A Few Candid Questions With Doug Liman, Executive Producer of USA Network’s New Series SUITS

Sharing a bit about USA Network’s new series SUITS, in a recent conference call, executive producer Doug Liman (Pictured above, green tshirt) revealed the genesis and secret ingredients of this new show about the ultimate con: conning the ultimate con men, lawyers.  In a brilliant strategic maneuver, a Harvard lawyer hires a young man with no legal credentials to be his right-hand man in the hallowed halls of New York City’s finest law firm.

What can you tell us about SUITS and what we can expect from the first season?
Doug Liman: Well, SUITS is at its heart an amazing buddy story between Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams’ characters, and at the same time it is a legal show.  But it’s unlike any other legal show you might have seen because it doesn’t take place in the courtrooms.  It’s really about hitting the jackpot and working at one of the elite New York City law firms where you’re young, you work crazy long hours — but you make a ton of money.  And that’s the situation that Patrick Adams’s character finds himself in. He’s doing all of that without ever actually having to go to law school and there’s the threat that at some point he’ll be found out and he’ll have to leave the ball. And Gabriel Macht plays his boss and his mentor. The thing that I love about television — especially working at USA Network — is that it is about characters, and this show is so much more about the dynamic between these characters than it is about solving the case of the week. They have the chemistry — which you can see when you watch the ads — the chemistry between Patrick and Gabriel is extraordinary.

Where did the actual idea for the show come from?
Doug Liman: The thing that I love about television is that it sort of goes through these cycles where you’re like:  Okay, now let’s start to develop, and writers come into our office — and we have offices in New York and L.A. — and sit down with us and we just bat ideas around until something clicks where we love it and the writer loves it, and then we go sell it. So it’s sort of a very organic process. We’ve had success when we sort of collaborated with the writers and found stuff that we mutually love.  Obviously, this show in particular really speaks to me because my father ran a very high powered New York law firm and I grew up around a law firm like this.  Then my brother currently works in a law firm like this and I live in New York City. I’m surrounded by people who work in law firms like this.  Obviously, my personal experiences are much more grounded than the show where somebody is impersonating a lawyer never having gone to law school. But it’s not that far from my own experiences because ten years ago I almost took the bar never having gone to law school just to see if I could pass it.

How does it compare to working on the first season of SUITS with now you’re in the second season of COVERT AFFAIRS? What do you find the difference is now that the show is already established?
Doug Liman: Well, we’re working right now concurrently on COVERT AFFAIRS and SUITS — the second season of COVERT AFFAIRS and first season of SUITS — and they share production offices and they share sound stages, so it’s a very interesting experience to have two shows in such proximity and have one in its second season and one just starting. Just comparing that experience, where working on a show that was a hit in its first season, you know, going to a second season is just really exciting because the creative energy around it, is so amped up. But what’s really extraordinary about SUITS is just the incredible enthusiasm of everybody involved in it, even though it hasn’t aired yet — so it’s not a hit yet. There’s such a feeling on the set that it’s going to be a hit. And that there’s something special happening here that at the end of the day, walking from one stage to the other, is the same sort of energy and the enthusiastic excitement from the cast and the crew. It’s almost identical which is unusual because one show is already on the air and a bonafide hit and the other one just hasn’t aired yet. But I think they just think everybody just sort of knows. You don’t always know this but sometimes you just know when it works and SUITS is just one of those shows where it just is working.  And you’re reminded of it every day on the set. Because so many of the themes with Patrick of Gabriel and like all you have to do is put the two of them in a scene together and there isn’t anybody on the stage who isn’t going:  okay this is a hit show!

Did you feel the same way when you were in production for the first season of Covert Affairs? Was that level of excitement there?
Doug Liman: Well, not initially. I mean we were excited, but because it’s an action show, like it is sort of made in the editing. So it wasn’t as obvious to people until you actually put the episode together. It started airing pretty soon after we started shooting COVERT AFFAIRS. So it was sort of an instant hit. So we had that experience fairly soon after the show started airing. The other odd thing, just about shooting both of these shows in Canada is that USA isn’t available in Canada. So you’re working on a show that people can’t watch and they’re hearing all of the incredible enthusiasm that it’s getting in America. But meanwhile the people working on it can’t tune in on Tuesday nights for COVERT AFFAIRS or Thursday nights for SUITS. Now COVERT AFFAIRS actually is being carried in Canada, so we’re expecting that SUITS will also be carried because it’s just one of those shows that you know [will make it big], because the show is at the end of the day about this relationship between Mike Ross and Harvey Specter, played by Patrick Adams and Gabriel Macht respectively. Like that’s something that just can be, you can see the chemistry on the set the same way that, the chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was obvious while shooting Mr. & Mrs. Smith and the chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Swingers, it was just obvious while you were shooting it.

Are the actual legal proceedings going to be relatively realistic or is this one of those legal shows that we shouldn’t watch with our lawyer friends because they will just yell?
Doug Liman: Well, I have no choice but to watch it with lawyer friends because I live in New York City and my friends are lawyers and my relatives are lawyers. So it actually is pretty grounded. I mean, the amazing thing about what Aaron Korsh has done with this series is that it is set in a high powered law firm. So the kinds of cases they’re doing are sort of operating in the sort of rarified air of elite New York and so it’s CEO’s and Fortune 500 companies. Those are the clients of Pierce and Hardman that is based on one of the major New York law firms. . . . It sort of has been a rule of television that it’s hard to just root for the rich person and all the clients are rich basically, or the companies are rich because that’s who can afford a fancy law firm like this. And yet Aaron has found a way to allow us to root for these stories. And through the TV show, it will take us into these board rooms and take us into the elite world of the people who hire these kinds of law firms.  So it’s more realistic and more grounded than you might expect and it draws a lot from the things I personally witnessed growing up.  So I’ve tried as a producer of the show to push the cases to make sure that they are realistic in terms of the kind of scope of stories and scope of cases that a firm like this would handle. So I think it’s safe to watch with your lawyer friends.  But it’s certainly not limited to lawyers because this is not a courtroom drama kind of TV show, and the only danger in watching the show with your lawyer friends is they may get upset that they shelled out over a hundred thousand dollars to go to law school when we’re sort of showing a guy who sort of skipped some of college and law school and got to work at one of these awesome jobs anyhow.

About like the whole casting process, did you have specific people in mind to play these roles or a certain type of person?
Doug Liman: We wrote the script first. We wrote this sort of very hot shot attorney named Harvey Specter and we wrote this other character, this super street smart young guy, a drop out with this just brilliance.  It’s my new thing like the superhero whose super power is his brain. I’m just maybe I’m at a stage of life and obviously Jason Bourne that was main power was his brain.  So it’s something you know as I grew up with a very smart father and mother. I sort of got imprinted on me and my films have always been driven by really smart characters — being so smart that basically it’s like a super power.  Obviously, Jason Bourne’s super power is his brain and it’s in SUITS Mike Ross’s that super power is his brain. He’s got a photographic memory and he never forgets anything that he’s ever read. So we came up with these two characters that would sort of butt heads. They’re sort of very alpha, completely different in a lot of ways, and way too similar in lot of ways, yet way too different. Because Harvey has gone to Harvard and did sort of do the correct route, but he meanwhile is so smart and such an alpha personality that he really does things his own way. And then there’s his protégé in the firm who does things so much his own way, he didn’t even go to college. He didn’t finish college or go to law school. Forcing them to sort of work together was in Aaron’s script for the pilot, so we had that when we went out looking for cast. And Gabriel obviously is able to nail that kind of charisma and arrogance where you still love him.  In fact the more arrogant he is and the more sort of obnoxiously arrogant he is, the more you love him — and that’s sort of a unique movie star, TV star quality that was essential for this show to work. Because we wouldn’t have wanted to downplay the character’s arrogance, which is why it was critical for me to cast Matt Damon as Jason Bourne because I didn’t want a soft petal Jason Bourne’s dark past. So I wanted somebody who would allow for a very dark past for Jason Bourne and have you still root for him in the same way for, for Harvey Specter in SUITS. I wanted us to be able to really embrace his arrogance and his confidence and have you still love him; and not have to worry ever that the audience wouldn’t love him. And Gabriel brings us that and the same thing with the character of Mike Ross  — where you have somebody who’s so smart you could end up hating him for being so smart — and who doesn’t follow any of the rules that the rest of us follow. Patrick, in a totally different way than Gabriel, makes you love him for being both sort of the smartest guy in the room and, in others, sort of the most clueless. He’s able to sort of imbue the super intelligence, also with a sort of a naïveté that just makes you want to take care of him, even at the same time that you know that he’s the smartest guy in the room. So this show only works if you find the exact right actors to play those two parts. They’re so specific and they are not exactly the kind of characters you’d expect in a project that I’m involved in because I’m a huge fan of antiheroes. If you look at most of my films, there all antiheroes. I mean Vince Vaughn plays a misogynist in Swingers and every character in Go is doing something illegal and/or immoral.  In Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne is an assassin and a murderer. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, they’re both murderers who have no regret whatsoever. And even my latest film Fair Game takes a sort of very critical harsh look at both sides of the conflicts between Valarie Flame and the Bush Administration. Basically it treats both sides of the story as being antiheroes.  So those antiheroes are very close to my heart and Aaron has created with SUITS like two antiheroes in the same show. I haven’t had two antiheroes since Mr. & Mrs. Smith and it’s really sort of a fun world for me to explore.

With that teasing look at the creative casting of the latest anti-heroes that will both capture your attention and your heart, be sure to tune in for the 90-minute premiere of SUITS on Thursday, June 23rd at 10:00PM on USA Network.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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  • I think that he can pull  it off, he did with – http://www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com/2011/07/mr-mrs-smith.html