Exclusive Interview: Alex Kurtzman On 'Limitless' And 'The Mummy' Reboot

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.

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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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What do you think it is about this TV season that we're seeing so many shows not only based on movies, but sequels to those movies rather than remakes?

Alex: I think that the line between television and features started to blur a couple years ago. The standards started to become the same which is that the idea had to be very loud. The show didn't have to be loud, the idea had to be loud. It had to cut through the clutter. Especially in television where there is so much to watch at any given moment, it has to distinguish itself. There is a certain amount of awareness that the title brings, but you never want to do a show because it's a title. You want to do a show because you think that there is a story there that works well for television. In the case of Limitless, the movie asked a lot of interesting questions but it didn't answer all of them. So our show is going to spend time answering a lot of the questions that the movie asked. We get to roll up our sleeves and dig into those in ways you wouldn't necessarily have time to do in a two hour movie.

Is it hypothetically any easier to get a Limitless show going than a Limitless 2 movie?

Alex: I don't know. I wasn't the producer on the movie and I don't know what their feelings were about it. I think they felt, wisely, that there was a procedural engine at the heart of it if used correctly. How interesting would it be to see a character who has to deal with who he is on this drug suddenly applied to something like being a cop or being a lawyer or being a federal agent or any number of things. It definitely felt to us that there was a real reason to pick up that ball and run with it.

If there were a Limitless 2, could it team up Eddie and Brian?

Alex: It's an interesting idea. You should write that up.

Does Marvel getting Spider-Man back compromise your plans for Venom?

Alex: My focus is 100% on the monster universe right now. That's really where I'm spending my time.

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So Mummy will be your next movie. After directing your first movie, People Like Us, do you feel ready to direct the kind of big movies that you often write?

Alex: I've had the good fortune of being able to write and produce a lot of them now. I've spent time with directors who've been very gracious with me about really allowing me to sit by their side. I've watched them do their thing. I've learned a ton. I don't think you can ever really stop learning, especially from people who are that amazing, so I feel ready. I feel really ready to go and Universal's been incredible about supporting our whole monster endeavor, so I feel like I'm going to have amazing people around me in order to help us launch it.

Did the delay from 2016 to 2017 help, giving you more prep time?

Alex: Yeah, it does actually, it really does. My partner in the universe, Chris Morgan, I couldn't be partnered with anybody better as far as someone who understands big movies and big franchises. Obviously, with everything he's done with Fast. I feel like we put together a wonderful team of writers and it's going really well.

Shared universe is a new form of sequels. Does it have different demands and rules and things to celebrate about continuing a story?

Alex: Yes and no for me in the sense that because I started in television and have been in television for a long time now, you approach television from a much more serialized longview place. So you think about not just what is the one story I'm telling, but how do I take this story and tell it over many seasons? That's obviously started to be what's happening with movies but the challenge is, you have to deliver each movie. Each movie has to be satisfying. You can't be so serialized that if you didn't see the movie that came before, you're really lost. The benefit of being able to exist in a shared universe world is that you can take more time to develop your characters. You can put them in situations that don't necessarily resolve right away. That's really exciting. It means that you don't just have to have a beginning, a middle and an end in which everything is resolved. Obviously as a writer, that's a lot of fun because it gives you a lot of room to grow.

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It's called The Mummy but do you have access to any monster you may need at some point in the story?

Alex: We very well might.

Do you want to have your mummy wrapped in bandages at some point?

Alex: Look, I don't think you can make a mummy movie without having a character wrapped in bandages. I feel like that'd be doing a big disservice to the mummy. It wouldn't be a mummy otherwise.

Who is the new character you've invented, Navy Seal Tyler Colt?

Alex: I can't say too much about the character other than to tell you he's not a SEAL.

A modern day Mummy has never been done before. Does that give you new opportunities?

Alex: Absolutely, 100%. The minute it's modern day, the rules change. And yet, what's really exciting for me is how do you take this ancient creature and make an audience believe that they exist in modern day?

Have you solved that?

Alex: I believe so. I hope so.

Is it connected to Dracula Untold, or is this the start of the Universal Monsters cinematic universe?

Alex: The Mummy isn't connected to Dracula but I think that is an ongoing conversation.

Are you setting it up so any of the characters in your Mummy will be available to future monster movies?

Alex: That's very possible.

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How do you top the first season of Scorpion?

Alex: I think the thing about Scorpion is that the foundation of the show, there's so much room for growth on so many different levels. The cases are limitless, no pun intended, but you've got characters who are just beginning to understand what it means to integrate into society. They're the outsiders who never fit in and they're just starting to in different ways. They come together as a family and they're still learning a lot about themselves but they have a long way to go. For me, the answer is always what is the most emotional thing and what is the most emotional circumstance we can put our characters in? Hopefully that will top where we went last year. I think it's always fun, when you bring a family together, to try and find the things that might break it apart?

Do you think there could be an entire episode about their social life, or would it always have to be interwoven with a case?

Alex: I think usually interwoven. We definitely need a case to solve. I think the best episodes are the ones where the cases somehow reflect an emotional challenge that the characters are going through. Hopefully we're always mirroring those two things.

You haven't run out of Walter O'Brien stories, have you?

Alex: No, never. By the way, I don't think you can run out of Walter stories. There's too many.

Are there any supporting characters who haven't gotten the focus yet that you'd like to address in season two?

Alex: I think we've been actually pretty good about giving everybody a lot of focus on the show, but I think there's always room for growth for everyone, and maybe some new characters will show up next year.