Both YouTube’s Impulse and the 2008 movie Jumper have two things in common. Both are based on the science-fiction novels written by Steven Gould. And both involve filmmaker Doug Liman, who’s best known for directing 2002’s The Bourne Identity and 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Yet Liman doesn’t have fond memories of Jumper (which grossed approximately $222 million). Working on Impulse, however, has allowed him to put those old ghosts to rest.
“Of all my movies, Jumper’s the one I felt I never got right. I had some more growing to do as a filmmaker that actually happened in making Impulse. It’s amazing… The reason I didn’t get (Jumper) right is because I didn’t have a writing partner in Lauren (LeFranc, Impulse’s showrunner),” explained Liman. “I’m a disruptor. My ambition for disrupting the superhero genre wasn’t big enough, and it got way bigger when I met Lauren. And it got way bigger when I cast Maddie (Hasson).”
On Oct. 5, 2019, Liman and LeFranc (a former writer/producer on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), along with cast members Hasson (The Finder), Missi Pyle (Galaxy Quest), and Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica) participated in roundtable interviews at the New York Comic Con, speaking about the second season of Impulse, which debuts Wednesday, Oct. 16th on YouTube Premium.
On Impulse, Henrietta “Henry” Coles (Hasson) is a rebellious 16-year-old outcast who discovers she possesses the powers of telekinesis and teleportation, although she has no control over them. The first time she realizes this, Henry is with Clay Boone (Tanner Stine, Teen Wolf), the captain of the basketball team and town royalty.
As Henry and Clay smoke dope and make out in Clay’s truck, Clay wants to have sex with her. When Henry refuses, Clay forces himself on her, attempting to rape her. This activates Henry’s powers. Once her powers manifest, Henry has a seizure and teleports to safety. However, in the process, she inadvertently crushes the truck, leaving Clay a paraplegic and comatose.
Henry teleports into her bedroom of the house her mother Cleo (Pyle) shares with her boyfriend Thomas Hope (Matt Gordon, Rookie Blue) and his daughter, Jenna (Sarah Desjardins, Riverdale). At first, Jenna, a popular girl at school, is cold towards Henry. Upon learning of her ordeal with Clay and her powers, Jenna becomes Henry’s friend and confidante.
To make things worse, Clay’s father Bill Boone (David James Elliott, JAG), who owns a car dealership, is secretly a drug trafficker. He’s launching his own investigation into who crippled his son with Henry trying to stay a step ahead of him. As if things weren’t hard enough, Bill is also Cleo’s boss.
“It’s been a real gift for me to get to work with Doug,” said LeFranc. “We’ve had a lot of fun together. I’ve gotten to see how he works. I think what he’s established with Impulse in terms of the tone and the scenery and the way Henry’s powers work – they’re very grounded and very violent and very chaotic – it was very inspiring to me to take that and run with it.”
According to LeFranc, Impulse is not a traditional superhero show. She and Liman wanted it to stand out from the numerous other superhero shows dominating the airwaves.
“If you have a power that happened to you, would you love it all of the sudden? Would you want to go save the world? Maybe not, especially if you’re a teenager. We try to make it organic and honest and Doug’s set a really nice visual tone for that in the way he wanted to portray Henry,” explained LeFranc.
In the second season, the enigmatic Nikolai (Rennie), “a teleporting junkie assassin” in Rennie’s words, who belongs to a clandestine organization, teaches Henry how to use her powers. It’s been established that she’s not the only one who can teleport. What hasn’t been established is Nikolai’s agenda and if he can be trusted.
“We get to see a couple of triumphant moments as (Henry) grapples with (controlling her powers) in a rocky way. To gain control of her powers, she has to come to terms with what happened to her – the assault, Bill Boone, her mom – all this trauma that just keeps coming at her. It’s real rocky,” said Hasson.
Pyle spoke about the changes Cleo will undergo this season.
“She’s been shot. She has to get better, obviously,” said Pyle. “She’s really trying so hard to be a better parent. When something like that happens to you, you reevaluate everything and she’s trying just so hard to do a better job with her daughter. And – ultimately – it ends up working against her.”
Best known for her work in comedies, including the aforementioned Galaxy Quest, Bringing Down the House (where she had an epic fight scene with Queen Latifah set to Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible”), and DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, Pyle was ready for a change of pace.
“I’d just become a single mother, so I was excited about playing a single mother. I also loved the script and I loved the idea of working with Doug Liman. But, mostly, I was excited someone was letting me do something that wasn’t a comedy. I was excited to see where this was going,” said Pyle.
Liman spoke about changing the premise of the show to accommodate Hasson.
“What happened was when Maddie came in to audition, she just lit up the room,” he recalled. “Every once in a while, in your career as a filmmaker, somebody just comes into the room and they have it. And she had it. But it was the wrong ‘it.’ I turned to my producing partners and said, ‘She’s amazing, but it’s the wrong energy for the part. But how do we not cast her?’ (Executive producer) David Bartis said, ‘She’s amazing. We have to cast her. She’s lightning in a bottle.’ ‘If we cast her, we have to change the script.’ I described all the ways we had to change the character and Dave’s like, ‘That sounds like a better show.’”
Liman continued: “In fact, Jenna’s and Maddie’s characters flipped… That was how the original draft was: Somebody who loved, loved, loved their town and kept getting sent away. Instead, we had to do it the opposite way: Someone who doesn’t want to be there, but whose power keeps bringing them back. I was like, ‘I love this actress. We need to change everything.’ That’s what I love about filmmaking: It’s this incredible adventure where you can’t know all the answers.”
Hasson shared her insight in what attracted her to Henry.
“I really, really just loved Henry. I just loved the idea of working with Doug. He’s incredible, so that was a big draw,” said Hasson. “I loved who Henry was – how real and raw she was. Lauren and Doug never tried to fit her in the stereotypical young adult female mode. They let her be a person, which is not totally common in Hollywood with female characters, but I think it’s becoming more common – that’s what I liked.”
LeFranc became the showrunner after the pilot episode was filmed. According to Liman, she made him become a better filmmaker.
“Not only did she have a vision for the whole show, but she said, ‘I need you to go back and reshoot some things in the pilot. I love the pilot, but you didn’t really deal with the sexual assault; you shied away from it,’” he said. “She made me grow as a filmmaker because it’s too uncomfortable. I didn’t want to film those details. I wanted to ignore it and she’s like, ‘You can’t ignore it! It’s the foundation of your show! And as a human being, you can’t ignore it either!’”
The creators’ goal is to treat Impulse as a grounded character drama with genre on top of it. Rennie agreed with that direction.
“The pedigree of the how, the writing of the show, the intention of the show was why I took (this role),” he said. “What I liked about the first season, you saw that it was great drama, great writing. I would forget about the teleportation and the sci-fi part of it. You go, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s that element as well’… This is pure drama, great characters, and then the sci-fi element that’s more allegory and metaphor that works so wonderfully in it.”
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Season two of the YouTube Premium original series premieres on October 16, 2019.