After eight seasons of The Vampire Diaries and five seasons of The Originals, executive producer Julie Plec created the next step in The CW franchise with Legacies, which tells the story of the next generation of supernatural beings, be they vampires, werewolves, witches, a tri-brid, or any number of other mysterious creatures. At the same time, she’s also the executive producer on Roswell, New Mexico, about a young woman who returns to the town she grew up in, 10 years after the death of her beloved older sister, only to find that her teenage crush is actually an alien with otherworldly abilities that he’s had to keep hidden, in order to protect his own life.
While at The CW portion of the TCA Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Julie Plec and chat 1-on-1 about what ultimately made her sign on as an executive producer on Roswell, New Mexico, how she ended up directing the pilot and the season finale, what she wanted to bring to the series, and how she thinks fans will react to the end of the season. She also talked about what’s still to come on Legacies, what’s most impressed her about the cast, and why she took to Twitter, in an effort to find new voices for the second season.
Collider: Congratulations on Season 2 of Legacies! It’s such a fun show, and it’s been so surprising.
JULIE PLEC: Thank you! I appreciate it. It has been a complete learning experience for me. I’ve dealt with monsters and horror, working for Wes Craven, and then with Kevin Williamson, but building them from scratch and the fact that it’s not a werewolf that you get eight months with Rick Baker to develop, or Freddy Krueger, where you know you’re building an entire movie around designs. No, with this, we have 10 days to build an incredible and amazing monster, and our team has just been great.
How did you end up signing on as an executive producer on Roswell, New Mexico?
PLEC: I have a hard time saying “no” to people that I care about. When the idea of Roswell first floated to me, my first instinct actually was, “I wanna be careful there.” It’s one thing to be a part of a re-imagining of a series that was made a couple decades ago, or where you don’t really know the players. But Jason Katims is a writer that I have always looked up to and have always really admired his work, so I felt like, “Hmm, I don’t know if this is something that I should approach.” But then, when they hired Carina [Adly MacKenzie] and she said, “I could really use a guardian. Will you do this?” I thought, “That is a situation that I would love to get into.” They hired her for her idea and her voice, and they decided that I could be her mentor in the process. I’m the one that convinced her to quit her job. I’m the first person that hired her to be a writer’s assistant. I gave her that first paid script. I’ve shaped her for five years, so to be able to then help her and watch as she gets to launch her own show is just an incredible experience and so thrilling. I would’ve done it, no matter what the title was, sorry Jason Katims.
How did that then evolve into book-ending the season, as a director?
PLEC: Thankfully, they liked what I did for the pilot, which was thrilling, and they asked me to do the finale. I had always said, “Yes, but if I’m too busy, I’m gonna have to step back and let the producer-director take over.” I got to about November and I said, “I’m too busy. I can’t do it.” And Carina called and said, “You’re not allowed to say no. I miss you on set. The actors miss you. They’d really loved to have you. You have a special way of bringing the heart out, and we really want you to be there.” So, I said, “Okay, I’m there.” I put everything else aside and went for it.
What were some of the things that you wanted to bring to it, visually, especially in setting up the series in the pilot, and then what did you want to bring to the finale?
PLEC: I really wanted to exploit the beauty and the scope of where we were. Carina made the joke that, “It’s all skies and eyes,” and that’s something that we both really learned from Friday Night Lights, where you could be Tim Riggins, on the front porch of a house, and be [up close], and then drop out, where the camera is perhaps a quarter mile away, and the house is in the frame, but all you see are the Texas plains. That, to me, is beautiful and emotional storytelling, in terms of a visual language. And so, my biggest goal was to make the scope as big as it could be within the perimeters of what you have to work with. The funny thing is that I was never worried about the romance. I just knew the romance would happen. I was really worried about the visual language of the show. I walked away from the pilot actually being a little bit disappointed in some of the things that I had done, not realizing just how good the romance was and how much everybody was gonna love all that. I was my own harshest critic.
And the finale was really just about bringing a lot of full circle elements in there, and a lot of delivering on relationships and delivering on mysteries that were teed up in the pilot. It was just about bringing that home and trying to make it as epic and beautiful in scope, on a much tighter schedule than we could on the pilot, but using the desert, and using the romance of the sunsets and the sunrises, to help the story.
How do you think fans will react to the finale?
PLEC: I think they’re gonna freak out. It delivers on relationships, and all of the relationships, in spades. And it ends on a massive, wild twist that’s a huge cliff hanger, emotionally, with the mystery, the plot, and everything. It’s built to really make people want to come back for more.
Have you guys already started talking about what Season 2 could look like and where it could go, especially when you leave the first season on a cliffhanger?
PLEC: Yeah. When you end up breaking the end of one season, there’s always the very clear path that you put yourself on for the second season. But I know that Carina and Chris [Hollier] are sitting with the writers very soon, now that the show is over and they’re not shooting anymore, to really start cooking up what the next story is. This is Carina’s first time at bat, and she had the time to really think about it and plan it and dig nine layers deep to build five years worth of story in her head. I’ve never had that luxury. I’m so jealous because it’s a much easier way to make television, let me tell you.
Are you hoping to direct more?
PLEC: Absolutely! I love directing. I directed one of the Legacies episodes this year, and I did Roswell. I would absolutely do more of both and, one day, another pilot, I would hope. It’s definitely a muscle and a part of storytelling that I really love and fit really well in, so my hope is to keep doing it, as much as possible.
What are you most excited about, as far as what’s still to come on Legacies, this season?
PLEC: Legacies is at its midpoint of the season, so we’ve finished our first chapter and have given as many answers as we could give about our mythology while still opening the doors for all this new mystery to take us through the rest of the season. Now, we’re in the second chapter, where we have a new artifact at the school, which is a new magnet for these monsters, and we have some of the most amazing – some terrifying and some hilarious – monsters coming our way. We have an episode in which the kids basically get mind-controlled by a sci-fi monster, which happens to coincide with the talent show, and that’s only bound for hilarity. We’ve got a road trip episode with a monster. We’ve got a very special episode, in which Lizzie Saltzman takes center stage and we get to go on a really fun run with her. There’s so much coming, and it’s hilarious, wonderful, emotional, and scary. It’s a whole barrel full of good times.
I love that cast so much, and you have so many new faces in that ensemble. What’s most impressed you about what they’ve done?
PLEC: For one, Danielle Rose Russell is an extremely talented young woman. She has such control over her emotions and is so intelligent. She’s 19 years old, and she can do more, as an actor, than many actors that I’ve worked with who are two, three and four times her age. Everybody else has to step up. And then, we’ve got all of these kids, some of who hadn’t been on a set for more than a day, really diving in and exposing themselves, and letting their personalities shine, and learning as they go, and just being game for anything. That’s the most fun. This group is game for anything. They love their jobs. They love the show, and they just wanna do well. It’s really fun when you’re working with people like that because there’s no cynicism and no one is jaded yet. No one is tired yet. No one wants to go home and leave Atlanta yet. It’s a playground, in a good way, of really infectious energy and positivity.
With Roswell, you’ve worked with some of that cast before, but there are also some new faces there, as well. What do you enjoy about watching what that cast brings, and how they’ve grown, throughout the season?
PLEC: With Roswell, we can congratulate ourselves on some good casting choices. Usually, when you bring in people who have really made their mark as another character, you always feel a little bit of the shadow of that character that they left behind. The risk of casting Michael Trevino and Tyler Blackburn is that they’d be bringing Tyler (from The Vampire Diaries) and Caleb (from Pretty Little Liars), but I don’t feel that, at all. Especially with Tyler Blackburn, he’s really worked so hard to make Alex this really vulnerable, deep character who just wants love, and just wants strength and happiness, and who’s been raised by a pretty abusive man that has no tolerance for that kind of thing. Jeanine [Mason] had her own success as a dancer, but is newer as an actress, so seeing her take the mantle as the lead of a show has been so incredible. She’s great at bringing everybody together, and setting a tone of professionalism and commitment to her work. There was a moment where we were shooting the finale, and we shot a scene and everything was great, and I was about to move on. And then, I thought, “Let me try this one more time.” I walked to Jeanine and said, “Listen, there’s this line that, when I read the script, I started to cry. It just hit me because it’s got so many layers of tragedy in it. Can you do one more take, where you just open the door to that grief?” And she said, “Sure,” and we rolled cameras. When she said the line, a perfect tear rolled out of her eyes, and when I yelled, “Cut!,” Trevino was like, “Oh, c’mon! That’s such bullshit that you can do that!” So, when you’re working with talent like that, you’re just grateful, every day, for what it is that they bring to the table.
What was it about Carina Adly MacKenzie’s voice, as a writer, that made you want to work with her?
PLEC: My very first impression was less about her voice and more about how intuitive she was, and how in tune she was to what we were trying to do. Before Zap2it, she was covering the show for L.A. Times Show Tracker, and Bob Levy, an executive producer of The Vampire Diaries, sent Kevin and me her post on “Lost Girls,” which was one of our big game-changing episodes, and what she wrote was so spot-on, as far as what we were trying to do in subtext and all of the seeds we were planting for the season. She just got it. We read it and were like, “Whoever this women is, she understands this show as well as we do, if not better than us,” because we were just floundering, trying to get it done. And so, we just kept an eye and just kept following her on Twitter, which had literally just started, and she was funny on Twitter. She had this great voice for jokes, and her recaps got more sassy and less academic, and more of her personality came through. Over the years, I thought, if she can do on the page what she can do on her social media and on her coverage of the show, she’s gonna be an incredible writer. I was able to give her that opportunity and, thank god, she was above and beyond gifted, from the minute she started writing. Now, here we are.
You also recently asked for recommendations for new voices? What made you decide to go to Twitter for that?
PLEC: It’s funny because I feel like I’m maligning the people that were submitted, which I’m not doing. What I was frustrated by was agents sending a list that I felt hadn’t been remotely curated, that contained nobody with any samples that were necessarily specific to the tone of the voice of the show, and that probably contained nobody that the agent said, “Hey, would you like to work on a show called Legacies?” It felt they were just checking the boxes of who was available, and putting them on a master list and sending it our way. A lot of those people are people that I’ve read and passed on before, and they’re the same names, every year. I got really defensive for Legacies, and I thought, “Clearly, the agents don’t think this is a sexy job because they’re not putting in any sexy effort into sending me their sexy clients. So, screw this! I love my show and I want the best for it, so I’m gonna take it to the people. Let’s grassroots this shit! Let’s see what we can find.”
The barrier to entry, as a young writer in this town, is incredibly thick. If you’re lucky enough to become a PA, like the PAs who have worked for me, and you’re the right voice for the show and the right energy and the right level of workaholic, then you can break in that way and that’s a perfectly good path, but a lot of people have stories about being super gifted on shows, as assistant writers or staff writers, and getting completely ignored or shit on, or the budget isn’t able to facilitate keeping them. So, I thought that if I could harvest the opinions of other writers and other people who know writers and say, “Hey, who stands out to you and who seems special to you?,” maybe I’ll get lucky and somebody will pop for me. And so far, I’ve gotten about 50 scripts, I’ve read 10, and one of them was great and somebody that I’ll ve bringing in to meet. I look forward to meeting her, so we’ll see what it pans out to. I happen to need some new voices on the show, and I’m very excited to read the things that I’m getting, to see if anybody fits the bill.
Roswell, New Mexico airs on Tuesday nights and Legacies airs on Thursday nights on The CW.