'Krypton' Showrunner On Reinventing Superman's Home Planet And Bringing Brainiac To Live Action [Interview]

Syfy's new series Krypton takes a look at Superman's home planet two centuries before the iconic superhero was even born. Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) is Kal-El's grandfather, making him Jor-El's dad. While the house of El feuds with houses of Zod and Val, time traveler Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) comes from the future to warn Seg that he has to persevere to ensure that Superman is born.

Man of Steel screenwriter David Goyer created Krypton, but Cameron Welsh is the showrunner. Welsh worked for Goyer on his Constantine series and had developed another show with Goyer. Welsh spoke with /Film by phone last week and there are some mild spoilers for the pilot in the discussion.Krypton premieres Wednesday, March 21 on Syfy.I was struck by the diversity on planet Krypton. Have we ever seen black people on Krypton in any of the movies before?

I don't know that we have. It's definitely something we were very conscious of. We want to be representative and inclusive. We want to do that both in front of and behind the camera. It's a very important part of this show.

Behind the scenes, do you have a lot of diverse directors?

Our writers room is a pretty diverse writers room. There are people of color, women. There's, to be frank, not as much diversity in the directors as I would have liked. Should we go ahead for season two, should that happen, that's definitely something [we'll do]. I think it's important for everybody in the industry to keep working on that at all times and making it a priority. That's just something that we'll always strive to do on the show.

The technology on Krypton is very advanced even though it's 200 years before us. Did they have tablets before us?

Absolutely, yeah. This is a planet that has evolved so far beyond where we're at even back then. They've always been portrayed as the most technologically advanced society in the universe so we felt it was important to have them be more advanced than we are now, even in their past. I think that helps show just how advanced they will eventually become. I think it's a society where women don't give birth anymore. That's not how life is [created] if you look at the genesis chamber, and I think that's part of the fun of science fiction.When you get into world building and imagine some of those things, it allows us to in some ways tell a bit of a cautionary tale as well.

Is that also reflected in their language? They speak very modernly like "piece of sh–" or "judgey." Does that also reflect how advanced their society is, they were talking like us 200 years ago?

That was probably more about just trying to find the right tone for the show. Sometimes it becomes too involved. We just didn't want it to feel sterile. I just felt like it'd be harder to engage for our audience if it was too formal. It might just feel a bit harder to break down that wall between the audience and the characters.

We hear eight notes of the John Williams Superman theme. Is that the maximum of that iconic score that you would use?

I don't remember exactly how those conversations went. I just remember the end point being that we had two opportunities to use it in the pilot and we hopefully chose the right moments. Sometimes it's better to have a light touch than to overuse it. That's what we tried to do. Hopefully it creates that stirring feeling when we first hear those notes. It's a classic score. When you hear those notes, to me it's so evocative. I guess the hairs start to stand up a little bit for me. It just takes me back to seeing Christopher Reeve all those years ago.

If Seg's parents die, does that already change history?

No, I think Seg's parents were always going to die. History has already changed in the pilot. By the time the pilot's ended, things have already, by virtue of Adam Strange being there, things are already different. So the timeline has already changed which is kind of the irony of that as a device really. When somebody tries to travel through time to prevent time from changing, that invariably means they've already changed time.

But Seg's story always included losing his family?


Does the gold mask that The Voice of Rao wears come from the comic books?

No, it didn't but I think in episode two we talk about what that mask represents. What we'll learn is that Kandor, Krypton is a theocracy. There's only one religion, Roa, that is practiced. We learn that there used to be a number of gods who were followed. There was some kind of event, a cataclysmic event took place that stopped the world from spinning and led to this sort of rationalization once the resources started to dwindle. For Krypton to survive, they were forced into rationalization. Part of that led to the demise of all the other religions with Rao becoming the one dominant. It has a big function in the show, religion. We'll unpack that as the season progresses.

Was that striking mask with all the faces a big design task?

It was a tough one. Wearing it can be a little restrictive. It can be hard to see. We had to redesign it in a different way to create a way to see through it properly so he can move around. We had to have multiple versions of it for different things. To get it on, you had to have a section that was carved  out of it. It was a tricky one but I think it's a very cool design.

Is there a front and a back for the actor to wear, even though it looks uniform all around?

Yeah, there is an opening but on certain shots, we need to augment that with VFX to fill in that gap.

On the wardrobe, does all of that text on the robes mean something in Kryptonian?

Yes, yes. Everything. You see a lot of writing throughout. It's always something specific. It's one of the things about this show. Every costume, every bit of set decoration, everything's bespoke. It's all made. We can't go and buy off the rack for clothing or props, food, weaponry, anything. It's all made. Everything's a make for the show. It means there's a lengthy design process. It's part of the fun of it really, to do all that world building and come up with those designs.

Do you know what the text on the robe means? Did someone write that passage?

I can't remember what it all is off the top of my head but yes, it could be as simple as a prayer. There's quite a few different robes and you see it tattooed across the face of a couple clerics as well. I can't recall exactly what the phrase is about.

What are your standing sets? Would it be the bar, the genesis chamber, the street alley?

The entire rankless district is a massive set. It's a big square with all these different alleyways and streets. One of them leads into the apartment where his family lives. You go down another street and that'll take you to the bar. That's another set of its own. We have what we call the guilded area which we don't see in the pilot but we explore from episode two on. It's in complete contrast to the rankless area. It's bathed in golden light and it's very austere, a very different feeling. We have Fort Rozz where the military guild work out of. That's another standing set. We have the tribunal. That's part of the lawmakers guild. We have Daron's office. We have the outlands which is outside of the domed city, out in the arctic wastelands. There's quite a few standing sets. We have the watch platform, quite a few.

Brainiac is inching his way towards Krypton. Do you have a timeline for his arrival?

There is, but in our depiction of Brainiac, he doesn't even necessarily need to be on Krypton. He doesn't need boots on the ground to start terrorizing it really. We'll see his influence felt on the planet before he even touches down. One of the things that's really fun about the show is bringing that character to life. We haven't seen Brainiac in live-action before so we're very excited to unleash that character to the world.