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Jane EspensonJane Espenson - "Torchwood : Miracle Day" Tv Series - Tor.com Interview
Monday 11 July 2011, by Webmaster
Jane Espenson is the talented and prolific writer/producer best known for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as well as throughout the Whedonverse), Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, and most recently, Game of Thrones. Now, she turns her talents to the popular British sci-fi franchise, Torchwood, in its latest incarnation, Torchwood: Miracle Day, a UK/US co-production that will premiere on Starz here in the U.S. tomorrow at 10 PM.
She seems to be everywhere these days, and not only has a writer credit on more of Miracle Day’s 10 episodes than any other writer save Russell T. Davies himself, but she’s also hard at work co-executive producing an upcoming fairy tale-inspired show called Once Upon a Time, and is even joining the webseries ranks! However, as busy as she is, like many other lesser-known writers (*ahem* *looks away sheepishly*), she always has time for Twitter, often using it to answer questions about writing, encourage other writers in half-hour writing sprints, or take pictures of/talk about/salivate over what she’s having for lunch.
I thought, the best way to pin down this busy lady would be to interview her via her social media platform of choice! 10 questions, 10 answers, each no more than 140 characters. Here’s everything you wanted to know about Jane’s work on Torchwood crammed into tasty, bite-sized morsels.
@JaneEspenson Tell us a little about your favorite episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day that you’ve written and why it stands out for you?
@TeresaJusino Fave I did write: ep 5 or 7. Can’t decide. 5 has an amazing dark story and 7 is sweeping and special. Russell helped both turn out great.
What’s your favorite episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day that you didn’t write? Why?
I haven’t seen all the ones I didn’t write. They just send you your own. But I did see ep 2, written by Doris Egan - Fantastic, tense.
Describe what Russell T. Davies is like to work with.
Russell is positive and bubbly. He’s always saying Hooray, and meaning it. At the same time, not afraid to make you dig deep. Love him!
Who is your favorite character on Torchwood - either from Miracle Day, or any of the previous seasons - and why?
I love Gwen. So real and grounded and human. She makes you see that heroism has a deep cost — nothing ever feels glib.
Who is your least favorite Torchwood character - again, from either the upcoming, or previous seasons - and why?
Least favorite - well, Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes is horrible, but that’s the point. You can’t look away from him. Great performance.
Have you visited Cardiff at all? If so, what were your impressions? Any favorite places?
I have never had a chance to go to Wales. I would love to. If everyone is like Russell, it must be a happy place!
Have you gotten around to watching any Doctor Who yet? (Not that I care. It’s only THE BEST SHOW EVER. But, you know, whatever.)
I have seen some Doctor Who now! It’s amazing. Maybe Brit TV isn’t as scared of true Sci Fi as US TV sometimes is. They proudly go!
How is Once Upon a Time coming along?
Once is great! I like the story telling here. There’s always a reason to tell each story. A genuine theme. Polished, funny, smart.
Will you be writing any more Game of Thrones?
I’d love to write more Game of Thrones. Those guys are amazing.
It seems like you’re always working! Do you ever take vacations?
I haven’t had a vacation in a while. I’m writing a web series called Husbands now. Maybe after that?
With hundreds of thousands of people attending San Diego Comic-Con every year and the July 20-24 event quickly approaching, The Hollywood Reporter chatted with the big names in television to discuss their favorite memories and tips for attending the annual event. THR’s Live Feed will talk Comic-Con with actors, writers and producers in the days leading up to the event so check back soon for interviews and the latest news on panels and screenings.
Geek Cred: Torchwood, Warehouse 13, Game of Thrones, Caprica, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, Tru Calling, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Upcoming: Starz’s Torchwood: Miracle Day, ABC’s Once Upon a Time (details TBA)
Comic-Con panels: Torchwood: Miracle Day, Friday, July 22, 10 a.m. Ballroom 20; Once Upon a Time, Saturday, July 23
THR: How long have you been attending Comic-Con? Espenson: I’ve only been to four or five of them. I first went during the run of Buffy, but I haven’t ever gone consistently. I go when I’m invited, when I feel like I have a good reason to be there.
THR: What’s the best thing a fan has said to you at Comic-Con? Espenson: Sometimes someone gets me confused with someone else, and I’ll get something like, "I loved your episode of Mad Men." I’m usually pretty far into the thank you before it registers. I don’t know if it’s the "best" thing, but it’s pretty funny.
THR: What’s one thing that stands out from your first Comic-Con? Espenson: I was overwhelmed! All I remember was the sense of noise and motion and size and crowds. But two years ago I actually bought new shoes nearby since the first pair I brought just were not up to the amount of walking required.
Comic-Con 2011: The TV Lineup
THR: What makes a kick-ass panel? Espenson: Smile. If I have a good time, I sort of figure the audience will, too.
THR: What questions do you recommend fans not ask at panels? Espenson: Ones like, "What’s coming up on Torchwood." I’m happy to tell you about the experience of being involved, but I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience of watching it unfold.
THR: What tips do you have for Comic-Con first-timers? Espenson:Wear comfy shoes and don’t over-schedule yourself. Take breaks.
THR: If you were to attend in costume, what would it be? Espenson: I would love to be done up as one of the aliens from Alien Nation — the big head and such. If someone did a really professional job, I think it would be amazing to look in the mirror and see that.
Torchwood: Miracle Day premieres on Starz tonight at 10pm, asking what would happen to sex, religion, politics, and the health care system in a world where no one can die—but everyone can feel pain and continue to suffer from disease. As the action moves to the United States, I talked to veteran TV writer Jane Espenson about what it was like to come on to the famous franchise, what she’s learned about writing political science fiction from her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica, and writing a scene where the immortal Captain Jack Harkness and policewoman-turned-alien investigator Gwen Cooper lay it all on the table. I’ll have an interview with Eve Myles, the wonderful Welsh actress who plays Cooper, up in a couple of hours.
What were some of the challenges of bringing Torchwood to the U.S.? Were there things that you thought it was possible to do on Starz that weren’t possible on the BBC? Certainly, the show is somewhat more sexually explicit in a way I think that really works, but I don’t know if there were other things that airing on a different channel made possible. One thing Eve Myles mentioned when we talked to her is the way Torchwood‘s sort of found its stride when it’s able to fit long arcs into a number of episodes appropriate to it: do you think it’s worth it for other American shows to explore shorter seasons, or seasons of variable length on purpose?
I never wrote for the show when it was on the BBC, but I think the freedoms there in terms of language and sexuality are much more on a par with the rules at Starz they would be with a major US broadcast network. I think writers who had worked for the BBC writing Torchwood would have probably felt pretty constrained by some of the network restrictions. Being limited to only the mildest of epithets and making everyone keep all their clothes on—that’s no way to tell a tense and sexy thriller! And yes, I love the idea of developing stories with an eye toward the number of episodes that fit the story. It’s not often that something is both obvious and revolutionary, but that is. Yes, it would be fantastic if that became something that was implemented here.
How did you settle on the health care plot arc? How do you think it’ll resonate in the U.S. and the U.K., which are in very different stages on the road to universal health care?
Russell had the story seed already planted in his brain when I was brought on board, and he’d already thought through a lot of the implications. Then, as a group, we discussed it all at even greater length. Then we brought in a doctor and discussed it all again, and every time it just felt better and deeper and more important. I think it will resonate with US audiences in particular since the warring opinions on health care are so remarkably far apart. I’m less familiar with the UK system, but I knew that Russell obviously had an instinct for what would resonate there.
Speaking of health care, Miracle Day is an exceptionally political program in the way it takes on everything from safe sex to the death penalty. What have you learned from other shows you’ve worked on, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Battlestar Galactica, about balancing political themes and human drama? And the extent to which human drama is political?
I’ve learned that the human drama has to be there. If you write a political theme so that it makes you laugh or cry, then you’ve got something—a story with real implications for the world that people are actually going to care about and remember. So it’s not really a matter of “balancing them” against each other, but making them be the same thing. I think that’s what you’re getting at with your last question about human drama being political. I would’ve said it the other way around, that politics is really human drama, but maybe that’s the same thing?
I loved seeing Gwen in ferocious, protective mother mode-were there any influences you looked to as you thought about transitioning this character into the next phase of her life? I’d be curious what you think of The Killing, another show with a mother who is perhaps more committed to her work than to her child.
I didn’t see The Killing, but I love hearing that was a theme in it, since I think it’s an interesting topic. I totally understand what it is to try to balance parts of your life so that you manage to feel guilty all the time—no matter what you’re doing, you know some part of your life is going untended. It’s funny though, I never thought of it as a new phase for Gwen other than in the details. She already suspected that she had a sort of unhealthy attachment to Jack and Torchwood, and a guilt over the price she was paying. This is the same thing, just with the heat turned way up.
What was it like coming in as a writer and taking on Jack and Gwen’s relationship? In a pop culture environment where the assumption is that men and women can’t be friends because they secretly always want to sleep with each other, is balancing the friendship and camaraderie between the two of them a challenges? How do you think they differ from the standard will-they-or-won’t-they pair? Eve’s hinted that those two characters “lay it all on the table” this season, so I’m excited to see what you have planned!
It was THRILLING! I love them both so much—writing these two characters is what made me go all giddy at the prospect of writing for the show. Getting to write for them was really a dream come true. Balancing the friendship and camaraderie was a challenge just because Russell writes their relationship so well, and I felt I had to rise to that level, but not because there was anything tricky about keeping them from crossing any kind of line with each other. I felt I understood the depths of their feelings for each other—what their relationship is and what it isn’t. I guess… it’s like… relationships have flames inside them and sometimes they may flare up, and sometimes they may burn steady and warm, and sometimes both people get burned, and it’s all so much more complicated than will-they-or-won’t-they. To continue to throw metaphors into the pot: that’s just one axis in a relationship, and theirs has about five other axes running through it. And when they do lay it all on the table, in an episode I was fortunate enough to write, it’s about all of that stuff. Love and trust and home and guilt and life and all their opposites. Anyone who goes in hoping for a simple definition of what they are to each other, is going to get a lot more than that. I hope people feel that it rings true. It certainly did to me. When characters have been developed and acted this well, writing doesn’t feel like inventing, but like digging and I hope I dug well. And I hope you dig it, too.