Farhad Safinia is the creator and executive producer of Starz new drama Boss. Previously, Safinia co-wrote and co-produced Apocalypto with director Mel Gibson, which was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
Boss tells of the trials and tribulations of Mayor Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer), who runs Chicago with an iron fist, and a troubling morality. But the most powerful man in the city has his own problems, the onset of Lewy Body disease, a degenerative brain disorder which threatens to destroy his political career.
Mike Royko had a book called Boss about Mayor Richard J Daley, and this is not, in content or tone, anything like that book. Is there a reason why you used that title?
It’s a good question. That’s a fantastic book. And Royko called it Boss because it was the affectionate title for Daley, even before he wrote the book, because he was boss of the political machine in Chicago.
In a sense, our character is such a powerful political figure in Chicago, and in Illinois in general, that it just seemed apt to use that. But it was not based on Royko’s book in any way except to show, in as real a way as we can, the circumstances of such a powerful politician in that particular city.
As the last Republican mayor of Chicago ended his term in 1931, can we assume Mayor Kane is a Democrat?
At no point during the show do we refer to parties. This is not at all a show about policy or about party ideology in any way. It’s about how people treat each other, the kind of backstabbing and wheeling and dealing that goes on, the secrets they hold on each other to make things happen in politics.
It’s really looking at the facets of politics, [that] I think we haven’t quite explored as fully as we should yet. So to me, it would have been a little trite to bring in any political party affiliations into the equation because I actually think both parties behave this way.
Chicago has a history of corruption. I know you’re filming this in the city; don’t they take umbrage to it?
That’s such a great question. We were doing this scene in City Hall. I was talking to somebody about the show, and they were [asking] why did we pick Chicago and is the history of its corruption necessary for the show? And I said, ‘Absolutely.’
We have concocted these ridiculous, over-the-top scenarios I hope still feel real, but are truly people just doing horrible things to each other. And I was explaining some of them to this person who works at City Hall, and the thing that came out of this conversation was I realized that I’m not even scratching the surface of the truth of that city.
It’s almost cosmically operatic how corrupt they are and have been for their history.
There’s a journalist in series, does he come across as a heroic figure or is this a ‘journalists are scum’ show?
What’s really interesting is to set someone up with great ideals and then start knocking away at those ideals, bit by bit.
So when you’re telling a story that is set in the political arena and has so much to say about backroom politics, about the kind of wheeling and dealing, the underbelly, the dark side of the world that it’s set in, you can’t do it without having a look at the fourth estate.
And if you have a character who starts out having noble intentions, and being quite alone in that way, and then you propose some very morally complicated equations of him and see how he deals with them, I think that’s really interesting. So it’s a complicated answer to a complicated question. I don’t think he’s good or bad or hero or not. I think he deals with some pretty tough issues.
Mayor Kane has Lewy Body disease, how will that manifest in the series?
It’s not really a show about a struggle with a disease, per se. He has this condition, and the most interesting aspect of it for me is that it makes it extraordinarily difficult for him to be a public person and to operate the way he does in this complicated world of allegiances and enmities that he exists in.
Should anyone sense any kind of sign of weakness from him, they are prepared to pounce. So from that perspective, the real question, at least in the first season, is can he just step away from all this and live out his remaining years as a normal person?
That’s a question that he struggles with as a character in a big way, and how he recommits himself to who he is. I think that’s really the interesting aspect of this disease.
As far as the disease goes, it posits itself in the first episode that it’s something that is akin to somewhere between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It has similar kinds of conditions.
When you’ve got X amount of time left and you are this person, that’s just really interesting. What happens to you? What do you do? That’s really what it’s there for. We take it seriously, but the show isn’t centered around the disease.
Does Mayor Kane see himself as a villain?
This is such a fascinating question for me, when I was writing it as well. I think if you’re telling a story that has so much intrigue and backstabbing going on, it’s really fun. But it can get old and can lose its sense of reality if you don’t also keep the central character aware of the moral choices that he’s making.
That’s what elevates it, I hope, into something more tragic as opposed to just some mustache-twirling piece of fun, which it certainly has a lot of.
I think Kane himself is always aware of the Faustian compromises, the pacts that he’s making with himself and others in terms of the evil that he’s doing for the greater good. And that’s the crux of the show.
The second episode of Boss airs on Starz on October 28, 2011