EXCLUSIVE Charlie Jade interview: the co-creator

SFX 162 is in newsagents now, and UK readers will have their free DVD of the first episode of Charlie Jade. So before the show kicks off on the FX Channel on 5 October, here's an interview with one of the men who created the series, Robert Wertheimer.

SFX: Was the science fiction element “harder” in the development stage?
Robert Wertheimer: “We felt for television regardless of the bedrock of technology, you make your money with the characters, who people can relate to - regardless of warp engines, Star Trek would have failed if viewers didn’t identify with Spock and Kirk.”

SFX: Did it take much work getting your concept to a place where it wouldn’t confuse viewers?

RW: “Once we started we realised we were doing television that was truly unique and very sophisticated, and we knew from test screenings that when people are eating ice cream, every time they dipped their spoon and averted their eyes from the screen they were missing a clue, because everything that’s happening in the universes is related. So what we did to assist the viewers was an an awful lot of work with colour, and we also put a lot of labelling on the show.”

SFX: Did you look for inspiration from other science fiction?

RW: “Absolutely. We would sit around and look at certain films that had impressed us, and of course there’s a homage to Blade Runner in the beginning and the way that we open the piece to pay homage to Ridley Scott, who is the godfather – there is only one Blade Runner for a reason. Minority Report was also important to me, and there was a whole host of films that we looked at for stylistic reference. But what we really tried to do was to branch out after we paid homage to Ridley Scott.”

SFX: Why did you decide to make water such a key commodity in the Charlie Jade universe?

RW: “We felt that we wanted to identify what would be the most valuable commodity. At one point, Charlie asks, ‘What’s the most valuable thing in the universe,’ and someone replies, ‘Platinum.’ Charlie says, ‘No, the only of thing of value in the universe is time.’ Now, we couldn’t use time because we didn’t want to do a time travel show, and I looked around and I realised, especially living by the Great Lakes of Canada, that water is going to be the commodity of the future that’s going to be of great value, and that it’s truly abused and taken for granted, and anything else felt hollow by comparison - any precious metal, oil or gas frankly had been done. I was looking for a fresh angle.”

SFX: Did shooting in South Africa give the show a different vibe?

RW: “Absolutely. The different locations gave the show a freshness, so it didn’t look like London or Toronto or Los Angeles. That was priceless. And also access to the South African talent pool. There’s a certain quality to being in South Africa. The light is different from anywhere in America, and from a filmmaking point of view it’s remarkable.”

SFX: Was it important to you that Charlie Jade be a reluctant hero?

RW: “We wanted to make Charlie as flawed a hero as we could, and we just felt that was more realistic, and less stereotypical. We just felt that Charlie needed to go through transitions and needed to learn. I made him very cynical and very hard edged in the beginning - he’s a conflicted character, and I think that is the core of why he’s so watchable. And let’s face it, Jeff Pierce is Charlie Jade. Jeff did such a remarkable job portraying this character, and never has a producer had a more helpful, cooperative and committed actor to work with.”

SFX: How did the character of bad guy 01 Boxer come about?

RW: “I developed him as a fairly stereotypical villain, and I’ve got to tell you, 01 Boxer is 15 per cent me, and 85 per cent Michael Filipowich. He brought so much to the role. The wardrobe, and the hair, and the quirks… Michael’s one of the most gifted actors a person could be blessed to work with, and I was scared shitless because we didn’t clear with the broadcaster a lot of the quirks of his character. He just brought it.”

SFX: How do you feel about returning to the Charlie Jade universe?

RW: “I’ve written a couple of scripts for a new season. We were defeated from being renewed, not by the broadcaster here, but because of financing and funding problems in South Africa, because as you know under an international co-production they’re required to put up their percentage, in this case half the money, and our partners in South Africa were unable to provide the financing so we were unable to continue.”

SFX: Is there some unfinished business?

RW: ”Yes and no. Because of the uncertainty of the future we’ve designed the finale in such a way that it really closes things and yet leaves things wide open. We went way out on a limb…”

You can read more about Charlie Jade in SFX 162, on sale now (find out more about the issue here ). You can also read an exclusive interview with Michael Filipowich, who plays bad guy 01 Boxer, by clicking here , and an interview with Charlie Jade himself, Jeffrey Pierce, here .