We're fans of “Quantico” in our house. This is the second time in my career I've had the opportunity to interview academy award winner Marlee Matlin as part of my job. This time, along with showrunner and executive producer Michael Seitzman for ABC's “Quantico.” We love that this season is a reboot so you don't have to have watched the previous two seasons to be caught up. You can hop right in with the first episode of Season 3 and know what's going on!
The New Season of Quantico Pick up 3 Years Since the End of Season 2
For “Quantico” fans, the new season brings us to a 3-years time lapse from the end of season 2. How did they decide to make that leap?
Showrunner and producer Michael Seitzman explained that shocking television doesn't happen nearly as often as we want it to, but as an audience, it's what we want and what we crave. Their job as filmmakers and writers is to be storytellers and frustrate the audience, it's not to give the audience what they want. “Probably the guy on the computer looking through the DMV records figured out who did it in Act 1…if you really broke it down. That's how sort of template-oriented it can get. Well, it's the same thing with relationships on television is that a relationship can settle into a groove and can give you exactly what you're expecting. So, the mandate here—both external and internal—was how do we shake the show up and change what it is that people are expecting and frustrate the viewers.”
“The audience always wants their favorite couple to get together. The bulk of our time is spent trying to figure out ways to keep them apart. That's the biggest job is how do you keep them apart?”
“At the end of Season 2, Ryan and Alex flew off into the sunset together. And what's left? So, are they gonna have marital disputes for the next season? Is that what's gonna happen? Is that the show right now? Or, did something go wrong? And maybe if something went wrong, and I could buy that by giving us 3 years. I could buy a lot by giving us 3 years.”
They wanted to invite a new loyal audience and are doing that by creating an unknown backstory.
On how Marlee Matlin got involved.
Marlee Matlin shared how she became involved in the show. Marlee Matlin and Michael Seitzman were introduced to each other by a mutual friend (Marcia Gay Harden) at a party because Marlee was a fan of “Code Black.”
Michael said he loved her and wanted to put her on a show. She heard from him a few weeks later about making an appearance on “Code Black.”
Fast forward, Michael had such a great time working with Marlee on “Code Black,” he wanted to create a character for her, Jocelyn Turner, on “Quantico.”
“What was really wonderful about it for us in the writer’s room was to write a role for Marlee where we at times ignored the fact that she was deaf so that she's just somebody who was in a car accident and with a relationship and a situation. And then at other times, we utilized her deafness to help us tell the story and to create a problem in the story and a solution in the story,” Michael said.
“And that was electrifying. And part of it began because when I met Jack [Marlee's translator] and Marlee they told me that they had been working together for over 30 years. And on “Code Black” very often we're trying to introduce relationships and see what happens when those relationships come apart and then we heal them. And so I thought, well, what if we took a relationship like that and we did the same thing? And it changed the way that I was thinking when I was writing. It changed the way all of us were thinking.”
“So that when I took on Quantico, the natural was I want to do that again. I want to work with that actress, with that talent, and also with what looks from the outside from people who are not deaf to be a disadvantage and to find the advantage in it. And that's what we did in the show as we found the advantage in it, which is basically Marlee’s life as I see it from an outsider is someone who's taken something that looks like a disadvantage to some and has made it an advantage. And that's very exciting and very gratifying,” Michael said
Marlee gives Micahel a lot of credit because she said he's one of the few people in Hollywood who understands how to use someone like her.
“He's one of the few people in Hollywood who understands how to use someone like myself, who understands not to dwell on the disability, not to dwell, on the “dis” in ability, but to look at the ability. I could name other people, I mean people like Aaron Sorkin and David E. Kelley and Ilene Chaiken. These are people like Michael who understand where I can fit into a role without having to be a person who is deaf,” Marlee said.
“It just happens to be deaf, the positives as Michael just said. And this one was extremely unusual because playing FBI agent and dealing with the people in situations, dealing in crises, being a sniper, being someone who uses my eyes as a means and surveillance, where a lot of people who aren't deaf don't use as someone who does have the ability with my eyes,” Marlee said.
“In this case, it was Marlee’s character, which is she says you have to look at it with clear eyes. And she says, ‘What can we tell from these images? There are 96 frames on the wall. Of these 96 frames, what is it that we can tell?' And as they're putting it's together the audience is putting it together too. I’m guessing that you’ve probably had that experience that you also felt like you were putting it together too. ‘Oh, my God, there's a ripple in the water. A subway went by.' I mean when she said a subway went by didn't a part of you feel a little bit goose bumpy?” Michael said.
“A character like Marlee, with her talent and her face and her ability to transmit that to you, it does something really important in television, which is she invites you into the process. She looks out in the audience, and she says you can be a part of this team too. That's really important,” Michael said.
On Marlee working on script development
Michael said that Marlee came in and sat with the writers and spent a lot of time with them teaching them about her. Everything that they do in the stories comes from those conversations and subsequent conversations. They needed a lot of help, and she gave them a lot of help. Micahel shared how having Marlee in the room was helpful to illuminate various situations. It gave the writers a chance to ask questions they would not otherwise have the opportunity to ask, about how it feels to be in certain situations.
“I felt that the writers needed to see me in person and to get a feel for who I am, a feel for the kind of—well, just to be able to pick up the different situations that I might find myself in and the situations that I've been in in my life or what I envisioned could happen as a result of the character that I'm playing. And the writers are all brilliant. I mean they, as the one sitting next to me [pointing to Michael]—no, I'm kidding. It was really helpful that I was able to be there in the writing room, Marlee said.
“Here's a good example. A hearing person, somebody who's not deaf, I wouldn’t think right away that everybody has to look at her when they're talking to her. It wouldn’t occur to me,” Michael said.
“Right, and the cast too. The cast did that too once too,” Marlee said. “The first day of shooting…everybody was ready. They knew their lines. Everybody was blocking was set. And as we were doing a rehearsal I said, ‘Oh, you know, you need to look at me. And then they all start to realize and immediately.”
“It was interesting to watch the process of having them realize to learn a whole new way of looking at a situation with the deaf actor in it. And they picked it up like that. Thank goodness they picked it up like that. It took a while for some, but this one they got it right away. And they had my back. For example, Priyanka, the first day, we were shooting one— there was a scene where she—some character looked away. And Priyanka said, ‘Guys, you need to look at Marlee'.”
“And she was always throwing into every director to every scene we were shooting in every episode, ‘Make sure that you're aware that Marlee’s in this scene.' I mean wherever the interpreter is signing to me. I didn't have Jack, but I had an on-set interpreter. When an interpreter would walk by, Priyanka would say, ‘Make sure not to walk in front of the camera.' She was very, very aware. And it was a learning curve, and even for me, it was a learning curve.”
Michael pointed out that even in our interview group, he noticed our behavior had changed.
“So here's an observation that I’ll make. So, I'm watching all of you. And in the very beginning of the conversation ten minutes ago when Jack would interpret I watched all of you watching Jack. But within a few minutes, you shifted, and you started watching Marlee,” Michael said.
“You start to change the way that you interact. And so that also happens on set. So it changes the way that we have to think about it that this is real. It sounds like it's an awkward thing to talk about. But it's not an awkward thing to talk about. This is a real thing. And I watched it happen right here in real time. I watched all of you start to look—right? That's how—right, and so think about when you're shooting a scene the way that you have to change the way you block the scene.”
“The actors got aware very quickly. The characters have to be aware, but it also changes the way that we shoot,” Michael said. “It starts to change the way that you think about it. It changes the way that you block, and it changes the way that you shoot. And that starts out as being a challenge. It very quickly just turns into the way that you do it, which is like in here. It started out who do I look at? And it became, oh, I look at the person who's communicating with me. It's a different way of thinking about it. It is interesting.”
Michael talked to us about the choice to include the use of ASL and non-traditional subtitles in the show.
“We started out by making it clear that they also learned ASL as a language when they worked for the CIA. And that gave us a certain license. Once you jump over that, it gives us license that they can communicate with her. The other thing that we did was how we handled subtitles. So, and this also goes to where you look. Subtitles traditionally are called ‘lower third.' They're in the lower third center of the frame. I didn't want to do that because I don't want to be watching.”
“I don't want to be reading. I want to be watching Marlee, so we started to put the—you noticed, the subtitles are up near her shoulder. They also jump out—we did them in blue most of the time. And there was something about the blue that I can't put my finger on why. We tried a lot of colors. But there was something about that color that made it less obtrusive. And I can't articulate why it was. We just sat there. We tried them all, and that one felt like we would become immune to it very quickly, which I'm sure happened to you.”
“You stopped feeling like you were reading. Your eyes weren't going constantly down. So we kept it next to her and next to Blair [Underwood] and their conversation,” Michael said.
It was very deliberate the choice between when people would communicate via sign language and lip reading with Marlee's character, Jocelyn.
“The choice was very early, and this was in the original pitch. My original pitch for the character was that we would have a combination of ways that the audience would communicate with Jocelyn, whether she's communicating or other people are communicating to her the net result is that the audience is communicating with the character. You have to give them a lot of ways to do that so that it starts to feel seamless. You'll notice where we started was that Blair’s character, Owen, speaks as he signs,” Michael said. “Just by doing that, it immediately made you feel like you were also in the conversation.”
Thanks to Disney for bringing me to LA to experience this. As always, all opinions are my own.
ABC's “Quantico” is on ABC Thursday's at 10 pm.
Marlee Matlin and Alan Powell Join the Cast as a New Black-Ops Team Takes on Explosive Cases Each Week.
Tony Award®-Winner Jayne Houdyshell (“The Humans”) Guest Stars as The Widow.
“Quantico” stars Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish, Jake McLaughlin as Ryan Booth, Johanna Braddy as Shelby Wyatt, Russell Tovey as Harry Doyle, Alan Powell as Mike McQuigg, with Marlee Matlin as Jocelyn Turner and Blair Underwood as Owen Hall.
Executive producers include Michael Seitzman, who is also the series showrunner; Russell Lee Fine, Adam Armus, Robert Sertner, Mark Gordon, and Nicholas Pepper.
“Quantico” is produced by ABC Studios.