Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick Interview: Wayne
While it doesn't yet have the clout of Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, YouTube Premium (formerly known as YouTube Red) is building an impressive portfolio of binge-worthy hits. From Cobra Kai and Origin to Champaign ILL and Sideswiped, YouTube is quickly amassing a formidable roster of must-see programming.
The latest surefire hit for the streaming service is Wayne, an action comedy about a teenage vigilante (Sing Street's Mark McKenna) with an unshakable sense of justice. He and his new friend, Del (Ciara Bravo), find themselves on a road trip from Massachusetts to Florida to steal back his father's prized car which was unjustly stolen years ago. The two teens are on decidedly punk rock coming-of-age story, complete with salty language, righteous fisticuffs, and a sizzling rock and roll soundtrack.
We spoke with showrunners Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who have made a name for themselves with atypical blockbusters like Zombieland and Deadpool, making them absolutely perfect for a show like Wayne. They shared some fun insight into their creative process, talked about the creative freedom afforded by working with YouTube, and even shared some of their hype regarding the upcoming Zombieland sequel.
All ten episodes of Wayne debut January 16 on YouTube Premium.
Can you tell me a bit about the inception of this show? Where did it come from? Is it something you guys have been sitting on for a long time?
Paul: It was brought to us. It was created by a writer named Shawn Simmons, who grew up in Brockton. It had sat with him for the last 35 or 40 years or more. It was brewing, and he put it to paper, and it came to us through a friend of our who we worked with many times named Kirk Ward, an actor/writer/producer who is in the series. He executive produced it and also wrote on it. Anyway, he brought us the spec pilot, and we immediately said, "how do we get involved, we love it so much!" It fit squarely within our brand, if Rhett and I have a brand. It combined action and comedy and heart and drama in a way we like to do in our other projects, and we sold it to YouTube. They flipped out over it.
A big part of this show's inevitable success will be these two young leads, Mark McKenna and Ciara Bravo. Can you tell me about the casting of these two amazing young people?
Rhett: We found Mark and Ciara through our casting director. The audition process wasn't easy; they were pretty hard to find. Our creator, Shawn, had a very specific vision in his head of who these people were. They had to be tough, they had to be stoic, but also show emotion around the edges. They had to have Boston accents. Mark is from Ireland. He was in Sing Street, the John Carney movie, and when he auditioned, everyone fell in love with everything about him. The only worry was the accent. When he first came in, he hadn't nailed the Boston accent, but only because it's a tough one to nail. He didn't have a dialect coach or anything. The only question was, can we get him to do the accent a little bit better? He took it on with a vengeance and got great at it. It became very clear to us that he was the guy. And Ciara is just a force of nature. She's so good, also mastered the accent very quickly. They did chemistry reads together, they were great together. It just felt like a slam dunk.
I love Stephen Kearin as the sheriff. He's so funny and I just love his oblivious perspective. You've got amazing character actors like him, Mike O'Malley, and Dean Winters. Can you tell me a bit about writing a character and then presenting that to an actor who might want to take them to places you didn't think about? What's that collaboration like?
Rhett: Every actor brings something fresh to a part. Once you get their voice in your head, you know who you're writing to, you find it that much easier. Mike O'Malley, he's got a very specific voice. He's from that area. He's got a toughness combined with a vulnerability, and a kind of mopey-but-lovable side to him. It makes it that much easier to write the principal. And Dean Winters, he has a real toughness and edge to him. That was the easy part; what was wonderful was to discover that there's more to him than that. I think Shawn worked to bleed that into the character so he's not just a cardboard cutout villain. You learn more about the character and his relationship with his wife and stuff. It's always a two-way street with actors. You're always informing them, and they're always informing you in return.
I love so much the idea of the teenage vigilante. He's like an Old West gunslinger or a superhero or something. He sees bad people doing bad things and decides he's going to do something about it. Can you tell me about writing characters and situations with a degree of moral ambiguity that just gets cut through by Wayne's black and white perspective?
Paul: We've done it before. Deadpool, Wade Wilson, is the perfect example of the anti-hero who you root for. He kind of rides that moral line of, well, yeah, he's wrong for doing it, but I kind of see why he's doing it, and I'm rooting for him to do it. The best way I've heard this series described is, it's John Wick meets John Hughes. It's a coming of age story of this boy who is finding his way in the world, and yet he's been taught or has this compass to right the world of its wrongs. He's a character, I think, in the wish-fulfillment world, that we all want to be. There's not a moment that goes by that I don't want to teach somebody a lesson! You know?
Another thing I love about this show is, while it's definitely got its slow-burn plotlines that develop across the season, every episode tells a complete story. That's something I think not enough binge-worthy shows do. Oh, and most of those stories involve Wayne taking on someone who deserves a righteous beating. How much fun do you have coming up with creative ways to do that? Like, "how's he going to beat this person up?"
Rhett: It's a ton of fun. We had a writers' room, and we all sit around trying to figure out where the show goes. You're right, it is a serial story, but we really do like beginnings, middles, and ends to our episodes; Shawn Simmons, our creator, really believes in that, as do we. We always like to take our audience on a journey where they're thrilled, they're having fun, and there's a climax to the episode, but at the end, we're pulling at their heartstrings. We always like the heart at the end. We try to do that in everything we do. We tried that in Zombieland and we tried that in Deadpool. For Shawn, that's very much his credo: "I want to make somebody laugh, I want to thrill them, but at the end, I want them to have a lump in their throat." When we heard that, we thought, yeah, that's exactly what we like to do! It felt like we were brothers from another mother. For the creative violence, that's a thrill. That's something we do in almost all of our movies. There's nothing we love more than thinking of fun ways for people to beat the crap out of each other. We're action writers at heart, so that's fun, too!
Building off that, were there any ideas that you had for the show that you had to ditch for one reason or another? Or are they being saved for season 2?
Rhett: We definitely had to lose things over our budget. We had grander visions for some of the fights that you'll see in the second half of the season. The show gets bigger, that's for sure, but we always had budget constraints. I think, more than anything, you get limited, a little bit, by the toys you have in the sandbox. A fight can only be so grand on a show where you just don't have major blockbuster money. I think that's where we're the most constrained, or where things hit the cutting room floor. In terms of stuff we wanted that we couldn't get in, I don't think there's anything we felt huge regret over. We usually found some version, even if it was cheaper than what we originally envisioned, of what we wanted in the show.
Okay, I've got to ask: Deadpool 3 and X-Force. Maybe it's too early to ask, but are you tackling both of these movies simultaneously? Or is X-Force the next chapter?
Rhett: According to the chronology that we've established, X-Force will be next, before Deadpool 3. It's a bit of the "Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3" model, in that sense. X-Force isn't being written by us. It's being written and directed by Drew Goddard, or at least that's the plan right now. We're not involved with that one. We do anticipate there will be a Deadpool 3 at some point, but it's just a little premature, because it will definitely take a backseat to X-Force for the time being.
Paul: We're constantly in touch with Ryan (Reynolds), and we're always throwing ideas back and forth via text and phone conversations. So, it's always at the front of our minds. We'll get there when the time is right, but as of right now, X-Force is next up.
More immediately would be Zombieland 2, or as IMDB is calling it, Zombieland Too.
Rhett: Yeah, that's not the title. I don't know why that's on IMDB. Sometimes we just scratch our heads over how things like that happen. But Zombieland 2 starts shooting in January in Atlanta, Georgia. All the principals are back. We're very excited. We think we finally got to a place where we think we got a sequel that's worthy of the first movie. Time will tell if that's the case, but it will come out sometime in October or November, or something like that. Later this year. It's a blast to get that particular band back together. A lot of people who worked on Zombieland, including us, think of it as one of their favorite formative projects. To be able to return, ten years later, from when the first one came out, it's a blessing that none of us thought was going to happen. To have it come together like this, it feels like capturing lightning in a bottle.
Does the movie have an official title you can share?
Rhett: We do have a title, but we can't share it yet. But it's not Zombieland Too.
Fair enough! So, Wayne is a YouTube Premium show. The impression I get is that YouTube gives creators a lot of freedom to make shows without the restrictions of regular TV. Has that been your experience? Do you have executives breathing down your necks? Or do they say, "Here's some money, come back with a show."
Paul: YouTube has given us the creative freedom to make the show we want to make. They've given us notes that have made the show better. They're not creatively oppressive by any stretch; quite the opposite! We got to make the show we all wanted to make, and were given the creative freedom to do so. It's been a wonderful experience. All the executives over there have been wonderful to work with. We feel very fortunate and privileged to be on YouTube. There's an audience there; you've seen it in Cobra Kai. They can reach an audience that nobody else can, pretty much. Fifty million-plus people watched the pilot of Cobra Kai! That just doesn't happen anywhere else, in streaming or network TV. We're given creative freedom and access to an audience that's really unmatched in this art.
That's awesome. I especially love, with this show, the 30-minute runtime. It feels like a sweet spot where there's no fat on any episode but you get to say everything you want to say.
Rhett: Yeah, and we don't have to fit the twenty-three minute network restriction in terms of our episodes. They can be a little longer. Not quite an hour, but they give us enough real estate to really tell our story. We're just so proud of Wayne. We really are. They've been great to us, and I think they're very happy. We would work with these guys forever. Just, like, for instance, one episode... Shawn Simmons wanted to do an episode that didn't have Wayne, in a show called Wayne! You can just imagine how most networks or most creative outlets would react to something like that: "Well, maybe for season 3 or 4 we could try something like that, but not in the first season! People haven't gotten their feet underneath them enough to have a show called Wayne without a character named Wayne for one episode." Quite the contrary, they were fully supportive of that, and we think it's our favorite episode. That's not to take anything away from Mark McKenna, since he's not in it (laughs), but I think it's the most solid, heartfelt, funny, crazy, sad, bittersweet episode we have. That's YouTube giving us the freedom to think outside the box of networks or even cable networks.
Are there any plans for season 2?
Paul: Yeah. Shawn's got great ideas. I think he's already in the midst of writing the first episode of season 2. Fingers crossed; if people love it as much as we do, we'll be off to the races!