FX on Hulu’s spy drama starring Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow wrapped its first season July 21 by answering several burning questions — namely, why Faraz Hamzad was so hellbent at getting to Dan Chase (Bridges) and his daughter, Angela (Alia Shawkat). Seriously, did you see that one coming?
DEADLINE So much information was revealed in that final episode. Talk about threading that needle and deciding when and why to reveal so much.
JON STEINBERG: It was pretty complicated. Originally we were doing 10 episodes. That was the plan when we went into our first COVID shutdown. The reveal was somewhere around there but it was doled out a little bit differently. Then after Jeff’s first illness with the lymphoma and then when things got really dicey with his COVID, we had to make a call on what we were going to ask him to do, and when we got him back. Then we looked at it again. We were like, this reveal was kind of starting in this moment anyway. What if we just had it all feel like one big moment? That was one of the most difficult creative exercises in the run of the show, trying to figure out how to turn the last three episodes of a season into one finale.
DAN SHOTZ While it was such a struggle over the long run and just making sure Jeff was okay, it allowed the story to ferment. Time is sometimes a blessing. We got to spend that much time with it and look at it and figure out those reveals and where they all wanted to go.
DEADLINE Can you talk about doing that scene at the end with Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow in the car? What an incredible moment.
STEINBERG When you get Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow looking at you saying, `what do you want us to say?’ It’s fun but it’s a little scary. But then it got exciting. It’s like, let’s write a play for these two guys who could really read a phone book at each other. How exciting can you make these two guys going at each other while barely looking at each other for most of the conversation? It was pretty special watching them do it. That was the first stuff that they shot when Jeff came back from COVID [he contracted it while receiving treatment for cancer] was that car scene with John.
SHOTZ They hadn’t worked together yet because prior to Jeff’s diagnosis, they were in their own storylines. So getting in that car together was one of the first things we shot. They hadn’t spent that much time together, but there was an immediate love affair between these two guys who just were so happy to be together, so happy to be working together after such amazing careers. It was really a magical moment of just seeing them bonding, like the friends they were as Dan Chase and Harold Harper 30-something years ago.
DEADLINE Dan is now the older Jason Bourne that we didn’t know we wanted.
DAN SHOTZ After Jeff went through his treatment and got back to us, on his very first day of shooting he was hanging out of a window going 60 miles per hour shooting a gun [for the finale]. So we were pretty blown away by what he was able to do when he came back and he felt so good doing it.
DEADLINE Was it hard to decide when and where you’re going to reveal that Dan actually goes by Johnny?
STEINBERG Yes in the sense that there’s always a number of puzzles you have to solve when you’re trying to tell a story in two different timelines with the same people. I think it was initially a little uncomfortable trying to figure out, wait, what is his name? And then, I think it dawned on us that you embrace that. To him, it is just as inconsequential what he’s being called in any given scene.
DEADLINE One of the plot points in Thomas Perry’s novel on which the story is based is how Dan is accused of stealing money. Is that something that you’ll get more into in season two?
STEINBERG I don’t think so. There were some things about the book that we all really love and enjoyed reading and felt inspired by, and there were things that sort of led us in a slightly different direction from where Thomas took it in in the book. If the show was going to go on for longer and if we were going to spend time in those flashbacks, we wanted it to be something that was about more than money, a story that you could emotionally invest in every time you cut to it. That was a choice that got made early on, to tell a really different kind of story in the past.
DEADLINE So is Morgan actually the old man?
STEINBERG It’s not a cop-out, but I’ve always sort of thought of the old man as more of a concept. Everybody’s got one and it’s relative. He’s their old man. Even old men have an old man.
DEADLINE Talk about those title cards that look like cross-stitch pictures that you would find in gramma’s house.
STEINBERG They are paintings done by an artist named Hana Shahnavav, who is pretty remarkable. She’s British Persian. We’ve done the big animated title sequences and just felt like doing something different. The pilot is so spare. It really does feel like this pruned little bonsai tree, and it felt like it wanted something quiet. That’s what started the conversation. What is something that is both interesting and beautiful and tells a story, but is minimal to the extreme? Then we had the idea for this little story that takes place over panels. What kind of micro-story can you be telling alongside the main trunk of the story?
DEADLINE There’s a lot to unpack in Dan’s past. Are we going to learn more about what exactly he did in Afghanistan?
STEINBERG I think it’s all fair game. The whole thing is a bit of a journey into Dan Chase’s head. Some of the season two plan is for these guys to go back to this place that they spent so much time in when they were younger, and to see the past through their present eyes.
SHOTZ We had so much fun with the CIA intrigue and FBI and everything from 30 years ago. But at its core, this is a family story. It’s about all these dads, all connected to this one key figure.
DEADLINE So looking forward, will Angela learn fairly quickly who her real dad is?
STEINBERG As a general rule, we never want a character to be too far behind the audience. So that’s coming pretty quickly for her.
DEADLINE Will Zoe, played by Amy Brenneman, be back?
SHOTZ Zoe will definitely be back. She’s a key piece of this story, a key connection for Dan. And Amy is such a brilliant actress and partner in this. We’re very excited about Zoe’s story going forward.
DEADLINE There’s obviously a lot of questions still swirling around Morgan. What are the questions you feel like you that are still left unanswered?
STEINBERG What is his emeritus status at the CIA? Where does his power come from? How does he project it? I think to me the most interesting questions are about that strange little family. Him and his two surrogates, his adopted sons. What was the nature of that relationship when he first came across them? Clearly they all had a falling out. What did that look like? That’s the story that I’m most excited to dig into about him going forward.
DEADLINE Will we also see the dogs again?
SHOTZ Yes. I don’t know if The Old Man is a show without the dogs.
The Old Man has already been renewed for a second season. It is executive produced by Warren Littlefield, Steinberg, Shotz, Robert Levine, Bridges, David Schiff and Jon Watts. It is produced by 20th Television in association with The Littlefield Company.