‘The Night Agent’ Creator Shawn Ryan Talks Season 1 Finale & Season 2 Plans

Mar 27, 2023

[Editor’s note: The following contains major spoilers for The Night Agent.]From show creator Shawn Ryan and based on the novel by Matthew Quirk, the Netflix original series The Night Agent is an action thriller that follows Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso), a low-level FBI Agent assigned to a phone in the basement of the White House that never rings. The taint of his FBI agent father dying in a car accident before the truth was discovered about whether he’d truly committed the treason he was suspected of has led Peter to where he now is. But when that phone unexpectedly rings, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly conspiracy, unsure of who to trust and fighting just to stay alive.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Ryan talked about how The Night Agent came about, weaving his own original idea in with the essence of the novel, creating the assassin couple, making sure the romance between Peter and Rose evolved naturally, how important it is for Peter to know the truth even if he doesn’t like what he learned, and his plan for a possible second season.

Collider: I’ve talked to you a few times, over the years, and I’ve watched a ton of your shows, and while they all feel very different, one of the things that they have in common is that you put really great casts together, and you understand what those casts are capable of and you give them great material. What do you enjoy about working with these different ensembles, and then also seeing what they continue to do in their careers, after your time with them comes to an end?

SHAWN RYAN: This may not be the right thing because sometimes these people are older than me, my age, or younger, but they all feel a little bit like your children, and you love to see them succeed, after you work with them. It was great to work for a year with Forest Whitaker on The Shield. It was great to discover someone like Walton Goggins on The Shield. I loved working with the actors on Timeless. I saw Abigail Spencer recently, and she’s got a new sitcom that’s gonna be on NBC. I’m very excited for her about that. I grew up playing team sports, so I almost approach this job like a team. I’m trying to assemble different people with different skills to try to make the best shows we can. Sometimes there’s been a bumpy relationship, but for the most part, I love the actors I work with, and I love the directors and crew. For as long as you get to make that show, you love it. And then, you’re interested to see what they go on to do, and hopefully they’re interested in seeing what you go on to do.

Image via Netflix

How did this show come about for you? Had you been actively seeking another show? Was this a book that was brought to you?

RYAN: I had been actively showrunning S.W.A.T. on CBS. I go back and forth between broadcast shows and cable and streaming shows, and I had done S.W.A.T. and Timeless, back to back, so I’d done pretty much only network TV for four or five years. I was interested in getting back to the streaming or cable space. My company – I have a couple of people that work with me – was actively looking for things, and occasionally we’ll have meetings with people to talk about stuff. We had a meeting with James Vanderbilt, who’s a really tremendous writer and producer, and his company, just seeing if there was anything, that could be a match between our two companies. He mentioned that they had the option on this book, called The Night Agent, and when I read it, I was immediately captivated by it. I immediately saw how it could be a TV show. At the same time, I didn’t think there was enough in the book for a TV show. I had been working on my own independent idea, involving the Secret Service, that ultimately became the Secret Service storyline with Maddie and the Vice President in the show. I thought, “Okay, I think there’s a way to combine and weave these together,” and suddenly there was enough for a TV show. I was so excited about it that I went to Sony, who’s my employer, and said, “I don’t even want to pitch this. I just want to write the script. Get out of my way for a month and let me write the script. I’ll give you a script, and then you can try to sell that script.” And that’s what I did. There was something in me that just made me want to write it, so I did, and a couple of months later, we went out to the marketplace with the script. Some places were interested, but we were really targeting Netflix and hoping that they would love it and be into it, and that’s where we got to make it. I just think it’s the perfect place for this show. You can sit down and watch one episode at a time, a couple of nights apart, or I’ve talked to some people who’ve watched the whole show in a day or two. Whichever way you want to do it, we’re here for you.

How did you approach blending your original idea with the book? Did that require any major changes to what was in the book, in order to make everything work?

RYAN: It did. There were some changes we made to the book. First of all, the book’s fantastic, and everyone should go buy the book and read the book. It’s a different experience than watching the show. There’s a lot that’s similar, but there is a lot that’s different. And I talked with Matthew Quirk, the novelist, about that. He was great with, “Hey, this is gonna be a different thing, and said, “You do it the way that you need to do it.” But the spine and the basic hook and the main characters, in Peter and Rose and Diane Farr, are all lifted pretty exact from the book. And then, we had to flesh out the world in a bigger way. There’s a different killer. Dale and Ellen, the boyfriend and girlfriend assassins were creations that I had when I was working on my Secret Service idea, that I thought would be better on TV. In the book, it’s an older Russian assassin working by himself, and it’s a hard thing in TV to know what that character is thinking. In a book, you can do that with the exposition and tell the audience what the character is thinking, but that doesn’t work on TV. And so, I thought it would be more interesting to see these two people who can interact with each other, and you get a better sense of them that way. So, it’s just on a case by case basis by going, what’s in the book? Will that work? If not, what’s something that could work? We never want to stray too far from the book. We want it to feel like the same world as the book, but how does this world get bigger and how does it fill out our 10 episodes?

Image via Netflix

I loved the crazy assassin couple. Did you always want them to be so unhinged, or did that come out of the actors that you hired for those roles and how they played off of each other?

RYAN: I liked that there was a duality to them. I think she’s a little bit more unhinged than he is. I also think there’s something grounded and almost beautiful in their love for each other. What I loved is that even killers spend most of their days not killing people. I was interested in what those portions of their life looked like. And so, I loved the idea that she would think, even just for a couple of days, that it would be interesting to play house and that they would try to be a housewife and husband, and all that. Clearly, there’s something wrong with each of them, and meeting each other probably exacerbated their worst instincts. I don’t know how you felt, but as I was working on the episodes, I was partially rooting for them and partially wanted to see how they were gonna deal with this, and was rooting at least for them to be happy with each other. That’s how I felt when I was working on it and watching it. Eve [Harlow] and Phoenix [Raei], who play them, were really fantastic and, and, and I’d like to say there’s a lot on the page with that, but what they brought really elevated it beyond just what was on the page.

At the end of the season, Peter learns the truth about his father and all of the things that come with that, but he also knows that he’s pretty much going to be the only one that ever has all of that information. For him, is it just about finally knowing the truth?

RYAN: That’s something that we took from the book and that I liked. I liked the idea that he was on this quest to prove his father’s innocence and instead proved his guilt. I love what that does to a character. I love that it’s not a total victory for Peter because he helped save the day in that final episode. But sometimes we learn things about people we love that don’t put them in the best light. There’s a moment in episode four, where Peter says, “What I really want is the truth.” I do think there’s some peace to knowing the truth, even if it’s not the truth you want to hear. The uncertainty and the worry that my father was accused of something he didn’t do and that my father’s name has been sullied and bandied about, over the years, unfairly, was something that bothered Peter more. If the show is successful and if we’re able to get a Season 2, I think it would be interesting in that season to explore, could Peter ever fully understand his father’s actions and forgive him? But that will have to be a story for another season, if we’re fortunate enough to get one.

Image via Netflix

Now that Peter is, at the end of the season, part of Night Action, it feels like you’ve definitely set things up to move forward with more story. Do you have a good sense of what Season 2 would be? Did you always know what you wanted to set up, to lead into that, if that happened?

RYAN: I didn’t always know, but Netflix is always curious to know, so I’ve had some conversations with them about that. I always knew that I wanted each season to be a mostly standalone story. In this case, the center of gravity was Washington D.C. and the White House, and it had this host of characters, but for the most part, we answered most questions and we’ve settled what happened in that. Hopefully, that’s a really satisfying journey for the audience. In a Season 2, if we do one, I think it would be a whole new location with a whole new set of problems, and a small number of characters from Season 1 would be part of that, but mostly new characters would be surrounding them. And then, that would tell a one-season story. I wasn’t interested in doing a thing serialized thing and ending on some cliffhanger in Season 1, relating to everything that was happening in Season 1. I think there’s only so much patience your audience has, for all of that. So, to be able to say that we’re gonna determine the fates and answer the questions of everything within these 10 episodes, gives the show the propulsion that helps make it work, and we would try to bring that to a potential Season 2, as well.

While I don’t typically associate the shows you do with romance, I thought it worked really well here. The relationship between those between Peter and Rose really naturally evolved out of the story and didn’t feel forced. Was that something you thought a lot about? What’s the key to making that work so well?

RYAN: Yeah, I thought a lot about that. I’ve always thought that political thrillers have had more success in the film space than in the TV space, but one of the weaknesses of political thriller films is that when they try to do romance, they feel very rushed. A movie like Three Days in the Condor is great in so many ways, but it has a truly ridiculous romance at the center of it. Robert Redford has literally kidnapped her, tied her up in her apartment, and made her fear for her life, and then, all of a sudden, because he looks like Robert Redford, she’s having sex with him. It’s ridiculous. And so, what I wanted to do was to take advantage of our format, which is 10 episodes, and have a slow burn. What I said to the writers was, “We’re gonna start working these stories. We’re gonna start writing them. Maybe Peter and Rose get together, maybe they don’t. But let’s put them in this shared trauma and these shared experiences and see how these characters develop. And if we feel we’ve earned them getting together, they will.” It happens in episode seven, and I really felt we did earn it, in a way that didn’t slow down the plot. It was an explainable moment. So, I think the key is really having them learn about each other as people and really have them become each other’s universe, so that moment is more inevitable than it is a surprise.

Image via Netflix

Would you explore that relationship more in a second season? Is that something you would want to see more of?

RYAN: These are all theoretical questions because we’ve gotta get enough people to watch Season 1 for this to become a practical question, but absolutely. I think it’d be safe to say that Peter and Rose would be some of the very few characters from Season 1 that we would see in Season 2, and that we would want to explore. In many ways, that relationship was only a 10-day relationship. What would the two of them be like with more time? Does that relationship hold? Does it fray? Does it fracture? Does it morph into something else? Those would be really interesting questions for the other writers and myself to discuss.

It’s a particularly interesting relationship because they both bring something to the situation. It’s not just her needing saved. They each have their own skill set.

RYAN: Yeah. They’re different with different skills. He’s a rule follower, and she’s a rule breaker. One of the keys for us, that I got from Matthew Quirk, who wrote the book, was that they really have to learn to be more like each other, in order to survive together. I loved that idea when Matthew talked about it, and it was fun to apply that to the show.

The Night Agent is available to stream at Netflix.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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