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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:







I first met Javier Grillo-Marxuach at San Diego Comic-Con during a signing for THE MIDDLEMAN. I had loved the book and given it a rave review, but that wasn’t unusual- people everywhere were grooving on it. What was unusual was that Javi took one look at my badge, recognized my name, and gave me an enthusiastic, appreciative welcome. THAT made an impression. The man was currently writing and producing one of the hottest television shows on the air (LOST) but still had the attention to detail for those who had been kind to his other work. I even learned how not to butcher the pronunciation of his name- it was the least I could do. Since then, he’s written comics as part of Marvel’s ANNIHILATION event and for Dynamite Entertainment’s CLASSIC BATTLESTAR GALACTICA line, and was the head honcho on Patricia Arquette’s MEDIUM for a while. Now, the comic that put him front and center with fandom, THE MIDDLEMAN, has made the jump to TV series on ABC Family, starting June 16th. He recently was kind enough to chat with CWR about his career and the show.

MM: Javier, thanks for joining us. Let's start by going back a bit. When did the writing bug first bite you?

JGM: That's an easily pinpointed one - at the age of seven after seeing "Star Wars." The moment i found out that someone actually wrote and directed it, that people could make a living doing it, and that there were even schools where you could learn how, pretty much the course for the rest of my life was set in stone.

MM: What type of writing did you see yourself doing? Were you always thinking to be a screenwriter?

JGM: I always imagined I would write features - and so it was until the summer of '93...USC graduated me with a Masters Degree, but i was working at a Kinko's in Burbank, and my thesis script - a 120 million dollar futuristic political thriller with a fifty-five year old Puerto Rican cop as the leading character wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. At that time, I got the opportunity to interview for a junior executive position at NBC - and within a year, I had been promoted and was working as a Network Executive on a bunch of shows, including seaQuest, Earth 2 and Law & Order...it was during that time that I learned all about television, how it was made, how great (and not-so great) shows came to be and so on - and more importantly, the role that writers have as the stewards of the creative vision of a television series. Needless to say, it wasn't long before I had fallen in love with the medium, and resumed my writing career, albeit on the small screen.

MM: Did you read comics as a kid? What type of influence did they have on you?

JGM: Where do I begin? I was a comic-reading junior and high schooler during the first runs of The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen, the indy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars...it was an incredibly heady time, and you could feel a certain energy gathering a round the medium - a kind of heady sense that new paths were being blazed. Also, you can't discount the importance of the Mad magazine of the late seventies (and the reprints of their earlier material) - back then, Mad magazine had a true satirical bent, and every issue was like a little anti-establishment primer. I can't think of a single college-level course that taught me how to screen truth from lies in media with the laser-sharp focus of the Gaines years Mad magazine.

MM: Tell me about your first script experience. Was it SEAQUEST DSV? How did you feel when you saw the finished product on screen?

JGM: Mortifying. My first script was this truly, truly awful story about a disaster in an underwater train - a train that went from San Francisco to Beijing through the volcanic ring of fire in the south pacific...because THAT'S sound engineering right there...I sweated bullets over the story and never quite found a way to make it work, so it was extensively rewritten, and by the time it went on air, it somehow included a massage scene and a dance sequence. On the bright side, it set an early tone for my career as an ongoing search for redemption.

MM: You've gone on to work on a number of shows, and you seem to have a flair for genre work (DARK SKIES, VAN HELSING CHRONICLES, CHARMED, THE PRETENDER, THE DEAD ZONE, JAKE 2.0, MEDIUM, LOST). Is that by reputation or by choice? Do you have a preference about what type of show you prefer writing?

JGM: A lot of it is by choice - you tend to go out for jobs on shows you like, or would watch - and my twelve years as a TV writer have bridged a few mini sci-fi renaissances, so I have had the chance to work on a lot of shows that reflect my predilection for genre. Whenever I am out of genre, I truly feel constrained...I find myself praying that I can find a way to bring aliens or vampires into the plot, which is never a good thing on a show like "Boomtown!"

MM: MIDDLEMAN was conceived as a spec pilot and at the time you were unable to sell it. What was the process like that first time around? Were you frustrated or angry that people weren't "getting" it?

JGM: I was - at the time, my agent (who remains my agent to this day, and who has been a tremendously good influence on me, by the way) felt that genre shows were ghettoized, and that the best career path for TV writers was to go after 10 o'clock shows in order to gain respect before striking out into the sci-fi world. I didn't necessarily agree with this, but I understood it...and, to be frank with you, it wouldn't have been the right time for me to get this show done. The Middleman is very quirky and specific to my own voice; you have to be in a very steady and secure place in your career to be able to produce a show that has this level of personal specificity. This is definitely the right time, the right network and the right time for me as a producer.
 

MM: How did you hook up with Viper Comics? Did they put you together with Les McClane or did you find him first and then shop the property?

JGM: The wonders of the internet, my friend. Les and I didn't meet in person until the month the first book came out (during the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con). We did it all on the web, via email and phone. I had read Les's comic Highway 13 and loved it, so I wrote him, and we made a deal to do a pitch together based on the first twelve pages of the script. We then put that together with the script and shopped it to a few indy companies - Viper had always been one of my favorites and, much to my delight, they were the first to get it and the first to bite. I can't say enough good things about the shop Jessie Garza runs over there - solid people with a true love of comics and the independent aesthetic...we had a deal in days from the submission, and the rest is, well, not necessarily history, but something like it.

MM: The book was a huge critical success right away and sales were good enough to spawn two sequels. Did you feel validated by the support you got for the comic version? How long did it take before the studios came sniffing around?

JGM: I sort of held it close to the vest, at the time the book came out, I was busy with Lost and a few other things, so I didn't really entertain any offers for it. I just sort of waited until I was ready to develop it my way, and we (my agents and I) took it to a few networks we thought would be sensitive to my desire to do the series my way - true to my vision and true to the comic book.

MM: Were you cautious about optioning the property? Did you put any conditions on it? What made ABC Family the right place to take the show?

JGM: They are a young, aggressive network that wants to develop signature shows that stand out. Ultimately, they bought into it, not just the young protagonist part of it, or the sci-fi of it, but the entire package, the weirdness, the anarchic leaps in style, everything that makes The Middleman… The Middleman. It's not as if you can go to a network and say "I will only do the show if you let me do it exactly the way I want" - it's a partnership, they give you many millions of dollars to do the show, and they get to weigh in and tell you how they want it. When you sell a series, you have to make sure that you have a shared vision. ABC Family was the place that understood the vision and had the courage to just go for it...and when you see our third episode, which is the same story as Volume Two (of the graphic novel series), down to the masked wrestlers, you will see what I mean!

MM: Now you've got a 13-episode commitment and a show to run that you created. How does it feel seeing your characters brought to life after all this time?

JGM: It's the best thing ever. Honestly, I have developed a few pilots and worked on many series, but this is the best experience of my career: to be trusted to create something and be given the latitude to do it on this level is one of the most extraordinary things to have ever happened to me, and I am grateful for it every day.

MM: Talk about the casting process a bit if you would, please. How did you find Natalie Morales and Matt Keeslar, and what made them jump out at you for the roles of Wendy and The Middleman?

JGM: Matt has been The Middleman since I saw him in the Whit Stillman movie "The Last Days of Disco;" he just didn't know it. For years I kept wondering who could possibly play the part - then I saw that movie and found the guy. It was that simple, and it's a good thing he was game to do it! Natalie came to us through the casting agents, Amy Britt, Anya Coloff and Michael Nicolo (they also cast Buffy, Angel and Firefly, so they know what they are doing) - the complexity of the dialogue and the rhythm and cadence of the language really chewed up a lot of the actresses who read for the part, but Natalie has an effortless confidence that came through every step of the way. She truly is a natural!

MM: Has it been weird to have other writers working on the show and plotting out stories for your characters?

JGM: It's a relief, actually. It's very tempting to fall into the well of thinking that only I can write this show - but to see others doing it, and doing it well is actually a validation to me. It means that I have created a vision that can be shared - a vision that others can understand - and assembled a team that can execute it...honestly, if it was all up to me, we'd be in real trouble!

MM: You have an Emmy and a WGA award. You've got your own show on the air. You're a popular and respected comic book writer. When you look back 12 years or so to your early career, are you where you expected to be? Doing better? Still chomping at the bit to achieve some goals?

JGM: Actually, my parents have all the awards - they get a lot more mileage out of having them in the house than I do, and they did send me to film school, so it seems a fair trade-off.

All I truly want is the luxury to keep doing exactly what I do. Writing for television - and creating shows - is a privilege. It is hard work that begets more hard work, but the work is also its own reward. Not everybody gets to put their ideas across this large a canvas - and to have a dedicated team of people whose job it is to execute their vision. Every day that I get to go to work and do this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. You always want bigger and better, of course, but the trick is to focus on the here and now, and for me, the here and now is a place where I get to make a show that I love. It's great.

MM: Are there opportunities you've passed up or ones you wish you'd gotten? For instance, I always figured you were a perfect candidate for the GALACTICA staff and was surprised you never wound up there.

JGM: Me too!

I dunno, some things just don't come to pass, or sometimes people just don't like your writing, even if to the outside eye, it looks like a dead-solid match. For example, I was also close to getting a job on The X-Files back in the mid nineties and didn't get it, even thought it was something I wanted very badly: maybe they liked someone else's work more, or maybe I gave a crappy meeting - who knows? The simple truth is that there are hundreds of people up for every single staff job on every single TV show...and that staffing a show is more like casting than it is like shopping, you need the right mix of skills, styles and personalities... maybe on all those shows, I just wasn't the right guy.

As far as things I have passed up or haven't gotten, the god's honest is I dwell on doing the jobs I am offered, doing them to the best of my ability and being able to say I did my best...everything outside that is a drag on your focus and talent. You just have to do what's in front of you.
 

MM: What do you have coming up in your comics work? Are you lightening your load a bit because of your duties as showrunner?

JGM: "The Middleman" has pretty much eaten my life! I will most certainly go back to doing comics, but I am not certain when...right now, I am kinda focused on getting out the compendium edition of "The Middleman" and making sure that the work I did with Les is collected in a way that will live on a for a while. I truly love the work we did, and am very excited that Viper is collecting it and making sure it stays out there as a companion to the TV show.

MM: Thanks for your time, sir- we greatly appreciate it. May the Nielsens be kind!

JGM: Thank you, Marc. You have been a great supporter of "The Middleman" from the beginning and that means a lot to me!

Marc Mason

 



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