Season 1B of Chasing Life premiered yesterday, and we caught up with showrunner Patrick Sean Smith to chat about Leo’s past, present, and future, and developing the characters of April’s friends and family in their own right.
So yesterday was a big day.
Yes, it was. Finally! Italia and I both were just like, “It’s so hard keeping this a secret and not talking about it.” So we’re both ready to spill!
The main cliffhangers for both the end of 1A and the Christmas episode were both to do with Leo. When a character’s life is hanging in the balance, a lot of people see that in black and white terms, with the only outcomes being life and death, but Leo was kind of stuck between the two in his coma, which I think was a less-expected outcome. Can you just talk a little bit about that decision?
We wanted to be as authentic as possible to the real experience, and that’s something that we strive for with all of our characters. Obviously especially with April, but with Leo, putting a character in a coma can go soap opera so quickly, so we really did the research to figure out with a surgery like this that would be so invasive, what some of the results could be and how we could dramatize that in a way that isn’t, you know, a character instantly opening their eyes and saying – which was his joke at the end, which I loved: “Who is Leo? Who am I? Where am I?” We definitely wanted to try to find a way to do it that felt real but also felt different.
It also gave us a lot to mine in the next 10 with Leo’s character, of his struggle to put his life back together. So much of what we saw with him in the first 10 was him accepting his death and it just didn’t seem that easy to psychologically plan for so much of your life to be that, and then all of a sudden not. He’s dealing with the physical and psychological repercussions of the surgery as well as a bit of an existential crisis in terms of “Who am I now if I’m not planning my death?” It bonds him and April in a new way but it also threatens their relationship because cancer was their epic bond and now technically they’re both cancer-free, while she’s in remission and then his tumor’s gone. They have to look at their relationship and say, “Was it just the cancer or is there more underneath this?” So that’s kind of their struggle through this whole 10 and I’m really excited for people to see it. I’ve known Scott for a long time – most of his very young career – and what he brings in this 10 emotionally and just in his performance blew me away. It exceeded every expectation, and my expectations of him are so high and he just never ceases to amaze me, so I’m really excited for everybody to see what he does in this 10.
Related to the development of Leo’s character and what he’s going through semi-independent of April, in our recent interview with Italia, she said 2B would explore the other characters’ lives more deeply. How does the show go about balancing April’s life, which is obviously the main focus, with that deeper exploration of the secondary characters?
It’s kind of a balance. We look at the characters, we see where we can go with them, where we haven’t gone with them before, and then we kind of put them all together and say which, in this episode, is bigger than the other and how can we still service April but also find stories just as compelling for Brenna and for Sara and especially with Brenna’s character in this next 10, she reveals some things that we didn’t know about her that really speak to the heart of our show, which is kind of life and death but also how deeply you can live your life. So what’s coming up with Brenna touches on that, as well as with Sara. Emma now knows about Sara and George, which kind of puts a ticking clock on how long they can keep this relationship secret, but they’re struggling with whether they tell the girls or not. They’re a family that has suffered so much with secrets, and that’s where Emma comes in to say, “I’ve sat back and watched that. You guys need to decide if this is something you want the world to know and if it is, then you need to tell them.”
We really explore so much of Sara not just saying “I’m ready for love and I want to start dating again” but really seeing why she’s not and attributing that to that incredible portrayal of her husband and the fact that he could have a secret daughter. That’s something we all felt like we only scratched the surface in 1A and it felt really compelling and exciting to tell her stories too. It’s almost putting the characters in competition with one another each week to see who can have the bigger story that we all get really excited about, and then kind of blend that in with our other characters’ lives as well. I’m so grateful that we have the second season. It’s interesting to go 10 episodes but still feel like we’ve only scratched the surface with so many of these characters, which speaks to the longevity of the series, which is important when it’s dealing with a life-threatening illness.
Thomas is such a large presence, even though by the time we were introduced to the family, he already was gone, at least physically. What is it like to write a character who isn’t actually there but who still affects so much of what the characters we see experience and their view on the world and what they’re going through?
It’s exciting. It’s something that I haven’t had the opportunity to really do before but it gives you this opportunity to create this back story for this character in a way that can affect characters in the present day as well as inform who they are without him being there to speak to it. That’s something that we really started to talk about for the second season. We started the room last week for season 2 and we’ve really kind of explored more of what that would really feel like. It kind of felt like a lot of people were accepting of Thomas Carver because he was a good man but I think over time, you start to get past your grieving and mourning and revering somebody just because they died and start to say “That was kind of crappy. This really kind of affected so many lives, the secret he kept from his family.” So it’s fun and we’ll definitely be getting into it in the second season.
Is there a tone shift now that 1B is about remission as opposed to 1A being April finding out about her diagnosis and then dealing with the treatment? How did you deal with that in terms of directing the writers?
I think there is a tone shift but it wasn’t intentional, it was organic to April’s journey. So much of the first 10 was her moving past denial and preparing herself for her first round of chemo, and now that she’s in remission, we do return to more of April pre-diagnosis, of trying to live this normal 20-something life but being affected by what she has experienced over this past couple of months to create that conflict for her to say, “I want a normal life, I want my life before I was diagnosed with cancer but can I have that and do I really want that at the end of the day, given what I’ve experienced thus far?” We do have some hilarious scenes with April involving karaoke, involving a pot cookie, there’s certainly a lighter sense to the show but I wouldn’t say we forsake that for the depth that we try to have each week with the characters.
Follow Patrick Sean Smith on Twitter (@SEANSMITH74) and tune in to Chasing Life next Monday at 9/8c on ABC Family.