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The Cape – Creator/Producer Thomas Wheeler on the symbolism of putting on a cape

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The Cape - Premiere Party: John Wirth, Tom Wheeler and Jennifer Ferrin
Premiere Party: John Wirth, Tom Wheeler and Jennifer Ferrin © 2011 NBC Click top right & left sides to navigate images, or use arrow keys

In NBC’s new drama The Cape, David Lyons portrays Vince Faraday, a cop framed for a crime he didn’t commit. On the run, he teams up with a group of carnival misfits and takes on a new identity, determined to clear his name, continue to fight crime and be reunited with his family.

Faraday becomes ‘The Cape,’ his son’s favorite comic book superhero, and Max (Keith David), the ringleader of the circus criminals, becomes Vince’s unlikely mentor, training him to become the ‘The Cape.’

Creator/Producer Thomas Wheeler spoke with us about his unique new series and how it might evolve in the future.

Could you talk about the decision to not give Vince Faraday superpowers and to give him a cape?

The Cape 1.01 - David Lyons
Vince Faraday/The Cape (David Lyons) © 2011 NBC

To me, capes [mean] superheroes. There’s something about the cape that speaks to childhood when you make your first connection to a superhero, you do it by putting a cape around your neck. We also explore in our story the symbolism of putting on a cape.

It also felt to me like a throwback to a pulp-era superhero, someone that could have existed in the 1930s along with characters like The Shadow or The Spirit.

I love that pulp feeling to it, and it felt like something that a guy in extraordinary circumstance could access. He doesn’t have to shoot lasers or fly though space necessarily. He’s a normal guy who is making this incredibly extraordinary decision to send a message to his son.

It seems to be leaning towards campy, cheesy fun but, at the same time, dark superhero drama. Will you be able to find a happy medium?

We want to have fun. And what I’m finding through this extraordinary cast is their performances and what they bring to it create story opportunities.

I think we are beginning to see that we can capture different tones. One episode can have a science-fiction feel to it. We just finished shooting a two-partner that has a very gothic, frightening kind of energy. I love that. I love the ability to tell a story that’s a crime story in the city, but then that’s what’s great, the latitude of storytelling. So we’re going to have fun, but it’s emotionally grounded and it’s character driven.

Is there anything you found out about what you can do with a cape that actually surprised you that you have incorporated into the show?

The Cape 1.05 - Richard Schiff and David Lyons
Episode 1.05 "Scales on a Train" - Patrick Portman (Richard Schiff) and Vince Faraday / The Cape (David Lyons) © 2011 NBC

We didn’t know what we were getting into in terms of how the cape would weaponize and be a tool. We establish in the upcoming episode how long this particular cape has been around, the mythology of it, and it’s kind of like a samurai sword.

I love the training of the superhero. I think that’s one of the most wonderful aspects of this kind of story. I love what David brings to it because it’s true. He’s Vince wearing the costume. He doesn’t just suddenly become ‘The Cape.’ He’s dealing with the pain, the difficulty, the struggle, the ‘What am I doing?’

So the idea of this training going on, and this training being also set against a group of people that would never, ever be together, [was exciting]. They are criminals, and he’s an ex-cop, both need to learn and yet this conflict between them will grow, that will intensify.

Can you talk about casting Keith David for the role of Max?

The Cape - Premiere Party: Keith David
Premiere Party: Keith David © 2011 NBC Universal

There’s something about Keith that is so perfect for Max because he can bring that theatricality and that voice which is so brilliant. But Max needed to also deliver, be able to pivot and become the most dangerous person you’ve met. He also had to be someone that could convincingly keep this group of carnival criminals in line and also have (a heart) He’s in a sense a father to David’s character.

It was a dream of mine to get Keith. I’ve been a big fan of his for years, and just to call him up and hear that voice mail message on his phone where you’re suddenly like, ‘Keith David’s in my world now.’ That voice is just amazing.

How is David doing with all the stunts?

I think we are slowly killing him. Everyone is working really hard, and David gives a thousand percent to this physical stuff. I was worried about him fighting on the train with Vinnie (Jones). That alone seemed scary enough. Having him do this action stuff is terrific.

With Smallville ending this year, are you hoping to pick up some of that audience since it’s the same genre?

We are throwing open our arms to all audiences. I think they had an incredibly impressive run and a great show. I think one of the things that I love about The Cape is that it’s this comic book show but what we are finding is you can be a fan of many different genres, and there’s a door open to you.  There’s a romantic storyline about this couple that’s in love, we see in flashbacks. We root for this couple to get back together.

There is suspense and mystery. One of the episodes had an X-Files kind of feeling. It was wonderfully scary and intense. So for the comic-book fan, you can drop in and have a great ride with really colorful, fun villains. If you want great drama, there’s more than enough for you here. So we would love to have the Smallville crowd.