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'The Bridge' producer Meredith Stiehm on translating Denmark/Sweden into U.S./Mexico
Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir play cops from opposite sides of the border in new drama from 'Cold Case' creator
We’ve been through an era where TV drama has for the most part been dominated by male anti-heroes, on shows created and run by men. You've now done three straight shows with female leads, and I think people really responded to the idea that Carrie was damaged and difficult and prickly in the ways that a lot of these other male characters were. And now you got Sonya that way. Whether recently or back when you were running “Cold Case,” was it frustrating for you as a woman writer looking at the landscape and seeing all of this great material and all of this attention being focused largely on the men?
Meredith Stiehm: Yeah. I mean I'm naturally more interested in women characters. I think I write them better. And it started at “NYPD Blue.” I loved cop shows and I loved writing for that show but I always felt like I was really good at writing Russell and Kirkendall, but most of the characters were male. And I'm really interested in women in male dominated worlds. So when I did “Cold Case” it was just natural for me to make a female lead but I think actually at the time it was kind of unique. I think it's really not now.
Yes. We've had “Damages” and “Homeland” and a lot of the Showtime dramedies, so it's balancing out more now.
Meredith Stiehm: Yeah. But it was much more satisfying for me to write for a female lead. And then “Homeland” was funny because they didn't have a female writer for the first four episodes. I came to it late. I wasn't there at the very beginning. And Chip Johannessen called me, my friend from my early “90210” days, and he was like, "Hey, want to come write in the show? We need a female writer." I was like, “Wow, they did a female lead with no female writer in the mix.” So it wasn't so unique anymore, if you just have a female writer. But I do feel like I have an affinity for her more than the guy characters.
Well, this is me looking in from the outside and not knowing what's actually happening, but I noted that you would often wind up with a really intense Brody-Carrie kind of episode like “The Weekend,” Henry (Bromell) would get the interrogation episode — everyone had a specialty. Was that actually what was going on?
Meredith Stiehm: That was deliberate. It was very deliberate. Alex Gansa was very much like, “You be the keeper of Carrie's voice and character,” and I became the one to really study up on bipolar and I did seem to get the juicy Carrie character stuff, which I liked. And that's what I'm best at. The actiony stuff, the “24” stuff, Chip is great at, Alex is great at, Howard (Gordon)'s great at and Henry was son of a spy. So he would do more of the gamesmanship of the spying and stuff like that. So we sort of did what we was best at.
So for that show you’re studying up on bipolar issues. For this one you've had to read up on Aspergers. How was doing that informed what you've been doing with the character in the show so far?
Meredith Stiehm: I mean I take it as a really big responsibility to portray it. You want to be honest and accurate. I knew a lot about bipolar and I'd studied up, I went to the symposium in Princeton on it and I did the same thing for autism. But I also I knew some people who were bipolar. Autism I didn't know as much about. So we have a guy named Alex Plank who is we met through Autism Speaks, and he has Aspergers. He met with the writers first and now he's there for every scene that Diane does. And he's sort of our constant companion when were writing the scenes or performing those scenes. And I think that's really important, you know, to not exaggerate or make it up. So you got to study and see what's real. Though I'll tell you one thing they said at this Princeton symposium is that if you've met one person with autism you've met one person with autism.
Yup. It's like a snowflake.
Meredith Stiehm: Yeah. I did not know that. That's very interesting.
These sorts of questions now have to be asked because of “The Killing.” Does this particular case get wrapped in the first season? Is it something that continues for a while?
Meredith Stiehm: It wraps up before the season’s over.
Okay. And you have a design in mind for what you do next?
Meredith Stiehm: Oh yeah. And we hope to not just be a police show. That's like one very strong strand of what we're doing. But the border is so interesting and El Paso and Juárez are so different in that they're so close that we feel like there's all these other stories to tell. And we're both just crazy about “The Wire.” And so our model in our minds of this is the way “The Wire” became about so many things in the city. It wasn't just a cop show. And I don't know if you know about the girls of Juárez, it's a genocide, really. These girls have been missing and being found dead for years, decades. And something we say in the room a lot is what drugs are to Baltimore, the girls are to Juárez. It's a chronic, horrible crime and a situation that we want to take on. And to us that's really what our second season is going to be about but we're going to start it now, The Girls of Juárez.