|Interview: CASTLE creator Andrew W. Marlowe tears down the cop show walls|
The executive producer talks characters, Nathan Fillion, inspiration and more
On ABC’s hit Monday night series CASTLE, currently in its third season and already renewed for a fourth, Nathan Fillion plays wealthy, successful mystery novelist Richard “Rick” Castle, who gains inspiration for his new heroine Nikki Heat by following around and helping, exasperating and flirting with NYPD detective Kate Beckett, portrayed by Stana Katic.
CASTLE was created by Andrew W. Marlowe, who serves as show runner and executive producer (with Laurie Zaks). In this exclusive interview, we talk with Marlowe about all things CASTLE.
ASSIGNMENT X: What was the genesis of CASTLE?
ANDREW W. MARLOWE: Well, I was primarily a feature writer [AIR FORCE ONE, END OF DAYS, HOLLOW MAN], and I was stuck in my ten-by-ten room, and I thought, wouldn’t it be great to get out of the room and actually do some of the things I was writing about? Just translating that notion to CASTLE seemed relatively friendly. What is it like to have a writer who has all this book information actually have to go out into the real world? There is also a part of me where I love the old murder mysteries.
The recent procedurals like CSI and LAW & ORDER are a little too dry for me, because it doesn’t really focus on the character, it focuses on the minutia of the law or the minutia of the evidence that I like to call “evidence porn,” because they show it in beautiful light to the music montage. What I was missing were the characters that I loved growing up on the shows like ROCKFORD and COLUMBO, MOONLIGHTING, all those great mysteries.
So between me wanting to get out in the world and do stuff and projecting that onto Castle and wanting to be part of a show that had great characters that felt like the shows that I loved growing up, I just came up with this idea. And of course, when you’re trying to do a relationship show, you want as much friction as possible between the main characters. You really do want the sparks to fly on both sides. So I thought, “Okay, well, if I was being followed around by somebody all day who thought that they knew better than me, I would be really annoyed.” And that was the genesis of the Beckett/Castle relationship. And it’s just been wonderful to see Nathan and Stana really bring it to life. They play it to the hilt.
AX: Do you think that Castle has a Jim Rockford quality?
MARLOWE: He has a little bit of the Jim Rockford quality, but I think Nathan’s really his own guy, and he’s coming up with his own way to do it for this particular role. I think Rockford is a little bit more world-weary and Castle’s really excited about the world, he’s really excited about things. He’s excited to be along for the ride. I think with Rockford, he was a little bit more laid back, kind of doing it for the money. If things got too difficult, he was happy to walk away. I think Castle is really fascinated by the mystery, by the puzzle of it all. Everything’s a story to him and he wants to figure out the story, he wants to figure out how things happen.
AX: Does writing a main character with that kind of attitude help give you and the other CASTLE writers a little more energy and fascination with what you’re doing?
MARLOWE: I think it does. I think a lot of the time, over in the writers’ room, we put ourselves in Castle’s shoes, and being writers and having our own imaginations, we ask, “Well, what would Castle do?” – well, what would we do as writers in that situation, and what information and background do we have to act in a particular way? That being said, Nathan’s brought Castle to life in such a unique and specific way that it all has to be filtered through that brand of humor, that irreverent attitude, and to be able to play it with charm, given that we’re dealing with dead bodies, so he doesn’t come across as being insensitive. And I think that Nathan’s really able to walk that fine line, and we’re able to write to it.
AX: Do you feel that Fillion’s FIREFLY fans have been instrumental in helping CASTLE’s ratings?
MARLOWE: I think that they’ve been very helpful. His FIREFLY fans are very devoted to him and we appreciate being able to share the same universe as them.
AX: Was the FIREFLY shout-out with Castle’s Halloween costume Nathan Fillion’s idea or your idea?
MARLOWE: It was actually the writer of the episode, Terry Miller, who brought the idea to us, because it was a Halloween episode and she felt it would be a natural way to honor Nathan’s fans. And we took it and ran with it, and Nathan was very excited, I was very excited by it, but that came from one of our writers [saying], “You know what would be cool?” And since it was a Halloween episode, we had the opportunity to honor a lot of our other actors’ backgrounds. Seamus [Dever], who had been on a soap opera [GENERAL HOSPITAL], played the doctor that he played on the soap opera in the costume scene, Jon Huertas, who was in GENERATION KILL, was dressed up in an Army outfit. So it was a lot of fun for us to be able to do that.
AX: Is there a type of mystery that you gravitate towards, in terms of novels or films out there that you’d say that are CASTLE-style mysteries?
MARLOWE: Well, I’m not sure I can point to something in TV or film. It’s more a mystery where, when you come across the body, you’re asking, what’s that story? It’s unusual enough that it would capture Castle’s imagination. Castle wouldn’t be interested in your normal, everyday, garden-variety murder, because he knows the story. He knows, “Okay, husband got mad at wife, he killed her.” We’re looking for mysteries that have more of a layer, something that will capture his imagination as a writer, so he’ll want to fill in the blanks. He’ll want to know how this person got here, who in their life was involved. And Beckett, being a really great cop, is looking for the cases that are a little bit more challenging.
So I think the murders we’re looking for are always the ones that are a little bit more heightened, not necessarily the street-level murders which suggest exactly who did it and why, but ones that lead us on a little bit more of a twisting path. I think probably the best way to describe it is murders that are a little bit more literary in nature.
AX: Which mystery writers do you read?
MARLOWE: I cut my teeth on the greats – Nero Wolfe, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, all the contemporary guys. Robert Parker is a terrific writer, Michael Connelly, I’ve read a lot of the [James] Patterson stuff. The Kellermans [Jonathan and Faye] are great fun in terms of mysteries. There are probably people I’m leaving out. I grew up in a household filled with books, and my parents were avid mystery readers and had great big collections, so that’s where I started. Of course, I started with the Hardy Boys, as we all did.
AX: Molly Quinn, who plays Castle’s daughter Alexis, said she also started with the Hardy Boys. Alexis has continued to evolve over the course of the series …
MARLOWE: Yes. And like any teenager, she’s going to have relationships. Of course, Castle has been encouraging her to spread her wings and fly, but of course, as soon as she does, he gets nervous and anxious, like any good father does. So we get to have some very interesting, complicated moments between father and daughter as she falls in love for the first time and starts dating.
AX: Is Molly Quinn going to be at the age of consent in real life before you deal with the issue of if/when Alexis will be intimate with a boyfriend?
MARLOWE: I’m very protective of both Alexis and Molly, and that’s not something I’m comfortable jumping into right now. Of course, it’s always going to be in the back of Castle’s mind as a good father: when she’s out at night with her friends, when she’s out at night with her boyfriend, what exactly is going on?
AX: The obvious question – what about deeper intimacy between Castle and Beckett? We’ve had a kiss, we’ve had a cuddle for body heat …
MARLOWE: The dynamic is going to continue to evolve, it’s going to go back and forth. Our metaphor coming into this season in the early episodes [was] that Castle and Beckett were both in relationships with other people, they sort of quote-unquote married the wrong person, that they should be together, so that those relationships served as an obstacle to them getting together.
AX: With all of the talk about network budget cuts, has that affected how you’re making the series?
MARLOWE: Well, we are dealing with a new economic reality, and we’re all trying to be as fiscally responsible as possible. ABC’s been very supportive and we know we’re competing against shows with bigger budgets than we have, so we take that as a challenge to try to be more creative in our storytelling.
AX: When you were doing first season, had you thought anything about, “Well, if we get a third season, we’ll do this third-season kind of thing”?
MARLOWE: I thought more about fifth season, where we could do the black and white noir episode and the musical episode, because we’ve been on long enough to earn it. Third season, since we had a midseason start [last year], it feels like we’re carrying on the momentum from Season Two, where we’re just trying to develop our characters, continue to complicate the relationships, continue to explore our really great cast. We’d love to have fun with the murder mystery genre, but we also know that you don’t want to do trick episodes too often and you want to have earned your keep with studio and network, so we are looking forward to having that kind of fun in the future, but for now, we’re just [doing] some other fun stuff.
AX: Are you involved at all with the CASTLE tie-in mystery novels credited to author Richard Castle, populated by characters who are very like Castle, Beckett and most of the other regulars?
MARLOWE: I work very closely with Castle on those books. NAKED HEAT [the most recent novel, which came out in fall 2010] is basically his experiences following Detective Beckett around, so the loyal fans of the books will be able to see all those great moments from second season that he’s drawn from to write the book.
AX: So are you saying you have a ghost-writer capacity here?
MARLOWE: No, no, I don’t have a ghost-writer capacity. The books are written by a roguishly handsome mystery writer out of New York by the name of Richard Castle. I’m far too busy writing the show to have helped Castle that much with the books, but he does a great job.
AX: CASTLE has become a pop-culture hit. Were you expecting to be a little more under the radar, or did you give any thought to the possibility of this happening one way or another before it occurred?
MARLOWE: No. You’re always hoping to connect with audiences. We’ve been very gratified by how the show has grown, we’ve been very gratified by the word of mouth and the people who like the show and really have been supporters of it. So for us, it’s just an exciting ride. We want to keep telling great stories, and we have really great people working on the show and it’s just been very exciting for us to see the fans’ response. Comic-Con was really a lot of fun. We had a great panel down there, we were so overwhelmed by the audience reaction, we were really, really gratified. But it was really exciting, because we spend so much time on the lot in our own little world that we never get out and hang with the fans. We’re going to continue to try and make great TV shows and hope people enjoy watching them.