The prolific and now legendary behind-the-scenes force, whose touch has guided such TV favorites as "LOST" and "Bates Motel," stepped into the director's chair for the first time for the FX series he developed from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's series of horror novels, which returns for its third season on Aug. 28.
During a chat with reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour, Cuse revealed the enlightening aspect of playing auteur and shared details about the Jack Ryan series he has in the works with Amazon, including how star John Krasinksi will bring a lighter touch to novelist Tom Clancy's CIA analyst.
You can now add directing to your resume. How did that come about?
Carlton Cuse: It finally felt like it was time to have that experience. I resisted it because I felt like as a showrunner I was able to make all of the creative decisions that I was able to make, but then there just came the point where I thought it was an important experience to have.
I felt like "The Strain" was the perfect environment. I love the cast, the show is very visual, it's a really challenging episode. It was just this impulse that finally struck me. It was a real learning experience despite sitting at the right hand of directors for over 400 hours of television. I really felt like I had a different perspective and I learned a lot.
I think it will help me going forward in my relationship with prepping other directors and just my general knowledge of being a filmmaker. The process for me is about learning and trying to get better and improve my craft and know more and that was part of my journey for me was to actually direct.
Did Guillermo del Toro give you any tips?
Guillermo was super supportive. I talked to a bunch of different directors. Michelle MacLaren was like, "Get used to standing a lot!" She had a lot of other good pointers for me. She's a friend and was very helpful. Greg Yaitanes, who was the producing director on "House" as well as "Banshee," was helpful; Guillermo was helpful. It was great to see directors whom I had worked with really help me. I really loved the experience.
What episode did you direct?
It's the season finale -- no pressure at all! It is a huge deal, but I feel like you should challenge yourself and do things that make you feel a little scared. You should push yourself out to a place to where you at least feel a little nervous. I think with that comes good work and really meaningful.
It was an entirely different relationship with the crew. I'm not a real "set rat" as a showrunner. I don't spend a lot of time on set, so to go from casually visiting to being there 14 hours a day was a transition that was really lovely with the actors, to have that experience to really work with them and help shape their performance and for them.
They really loved the fact that I was coming in as an authority figure as opposed to visiting directors who sometimes will go from show to show, and they don't know as much about the show as the actors do. They were like, "Gosh it's so great to work with you because you really know the characters and know the context for everything that's happening here."
Did you worry about the last shot of the season more than usual?
I remember waking up, like, the second night of prep and realizing my writer's brain is transferring into a director's brain. I was thinking through the puzzle of how I was going to take these scenes that Chuck and I wrote for the finale. People talk about how when they learn a foreign language and then they start dreaming in Spanish or whatever. I started dreaming in "director."
Could you fully tie this series up in four seasons?
Anything is possible, but it's just too early to be definitive about it. We are definitely moving towards an ending and that's great. That's the way it should be.
Can you talk about your latest show, "Jack Ryan"?
We have John Krasinski cast as Jack Ryan. We're working on the scripts and I'm super excited about it. I think it's going to be a really, really cool show ... We're moving forward on all fronts. We're getting the scripts in shape and coming up with a production plan.
John was your top pick for the role. Can you elaborate on why you wanted him?
Who better? There was kind of a high level of difficulty. When I took this project on with Graham Roland I said, "Here's the risk. We'll work on the script, but if we don't get the right guy, there's no reason to make the show." Krasinski was the first guy that really came into our minds. We had seen him in "13 Hours" and he got jacked up for that movie. He looks fantastic.
The character needs to be cerebral and also physical. Then John has the extra added benefit of being funny and that's something that I think has not been fully realized in the other incarnations of the character. So that seemed like a really good opportunity was to bring his particular brand of humor to this iteration of Jack Ryan.
So we'll be seeing a funnier Jack Ryan?
Oh, for sure! It would be a waste of John's talents as an actor to not take advantage of the fun that he's a funny, charming guy.
What's the update on your screenplay for "Rampage," with Dwayne Johnson?
We did a draft and they seem super enthusiastic about it at New Line -- I think that's a great question for the producer! Last I heard they were trying to work out schedule and budget. Dwayne's obviously an incredibly busy guy. He's just the best. What you see is what you get. It's just a real honor to be in a position to write movies for him. I love what he does.
What do you think you and Ryan Condal brought to the story, and were you guys fans of the video game?
Yeah, I was a huge video game junkie in the '70s and '80s, so it was fun to go back and that do. I think we tried to bring real character and humanity to a story that is basically about giant rampaging creatures.
That's a delicate balancing act. Sometimes these big sort of disaster movies seem easy, but they're very hard to construct well. We try to bring some narrative logic and some character development and yet not lose sight of the fact that it's meant to be a good, fun, popcorn movie.