Interview:Adam Armus and Kay Foster
On January 15, 2008, Ryan Gibson Stewart conducted an interview with Adam Armus and Kay Foster. Adam and Kay are both producers for Heroes, and have been writing partners for a number of years. Together, they wrote Homecoming, Run!, and The Line.
Ryan Stewart: So you two have been writing partners for some time now.
Adam Armus: Yes. We've been writing partners since about '94. I think '94 was our first gig on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. We've been together a long time, going on fourteen years now. We met in the waning days of our former careers. Kay was selling furniture at the time--
Kay Foster: --I was a sales and marketing rep for a furniture company--
AA: --and I was a lawyer. We were both dismissed from our jobs. Her company closed down. My law firm department closed down. So we were both out of jobs. We both took a screenwriting class together. UCLA has these adult extension courses where adults can go back to school and learn specific things. We both took a class and that's where we met.
RS: When was that?
KF: Probably in '91 or '92. Both of our companies closed because of the recession.
RS: And you hit it off immediately?
[at the same time] AA: Yeah. KF: No.
KF: Ah, I'm just saying that. We wanted to write sitcoms. That's really the class we were in and how we started out. We wanted to be funny. And...
AA: ...and we failed miserably. [all laugh] We both were writing sitcom scripts, and we realized that the stories we each had combined together to make a good script. So we combined our stories together and we submitted a script to the Warner Bros. New Comedy Writers Workshop, which is the let's-discover-new-people thing that Warner Bros. does. I'm not sure if they're still doing it, but they did it back then. It was basically them trying to find new talent. If you are successful, they place you, and you could get jobs, agents, and things like that. So we got into that program and from there we got our first gig on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
RS: Wow. That's quite a first gig!
KF: It was a good first gig.
AA: It was a great first gig. We had a lot of hands on experience. In those days, the days of Hercules in syndication, there was not a lot of studio or network involvement in anything. It was basically us doing our thing. We really cut our teeth and learned how to write television from Hercules, and also Xena. We did a number of Xena: Warrior Princesses.
KF: More Xenas.
RS: And those are definitely not sitcoms.
KF: Definitely not.
AA: We were not funny, as I said.
KF: We just weren't funny enough.
AA: We actually wound up writing a number of the humorous Xena episodes. We tend to write funny in whatever we do, or try to put a little humor in everything we do. In almost every show we've worked on, we've tried to infuse a little humor. So we don't write sitcoms, but we try to be as funny as we can.
KF: We like sitcoms...but we can't write them.
RS: You two wrote a musical episode for Xena: Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire. What was it like writing a musical?
AA: It was actually kind of fun because we worked with Joe LoDuca who did the music for Xena. We just worked carefully with him. We kind of had an idea of the songs we wanted to use, and our producers gave us a number of songs that they were buying the rights to. So it was about trying to craft a story around music that we were doing. And we also got a chance to write some lyrics to what was known as "The Joxer Song", so that was a lot of fun.
KF: And it was silly--totally silly--which we liked. And we got to work with Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who have gone on to be big time screenwriters. That was really fun.
RS: So how did you get involved in Heroes?
AA: We got a call from our agent saying that Tim Kring wanted to meet us, that Tim Kring had read our work. We sort of tangentially knew Jesse Alexander, who was already hired on the show, and I think he put in a good word for us, too, because we have friends in common. So Tim read our work and said he wanted to meet us. So we went in, had an interview, and he said, "You're hired!" Well not there on the spot, but our agent called us later and told us the meeting went well and that we got the job.
RS: That's great. And the first episode you wrote was Homecoming. That was a big episode! It was the culmination of a major prophecy, and everything sort of built up to that episode in a way. What was the pressure like?
AA: You know, we had no idea the pressure we were under. We had no idea. We just knew that we wanted it to be a culmination. We actually wanted it to be even bigger than it was when we first set out to do it because we knew a lot of things were coming to a head. At the time we wrote it, the show had not premiered yet, so we had no idea whether or not this was going to be a big hit, or whether or not people were going even going to be interested in the things we were leading up to. But we did feel a sense of responsibility. We had a lot of fun with it.
RS: So tell me about writing Homecoming, then. There were a couple of big storylines in that episode. For instance, it wasn't the first time we had heard of Sylar, but it was--
KF: --it was the first time we actually saw him. We got to cast him, which was really fun. We were in the casting session for that.
AA: We helped cast Zach Quinto, which we think was a boon. A great find.
RS: Yes, good choice! And on behalf of many many fans, thank you for doing that!
RS: What was it like writing for Sylar's character, then?
AA: At the time of Homecoming (since then, of course, it's changed), he was just a shadowy figure.
KF: You didn't even really see him, did you?
AA: Well, you did that one time he was taken down.
KF: Vaguely, though.
AA: What I remember thinking was that we wanted to dramatically show his face. So at the very beginning of the episode, he was all in shadow. Then I remember at the time he was in the locker room when he was actually slicing off the top of Jackie's head--
KF: --we kept him in shadow.
AA: We kept him in shadow, except for his eye.
KF: Right right right.
AA: We had the light right on his eye. We said, "Okay, we're going to show you his eye. And maybe that's all you're going to see." Then at the very end, we actually showed him full face, but with the hat on, which kept his face in more shadow, but that's when he was taken down. It was sort of a dramatic thing--we were slowly revealing the face of Sylar.
KF: --he was the director of photography for that episode.
RS: Well, he was saying how much of a challenge that scene was to light. Here was this very pale white woman who was supposed to be in light, a black man who was supposed to be in light, and then Zach Quinto who was supposed to be cloaked in shadow.
AA: I remember at the time that we actually changed the location at the last minute. Poor Nate, he was so pissed off. It was very important--we wanted him up on that hill where he was actually taken down. We didn't want him anywhere that people--or police officers--could have seen him. (Remember in a future episode, Matt Parkman came and investigated this thing). We wanted to make sure that Sylar seemed to disappear from out of nowhere. There were no footprints, or there was no way he could have gotten in a car and driven away, or anything like that. So it was very important that we did it in that very remote location. I'm sure we really made it hard for everybody.
RS: It was an exciting end to an exciting episode.
AA: I think it turned out really well.
KF: I think it's still my favorite.
AA: We had a great director, of course. And we had wonderful actors. We were just fortunate enough to tell stories that involved pretty much everyone. It was really a great experience.
RS: And then you wrote Run!
AA: Yes, Run!, which was our second episode of the first season. That was a fun experience, too. Roxann Dawson directed that episode, and she's a great lady. She was actually just nominated for an NAACP Image Award for that episode. That's great. And working on the episode was a really good experience. The storyline was very much a we're-going-to-connect-some-pieces-together episode. We were doing a lot of near misses and people seeing each other but not actually knowing each other. If you recall, there was a storyline where Suresh met Sylar for the very first time in that episode, but he had no idea it was Sylar. He was "Zane Taylor". At the same time, we had Nathan Petrelli coming and seeing the woman he slept with, and Claire never got to see his face either. There was a lot of almost coming together, or coming together but not realizing you're coming together.
RS: It was actually after seeing a promo for that episode that it hit me how many character connections there were on Heroes. I mapped them out a bit, and it's amazing to see how much the connections have grown over time.
AA: Yes! And we purposely do that. We purposely say, "Hey, this guy is here. Can he also be there, and can he also meet this guy that way?" We knew we wanted to make the world smaller, but we wanted to make it smaller in interesting ways, and connect characters that you didn't think were going to be connected.
KF: Making it totally unpredictable.
RS: You talked about Zane. Tell me more about that character and his interesting power.
AA: The power of goo! That's what we like to call it! [all laugh] Zane Taylor was actually named after my nephew.
RS: How sweet of you to name a doomed, dead character after your nephew. He must be so proud!
AA: He was very happy to have a power, but very unhappy to meet his demise the day we meet him.
KF: He doesn't like being dead.
AA: The power idea--the ability of Zane Taylor--came from Tim Kring. He wanted something that was sort of unpredictable, and kind of scary for the person who had it. If you remember, he covered his whole house in plastic. When you first met him, he was sitting on a couch sort of rocking back and forth. He wanted an ability that was sort of seemingly useless, which it kind of is, and also very strange and peculiar for whomever had it. That's what Zane Taylor was about.
RS: I have to disagree with you on the power being useless. Besides, of course, all the useful applications we've seen (like melting a wrench and a toaster), his power could be considered one of the most dangerous powers, especially in the hands of Sylar. If he puts his hand on a building--
AA: --Right! There goes the entire building! [laughs] The reason I called it seemingly useless is because he can melt it, he can change it to goo, but he can't do anything else. The way I look at it, it could be a power that could possibly evolve into something else. Maybe somebody could, with time, change something from goo, then reform it into some other kind of shape or matter--reconstruct it. That would be sort of the continuation of that power.
RS: That would definitely be an interesting development.
AA: Yeah, who knows? Maybe one day Sylar will have that. But for now, no.
KF: I think also that we were responding to the power because the special effects didn't really do justice to the power. It's no fault of the special effects guys: sometimes they come out really great-looking, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they're rushed if they have too many things to do. I think that kind of undermined our interest in pursuing that power.
AA: Yeah, they worked really hard on the melting of the toaster, I remember. The gooifying of the toaster. But on everything else, everything sort of came out sort of "fakey" looking. But it was really hard for them to do, much harder than we ever anticipated when we started talking about the ability.
RS: I enjoyed how you teased us with the power. We were really drawn in by his plastic-strewn house, and the puddles which were quite unidentifiable at first. I don't know how much of that was your writing and how much of that came from the design--
AA: No, we definitely wrote it that way. We definitely wrote it with the idea of the plastic--
KF: --make a little mystery.
AA: You try to put yourself in the mind of the person with the ability and say, if you actually have this ability, and didn't know where it came from, and didn't know what you were supposed to do with it, what would your life look like? And that's what we imagined Zane Taylor's life would look like.
RS: Even right at the scene break, Zane is about to use his power in front of Sylar, and then the scene cuts off. Aargh! You really want to see it! I think it was even more disturbing that the first time we actually saw it being used was when Sylar was using it, while under the guise of Zane.
KF: And he was wearing the t-shirt, did you notice that?
RS: Yes, the Ramones shirt! Not only that, but Zach Quinto took on some of Ethan Cohn's unique affects.
AA: Yeah, that's all Zach Quinto. That's all him understanding a character and getting inside of it. He's just an amazing actor. That's all Zach. I mean, we wanted him to Zane-ify Sylar, but we left it up to him exactly how to do that. And he was incredible.
RS: And creepy, especially with the dead body in the next room!
AA: Yes, we planned all that. Do you remember that, Kay? The idea of where he was coming out--
KF: --where it would be...Yeah.
AA: That was all planned out with Roxann. It was really about trying to make something like a thriller movie that you would see. Something that is sort of keeping you at the edge of your seat. Is he going to find him? What's going to happen? All that stuff.
RS: Well, a closeup of the obituary reveals that Zane was in a band that released three albums in one year: Godsend: We are Godsend, a live version called Godsend: We are Godsend Live, and a compilation named Godsend: We are the Best of Godsend.
AA: Well you know, that's all Ross, the guy who designs our props. He does a lot of things that are a lot of fun.
AA: Yes, that was our first episode of Season Two.
AA: What I'll say about that scene is that it was all shot in one day in this hotel room in Pasadena. It was the lobby of this hotel room in a beautiful old hotel. It was just amazing. It was like watching a great acting class because these two wonderful actors were doing their thing in a very small amount of space. The emotions that they conveyed from the beginning to the end of the story were just amazing. It was really interesting. It was one of the most interesting days on Heroes for me.
KF: Yes, definitely.
RS: That scene was both touching and heartbreaking, and was really wonderfully executed. Plus, it was just very cool, you know, for the fanboys.
AA: Great! Thank you.
KF: I'm so glad!
AA: Yes! Well, we have to thank all the fanboys who write for our show, Aron Coleite and Joe Pokaski. Kay and I are not big comic book guys, but we have a number of writers who are. We debated at length as to what we would actually call her ability. We took everybody's ideas. Then we arbitrated and finally came back and decided on adoptive muscle memory. We thought that was the best one.
RS: It's certainly better than "the power of goo"!
AA: Yes, exactly! But all of them deserve credit because they all work really hard on that stuff.
RS: The episode was dedicated to...
AA: ...It was dedicated to one of our location scout guys who passed away very suddenly, Tim Susco. I believe he had an aneurysm. Everyone decided that this would be the episode because he died during the making of the episode.
RS: What a wonderful gesture.
AA: Definitely, definitely. We sacrificed thirty seconds of story, but for us, it was like, "Of course!" He was a member of our Heroes family, so of course.
AA: Oh, that's wonderful!
AA: Thank you very much.
AA: We felt that the whole Hiro-in-Japan storyline was actually beginning to tread water a little bit, so we wanted things to begin happening. This was the penultimate episode in Japan. In the very next episode, Hiro would leave Japan and go back to present day. We (all of us as writers) decided that it was time for big things to be happening--big betrayals to happen. All the things that were going to happen were set up from the get-go when we decided to do the Hiro story. So we knew exactly where we were going. It was just a matter of executing it.
KF: We didn't know how, but we had an overall arc, which is what we worked with. And the specifics of that arc we work out in the room. So little things are worked out in the storyline as we go, which makes them seem more immediate and more real. I think it's a really interesting process that happens in the room.
KF: For instance, him enlisting the other army to turn against Hiro at the last minute--that's the kind of thing we think of in the room.
AA: Yes, and a lot of that stuff was all part of the story of the tapestry of Kensei the "Sword Saint". We had very big "maps" to go by as to how the story was going to go. But within that map, we had different ways to take. How were things going to appear? How was Kensei going to be betrayed by Hiro? How was that going to happen? What was Kensei going to do? How would Hiro ultimately have to battle Kensei? Who would be the dragon? Who was the dragon and who was Hiro? It was all very much subject to our interpretation as writers.
AA: --Yes! He wrote Sword Saint. It was conversations that we all had. Michael Green, who is one of the great writers on our show, had taken a trip to Japan over our hiatus between the two seasons. He came back with all this great Japanese folklore and all these great Japanese stories. So we all used those to create this wonderful, great story about the sword saint and the dragon, the ultimate foe. The question was, who was the dragon? I mean, if a Japanese story is told through the ages, and someone is determined to be a dragon, is it an actual dragon? Well no, not really. Someone would be the dragon. And the question is, who's the dragon? Is Kensei the dragon? Or is Hiro Kensei, and the Kensei we knew is actually the dragon? Does that make sense?
AA: Well, she's in Feudal Japan, where she belongs! [all laugh] But there was a story about Kensei and his love, and having to give up his love to the dragon. So the idea was that we wanted to create this mystery about who was Kensei, who would be in love with Yaeko, what love would be sacrificed. We wanted there to be sort of a love triangle, right from the get-go, between Kensei, Hiro, and Yaeko, who was the swordsmith's daughter. That's the way it all began. We cast this wonderful actress who we have a nice, sweet, little love story with. We very much made a Cyrano story of it. It's the very typical story of the guy with the big heart who is trying to prop up the hero and make him a hero--the man he always dreamed about and always read about and always thought was the greatest hero. Hiro believed it was his own responsibility to make Kensei the hero. What he didn't realize is that Hiro always lay inside of him, that Hiro was always Kensei, that the man he dreamed of (the hero who saved Japan) was always Hiro Nakamura himself.
RS: He was his own hero.
AA: We all share. We all write stories for each other on everybody's script. You've probably heard that from other writers on our show. I just remember Joe Pokaski's script, which was a few episodes after ours. There's a scene in the funeral of Hiro's mother where he sees his younger self. His younger self is pretending to be Kensei. He jumps out and says, "I am Takezo Kensei!" Hiro looks at him and says, "Yes. Yes, you are." Well I just remember writing those words and thinking exactly what you thought: it's the idea that for a little boy to not even understand that that's who he really is. It's really interesting.
RS: It's quite poetic actually. Later on, Kensei (or Adam) betrays Hiro, and he allied himself with Whitebeard. A few scenes later, when Peter and Caitlin go to the Montreal warehouse, you can see Whitebeard's flags in the background.
AA: Yes. Ruth Ammon is our set designer, and she's wonderful. We actually told her that part of this huge warehouse that Adam Monroe would have would have to have certain items from the days of Feudal Japan. So if you notice, there's also Takezo Kensei's armor in the background as well. It was basically a nod to the audience to say, "Hey, you all should know, if you were watching carefully, that this man is Takezo Kensei. You just don't know it yet."
RS: I like that. Tell me more about the warehouse.
AA: We imagined that a man who lives four hundred years needs a lot of space to keep the things he's collected over the past four hundred years. So we imagined that this warehouse is not where he lives, but where he stores the stuff that's important to him. And over those four hundred years, he's collected a number of things that are important to him.
KF: And some priceless stuff, too.
AA: Yeah, absolutely.
RS: Like what?
KF: Things that have never seen the light of day, really. Things that he's kept.
AA: Like amazing tapestries from Feudal Japan. Like beautiful artwork from the eighteenth century. Things that he's collected over time that are priceless.
KF: Right. Things that surpass monetary value.
RS: I like that. I'd like to see more of the warehouse. It seems like it's just chock full of "stuff".
AA: It's deceptive. It's actually our prop room at Heroes which we decorated to serve as a warehouse. On screen, it looks a lot bigger than it actually is. But who knows? If it becomes something that we're going to be pursuing, then we'll actually create the space to make a full-fledged warehouse.
KF: Totally. It used to be the police station.
AA: Yes. At one point it was a police station, then it was our prop warehouse, then it was the warehouse for Adam Monroe.
KF: I have a question for you. If this turns out to be the end of the second season, I'm wondering how you felt about the season in relation to the first.
RS: It wasn't quite as strong, but it still had many really nice strong moments. Personally, I like that it was shorter and more compact, and I like the idea of doing multiple volumes per season--I think it makes for much better storytelling. But I was really glad that you finally took Hiro out of Japan.
[together] AA: Yeah. KF: Yeah.
RS: I mean, here is this wonderful, fan favorite character, and he's put in a story that just lasted a little bit longer than it probably needed to.
KF: I think if we had sent off Ando with him, it might have been funnier and more enjoyable.
AA: We actually started making Ando part of it when Ando was in the museum reading about Hiro. We just missed that combination so badly. We missed them desperately. I'm glad they're back together again. I agree with you wholeheartedly that we didn't have enough going on in Feudal Japan to warrant seven episodes.
RS: For me personally, I enjoyed watching the parallels to Sword Saint and seeing how the trials were being realized and watching the legend in the making. It was exciting to me...on a fanboy level. But watching it each week, I found myself thinking, "Again?" But on a whole, I still enjoyed the season. The other thing I'll mention to you as producers is the character of Maya. I think she's a great character, but I wasn't fully vested in her story until she was connected to Sylar.
RS: Tim Kring said something very similar. People jumped on board with Elle right away partly because she was folded right into an existing storyline. However, Maya was given a separate storyline, and it didn't really get interesting, in my opinion, until she met Sylar; it was then that people seemed to latch on to her story a little easier.
AA: Yes. I remember breaking the stories for Maya, and I remember thinking that we need to do something because her on her own is not going to cut it. We wanted the Sylar meeting to come even faster. Episode three is when it came about, and I think that worked out fine. We were happy that she got into that story because he made all the difference in the world. Yeah.
RS: Beyond those few sticking points, I thought the season was terrific, everything from the Shanti virus, the eight paintings, the development of more than one person sharing an ability. The season also ended with two pretty good cliffhangers in Niki in a doomed building and Nathan being shot.
AA: Yes, it's going to be interesting!
RS: Can you say anything about the next pod of episodes?
AA: Well, we're not working now.
KF: When we say we're on strike, we're really on strike.
AA: We had a number of things mapped out: there's some more Sylar goodness and with Elle and all that stuff. We filmed a little bit of that. But for the big direction, we're going to have to figure out how many episodes we're going to do in Season Two if there is a Season Two, or if we're going to do it in Season Three. So we really don't know. We have some major ideas, but on a story level, there's still so many unanswered questions, and it really depends on how much time we have to develop a story.
RS: And as per the title of the next volume, there will be new villains?
AA: Yes, definitely. We definitely set up a few new villains. And there will be more new villains. You're going to see a lot of good guy versus bad guy on a very simple level when we come back. It's going to be really fun.
RS: At the Jules Verne Film Festival, a preview showed a few different scenes from upcoming episodes.
AA: Ah, yes! It was basically a clip show of things that we had filmed that we had begun for episode twelve, but we have not completed at all. They're little things that we know we're going to do and show, but we don't know exactly where they're going to lead yet.
RS: I was just happy to see that there was a lot of Angela Petrelli.
RS: Oh yes, definitely!
AA: Yes, there's a lot of Angela Petrelli. She's going to serve as a very important person in the future. That I can assure you.
RS: And there's a new villain named Knox?
RS: I'm interested to see what he's all about.
AA: Yes, it's going to be very interesting. All I can say about Knox is that he's a brute force.
RS: Interesting, indeed. Is there anything that you would like to add?
AA: I can add that we're having a blast! We're having a great time.
KF: I can add that we want to get back to work.
RS: You're not the only ones! [all laugh] I really hope the strike issues are resolved soon, not only so television can come back, but also so people can get what they deserve.
AA: I hope those fans aren't watching American Gladiators!
AA: That's so painful!
KF: They're getting ratings!
AA: It's very painful.
RS: Well, I hope that things are resolved soon, not just for your sake, but for the sake of all the other people affected in the entertainment business: directors, cameramen, assistants, etc.
KF: I think Adam and I figured out that for every one person on the writing staff, sixty people lost their jobs. That's the size of the production crew.
AA: Not to mention all the associated businesses that support our show. It's just countless. We desperately hope that the producers come back to the table so we can end this thing. It's not just for us, it's for a good portion of the city of Los Angeles. We're very hopeful.
RS: I hope so too. Adam and Kay, thank you so much for you time and for talking with me today. It was a lot of fun to talk to you.
KF: Thank you very much.
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