Dean Devlin’s diverse career includes successful collaborations with director Roland Emmerich (he penned the scripts for Independence Day and Godzilla) and producing such Leverage and The Librarians. Devlin’s passionate journey in elevating “genre entertainment” now leads him to Almost Paradise, a project which has been an “emotionally surprising” experience.
Almost Paradise centers on Alex Walker (Christian Kane), a former DEA agent who decides to lead a quieter life and live in the Philippines. He purchases a gift shop whose main business comes from a nearby hotel, but before Alex can fully set up shop, he ends up helping out the local police force headed by detectives Kai Mendoza (Samantha Richelle) and Ernesto Alamares (Arthur Acuña).
Dean Devlin, who is half-Filipino, assembled a predominantly Filipino cast and crew for Almost Paradise. His rapport with Kane (they worked together on The Librarians and Leverage) is one of the show’s many strong aspects. Watching fellow Filipinos (I’m part Filipino and Thai) work on a program has been cathartic viewing for me, but most importantly Almost Paradise is an absolutely engaging watch (I’ve seen two episodes and have not been disappointed).
How gratifying has it been to produce a show with a predominantly Filipino cast and crew?
It’s enormously, emotionally surprising to tap into this part of my culture that I’ve never been able to do in my work before. But I think the thing that is really overwhelming is seeing the reaction of other Filipinos both in the Philippines and here in the United States.
In the United States, if you go up to the average person and ask them what they know about the Philippines; they know about Imelda Marcos’ shoes and Manny Pacquiao being a great boxer. And that’s kind of about it.
We’ve gone through this period of enormous diversity in our industry and it’s been a wonderful thing that has made our art better and our movies and television better. But somehow the Filipinos got left out of this. To suddenly have a show that’s nearly entirely Filipino talent both behind the camera and in front of the camera and get to showcase these beautiful images that people in the United States have never seen – most people have no idea that there are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines and they have some of the most beautiful resorts in the entire world.
To get to show some of that and show some of the food, and the culture and the music and the traditions, it’s so much fun especially in that it just lays organically into a fun crime and action show. It’s been an emotional journey but in ways that were very surprising to me.
Was it always an intent for you to add an extra layer of depth to Almost Paradise amidst all the action? The main character has a lot of facets to his personality.
This is probably the most emotionally damaged character that Christian Kane has ever played before. One of the things that Christian does really well is he is great at fight scenes and he’s great at comedy and he’s great internalizing things. This was a moment where I asked him to expose himself emotionally in ways he has never done before. The courage he had as an actor to be willing to go to places he had never gone before is part of what makes this show so surprising
This is a character where we never sure if he’s being funny or if he’s having a breakdown. Maybe both things are happening simultaneously. It’s a very defective detective (laughs) in that regard.
We wanted to centralize this on someone who is not your typical hero. This is a guy who went through what he thought was going to be a heroic journey in his life and he paid a dear price for it. Now he needs to be healed and he’s gone to a Pacific Coast island to find a way to heal. He may not know that consciously, but subconsciously that is why he is there. That is really the underlying theme of the entire show.
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Christian said you and him are cut from the same cloth. Can you elaborate on this?
Well I think the thing is there are people who do genre entertainment so that one day they can go win an Oscar. There’s other people who do genre entertainment because they love it as much as Martin Scorsese loves an arthouse movie.
We don’t do genre casually. We do it from a place of passion. He has as much passion doing these parts as Robert De Niro has with his parts. They’re just very different kinds of performances and they have different kinds of goals.
I think there are all kinds of entertainment. Some is meant to be thought provoking. Some is meant to be artistically groundbreaking. But some art is designed so you can escape the daily realities of your life and there are times when it feels frivolous, but there are times when it feels essential.
I think we’re living through a time right now where most of us would really like to take an hour and escape the realities of the stuff we are dealing with. I really feel like this is the kind escape right now. At least for an hour. You can forget about everything else that is going on and Christian and I have always approached escapist entertainment from a place of passion and as real fans who really enjoy this kind of work.
For you has it always started with writing?
Well you know many years ago I was watching an interview with Tom Hanks and they asked him ‘How is it possible that you’re in so many good movies. How do you know it’s going to be a good movie before you do it?” He was honest and said “Well you never know.” He said the reality is to make a good movie, you have to make three good movies.
You have to a write a good movie. You have to direct and shoot a good movie. And then you have to edit a good movie. If any one of those three things go wrong, you have egg on your face. And I really believe that’s true.
I always say as a filmmaker if you can find a phenomenal script then you are a third of the way there. If you can’t find a phenomenal script, then you have to write one (laughs).
Can you pick one of your favorite films and why does this film still resonate with you?
If we’re splitting the difference between films and movies. My favorite movie of all time, and this is one that makes people go “Oh that’s an award winner” but to me the greatest movie of all time is E.T. Because it does the three things that I demand out of my genre entertainment.
The first thing as I’ve said before, I find life is difficult, so I like my art to be fun. Second is, I’m addicted to the kick ass moment – that moment where we all cheer and go “Yes!” and those bicycles raising into the air, that’s one of the great cheer moments that I’ve ever seen in a film.
The third thing that I find very important is I need to be emotionally invested in the story and the characters and that tends to temper how fun a movie can be and how big the cheer moments can be and that movie – I defy you to watch that movie to this day and not cry at the end when they’re saying goodbye to one another. I’ve always tried to, whether I was doing a movie, a TV show or a web series or even a documentary, to always make sure that those three elements are in everything I do.
To come back my original question, does it mean a lot to you being half-Filipino that Almost Paradise is a reality?
It’s enormously important to me, but not in the way traditionally that is thought of. Traditionally, it’s the exposing of something that is different or other. What I love so much about this was showing how we are really all part of this great human race and we have much more in common than we have that separates us. That is the great connective tissue.
There’s a very funny moment in the pilot that I love where Ernesto (Arthur Acuña) has not spoken a word in the pilot and we’re almost halfway through it and Alex (Christian Kane) says “What’s up with Silent Bob here, does he ever speak?” And Ernesto says, “When I have something to say.” (laughs)
To me, that’s such a Filpino moment (laughs). So often when the Philippines has been portrayed in movies, it’s either poverty porn or it’s these strange other island people. To be able to show real people in real lives and they’re just like us . . . that to me had a meaning . . . it was actually more emotional for me watching it in the finished form than it was creating it.
Almost Paradise airs Monday evenings on WGN America (10/9c). To hear audio from Devlin talk about his bottom of the pyramid approach to being a leader, check out my post on Find Your Seen.
I also posted snippets of this interview on the latest episode of Flick City, take a listen below feel free to subscribe to the movie podcast CinemAddicts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play!