In the new YouTube Red original series, a young woman named Henry (Maddie Hasson) discovers that she has the supernatural ability to teleport. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding that discovery are terrifying and she is uncertain who she can turn to as she tries to ascertain how her teleportation ability works. In an exclusive interview, executive producer Doug Liman talks about bringing the supernatural thriller series to screen.
Your new series is very intriguing, particularly for a female audience. It’s a little darker than expected, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so maybe you could explain why you chose to make it so dark — this year particularly, it feels very relevant.
DOUG: Especially in this climate. It sadly seems that it is suddenly like an ordinary portrayal of what it’s like to be a woman in 2018. I’m interested in super powers and doing a super-hero story because I’m really interested in the impact it’s going to have on the character that gets the power and the people around them, and not in some glib way. Like, I really like big ideas. I do big commercial films and TV series, but I’m interested in them in terms of how they impact the characters. I’m really interested in antiheroes and maybe a more honest look at humanity. One of the things that we started thinking about when we thought about, “what’s the Doug Liman version of a super power” and was that it may be more interesting as a curse — such as if she only gets sent back to the one place she doesn’t want to be, this town and home that she hates, and she wants to leave and all this power will do is send her back there.
Is it like a glitch, or is that something you’ll explain later in the series?
DOUG: She has to learn how to master this, and the initial thing that she can do is just go back home. She can go to this one place that she doesn’t want to go to. That just to me shows honest, like anything, such as: try to wiggle your ear. It’s not so easy to learn how to do that. I was also interested in what kind of trauma would really drive somebody to want to flee the scene. Steven Gould and his novels, because they all have somebody who initially teleports and they were always in some kind of physical danger. That started me thinking, like it might be more interesting if there’s an emotional component to it. That’s really where Lauren [LeFranc] came in. It was extraordinary having her voice because we decided it would be a sexual assault that would drive it — because you get more story out of it. To be honest, I approached it slightly more superficially, in that I was like, “okay, now you have somebody that she’s hurt, he’s the villain, but now he’s a paraplegic.” I’m think that’s just an interesting dynamic because he did assault her.
Interestingly enough, the entire society created around Henry (Maddie Hasson) treats her like she’s the villain, and after a while when someone gets all this outside exposure, they start to believe that sort of thing and because Henry doesn’t understand yet it, she sees it as a curse. So is there the tendency to then set her up to be the villain of the series because that’s the framework that she’s been brought up in?
DOUG: I think there’s a tendency that says she’s an honest character who might be just as likely when she masters her power to use it to steal clothing from a Nordstrom’s as she would be to help somebody in distress. Because that to me is honest, and I wanted her to make a lot of wrong choices, and usually that comes from bad parenting and so I wanted her to start off broken.
Henry doesn’t have a lot of allies either. She doesn’t turn to her parents. She doesn’t seem to have a lot of school friends. The only ally she has is kind of a step-sister who she doesn’t seem to be that close to yet.
DOUG: Yeah, she’s a loner who’s been dragged from town to town and why should she invest in any one place? She never stays there that long. There’s something symbolic about that — somebody with that issue getting the power of teleportation, that’s just felt like, “Wow, there’s going to be a lot to explore here.” What Lauren brought to it — because we had shot the assault scene and then reshot it with her — she’s like, “The stuff that made me most uncomfortable, that’s the meat of the scene. That’s what we need to go back and re-shoot.” What we really captured was Henry not wanting to be there. She’s emotionally checked out. She has emotionally left the scene before her body leaves the scene. I’d like to say that we had thought of that idea first, because it is such a good idea. I may have to live with that being part of my process, that a lot of the things in my film that in the end of the day, my films and TV shows that I’m so proud of and that seem so well thought out evolved versus were conceived of from the beginning. To be honest I get jealous of other film makers who think of it initially, put it down, never waver, just shoot it. That’s just not me.
What kind of journey do you want her to take? Do you want her to recover from this brokenness, or is she going to embrace a darker version of herself because of it?
DOUG: I want that to be the battle that goes on for, hopefully, many seasons. Because who are you going to be? And what are you going to do with the opportunities you’ve been given and the power you’ve been given and what are you going to do with the baggage you’re dragging along. And that speaks very personally to me.
It’s also not just her story. You set up these other characters we may not understand who they are yet, but the very opening scene is two men fighting on an iceberg, and then you never tell us who they are really or what they’re doing, so we have another story that’s going kind of parallel with hers.
DOUG: She’s in this little town and everybody thinks like most people do in a small town that this is the universe, certainly everybody else around her. I want to make clear that there’s a way bigger world. One of the questions that will get raised with the audience — I don’t want to give it away — is whether that bigger world comes to the small town or whether she ends up out in the bigger world or a combination of the both. But those ideas are things that are interesting. I love Bill Boone [David James Elliott]. He’s a big man in this shitty little town, but in that town he’s “god.” Being able to show both ponds. Like show the little pond where he’s the big fish, and then show, wait there’s a way bigger pond out there, and he’s nothing in that bigger pond. I’m interested in both how this — I don’t know what you’d call him — he’s not a drug trafficker, because he’s trafficking in illegal pharmaceutical drugs being brought across the border. But he’s not even rising to the level of gangster. He’s too small scale. How a petty crook, like Bill Boone, what is he going to do when he discovers — somebody who’s trying to get things across the border, he’s trying to smuggle, he’s a smuggler, he’s trying to smuggle things across the border with Canada — what’s he going to do when he discovers there’s somebody in his town who can teleport? Obviously, the NSA and other agencies within the federal government would be very interested in that power as well. So I like being able to sort of dabble in both worlds, which is why I wanted to sort set up right from the beginning, in the pilot that here is going to be a bigger world that’s going to cross into our world.
How quickly does that intersect? Or are we even supposed to anticipate that?
DOUG: It does. It happens in the first season. What’s so amazing about the series, and it’s really, I’m so proud of it and so proud of this template of you know, doing the unexpected and doing something really original, given that there’s obviously this sort of cookie cutter version of somebody getting a super power, or a high schooler getting a super power. We’re just on a totally different set of railroad tracks. One of the amazing things that Lauren did was to take this world that we had developed in the pilot and just deepen in ways that I didn’t even think to go, and my favorite moment probably in the whole series happens in episode four, where Henry’s half-sister starts acting very weird, and they’re like, “Oh, my god, the villains got to her,” and what’s going on, and eventually discovered is,”oh, your sister has her own issues that have nothing to do with teleportation at all.” It never even occurred to me. That caught me by surprise. Lauren showed me that it is okay to have things happen in the series that just have nothing to do with the fact that she can teleport because other people have their own issues. It’s so honest, because we all think we’re the star of our own movie. A chance to sort of explore that in a series where most, myself included, sort of make the world revolve around the star, and have every character in the world have her be the leading lady of their story. But it’s like, “no, she’s a player in the other people’s things, but she’s not the star of other people’s stories.”
To see how how Henry’s world expands with the ability to teleport and just who might want to exploit that incredible ability, be sure to tune in for the premiere of IMPULSE on Wednesday, June 6th, when the entire series will be available for binge-watching on YouTube Red. To get sneak peaks and information about the show, you can follow it on Twitter @ImpulseSeries.
IMPULSE Season 1 trailer: