Lucky Hank Q&A — Showrunners Aaron Zelman & Paul Lieberstein on Hank’s Growing Anxiety
From the executive producers of Better Call Saul and The Office comes Lucky Hank, starring Bob Odenkirk and Mireille Enos. Meet Professor Hank Devereaux (Odenkirk), the English department chairman at an underfunded college in a ho-hum town where mediocrity prevails. Life’s been throwing him some curveballs lately with his wife Lily’s (Enos) new career goals, constant chaos at work, and the return of his estranged father. With that, Hank spirals into a midlife meltdown taking everyone with him. In this interview with amc.com we speak with writers/showrunners Aaron Zelman and Paul Lieberstein about creating the world of the show and being the captains of the Lucky Hank ship, and how Hank will fare as the literal and figurative presence of his father grows closer.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Were you both fans of the novel? How did you both become involved in this project and what was it like taking this novel from the page to the screen?
Aaron Zelman: Yeah, we were both definitely fans. We both loved the book independently and we were friends, but we'd never written anything together. Long story short, we auditioned for the gig, for Mark Johnson [executive producer], and he liked the idea of the combination of the two of us with our backgrounds so he hired us!
Paul Lieberstein: I would also add that we were both not just fans of the book, but fans of the world of the book. We were really interested in writing about the college world and this juxtaposition between how idyllic it should be and appears to be, and just how troubled it is from the inside. It's a metaphor for so many parts of life. We were very happy to have landed this.
Q: Showrunners really get involved in so many elements of a series and this is especially true when it’s a new series and a new world is being built and introduced to viewers. As the writers you were obviously at the helm of all the scripts, but I’m wondering how involved you both were in other key elements of the show like casting, location scouting, and production design?
PL: We were intimately involved at every step, leading the way. I think as showrunners that's our job to be kind of the captain of all of it. So, we went to Canada to scout, and we were sitting in the auditions for everyone.
AZ: We originally scouted Montreal as our location. It's a beautiful city and there were a lot of things we liked about it. But in the end for many reasons, probably mostly practical, Vancouver made more sense. It's closer for one thing and had what we needed for the show. So yeah, we worked on everything from questions from the art department to wardrobe to… I don't know what else!
PL: And now editing! The post-production process. Yeah, so just everything!
Q: By Episode 3 we really see the physical manifestation of Hank’s emotional turmoil go into overdrive. What really pushes his “ghost kidney stones” to another level is finding his mother’s letters to his father and learning that she had kept in touch with him over the years. This is a major betrayal for Hank and it’s really sad to watch!
AZ: Yeah. I think the relationship that Hank has with his father is in a lot of ways the emotional core certainly of the character, and one of the cores of the show. I guess you could also say it's his relationship with his daughter and Lily of course. But we always knew that the father story was really key to understanding who Hank is and where a lot of his frustrations, anger, resentment, and humor come from. It's a storyline that runs through and we liked the idea of having it start in a bit of a sneaky way. In Episode 1, it's about hearing his father's retiring, but then the literal presence of his father and the figurative presence of his father get closer and closer as the season goes on. In Episode 3 we see a box of his stuff appear and that's why I think we feel it land in overdrive, especially with his ghost kidney stones which represent his anxiety. But there’s literally a box of his father's stuff in his front yard so now he’s really confronting it head on for the first time, I think.
PL: I think that learning that his mother feels just so differently about his father makes him feel very shaken and very alone. It had been that partnership that he was leaning on in dealing with this abandonment. So, the road we're taking to fully unnerve Hank, this is a key part of it.
Q: This is such a strong ensemble cast and the tone of the show toes the line between several different genres. How much direction was on the page vs how much was figured out on set? Was there room for improvisation or did this feel like a script that the actors really stuck to like glue?
AZ: It was mostly it's the script, but there are absolutely moments where the actors bring stuff — certainly in performance more than anything — but bring stuff that we didn't think of. I think we're both very collaborative with actors. I mean, Paul is one so that makes sense. I would definitely say that we welcome input.
PL: Sometimes we talk about, "Oh, did an actor have input into the script?" as if that's the big thing that an actor can bring. But the big thing an actor can bring is an interpretation of the script, an interpretation of the part. And I think that's where most of our actors' training comes from. You know, we had very few improv people and they did it! They brought so much life, and they brought these people out in ways that we didn't expect. We started writing to them and their voices.
It sounds really collaborative and really symbiotic.
PL: It was a great set! It was working. It was very functional.
AZ: I also want to add just how impressive the cast is. As Paul said, it's the interpretation of the lines and the part that really separates okay actors from great actors, and this cast just brought so much. They're wonderful!
Q: AMC has a great history of shows that use music to really elevate the whole experience of watching them. From Mad Men, to Breaking Bad and Killing Eve it’s clear that the music supervisors for the shows are serious crate diggers and really look for those choice deep cuts that will take a scene to another level. I think that the same is true for Lucky Hank! Do you ever have specific songs you envision with a scene? Do you work on the music elements as well?
PL: We sure do! We worked very closely with a composer. It's very hard to talk about music, but we tried! We tried so many different takes and ways to create a certain sound. I think both of us feel that as much as we like to have a philosophy, that it’s more about the feeling you get when something works. You know, it's just like you finally get the right piece of music and you're like, "Yes, this is correct!" For whatever reason that might be… maybe it's on us to figure out that reason. But to recognize that it works and then to go from there.
AZ: We do have both a wonderful composer and a wonderful music supervisor: Brienne Rose [music supervisor] and Joe Wong [composer]. Brienne has really done some of that, as you said, very deep dive stuff, and we're not easy to please! So, they've often had to do more work probably than they wanted to to find those things. [Laughs] It's not coming from a place of "oh, that's not cool enough." It's really like Paul said. We kind of know it when we hear it. And we just wanted to really figure out a unique sound, you know? Joe Wong also did the main title scoring, which I think everyone's going to be really into. It's one of those that you're not going to want to skip when you watch the show. That's what I think at least.
Q: Lastly, how do you disrupt the ‘misery business?’ What are the little day to day things that you do that bring you joy?
AZ: Well, it helps to be writing comedy! It's pretty wonderful to be able to turn those feelings into funny lines and jokes and stuff. That's a real beautiful thing that we get to do. And hopefully people get to enjoy it and feel the same thing when they watch it. It’s something to help them see the world, which is often a very dark place, in a lighter way.
PL: Yeah. And I ride my bike!
Full episodes of Lucky Hank are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and AMC+ subscribers get early access to episodes on Thursdays. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.