Jane Espenson interview: Husbands, Torchwood, Battlestar Galactica and more

We caught up with writer Jane Espenson, to talk about her work on Torchwood: Miracle Day, Battlestar Galactica, as well as her new sitcom, Husbands…

The word ‘prolific’ aptly describes the non-stop output of Jane Espenson. Comfortably one of our favourite genre writers, her work has taken her from Buffy and Battlestar through to Game Of Thrones and Torchwood.

Now, as she launches her own project, Husbands, she spared us a bit of time for a chat…

Firstly, where did Husbands come from? How long has this been gestating in your head, and what’s it about?

Husbands is a comedy about a newlywed couple. Two guys who haven’t been dating that long set out to celebrate a new marriage equality law and wake up drunk-married in Vegas. Not wanting an embarrassing high-profile divorce, they decide to make a go of it. They encounter all the challenges that come from starting a life with someone you’re still getting to know – but that you might just love.

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It grew out of conversations I had with co-writer and star Brad Bell (aka Cheeks). We wanted to do a project together about young people in Los Angeles, and had tried on different concepts, but we didn’t feel that we really had something that felt right until we stumbled across this idea.

Why, given the ambition and breadth of content that cable networks have brought to US television, do you suggest that TV isn’t ready for Husbands?

I may be wrong about that. I’d love to be wrong about that. I was just applying the logic that surely other writers must have pitched the idea of a romantic comedy with a same-sex couple. Since it’s not on the air, I sort of assume that the networks aren’t convinced it’s for them. But public opinion on this topic is evolving every day, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this on the air very soon. Maybe it’ll even be us!

Do you want this to grow out of the web? Accepting that you want the project to be small, would you still like it to span into a TV series eventually?

 I actually don’t need the project to stay small. I would be thrilled to see this get as much exposure as it can. But I do love the way the accessibility of the web has allowed us to do this the way we wanted to.

Presumably, one the appeals of doing this project on the web is that, from first shot to release, the process is very quick?

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It really is! It felt like our prep work went on forever – rewriting, casting, hiring, rehearsing, but once the cameras started rolling, it was incredibly fast! We shot all our footage during two weekends, and the editing is going really quickly. We’ve had moments where we’ve hit small snags and delays, but really it’s been incredibly smooth.

What did you learn doing the webisodes of Battlestar Galactica that you could bring to Husbands?

This is a great question – I didn’t see the connection until you asked. Yes, BSG’s Face Of The Enemy webisodes were the last time I was in a similar situation: sitting on a small set, head together with the director, changing lines on the fly. I loved making those webisodes and this had that same feeling.

Where and when can we see Husbands? And what’s been your favourite thing about it?

My favorite thing has been working with friends. Cheeks is a dear friend, and Jeff Greenstein directed it – I worked for him years ago on Jake In Progress. Alessandra Torresani, one of the stars of Caprica is in the show. Shawna Trpcic did wardrobe – she did costumes on Dollhouse and on Torchwood. Kay Sarazin was our hair stylist – she’s another friend who also does my hair. And I met new friends too – Sean Hemeon plays Brady, one of the Husbands, and M Elizabeth Hughes was our producer… the whole crew is amazing. Fantastic.

You can see Husbands now at HusbandsTheSeries.com. We’re going to roll out new episodes every Tuesday and Thursday until all 11 two-minute episodes are out.

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Can we switch to Torchwood: Miracle Day, which finishes this week in the UK? How did you find Russell T Davies’ mix of UK and US writing approaches, the part-writing room, part-commission approach? I loved working on Torchwood with Russell! What a joy!

The mixture of approaches was actually seamless. Russell planned to do a very short-term room and then work with each of us individually, but the American writers ended up sort of sliding him into a more extended room process. It was still very short – maybe a month? – by US standards, but it was right for this project.

Did you get to pick your episodes?

Sort of. I made it pretty clear which episodes I really, really wanted – episodes 3 and 7, and I was given them, along with episode 5. Later on, I was asked to co-write episodes 8 and then 10, which was a great bonus.

Immortal Sins was bold, brave and the highlight of the series for me. How tight was the brief you had on that one? How involved was John Barrowman, given that this was the episode that put his character absolutely front and centre?

How tight was the brief? I don’t know what that means – do you mean, how detailed was the break?

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It was very detailed – Russell makes sure you’re prepared when you start writing, but you’re also given a lot of room to make changes and to improvise. In this way, Russell is very much like Ron Moore, the showrunner at Battlestar – they both welcome innovations and surprises from their writers, which is an unusual preference.

John was not involved in determining the story, but of course we are influenced by the fact that he’s so good. You feel confident giving subtle acting tasks to all the members of a cast as great as this one is.

You’ve been engaging heavily with fans on both sides of the channel with Miracle Day. Is there any difference in the response you get from US and UK audiences? Are UK audiences more protective of ‘old’ Torchwood, do you find?

Yes – that is precisely the difference. There seems to be a small but very passionate group of UK fans who particularly embrace the tone of the first two seasons of Torchwood. I was thrilled when they seemed to really enjoy my episode 7, Immortal Sins. They liked some of the feel of the earlier seasons that found its way into that episode in particular.

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How have you found the reaction to the show as a whole? Do you have ambitions to be involved with it in the future?

The reaction has been great – Starz has been supportive, the fans have been wonderful, my fellow writers have been jealous that I get to be involved – it’s everything you could want! I would love to stay involved!

Would you fancy a crack at a Doctor Who adventure?

That is the most British sentence I have ever read. And yes, of course! Who wouldn’t fancy that?!

Finally, can we go over a few other potential projects? Are you one of the many writers involved in George Lucas’ Star Wars live action TV series?

I can truthfully say that no, I’m not involved in that particular project.

Are you involved in any way with Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome?

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Not so far, but I’m watching with great anticipation.

Are you writing for Game Of Thrones again?

I’ve been busy during the time they’ve been working on season two, but I would love to be asked to return to write another one. My experience there was very positive.

Where are you up to with Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased)?

That’s a project I’ve been working on with my friend and co-writer Drew Greenberg. We are breathlessly waiting for the reaction of SyFy to our outline.

Finally, can you recommend us a TV show that we’ve never watched?

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Hmm… have you seen the original Starsky And Hutch episodes from the 70s? I loved that show very much. Check it out between episodes of Husbands!

Jane Espenson, thank you very much!

You can see Husbands at HusbandsTheSeries.com.