Gianna Sobol on “The Returned” and the explosion of queer characters coming to TV


AE: Was there any other scene in the episode that was you particularly enjoyed writing?

GS: I loved writing the Helen at the dam stuff. Helen is such a complex, fascinating and unpredictable character. And Michelle Forbes is so fucking talented that you know she’ll turn whatever you put on the page into something magical.


AE: Are Julie and Nikki your favorite characters to write or is there another character that you really enjoy?

GS: I loved writing for them. I love Victor, also, he’s such a creepy little boy. So he’s really fun to write for. And, you know, I didn’t really expect that Rowan would become such a favorite of mine. I think I assumed, for obvious reasons, that Nikki and Julie would be it, but then once I got into writing Rowan, I realized what a complex and nuanced character she is. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead is just so amazing, and she brings it to light in beautiful, unexpected ways. I just got more and more excited about that character as the season went on.


AE: So, you kind of talked a little bit about this already, but how much of the plot in your episode was already completely decided when you began writing?

GS: We really decide the major plot points as a room together. Then once you get into outlining, you find smaller moments to bring to it that may change things. And then once you’re writing the script, again, you find new things that you wouldn’t have expected. Sometimes once you’re in the writing process you’ll find that this scene doesn’t work, or this story feels flat, or something’s wonky here- and then you take that back to the room or to one of the showrunners. And you talk to them about it and come up with ideas. It might have a ripple effect into the next couple of episodes, or it might shift something in a previous episode that we haven’t actually shot yet so there’s still time to make a change.

It’s sort of an evolving process. I’ve worked on shows where you’re constantly changing and moving plot points as you’re writing. Raelle and Carlton had a really, really clear vision of what they wanted with the show. and they were really on top of things. So the writing process didn’t have any frantic energy about it, which was really nice.


AE: And how involved are you in the process of shooting and editing and all that once the script is written?

GS: So you’re involved in the prep meetings from Los Angeles—you’re on the phone for things and you’re involved in emails—and then we actually got to go to Vancouver to be on set. We worked with the directors and the actors and helped shape the final outcome of the episode. That was a really amazing experience. Not every show has writers on set, so it’s a really fortunate thing that this show did.


AE: That’s awesome. So, more generally speaking, being an out queer writer and getting to write for queer characters do you feel—I mean that’s awesome and I’m sure you’re excited about that—but do you feel any pressure or responsibility that you’re speaking for this whole group of people?

GS: You know, I’ve actually been really spoiled. I was an associate producer on True Blood and I worked for Alan Ball, and then I got to work for this show, which was an incredibly queer-friendly show. So I was just excited to get to be a part of that, and I was in really queer-friendly and supportive environments. People weren’t just looking at me to be the gay voice. I think that everybody was pretty progressive everywhere I’ve been so far.

Gianna with Kristin Bauer van Straten on the set of “True Blood”Image 5


I’m really excited. I just wrapped on a show called Extant on CBS, which is also just like a kick-ass show for women, and now I’m reading all of the pilots of what is coming up next season. There are so many gay characters and queer characters—and I mean main characters or side characters—and I feel like we’ve moved into this new phase where it’s not a big deal: It just is, and we don’t have to do these big coming out stories.


AE: Right.

GS: Even Julie and Nikki, we don’t have to explain that they’re gay, they just are. It’s a really exciting time and I’m really excited to be a part of that. And yeah, I guess there are moments where I’ll chime in and be like, “No, you know, it doesn’t really work like that,” but for the most part the writing teams I’ve been on haven’t needed me to explain too much to them. They get it.


AE: It’s nice that you don’t have to educate everyone while you’re trying to write.

GS: Yes, exactly.

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