You’ve heard of film noir — now get ready to experience “poetic noir” courtesy of TNT’s new drama, Good Behavior. That’s how showrunner Chad Hodge characterizes the series, which is freely adapted from a series of novellas published by Wayward Pines author Blake Crouch. Centering around recently released convict Letty (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery), Good Behavior chronicles her attempts to right her life’s wayward course and win custody of her son back in the process.
Unfortunately, that plan is sidetracked when she crosses paths with an assassin, Javier (Juan Diego Botto), and becomes his unwilling traveling companion. “There’s a definite style to it, but the style never outweighs the substance of the character,” Hodge says, while elaborating on what defines a poetic noir. “We filter the story through Letty’s eyes, so you’re always watching it and feeling it from her point of view.”
Yahoo TV: You and Blake Crouch previously collaborated on bringing Wayward Pines to the small screen. How did that pave the way for Good Behavior?
Chad Hodge: Blake and I had such a great time doing the first season of Wayward Pines together and then wanted to collaborate on something else. [Hodge declined to return for Wayward Pines’ second season.] He told me, “There’s these three novellas I wrote years ago about this woman, Letty, and I think you’ll really like them.” When I read them, this character just jumped off the page and we went from there. The story of the first novella is somewhat the story of the pilot, but from there events are really more inspired by the character than the original stories. For example, the central relationship between Letty and Javier is something that we created newly for the series.
The pilot is poised between a procedural and a serialized storyline. Did you go back and forth on which approach to take?
It’s definitely not a case-of-the-week, whatsoever. Javier is deeply enthralled by this woman in some way; he doesn’t need her help, but he knows he needs to keep her around. The story is really this unconventional, untraditional love story, and it follows their complicated relationship through her eyes. And the idea is that the show goes on and on, hopefully, as opposed to the first season of Wayward Pines, which was designed as a 10-episode series with a beginning, middle, and end. Good Behavior has something of an ending that’s also a beginning of a new story for the second season.
The first episode is also very much of a mood piece — subsequent installments add a wicked dose of humor. We come to discover that Javier isn’t very good at being a hitman, for example.
Yeah, we’re used to seeing the hitman being a perfectly amazing hitman. And for me, I thought, “What is it really like to be a hitman? Tons of s*** must go wrong all the time!” One of the very first things we talked about in the writers’ room was how often he killed people. If you’re a hitman, that’s not a job you’re going to do everyday. You have to do your research, you have to know exactly what you’re doing and plan it out. So this weird dark comedy really came out of the writing, but also Michelle and Juan. You see these characters at their best and worst and everything in between, so of course there’s going to be humor in there, because life is funny.
Letty definitely represents a significant departure for Michelle Dockery. Was she always your first choice?
When we finished the first script, the idea of Michelle came to us from my agent, and I was like, “Oh, yes. Of course.” I understand that it seems like a surprise, because this role couldn’t be more different than Lady Mary Crawley, but I knew that if she could do with this part what she did with Lady Mary, she could do anything. And when I got on the phone with her for the first time, it was obvious to me that she deeply understood this character right off the bat. In real life, she’s quite unlike Lady Mary. She’s very funny, she’s very silly, and very game for anything. She’s really much more like Letty in real life.
How did the character of Javier take shape, since he wasn’t part of the original books?
There is a hitman in that first novella, but he doesn’t end up being entangled with Letty in any way. So it was really about someone who is opposite of her. He has rules for himself, and is buttoned-up in a way that Letty isn’t. The one bad thing he does is kill people for a living! The fact that they’re opposites put them at odds with each other in this fun and complicated way. We did a big casting search to find our Javier, and one day our casting director told me, “I’m about to send you a tape from this guy from Spain.” Juan is a famous actor in Spanish theater and film, and he just blew me away.
How would you characterize Letty’s arc over the course of the first season, and how does Michelle’s performance illuminate that arc?
Letty’s arc is every which way: left, right, up, down, diagonal, straight into a black hole, and then straight out of it. Like all of us, she’s on a journey trying to find the best version of herself. And she and Javier are very much drawn to each other, because they understand each other. They are these lone wolves who live on the outskirts of society and have holes they need to fill. What if the person who is actually going to help you be your best you on the surface seems to be the worst person possible? So that’s the arc, and I can’t say enough about how great Michelle is. I think people are going to be blown away by her performance, and the depth to which she goes as an actor, and how much life she breathes into this person.
Letty is a gifted impersonator, who regularly adopts and sheds guises depending on the situation. How much leeway do you give Michelle in creating those alternate identities?
Michelle has a lot of respect for the script, so all the dialogue is on the page. But we talk a lot about what she’ll be wearing and what her voice will sound like when Letty is pretending to be someone else. There’s an improvised moment in the pilot where Letty comes up with a whole story about Ryan Gosling. That was Michelle sort of playing around. In general, Letty is fast on her feet when it comes to that stuff, while Javier’s the opposite. He’s a planner, he’s methodical. Michelle and Juan didn’t know each other before we made the pilot; they did a chemistry read together, but that was all the interaction they had. So they’ve really discovered each other as they’ve been shooting the show. Their relationship naturally evolves through the episodes. And I think people will be really surprised to fall in love with these two characters through the course of the show.
Good Behavior premieres Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. on TNT.