On the intriguing new eight-episode Cinemax series Quarry, created by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy and based on the best-selling books by Max Allan Collins, U.S. Marine Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) returns home to Memphis from Vietnam in 1972, only to find himself demonized for the actions he witnessed and took part in while he was there. Struggling to make ends meet, Mac, who evolves into Quarry, is lured into an underground killing network of powerful criminals that turns his life upside down.
At the show’s press day, executive producer/director Greg Yaitanes (Banshee) talked about why he decided to direct every episode, whether he’ll continue to do so moving forward, the incredibly collaborative relationship he developed with actor Logan Marshall-Green, the fascinating character dynamics, how none of the women allow themselves to become the victim, and the incredible work of Damon Herriman and Ann Dowd. He also talked about developing Micronesian Blues with Jonathan Tropper and Patrick Dempsey for Cinemax, why he’s so excited to tell the story of Manifesto for Discovery, and how proud he is of how long Bones, for which he directed the pilot, has been on the air.
Collider: What was it that made you want to tackle all of these episodes, as a director?
GREG YAITANES: I had done it once before, when I was a younger man. I did a mini-series of the second and third Dune novels, which was James McAvoy’s first gig. I directed all six hours, and it was 100 consecutive days. I directed my own second unit on Saturdays and Sundays. I was like, “I’ve done it. I can do it again.” Actually, Kary Antholis at HBO approached me about tackling all eight episodes. They had a really good experience with Steven [Soderbergh] on The Knick, and True Detective benefitted from a single voice.
Logistically, with being away from the kids and the time commitment it would have meant, my wife and I talked it out and saw the enormous benefit of housing the entire season. Normally, when I’m producing, I go back and forth to see my family. For me, who is an efficiency nut and tries to bring these elements that streamline production, being able to direct all eight episodes, at the same time, was phenomenal and it was appealing to the cast for that consistency. It was something Logan [Marshall-Green] really pushed for. I did not immediately jump at it because I wanted to make sure that I could deliver. I was used to producing other directors, but not putting that energy into trying to convince somebody how to do the show and to really get steeped in the era. This wasn’t the kind of thing where there was going to be a clear template to look at. On a practical level, I was worried about whether I was going to get that right. There’s such a specific cinematic language to this series, and I just felt really comfortable about being about to do that. And then, by day 40, 50 and 60, I was on a high. It really was so great to be the center of this creative world and be facilitating everybody’s great talents. That was the thing. The trick is really hiring great people and staying out of their way.
How are you going to handle that, moving forward? If this show continues, will you do that again, or will you figure something else out?
YAITANES: There are two ways to look at it. I would either want to take it on again because what I love about seasons of TV is that they’re the sequels to movies I never get to make. Going back to that world, being familiar and taking what we learned and evolving the work from what we did is really appealing. At the same time, producing another filmmaker to direct all of them is also really appealing to me. So, I could see either of the two things happening. It depends on the needs of the season.
What made Logan Marshall-Green the right actor to center this around?
YAITANES: Logan was one of the first ones in and he was actually on the show before I came in, so I didn’t directly cast Logan, but so much of this was shepherding it with Logan. Logan was a true creative partner. He and I went 85 days of shooting together without so much as raising our voice to each other. It was a very passionate collaboration of similar vision that enhanced each other’s good work. Having someone that is as smart about story and understanding of the medium is as valuable as the performance they’re giving you. And he’s incredibly giving, as an actor, to his fellow actors. Everybody that came in was truly impressed with his presence. He based a lot of the physicality of this character on his dad, which always made me curious to meet his dad, to see if I could see Mac and find the influences for the things he did. He was a creative partner, every step of the way. He saw cuts and was someone that wanted to contribute and take a bigger role than just simply doing what I think is the hardest job on set, which is being in front of the camera, with the courage that takes. I just think it’s such a fearless and giving performance.
It’s funny, it was very similar to what I saw in Antony Starr, and it was mixed with a work ethic that kept me at House with Hugh Laurie. Every day was like the first day at work. So, as a director, I just wanted to stay out of the way of both the writing and the performances. It’s a cinematic style that is very hands-off for me. I do the bare minimum needed to tell the scene visually. I didn’t want to do anything showy to pull you out of the period. I walked a fine line between The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, The Place Beyond the Pines, Blue Valentine and Drive. It has a mix of good cinematic references. When I went back to look at things like Dirty Harry, Death Wish, The French Connection and Straight Time, they didn’t do a lot. I wanted to bring that and just let the performances do the work. I don’t go in for close-ups until I really need them. And Logan, especially, is really good at modulating his performance. What I liked was that it gave the actors the opportunity to take runs at these beautifully written scenes.
The character dynamics are so compelling and interesting and different to watch.
YAITANES: The relationships are where this thing lives and dies. I really believe that. It’s Mac and Buddy. It’s Mac and Arthur. It’s Ruth and Arthur. It’s Mac and Joni. And then, later in the season, you’ll see other relationships form. And we go back to Vietnam and that, as a director, was the biggest and most daunting of all the challenges. Of anything I’ve ever done, that was the most heart-stopping, in terms of honoring and doing right by that. I worked entirely with people who were not even alive during the time of the Vietnam War. Every single thing that’s ever been made about Vietnam was made by someone who lived through the time or went to Vietnam. To be the first filmmaker to tackle Vietnam really honestly, required a daunting amount of research. It was tough. The subject matter was tough to engage people who had actually been in Vietnam to work with us, which also told us that we were doing something right, in terms of the authenticity of it. I think that when the show gets to Vietnam, the story we’re telling there will surprise everybody.
You have some really great, really interesting, really strong female characters in this show.
YAITANES: I love all of the women in the show. Nobody ever lets themself become the victim, which is great. The guys often take that role that normally is reserved for female characters in less sophisticated material. And we were very conscious that the female characters couldn’t just be over-the-shoulder wives in the story of a man’s descension. For me, Quarry is a hitman drama that’s housing the deconstruction of this marriage. You can see every action has organic consequences. You can’t keep this kind of secrecy within a marriage and not have it start to pull the marriage apart.
There’s the verbal volley of Episode 4, and the fifth episode has a sequence that’s so gut-wrenchingly honest to watch. There are so many aspects of different points in my own evolution as a human being that I see in the different relationships, and we try to really represent them across the season. There’s a certain maturity to Arthur and Ruth. There’s a youthfulness to the marriage without children, with Mac and Joni. Later in the season, you’ll see other relationship dynamics. I love using the relationships, and particularly our female characters, to really bring that drama and the genre elements into the orbit of the home.
The relationship between Buddy and his mother is also so fascinating and compelling to watch.
YAITANES: There are two real high points of shooting the show. One was the two days we had with Ann Dowd. Damon Lindelof and I were in touch, and I had her on loan from Season 2 of The Leftovers. It was a dream. She came in and we rehearsed for a day, and she just brought it. There’s so much of my grandmother, who’s now passed, in her. The week that we shot Episode 4 at the motel, we were far away from where we normally shoot and we were all on location. We’d never seen mosquitos like the ones that we saw, and yet we were in it. It was all shot practically. There were no sets. We were using the real motel rooms because that particular place was really locked in the era. That was probably one of the most creatively meaningful times of my career.
You also have various projects in development, so will whether or not you return to direct all of the episodes again also depend on how much you’re juggling?
YAITANES: I have a big appetite. It is a business of gambles and speculation and personalities, so you want to put things that you care about out there, but everybody is on their own timeline. So, while these things are all happening, this could be the next three years of my career. I’m not worried about what happens after 60, but between 46 and 60, the next 14 years, I’ve gotta figure it out. I enjoy having the skill set of a director, but I love developing and shepherding material and collaborating. With [Jonathan] Tropper being one of those collaborations, it’s exciting that we’re working together again.
What is it about Micronesian Blues that brought you back together?
YAITANES: I worked with Patrick [Dempsey] on Grey’s Anatomy. I also knew (producer) Justin [Franklin], who brought me Micronesian Blues to look at. Like with a lot of memoirs – and I’m dealing with the same thing on Manifesto – the emotional core isn’t there. And then, just in passing, I was like, “Jonathan, Patrick’s company brought me this book. It’s really cool.” And he was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And then, he was at an event at his agency and they also happened to mentioned it, so he called me up and was like, “Hey, can I take a look at that book?” I sent it to him and he was like, “I love this thing!” And it was so clear what we needed to do with it. He and I have a very specific way of working where we’re our own buddy cop picture. It’s our own marriage. We each fill in the other person’s deficits. We orbit around and have a very non-defensive dialogue, at all times, to get to a good idea. I love that creative marriage. So, the material is genre, but it’s also the idea of taking a great fish out of water story and making it extremely dangerous. The idea that a place you would perceive as paradise has a murder rate higher than Detroit is interesting. Being an L.A. gang cop who’s dealing with actual tribal warfare is fascinating to me, to bring that into a setting that the world hasn’t seen yet.
Is that for Patrick Dempsey to star in?
YAITANES: We would love that. It’s all being discussed right now. And don’t think I’m not trying to get Kevin Spacey into Manifesto somewhere.
How do you turn a story like the one you’d be telling in Manifesto into a compelling TV series?
YAITANES: Manifesto is really the only story to tell. It’s the story of the guy who caught Ted [Kaczynski]. It’s about an emerging field of forensic linguistics, which is something that had never happened before. It’s about a guy who loved crossword puzzles and word games that really saw the patterns of language in the manifesto and realized that this would be the way to catch him. It was an unaccepted, new way of thinking, and that’s all fine, but at the other end of it, waiting for you, is literally the most brilliant serial killer of all time, in Ted Kaczynski, who was a genius and an actual savant. It is a great series of wits and intelligence, and I cannot wait to see it. It is really cool.
That sounds like it would be some challenging casting.
YAITANES: We’re in the process of that, and it is. It’s the kind of show where you don’t need names, but at the same time, it is a great opportunity for someone to play both the smartest person in the room and a character that has got every obstacle up against him. I feel that, for performers, that would be very attractive. It is the kind of project that could attract a True Detective type of casting. At the same time, it’s equally compelling, if you don’t land that.
What’s it like to have directed the pilot of Bones, and to see it going into its final season now?
YAITANES: I have young kids, and this is how I imagine I’ll feel when they graduate high school and hit that first big milestone of their life. Barry [Josephson], Hart [Hanson], Jim Chory and I all went out for Greek food a few weeks ago, just to catch up ‘cause we haven’t all been at a table together since we were at lunch during the pilot. The show has been through multiple heads of the network. People have tried to dismiss it, move it or kill it, and you could not get rid of it. The audience followed it everywhere. When I read the script for it, I just connected to it. Emily [Deschanel] and David [Boreanaz] have great chemistry. They are the hardest of workers. They are enormously focused on their chemistry. They knew that they were not going to fall into any kind of Moonlighting B.S. where they were going to squabble. Those two are tight and they have such a unique bond as colleagues, and I really respect that. It’s great that so much of the cast is still there. To see it go 12 seasons, and have it be the longest-running live-action series for Fox, it’s a great piece of trivia to my career. I’m enormously proud of it. It’s great to have a great victory like that.
Quarry airs on Friday nights on Cinemax.