How Amazon's new superhero TV show, 'The Boys,' was shaped by Trump, Me Too, and 'sweet, sweet Bezos money'

How Amazon's new superhero TV show, 'The Boys,' was shaped by Trump, Me Too, and 'sweet, sweet Bezos money'
  • Amazon’s upcoming mature superhero TV series, “The Boys,” based on the comic of the same name, premieres Friday, July 26.
  • Showrunner Eric Kripke talked to Business Insider about the show’s four-year development, and how he and his team adapted to Donald Trump’s election and the Me Too movement.
  • Kripke said that the female producers insisted that the show include a moment of sexual assault from the comic because they’d “all experienced a version of it to varying degrees in our careers.”
  • Kripke said that he originally pitched the series to Cinemax, which ultimately didn’t move forward because it was too expensive. So he was happy with the “Bezos money” once the show landed at Amazon.
  • He also discussed how actor Simon Pegg, who a character from the comic is modeled after, got a role on the show.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Warning: This post contains mild spoilers for “The Boys.”

Amazon’s “The Boys” is an absurd superhero show, but it had plenty of real-world inspirations.

“A couple weeks in, we all looked at each other and said, ‘Jesus Christ, I think we could be making one of the most current shows on TV,'” showrunner Eric Kripke told Business Insider. “It became endlessly relevant the more we explored.”

“The Boys,” which premieres on Prime Video Friday, July 26, and is co-created by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, follows a group of mercenaries tasked with reeling in superheroes who abuse their powers. In the world of “The Boys” — based on the Dynamite Entertainment comic of the same name by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson — superheroes are not only ego-driven maniacs, but they’re owned by the corporation Vought, which exploits and merchandises their star power.

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The show centers on Hughie Campbell (played by Jack Quaid), who is recruited by the nefarious Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) for his team called The Boys after a tragedy involving a superhero.

Kripke talked to Business Insider about the show’s relevance in an entertainment industry increasingly dominated by the superhero genre, and how its themes evolved over the course of the show’s four-year development.

In 2015, Ennis told Kripke that, when writing the comic, he was interested in “what would happen if you combined the worst of celebrity with the worst of politics.”

“I thought it was a crazy, far-fetched idea that would never happen,” Kripke said.

Kripke also discussed how Amazon’s “sweet, sweet Bezos money” changed the show, and how actor Simon Pegg, who has a special relationship to the comic book, got involved.

This interview contains mild spoilers for “The Boys.” It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Karl Urban as Billy ButcherAmazon Prime Video

Travis Clark: “The Boys” is not only a satire of superheroes, but the show seems like a satire on our consumption of superhero entertainment. Is that how you viewed it? How did you want to tackle this story in terms of adapting it for a TV show?

Eric Kripke: When Seth, Evan, and I first approached it, we were just interested in taking the pi– out of superheroes and deconstructing that myth — seeing what superheroes would be like in the real world. And then the deeper I got into it with my writers and the more we discussed it, we kept looking at each other with this growing excitement. A couple weeks in, we all looked at each other and said, “Jesus Christ, I think we could be making one of the most current shows on TV.” It became endlessly relevant the more we explored.

It’s about the intersection of celebrity and politics, which is a big issue we’re dealing with today. It’s about how people in power, corporations, politicians, and celebrities use social media to manipulate the common person into acting against their own self interest. It’s about professional athletes and contracts. It’s about privatized policing. International relations. Media consumption. How autocrats are sneaking their way into American society and using entertainment to do it. And it’s about superheroes. So we couldn’t believe how relevant it all was. We were pleasantly surprised as anybody.

You start these things years ago and you can never predict if they’ll reflect society as they’re coming out and I think this one is.

Clark: How long have you been developing “The Boys” for? Has it taken shape according to what’s happening in the real world?

Kripke: When I first came on board it was 2015, so Trump wasn’t elected yet. So the idea of celebrities taking over politics and Kim Kardashian going to the White House lobbying for a prisoner’s release would have been considered completely far fetched.

I had dinner with the comic’s author, Garth Ennis, and asked him what inspired him to make the comic. He said he was interested in what would happen if you combined the worst of celebrity with the worst of politics and how bad that would f— over the common guy. And even then, in 2015, I thought it was a crazy, far-fetched idea that would never happen.

Clark: Then Trump happened.

Kripke: Right, then Trump happened, and we were in the middle of writing the pilot and it evolved. And then we got picked up to a series and Me Too happened, which caused us to take a harder look at this moment of sexual assault we have in the story.

Erin Moriarty as Annie January/StarlightAmazon Prime Video

Clark: Yeah, there’s obviously some very graphic sexual situations in the comic, and I was wondering how you thought about adapting that stuff for the show after the Me Too movement.

Kripke: From the beginning, we always had a lot of female producers. One of the first questions we discussed when taking the project is: Are we going to do the moment when Starlight is sexually assaulted? And even this was a year or so before the Me Too movement. I was nervous. I thought it might be too far. But every female producer on the show said, “You have to do it, because we’ve all experienced a version of it to varying degrees in our careers.” And I said, “All of you?” And they said, “All of us.”

I was horrified. But the books play it out as shocking and I said, if we’re going to adapt it, let’s present it with the greatest responsibility and present it as the horror movie that it is. There was a lot of debate, balancing, and angst right up until shooting. When Erin Moriarty [who plays Starlight/Annie January] came on board the show, we had a long conversation with her about it. We polled everybody because we wanted to make sure we were getting it right. I was nervous as s—! It’s the most serious thing I’ve ever done. So I wanted to get it right.

The original storyline in the middle of the season was that Starlight would get payback on The Deep [who assaults her] through behind-the-scenes ways inside the corporation [Vought]. The women in the room said she can’t go public. We don’t live in a world where she’s allowed to go public. We were in the middle of writing it all and then the Me Too movement happened. We revised the whole storyline. Now she has recourse and the ability to go public.

Clark: As we were saying, this show captures a bunch of themes, but they all fall back on superheroes. What are your thoughts on the superhero genre’s domination of entertainment? Did that inform this show?

Kripke: I’m a fan of those movies. I go see every Marvel movie. I definitely don’t look down on them. They’re amazing and funny and well written. But the myth has expanded and when any myth gets as big as the superhero one currently is, it’s interesting to me to look at it with a critical eye and deconstruct it a bit.

Ultimately, superheroes are a lie, because we’re all f—ed and selfish people. There’s no reason to think that if we were suddenly handed superpowers that we would become noble. There’s every reason to think that we would still be f—ed up, insecure people, just with superpowers [laughs]. And therefore very dangerous. So our rule in the writers’ room was trying to apply the most stringent reality to the myth of superheroes. When you do that you start finding all of these moments of absurdity. Like how ridiculous it is to talk to fish, for example.

The comic’s Hughie, front, was modeled after actor Simon Pegg, who plays Hughie’s dad in Amazon’s TV adaptation.Dynamite Entertainment

Clark: In the comics, the Hughie character is modeled after actor Simon Pegg [who plays Hughie’s dad in the TV show]. How did Pegg become involved in the show? How’d you pitch him and was he aware of the comic beforehand?

Kripke: He’s friendly with [artist] Darick Robertson, who drew Hughie [in the comic] to look exactly like Simon Pegg. I think that’s how they got to know each other. So he’s always been very aware of “The Boys.” Obviously, he would get the question a lot, if he would play Hughie in an adaptation of “The Boys.” And throughout the years, he would say it would be great. Then I found some interviews where he’d say he’s aging out of it, but he thinks he should play Hughie’s dad. That’s where I got the idea.

Clark: So he was all in.

Kripke: My casting director reached out to his representatives and said, “‘The Boys’ has been greenlit. I don’t know if Simon was serious about playing Hughie’s dad, but if he wants the role, it’s his.” And to his incredible credit, he jumped at it. He was traveling the world doing press for “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” [last year] so he was busy. But he took time out of his schedule to play this role. I think he did it for no other reason than to pay a debt he felt he owed to the book and fans of the book. It shows how much he cares about genre fans that he’s willing to do that. He has my incredible respect for that.

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Clark: Was there anything from the comic that you absolutely knew you wanted to keep or change?

Kripke: We knew we would have to adjust the story because the formats are different. The comic structure is very procedural and episodic. Every couple issues there’s a new mystery. It would almost work if CBS were rated X. You could adapt it page for page.

But with the format of streaming, they want you to be able to binge the show. The medium itself demands serialized storytelling to last over eight hours. So we remixed elements of the story that we loved. We talked about elements that we definitely wanted to see and we folded it into a mystery that twists and turns over the eight episodes.

When I had that dinner [in 2015] with Garth, I asked him what inspired him to write [the comic]. And he said one of the things he was inspired by was [crime novelist] James Elroy and [his 1990 novel] “L.A. Confidential,” and hard men doing hard things. So that inspired the structure of season one, where it’s sort of a “L.A. Confidential” mystery. It starts in one place and twists and turns into a much larger mystery. What was important to us, and what Garth said from the beginning, is to just get the spirit of the story and the characters right.

Clark: You mentioned streaming, so I’m curious how its development at Amazon came about. Why was it the right place for a show like this?

Kripke: Originally, we set it up at Cinemax. That’s who we sold the pitch to and wrote the first script for. Then they said it was way beyond their budget. To their credit, they let it go. They didn’t develop a watered-down version. They just couldn’t afford it.

But around that time [two to three years ago], Amazon seemed like a perfect fit. They had the appetite to make something noisy and different. Up to that point, I think their taste had skewed fairly indie, and they wanted something edgy that still appealed to a broader audience. We were a perfect fit and checked all the boxes. And we were happy because they have that sweet, sweet Bezos money [laughs]. Then we just kept developing more scripts and they picked us up for the season.

Clark: What was the budget like?

Kripke: I can’t give you specific numbers, but it’s larger than any budget I’ve certainly worked with. There’s a lot of production value, but in the same respect, there’s never enough money. I think we have mostly movie-level effects and that didn’t come from all the money in the world to spend. That came from visual-effects supervisors driving the visual-effects companies nuts with 30 or 40 versions of every single shot until we got it exactly how we wanted it.

We didn’t have anything close to a “Game of Thrones” budget or anything like that. We’re not even half of what that number would be. But when you don’t have all the money in the world, you get there through blood and tears. We love the show and care about it, and I think we got there.

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