Alex Kurtzman Limitless interview

Limitless didn’t just become a TV series. It essentially became Limitless 2. Bradley Cooper appears in the pilot and his movie character, Eddie Morra, exists in this world. Morra is now running for president. The drug NZT has now fallen to Brian Sinclair (Jake McDorman), who uses it in conjunction with the FBI. When Brian has enhanced brain functions while taking NZT, he teams up with an FBI agent (Jennifer Carpenter) to use his powers as their resource.

The movie was adapted for television by Craig Sweeny, who’s joined by producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the screenwriting/producing team behind movies like Transformers and Star Trek, and shows like Fringe and Alias. Kurtzman was alone at the Television Critics Association party over the summer, but I was able to get his undivided attention to ask about Limitless, the upcoming Mummy movie reboot he’s directing, and some of his other shows on CBS. Limitless premieres Tuesday, September 22 at 10PM on CBS. Hit the jump to read our Alex Kurtzman Limitless interview.

Alex Kurtzman

Alex Kurtzman Limitless Interview

What exactly is your capacity on Limitless?

Alex Kurtzman: I was very involved in the pilot, so going forward, we have an incredible, incredible showrunner in Craig Sweeny so I’m just there to support him in whatever way he needs. He’s just a joy to work with and we have an unbelievable writing staff, so whatever they need, I’m there for.

Is this show more in your court than Bob Orci’s?

Alex: Bob’s been doing some other stuff so I’ve been keeping it real here at Limitless. I was on set with the show and I’m really proud of the show.

Were you able to invent a lot of fun new uses for NZT than we saw in the movie?

Alex: Yeah, I think that was one of the challenges of the show, was: How do we take what they did so well in the movie and figure out a way to expand the world? So you’ll see that we pick up a lot of threads that are set up in the movie that are then opened up in the show.

Is that why Limitless works as a TV show, because a movie can only be one story, but you can think of many more stories about this concept?

Alex: I think what’s interesting about it is if you follow it to its logical conclusion, the idea that you have an agent who works for the FBI who has this capacity, suddenly any case that you would see on a television show is going to be filtered through an agent with incredible ability but what makes him different and special is that he’s not an agent. He’s just a normal guy who’s thrown into this extraordinary circumstance and has to figure out how to deal with it. Also, he’s a different person when he’s on the drug. How much of himself will he end up compromising for what he now has to do?

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Was it really necessary to use visual effects to put Jake McDorman’s head on a guitarist’s body? I think if we heard the sound of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” we wouldn’t notice if his hands aren’t playing the right notes.

Alex: Right, well, it certainly helps to sell the reality of a frame where we’re not cutting to some hands and then going back o his face in separate cuts. It definitely helps everything play more realistic.

Is he always going to use his powers for good, or will he walk that line?

Alex: That’s a good question. That’s a very good question. You would hope that he will. He’s innately a really good guy, but he may end up in some compromising situations that force him to do things he may not want to do.

You might hope personally he does good, but you might hope dramatically he does some interesting morally ambiguous things and have some fun with it.

Alex: It’s very possible. I think part of what he also has to get his mind around is who he is off the drug and whether not he is going to use whatever residual effects there are of the drug when he’s not on the clock. If he’s on the pill outside of the boundaries of what he’s supposed to be doing for the FBI, what does that mean about his own identity and who he actually is? So that’s a big part of what he’s going to be faced with over the course of the series. Who am I on the pill and who am I off the pill? Am I different? Am I the same person? Am I an amplified version of myself? Does it change me in ways I don’t fully understand or even know about at this point?

At the end of the movie, Eddie Morra figures out how to go off NZT and keep the powers. When did he get back on the pills?

Alex: Eddie says at the end of the movie that he figured out a way to synthesize an antidote to the pills. So it’s implied at the end of the movie that he’s doing something to figure out a way to take the pill but not have the side effects. It’s sort of ambiguous at the end of the movie, so we picked up where he left off at the end of the movie.

Is Eddie Morra similar to William Bell on Fringe in that he casts a big shadow and can appear at strategic moments?

Alex: Bradley I think would love to come back as much as he can given his insane schedule, which of course we will do everything to accommodate. He was very, very involved in the pilot. He’s been very continually involved, even from London, in the development of the stories. So he loves the show. he feels tremendous pride in the show. I believe the movie was the first movie that he produced, so I think he’s really invested and wants to stay in it. Whenever we can have him back, we’ll have him back.

How finite is Brian’s stash of NZT?

Alex: That’s a great question.

So I’ve seen the pilot. What is episode two?

Alex: Brian is finding himself in the very strange position of being a federal agent when he’s never trained to be one. So he’s genuinely a fish out of water. It also comes with the price of having to lie to his family and to his new partner about what’s really going on. He’s trying to find his feet in this new world that literally a month before this pilot starts, he would never have imagined himself in.

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How serialized is Limitless versus standalone episodes?

Alex: We think of it as every episode will be a standalone with a very serialized emotional arc. Each case will have a beginning, middle and an end, but there will be a larger mystery. Some of it has to do with Bradley’s character and what’s being set up in the pilot, but Jake’s character has a lot of learning to do. He was never a guy who was ever going to be part of the FBI on any level. He had a totally different dream. And so he’s going to discover a whole new side of himself that he never knew he had and a relationship he never thought he’d be in. He’s going to have to keep a lot of secrets from people in his family about what he’s actually doing. So there’s a lot of complications that will come that will form the basis of the emotional serialization over the course of the season.

Do the cases of Limitless have anything in common with the cases on Scorpion or Hawaii Five-O?

Alex: No, I think with each show we try and ask ourselves, “What makes it specific to that show?” So all of the cases that Craig and the writing staff have been working on have been I think filtered through the question: why is this story or idea specifically right for Limitless?

Could you possibly give NZT to more people so there’s more than one limitless person in an episode?

Alex: It’s absolutely possible, yes.

Does the mythology of NZT have to grow to become a series?

Alex: One of the great mysteries of NZT as set up in the movie is that we don’t know where it came from. That’s obviously a very rich and right question for a television show. We don’t answer it in the pilot. It remains a very good question.

Shows can also get bogged down in “who is behind this.” Do you have to be careful not to go too much into that so it loses the joy of everyday NZT stories?

Alex: Very much so but it’s also such a great mystery that you want to know where it came from. Something this amazing, where did it come from?

Would you compare it to Fringe where you’d service a larger mystery and also do episodic stories?

Alex: Fringe was way more serialized than I think we’re planning on being.

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