Tyrant returns tonight for a third season on FX, and, according to executive producer Howard Gordon, the Middle East set drama has finally “delivered.” The veteran EP also asserts that the Gideon Raff created show that Gordon and Chris Keyser run has never been more relevant in a region and an America dealing with new threats, new terror, Donald Trump and the politics of fear, as he terms it.
With The Good Wife‘s Chris Noth and The Americans‘ Annet Mahendru joining the series plus a number of notable actors from the region, Gordon chatted with me about how Tyrant has evolved into what he initially envisioned. And, with the speculation that Kiefer Sutherland could be seen on the upcoming 24: Legacy, the EP also clarified where things stand with more Jack Bauer coming from the Designated Survivor star and how Homeland‘s Season 6 will be different than previous runs.
DEADLINE: Tyrant is back and where do we find the ruling Al-Fayeed family and the nation of Abbudin now?
GORDON: Well, essentially the premise of the show finally got delivered in the third season. In the beginning of Tyrant, the premise of Adam Rayner’s Barry Al-Fayeed character was essentially passive in this journey. He was a guy who didn’t want to run the family business so to speak, that business being running a Middle Eastern country.
The first year was us feeling our way sort of animating this passive character in to acknowledging his presence in his family but also in the show next to his heir apparent brother Jamal. Last year was kind of a very pivotal, dramatizing Barry’s connection to the land, to the people, to the uprising and to his country and to his faith and all those things. This year having owned all those things he finally gets to test his character and of having power – and that’s very exciting to me this year.
DEADLINE: Why this season as opposed to before?
GORDON: Not to sound too self-aggrandizing but I think Tyrant has never been more relevant and more important not in just that part of the world but to our part of the world. Because there and here in America, with Trump and others, I think we’re seeing the politics of fear and the politics of the other.
I hate talking about the show as some kind of polemic, it’s not meant to be that, it’s meant to be a drama. But I think for Chris Keyser and for me and for the other writers and the actors, we needed to ask questions about what it means to govern a country or countries and cultures that have been governed for years by tyrants and by cultures that have not let the people have a voice. I think with this year too you also see that just the fact people have a voice isn’t just by definition a good thing but has its own hazards – we’re seeing it with the populous politics of America and around other places in the world. So it’s not like some kind of polemic about democracy, you know, I think we sort of ride the edges of the hazards of democracy as well. So in terms of how Tyrant will now be viewed or watched or thought of in the Trump world – I don’t know but its never felt more sort of important to me than it does now.
DEADLINE: What is that importance, from your perspective for both the show and the character?
GORDON: I mean, it’s the idea of tyranny of power, the hazards of tyranny and of power, in a way that we’re seeing right now not just abroad but even at home. Politics animated by fear vs. politics animated by pragmatism. Depending on your perspective, this show really does explore those ideas. Which is something I always meant to do and it’s almost uncanny that we’re in this place right now.
DEADLINE: Obviously, over your career with shows like 24, Homeland and now Tyrant, geopolitics and the era of terror has been a lot more than a backdrop. Those shows have received a lot of praise but also some distinct blowback too, so specifically, what is that place we’re in now for you with Tyrant?
GORDON: In the post-Arab Spring era, it is to introduce the idea of the progressive and the young voices that are animated in the Middle East right now. When we look at the region and the way we look at the region, they are in some way the silent majority of the Middle East. They’ve been eclipsed by extremists or by bureaucrats or by the elites and politics as usual.
From early on, our advisers on the show were telling us please, this is like a huge, huge thing. They said, you have to try to get this on the show. So finally this year those voices have kind of found their dramatic expression in the characters. You know, Chris and I have been mindful of the need for that from Season 1 and I think we finally had gotten to tell those stories that we needed to tell from the very beginning of the show.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about the beginning of another show, 24: Legacy – at ATX TV Festival last month, you said you would love to see Kiefer Sutherland on the reboot as Jack Bauer in some form….so…
GORDON: Let me be clear, there’s no plans at the moment; I think it’s just sort of a possibility downstream reflecting just my own personal fantasy (laughs). We haven’t said you’re definitely coming back; it’s just something that I was just musing about and that I think isn’t impossible but there are no plans about it. We have to talk as friends and colleagues about him coming back but he’s doing Designated Survivor, which will keep Kiefer busy.
DEADLINE: You know, this is 24 fans’ dream to see Kiefer as Jack again in the new show, even if it to hand over the flame, so to speak and you had mentioned if he did joined Legacy it may in the second half of the debut season…
GORDON: There’s no specific timing. I think my guess if it were to ever happen it’d be at some point me point downstream when everybody agrees sort of creatively. Unfortunately, it sort of became what people are talking about but the show Legacy is really about something else entirely. It’s about launching a new story off this franchise and introducing Corey Hawkins and Jimmy Smits and Miranda Otto and our narrative different from the old 24. And, because of that, my guess is that other characters from the 24 universe will probably show up before Kiefer does.
DEADLINE: Like Mary Lynn Rajskub?
GORDON: We’ve just opened the writer’s room so I’m just thinking out loud – nobody knows anything
DEADLINE: C’mon …
GORDON: I swear, I’m not being coy.
DEADLINE: OK, shifting Legacy focus a bit, why do you think the reboot of 24 has garnered such a huge response – and so soon after the limited Live Another Day series?
GORDON: My own feeling is this sort of a kind of a wonderful perfect storm between the nostalgia and the durability of the real time urgency of 24. I also think it’s the introduction of Corey Hawkins as a new character for a new era. I mean, there’s also Miranda Otto and of Jimmy Smits of course, but Corey in particular – there is something really incredible there, he’s a really compelling actor this guy. So I was impressed, I was surprised and impressed that everybody responded as strongly to this. But, in some ways I’m always like hey, guys, take a breath – let’s just see how this thing evolves.
DEADLINE: Talking about evolution, Homeland is coming back to America for Season 6, how will that play out after several years of the Showtime show taking place overseas?
GORDON: Well, first of all, Homeland is Alex Ganas’, I’m just a Sherpa at best and it is his to discuss. But, what I will say is this year’s story really does examine and kick the edges of the very same questions that it had in the very beginning. What do we have to be afraid of? What’s the price of security? What’s the price of freedom? And ultimately it all comes back to who are we – what does it mean to be American?
DEADLINE: What does it mean to be an American in the Homeland of 2017?
GORDON: It’s not just responding or stopping a terrorist plot – it’s actually much more nuanced and, like I said, asking what price we are willing to pay?