Letting in 'Intruders': A Q&A with Writer Glen Morgan

Mira Sorvino in 'Intruders'/Image © Cate Cameron/BBC Worldwide Limited

If there's anyone who's kept a front-row seat to the changing landscape of American television, it's writer/producer Glen Morgan. Morgan began his career writing for shows like "21 Jump Street" and "The Commish." But it was his work on "The X Files" for which many people most remember him. He's since gone to write and produce a variety of shows, including the criminally ignored (and subsequently canceled) Chloë Sevigny-driven crime drama "Those Who Kill" that ran on A&E earlier this year.

Morgan's latest series, "Intruders," which premieres August 23 on BBC America, is based on the 2007 novel of the same name by British author Michael Marshall Smith. The show, which Morgan developed, revolves around an ex-police officer turned writer (played by veteran UK-television actor John Simm) who is drawn into investigating a secret society and its involvement with his wife (Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino) and a nine-year-old girl (newcomer Millie Brown) who isn't who she seems to be. The society is devoted to pursuing immortality - via body-invading souls.

Signature recently got the chance to chat with Morgan as he was taking a break from editing the final episode of "Intruders" to talk about the series, the trend of TV shows based on books, how a great cast can influence the writer, and more.

SIGNATURE: How did you first become involved with this project?

GLEN MORGAN: I was asked to go in to BBC Worldwide, which is the production studio arm of BBC in the states ... and they said, "Here's this book." I think they had tried to develop it as a two-hour or a four-hour [program] set in the UK. Michael Marshall Smith's novel is set in Seattle and they tried to move it over there and they had problems with that and so forth. And that seemed interesting to me. I had been away from that genre for a while and I was open to going back there. And I just loved the book.

SIG: What about the book appealed to you?

GM: Unfortunately for my career, I'm attracted to the stuff that's a little off ... [Smith would] do a couple scenes and then he'd do a whole piece about this girl who committed suicide in high school; I was like, "What does that have to do with anything?" and it kind of didn't. So then I was like, "Oh, that should be the beginning of the show." And then I was constantly going "This is great. This is great. And this should be here." And then I read the end ... and the ending is much more definitive and I was like, "No, it can't end like this ... I got the ending." And I think it's pretty cool. I really fought for it ... That's what his book did. It read like a movie. It gave me a better idea about telling this visual story than a lot of screenplays do.

SIG: What's your relationship to the source material when adapting?

GM: When I'm presented with something, I really approach it with great respect to the writer and creator who got me interested in the thing. You know, reading Michael's book, I went in and I told them, "I'm doing Michael's book ... This isn't a starting point or a good idea. There are a lot of good things in here. We're doing this book." And I was terrified of mangling it. To the point where that author - who I know went up to his office and struggled and was away from his family, all that he went through to write that book - I want to honor that process. And if I can't, then I don't think I should do it.

SIG: We're definitely seeing more and more TV shows adapted from books, but it seems like there's a really wide disparity in what gets adapted and how it's done. Do you think there's an underlying factor that gets a book turned into a show?

GM: In the first place, I wish that executives were more open to original scripts. You know I've been around a long time and I've been able to see trends and cycles and it used to be if you had a spec script, "Come on in!" And now it's like "Eh." If you're not based on a novel or an existing Israeli show or whatever, they're slower to hear you ... but that's the way to it is.

I think it depends on the group that gets together ... Some producer's going to read Rosemary's Baby and say, "This is a great starting point." Other people are going to go, "No no. We're doing that book." And then the director comes in and goes, "Well, I like this and I'm going to bring this to it." And you know, some people just have big egos and they're like, "Oh, I've got to put my stamp on it. I've got to have my voice." And that's fine. So I guess my answer is: It just depends on the group that gets together.

SIG: Even though you said that you're "doing" Smith's book, it's pretty obvious from the first episode that it's not a straightforward adaptation.

GM: [We] do stray from the book for various reasons. And we let Michael know and Michael was at our table reads and he never said anything. He seemed to understand that we were sort of taking the themes and the characters of his book and doing this with it. It wasn't like changing it so to speak. There are a lot of different reasons that things get changed. You didn't get the money and the book was set in Moscow and now it's set in Pennsylvania because there are better tax breaks or whatever. There are other things that influence an adaptation.

SIG: You've got a really strong cast for this series. Was that another reason for making those changes?

GM: Chris Carter and I used to have a debate; well, we still do. He always said it was the interest in the concept of each episode and I said, "No, it's David and Gillian." Because a lot of shows came along that ripped "The X Files" off, but they didn't have David and Gillian, or Mulder and Scully, or whatever.

In making a movie or television show, when you have a great cast like we do ... it makes the writer go, "You know what would be a good scene?" When you have it right, they just bring out ideas. Episodes are created because they could do this well and I'd like to see this interaction. And that's always the most exciting part to me, because I don't have to sit there and come up with it out of nothing. It's a collaboration.

SIG: Are there any plans for the story after these eight episodes or is it a wait-and-see kind of thing?

GM: The studio has me - the studio, not the network, has said, "Do the first two scripts for next year" ... so I've done that. Based on Those Who Kill, A&E wanted a cliffhanger for the season finale ... "This is for year two," they said. "It's going to be great and blah blah blah." And then the show gets pulled after two episodes and the few fans and people that watched that show will never know what happened. And that just hurts me. That really bums me out. So should this be it, I think this is a really satisfying ending. Hopefully it's not. But that ending could springboard into a story for the second season.

Watch the trailer for "Intruders" below: