Jim Gavin and Peter Ocko, executive producers of AMC’s Lodge 49, discuss the very personal origins of the story, how the show explores the mysteries of everyday life, and why this show is unlike other things on TV.
Q: Jim, what was the origin of this story? What were you trying to explore through this show?
Jim Gavin: It was a couple factors: One, the feeling and mood of the last 10 years. For my family, like many families, after the crash of 2008, things like foreclosure and bankruptcy were a part of our lives. That weighed on my mind in many ways. Watching someone like my father who worked very hard his whole life and has nothing to show for it… there was definitely a personal part of it. That combined with a long-term interest in strange, esoteric societies like the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians, and fraternal orders in general like the Elks. They feel like a relic from the past, but you still drive by them every day. They have a dusty, derelict feeling to them. I just had this image in my head of a young man at loose ends knocking on the door of one of these places and an older man answering it. The seed of a mentor relationship was the beginning. We definitely created a whole world around that and we’ve invented our own fraternal order, the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, but a lot of it is capturing a mood in time in Southern California and maybe the country at large with a place that is outside of time.
Q: How did you use the seeming mysteries around fraternal orders to highlight your character story?
Peter Ocko: Jim and I both have been much more interested in looking at people who believe in something rather than obsessing about what it is they believe. From the beginning, Jim describes the lodge as a place where a guy could be selling plumbing equipment by day but then be a Luminous Knight and drink cheap beer at the lodge. We never saw that as a literal magic. I think we saw that as the capacity of someone in life to let themselves be part of something that is a little bit strange and mysterious. That mysteriousness doesn’t have to translate into actual magic. It can translate simply into believing something so that your life is a better thing.
JG: The show definitely embraces a certain sense of mystery, but it is the mystery of the everyday and the ordinary — a coincidence or a moment that changes your life. You knock on the door and a certain someone answers. We build in the history of the Lynx and all these things and it does set our characters on adventures, but it’s always grounded in a reality of human beings searching for meaning. That’s where we want to live. But that search often entails crazy leaps, and we take those, too.
Q: How would you describe Dud when we first meet him? What do you respond to in his way of looking at the world?
JG: When we meet him, Dud has lost many things in his life. You can call it tragic, but he refuses to see himself as a tragic figure. He is an optimist. Some of that may be delusion, but that sense of optimism is going to carry him out of the wreckage of his year that precedes when we meet him. It’s something that Wyatt [Russell] captures so naturally and wonderfully in all of his choices. It’s that willingness to enjoy a donut while your life is a catastrophe. [Laughs] I think there’s something beautiful in that.
PO: We try to be very conscious as we write the show to remember that Dud is not like us in a lot of ways and in his relationship to money and catastrophe. The thing that Jim did with him in the pilot that’s so special is that there’s a tragic figure underneath. There’s someone who is aware of his circumstances and he’s trying very hard to push through and see things in the best possible light, but he’s not naive and he’s certainly not shallow. … Dud is a guy who wants to believe and wants to see a greater meaning in his life and imbue those coincidences with more meaning and remember them. For most of us, when something bizarre or wonderful happens, we tend to forget quickly because we don’t know where to file it in our head. You take a character like Dud, who is the squire or the fool, and put him at the center and when those things happen, he sees them as happening for a reason and that gives him some power.
Q: How did you approach the sibling bond between Liz and Dud? What does their relationship mean to each of them?
JG: Liz and Dud provide this very crucial counterpoint to each other. Dud is on this path and enters a world that almost seems outside of time and reality, whereas Liz lives exclusively in reality to a punishing degree. I think that causes a lot of friction, but they have to rely on each other. They truly need each other. They love each other. For me, a realistic sibling relationship requires all those things.
PO: What’s refreshing about them for us is that no one’s trying to teach someone a lesson. It’s not like Liz wants to be right and prove Dud wrong. She wants him to be happy. That’s always the base of it. She’s not going to stop him from doing what he thinks is right. She’s just going to have her point of view on it all.
Q: Like Dud, Ernie and the other members of the lodge are somewhat stuck in their lives. What can you say about the place we find these characters? What does the Lodge offer each of them?
PO: Ernie is a man who’s seen a lot and done a lot. He’s probably known more losses than victories in life, but he’s a guy who’s hanging on and sticking around. He’s kind of our knight-errant. He’s still searching and wants a bit of glory in his life even though he feels the window might be closing. He brings to the lodge a really grounded intelligence. You can call it wisdom, but he has his flaws and makes as many mistakes as anyone else. The relationship with Dud is one of the things we watched grow in the first season.
JG: Someone like Blaise has found a place at the lodge where he probably fits better than he fits in other places. There’s a deep sense that the world has a hidden meaning and that there are things going on beneath the surface that are worth paying attention to and studying. He’s a guy for whom the historical context of the lodge and its mythology is really important. With Connie, who’s at the center of a very odd love triangle, she fits into the lodge in her own way. For so many people in the story, their livelihood and their vocation are going away, so she’s facing up to the facts of her life and is a very smart, delightfully cynical person. I think the lodge might be leading her down another path. Scott represents the most grounded aspect of the lodge. He has a certain vision of himself as a man and what a man should be.
Q: How important was it for this to be set and shot in Long Beach? How does that place inform the story?
JG: It is important. I was born there, my dad grew up there and I’ve lived there at different points of my life. It has a certain pull on my imagination. It does feel distinct. I think one aspect of it is the history of Long Beach. You can see the history of America in some sense as far as these boom-and-bust periods. It’s a city that got rich on oil, then got rich on aerospace and became a prosperous middle-class place and now we’re in a totally different phase. The future is very uncertain. A lot of those elements went into it, but there’s also just a mood. The way the light is in Long Beach or the charbroiled burger places or the parks or the donut shops. People in Long Beach have a certain pride in the town itself. It all seems to fit.
PO: At the center of the show is a character who’s nostalgic for a better time in his life and Long Beach has this timeless quality to it. There’s a sense that you haven’t moved on so much that you can’t rediscover a better life. We tried to balance the sense of what Long Beach is in reality with our fable kingdom of Long Beach. We wanted to capture both the real place and a fable place where we can play out the two levels of story. You’ve got the things happening in real time and this undercurrent of fable. Long Beach was very suited for that.
Q: What are you most excited for viewers to see in this show?
JG: I think we made a show where, when you get to the end of an episode, you want to go back and rewatch and when you get to the end of the season, you’ll want to go back and watch it again. There’s a level of detail that everyone who worked on the show contributed to. There’s some really fun layers to unpack. I love to live in the shows I love and watch more than once and discover new things. I hope we have a show like that.
PO: For everyone who feels like there’s so much television that it’s a lot of work, our show is a welcomed relief from that toil. We intended this, at every turn, to be a joy ride. That’s what we hope it is.
Lodge 49 premieres Monday, August 6 at 10/9c. For the latest news and exclusives, sign up for the Insiders Club.Read More