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Interview with Doug Liman of "Suits" and "Covert
Affairs" on USA 6/15/11.
I had not yet seen "Suits" when this interview took
place. It's a really good show. This was a really interesting interview.
He is clearly a very bright man and very entertaining. My question was
kind of a lame one, and he took it and made it much better.
DOUG LIMAN OF SUITS & COVERT AFFAIRS CONFERENCE CALL
Moderator: Andrea Epstein
June 15, 2011
4:00 pm CT
Ladies and gentlemen thank you for standing by and welcome to the Doug
Liman of Suits and Covert Affairs conference call. During the
presentation all participants will be in a listen-only mode.
Afterwards we will conduct a question-and-answer session. At that time
if you do have questions, you may press the 1 followed by the 4. If you
need operator assistance at any time during your conference, you may
press star 0.
As a reminder this conference is being recorded today Wednesday, June
15, 2011. I will now like to turn the conference over to Andrea Epstein
from USA Network.
Andrea Epstein: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining today's call with
Suits Executive Producer Doug Liman who I'm sure as you know is a very
established director/producer having worked on numerous films including
the Bourne Trilogy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, among many others.
And of course Doug is one of our executive producers of our other
original series, Covert Affairs. As a reminder Suits will air on
Thursdays at 10:00 pm on USA Network.
And we will be premiering on June 23. Also a transcript will be made
available to you within the next 48 hours. At this time, I'd like to
welcome Doug and thank all of you for joining us today. And without
further adieu (Fran) I think we'd like to start with the questions.
Operator: Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Our first question from the
line of Alix Sternberg from theTVChick.com. You may proceed.
Alix Sternberg: Hi thanks so much for taking the time today.
Doug Liman: Thank you.
Alix Sternberg: So what can you tell us about this - about Suits and
what we can expect from the first season?
Doug Liman: Well, you know, Suits is at it's heart, you know, an amazing
buddy story between Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams.
Alix Sternberg: Yes.
Doug Liman: And at the same time it is a - it's a legal show but it's
unlike any other legal show you might have seen because it's not -
doesn't take place in the courtrooms.
And it's really about, you know, hitting the jackpot and working at one
of the elite New York City law firms where, you know, you're young, you
work crazy long hours but you make a ton of money.
And that's the situation that Patrick Adams finds himself in. Obviously,
you must know the concept that it's...
Alix Sternberg: That's right, yes.
Doug Liman: That he actually, you know, 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, you know, he'll have to, you know,
leave the ball.
But - and Gabriel Macht plays his boss and his mentor. And, you know,
the thing that - what I love about television especially working at USA
is that it is about characters.
And it's - this show is so much more about the dynamic between these
characters than it is about, you know, solving the case of the week.
Alix Sternberg: Right.
Doug Liman: And they have, you know, I think the chemistry -- you can
see if when you watch the ads for -- the chemistry between Patrick and
Gabriel is - is extraordinary.
I mean it's - I haven't - I haven't been involved in bringing that kind
of male chemistry to the screen since Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in
Alix Sternberg: Yes, those were great. Well, thank you so much. I look
forward to the season.
Doug Liman: Thank you.
Operator: Our next question is from the line of Suzanne Lanoue from TV
MegaSite, you may proceed.
Suzanne Lanoue: Hi...
Doug Liman: Hi.
Suzanne Lanoue: ...thanks for talking to us today. Let's see, so you -
did you create the show? I'm sorry, I'm a little confused.
Doug Liman: You know, it's - I'm Executive Producing, you know, my
partner Dave Bartis and I executive produced the pilot. (Aaron Cord)
actually wrote it.
Suzanne Lanoue: Okay.
Doug Liman: And but it's, you know, you'll see we're, you know, so
executive producers don't get called creators in television but, you
know, we were - were in the trenches, you know, developed the idea with
(Aaron), we bought it to USA.
We worked on the script, worked on the casting, hired the director and
obviously you're supervising the first season.
Suzanne Lanoue: So where did the actual idea come from?
Doug Liman: You know we, the thing that I love about television is that,
you know, 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...
Suzanne Lanoue: Cool.
Doug Liman: ...until something clicks where, you know, we love it and
the writer loves it. And then we go sell it. So it's sort of a very
organic process and it's not, you know, it's not -- early on when we
started doing television we would - I would just sort of come up with
ideas and Dave would come up with ideas.
And we would just go find writers to write them and we learned very
quickly that it's, that doesn't, you know, that never left success for
us. And we've had success when we sort of collaborated with the writers
and found stuff that we mutually love.
Suzanne Lanoue: So it's kind of a group effort?
Doug Liman: Obviously this really - this show in particular really
speaks to me because my father ran a very high powered New York law
firm. He passed away 14 years ago but - so I grew up around a law firm
My brother currently works in law firm like this. I live in New York
City. I'm surrounded by people who work in law firms like this. And it's
-- and obviously my personal experiences are much more grounded than the
show where somebody has impersonated, you know, is impersonating a
lawyer never having gone to law school.
But, you know, 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.
Suzanne Lanoue: Well, it sounds real interesting. I'm look forward to
Doug Liman: Yes.
Operator: Once again, ladies and gentlemen as a reminder to register for
your question, please press the 1 followed by the 4.
Doug Liman: No questions?
Operator: (Justin) your line is open. (Justin Schwartz)...
Justin Schwartz Hello.
Operator: ...if you have a question, you may proceed. Ms. Epstein we
have no questions at this time.
Andrea Epstein: No more questions from everyone on the line? Okay.
(Fran) did everyone on the line ask a question?
Operator: We had a few that are connected but did not register. I'll
give another reminder. To register for your questions, please press the
1 followed by the 4. No questions at this time Ms. Epstein.
Justin Schwartz Hey (Fran)...
Andrea Epstein: Great.
Justin Schwartz ...I have a question.
Operator: Okay, go ahead.
Justin Schwartz Okay. So Doug 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
Doug Liman: Well, you know, the, you know, we're working right now
concurrently on Covert Affairs and Suits. You know, second season of
Covert Affairs and first season of Suits.
And we actually both - they share a production offices and they share
sound stages and so, you know, it's - it's - it's a very interesting
experience to have two shows in such proximity and have one in it's
second season and one just starting.
So just comparing that experience where, you know, the experience in
Covert Affairs of working on a show that was a hit in it's 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 it actually at
the end of the day, walking from one stage to the other is, is the same
- the sort of energy and the enthusiasm excitement from the cast and the
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 know, you don't always know this but sometimes you just know when it
works and Suits is just one of those shows where is just is working. And
you just - you're reminded of it everyday on the set.
You know, 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.
Justin Schwartz That's cool, did you feel the same way when you shoot
- when you're in production for the first season of Covert Affairs? That
level of excitement there?
Doug Liman: Well, not initially. I mean we were excited but, you know, I
think there wasn't, you know - because it's an action show like it sort
of made in the editing.
So it's not - it's not - it doesn't become as obvious to people until
you actually put the episode together. And the - but we also -- it
started airing pretty soon after we started shooting Covert Affairs.
So - and it was sort of an instant hit. So we - we had that experience,
you know, fairly soon after the show started airing. The other odd thing
just about shooting both of these shows in Canada is that, you know, USA
isn't available in Canada.
I mean I guess it sort of makes sense like - but - so you're working on
a show that, you know, the people can't watch. And they're hearing, you
know, all of the, you know, incredible enthusiasm that it's getting in
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, you know, we're expecting that
Suits will also be carried because it's - it is just one of those shows
that you, you know, because the show is at the end of the day about this
relationship between Mike Ross and Harvey Specter.
You know, 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 shooting Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the chemistry between Vince
Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Swingers was just obvious while you were
Justin Schwartz That's really cool. Well, thanks a lot. Appreciate
Doug Liman: Not a problem.
Operator: We have a question from the line of Kate Welsh from the
televixen.com, you may proceed.
Kate Welsh: Hi Doug.
Doug Liman: Hi Kate.
Kate Welsh: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Doug Liman: No problem.
Kate Welsh: I was wondering if the actual legal proceedings are 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 am, you know, I have no choice but to watch it with
lawyer friends because I live in New York City and my friends are
Kate Welsh: Yes.
Doug Liman: ...my relatives are lawyers. So it is - it actually is
pretty grounded. I mean it is - you know, the amazing thing about what
(Aaron) has done with this series is that, you know, it set in a high
powered law firm.
So the kinds of cases they're doing are sort of - are operating in the
sort of rarified air.
Kate Welsh: Yes.
Doug Liman: Of elite New York and, you know, elite, you know, so it's
CEOs and Fortune 500 companies and those are the - those are the clients
of, you know, (Pierce and Hardman) that, you know, is based on one of
the, you know, major New York law firms.
Like, you know, my father's law firm with Paul Weiss and my brother's
law firm with Cleary Gottlieb and, but, you know, it sort of has been a
rule of television that, you know, it's hard to just root for the rich
person and, you know, all the clients are rich basically.
Kate Welsh: Yes.
Doug Liman: 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 - but through the TV show take us into these
board rooms and take us into the elite world of the people who hire
these kinds of law firms.
And, you know, so it's more realistic and more grounded than you might
expect and, you know, it draws a lot from, you know, the things I
personally witnessed growing up in a household.
And 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 well I think it's safe to watch with your lawyer friends.
Kate Welsh: Great, thanks.
Doug Liman: But it's certainly not limited to - to lawyers because the -
this is not a courtroom drama kind of TV show.
Kate Welsh: Yes.
Doug Liman: And, you know, the only danger in watching the show with
your lawyer friends is they may get upset that they shelled out, you
know, hundreds, 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 on one of these awesome jobs anyhow.
Kate Welsh: Great, thanks very much.
Doug Liman: No problem, Kate.
Operator: Our next question from the line of Tiffany Vogt with the TV
Attic, you may proceed.
Tiffany Vogt: Hi Doug.
Doug Liman: Hi Tiffany.
Tiffany Vogt: Thanks for taking our calls today. I have a...
Doug Liman: That's not a problem.
Tiffany Vogt: ...a question regarding Covert Affairs. It...
Doug Liman: Shoot.
Tiffany Vogt: ...seems that's a lot of traveling around the world to
location shoots this season. And I was wondering if you choose a
location first or are they selected after the episodes are written?
Doug Liman: We choose the locations first, some of it is, you know,
weather dependent. You know, we are - we're sort of a warm weather show
runs in the summer so it's - and some of it's just like what haven't we
done or what sounds cool.
You know, obviously it wasn't a stretch that we would think of going to
Paris. And, you know, shot Bourne Identity there and who wouldn't think
Tiffany Vogt: Absolutely.
Doug Liman: But we also - we went to Sri Lanka last year, you know,
that's not something you necessarily would ordinarily think of. And this
year we're also going to Rio and we went to Puerto Rico, going to
Istanbul next week.
Tiffany Vogt: Wow.
Doug Liman: So it's a - we sort of think okay we haven't been to that
part of the world in a little while - you know, because sometimes as the
show goes there but we don't physically take the actors there I mean
every week, not every week.
But most weeks we actually travel, the show travels to some, you know,
exotic location but the reality that the actors stayed behind in Toronto
and we send a crew to the exotic location.
This season we've sent - we've already sent Piper to Puerto Rico and
Paris. We're sending Chris Gorham to Turkey. We have trips planned to
Berlin. We have trips planned to send (unintelligible) sending to Berlin
but maybe the thing I'm most excited about in the whole season and we
have a trip planned to Rio for Piper coming up.
And that's one of the great things about, you know, being in the second
season and having been a hit in our first season is we're - we're being
allowed to do something extraordinary.
Because no TV shows are allowed to take their cast to these foreign
Tiffany Vogt: Yes.
Doug Liman: And it makes such a difference and if you caught Tuesday
night's episode of Covert Affairs, you know, you could not have pulled
that episode off unless you physically took Piper Perabo to Paris.
And - and the show - everybody loves that episode so much that, you
know, we're just - it's just giving the network and the studio even more
confidence to let us travel even more.
And, you know, the main limiting thing now is just physical stamina
because, you know, I went to Paris with Piper and it just, you know,
it's physically grueling.
I mean she flew in for basically 36 hours, not basically, like exactly
36 hours. It's a long distance to fly and she wasn't vacationing for 36
hours, she was working for 36 hours.
And then flew back and had to go back to work in Toronto. So, you know,
we have to think about it's a long season this year. It's 16 episodes,
you know, that's why it's not always Piper who travels and that
ultimately is going to be the deliminating factor in how much travel we
It's just - it is physically taxing to - to - for an actor to travel to
a city in a totally different time zone and then work there and then
Tiffany Vogt: So if there was anywhere in the world that you could take
the show to, where would it be or have you already planned on going
Doug Liman: Well, you said where else would we go, I mean there's
basically nothing off limits and we - we were going to shoot in Iraq
because I shot in Iraq for Fair Game.
So I mean that doesn't get sort of much more extreme than going to Iraq.
And figured, you know, my movie shot that week on the TV show.
Unfortunately, we're going to Jordan instead because some of the
infrastructure that was in place for me to shoot Fair Game in Iraq is no
And so it wasn't - we just - really wasn't technically feasible to go
back to Iraq. But, you know, if you told me like, If could choose any
place on the planet to take an episode and take some of our cast, you
know, it would be North Korea.
And there like no more dangerous or exciting place for a spy to go today
than North Korea.
Tiffany Vogt: Fair Game.
Doug Liman: Plus I'd love to see it - I'd love to see it myself.
Tiffany Vogt: And my final question is will there be an explanation of
the story line in the - involving (Odett Fare)'s character?
Doug Liman: You know, specifically, explaining what about him?
Tiffany Vogt: Just explaining the storyline, would there be an expansion
of it at all?
Doug Liman: Oh yes, he's...
Tiffany Vogt: Is he going to be back.
Doug Liman: He's already come back this season and, you know, we - we
love him. You know, he's - he's - that's the other thing, you know, I
love about television versus movies it's like, you know, it can evolve
while you're doing it.
So, you know, we loved him in the first season so we've written him into
the second season. He's not in every episode but he - he comes back this
season. And as do some other cast members that we loved from the first
And so you, I love that about television and this particular show in
general we can - she can cross paths with people that who we loved the
interaction with in season one.
She can cross paths with again and even within a season if it's the
seasons are long enough that if their chemistry's great, you can bring
them back later in the season and work them into another episode.
So it's, you know, we're really building up like a great secondary cast
of characters that are inhabit the world that Piper travels through.
Tiffany Vogt: Okay, fantastic. I'm going to slip in one final question.
Are you guys going to go into the character of Jai Wilcox at all? Like
his history and what's his story and delving deeper into his story line?
Doug Liman: Yes, very much so.
Tiffany Vogt: Yes.
Doug Liman: I mean we love Sendhil, it's so we're that's a big part of
Tiffany Vogt: Okay, thank you very much.
Doug Liman: Thank you Tiffany.
Operator: Our next question from the Leslie Fines with 360i, you may
Leslie Fines: Hi Doug how are you?
Doug Liman: Hi Leslie.
Leslie Fines: I just wanted to go back to Suits really quickly. I had
question about kind of casting you kept talking about the chemistry
between the two characters. And I'd love to know more about like the
whole casting process.
If you had a specific two people in mind to play these roles or a
certain type of person and how you kind of got them to collaborate
Doug Liman: I mean we wrote the script first. You know, we wrote this
sort of very hot shot attorney named Harvey Specter and we wrote this
other character, this, you know, super street smart young guy, drop out,
but just this brilliance.
And I love - it's my new thing like the superhero whose super power is
brain. And it's - I'm doing that with my next film and I'm just maybe
I'm at a stage of life and obviously Jason Bourne that was main power
was his brain.
Leslie Fines: Right.
Doug Liman: So it's something you know as I grew up with a very smart
father and mother. I sort of got - I got, you know, sort of imprinted on
me that, that's, you know, I've - my films have always been driven by
really smart characters.
And I mean to actually like - this smart actually being so smart that
basically it's like a super power that obviously Jason Bourne's super
power is his brain and it's, you know, in Suits Mike Ross's super power
is his brain.
He's got a photographic memory and he never forgets anything that he's
ever read. And 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, way
too similar in lot of ways, way too different. You know, because the
older one Harvey has gone, you know, did go 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 the - the -- 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.
And then forcing them to sort of work together is, you know, was in (Aaron)'s
script for the pilot. So we had that when we went out looking for cast.
And Gabriel obviously brings that, you know, is able to nail that kind
of charisma and arrogance where you still love him.
Leslie Fines: Yes.
Doug Liman: And 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 - that was essential for this
show to work.
Because we wouldn't have wanted to downplay the character's arrogance. I
like, you know, 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
So I wanted somebody who would allow me to - to have 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, you know, you
could end up hating him for being so smart.
And who is - doesn't follow any of the rules that the rest of us follow.
And Patrick, you know, in a totally different way than Gabriel makes you
love him for his - for being both sort of the smartest guy in the room
and in others sort of the most clueless.
You know, 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, you know, we - this show only works if you find the exact right
actors to play those two parts. They're so specific and they are not,
you know, they're exactly the kind of characters you'd expect in a
project that I'm involved in because I'm a huge fan of antiheroes.
And 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, you know, a
murderer. Mr. and Mrs. Smith they're both murderers who have no regret
whatsoever. And even, you know, my latest film Fair Game, you know is --
takes a sort of very critical harsh look at both sides of the conflicts
between (Valarie Flame) and the Bush Administration.
So and basically treats both sides of the story as being antiheroes. So
it's - those antiheroes are very close to my heart and (Aaron) is
created with Suits like two antiheroes in the same show.
And I've - I haven't had two antiheroes since Mr. and Mrs. Smith and,
you know, it's a really sort of fun world for me to explore.
Leslie Fines: Awesome, thank you so much, I can't wait to see it.
Doug Liman: Yes, I'm really proud of it. Thanks Leslie.
Leslie Fines: Thanks.
Operator: We have no further questions at this time.
Doug Liman: Andrea?
Andrea Epstein: Okay. Okay. That's find, that's great. Doug, thank you
so much for your time and really appreciate it. And everyone on the
call, thank you as well.
Doug Liman: Thank you guys. Thank you.
Andrea Epstein: Okay, bye, bye.
Doug Liman: Okay, bye, bye.
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