Following an encore screening of the “Human Target” pilot at Comic-Con International: San Diego last Saturday, Rich Sands at “TV Guide” introduced panelists that included Jon Steinberg, creator of the TV series; stars Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earl Haley; Executive Producers Brad Kern and Peter Johnson’ and Len Wein, creator of the Human Target comic books from DC Comics.
Sands asked Steinberg how the show came about. “It started with a meeting Peter Johnson and I had,” recalled the producer. “The comic had been kicking around development for awhile. We grew up on the same movies and action heroes and there’s not enough of them on TV right now. That’s where it started from.”
Steinberg admitted the concept had to change to fit television. “The conceit that [the character] becomes [his client] works well in print, but in flesh it trips something in your mind that doesn’t quite work.” Their solution was to make Christopher Chance a man who blends in and stands next to his client in order to protect them. “It’s a way to get an awesome action hero into a new movie every week.”
Wein was comfortable with that change. “It works perfectly for the medium,” he said. Working in various formats over the years, Wein accepts that not all ideas can translate without some adaptation. “I can’t think of a better way to translate the character from the paper to the screen.”
Sands asked Wein to recall the creation of the Human Target. “I’m happy I remember 1972,” laughed Wein. “It was the very first character I created. I pitched it to the editor and he loved everything but the character.” Wein’s original pitch was called “Johnny Double.” He would eventually use that name for another character and sit on the “Target” premise for five years. “Julius Schwartz was looking for an action hero in the back of action comics who wasn’t a superhero.” Schwartz heard the pitch and walked down the hall to get approval. “The first script was due [that] Friday,” Wein recalled.
Asked about his character, Valley explained, “I play a guy named Christopher Chance: [he] likes to fade into the background just to blend in, make himself unnoticed. Identify the target and take him out. He’s a darker character than I’m used to. He’s murkier. It’s an action show, so he does a lot of running around.”
McBride also explained his character: “Winston’s a guy who is ex-law enforcement. He has a relationship with Chance that goes a long way. He knows his origins. What he’s trying to do is get to the bottom of Chance seemingly having a death wish.”
When Sands asked Haley about his character, the actor immediately responded with “Hurm.” He then described his character, Guerrero, as “a really interesting, fun character that we’re going to discover over time. When Chance needs some information, he goes to Guerrero.”
Using a recovery metaphor, Haley explained the relationship between the three characters. “I think we’re going to discover that these guys have a connection in the past. If Christopher was an alcoholic, Chi would be the sponsor and Guerrero would be the drug dealer,” he said.
“It seemed like a really cool job,” Haley said when asked why he took the part. “What drew me to it was the notion of spending a lot of time with one character and developing it with these guys over time, hopefully for years.” He also explained the long form storytelling intrigues him as an actor. “I’m interested to work in the television schedule. Working with guys, it seems like it’ll be a blast. And we get to live in Vancouver.”
Sands asked Valley about Tricia Helfer, who guest-stars in the pilot. “[She’s] fantastic. She’s very athletic. I think she wanted to do all of her own stunts. In fact, she insisted. Which meant I had to do all my own stunts as well. I hope she can come back on the show,” the actor responded.
Prodded to reveal upcoming story points, Steinberg said, “We never wanted to do bad action.” He wants to keep from the show from settling into a familiar rhythm of “punch-punch” TV action. “I think every week is going to be a set piece that’s big and fun and smart. We can’t outspend a 100 million action movie, but we can outthink them.”
The show will have a myth arc. “We have a pretty good idea of where this [version of] Chance came from. It’s a pretty fleshed out mythology. We’ll build without you knowing it,” Steinberg said.
Danny Glover appears in a brief cameo. Steinberg said this was a one-off. “I wrote him a fan letter to get him to come do it.” It was also a tribute to the “Lethal Weapon” vibe he and the other producers want to evoke. Also, Steinberg teased similar cameos could happen in subsequent episodes. “There should be no face you should be surprised to see,” he said.
Opening the floor to Q & A, Valley was asked how working on the daytime soap, “Days of Our Lives,” informed his work. “Well, I learned that it is possible for a character to go into a shower to get fired and come out as a different actor,” he joked. “On that show, you had to memorize a lot of dialogue very quickly; it was often boring and repetitive.”
Valley was then asked about his stunt work. “I started working a week early; dancing around and learning the motions ... it made it a lot easier once we actually shot it.”
“It’s not going to be one of those things where we repeat the dynamic,” McBride said in response to how his character, Winston, puts up with Chance. “They have a dysfunctional relationship. They care about each other, but nobody hugs and nobody learns a damn thing. It’s the kind of show I used to love at the ‘80s.”
When asked how this character was different from previous roles, Haley responded, “He doesn’t growl. No sock on his head. No three and a half hours of makeup before I walk on set. I don’t think he’s hurt any kids. It’s a different character. The producers will take him to an unhinged place, but the guy’s a different embodiment.”
“So I’m typecast, so thanks for bringing that up!” McBride joked when asked about the similarity between his characters in “Human Target” and Emerson in “Pushing Daisies.” “The difference between my character [in ‘Human Target’] and Emerson is that Emerson only cared about money. Winston is a much more three dimensional character. You’re going to see a lot more anger. It’s not that happy fairy tale. This is going to be a lot different. You’ll see me pull a gun on people more than once.”
Asked if every client will be a white hat, straight laced character, Steinberg explained, “Every client will be a lens to see Chance, I think that will have to get dark to see how dark Chance is.”
“Human Target” premieres in January following the Superbowl on FOX.