‘The Legend Of Korra’ Cast And Creators Talk Book 2 [SDCC 2013]
For fans of The Legend of Korra, it’s been a long wait since the Avatar’s triumph at the end of Book One, but now, we’re finally closing in on the debut of the show’s second season. At Comic-Con, we sat down with show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, as well as cast members Janet Varney (Korra), PJ Byrne (Bolin) and David Faustino (Mako) to find out how they approached the intensity of the first season and what they’ve got in store for the next three.
(L to R: David Faustino, PJ Byrne, Chris Sims, Janet Varney, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko)
ComicsAlliance: Before we start talking about Book 2, let’s talk about Book 1 a little bit. You guys got into a lot of intense stuff, especially with Korra being afraid of having her bending taken away. How did you approach that from a storytelling standpoint, and as an actress?
Michael Dante DiMartino: We always treat our characters very seriously when it comes to serious moments. We’re not trying to break any crazy rules or push the boundaries too far with what’s acceptable on children’s television. We know kids are watching, but we want to do stuff that is moving and is instense and has real stakes and drama. We just try to balance it all.
Janet Varney: For me, it’s a complete gift. What lives on the page is just so well written. I think I did worry the first time that I had to do something that was a little more intense in the booth, when I read the script, I was so used to doing acting on stage or on camera where part of it is visual as well. Do I need to do something different? Do I need to do more or take something away or add something because it’s just voiceover? The answer is no. You just do what you would do on camera. You’ve got the script in front of you, and if it’s as beautifully and lovingly written as these story arcs and these characters are thanks to these guys, then everything happens naturally. I’ve never found it to be difficult. It’s so easy to get into that space, and it’s such a privilege to do that. I do a lot of comedy on camera, so it’s nice to have stuff that really has some weight to it and has that emotion. I was so delighted to do it that, if anything, I went overboard.
CA: As a fan of the show, I thought it worked really well. Is it a difficult balance to strike? Bolin and Mako tend to have scenes that are more lighthearted, so is it hard to not go too dark, or too comedic?
Bryan Konietzko: When we write, there are many drafts of the script, just naturally. We have a process set where every time we go over the script, it just gets tighter and more balanced, and we do storyboards and animatics, so we’re seeing a rough draft of the show many times. I think we balance it within the episode, and we also balance it within the season arc. We’ll have an episode like the 11th one of Book One, where the whole Act 3 was Noatak and Tarrlok’s backstory, which is one of the most depressing things we’ve ever done. It’s really serious, and it’s essentially about child abuse, but you balance that. That’s going to be a heavy episode, and you know that, so let’s not have three episodes in a row like that. Maybe the next one’s a big action one. The episodes take on a certain characteristic as you pitch them out. I guess we get asked this question a lot, but we’re not like “argh, we can’t balance the tones!” It’s just what Mike and I are comfortable with.
MDD: Doing the comedy, the drama and the action just sort of comes naturally to us. We never feel like “oh, we’ve gotta stick in a crazy joke here because everyone’s so sad!”
BK: I think what would be harder for us is if we were like “we’ve got to do a straight comedy, where nothing serious happens.” That’s where I start thinking it’s really hard. If this was, like, a prison drama where no one ever smiles or laughs… I don’t know. Life is funny and difficult and sad, and Mike and I just feel comfortable in that space. If I had to do straight anything, one tone, I think we’d be like “well it seems like someone would crack a joke. Somebody would trip.”
David Faustino: Like you said, in life, in the dark moments, there are always comedic undertones.
PJ Byrne: People go to war, but even there they try to make jokes and have lighthearted moments. People fall in love.
BK: People fall in love in cities that are occupied. Early on, many years ago when we started Avatar, the executive that we were working with said to make the sad scenes sadder, the funny scenes funnier, the scary scenes scarier. That was kind of permission to do what we felt comfortable with.
CA: Your characters in particular play off each other really well. That’s not really a question, I just really like your characters.
PJ: Awww, we like each other.
DF: You’re just gonna fan out for a minute?
PJ: You’re dreamy too.
MDM: These are the easy kinds of interviews. The ones we’ve been getting are “tell us the entire plot of every episode and every character we’re going to see…” Or you could watch the show.
CA: Well, I did want to ask about Book 2. The Last Airbender was episodic, but there was a one arching story with Sozin’s Comet coming and the Fire Nation. Book One of Korra feels very complete, to the point where I wondered at the end of it if you were actually coming back. Everything gets tied up. Was that a concern, or did you just want to do a complete story?
MDM: When we got picked up for Korra, we didn’t know how many seasons it would be. At the time, it was like we were going to do these twelve, and that might be it. We wanted to make sure it had a satisfying conclusion, but also had the opportunity to continue if we had the chance to. We designed it that way, so that each book is its own story.
BK: The network asked for that, and we wanted it to, but believe me, we’re working on Book Four right now.
MDM: It all ties in.
BK: There’s continuity through the whole thing, even though we knew going into Korra that each season would have its own challenge instead of one big one. Their arcs are still four seasons long.
CA: I’d be totally okay if it was just a sports show now. “We beat all the bad guys, but we’ve really gotta work on that Pro Bending championship!”
BK: I could probably get into that, but I don’t think Mike would be down.
CA: So from the beginning, did you have it planned out for four seasons?
BK: We just knew that they’d picked up one book, and Mike and I kicked around a lot of ideas, but we had a lot. We had too much for just 12 episodes, and a lot of them, basically the backbone of Book 2, we thought “well, if we get to do another book, that’s what that one’ll be about.” There’s just not enough room in the story. Things like Kai and Bumi, we had ideas for them from the first week, but we needed to make room. Each season focuses on something different, and certain characters get more focus than others, but after four seasons, we feel it’s pretty balanced and tells a complete story.
CA: Was there a big gap for you guys before coming back to do the voices?
BK: We were recording Book 2 before you guys had seen Book 1. It takes over a year for each episode, and they’re staggered. There was a production delay in Book 2, but we’re still finishing the last episodes of Book 2. They’re animating the episodes of Book 3, we’re designing that stuff, and they’re writing and recording Book 4. We’re just starting to design that. It’s all happening right now.
PJB: The fact that they’re even talking to you and can have a conversation without their brains coming out their ears… There’s so much knowledge in their brain right now, and story, and plot.
BK: It takes so long to record each episode, and these guys record pretty close to the beginning.
JV: We get really confused. We have pickup lines from one season, ADR from another season, and then new episodes from yet another season.
PJB: And all that happens in one day. When they get us, they go “let’s get it all in!”
JV: Oh yeah. We have a vague idea that we are the same characters, nobody’s asked me to read anybody different, so that’s good.
PJ: Like live action, where they shoot out of order, in a way, we do too.
CA: How intense is that for you guys?
DF: It’s more intense when you get asked in situations like this, because you get a little confused as to where you are in the mix. I don’t find it very challenging in the moment, because you have the script in front of you and you know what’s going on. It’s not that difficult.
PJB: It’s all about being honest and true. If you’re honest and true, you can get through anything. They’re always there to guide us, and they have an incredibly intimate knowledge of what they just painted, if you will, so they’re like “we want it this way.” It’s extremely helpful. Just be honest and true about what you are.
JV: He points to his heart. I just wanted to make sure you caught that.
CA: It’s interesting that you say that, because that’s something that holds a great deal of appeal to me on the show. There’s a great deal of honesty to it when it’s being funny or sad, and all that stuff comes together.
BK: It’s funny, you’ve been saying in all the interviews “these guys don’t get enough credit for being comedy writers!” I think if that’s true it’s because we and our other writers don’t tend to write jokes. We don’t write gags. There was more of that in Avatar, and Mike and I made a conscious decision to just add more character-based humor, which Avatar had plenty of. We were just more comfortable with that, and I think that stuff doesn’t get seen as wacky comedy, because we’re not just like “these are the jokes!” We like the comedy to come from funny characters or funny situations or awkward situations. That’s just the brand of humor that we’re attracted to.
DF: What about the canned laughter that you’re bringing in for Book 3? Do you want to comment on that at all?
BK: It’s just you guys, multiplied.
CA: We have to talk about Season 2 a little bit. We just saw the designs for the new characters, Korra’s cousins. They look fun.
JV: They’re the opposite of fun, and that’s what’s so fun about them.
CA: Are they brought in to be a contrast to Mako and Bolin? Everybody loves Korra, but they seem more remote.
MDM: They’re very hard to get to know on a deep, spiritual level.
JV: Do they even know… themselves?
MDM: We also wanted to have some fun stuff for Bolin, like a romantic interest, and it just turned into a really weird, weird relationship.
PJB: I’m just mixing it up. I’m out there. Korra let him go.
MDM: He’s trying to find who he is, and part of that is “who am I going to date?” Not her.
JV: Which one’s the girl?
CA: Is there any thematic stuff that we can look forward to?
BK: The big theme is Korra’s ongoing spiritual development and self-actualization.
JV: I love that stuff.
MDM: Her one big weakness is her lack of spiritual connection. The Avatar is supposed to be the bridge between the human and the spiritual, and this is her first big test in dealing with that.