To the list of movies you might not expect a television series to spring from, add “Get Shorty.”
Not only is the 1995 John Travolta-Gene Hackman film a source of the seriocomic Epix show – which premieres Sunday, Aug. 13 – so is the Elmore Leonard novel about a professional killer (now played by Chris O’Dowd, retaining his Irish accent) who leaves Nevada for Hollywood to try to make a fresh start as a novice movie producer. A has-been filmmaker (Ray Romano), who’s doing whatever he can to stay in the business, reluctantly agrees to become the reforming hit man’s partner.
The new version of “Get Shorty” expands on the original themes in the same way as another big-screen property MGM Television developed for weekly purposes, “Fargo.” The main characters have been renamed, so as not to have to hew overly closely to Leonard’s creations. (“Shameless” and “In Treatment” alum Davey Holmes did the adaptation.)
“I saw the pilot, and I did not care for it,” deadpans O’Dowd, whose work has included “Bridesmaids” and HBO’s “Girls” (in a recurring part). “No, I thought it was really terrific. It’s got a very specific kind of style, with these long tracking sequences that are four or five minutes at a time, and the music sounds like (that in the movie) ‘Birdman.’ It’s very exciting to watch.”
For Romano, whose post-“Everybody Loves Raymond” work has involved “Men of a Certain Age” and “Parenthood,” straddling the line between comedy and drama is familiar. “ ‘Washed-up,’ I can identify with,” he muses of his “Get Shorty” role. “ ‘Producer’ is a stretch. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think I ever saw the movie back then. I’ve seen it now because of the show, and I loved it … but the show is closer in tone to the book. I describe it as ‘ “Fargo”-esque,’ quirky and funny but intense.”
O’Dowd also hadn’t seen the “Get Shorty” movie when he was cast for the series, though he allows he “had a general idea of what it was about. I wasn’t that interested in playing a Mafia guy, because it sounded like there was an awful lot of that around already … but Davey asked to meet, so I did, and he pitched me this idea of an ex-Irish paramilitary guy who became the heavy for a crime syndicate outside Vegas. It felt like a fresh take on that world, then I read the script and loved it.”
Romano believes “Get Shorty” fits his current career wheelhouse. “I don’t say that I’ll never do a straight comedy again,” he reflects, “but I won’t do a sitcom again. I’ve been offered some, and I don’t even want to revisit that, because I don’t have to follow what I’ve done. I respect and love that genre, but I want to leave my sitcom legacy alone. And I’m really drawn to doing something that also has drama in it.”