Saturday, December 4, 2021

Interview: Talking ‘Q-Force’ With Gabe Liedman [EXCLUSIVE]

Is that a plane? Is that a drone? Nope, it’s the Subaru McClanahan, the official spy car of the Q-Force team! It can be best described by its creator Deb (Wanda Sykes) with “What this scrappy little spy squad needs is a super high-tech, blow-your-fucking-mind-out-your-ass spy car!”

The Q-Force team consists of lead Agent Steve “Mary” Maryweather (Sean Hayes), brilliant mechanic Deb, master of Drag Queen and master of disguise Twink (Matt Rogers), and sarcastic and talented hacker Stat (Patti Harrison). They are joined by Buck (David Harbour) a man who likes the smell of his own farts, and powerhouse boss lady, V (Laurie Metcalf).

Nerds and Beyond had the opportunity to speak with producer, stand-up comedian, writer, and creator of Q-Force Gabe Liedman about some of the characters, how Q-Force came to be, Stat’s fangirl moment, and more.

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*Warning: there are spoilers for the season below.*

Nerds and Beyond: I did want to start off by saying thank you. Because I love that not only are we seeing a show featuring this ensemble of LGBTQ+ underdogs but that they are also voiced by LGBTQ+ people, so I loved that.

Gabe Liedman: Oh yeah, that was really important to me for sure.

Nerds and Beyond: So, I did want to start with asking where the idea for Q-Force came from?

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Gabe Liedman: So the idea came in the form of just three words from Sean Hayes and his producing partner Todd Milliner. They just had this very tiny seed of an idea of a “gay James Bond.” And they thought there is something here, and it was a part that Sean really wanted to play. So they started to meet with writers to see what various people’s takes on that concept were, and they called me in because Sean was a fan of my stand-up, which was so flattering and blew my mind. And they shared those three words with me and let me go away and think on it for a while, and what I came back to them with was Q-Force. It is not exactly gay James Bond — it may be the opposite — but I thought kind of a more underdog take was the more interesting and comedic route to go. It also just felt more true to me. Like even if you are James Bond with all the skills and the looks and everything like that really hetero macho world of secret agents and the military, they might not see you as their golden boy. It also was really important to me to tell more of an ensemble story than the story of just one person. So it felt like this opportunity to tell the wider story of the whole LGBTQ+ community. We live together, we fight together, we ride together, so that was really where Q-Force came from.

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Nerds and Beyond: When coming up with the characters, did you have, for example, Wanda Sykes in mind when you were writing for Deb or Matt Rogers for Twink?

Gabe Liedman: I always have an actor in mind when I’m writing because I think that makes the dialogue more natural, more funny, and more believable. So yes, since the very first words I wrote, I always had Wanda’s voice in my mind for Deb, and it completely blew my mind that she agreed to play the part. I’m still pinching myself. But other characters were cast more traditionally through a casting director and through auditions. But the story of Matt becoming Twink is actually really interesting. He was one of the writers on the show. We have a big amazing vast majority of LGBTQ+ writers room, and Matt was one of the writers, and he read the part of Twink at a table read and, I just… my mind was blown. There was no one who was going to do it better than him, and he got the part in sort of a Cinderella story.

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Nerds and Beyond: After watching, I can’t imagine anyone else playing Deb or Twink or any of them.

Gabe Liedman: Yeah, I mean, once we had our cast, we really tailored the parts to them because our cast is so amazing. I just wanted to be sure that I was giving these actors their amazing ranges and their specialties stuff to do. It was really important to me that they had fun and also got to show off. Laurie [Metcalf], you can’t write a small part for an actor of that magnitude, you know.

Nerds and Beyond: She was amazing as V!

Gabe Liedman: No one could beat her. She brought so much to it really made it such a rich character.

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Nerds and Beyond: While we’re talking about characters, I do have to mention the amazing guest stars that viewers will have to look forward to, like Clea Duvall, Stephanie Beatriz, Dan Levy, Jenny Slate. It’s amazing.

Gabe Liedman: Yeah, it was really fun to have these guest stars come in and lend a little bit of their time and a tone of their talent to our little project. I think in normal times, voice-over work is really fun, really easy kind of job for actors. But we actually did a lot of our voice recordings during the first two waves of COVID-19 totally in isolation and under extreme stay-at-home corporate calls, so it wasn’t a very easy thing. They really had to give up their spaces and hold blankets over their head and fight through the terror to produce this comedy, so I’m infinitely grateful for them.

Nerds and Beyond: Were there any characters that you wish you could have written for more or dived into more?

Gabe Liedman: There’s definitely characters if we get to do a second season, that I want to expand their world big time. Stat is a character who I think plays so amazingly in season one, but she’s a very guarded person with a lot of privacy and secrets, and I really want the opportunity to just like delve into Stat if we get to do a season two. That’s a big goal of mine, and there are a few characters who pop in here or there that I think deserve a lot more exploration. The Mayor of West Hollywood is one that comes to mind, and of course, Stats girlfriend Jacqueline … I’m not done.

Nerds and Beyond: Oh yes, I was a fan of Stat and seeing her open that little bit when they found Coble Stone and the set stuff, and it was like, “Oh, she’s smiling!”

Gabe Liedman: Oh my god, that was the funniest record with Patti! To be like, “Okay, now break character in the craziest way,” it was so fun to write and to see. Yeah, just the joy. What it is like when Stat is a fangirl was really fun.

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Nerds and Beyond: Was there a story behind or a reason for that kind of Princess Diaries twist?

Gabe Liedman: I think that a lot of pop culture references sprinkle throughout the season. I really like referential comedy, and that was something that me and the big group of writers that put this show together, it was something we had in common. We often just went for the less expected gay icons out there, which was really, really fun. Who are our icons that aren’t the same ones that as, say, a straight person, writing about queer characters might choose? So you know I love that we went for Jackée Harry, Debra Winger, and The Princess Diaries, Buffy, these sort of things that ring really really true hopefully to a queer audience but aren’t the first thoughts that a straight person would have.

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Nerds and Beyond: When I heard Rizzoli and Isles mentioned, I was like, “Oh yes!”

Gabe Liedman: Oh, Rizzoli and Isles, exactly, yes, you get it!

Nerds and Beyond: This next question is just purely because I am curious. But Antoni’s phone case, was that Sailor Chibi Moon? That is the first thing I thought of when I saw it.

Gabe Liedman: Absolutely, that was the inspiration. I love that character. He was voiced by another writer on the show. Yeah, the artists who work on the show put in so many little easter eggs and so many fun little treats visually. They really really elevated the material to another level, for sure. There are a lot of shoutouts to anime, for sure.

Nerds and Beyond: What do you hope audiences ultimately will take away from watching the series?

Gabe Liedman: I hope that the audience walks away from watching season one feeling that was really fun. That is the biggest vibe that me and the writers and artist, what we were really trying to infuse the show with. I think as far as politics and on-screen representation and those kinds of bigger things, that’s all kind of like baked into the show; it’s there from the beginning to the end. That’s the structure of the house. So when it came to getting creative, I just really wanted to be wild and be fun and pack it with jokes so that even though yes, it is very much a queer show for a queer audience, I wanted everyone to walk away from it being like, “Wow that was really funny.” Not necessarily that was important, but that was funny. I really like action-comedy, and it was a genre I always wanted to play in, so I didn’t want to squander the opportunity by trying to be educational. I wanted to be fun and weird.

Nerds and Beyond: When putting the series together, was there ever a thought of having it be live-action, or was it always being planned as animated?

Gabe Liedman: It was always planned as animated because it just opened up so many more possibilities in the storytelling. We could go to far-off locations. We could do insane stunts, you know? It just seemed like it opened a million more avenues for comedy and storytelling. I’ve worked mostly in live-action television up to this point. I’ve done a little bit of animation, but there’s so many budgetary restrictions; there’s only so many things a physical actor can actually do, and there are only so many things that a studio is actually going to pay for to be crammed into 20 minutes. It was always going to be animated because that’s how we were going to be able to pull it off. And it was also always going to star Sean. And I didn’t want to have him be limited by anything; I wanted him to be able to do the performance that James Bond and Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible do.

Nerds and Beyond: For writing, do you find that there’s much difference, or what kind of difference there would be between writing for a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, for example, compared to doing animation?

Gabe Liedman: Yeah, I mean, there’s a big difference in both cases. You wanna lead with, or as I write, want to lead with believable human relationships and heart, and you know, keep it grounded in a way that the audience doesn’t think they are watching something that’s completely made up without some completely made up circumstances. But when you get into animation, you can really just achieve more fantasy, and you can be a lot crazier. We can make up a country, and we can build up a castle from scratch. We can have our hero jump out of an airplane, land on a car, punch out the windshield, and throw a guy off a cliff in the pilot, which would look really different on Brooklyn Nine-Nine with Andy Samberg doing that than it did with the fully animated character Agent Mary.

Nerds and Beyond: So, for my last question, here at Nerds and Beyond, obviously we love embracing our nerdy side. What are some things that you like to nerd out to?

Gabe Liedman: Ohhh, that’s a great great question! I am really nerdy about gardening, which I know is not exactly nerd culture, but it is a nerdy fascination of mine. I’ve spent a lot of my pandemic building a veggie garden, and it’s prospering. I am really nerdy about comedy. My background is as a stand-up comedian. I follow comedy really intensely — I always have my whole life–, and I am really nerdy about television. I am a huge, huge, huge consumer. I don’t feel like I would be able to make television at the level that I do if I wasn’t studying it. Really, really, that almost takes the joy out of it. But it is my passion, so yeah, that’s it, TV, and gardening and comedy, a major nerd about all those.

Thank you to Gabe Liedman for taking the time to speak with me about the show. You can check out our review here and make sure to watch season one of Q-Force on Netflix now.

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Sarah
As a Ravenclaw and introverted tattooed cat, Sarah enjoys reading, writing, and watching hockey (Go Leafs Go). You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @WyldeFandom

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