“If your expectation is that we’re going to bring those characters to life and that world to life, and the Deadly Class school to life,” Joe Russo says of the upcoming Syfy series he and his fellow Avengers: Infinity War director and brother Anthony are executive producing, “then get excited because Rick Remender, the guy who wrote the book, is the lifeblood that’s behind Deadly Class the show.”
Heading into more production on the fourth Avengers movie in the next few weeks, the Russo brothers won’t onstage Saturday afternoon for Deadly Class‘ Comic-Con debut with co-showrunners/EPs Remender, Miles Orion Feldsott and Mick Betancourt, comic artist Wes Craig, and cast Benjamin Wadsworth, Lana Condor, María Gabriela De Faría, and Infinity War alum Benedict Wong. However, Joe Russo was extremely enthusiastic about the 2019-debuting TV adaptation of the Image Comics series when we spoke just before the confab kicked off.
In addition to discussing all things Deadly Class (which has an autograph session on the convention floor at 2 PM PT at the Image booth), Russo also talked about he and his brother’s big-screen Marvel efforts, their Mastermind FX project with Fargo and Legion boss Noah Hawley, their Quantum And Woody adaptation for TBS, and a certain Larry Charles effort moving forward at their AGBO shingle.
DEADLINE: You guys have done a lot of TV over the years and obviously have the comic thing humming right now with the Marvel movies. So, in that busy environment, what attracted you to Rick and Wes’ Deadly Class as a potential series?
RUSSO: I think what attracted us to the comic is that Anthony and I grew up as genre lovers. It’s a really important part of our cinematic upbringing. The concept behind the comic certainly has a genre core to it, but the thing that excites us most about genre is that when you mix it with something much more complicated it elevates it and changes it and surprises you. So, I think that the coming-of-age aspect, when you combine it with something different which in this case is a lead character who’s in an existential crisis, it makes it incredibly compelling.
Also, Rick Remender as a writer and how he understands the voice of this character, of this world, is tremendous and brilliant.
DEADLINE: As someone who grew up in that era of the 1980s, I think he nails it…
RUSSO: Absolutely. I think the truthfulness and authenticity is the reason that Deadly Class is a lot of people’s favorite book.
DEADLINE: In that, Rick has had to make a leap into a new genre of sorts for him as the co-showrunner of Deadly Class, the TV show. For you guys, how did you help him out there and how did you help him find his way with what’s a different platform for him?
RUSSO: We took a very hands-on approach to that show. You know that we’ve produced a lot of television over the years. We understand that medium very well, and so we translated a lot of our thought process behind how we would deal with our own shows to Rick.
DEADLINE: What form did that take?
RUSSO: We went through the rewrite process very intimately with him while we were working on the draft. We talked a lot about how things translate in television, the speed that you have to work at and the choices that you have to make. We also focused on how character translates in TV and how in a lot of ways character is paramount in television to a narrative. In the end with Deadly Class, I think the character exploration is really, for us, the crux of the season. It really is our character exploration as much as it is about plot. If you don’t have that I don’t think you can take an audience with you on that journey through that many episodes.
Not to be repetitive, but we’ve produced television for a decade at a very high volume, and we’ve created efficiencies and we have the most amazing team of people that we work with and have worked with and have been grooming for decades. So, it’s easy for us to delegate to people that we trust and who understand our tastes — I think that’s how we stay so efficient, and that certainly was the case on Deadly Class.
DEADLINE: Adaptation can be a tricky process, can’t it? I mean, as your Captain America and Avengers efforts saw, there are some who hold to the source as having to be pure, while others see the move from the page to the screen as fluid. As creator and as a fan, how do you keep those core audience concerns in mind?
RUSSO: Well I think our job is not to do direct adaptation, pure and simple. So, in Deadly Class you’ll see that it does correlate more closely to the books than some, but it’s impossible to take something that works on a page, in a comic book panel, and translate that exactly to television. You see that all the time with our Marvel work too.
I’m a comic book collector. I grew up reading comic books for many, many years. I do not want to see a direct adaptation of a book I have read because I know the ending. I know what’s going to happen, but when people take the characters that I love, in the world that I love, in the tone that I love, and they tell me a new story in it with really inspired actors and inspired execution — that excites me.
If your expectation is that the movie or the TV series should be a direct translation of the comic it’s based on, don’t watch any comic book adaptations ever because you’ll always get disappointed. If your expectation is that we’re going to bring those characters to life and that world to life, and the Deadly Class school to life, and that we’re going to tell you some really compelling stories in that space or endeavor to tell you some really compelling stories in that space, then get excited because Rick Remender, the guy who wrote the book, is the lifeblood that’s behind Deadly Class the show.
DEADLINE: Sounds very much like what I would call the Robert Kirkman approach, which is the Walking Dead comic, and the Walking Dead show. They’re based on the same thing and the creator is deeply involved in the series version, but they have characters and people and situations that are entirely different…
RUSSO: You have to take the Kirkman approach again because it’s different media. It’s not a direct correlation. You can’t just directly translate it. In fact, it doesn’t work in a way that you expect.
DEADLINE: What do you mean?
RUSSO: Well, whoever you cast as your lead has different changes of character than in the book. You want to make different choices. An actor has to leave the show, for instance, now you’re killing a character off earlier than you did in the book. You cannot predict real life and control it the way that you can the page. Also, I think Rick is now making choices about the story arc in the book based on his experience making the show, which is interesting. Having worked on the show, so some of what he’s doing with Marcus in the book, is what he’s learning working on the show.
DEADLINE: On another vein of that, Deadly Class is up at 35 issues now as a comic. So how many issues does Season 1 of the show cover?
RUSSO: Rick is really in the process of that right now. He and the team are figuring out how much story they can handle from the book in translating it, and how much he wants to translate.
DEADLINE: Talking about translation, how do you think a story set in the last years of the Reagan Era and the heyday of the American underground punk scene will translate for teens today watching on Syfy? Or is it just for middle-age guys like us?
RUSSO: (Laughs) It will translate, let me assure you. I think that Rick chose that period for a specific reason and I think that, we are lining up with some changes in the world today that reflect that period of time. For me, I think there is a similar disposition in the world today. I do think that people will see a manic or allegorical correlation.
DEADLINE: Going from the small screen to the big screen for a sec, and I’m not going to try to get any spoilers out of you, but coming off the critically and financially home run of Avengers: Infinity War, how does the upcoming next Avengers flick feel for you and Anthony now as filmmakers.
RUSSO: You know, we’re very proud of it. I think ultimately Avengers 4 may be our best work for Marvel. I think we’ve grown with every movie that we’ve made there. We’ve grown with the characters. We’ve grown with the cast. As filmmakers we’re very happy and very excited with the movie.
You know, it’s always an agenda of ours to block out the outside noise because it can lead you to make some bad choices with the material. We’ve learned over the years just to listen to ourselves, and it’s great that there’s two of us that we can have conversations with each other. We can really stay insulated and reinforce one another in our belief in the story that we’re telling. I feel like with Avengers 4, because it was made before there was any response to Avengers 3, it’s really pure in that regard. The storytelling is very pure. It’s without any sort of external noise creeping in at
DEADLINE: How far along are you on the movie?
RUSSO: We’ve been in post-production on it since the release of Infinity War and we’ve got some additional photography that we’re doing in a month or so.
DEADLINE: Back to TV. How is Mastermind, your FX project with Noah Hawley, looking?
RUSSO: Good, we’re in the script phase on that. We have an amazing draft and I think we’re just executing some file notes from us and Noah. Then it’ll be handed to FX and they’ll make a decision as to whether we write a pilot or not.
DEADLINE: And your Larry Charles project?
RUSSO: Oh, fantastic. Can’t say much but I think that it’s very Larry. It’s an incredibly noble concept and it’s also hilarious and heartbreaking and profound all wrapped up into one show. It’s an incredibly brave show for Larry and he put himself in a lot of jeopardy to document some of the issues that he documented in the show. So, moving ahead.
DEADLINE: With all the plates you guys are spinning and the distinct and deep skills you and Anthony bring to projects, I’m wondering what is the common denominator that AGBO looks for to get involved in a show or film?
RUSSO: You know, a lot of it just has to do with our taste. A lot of it is. Look at books like Deadly Class or Quantum and Woody, they both make really extreme choices. They both have very graphic tones. One leans towards naturalism and intensity and the other leans towards disturbed humor, but they’re both novel and adventurous in their approach. I think that if there were any common thread it would be that and that’s why we are excited about both of those projects.