Exerting a Producer's Leverage: Dean Devlin

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Dean Devlin first climbed to fame as an actor, but has delivered even greater entertainment from the other side of the Hollywood creative camera, in both writing, directing and producing. His career has given the world such films like "Stargate" -- which spun off into one of the longest based-on-a-film series on television -- and memorable films like "Independence Day" and "The Patriot."

More recently, Devlin has served as the executive producer for the TNT hit series, Leverage, now finishing it's fourth season and already renewed for a fifth.

We were fortunate to spend a few minutes with Dean talking about the Leverage series, and some other potential projects we might see in the future.

What was it about Roger and Chris's pitch that drew you into Leverage?

Well, it's kind of not how it happened. Basically what happened was I had made a series of movies for TNT called "The Librarian," and when the second one was finished we were promoting it when Michael Wright, the head of the network, turned to me and said, "When do I get a series out of you?" And I had said to him, "It seems to me right now that the fashion is these very dry, edgy, dark procedurals -- and I find those shows to be very compelling to watch, but I don't think I'd have much fun making it." So Michael said, "Well, what kind of show would you like to make?" I said, "I've always wanted to do a show about high-tech thieves who act as modern-day Robin Hoods." And Michael went, "Sold!" And I said, "But I haven't pitched you the show yet," and he goes, "Sold! Go find writers and go make it work!"

So I called up John Rogers, who's literally my favorite writer on the planet, and I pitched him the idea. And he said to me, "You're not going to believe this. Just this morning I was with my friend Chris Downey, and we were saying how we were desperate to reinvent the heist show." I said, "Well, this is a perfect marriage." So we got together, worked on the idea, went back to TNT, they signed off on it, and we made the show.

The series has just been renewed for a fifth season. As a fan, I'm elated, but I have to guess that even this long of a run has exceeded a lot of people's expectations.

Every year we always assume that it's our last year. We always plan for it as though you never get another season. So it's just been a great surprise for us at the end of each season to say, "Hey, they want to do another one!"

And the ratings just keep going up every season. Given that you never know if you're going to get a renewal until the current season is almost wrapped, I guess you have to write the season finale as though it's truly "final." So I'm curious about the process of putting in a cliffhanger of sorts when you get the word that you do have another season coming, and when does the brainstorming start for the next season's overarching plotline?

You know, one of the things John and Chris and I talked about very early on in season one was the idea of not really doing cliffhangers -- that the end of each season should always be a complete meal. One thing, you never know if you're going to be back, but two, we never really liked this idea of dangling this carrot and saying, "Come back next year, please!" We wanted our viewers, if they'd stuck with us for an entire season, they got a big banquet at the end of the year -- a reward for their loyalty.

Now, we've had some things in the final episode that are teasers for the next year, but they're never really these gigantic cliffhangers. We've kind of rejected that as a concept for this show.

So it's very possible that, had the show not been renewed at the end of season two, Nate Ford would have gone to jail and there he'd have stayed?

Well, at the end of season two, the ending is not him being arrested, really, for us. The ending was him saying, "I'm a thief." And for us, that was a real arc of journey, because the whole point up until then was he was the "honest man," they were thieves. And in the end of season two, when he's laying on that deck, and the guy says, "Who are you?" and he says, "I'm Nathan Ford. I'm a thief." That, for us, was really the completion of that part of the arc. If it had never gone on from there, we think that would have been a nice story to tell.

Are there any episodes coming with this next season where you'll be doing the script writing (because I know you've written one already), and if you do write another one, what kind of target would you like the team to take down?

(Laughs) Well, I've been blessed with such amazing writers on this show that it's much more fun to me to come up with an idea or a concept and just walk into the room, throw it on the table, and then watch what it becomes. Every year we get a whole new flock of debut writers, and those guys, mixed in with the guys who've been doing this show create such a good energy and such excitement that... for me, that's much more exciting.

There was an episode, I think it was in season two, where... My mother-in-law told me she was going to go see a psychic. And we got in a big argument about it. And I realized I was not going to be able to convince her that this was a bad idea. So instead, I walked into the writers' room the next morning, and I said, "Let's do an episode exposing psychics." (Laughs) And all of a sudden a really tremendous episode came out of it.

So that for me is a lot more fun than actually having to sit down at that computer and come up with fifty pages of episode.

So do you have anybody now in your sites you'd like to take down, now that the psychics have been exposed?

The lovely thing about our show is that there is no short supply of horrible corporate bad guys. (Laughs) They seem to pop up every single week! The problem that we always have is that the guys in real life are so unbelievable that if we put it on the show no one would buy it! So we haven't had any lack of targets.

I almost half entertained the notion that the entire Dominique Strauss-Kahn/IMF ordeal was somebody pulling a Leverage on him.

That's one of the most tweeted things that we see -- people saying, "Can you find me a Leverage team to take these guys down?"

Are there any more "Librarian" films coming in the future?

We're hoping to. We're trying to work it out. Noah [Wyle] would like to do it. TNT would like to do it. I'd like to do it. There's some contractual complications that we're trying to work our way through. But... there will be another "Librarian" movie, either as a movie-of-the-week or as a feature film.

Are you going to be doing any more acting, maybe doing a Stephen King like cameo in an episode of Leverage?

If there's a God in Heaven, then no. (Laughs) I don't like to think of myself as a former actor, I like to think of myself as a reformed actor. Every day, in every way, I get better and better. (Laughs)