An Interview with Banshee's Showrunner Greg Yaitanes

By Kyle Dowling

<p>Greg Yaitanes pushes the envelope on TV and in media.</p>

With the always-expanding range of CGI and special effects, it’s refreshing to see something real. But in the case of the Cinemax series Banshee, “real” just doesn’t seem to cut it. Now coming to the end of its second season, the show delivers some of the most cringe-worthy, jaw-dropping fight scenes on TV, all surrounded by a story and characters that draw you in from the pilot…which actually isn’t the pilot. Don’t worry, you’ll understand soon enough. If you haven’t jumped onboard yet, get to it!

We recently spoke with Banshee showrunner Greg Yaitanes (House, Lost, Heroes) about the upcoming Banshee finale (Friday, March 14 at 10 P.M. on Cinemax), how it came about and his ingenious ideas that helped him get to work on the show he wanted so badly. Banshee may be one of the most intense shows I’ve ever seen. It’s dark, it’s gritty, the fight scenes make you cringe…almost as if the violence itself is a character. Was that the idea from the start?

Greg Yaitanes: I’m really thrilled to hear that! We pictured all of that early on. We made a change in our stunt team at about the third episode in because we wanted to really up the ante. I remember when I interviewed Marcus Young, he asked, “How far can I take this?” I told him I wanted to go all out. I said, “You go as far as you’re willing to go, and I’ll pull you back.” I don’t think there’s any better demonstration of that than the upcoming season finale. I’m so excited. I know this is going back some time, but how did the show initially come to you?

Yaitanes: At the time, I was executive producing House. It was the last season of the show and I was looking for my next project. I had seen some things along the road that I liked but I just wasn’t able to work on with my House schedule. I knew Alan Ball was doing a project with Cinemax. I was constantly stalking this project and its progress along the way. I didn’t know Jonathan [Tropper] and David [Schickler] at the time, but I knew I wanted to get out of network and move to cable. When I first started meeting about the show I went through a series of meetings…totally different than network. With HBO, it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got 10,000 Emmys. What else you got?” [laughs]

What I did for the meeting was create a trailer for Banshee out of other movies. I used it as a pitch video for what was in my head. I think that worked to my benefit because I was giving them a tangible way to see how I wanted the show to go. It was a great opportunity for me. Also, I had a very out-of-the-box concept for shooting season one. Normally, you shoot the pilot episode first. I actually shot episode four as the pilot. If people go back and watch, they’ll see that it’s totally out of sequence. That’s an ingenious idea. What made you do that?

Yaitanes: I’ve directed pilots and I often find that they’re the worst episode of the series. So I thought, the best chance I could give it was bury it in the middle of shooting. Maybe by the fourth episode the audience would grab on and move with it. By doing it that way, I didn’t have to worry so much about making everything perfect. It allowed for the characters to settle in and for us all to find the groove of the show. And when we got around to shooting the first episode of the series, things ran very smoothly. The thing I love about Banshee is that the main character is an antagonist being a protagonist. The con being the cop is an interesting concept. As the showrunner, how do you see Lucas Hood?

Yaitanes: I think Lucas somehow represents Banshee in that we’re not all good and we’re not all bad. I don’t put him in a box. Ultimately, the thing that makes him represent us all is that he’s human. We all experience things in our lives; we all have secrets and experience certain psychological mishaps. Family, responsibility, love, life…we all experience these things.

As much as Banshee is an action-packed adult drama, I feel it is an outer shell to the inner core of a coming-of-age story. Because season one was so successful and intense, I imagine there was a fear of how to top it.

Yaitanes: I was very protective of not having that conversation, the “how do we top this” conversation. I really pushed Jonathan, David and I to get into a room to figure out what season two would be before season one had ever aired. We did season one and immediately talked about season two. I did that because I did not want us to be swayed by fan reaction. I didn’t want it to confuse the purity of our process. Season two was created about two or so weeks after season one had finished shooting. I think that allowed us to come up with a structure. To us, it’s never about topping season one. It’s about keeping the momentum of season one. If everything plays right, the opening of season two should just feel like the 11th episode of season one.

I think once you start thinking of how to “outdo” yourself, you’re setting up for failure. It’s the death of the show. If you have the storyline laid out, does any hype or criticism the show gets during the season make you think to change something?

Yaitanes: I think we’re very careful. We came out of the gate with a show that is for the fans. If they love what we do, they’ll love it all the way through and follow the show. They want us to go out of the box and be fearless. I do wonder if we would have been as fearless if we did look at the reactions for season one, but I think that can cause a lot of paralysis. I think the way you laid it out allows you to tell the story you want to tell.

Yaitanes: Exactly! And the fans have been incredibly supportive of that. We know where the show is going to go. We know what we want; we just may take a few side roads to get there. I think when people see this season’s finale, everything we’ve been doing is going to make sense. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the fans to see! Lucas Hood is sort of a moving target. So many people are out to get him. Any turned corner can have a bad outcome. What do you think is his ultimate goal?

Yaitanes: I think we hit on something in episode six of this year, asking, “Can we evolve? Can we change?”That is not the Lucas Hood we met in the pilot. He has had a rapid evolution. What defines him is something out of his grasp, I think. Tell me about the Banshee Origins.

Yaitanes: When I first pitched the show, maybe at the very first pitch meeting, I said something I didn’t even understand myself, but I remember saying, “With the budget you give me for 10 episodes, I can deliver an 11th episode.” They didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I wanted to do more.

Sometimes, in film and television, there’s one line that has major storytelling potential. For us, it was when Carrie says, “You don’t know how many times in 15 years I came to the gates of the prison and didn’t go in.” I equate it to a line in the first Star Wars film when Luke says to Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You fought with my father in the Clone Wars?” It has such potential, and I couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we took Carrie and saw why she didn’t go through the gates at different times?” With that, we created these backstories for everyone, things that led up to the moment that Lucas Hood came to town.

You can obviously get by without these, but they add such an aha moment. People who watch the origin stories and then watch the show will be like, “Oh shit!” I think things will tie together nicely, especially when this season’s finale hits. I really think people will relish the finale even more if they go over to before it airs and watch the origin stories. I’m super excited for it!

The Banshee finale airs Friday, March 14 at 10 P.M. on Cinemax.


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