Almost Paradise has become a breakout hit, and Dean Devlin tells Precinct TV how he crafted the Christian Kane-led WGN America series.
There’s no other TV crime drama like Almost Paradise. Dean Devlin and Gary Rosen created a series that’s been a breath of fresh air into the genre, and it’s been a labor of love, particularly for Dean, whose impressive resume also includes Independence Day and Leverage.
He’d been working on the idea for the series years before WGN America picked it up, and he and Rosen have brought a very unique vision to the small screen. How did they come up with such an intriguing show? Why was Dean convinced that Christian Kane had to play Alex Walker?
Learn the answers to that and other questions in Precinct TV’s interview with Dean Devlin. And if you’re not caught up with Almost Paradise yet, you can watch episodes now on Amazon Video or through the Electric Now app. New episodes air Mondays at 10:00 p.m. on WGN America.
Precinct TV: You were developing Almost Paradise for years. What was the process like, and how close is what we’re seeing to the original idea you started with?
Dean Devlin: It actually started many years ago when my wife and I got married. We were honeymooning in Hawaii and I was watching the local news. There was a story about how some neighbors in a small town rose up together and did a citizen’s arrest of these drug dealers who were in their neighborhood. It was a big story at the time. It got me thinking about island justice and island culture, and the way people bond together when they live on an island. Originally, Gary Rosen and I wrote it for Hawaii, but for the longest time, it just didn’t feel like it was working. It just didn’t feel fresh enough.
Then one day my wife asked me whatever happened to that project and I explained my frustration and my wife said, well, why do you have it taking place in Hawaii? You’re Filipino. Why not have it take place in the Philippines? Then suddenly it was like oh my God, of course that’s the difference. Gary and I went back and we rewrote the script with the Philippines in mind, and suddenly it was a very different shift and suddenly it felt fresh. We were able to explore a place and a culture that’s basically unknown to everybody outside of the Philippines.
If you were to talk to the average American and ask them anything about the Philippines, the only things they know are Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection and Manny Pacquiao is a great boxer, but other than that, they don’t really know anything about the Philippines. Just to be able to expose that they have some of the most beautiful resorts in the world and things about their food and their culture, it suddenly gave the whole show a reason for being and that’s when everything got really exciting.
PTV: Christian Kane mentioned you had him specifically in mind for the role of Alex. What was it about him that you wanted him to lead Almost Paradise? Were you writing with him in mind or did he come to mind after you’d created the character?
DD: I did have Christian in my mind, but at the time I started writing it, he was way too young. I’ll never forget, we sat down and I said Christian, it’s such a shame because I’m writing this pilot right now and you’d be great for [it but] you’re really too young for the part. Well, lucky for him, by the time we figured out how to do the pilot properly, he was old enough to play the role.
PTV: He’s not the only person on the Almost Paradise crew that you’re familiar with. You have producers and writers that have worked with both of you before. How much does that existing rapport help with the production of the show?
DD: , I think very often shows don’t hit their stride until midway through the first season and sometimes not even until the second season [and] a lot of that has to do with all the artists getting to know each other. The huge advantage of us working with Christian is that this is our third TV show together. [after Leverage and The Librarians].
There’s a trust; there’s a language of communication that you just can’t have with someone you’ve just met. I think that that helps. It helps us in the writing room and it also allows me to push Christian in a way that I don’t know if other people could push him. When I ask him to try and do things that we haven’t seen him do before, he trusts me that I’m not going to make him look bad, that I’m not going to put him in a situation that’s detrimental. Therefore he’s willing to take more risks with me than I think he would with someone else.
PTV: You have some other incredible talent on this show, such as Samantha Richelle and Arthur Acuña. How did you find the rest of the cast?
DD: One of the things that happened a few years ago, my company distributed a Filipino film, the one that was actually the Filipino entry into the Oscars. It was called Transit. That was a beautiful film. It was during that time that I began to see what was happening in the filmmaking community in the Philippines, because up until then, I hadn’t really thought of them as having a robust industry.
In fact, even when we went to make this show, most foreign buyers had real doubts about the quality level, because they didn’t think of the Philippines as having that level of quality. I knew that they had developed this industry that had developed talent in front of the screen and behind the screen. I was really anxious to show off the amazing DPs [directors of photography], the amazing art departments, the amazing directors from the Philippines and the incredible actors.
Very early on in this process, Christian and I got on a plane and we flew to Manila and we held auditions. Very quickly, we got to see the chemistry between Christian and some of these actors and it was so clear. It’s like jazz music; when you’ve got the right people paired up, the music is amazing, and we heard that music on day one.
We got so lucky. They’re terrific as actors and by the way, other than Samantha, they’re much better known in the Philippines. Down to the little girl in the show; she’s won like the equivalent of two Filipino Emmys already. The real discovery, though, was Samantha Richelle because she didn’t have really any acting experience. She’s kind of well known there because of her design work. But no one really knew her as an actor.
Frankly, I didn’t know how far I could push her. I didn’t know what her skill level would be. But she was really committed to the show. She gave us everything and every time I pushed her a little bit farther, she went there. I think there’s some spectacular talent on the show, but I think Sam is really kind of a breakout surprise for everyone.
PTV: You’ve been behind two of the most addictive and creative TV shows in recent memory, The Librarians and Leverage. Did you learn anything from those experiences that influenced Almost Paradise?
DD: Oh, without a doubt. Just working with the brilliant writers on Leverage and Librarians, they always taught me new things. Every episode, I would learn a new trick or a new tool or a new way of thinking about story development, so there’s no question that making those shows was like going to school. It was incredible and those lessons definitely were applied.
I think this is slightly different, because this one really is a lead show that has a surrounding supporting cast while the others had an ensemble, but I think even as the show progressed, it became a little bit more and more of an ensemble [series].
PTV: How has Almost Paradise changed Dean Devlin creatively?
DD: This is the first [American] television series ever shot in the Philippines. As I said before, there’s enormously talented people there. However, they’ve never worked in the system of an American TV show. The biggest surprise I had was their ability to adapt to it, because when we first got out there and we would just draw up the terms that we’re used to doing in television, they would look at us like a deer in the headlights. They had no idea what we were talking about.
In one of my first meetings, I remember I said all right, who does everyone recommend as our first AD [assistant director]? And they said oh, we don’t really do first AD in the Philippines. We just have like 40 producers and everybody does stuff. And I was like, well, that’s not how it’s going to work with us. There was this huge learning curve, but I think the biggest surprise was they wanted to learn. They were eager to learn and they adapted quickly. I have to say, I directed the finale and by the time I was directing…they were just rocking it.
PTV: Is there anything you can tease about the finale now that we’re just two weeks away?
DD: This season has been all about healing. A very damaged person has shown up to this island in the hopes of healing. It’s been difficult for him over the course of the season, but my hope is that in the finale, we’ll have a better understanding of not only his healing process, but what the actual injuries were.
PTV: Last but not least, the Leverage revival was announced in April. Do you know yet if or how that will affect Almost Paradise‘s future?
DD: I can kind of work that around. (laughs) The first thing is we have to get a second season. If we get a second season, I will figure out a way to make it work—because I had more fun making this show than I think I’ve ever had before, and I think Christian [did] too. If we’re given the opportunity, it will happen.
Almost Paradise airs Mondays on WGN America at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT; you can also watch on Amazon Video and the Electric Now app.