Daniel Knauf is a writer extraordinaire, who has given pleasure to millions with his talent of tapping into his daring, weird, out of the box thinking. He has captured those traits, tied them up and presented them to us in hugely successful shows such as Carnivàle and The Blacklist. (Writer-Executive producer, The Blacklist, Seasons 2 through 4)
Everybody knows I am an avid fan of The Blacklist, and some of the scenes I revere the most were written by Daniel. One of those is the entire episode Cape May: a drug-induced story of pain and bereavement, centring on the leading male character Reddington. This particular episode was the perfect showcase for James Spader to display his beguiling acting skills.
I have had the pleasure of being in regular contact with Daniel for some considerable time, yet I confess to having been a little scared when it came to interviewing him. My worry was totally unfounded – it was a complete pleasure to talk with him and to learn about his life, his work and so much more. My only wish is that I could have shared it all with you.
PC: I believe congratulations are in order: the renewal for The Blacklist has been announced… as if there was any doubt.
DK: I didn’t really think there was any doubt when it’s the third highest-rated series on a network. I can’t imagine them cancelling it.
PC: Tell me about your childhood: where were you born?
DK: I was born in California at Glendale Memorial Hospital. I was raised in a suburban community called La Cañada. I spent years in a Catholic school then switched over to public school.
When I was two years old, my father woke up one evening and couldn’t walk due to Post-Polio Syndrome. This was back in 1960. Back then my brothers would go to school and the kids would be saying, ‘Well, if your dad can’t walk, you’re going to be poor now.’ See, back then, if you were disabled, you were out of the game.’ My Dad apparently didn’t get that memo; he was the sole proprietor of a health insurance brokerage and he started working out of his hospital bed. He learnt how to drive a car, he learnt how to get around in a wheelchair and just continued doing what he had been doing before and did quite well with it.
He was an extraordinary man. He had a great sense of humour. He didn’t exploit his condition other than other than knowing if he was going to somebody’s shipping dock, there are ramps used to get the materials or people up and down, and he would go in through the back of the factory. He’d roll up to the front office and talk to the owner about health insurance. It was very unusual; you just didn’t have salesmen showing up in wheelchairs every day.
He was a master. He was just a master salesman; one of those guys who could sell ice to Eskimos. Just amazing!
So I grew up with that – which was a little unusual because we were the family with the dad in the wheelchair. In the ‘60s everyone was all about conformity: white picket fences and suburban stucco houses – so it was an unusual situation and he was very visible. He would take me to Boy Scouts and Indian Guides. We’d go out fishing and bowling and we did as many things as he could do. He was very active in the chair, so it was a little unusual in that regard.
I realised I was an artist at a very early age. I was very good at drawing and I’d get the pats on the head and people saying, ‘Wow! That’s cute!’ I continued with art through high school and then, when you are around 15, you stop getting the pats on the head and your parents are beginning to express a little concern because it’s like, ‘Oh my God! He surely doesn’t think he’s going to make a living out of this!’ So I did art into my second year of college. I attended Cal State Long Beach. I attended ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena City College; I kind of bounced around various institutions and took classes that interested me.
I took a creative writing class and soon the writing classes began crowding out the art classes. What I found was a medium where, instead of fabricating an image, you are writing down these little coded bits, this alphabet that represents phonetics with which people form words that inspire images, moments, scenarios in their minds. Your canvas is the inside of somebody else’s skull, and that’s the biggest canvas there is! So I was writing fiction, prose, poetry. I was writing a lot of stuff. I was originally a painter, so my stuff was very visual and I had a fairly good ear for dialogue. People would say, ‘Oh, you need to write screenplays!’ But I grew up in Los Angeles, so the idea of being a screenwriter…
PC: Every man and his dog is one?
DK: Yes. I mean, it would be like growing up in a company town and everybody saying, ‘Oh you should work for the company.’ And you are like, ‘No, that’s for suckers from the Midwest!’
I didn’t really take it seriously but I was good at it. I took a screenwriting class, and I found I liked the medium. When we were kids we used to make films. Kevin Mendelsohn up the street had a Super 8 camera and we would make these three-minute movies. So I was always monkeying around with stuff like that as a child and through my college years, but I didn’t really start taking it seriously until I was 27 years old.
I’d been working for my father while I was in college and he needed somebody to succeed him in the business. I had two older brothers and neither one of them wanted to do it, so I was the last shining hope; I went to work for my dad during my last two years at college. By then I had built a book of business in the health insurance lines and so I kind of graduated into my father’s brokerage. It was a small operation, just the two of us and an assistant. We had some very, very large clients, and we had a very successful practice. But I was unhappy by the time I was 27 years old. Very unhappy.
Actually I was going insane.
PC: Were you married with a family by that point?
DK: Yes I was married. I had a son. It was like I basically said, ‘I must put away childish things.’ It seemed to be one of those childish things was my aspirations to be a writer. What I didn’t realise was that art is not as much a matter of career choice as it is hard-wired. Whenever somebody comes up to me and says, ‘You know, I’d like to be a writer.’ I ask them, ‘Do you write?’ They say, yeah, from time to time.
Here’s the deal: writers write. They write all the time. They have to write. It’s an affliction; an addiction. We can’t stop. God bless these folks, but when a person tells me they’d ‘like’ to be a writer, that’s like saying, ‘You know, someday I want to be a pony,’ or, ‘I’d like to be a dolphin’. If you are a writer you need to write like a shark needs to swim… and not just a writer, if you are an artist and you are not making art, you become very, very unhappy.
I really do think it’s a matter of the way our brains are wired. Artists are just wired differently. For example: when I’m driving down a road and burst out laughing, a passenger might ask, ‘What are you laughing at?’ and I reply, ‘Look at the juxtaposition between the guy sleeping on that bus bench and what’s right above him on the billboard.’ Artists tend to be strong pattern-recognisers. We put things together, and create narratives or paintings or songs out of them. It’s just something we do. And there must be an outlet for that, because if you don’t purge it through the act of creation, you just go crazy. You must marshal it and present it as if to say, ‘See? I’m not crazy! This is what I’m actually seeing here! Do you see it too?’ and your audience will go, ‘Oh, oh, oh, right! I’ve never looked at it that way!’
This is the same if you are a composer, a visual artist, photographer, writer, actor, dancer — anybody who creates is somebody who, if they weren’t doing it, they’d be clinically insane.
PC: That is something I’d like to bring up: I’d read that you had suffered from depression as a young person. My own father, although he didn’t suffer from depression, twice had some sort of breakdown. We as a family could not get to grips with it and would ask him why he felt like that? In our opinion, at that point he had not much to be sad about; we just did not understand how it made him feel. He said, much the same as you, that those feelings had crept upon him until he felt overwhelmed and worthless and that he had been very good at hiding the symptoms.
DK: Yes. You become very good at masking it. The thing is that people hear the word ‘depression’ and what they think is, ‘Oh you are just really, really, really sad,’ We even use the word ‘depressed’ as a synonym for ‘sad.’ The truth is, clinical depression has almost nothing to do with sadness. Depression is a matter of brain chemistry. There can be trigger points: a death or a divorce or whatever — it can be seasonal, it can be a million different things but what it really is, is it’s a state where you’re in an emotional state of free fall.
I read a story about a man who was trapped in fog in a car on a really treacherous part of the Golden State Freeway called The Grapevine, a very twisty route that often gets enveloped by pea-soup fog. Well, this guy, he pulled over to the side of the road and all of a sudden he sees headlights approaching. It’s an 18-wheeler semi and it’s going fast and approaching his car! He’s standing at the side of the road, so he hops over the guard rail to avoid being crushed. Turns out that guard rail was over a 150 foot gorge. So this man falls through fog and that, to me, is basically the state of mind you are in when you are in a clinical depression. It’s like this high state of terror.
PC: Yes, it was terror that he said he felt.
DK: It is terror. I remember a doctor saying, ‘Why do you want to kill yourself?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I don’t want to kill myself. I just can’t keep living.’ You learn that it’s an illusion. You learn how to cope with it. You are not falling to your death. At some point you are going to come out of the fog and life just goes on. As you begin to understand the shape of the disease, it loses its teeth.
I’m medication-free at this point in my life and have been for the last 15 years or so. I don’t even take aspirin. I never did respond very well to anti-depressants. When those times happen (and I can’t even remember the last time), if I feel myself tilting towards depression, I recognise it, and there are steps I take to move through it and come out on the other side with very little damage. You just become better at it as you get older. You cope with the illness.
PC: The second time it happened he was away for 6 months. We thought he would never go back to being the person he was before but he did get better eventually and when he returned home he was completely back to normal — the way he was before — but it was a horrendous time of him feeling worthless and us being unable to help him.
DK: It’s difficult for the family because you are helpless. Everybody has a cross to bear. I don’t think that it’s connected to my talent. I don’t think it’s like, ‘Wow! This is the price I pay.’ I don’t play to that ‘tortured genius’ shit. It’s like the art is something I do, and by not doing it I become very unhappy. I think the reason that we are put on this earth is to pursue bliss, so why not do that?
I mean, it sounds really simple, but most people do that. What people do is they say, ‘I’m gonna do this thing I hate doing because it will lead to something I’d love to do,’ and sometimes that’s true. But most of the time I really don’t think it’s true. I think what you have to do is say, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do now.’ It’s not a matter of ‘I hate my job’ or something like that; it’s not from a negative standpoint. It’s, ‘What makes me happy that I like doing?’ And, ‘Okay I’m going to do more of that and less of this other thing that doesn’t make me happy.’
It’s not rocket science. It seems very practical, but I think some people, they don’t live very good lives because they are constantly putting off what they want to do. You just can’t! You are not doing anybody any favours. You certainly are not doing yourself any favours. Children need a mother that’s happy. Men and women need a spouse that’s happy. We want the people we love to be happy. Biting the bullet and sacrificing constantly: it turns people inside out.
PC: How did you make that jump from giving up in the insurance business to becoming a full time writer?
DK: It’s a funny story. It was kind of difficult. I was making an immense amount of money as a broker: I was making a very good living; I was supporting my family at a certain level that I was comfortable with. This was the lifestyle I wanted to give my children and my family. I started writing at about 27. I probably started writing screenplays by the time I was 28, and then got involved in workshops. I quickly realised there were two kinds of people in those workshops: the group of people who would be saying, ‘Well I’m going to go to this party or that screening.’ They were all about networking. And then there was the other group who were sort of like, ‘I just want to learn how to write screenplays as well as I can.’ And I kind of felt like, ‘Well I’m option B. I like B,’ so I just quietly started writing scripts.
I think I wrote 7 scripts before I sold one and that was in my mid-30s.
I would just write and write and I’d be at work. This was the early ‘80s. I had a computer in the insurance business, so I had access to word processing which made things easier. I would just write, and go to my workshops and read, and people would read me and they would give me critiques, and eventually I sold something. I sold a script to HBO actually. It was called Blind Justice. It was a Western. Everybody should get to do a Western. It’s fun!
I met this gentleman named Cliff Osmond, who was Armand Assante’s acting coach; we became very good friends. I thought I wanted to be a director and he said, ‘Why don’t you take some acting classes to learn the process?’ I thought it sounded like a good idea. So I started studying acting under Cliff. My training as an actor resulted in a major breakthrough in my development as a dramatist. Before that, I was really good at packing the trunk — I was very facile with plot — but I was kind of faking it with the characters.
I never became much of an actor, but I did understand what actors mean when they talk about being ‘in the moment,’ which is essentially forgetting all your lines because they are incorporated in you — you are listening to the other actors, and the lines are coming out of YOU ‘in the moment.’ You have completely and successfully constructed a fourth wall. You are in the reality of that moment, you are experiencing that moment as a real moment — whether you are on a spaceship or in a submarine or whatever it is — you are not seeing the audience or the crew. There’s a wall there and you are living that reality.
For me, being in the moment was like those flying dreams, ‘Oh my god! I’m acting! I’m acting! Oh shit I’m not acting!’ Cliff, would bellow, ‘You’re acting! Don’t act! Stop acting! BE! BE! BE!’ I had stage fright. There was never a fourth wall for me; there was an audience and I was nervous. But, when I was alone writing, there were no spectators. I could relax and write ‘in the moment.’ I don’t see images unfurling on the screen in front of me and say, ‘How will this be?’ I am actually in the scene. I am there, in Cape May, when Reddington is lying down next to Katerina and they are having that conversation by the fireplace. I’m present. I’m watching it. I understand the character. I know them. I understand what’s motivating them coming into the scene; I understand what each of their agendas are and what they are trying to achieve. I’m just transcribing at that point. That’s my process.
I write fairly quickly because of that, because I am not creating per se. I am just witnessing and transcribing.
PC: When you are writing, must you have a beginning, middle and an end?
DK: Yes absolutely. You have to ‘own’ the story. You might not be able to kick the story’s monkey-ass across the parking lot. In order to do that you have to be able to wrap your brain around it. Basically what I do is tell it to somebody so that it looks like I just already saw it, and then I jump into it.
I don’t work out every detail. More like an itinerary, like a driving trip. The highway is the story that you have in your head. So you’re driving down the road and you know you are going to go to New York, so know you’re going to go through Phoenix and St. Louis and Chicago and then onto New York. You’re driving down the road and you see this big sign, it says ‘Reptile Farm.’ You go, ‘Oh wow! I’ve never been to a reptile farm before! Let’s check that out.’ You can never be afraid. You find yourself going down a byway onto a dirt road, then you get there and wonderful, strange things occur. Or maybe you show up and the reptile farm has been closed for 5 years. So what? You backtrack, back to the highway.
You have got to have that highway there, but you can’t be afraid when a character says something utterly unexpected (and it happens all the time), or the character refuses to cooperate. You have to have the faith to say, ‘Oh let’s see what he wants to do.’ And you just let him do it, and often you end up doing a little byway, an interesting, picturesque little trunk-road back onto the main highway and you are on your way. It’s a much more interesting trip.
To me a really good story is like a flower opening: there’s an organic quality to it, it’s not a mechanical thing. To me the outline is the DNA of the story; if you have no DNA you don’t have an organism. A lot of things can happen in the environment that can affect that. I think most of the successful scripts I’ve written have been ones where the outline was one thing, and what I delivered was a very, very different thing. Sometimes it drives the people I work for crazy, but that’s my process.
PC: How much of a thing is ‘writer’s block’? Does every writer suffer with that? Do you or do you write at a million miles per hour?
DK: No, I think it’s bullshit! I think a real writer’s problem is: you can’t stop writing.
Seriously, though, I will tell you what writer’s block is. Truth is: you cannot create and edit at the same time. You cannot do it. It’s two different parts of your brain. You can’t make qualitative decisions while you are creating.
The mistake I think a lot of new writers make – and I think even seasoned writers do this from time to time – is to attempt to edit as they write. We are all lazy. We are lazy people and we think, ‘Well, you know what? I can edit while I’m writing. If I can merge those two steps, I’ll finish faster. I’ll blow through it. It’s multi-tasking, right? That’s a good thing!’ And the reality is that when you are trying to write and edit at the same time, you have one foot hard on the brake and one foot hard on the accelerator. You end up making a lot of smoke and noise but you really don’t make much in the way of progress.
What you have to do is sit down and you just say, ‘I’m creating now.’ And you don’t make any qualitative decisions. You just dump it out on the page. And then later you go back — because, thank God, we are not working with hammers and chisels in granite — and you make the changes.
To me, with a story, you never go, ‘That is perfect,’ but , ‘that will do for now.’ Everything is a place-holder. If I come up with a better idea later, I will make a note of it, and I will continue forward. Writing a first draft is like running down a trail through a jungle while being pursued by guys with machetes. I’m running my ass off! It’s okay to run off the trail if you see something interesting but, if you do that, keep a forward momentum going! Don’t go, ‘Hey you know what? I’m going to go back and work on page 87. I’m going to go back and start working on my first act now.’ It’s like, ‘No, no! Blast it out!’ Finish it and then put it away. Take whatever time you need to get some objectivity. I used to put things away and write something else, clear my palate, then go back and be the most brutal son of a bitch I could be. Most of the things you think are genius when you are writing, those are usually the weakest things in it. Things where you are just trudging like a death march —you’re just clawing your way through the scene through the sequence going, ‘Oh God! I know this stuff is shit but I have got to get through it!’ Those are the ones you’re reading later and you are thinking, ‘This isn’t really that bad. It just needs a tweak or two.’
I love writing, I love the process.
PC: You make it sound a lot of fun.
DK: It is and it’s not hard. I just think people get in their own way and writer’s block is somebody who sits and writes: “It was a dark and stormy night” and then goes, ‘Oh, my God! That’s the worst thing I have ever read! Oh my God! It was a rainy and shadowy night… No, No! That doesn’t work either!’
It’s like, ‘For fuck’s sake, just write something’
PC: Just put it down and move on to the next bit…
DK: Just move, move, move! What I say to somebody is: if you think you have writer’s block, what you do is instead of saying, ‘I’m going to write three pages a day,’ you have to say, ‘I’m going to write three hours per day.’ It’s like: I’m a church and the church is a very strict church and they will kill me if I don’t attend for three hours a day or three hours a week.
When I was in insurance I would write on Tuesday and Thursday nights after my children had gone to bed. From 9 o’clock until about 11 or 12 o’clock. So I’d write 6 hours a week; and slow and steady gets you there.
Another thing I tell people is, ‘If you have a goal, you just start walking.’ Like, if I said to you today, ‘I’m at my friend Billy’s house, in West Hollywood,’ And if I said, ‘I’m going to leave Billy’s front door and I’m going to walk to New York’ and I was determined, it might take me a long long time. But if I keep putting one step in front of the other, I’m going to get to New York.
With a trajectory and forward momentum, achieving a goal is not just possible, it’s inevitable.
The question is: is something going to happen to you in the meantime? If you get hit by a bus — and you will get hit by a bus, (especially in this business which is extraordinarily competitive) are you the type of person who will just lay there and bleed and whine ‘poor me,’ or will you pull yourself up to your hands and knees, wipe the blood out of your eyes and keep crawling toward New York until you heal enough to limp, then walk until you get hit by another bus, then do it all over again. And again. And again. Even as everyone who loves you says you’re crazy.
You just have to be driven towards whatever goal you have.
PC: Or if you fall down a hole in Rome…
DK: Yeah, when you’re lying broken and bleeding you have got two choices: you can die or you can crawl out. I just believe it makes more sense to crawl out.
PC: I was reading about your collaboration with your son Charles in doing the Iron man comics, tell me about that.
DK: Charlie grew up with an absolute love for comics and graphic novels. I kind of envied him because when I was a kid, if someone caught you reading a comic book and you were older than 12, they would kick you to death out in the school parking lot. It was ‘kids stuff’. But he grew up and it was like, well, adults read these things.
So I finished Carnivàle, and I get a call from Marvel, and they said, ‘We want to do a Carnivàle comic book.’ And I said, ‘That sounds like a great idea because we can finish the story.’ And then HBO couldn’t work out a rights deal, so Marvel said, ‘Well we really want to work with you, so you can pick whatever character you want to do.’ And I thought, ‘You know who I like? Iron Man: because he didn’t get bitten by a radioactive spider and he wasn’t exposed to gamma rays. He was actually a self-made superhero; I like that he built that suit.
The beauty of Iron Man is: first of all, he is rich; second, he’s an alcoholic; third of all, he’s terrified of people. So when we wrote Iron Man I was thinking, ‘He built this suit to protect him from the world, and in doing so he built a prison,’ which is very interesting to me. It’s a trap a lot of people fall into: the more they try to protect themselves from the world, the more escape-proof a prison they build for themselves. I liked the thematic potential of that.
So I said, ‘I would like to do Iron Man but I will do it on one condition: I get to work with my son.’ They said, ‘Oh yeah, we will do that. That’s fine.’ I call up Charlie and I say, ‘Hey Charlie! You won’t believe what I just did! I got Marvel to agree to you and me working on this comic book!’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, right…’
PC: ‘Yeah good one Dad.’
DK: I said, ‘No, no, no! I’m telling you the truth.’ He says, ‘Yeah… sure Dad.’ It turns out I was calling him on April 1. He thought it was a sick, cruel prank – which I admit I may be prone to do. But never something like that!
I couldn’t do it without him, because I had never written comic books and I didn’t know the idiom, and he did. He knew what could be done and what couldn’t be done. Meanwhile I knew how to do scene work. It was a really fun collaboration. We would break the story together and I would say, ‘Okay Charlie, write it.’ And he did every single first draft, and then we would sit down side by side and I would go through my process of editing and rewriting, and I would explain to him, ‘Here’s why I’m doing this and here’s something we could have exploited better,’ or I’d say, ‘I don’t see what’s motivating this character here: why she’s doing this?’ It was an education for both of us and a wonderful experience we got to do together.
Charlie is currently pursuing a career as a producer; he’s very good at putting elements together. He’s a very good writer. I know lots of really successful writers who aren’t really writers. You can know the craft but not be a writer. Charlie’s one of those. He can communicate with writers and he has mad ‘story sense’, which will serve him well in his role as a producer and in a pinch he can knock out a draft. It was a good experience for him I think.
PC: Yes that’s amazing, I bet he couldn’t believe it.
DK: ‘Hey kid you are writing Iron Man!’ (Laughs heartily).
PC: Thinking about Carnivàle – I must be one of the few people who hasn’t yet watched it. Where did your fascination for carnivals come from?
DK: I was out for a walk and there was a park near where I lived, and there was a carnival set up there. It was early in the morning, and I noticed people in sleeping bags underneath the trucks and I thought, ‘How unfathomably romantic!’ I mean, that it’s the 20th century and there’s people, who don’t clock into a job; they live it. I thought, ‘Isn’t it a wonderful world we live in — where that still exists.’ And I thought about carnivals a lot because there hadn’t been a lot of dramatic treatments of carnivals: there’s Blood Alley and there’s Carnie a few horror movies they have made in that milieu.
But then I thought about how a carnival is a universal experience; everybody’s been to a one, so it’s this lovely, untilled patch of soil.
The thing about carnivals that is interesting is: it’s like a great book. You know, if you read Huckleberry Finn at 12 years old it’s going to be one book. You read it again at 18, it’s going to be a very, very different book. Read it again at 43 and again it’s a very, very different book. Carnivals are the same kind of experience. You go there as a child, it’s all unmitigated glee and popcorn and cotton candy and you are scared and you are happy. Then you go there as a teenager and now it’s sexualised: you are looking around, checking out the girls, and you are thinking, ‘Hey! She’s cute. Maybe I can talk her into getting on this ride with me and she will be scared and I will be the big man.’ It becomes that whole teenage, sexualised thing. Then as a grown up: now you’re taking your children and you’re experiencing it vicariously and it’s a very different experience again. That’s a rich environment for drama. So I knew I wanted to do something with carnivals — but I put that aside.
I’d always loved J.R.R Tolkien’s work: it was a touchstone for me and I’ve reread him a number of times — sort of like Huckleberry Finn. And I thought, ‘I want to do an epic, I wanna do something epic — good versus evil,’ and that got tucked away.
The final component was the period setting. I was thinking of doing it as a post-apocalyptic carnival and then I thought, ‘There is so much dystopian stuff out there, like Mad Max and all that stuff, I thought, ‘That’s kind of been done.’
I got to thinking about the United States. We are a young country. We’ve only mythologised the Old West at this point; we are not old enough to have a mythology as rich as England, which is an older country, so we’ve mythologized the west but not really anything else. And I thought, ‘I think The Great Depression is a period that is open to mythology.’ It was basically a terrible intermission that took place in the middle of one big war — I consider World War I and World War II as a continuum. Carnivàle is a story set in a time where America could have gone either way. The German Bund was very popular. The KKK was very popular. They were holding Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden. We could have tilted either way. If America entered the war as an ally of Germany things would have gone very, very differently.
PC: Perish the thought.
DK: Also there was this idea of ‘The Bomb’ and what that meant to us a species. And the central conceit of Carnivàle was that there was an Age of Magic that lasted until we detonated the bomb over Trinity, and at that point God saw His monkeys had basically fabricated a star. And He went, ‘Okay kids, you’re all grown up. Here’s the car keys. I’m out.’ So we moved from an Age of Magic into an Age of Science. I don’t personally subscribe to that, I see miracles every day and I think we are very much in an Age of Magic, but that was part of the storytelling conceit of Carnivàle.
PC: Looking back now is there anything you would have done differently? Was it too ambitious at the time? Would it be better received now? Would you change anything?
DK: I’d put off production for two and a half years because I think we were exactly two and a half years ahead of our time. When we did Carnivàle everything on TV was pretty much doctors, lawyers and cops. We had to try and teach people a new language when we were doing the show. Since then the fan base has become huge but while it was on people were kind of going ‘Huh?’
We were limited. We weren’t being broadcast. We were going to cable subscribers that happened to have HBO — which is a very small group of people — and they are getting contemporary urban dramas like The Sopranos and Sex in the City and all of a sudden this crazy thing shows up on their screens.
HBO though, to their credit, they believed in the show absolutely! They believed it would be more successful than The Sopranos. They put everything into it, and nobody would have green lit that but them at that moment in time. So when people go, ‘Oh aren’t you mad at HBO for cancelling you?’ It’s like ‘No! They put it on. They were crazy to put this show on.’ I was an insurance broker the day before they green lit the series. I sold my business. Next I am an executive producer of an HBO series and the main creative force behind it! Who does that? Commit the money they put in at the time on something created by an untested talent? It was an extraordinarily expensive show with huge elements and extras and make up and special effects. It looked like a movie! There were beautiful episodes.
It was just an amazing piece of good fortune. To me, if I did nothing else, I made my mark with Carnivàle. I loved the show and I still hear from people who love the show. They say, ‘This is the best show that’s ever been on TV.’ And I don’t know if that’s true – there are a lot of great shows. But when you hear something like that from a bunch of people and the fact that it’s what they believe you go, ‘Wow! Really?’ This has made a lot of people happy.
PC: Yes and that’s not limited to just America, people I know, when I told them I was interviewing you, were like, ‘Oh, can you ask him this about Carnivàle?’ I watched the trailer and as well as the premise of the story exciting me, the colours, the characters and visuals stand out. It looks really amazing! (It is like when I saw the trailer for Westworld, I instantly wanted to watch it). Is the line drawn under it now, or will there ever be an opportunity to revisit it?
DK: In Italy there is a group of sculptures that Michelangelo didn’t finish – by all means, I’m not comparing my work to his – but what I’m saying is I saw those statues and they are viewed like a dream. The viewer completes it with what they would imagine the statue would look like and their version no doubt is different from what Michelangelo actually had in mind, and sometimes it may be even more beautiful – certainly more beautiful to the person who’s looking at it. And I think that’s true of Carnivàle. But I’d be a little bit nervous about approaching and finishing it, because I think a lot of people, as much as they say they want to see it all the way through, it would be tough to beat the versions they have in their minds.
PC: The fans will have a certain preconceived picture of what that would be like.
DK: Yes, I did have occasion to write a scene for Carnivàle, years later, as a fulfilment for a kickstarter programme, I did it as a gift for somebody who made a contribution to a kickstarter fundraiser project — and I was shocked at how absolutely effortless it was.
I wrote a scene between Jonsey and Samson and it was like putting on the most comfortable sweater I had on in my closet — it was kind of shocking to go, ‘Oh God! They’re still alive in there somewhere.’ It was like: they are right there. I could sit down and start writing scripts for Carnivàle and it would probably be the world’s easiest thing for me to do.
But I’ve moved on. I’m doing other things now and I’m excited about those things. It’s kind of like, I don’t want to just do that, it ran its course, it was cut short.
PC: Why was it cut short?
DK: Well because HBO, their expectation, our benchmark, was The Sopranos and they thought our show would be more successful and we weren’t. We couldn’t be. The Sopranos was a phenomenon. By today’s standards Carnivàle would probably be a solid hit, but back then it was perceived by the network as a disappointment and at that point, after so many years of uninterrupted success, the critics had their knives sharpened for HBO and we received terribly mixed reviews.
You know you’re cooking with grease when people see it and they either adore it or they hate it. We didn’t get reviews where people said, ‘Yeah this is a solid 3. Check it out; it’s worth watching.’ Critics would either go over the moon and say, ‘This is amazing TV! You must watch this!’ or they would say, ‘This is the most incomprehensible, pretentious pile of crap. It’s unwatchable.’ And HBO, they don’t live or die on ratings, they live and die on reviews. When those reviews started rolling in they were just gobsmacked.
As for me, I kind of half expected it. I strive to inspire passion in my viewer, and if the passion is, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen!’ I’d much rather get that than, ‘This was pretty good,’ or, ‘That was okay.’Whether the audience is trembling in rage or trembling in awe, doesn’t make any difference to me (laughing)… I wanna make them tremble! I mean that’s what we do: we move people. We are in the business of moving people.
PC: The music on Carnivàle was really nice as well though. Was it Jeff Beal who did that?
DK: Jeff Beal is a brilliant composer, and we had the two women from Prince also. I will tell you the person who was really campaigning heavily to do the show was Danny Elfman. He wanted to do Carnivàle so bad! But we had a showrunner, Henry Bromell, who ended up getting fired before the show hit air who really, really had a personal issue with Danny Elfman. I was going, ‘What? Are you kidding me? He did Batman. He did The Simpsons!’ It’s like, ‘Come on! Danny Elfman is pretty damn good.’ I wonder sometimes what that would have been like. But I wasn’t running the show at that point so I didn’t get a vote. I was basically hanging on by my fingernails; I was an insurance broker suddenly thrust into the circus. (Laughing)
PC: It’s always assumed the best productions are the big productions. Are there low-budget productions that have had an impact on you?
DK: No. I’m in TV, so production values… even a big production like Carnivàle, well let’s say The Blacklist for instance: you write a fight scene, we have maybe two or three hours to stage, shoot, choreograph and cover that scene — if you are doing a James Bond movie they are going to spend three weeks. The economy just doesn’t allow for us to provide epics and so you are really writing on a very human level. So my instinct is: if you want to make something great, don’t go big, dig deep! I think one of the more remarkable movies I have seen is M Night Shyamalan’s Split – the central character, played by James McAvoy, delivers an Oscar-calibrated performance in that; it’s a genre film so it won’t get nominated. It’s an astonishing piece of work and it’s not a big movie, it doesn’t have a lot of big special effects. Sometimes the best thing you can do is put the camera on sticks and point it at an actor who is deep in a role and let it roll.
I go to these big movies and I like them. But to me, watching movies like that is like going to a fireworks show. You go, ‘Ooo! And ahh!’. You come home, it didn’t change you, it didn’t move you in any real way. It was a beautiful thing you watched (and believe me there is a lot to be said for that) but I see these big movies and I couldn’t tell you the plot 10 – minutes after I walk out the door because big studio films are really not stories anymore. They are pageants. They will come up with a series of big, spectacular sequences, then contrive the thinnest of narrative threads to connect them into something resembling a narrative. Like huge, expensive, overblown floats in a parade connected by kite string. Not that I mind watching it, because there’s a lot of art up there; there is a lot of really good art. But the artists are directors, not writers.
Movies really knock me out. I’m a horror fan. Probably one of the 5 or 6 best horror films I’ve ever seen which came out in the last year was called The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s absolutely original, it’s superbly acted, it’s beautifully shot, it’s a great movie period! Again it’s a genre film. It’s kind of ghettoised but I would highly recommend it. Brian Cox is one of the best actors out there working, certainly one of the most underrated actors, a workhorse, and if I get a chance to work with that guy, that would be a happy day! But every time he is in something, he elevates it. He’s great.
PC: For me it’s similar to music gigs. Last year I saw two completely different concerts: Springsteen at a big arena and a guy called Fantastic Negrito at a very small venue. Now, of course, Springsteen was great but Fantastic Negrito blew me away.
DK: Yes, you go see Springsteen and it’s one kind of experience, and then you go to another thing … I think, you know, when we die, the whole thing of life passing you by in your final few moments…I don’t think Springsteen is going to be one of the things that’s likely to flash before your eyes, along with births of children or getting married, the important things that happen to us…but I think that concert you just described with 200 people, is much more likely to be something; it’s a moment you cherish and to me, that’s the gold standard.
PC: To be fair, the guy Fantastic Negrito actually won a Grammy for his album earlier this year.
DK: Obviously he’s got something going on.
PC: He has, he has had a tough life and he incorporates that into his music, and into his performances.
DK: He has done a storywell of himself. Often you are living a fast life, for brief periods of time, which is pretty much the story of a lot of rockers, because they bring a deep storywell in, they tap it out by the time they are 30 or 35 and start going through the motions after that. Sir Elton John for instance you listen to a track of his now: they are exquisite and beautifully produced, crafted; they are meaningful but the fire is not really there — that urgency in the music. I think rock ‘n’ roll is one of those art forms that really is a young man’s game, unless you get a guy who was maybe working in complete obscurity.
I broke in late: I sold my first script in my late ‘30s and Carnivàle in my mid ‘40s. I had the opportunity to dig an extraordinarily deep storywell. I had lived a life. I was a fully-formed adult when I broke out and that’s always been something that’s been very helpful, as I have a broad store of life-experience to draw on.
PC: Moving onto your other work The Blacklist: let’s start with how you got that gig.
DK: Well I worked with John Eisendrath on a show called My Own Worst Enemy. Conceptually it was deeply flawed. Sometimes a high-concept pitch doesn’t work well for TV shows. It will be something more like a movie pitch. Well, the reason they are movie pitches is because films are two hours long. A TV show is 10 to 22-hours long per season. So My Own Worst Enemy ran out of gas after 7 episodes or so. I guess John was impressed with my work and he wanted to work with me again. We kept in touch over the years and he got The Blacklist and I got Dracula.
I was running Dracula when he was running the first year of The Blacklist.We were both working for NBC – he was with Sony and I was with Universal. So Dracula ran its course. I was looking for another showrunning gig and my agent calls me and she says, ‘Would you consider being on staff?’ And I said, ‘Well, if I was working with somebody I respected, and somebody who I felt I could learn from, and if it was a hit, and if it’s in its second or third year… that would be interesting to me.’ Of course, in retrospect I think John had called her already, so she was vetting me. Within about 15-minutes John was on the phone saying, ‘Hey! Come on The Blacklist.’
I met up with him and Jon Bokenkamp and they’re both nice people. I watched the first season and I was kind of bowled over by it. I thought, ‘Wow!’ I told Eisendrath, ‘I don’t even know how you are doing this! This is crazy! It’s like a 19-ring circus, this show!’ And indeed it is. About halfway through my first season, I remember talking to Luke [Lukas] Reiter one day and saying, ‘This show is really hard to write!’ And he says, ‘No shit!’
It’s an immensely challenging show to write because we only have 42 minutes to tell about two hours worth of story. There are tricks to The Blacklist. We don’t do shoe-leather beats: it’s like somebody goes, ‘A-ha!’ and kneels down, collects a piece of evidence and then the next scene is somebody kicking somebody’s door down. We are not going to waste time with going to the lab and developing a DNA profile, unless we want to button a scene with the results. (Laughing).
PC: Thank Goodness. (Laughs)
DK: Even the procedurals fast-track this shit. In real life, it takes weeks to profile DNA. On The Blacklist it’s instantaneous and we cut through that stuff to whatever the big points are in the story. It’s challenging because you have to be aware of all that. You know there was a process they must have gone through, to get to that moment when they kicked the door down, because if you aren’t those two events may be utterly disconnected, and then the show becomes incomprehensible. You are always walking on a tightrope between moving the storyline along at a very fast pace while having it make sense. Sometimes we fail. Occasionally I’m sure people are muttering, ‘Huh?’ But most of the time we succeed. It’s a tough show to write.
I took the gig and worked on season two and I was kind of the guy…everybody says, ‘Oh Dan Knauf, he brings all the weird stuff.’ But, the truth is, Jon Bokenkamp is the one who comes in with wild, crazy shit. I tend to be an out-of-the-box thinker and so I will pitch a lot of off-the-wall stuff, but really, the visionaries behind the show, the guys holding the tiller, are John Eisendrath and Jon Bokenkamp. The Blacklist is 100% their show.
PC: How often do the network bosses reject the ideas because they are too weird or controversial or a step too far?
DK: Oh that happens with every episode. It’s not unusual. Networks are consistently conservative like that: The Blacklist is a valuable brand and they want to make sure it remains an asset. They want to make sure the writers don’t take the car out for a joy-ride and wreck it. I get that. That’s one force, and then the other force is, ‘Yeah, listen, it’s going to be awesome and we promise we are won’t wreck the car!’ and whoever is more passionate, wins. In all television and movies, passion wins the day. The person with the most passion is either willing to give a more compelling argument or take the highest career risk. It’s like, go ahead and do it, but if it just doesn’t pan out, you’re never going to work again! Whoever is willing to pony up, wins!
PC: How challenging is to come up with original or topical material with the show being filmed six weeks ahead of broadcasting it?
DK: It’s hard…the longer the show goes. You have got a ‘monster’ of the week. We run into the same issues that I’m sure they ran into with Kolchak: The Night Stalker. ‘Okay we have already done vampires and werewolves. Okay, then it’s a hairy vampire baby this week.’ (Laughing).
PC: It’s different, not the same at all!
DK: We have done a number of blacklisters who are masters of disguise.‘Okay, well this week it’s a master of disguise who’s a little person or Siamese twins or transgender!’ And it’s like, ‘Okay… aaah well… that’s different. Let’s do that one.’
So there is a bit of that, but at the same time the show is not really about the blacklister. They’re just an excuse to spend time with Red and the team. So really, The show is not as much as about the blacklisters as it is about what the team going to go through to put them away. I think that’s why people watch.
But there is one thing that makes most of the writers a little bit crazy…some fans think Jon says, ‘Okay Brandon’s… you are writing episode 3, Dan you are writing episode 4, Dave you are writing episode 5, Rick you are writing episode 6.’ And then we all just go off and independently break stories and write our episodes. There’s no conversation; we just make them up as we go along and we have absolute autonomy in this regard. The truth of the matter is these shows are outlined within an inch of their lives. Often the writer has nothing to do with the outlining. Yes, there is room for a little autonomy inside the process if you are writing, because it’s only you facing that blank page. But for the most part we are given a paragraph like ‘Liz goes to the mental hospital, meets this guy, he’s got a Faraday cage and he tells her this’,and it’s our job to turn that into a compelling scene.
I remember a couple of years ago, a lot of the shipper fans were furious with me because I built out Tom a bit.
PC: They still are!
DK: I advocated building out Tom because Ryan is a good actor and the character was fairly underwritten. But it was like, you know, ‘Dan Knauf is destroying the opportunity for Liz to get together with Red.’ And I’m like, ‘No!’ Tom needed development. And when you do that, it gives the other characters someone to play off of and gives the audience something to watch.
I went in and said, ‘We should build out Tom.’ And they said, ‘See what you can come up with.’ I came up with stuff for John and Jon they are like, ‘Does this fit in with our meta?’ I’m not going to just do it independently and totally derail the creator’s intent for the long-term story. That’s never going to happen! It doesn’t happen on any series. The showrunners, the studio, the network all need to sign off on these things.
By the way, I’m not going to go into what Red and Liz’s relationship is, or how that plays out. I don’t do spoilers
PC: And nor would I ask you.
DK: But the table is set, the story has been authored, the direction of that story is going to go to a certain conclusion – and that is the same conclusion as it has been since I set foot in the room. The same is true of every writer on the show. This show is very much John and Jon’s baby.
PC: Do you and the other writers know what the end game is or have you not been told?
DK: Oh yeah, I know what it is but I would have to kill you if I told you! (Laughing)
PC: You would be dead if you told me! But I just meant: is it only the Johns and some of the cast that knows?
DK: The Johns absolutely know that and they are crystal clear on it and believe me, if they weren’t, I wouldn’t have taken the job. There are a lot of really good shows where there is really was no ‘there’ there. They really didn’t know where the story is going. On Lost, there was never a ‘there’ there – they were just throwing stuff out and they were going, ‘Let’s work with that.’ A lot of viewers are comfortable with that, but not me. I just believe it’s a cheat and I will never work on a show like that. I spent many more years as a consumer of entertainment than I have as a manufacturer, and so I have immense faith and respect for the audience. Too many people in this business underestimate them or feel it’s okay to con them. Is that any way to repay them for giving you their time and attention? Fuck that.
On The Blacklist, we are making up a lot of things as we go along but not the main thing. The core — the heart and soul — of that show is the relationship between Red and Liz. Their trajectory has not changed one iota: it’s solid as a slot-car track. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be and nothing that I’m going to bring to the party, or Luke, or anybody, is going to change that. Not because we’re just good little sheep, but because we are all genuinely on board with it. If somebody is going, ‘Oh I don’t know… I don’t like that,’ either they are not going to take the gig, or they are not going to last very long on it.
PC: Do you think the character of Red would have been different if it was played by someone other than James? He has brought his own style to his portrayal of Red.
DK: If it wasn’t for James Spader, the show wouldn’t work at all. The show is Red Reddington.
Red Reddington is the heart of that show. Everybody wants to see Red, they want to know Red, what’s he going to do next, how is he going to react. And that role is so perfect for James: it’s tailored to every strength he has. There was a scene at the end of a script and I came up with a conclusion and it’s where they find the presidential limousine buried underneath the religious compound.
PC: Oh yes that is a wonderful scene.
DK: John and Jon called me in and told me, ‘We just can’t figure out a tag, really. Why did Red get involved in this whole story?’ I pitched it right off the top of my head, ‘Okay… well…it’s quiet, there’s police tape, it’s blowing in the wind and the Mercedes crunches up the driveway. And Red gets out and tells Dembe to wait in the car then he goes in. He pushes over a podium and there’s a trapdoor and he goes down a ladder into a buried storage container. He finds a shrouded car. Pulls off the cover to reveal a presidential limo, circa Nixon. He gets inside, pulls some keys out of an envelope and he starts the car.
Now my father drove Lincoln continentals — I know how old Lincoln continentals were set up — and I said, ‘He gets in the car and he turns it on and on the 8-track is Bobby Darin.’
Actually, when I was pitching it, I sang a few bars of “Beyond The Sea”.
DK: It comes on and it’s just kicking you know… ‘Somewhere…bap bap…beyond the sea…’ and Red reaches over and opens up the glove compartment, and he pushes the button and pops the trunk. He goes around and in the trunk is this box, he takes the box out and he leaves.
And John and Jon said, ‘What’s in the box?’ I said, ‘I have no idea! That’s for you guys to figure out.’
PC: (Laughing) It’s not my job.
DK: When I saw that scene, it was the look on James’s face when Bobby Darin starts playing.
DK: It’s priceless! There’s just not many actors… that scene at the end of the Mombasa Cartel with Peter Fonda…Red’s speech is — I mean I wrote it, but James elevated it. He just picked it up and it appears 100% authentic and effortless. It probably is to him at this point in his journey as a craftsman.
James is very active in the whole process. He will go page by page with these scripts — not just his material but the other actors as well — and make sure the story tracks. He is very, very active as a producer. We talked about that scene. He talked about exactly what he needed.
But when I watch something like that, this exquisite performance, and everyone’s watching it – hearing this horrendous story of how Red found Dembe — and I’m sure there are people that are tearing up in the audience when they are hearing this. When I see the dailies and I’m tearing up — it’s having the same effect on me. The crew was probably sniffling.
James is a force of nature. That’s all there is to it.
PC: I loved an interview you had, where you talked about James calling you up about wanting you to change a word in a particular sentence.
DK: (Laughs) ‘Boggles the imagination’ it was and I was saying, ‘No, actually I think ‘staggers’.’And James said, ‘No, I like ‘boggles’.’ And I replied, ‘Said the actor to the writer.’ And he just laughed and laughed. Of course we went with ‘boggles’ because… it’s James. If James wants ‘boggles’, it’s going to be ‘boggles’.
PC: Does it ever get to a point where you say, ‘I’m keeping that word in!’ How do you reach a compromise?
DK: James understands his instrument. He understands his instrument like Dizzy Gillespie understood his trumpet. And James knows that he’s going to play ‘boggled’ better than ‘stagger’ and I’d be a very foolish writer indeed to say, ‘No! It has to be ‘staggered, James.’
PC: And he has said himself in interviews that he does it because there is a reason for it, not just because it takes his fancy.
DK: Yes there is always a reason for it and at the end of the day he’s the guy who’s walking point; he’s the guy who’s on the screen. He is the guy who is out there and so, as a writer, I have to respect that.
It’s like I’m one of those guys in the white coats who design Porsches, James is the guy who gets behind the wheel and test drives it. If something malfunctions or it doesn’t perform, James is the guy who is going to end up in the fiery crash. Like, who’s got more skin in that game? I’m sorry, fellow members of the WGA, but the fucking actor does. And so I’m not precious with my words. It’s like, ‘Okay, if that doesn’t work for you, what would?’
PC: Would that apply to all of the cast?
DK: I can only speak for myself, but I regard everyone in the ensemble with the same degree of respect. Some writers understand that dynamic and some don’t. I’m one that does because of the training I did with Cliff; I understand their process and I have a deep respect for it and the risks they must take. I like actors. Most writers I know have a love-hate thing for actors. For me it’s a love-love thing.
PC: It’s a bit of a catch-22 on the show, where we are now, because the fans have been demanding answers and now that they are finally getting them with the Kaplan back-story. Before it was announced about the renewal the fans were worried it was going to be a short season 5 and the show ending there.
DK: The Blacklist fan base is different to any other fan base I’ve ever been involved with because so many people are watching the show. Proportionally, anytime you have a group of people, there is within the group people who are kind of toxic, you know? The fact that we have a large viewership means we are going to have a larger group of toxic, predatory troll-types. It’s something I can’t really do anything about.
They make stuff up whole-cloth; run around and say, ‘I’ve got an inside source who says this is going to happen!’ and it is ABSOLUTELY false! Complete crap! They’re trolls. Every single one of them who says that. Not one exception. It’s so far off-base. If one of them says, ‘Oh The Blacklist is going to go a short season,’ that’s a very specific kind of prognostication. You would have to know somebody who is in the highest echelon of NBC to know that.
PC: I think it was more of a worry to be fair, rather than a person saying they had that information.
DK: Worry? I mean why not worry about something real? But sometimes they think, ‘I will say this and it will become a thing.’ They will say, ‘They’re going to recast Red!’ Let’s worry about that. Well, that’s never going to happen! Nooo!
PC: There have been times I have stood up to defend the writers or actors and have been berated. A lot of it is unnecessary.
DK: What people should know is: if there is something important to the show – it’s going to be announced. Until it’s announced don’t worry. Until it’s announced, even in the highest echelon they don’t know what they are going to do because they are never going to announce something until they are sure that’s what they are going to do.
It’s like if the people at the top don’t know: how does a guy who’s a night manager at a hotel in the Poconos know?
I mean, come on!
But that is just the dark side of fandom. On the bright side, it’s wonderful to see how invested people are in the show. It’s wonderful to read the theories. I love them because to me, when people start interpreting material –when they are interpreting moments and connecting it to other things like books, mythologies or whatever — it means they are fully engaged.
They did a lot of that on Carnivàle, they do a little of it on The Blacklist. People don’t do that on NCIS, they are not going to do that on CSI; CSI and NCIS are both very solid performing programmes, but that’s all they are: programmes. They are not art, okay! They are programmes and they can be highly entertaining programmes. I like Law & Order.
But when fans get into interpretation of lines, plots, symbolism or just deep analysis, of ephemera like they do on The Blacklist, that tells me we are making art, which is very gratifying.
PC: Will there be a part two of Cape May at some point?
DK: I was kind of hoping to do that this last season but I didn’t get a chance to. It just didn’t pan out that way in the run. I would have loved to have done another episode centred around Red – because I just love working with James; I like what he does with my lines. I don’t think we will be revisiting Cape May anytime soon, but it’s possible, you never know.
What we on the staff understand, just like the fans, is to expect the unexpected and John & Jon bring it. It’s like, ‘Guess what we are doing this week! Cape May II!’
I mean, that’s certainly within the realm of some kind of possibility.
PC: We have run out of time to ask the music questions…
DK: I have been absolutely wrapped up in Sia lately, I’ve been listening to wall-to-wall Sia. I cannot get enough. I think she is amazing. I just love her whole catalogue.
PC: Tell me about your connection with Ezio Bosso who composed “Rain, in your Black Eyes.”
DK: I met Ezio in Rome at The Hotel Locarno. I was there with my daughter and he and I just got into a conversation. He told me about his surgery: how he had learnt how to walk, to swallow, to do everything again. It was a fascinating story but it wasn’t until after I returned from Rome I listened to his work and I saw his performance at San Remo. He’s an angel! He’s like an angel from heaven! He’s like this… miracle!
Ezio was really excited to get his music on the episode Cape May. I had to fight a little bit for it — nobody had heard of him — and the only regret I have is that we didn’t go wall-to wall with him instead of just two of his songs. I wish we had done the entire score.
PC: Oh yes! Today I was watching Cape May and listening to Ezio at the same time, the scene where Red is talking about the effect that suicide has on other people, was made so much more intense and emotional.
DK: I know! That scene by the way…that is my proudest moment of my career.
Again that’s where James brings it. I wrote the scene and it was a monologue that had formed inside me ever since I was in my 20s. I was suicidal, in that I thought about it obsessively. What saved me was seeing first-hand the impact of suicide and how devastating it is on everybody close to the victim. It’s really one of the most evil things you can do.
There are certain circumstances, I suppose. If someone is terminal or in terrible pain — I can’t judge people in that situation. But I think somebody who takes their own life because they are depressed or momentarily hopeless is an act of such destructive carnage. I really wanted to put that across. So I wrote it, and James just killed it!
I remember seeing that and I thought, ‘You know, there’s 8 or 9 million people watching this show right now, and I think it’s safe to say that there’s maybe, I dunno… 8 or 9 hundred people who right now are actively considering suicide. If for one or two of them this speech lands, we did really good today. That’s the best thing.
I was listening to Ezio’s ‘Weather Effects‘ the entire time I was writing that. You could turn it on in the background and watch the episode and it adds a lot, seriously. I would recommend it if anyone is going to do a rewatch of Cape May, put the album on.
PC: It’s funny you saying you did that too, that is exactly what I did today. I had it playing on Spotify whilst I was watching Cape May and it just blew me away. I have probably watched Cape May half a dozen times but it did add to it.
DK: It does, it enhances it.
You said one of my favourite antiquated words still in the British vocabulary, that is not in the American vocabulary, is ‘whilst’, I love that word, you still use that word.
PC: Well get it into a Blacklist monologue (laughs) – lots of Americans get me to say certain words when I am interviewing them.
DK: I have to wrap it up now but everybody gets a season 5 and that’s a good thing. Fans are happy.
PC: And everyone lives happily ever after?
PC: Until the next time…
Finally there are three questions I ask everyone:
PC: What is your favourite or most used word?
DK: Today? Ululating. It’s the sound Middle Eastern warriors make when they charge — a high-pitched cry while flicking the tongue up and down on the roof of the palate.
PC: How would you describe your perfect day?
DK: My perfect day: wake up (a good start by all measures – everything else is gravy); make a breakfast burrito (chilli-crusted steak, bacon, chorizo, potato, kale, veggies, onions, corn, cheese and eggs on a flour tortilla) and at least 3 cups of Nespresso; take dog out; deal with email and text messages make/return telephone calls; turn on music, more Nespresso, write, write, write, dance, write, more Nespresso, dance, write; walk the dog down the road for a late al fresco lunch/dinner at one of those little places on Washington; write, dance, write; meet friends for drinks, a show or just hang out, home; read read, sleep, dream. Wash, rinse, repeat.
PC: I cannot live without…
You can find Daniel on Twitter
[Update: Since this interview Daniel Knauf has left The Blacklist team. He has ust published a book of poetry: ‘Noho Gloaming & the Curious Coda of Anthony Santos’. ‘It is noir with heart and a coda for the soul’. Below is the Amazon link to this collection of poems]
Edited by Davina Baynes
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.