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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
I don't want to dwell on the comparisons with “The Killing” too much, but I feel like because of your common backgrounds and because of the origins of the shows and the structure, I've heard this a lot: "It's a ‘Cold Case’ writer adapting a Scandinavian mystery show. I'm not going to watch this."
Meredith Stiehm: Well why? They're watching “The Killing.”
Some people are, but there was a lot of dissatisfaction with that show after the first season and then towards the second. So there's a certain sense of, “Oh another one of these…,” which isn’t fair, just because you have the same gender and worked on the same show for a while.
Meredith Stiehm: I mean I have not seen all of “The Killing.” Veenas's my dear friend and I root for her. And it does sort of feel like it's not thinking very deeply if it's just “female writer from ‘Cold Case’ does adaptation,” you know…
Sure. That's why I'm asking.
Meredith Stiehm: I know. People will say that but I don't even – that's hard for me to even talk about “The Killing” because it's her show and is her thing and I haven't watched all of them. But I will say I think she was sort of unfairly trounced for that. I know there was like a promise (of resolution in the first season) but it seemed to get very personal and ugly about Veena. And I thought there was something really strange and wrong going on there. And I'm really glad she got another shot.
In the third episode, we find out that several of the characters who live in Juarez have jobs or go to school in El Paso. Are people constantly going back and forth in that way?
Meredith Stiehm: Well, no. Americans don't go to Juárez hardly at all. Zillions of Juárez people go to El Paso every day. They go there to work, they go there to shop. But that's what's so weird about these cities is there's this daily flow of a ton of traffic. But people do not go to Juárez, and they used to. Ten years ago, it was like you went there to shop, you went there to party, you went to a restaurant. I want to tell you a weird story you I might have already told you about one night going to Juárez. It was just something like when we went there, we heard that nobody in El Paso goes to Juárez. They told us not to. We went, walked across the bridge, went for a few hours. Came back at like ten at night and I went first to Customs and they just said, "What were you doing in Juárez? What did you bring back from Juárez?" And then passed me through. Then Elwood came and the same guy said to him, "Why would you bring her to Juárez?" Like that's how little white women go over this border where so many go the other way.
How did you get both Diane and Demian to do this?
Meredith Stiehm: I don't know. We were totally thrilled. We wrote it with Diane in mind thinking impossible but why not.
Why with her in mind specifically?
Meredith Stiehm: Her name for some reason I think maybe John Landgraf brought it up, FX brought it up but it was a name we kept talking about. I just saw “Farewell, My Queen,” which is this French movie. Little-seen, I think, but I was incredibly taken by her in that. And she has this sort of remove about her that felt right for Sonya. And at the same time we're kind of courting Demian, who we all saw in “A Better Life.” And again, “Movie star, will he do TV? We don't know.” And as luck would have it they had a project together they were both excited about that fell apart. So when Diane signed on Demian was like, "Oh, I want to work with Diane." And then he signed on and then I think we have a really deep bench. I think our cast is great and I think because the two of them were doing if it attracted all these great actors. And we got Annabeth (Gish), then we got to Ted Levine and we got Thomas Wright and we got Matthew Lillard and Adriana. All these people are like excellent so I feel like because we were blessed by Diane and Demian everyone else came to the party.
One of the things I've noticed on “Breaking Bad” and elsewhere, when they go south of the border, suddenly there's the orange filter. A lot of shows have color-coded when they’re in a new country. You didn't really seem to be doing that. It's pretty clear when we're in Juárez and when we're not, but I’m curious what you wanted to do with the visual template of the show.
Meredith Stiehm: Well, I think that we fell down a little bit on that because we didn't have a director/producer. We don't have a director/producer. We were so luckily we had Gerardo Naranjo, who did the pilot and he was wonderful. But the pilot was mostly at night and it was mostly in El Paso. So we didn't have a template for El Paso daytime. And so I think we've actually sort of struggled with that. And now that were having some repeat directors. We have Alex Zakrzewski. He's coming back. And he is sort of becoming the visionary for that. But it's a little late in the game to be honest. It's not our strength at the moment.
Finally, I want to ask about the approach to Spanish. There are a bunch of times when we see Demian in Mexico with his family and he is still speaking English. And then other times it's subtitled. And sometimes it flows back and forth in the same conversation. What sort of rules, if any, do you have about that?
Meredith Stiehm: The rules are what is honest or what's accurate. What we've done with Demian is that his son speaks English to him. He's got a 19-year-old son and Demian will go back and forth that way. But Demian and his wife speak Spanish.Which we believe is accurate; his son goes to school in El Paso, so he crosses every morning. The truth is from what I can tell from when I was there that most people are bilingual, at least the Spanish people. But it's 80 percent Mexican population in El Paso. So they speak both. A lot of the white people speak English and there's sort of this Spanglish mix that a lot of people speak.
But is there some level of concern about how much people are willing to read on screen?
Meredith Stiehm: Yes. But I feel like let's be bold and let's be accurate. And the worlds getting more international every day so let's do the same.
But there's no directive from Shine, from FX from anybody about it? The “Lost” guys talked all the about the grief they would get every time they would do a Korean episode.
Meredith Stiehm: Right. There was fear expressed. FX is quite empowering. They express their opinions and views but they rarely mandate anything. So I felt, Elwood and I both felt like let's be real, like people can read subtitles. Let's push 'em a little.
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