Meet Your Makers: Legends of Tomorrow bosses reveal their pop culture influences
Can you believe it's been almost a year since we last journeyed through the timeline with the lovable screw-ups of DC's Legends of Tomorrow? To celebrate the CW superhero dramedy's long-awaited return, EW is launching Six Days of Legends. For the rest of the week leading up to the season 6 premiere on May 2, we're debuting new content tied to the show — from an exclusive new trailer, to interviews with the cast and creators, and more. Now you may be asking yourself, "Why now? Is there some major milestone coming up this season?" Well, to that we say, "Why not?"
You never know what to expect from DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Nominally centered on a group of time-traveling superheroes, the Arrowverse dramedy vacillates between different tones and genres from episode to episode, and isn't afraid to indulge its flights of fancy — from having Genghis Khan trying to conquer the world on an electric scooter, to a Regency-era set episode that culminates in a Bollywood musical number, or a meta hour that homages Friends, Downton Abbey, Star Trek, and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. As you watch the show — which returns for its sixth season this weekend — you likely can't help but wonder, who is responsible for this delightful mischief and where do these wild ideas come from?
So, EW reached out to Legends of Tomorrow showrunners Grainne Godfree, Phil Klemmer, and Keto Shimizu and asked them to share some of the pop culture that has influenced the series and their careers as a whole.
What are Legends of Tomorrow's biggest (and weirdest) influences?
KETO SHIMIZU: Legends has a wide berth of pop culture influences within in, since we hop genres every episode. In one episode we may riff on a period drama like Sense and Sensibility, and in another we might go full horror and use The Exorcist as our touchstone. This year we've leaned into a mash-up of B-movie sci-fi romps of the mid 20th century, with the aesthetic of the great alien films like Alien, Cocoon, E.T. and in a tongue-in-cheek way, Critters.
PHIL KLEMMER: The Replacements are my musical analog for the show. The temp theme song was "Bastards of Young." Some of the lyrics got stuck in my head, like "God what a mess/on the ladder of success/well you take one step and miss the whole first rung." Paul Westerberg who wrote that — along with his bandmates — was a drunken lout I think, but also a talented fella with a lot of feelings. Most of the Legends have that contradictory nature. Hard on the outside, self-destructive, angry, lost but searching for connection — we're all just looking for a band, really. "We are the sons of no one/bastards of young!" Westerberg screams. Legends is about finding family with a bunch of equally broken strangers.
GRAINNE GODFREE: There are a couple of movies I'm constantly referencing in the room: Last of the Mohicans, Casablanca, Willow… I'd like to think Sara and Ava's separation this season has the intensity of Daniel Day-Lewis telling Madeleine Stowe "Just stay alive, no matter what occurs. I will find you," [in The Last of the Mohicans]. Rick in Casablanca is basically John Constantine without all the magic. As for Willow, the movie straddles a bunch of tones just like Legends of Tomorrow — fantasy, comedy, swashbuckling epic. What am I talking about, I just have a crush on Val Kilmer's Madmartigan.
What inspires you personally as a writer?
KLEMMER: I honestly couldn't tell you. The TV that I write and the media I digest couldn't be more different. I think the influences are the people I write with. When you spend all day in the room with a group of people your brain starts to work like their brains work and vice versa. You learn what ideas they respond to and what cracks them up. So Legends contains the DNA of Veronica Mars, Chuck, the shows I worked on early in my career and the people who made those shows. I guess what I learned by those experiences is how to do genre that doesn't take itself too seriously… but secretly takes itself seriously.
SHIMIZU: I personally draw a lot of inspiration from character-driven horror films, world-building fantasy (J.R.R.Tolkien has been an obsession since childhood), comic books, and mythologies from around the globe. I love to write in the "genre" space: horror, action, Westerns, supernatural drama.
GODFREE: William Goldman, Michaela Coel, Scott Frank, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Jordan Peele are all true Legends. I also love action movies, so you can't stop me from seeing a John Woo or a Guy Ritchie flick.
What made you want to become a writer?
SHIMIZU: When I was 8 years old, I was killing time in a Barnes & Noble and came across a graphic novel called Mad Love written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm – the geniuses behind Batman the Animated Series. I was and am a huge fan of that show (I have the circular Batsignal from that show tattooed on the back of my neck) so I sat down and read the book, thinking it was just more episodes from the show. Instead, I was taken on an emotional rollercoaster that took me deep into the psyches of Batman's rogue's gallery. The stories were so moving, so deeply disturbing, and so beautifully told. When I put the book down, I decided then and there that I wanted to devote my life to doing what those writers had done: create empathy through emotional, entertaining storytelling.
KLEMMER: Again, it's not the writing that drew me in, it's working with other writers. If I had to do this by myself, I would quit tomorrow. I bore myself to death and hate most of my ideas. But when I first stepped foot in a writers room and discovered that it was something you could do collaboratively, that other people would take your ideas and run with them, inspire you to do better, be funnier — that's when I realized I had found a career. Oh, and the free lunches, that was a real epiphany, and perhaps the worst thing about working from home. No more free lunches…
GODFREE: When I was growing up, the only way I could stay up late was by watching old movies with my dad. He loved Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, who are needless to say, amazing. But I wanted to see a woman on screen who was more than the love interest. Enter Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita. Now here was a hero I could root for and even relate to. Sure, no government agency has ever faked my death in prison so they could turn me into an assassin. But Nikita is tough and vulnerable, and she doesn't choose the guy at the end of the movie — she walks off into the sunset alone.
Who are your most significant mentors?
KLEMMER: I'd have to say that it would be my first boss Rob Thomas, who created Veronica Mars. He gave me a job when I really needed one. He also created a show that — when I first heard the logline, something about a teen noir detective — sounded like the craziest thing I had ever heard. But once again, I really needed a job. Then I joined the room and watched how Rob would craft episodes, then it wasn't so crazy. The premise doesn't really matter, if you ask me. Execution is everything, and that show was all Rob. He was stubborn and passionate, and eventually everyone saw what he was trying to do and elevated it in their own way. The best piece of advice he gave me: "You've gotta sweat for your pages." It's a variation on the old adage "writing is rewriting," I guess.
SHIMIZU: Anna Fricke — one of the first showrunners I worked for — set an incredible example for how one can balance work and life. I wrote for her on Being Human, and during that time she had three very small children (they are now three much bigger children). I watched in awe as she gracefully juggled the demands of being a showrunner and being there for her family. We — her writing staff — knew her time was precious, so we hunkered down and achieved our story goals within a limited set of hours. But when it was time for her to go home and take care of her kids, that was it. Day over. She set boundaries, but also made it clear what needed to get done. Years later, I am now that working mother. I am so grateful that I had Anna as an example of how one can be both a badass boss of a successful show, and a mom who is there for her children when they need her.
GODFREE: Greg Berlanti and Phil Klemmer gave me my first job in television on a little known series called The Tomorrow People. The producers and writers on that show made me feel welcome, valued and part of the team. I think about all the assistants and writers who've left the industry as a result of their first time experiences in Hollywood, and I'm grateful to have had such wonderful early champions of my career.
Is there a TV show or movie you've watched and wished you'd written?
KLEMMER: Anyone who says they don't wish that they had come up with Galaxy Quest is a liar. Perfect idea (I know that I said that premises don't matter, but this one is golden!), and obviously, perfect execution.
GODFREE: Warrior on Cinemax is this incredible blend of period piece and martial arts extravaganza. It's basically a Western, except instead of heroes who look like John Wayne, you get all these fantastic Asian actors portraying a chapter of American history (Chinese immigration to San Francisco in the 1800s) that we don't often see onscreen.
What's something you haven't done yet in your career that you're dying to try?
KLEMMER: I guess I would just love to work on a show that people are allowed to love without feeling embarrassed. Almost every nice thing anyone has ever said about Legends is in the spirit of "But seriously, it's actually good!" Of course it's good. We have a lot of smart and talented people working their butts off. But screw it, we're The Replacements and we don't give a damn what people think. We're going to make loud awesome music and don't care if we show up to half our gigs drunk and fighting with our bandmates!
SHIMIZU: I am itching to write a horror TV show! I'd also love to write stories with Japanese and/or Japanese-Americans at the center. Since comics and graphic novels were such a huge part of my upbringing, I'd love to write a comic book series at some point, too.
GODFREE: I would love to write an action movie for Caity Lotz and Andrew Koji (star of Warrior.) I don't know if the silver screen can handle that much hotness and badassery but I'm game to try.
DC's Legends of Tomorrow returns Sunday at 8 p.m. on The CW.
Led by White Canary, a band of superhero misfits defend the time stream with an assortment of wacky threats in the fourth Arrowverse series.