For the last few months we talked a lot about the new Cinemax show Femme Fatales, and it’s become a pretty popular topic around here. So, with the season finale airing this Friday, we thought it might be nice to talk to the brain-trust behind the series. So what follows is my talk with show creators Mark A. Altman and Steve Kriozere.
Let’s get started…
Was Cinemax wary of featuring their first scripted series in a while, or was this something they were behind from the beginning?
Mark A. Altman: I think they really embraced the opportunity to do something different. What I really respected was they were willing to revisit a genre that has been considered dead by most, the anthology show, and rather than go for something more conventional, got really excited about the possibilities. I like that Cinemax is willing to take risks and we have some very smart executives who realized that if they’re going to standout rather than try to imitate what all the networks are doing, they should do what the networks AREN’T doing. I think they also realized that working with established network producers was a good way to tell the town that this show is something different and worth checking out… and I think that st and taking seriously…. and that strategy has paid off for them given that the show has been a big success for the network and we’re immensely grateful for all their support.
Steve Kriozere: Networks are always wary, that’s their nature, but Cinemax had a strong vision for Femme Fatales from the get-go. They not only broadcast the show, they our are creative partners as well, from the initial story concept through post production. The executives there have an excellent sense of story and character. Like Mark mentioned, kudos to our comrades Cinemax for doing an anthology series when most other networks would steer clear of a show concept like this…
How was this experience compared to some of the other shows you’ve been involved in?
MAA: It’s been terrific because of the creative freedom. More importantly, it’s a show where we really get to do what we want for the most part. I’m a big fan of 40s film noir and Steve’s a 80’s grindhouse nut so the mix of our sensibilities creates a really interesting hybrid, in my opinion. I like that the audience never knows what to expect; one week it’s a classic noir thriller like “Something Like Murder” and the next week it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy, “Speed Date,” which is something that even a genius like Rod Serling couldn’t pull off.
SK: Every week we get to come up with new and original and awesome characters. Aside from Lilith, our narrator, we don’t have any other regular characters, or standing sets (which is its own challenge..but that’s another story). It’s the most creative freedom I’ve ever had. I get to unleash the craziest ideas from my mind…until the reality of production sets in . What’s cool is that with new characters popping up every week, you never know where the story is going to go or who is going to make it out alive. Having a show like this allows us to play around with great actors I’ve worked with before like Robert Lasardo, Charlie O’Connell, William Gregory Lee and Dean Haglund. Unfortunately…SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen their episodes…they all don’t fare too well…but the show is called Femme Fatales, not Dude Fatales.
Are any of the characters in the series based on real world Femmes Fatales?
MAA: No, but obviously the classic femme fatales of yesteryear are huge inspirations ranging from Barbara Stanwyck to Jean Harlow to Ava Gardner to Kathleen Turner or even someone like Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle. What’s really been fun is taking the iconic character of a femme fatale and updating it for a contemporary audience.
SK: Yikes, I hope not. But there are definitively strong and dangerous female protagonist prototypes inspired by movies I am a fan of, such as Ripley from “Alien,” and “La Femme Nikita.” And some of the characters names in Femme Fatales, such as Violet Macready from “Bad Medicine” or Dr. Matilda West from the second season episode “Bad Science” are inspired by kick-ass 80s characters from John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Walter Hill and Sam Raimiflicks. Could Nurse Violet Macready be the long, lost daughter of Kurt Russell‘s R.J. Macready from “John Carpenter’s The Thing?”
How long did it take you to find the perfect LILITH, and how great is it working with Tanit Phoenix?
MAA: We auditioned hundreds of actresses, but we were really impressed by Tanit. When we brought her back for her screen test, on her birthday, mind you, she was our first choice for network. We actually had her do several different accents as she’s from South Africa, but we liked the British accent the best. We’ve dubbed her “the sexy Rod Serling” which I think really sums up the character and tried to integrate the character as best we can into the mythology. I think if it were entirely up to Steve and I we’d do more with the character, but the network has been reluctant to reveal too much about her, too soon. We’ve also had some preliminary discussions about her possibly directing an episode in the future as well which could be fun.
SK: Tanit’s first audition in the United States upon arriving from South Africa was for Femme Fatales. We were very lucky she came by. She nailed the part. We had several of the opening monologues already written and she blasted thought them completely off book..and then she blasted out of the room. We were all very impressed, so much that I told the casting associate to grab her and bring her back in so we could see her do it again! Tanit perfectly embodies the Lilith character… charming, mysterious and sexy. We love integrating Lilith into each episode beyond the narrator part. Tanit loves it too, she keeps asking me, “When do I get to kill somebody?”
There are a lot of TALES FROM THE CRYPT fans around here, and it’s easy to see similarities between Femmes Fatales and Tales From the Crypt, with the anthology format and the host interludes and all, was that something purposefully done? Is it an audience you were at all aiming for?
SK: To go from a comic book geek attending SDCC in the early 90s (I met Jack Kirby!) to sitting on the Femme Fatales panel at SDCC this year for a television show I helped create is a dream come true.
And to see that people really dig the show, that’s very satisfying. Everyone who worked on the show should be proud of what we’ve all accomplished together…and let’s keep kicking ass!
MAA: On a personal note, we’re very grateful to you for your support and interest in the show. You’ve really been a champion and this is a show that needs that fan support to spread the word because we don’t have giant billboards or marketing campaigns, so it really is up to people like you to get the word out so thank you….even if we don’t always agree with you :)
SK: True that!