Creator Frank Spotnitz on how he kept the villainous Marshal from becoming too cartoonish.
The Man in the High Castle has arrived on Amazon, and if you’re binge-watching the series, EW has you covered with postmortems to each episode. Creator Frank Spotnitz, who adapted Philip K. Dick’s original novel for the small screen, answers burning questions and talks in-depth about the major story beats. Read on for his thoughts on episode 3, “The Illustrated Woman.”
Canon City takes center stage in the third hour, especially when the villainous Marshal (Burn Gorman) arrives in town and threatens Joe (Luke Kleintank) and Juliana (Alexa Davalos). At the same time, Frank is dealing with his devastating loss, and Japanese trade minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Nazi spy Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) may be ready to carry out their dangerous mission to prevent another world war when the ailing Hitler dies.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the Marshal. At this point, we now have three villains running around: Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) in the West, the Marshal in the neutral zone, and John Smith (Rufus Sewell) in the East. How did you juggle these three villains? What separates them from each other?
FRANK SPOTNITZ: It’s interesting because, weirdly in New York, John Smith in the story functions like a protagonist. You find yourself on his side, because the story’s being told from his point of view. It’s the same as, like, Tony Soprano or Walter White. It doesn’t matter that they’re doing bad things, the world is seen through their eyes and you sympathize with them. In the San Francisco story, Inspector Kido has a code. He’s upholding a society and a certain set of beliefs.
But The Marshal, in Canon City, is a psychopath. He’s a sadist, and it tells you a lot about this world that a man like that is successful. There’s a place for a man like that. This society can use people like that, and that is the truth about the Nazis and the Reich. While not all Nazis were psychopaths and mad men, there were many who were, and they were very successful. And I thought Burn Gorman did such a great job of making him feel still believable, because that character could go too far.
On that note, was it challenging to keep him from becoming too cartoonish?
Well, it was really tough. In fact, in the early drafts of the script we kept pulling him back and pulling him back, because I think he did have more cartoonish qualities. I did worry about the long coat and the cowboy boots and everything. But I think the character that’s drawn there, I can believe that he would dress himself that way and he would walk in no hurry. He feels very powerful, and I liked his deliberate speed. My favorite scene with him is the scene with the bookstore clerk, in which nothing happens, they just talk, but it’s so frightening.
Did you have Burn Gorman in mind for the role from the start?
No, I didn’t, but when he was suggested, I immediately thought, “Oh my God, it’d be amazing if we could get him.” The only actor that I thought of before we started casting was Cary Tagawa for Tagomi.
Speaking of Tagomi, the plan he and Wegener have cooked up is moving along. What are you trying to show with this political side of the story, and how are you balancing that with everything else that’s happening?
Tagomi is really looking for a way to control his world and to alter his world, and that’s such a difficult thing to do. He and Wegener’s whole plot is about trying to make a positive difference, and he’s risking his place because you do not do that in Japanese fascist society. You do not step out of line, you do not take initiative. And of course Wegener is betraying the Nazi Empire… The thing about a show like this is it’s got so many concurrent storylines. Making sure you’re servicing each of them and not losing the audience, and making sure each time you turn to one of these storylines, something has happened and it’s emotionally engaging is very, very tricky.
As for the Resistance, clearly they’re not doing so well. Are they running scared or are they just disorganized?
I think they’re running scared. They’re poorly organized in the West, but running scared in the East. The Nazis have been really successful at degrading the Resistance, which is what happened [in real life] to the IRA [the Irish Republican Army], which got so compromised by British spies. I wanted to start at a place where the Resistance is pretty weak, and it increases your anxiety about this society and the chances for ever changing it. Obviously, it gives me a longer journey to travel in the series.
The Man in the High Castle is available for streaming on Amazon.