that I love about Hickman and that’s just the point. There are many things. I think he is a character that has more than one plate spinning. And one of those elements of his life is the bigger picture of why he’s in Europe in the first place, which by the end of Season 1 you will know exactly what that is. And for as much as Hickman gives to the group, there are things that the group can give to him. And all of that begins to reveal itself throughout the first season. And that single thing alone is one of the big through lines for the character and one of things that I really love about that journey because it’s always more than just one thing.”
Ed: “And there’s also quite a large element of the characters all in some way, shape or form using each other too. You know, that it’s not all just for the same goal. I think you find out through the whole season that almost everyone has a little bit of an ulterior motive for being where they are and joining this team in the first place.”
William: “Yes, absolutely.”
Q: Are we going to get to see the team in Ireland at any point in time?
Ed: “Oh, it’s so funny that you should say that. Yeah, the third episode next year is set in Ireland. Yeah. Our Tommy character is a big part of the team and his family – there’s a story involving his family and a Scotland Yard detective that we’re introducing. I’m actually – I was working on that this morning.”
Q: Ed, you’ve been involved in TV for a while now. Over the course of your career here have you seen networks allowing more or less violence in episodes? And do you think that networks cancel shows too early now? Don’t give shows a chance to really catch on?
Ed: “I’ll take the second part first. Yes. I don’t know that they have much choice. I mean, yeah, there are quicker cancellations than there used to be. I mean shows like Seinfeld and Hill Street Blues did horribly their whole first season. And people like Brandon Tartikoff stayed with them. But I don’t blame them for it. I think it’s a different marketplace right now and eyes go other places so quickly. Yeah, I would like to see shows get a little bit more of a chance to build some, but I don’t know that the marketplace will allow it anymore. So yes but I don’t blame them for it. It’s just sort of what they have to do. And the first part of the question…”
Q: About violence on TV.
Ed: “Oh yeah. That’s an interesting question. The other show that I’ve done Criminal Minds, we tired very hard to imply more violence than we show. But we don’t really get a lot of notes about violence. In America you get notes about sex. You don’t get notes about violence. It’s actually quite the opposite in this European theater that we’re in now, there’s more concern about violence and there’s almost no concern about sex. So it’s just culturally kind of a different thing. But for my personal case, I’ve always thought that it was much scarier to not show things and let the audience fill that sort of blank in. But no, we don’t get a lot of pressure – at least if you handle it responsibly you don’t. There may be other shows that get a lot of pushback on violence but we try not to do anything graphic, so I don’t have a problem with it.”
Q: How was the shoot schedule?
William: “Well, we had an intense shoot. I mean, very often we were shooting six-day weeks and even though it may be easier in some facets but it was a lot. It’s an intense story and with an intense character. So there weren’t many days that I wasn’t on the schedule and that was just, I loved it.”
Q: Can you talk about the moments you’re excited for fans to see without giving away spoilers?
Ed: “Well just overall, this is the longest I’ve ever gone without something being on the air. I’m more used to being in the studio system here in the states where you do something and it’s on that September.Â So just in general I’m just excited about people seeing the show. This is the first time I’ve ever had the benefit of having the entire thing completed before it ever went on. So it’s really exciting to me to know where it’s going and that it’s all sort of put together in the way we wanted it to be put together. And I’m excited to see it. I’m always most excited to see how people accept the family of the show, that the character moments come to mean more as the show goes on than they would have in the beginning. So most of the things that I’m interested in seeing is how the people react to the fact that they’re seeing people with French accents and German accents and Italian accents. It’s just something kind of really different for American television. And I’m just interested in seeing how it plays around the world. For me every bit of it is exciting. There’s not any sort of particular moment that I’m looking forward to. I love the surprises too. I think there’s a couple of surprises in the first two hours that I don’t know that many people will see coming, but overall I’m just excited about the show in general.”
Rola: “I think one of the things that we’ve seen in this is Ed’s created fabulous character [arcs] and you’re going to be in for surprises on the genesis of what brought Hickman over. I think you’re going to be intrigued to connect the dots.Â So we still have the crime of the week and we still have the team resolving cases, but there is a number of layers of mystery that come in. And when you start getting towards the eight, the ninth and the tenth episode there is a real second layer of a story that makes each one of those characters stronger and quite exciting.Â Ed finished it off by having us have a cliffhanger on the tenth episode. And he’s probably going to get a lot of hate mail because of it.”
William: “Not from me.”
Ed: “Not for that reason.”
Crossing Lines premieres tonight at 9/8c on NBC.
Edited for space and content.
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