For going on two years, the Cinemax drama “Banshee” has quietly played second fiddle to Showtime’s popular and critically acclaimed “Homeland” in the hierarchy of TV series shot in the Charlotte area.
But we’re pretty sure which show is better in the bedroom, and we’re positive which one would win in a street fight.
“Banshee” – about an ex-con (Antony Starr) masquerading as a sheriff in a Pennsylvania town crawling with crooked characters – returns for Season 2 at 10 p.m. Friday, with as much searing sex, vivid violence and generally very-bad behavior as it dished out the first time around. A cult hit, the series is shot in various locations from spring to fall in Charlotte, Gastonia, Lincolnton, Mooresville and Waxhaw.
We talked Wednesday with co-creator/executive producer Jonathan Tropper about shooting in North Carolina, shooting hanky-panky and the shows (and movies) that inspired it all.
Q. So has Charlotte worked out as well as you’d hoped it would?
A We’ve managed to find just about everything we need there. Of course, we shoot during the hottest months of the year – and you guys have the biggest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen – but we’ve had a great experience. Our set designers, our production designers and our director Greg (Yaitanes) were all really very focused on creating a unifying look for the whole town, so whether we’re shooting in Mooresville or Gastonia ... the idea is that you could believe that they’re all around the corner from each other, and that we could create this look of a town with history and damage to it.
Q. Did you do any shooting outside of North Carolina?
A We did shoot a few days in New York City, and we actually shot for two days in South Carolina, because we needed to shut down a long stretch of highway (for a high-speed chase scene), and they had one.
Q. What’s the number one piece of feedback you hear from fans?
A The reason I created this show was I wanted to have the kind of show that I always look for late at night when I’m channel surfing and can’t find. And people are just thrilled that we’re basically making movies on television. Every week is a one-hour action movie. People really dig into it.
Q. How meaningful to you was the Special Visual Effects Emmy the show won in September?
A We’re just this scrappy underdog show. We’re the first drama on Cinemax, and we’re just trying to get seen and recognized. So the fact that we were considered for Emmys in a handful of categories and that we won in that one – it almost didn’t matter which category it was. What mattered to us is that we made enough of a dent that we’re considered.
Q. I suspect that if there was a Best Sex Scene Emmy, “Banshee” would be an odds-on favorite, as well. Sex and nudity are clearly an important element of the show, right?
A That’s a staple of the pulp-noir-ish type stuff that we’re doing. We do really try to make sure it’s in service of the characters. We’re not looking to sensationalize it, and we’ve gotten a little better at it. I think when we first started out, we were just finding the tone and what works and what doesn’t work. But anyone who thinks that Cinemax has some requirement for it or quota for it, that’s just not true. We don’t want to shy away from it. If people are gonna have sex, then we want it to be sex. We don’t want it to be the network version where the sheet’s tucked under your armpits. The same thing with our violence. If we’re gonna have a fight, we’re gonna have a g------ fight. And nothing takes me out of a moment more than when you see people having sex with their shirts on, because all you can think of is, “Oh, the actor doesn’t want to take off their shirt.”
Q. The action on the show doesn’t pull any punches, either.
A We have a really great stunt team. Marcus (Young) and Jimmy (Romano), our stunt coordinators, they do major movies. Whatever we write, they always take it up a few notches and come up with something really interesting. They have to invent different ways for people to kick the s--- out of each other every week. They take tremendous pride in it.
Q. What TV shows or movies do you draw inspiration from?
A All the action movies in the ’80s, from the low-budget stuff like the karate movies to “Die Hard” and “Rambo.” Then in my more adult life, the movies of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers and David Cronenberg. On the TV side, right now my two favorite shows are “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy.” But we also draw inspiration from “The Sopranos.” Any show that owns what it is and takes it to a really strong and deep place.
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