Chris Vance talks THE TRANSPORTER Series coming to TNT
Saturday, October 18 (at 9/8c), TNT will premiere THE TRANSPORTER television series, based on the movies of the same name, this time starring familiar face and MToT favorite Chris Vance as Frank, the man transporting the packages people need from Point A to Point B and getting into a few scrapes along the way.
I had a chance to talk to Chris about why he wanted to do this show, why fans will like it, and what we’ll see as it hits the airwaves in the States!
Talk about what it was that drew you to THE TRANSPORTER series – what was the process of getting involved?
I was aware of the movie franchise; I liked it very much. I thought Jason brought really charming and strong qualities to the role. It came along in a period of my career where I played a lot of doctors and lawyers, and was looking for a change. This came along, and I thought, ultimately, it sounds like a lot of fun. It’s a departure from what I’ve been playing and it’s a complete load of fun. That’s essentially what made the decision for me. I got a handle of the character and thought I could bring something to the table and have fun.
What I liked about the first episode airing on TNT – there was humor, action, drama, romance. So much going on – is that something we see as the show progresses? All of those aspects coming in play?
Those are the key components of the show. It’s slap-bang in the middle of the action genre, and without those components and a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, the whole thing falls flat. We concentrated on those components and just tried to expand on those as much as we could, given budget restrictions and schedule restrictions and we went to town. That was the main point of the show – make it full on entertaining.
The movies are known world-wide – what have you heard from fans of the movies and the shows? Why do you think fans that aren’t familiar will really enjoy this show?
Honestly, I’m not really, you’d have to ask someone else [laughs] I guess what the bloggers are saying or the fans are saying or if there are any comparisons between the original movies and the show. I haven’t tracked that; I’ve been more concentrating on the development of the show to make sure in the medium we’re telling it, it stands up. They’re two different mediums and for me that’s an essential difference to embrace as a producer, so I haven’t tracked that. So the first part of the question, I don’t know [laughs]. For the second part, what can fans expect – I think some wonderfully charming characters, beautiful girls, cars, guns, fights, a tremendous amount of action. A lot of it tongue-in-cheek, a lot of it paying homage not only to the movie franchise, but other action genres around the world. We don’t do anything without thinking it through; we mix it up a bit. Some fairly compelling morally diverse storylines, in which we tread through all of the obstacles for Frank to negotiate while he delivers the package from A to B. A lot of fun.
I like that you point out the morally diverse – Frank fights the bad guys, but he transports maybe-illegal things – where does he fall in your mind on the good/bad side, as you play and develop him?
That’s a really interesting question – where does Frank fall in my mind. I think he’s a guy of outstanding moral compass. He faces challenges that are not always on the right side of the law and so are morally ambiguous, but he ultimately makes his own moral choice to justify the means to the end. He’s quite complex. He’s quite a complex character. He operates in a world that isn’t always legal; but he doesn’t make immoral choices.
I think it helps, too, with you mentioning the different mediums – that is what is great about TV. Being able to see the character explored over multiple episodes, we get to see that struggle, that choice, versus a 2 hour movie here and there.
I think you’re right. Movies are often, not always, but often are a snapshot of time, but with television, as a nature of the medium, we have the time to get past the snapshot aspect of the storytelling and allow ourselves to be fairly diverse and allow some depth of character to come through which perhaps you wouldn’t always reveal in a movie.
You talk about the action that we’ve seen – what type of training did you have to put in? What is the fight choreography like?
Few things – I put in about three months of training before we start the shoot. Before the first principle day of photography, I generally put in about three months of training. Just for stamina reasons; it’s not always to do with fighting. It’s a lot to do with stamina training, stretching, running and aerobic sort of training. The fight coordinator of the show, we’ve had since the beginning, Mohamed Elachi, is in my mind the most creative fight coordinator, certainly in France, perhaps in many parts of the world. We’ve become friends over the three and half years that we’ve known each other in developing the show and putting it out there. We sit and have a laugh and be boys and we try and research all aspects of other genres and what’s going on, in other areas and territories in the world and what they’re bringing to the table. We try to reinvent as much as we can to keep entertaining an audience in a diverse manor of ways. We choreograph these fights very specifically to be different, with the character, certainly Frank’s involved in a lot of them. You just constantly reinvent and constantly try to have as much fun with it all in what we think we can bring, anything but laziness to it in terms of the audience enjoyment.
Talk a little bit about the different between being just an actor who shows up and being an actor who is a producer and involved in that world, too.
As an actor, I do the same stuff. I’m sort of the lead of the show, so I have some obligations with those demands. On the producing side, I’m involved, I’m involved in preproduction, production, and post production. And I have a voice. I’m involved in all areas of production, you know, [laughs] everything. It’s endless! All key aspects, all key departments. One of the exciting things about when I’m shooting is that I have a fairly solid voice and can control the set with a lot more grace and dignity than just being the lead actor alone [laughs]. People feel welcome and secure, able to bring their best work. From the color timing, to the sound design, to the makeup department, wardrobe department, everything across the board, that makes up production, I am an executive producer and it’s my responsibility to have an opinion and offer guidance when I can. Of course, it’s a collaborative process, television making, like any good storytelling. It’s collaborative; I’m a voice in the chain, and I guess, being the lead, my voice is louder a little bit sometimes.
What about the very diverse cast – what can you talk about with them?
The female leads change from season to season; I think the best thing about the project for me, in terms of casting, is the incredible diversity of talent that we’re able to tap into for the business model of the show. We literally can source actors from anywhere in the world, mostly. We got some amazing local talent. We were shooting in Morocco this past season, Casablanca, and some of the talent you encounter and have access to, it’s unbelievable. I’d even take it down to the extras pool, the background. We could do things there which we simply couldn’t before if it was shot in the US or UK or any other place in the world. The pool of talent was so diverse. I think for the key actors, as well, it’s very important that we bring this mix, and we embrace this international mix – they offer different philosophies, they offer different training, they offer different storytelling, bring different enthusiasms to the show. It’s a hybrid and blend and mix that makes it really all the time really exciting to shoot. No one feels jaded, it’s constantly renewed. For me, that’s one of the best things about the show.
Having a few seasons under your belt, do you have favorite moments that we can look forward to?
Yeah, of course! I think in the premiere episode in the states, I met my wife while we were filming that episode [laughs]. She comes in as the guest lead. We had such a great laugh off camera and often times on camera although you probably won’t see those outtakes [laughs], and that’s a highlight for me! How can it not be, falling in love on a production that you’re privileged to be in; it’s God’s gift really. That is always going to be a highlight. The arc and the journey that myself and Mohamed Elachi have been on the show, in terms of being forced to develop a method for cramming in as much action into a television show as possible, which has been a real challenge to us, and a real test to us, to try and force a method through, in which we can deliver the large scale fight sequences, comparable to those in movies, but actually do on television has been one of the biggest challenges, and one of the most rewarding. I could go on and on [laughs].
You mention the fight sequences – what I enjoyed about them is that they weren’t gratuitous and felt like they fight into the storyline, more than being there for being there’s sake.
One of my key requirements, I call it a requirement, it’s just something I brought to the table in the beginning; if you put it as one of the benchmarks of the show. I never wanted the action sequences to be for sake of action sequences. I wanted them to be integral to the story – however they are, whatever the storyline might be. I just sort of held in there and demanded that whatever stories we were telling in the narrative should be reflected in the fight sequences. So they don’t stand out as a random thing in the show once in a while. By and large, we’ve managed to do that, which makes me very happy.
What else do you have coming up that we can look forward to besides the US premiere of THE TRANSPORTER?
That’s a question I’d love to answer definitively [laughs]. I have two television projects in development and I’m writing a feature film – whether any of them will come off, or when they’ll come off, there are no guarantees. It’s the constant background work that you do when you’re not engaged in a certain project. Development itself by nature is to keep pushing and keep creating and hope all of the pieces and the right people come together at the right time! And that’s what I’m working on at the moment!