'The Gifted' Creator Matt Nix On Sentinels, Trask And X-Men Easter Eggs [Interview]

The X-Men are back on television in a new show from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix. The Gifted is set in a world where the X-Men have left and government agencies arrest mutants exercising their mutant gene. When the son and daughter of agent Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) reveal their powers, the family goes on the run.

Luckily, the Mutant Underground is there to help Andy (Percy Hynes White) and Lauren Strucker (Natalie Alyn Lind). Blink (Jamie Chung) and Polaris (Emma Dumont) are also on The Gifted, as is a new mutant named Eclipse (Sean Teale). Nix spoke with /Film about The Gifted, which premieres Monday, October 2 on Fox.

Did The Gifted come out of any of the Hellfire series Fox was developing before?

I was certainly aware of it. The short answer is no. Basically, they were working on something and eventually I think they just decided they wanted to go in a different direction. So they came to me and were like, "How about a different direction?" So I was sort of specifically told, "Do a different thing.

Did you choose the name Bellview to sound like the Bellvue mental institution?

Oh, that's a really good question. Actually no. It had to do with the real name of the real high school. So we had to use some of the graphics. Bryan Adams High School is the real name of the high school. For some reason, it needed to be a certain length so that we could replace the sign. So we came up with Bellview because it cleared.

Because Bryan Adams would be too much?

There are some things in television where you're just like the real thing is too weird. Everybody would be like, "Bryan Adams High School," what is that? But that's where we were.

Was it a different Bryan Adams than Bryan Adams the singer

It was a different Bryan Adams. It was spelled exactly the same.

Are Sentinel Services a precursor to the sentinels of the comics and Days of Future Past?

If you look at the comics, the sentinels have a long, storied history. There's been a lot of different versions. Certainly, Sentinel Services is related to the comics. I'd say Days of Future Past was a comic and had Sentinels, but I'd say Sentinel Services is related to the long, storied history of Sentinels in the comics.

When Stephen Moyer refers to mutants fighting each other, is that the six X-Men movies?

It's not specifically the six X-Men movies. At no point are we going to say, "When all that stuff went down at the Statue of Liberty." If you think about it, the six X-Men movies actually aren't even technically compatible with each other. Not all of those things can have happened in the same real universe.

Oh, we noticed.

So I think when we talk about mutants fighting each other, certainly that's part of the history of every version, whether it's comics or movies or whatever, it's part of the history of every version of X-Men. With the Brotherhood and the X-Men not being around, the ideas is they were around and if the Brotherhood and the X-Men were around, presumably they were fighting each other. The specifics of those battles are something that we explore in the series.

When they say "we only arrest the bad mutants," that sure is relevant, isn't it? It reminded me of the recent discussion, "Well, as long as you have nothing to hide, why don't you want to register in a Muslim database?"

That kind of question is circling what we're exploring. One of the things that I think about a lot is I don't want to make any of these questions simple. I think there's a legitimate argument to be made that I would not want my sophomore in high school son to go to school with Andy Strucker. That would be tough for me because he nearly killed everybody at that dance. That's dangerous. At the same time, Andy Strucker is a real 15-year-old kid who lost control. There are really two sides to that argument and two sides to that question. Absolutely, one of the questions we're dealing with is: to what extent, how much individual freedom are we willing to give up for the sake of security? How much are we willing to trample on the rights of individuals for the sake of making the majority of people feel more comfortable?

Maybe try home schooling before you go with mutant database.

Exactly, exactly.

Revenge on his bullies is wish fulfillment, so is Andy damned if he does, damned if he doesn't? He either lets himself get beaten up or uses these powers he can't control to fight back.

Yeah, in the moment that's less of a moral question in the pilot because obviously he doesn't expect the powers. He doesn't know what's going on. It's certainly a moral question we explore going forward because Andy has these powers. Andy really doesn't like bullies, but there is a question of proportional response that we deal with in this show which is basically yeah, maybe it's morally justified to do this thing or maybe it's emotionally satisfying to do this thing. Is it a good idea? Should you consider the ramifications of that for all the other mutants or for yourself or for your family? That's a question we ask going forward.

Is Lauren named after producer Lauren Shuler Donner

Funnily enough, no. Getting into the naming, it links into some mythology questions that we'll get into later in the show.

There have been powers of force fields in X-Men and other superhero movies. Is her something different?

It's not precisely a force field. The idea is that she can sort of bring molecules together of air. She talks about being able to do it with water or with air or the variety of substances. One of the things that we explore in the series is the idea that if you have a power, when it manifests, no one shows up and says, "You have the power of shields." You have the power to do something physically. You have the power to, in her case, pull molecules together into shapes. For a 16-year-old girl who's realized she's a mutant and is hiding who she is, the natural expression of that power is as a shield. For someone in a different emotional and personal space, that might not have manifested that way. What we're going to explore over the course of the show is yeah, that's what it is for now. As she develops and as she understands her powers better, we'll get to explore exactly the nature of what's happening. I like the idea that Andy, for example, he doesn't know precisely what his power is yet. Again, there's no one defining it for him. Right now, in the pilot, he's had his powers for a couple days. He doesn't know what they are exactly. He just knows he did some stuff and a building nearly tore apart.

The Gifted

Do you have to do bottle episodes where they use their powers minimally?

Certainly we're a TV show. There are times when we have to be conscious of budget. I come from a world where I don't like taking episodes off. I'm always going to be like, "Okay, so budgetarily, we could do this, right? We kind of already paid for that, right?" I just feel like when I see a bottle episode, I'm like, "Oh, look, it's a bottle episode. Oh, you saved some money? Thanks for saving some money on my hour of television watching."

Some of them are clever about it. 

My hope is that when we do that kind of thing, and we will do something along those lines, that we want to do it cleverly and we want to do it in a way that feels organic.

In your mind, was there an Xavier school at some point in the past?

Oh yeah, absolutely.

And the characters know?

They know about it.

Is Bryan Singer directing any more episodes?

He's a busy guy. He's off directing the Queen movie in England but we get texts from him. The nice thing about Bryan is he's a fan of the series. He wants the best so he stays in touch. He's just good that way.

Do you have any big TV directors lined up?

Len Wiseman is doing the second episode. It's a big deal. Then I'd say also Scott Peters who created The 4400. He's actually done a lot of power stuff and that kind of thing. He's directing the third episode, so we tried to line it up with people who were comfortable with this and have done this stuff before.

Did Simon Kinberg have a lot of input as the sort of keeper of the X-Men movie franchise?

Simon gave us a lot of freedom. Creatively, Simon was great about weighing in on, "Watch for this land mine, watch for that land mine. You'll probably do best if you focus on this kind of thing." He kind of let us do our own thing story-wise. So for example, he was always a cheerleader for "remember the emotional connection between the characters and they're powers," which is not something that we weren't thinking about at all. It was good to have somebody who's been there and done a lot of it reminding you that that's the important thing.

What is a land mine in the X-Men world?

I think making stories that are too internal to the rules of superheroes. That's not directly from Simon but when I look at a superhero movie of any kind, be it X-Men or anything, ideally you shouldn't have to explain a rule in order to understand the climax. There shouldn't be some big sort of "if we've got to put the peanut butter in the jelly and then the square block has to go in the round hole before the streams converge," when you're really in that territory, you know you're kind of dead. Certainly as we've been working on the show, there have been times when you just wander down the rabbit hole. I'll wake up the next day and go, "No, no, no, we can't do any of that. That's all just the rules of magic. It's not interesting emotionally. We've fallen in love with our own mythology. Let's back off of that."

Is Trask industries in there somewhere?

Watch and see. It's basically like Trask Industries is a big part of the X-Men world. It's always been around so we'd love to explore our version of it.

Is it not necessarily the Bolliver Trask that Peter Dinklage played?

Certainly not. I guess, again, Trask is an ongoing concern. I think when you look at the history of Trask Industries, again I'm saying this like it's not an element in the show right now particularly, but as a stand-in for other questions, there are certain things, stuff that's been in the comic books for a long time that we want to explore in our own way, like the Sentinels. We want to explore that in our own way. For example, in our universe, Sentinels are a tool of law enforcement. Most people would never have heard of them or interacted with them or thought about them, any more than they would have thought about door breaching tools that are used by SWAT teams because it's just not a thing in their lives. Whereas in the movies, they're necessarily going to be a pretty big deal because they pointed guns at the President.

The movies have touched on how parents react to mutations. There was a coming out scene in X2. Having parents be main characters, does that allow you to explore how parents deal with special needs children?

Absolutely. One of the touchstones for the show in general is it's not just about family for the Struckers. It's about family for everybody. So Eclipse finding out that he's going to be a father, that's a thing. What is it to be the parent of a child who is special when you yourself is special? One question that I was very interested in is: if you're still around, if you're trying to engage with your kids, what does Reed actually have to say to his children about their powers? What advice can he give? Is there anything in his experience that is analogous to that? Maybe, but maybe they also need mutant parents? Maybe they also need guidance from other people. How do you relate to that emotionally as a father? I imagine it would be a little bit like having a child who's a music prodigy if you're not a music prodigy yourself. They're necessarily going to have a very special relationship to their music teacher you can never have. Someone's going to relate to the core of your child in a way that you can never relate. To me, that's a really interesting and juicy character dilemma. I think keeping them around is important that way but ultimately, it's not about marginalizing them either. Reed ultimately does have something to contribute to the Mutant Underground. He knows the other side. Katelyn has some things to contribute as well. We'll explore those things as the show goes on.