On tonight’s all-new episode of Quantum Leap
, “A Decent Proposal,” Ben (Raymond Lee) leaps into the body of a female bounty hunter in 1980’s Los Angeles. Last week SciFi Vision spoke with director Rachel Talalay (Doctor Who
) in an exclusive interview about creating the time period and some of the unique parts of the experience.
The 80s was a time Talalay was happy to be recreating. “That's what's great about time travel shows, you never know what you're going to get,” the director told SciFi Vision. “So, it was really nice to get something that I was comfortable with.”
“I was such a passionate punk,” she added. “…I remember discovering the Go Go's and giving it to my kid sister as the coolest pop punk. I was in the Whisky a Go Go in the early 80s, so it just felt like a complete fit.”
This, however, did present a problem. “The challenge, of course, was that all of these things that I love about the 80s LA, many have disappeared,” Talalay explained, saying that she went to her own photographs. “The first time I visited LA was in '81, so I pulled out some photographs that I took of landmarks from '81. Of course, they're not there anymore.”
To get an 80’s feel, they also played with color. “The cinematographer, Chris Duddy, and I sat down and said, ‘What is the color and what is the saturation?’” the director told the site. “I looked at some pieces of earlier episodes…and none of them had that pop of the 80s. So, we went and of course discussed with Dean [Georgaris] and Martin [Gero] whether we could go into this more saturated direction and whether we could use reds like that, and we got the go ahead, knowing full well that they could always pull back because they didn't like it.”
Another issue they had to tackle was how far to go with Ben. “I think Ray doing his first leap into a woman,” she explained, “that was of course a delicate question of ‘how far do you go?’ He's completely adventurous, so he would have gone much further if we'd asked him to, but character first. Character before camp.”
Talalay did get to direct a bit of stunts, including a car chase, for the episode, describing it as “incredibly well prepped a organized,” adding that they shot on the backlot of Universal. “There's just something magical about being on the backlot,” she told the site. “It's a lot of work. It's a lot of work for the art department, but because we had full control, the little bit of the car chase was really fun to do.”
The director was involved in a lot of the aspects of the episode, and was able to give feed back even on things like music and costumes.
Although most of our discussion was about Quantum Leap
, the conversation did move into her directing work on Doctor Who
. While she would not say much about the upcoming 60th anniversary special she will be directing featuring David Tennant, she did answer our questions about the episode “Heaven Sent,” a beautiful piece. One of the unique features of the episode is that the main action is repeated over and over as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) dies and comes back repeatedly. Talalay talked about how that was achieved. “On some levels, it's the same as all filming in that you'd normally film things from a couple of different angles anyway,” she explained, adding it’s particularly true with Peter Capaldi. “He loves varying up his performance, so getting a variety of performances was no problem. So, a lot of times, I had to do very little additional, because it was kind of naturally going to happen by the number of setups we were doing for just making sure that we had a variety of setups for each of those moments, and we weren't doing it just with one set up that had to be repeated.”
The director also talked about choosing those scenes and how much creative control she had on the series. For more about her work on Doctor Who
, and, of course, working on tonight’s episode of Quantum Leap
, read the full transcript below! “A Decent Proposal” airs tonight on NBC.
Thank you for talking to me, I appreciate it. I have to say I am a fan of your work. “Heaven Sent” is my favorite Doctor Who
episode ever. I love the way you filmed it.
Thank you. It's probably my best piece of work, so I am always happy to hear, and probably one of the better, one of the great experiences. So, I’m always happy to hear that Doctor Who
fans appreciates [it]. I mean, what an opportunity having that episode. So, thank you.
Were you a fan of the original Quantum Leap before you started working this? Had you already seen the original series?
When the original series came out, I was in my sort of pretentious, hipster, I-only-watch-indie-films stage. I admit that I was in that stage, and I only watched indie films and Doctor Who
. Then, it was much later that I discovered it. People kept saying, “Hey, if you're a fan of Doctor Who
, you really need to take a look at Quantum Leap
.” So, I only discovered it a couple of years ago, and then I was like, “Oh, this is really good.” Because as I said, I had that period of, “I'm too cool. I only watch indie films.” So, that's my confession, but it was a really great discovery when I did find it.
How were you approached about directing the episode for Quantum Leap?
It was a very simple call to my agent. So, I don't know where that came from, really.
All right, fair enough. Can you talk a bit about creating the 80s environment of the episode, what you did for that?
I mean, the second they told me I was doing the 80s, I found pictures of me in the 80s. [laughs]
So, I was fully appropriate in terms of costumes, and I mean, because I was such a passionate punk, having the rock and roll at the beginning - initially, it was written as the Go Go's, and I remember discovering the Go Go's and giving it to my kid sister as the coolest pop punk. I was in the Whisky a Go Go in the early 80s, so it just felt like a complete fit.
I mean, that's what's great about time travel shows, you never know what you're going to get. So, it was really nice to get something that I was comfortable with. But I also loved getting the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I love the variety, but it was nice, too. Then the challenge, of course, was that all of these things that I love about the 80s LA, many have disappeared. So, I pulled out some photographs. The first time I visited LA was in '81, so I pulled out some photographs that I took of landmarks from '81. And of course, they're not there anymore, and so much of Sunset Boulevard and the Strip was Tower Records.
Can you sort of talk about specifically what you, I guess, other than the set and the costumes, obviously, which were part of the show, but what you did to make it 80s? Because it seemed like the color felt 80s.
The cinematographer, Chris Duddy and I sat down and said, “What is the color and what is the saturation?” I looked at some pieces of earlier episodes, because nothing was ready to see when I started prepping, and none of them had that pop of the 80s. So, we went and of course discussed with Dean and Martin whether we could go into this more saturated direction and whether we could use reds like that, and we got the go ahead, knowing full well that they could always pull back because they didn't like it. I'm glad to hear that you saw a version where the colors are left to pop. Very different from the pieces I've seen, for instance, from Las Vegas, which is also a completely poppy look and feel, but dirtier, and I wanted it to just be more upbeat and fun.
And I think Ray doing his first leap into a woman, that was of course a delicate question of how far do you go? He's completely adventurous, so he would have gone much further if we'd asked him to, but character first. Character before camp.
So, other than, like you said, the buildings not being there not and having to go through the photos, was there anything else that you found particularly difficult specific to directing this episode?
I mean, compared to some of what [I’ve done]…
Yeah, you've done some crazy...
Yeah, compared to some things I've done, not at all. I mean, it's a new show, and it's a new incarnation, and so there're always challenges involved with that. The main questions were just getting the sort of settling into how far they wanted to go with Ray being at a woman. What's the real tone of the show? Then, the obvious challenges of LA not existing in the 80s anymore. But no, I didn't find anything specifically difficult compared to other time travel shows. [laughs]
I just came off doing the 60th anniversary reboot of Doctor Who.
You want to talk about challenges!
I know there’s a little bit of a car chase in this episode. Can you talk about some of the special effects?
The stunts were fun and incredibly well prepped and organized, and because the show wants to shoot a lot on the back lot of Universal - which is so much fun. There's just something magical about being on the backlot. It's a lot of work. It's a lot of work for the art department, but because we had full control, the little bit of the car chase was really fun to do.
Did you direct the part at the end? Because that's sort of the next episode, so I didn't know if you directed that as well at the very end?
No, I did not. I directed the piece that went on the end of three, to lead to [this episode]. The agreement with the DPA is that you get to stick with your own show.
Obviously, I'm not a director, so some of the things, I'm not sure if they're built into the script or they’re something that you kind of have a say in, but like for the costumes and the music, was any of that you, or was that already there when you got there?
The music was not there. They had wanted the Go Go's at the beginning, it was scripted to have the Go Go's, sort of setting up and playing, and then that was too expensive. So, the editor and I, with the music supervisor, sort of selected good tracks that we liked that were then checked and approved by Dean and Martin and the network and the studio, as it goes. So, that sort of feel for it came from us in editing.
You asked about the music and what was the other question?
It was about the costumes.
Oh the costumes. I mean, the costume designer with the producers have certain things in mind, but they were incredibly open with me in terms of being involved in the selections, in the dialogue and in the selections. So, in some cases directors are just told, “This is what you're doing,” but in this case, and especially because what Ray wears is so important, they were completely [open]. So, we had a conversation beforehand about general looks. We had a conversation when there were the fittings, and I definitely had feedback.
Specific to that episode, I don't have anything else. I was going to ask is it okay if I ask you a bit about Doctor Who before you go?
I can't really talk about it. I mean, I'm under such an NDA. Yes, you can ask, but beyond the fact that I just did it [laughs]
, which is known, there's not a lot I can say.
I figured that. I was actually going to ask you something about “Heaven Sent.”
Sure, I'm happy to talk about “Heaven Sent.”
I was just curious. How difficult is it to sort of film basically the same thing over and over and over, but make it be slightly different so it doesn't feel like it's the same? What were some of the difficulties in figuring out how to do that, how to achieve that?
On some levels, it's the same as all filming in that you'd normally film things from a couple of different angles anyway, and particularly with Peter Capaldi. He loves varying up his performance, so getting a variety of performances was no problem. So, a lot of times, I had to do very little additional, because it was kind of naturally going to happen by the number of setups we were doing for just making sure that we had a variety of setups for each of those moments, and we weren't doing it just with one set up that had to be repeated.
Is that something where you got to pick which ones were used, or does the editor in the end choose that?
Oh, in Doctor Who
I'm completely involved in every decision. That's the difference between British television and American television, which is in British television, I stay on through the whole thing, through the whole post-production. It was Steven Moffat's final decision, but I worked hand in hand with the editor on everything. Everything in that episode is meticulously me. And if you think about the fact of how quickly the turnaround is on Quantum Leap
, I mean, I only finished shooting it six weeks ago or something, and it's going out. I mean, it's tight. It's unusually tight. We had some time on “Heaven Sent” to work with it. Although Steven was incredibly happy with the first edit, so we didn't have to do a huge amount of work after we turned it in the first time.
Well, it's a beautiful episode, at any rate, I really love it.
I do have to give the editor, Will Oswald, a lot of credit, because his initial edit was beautiful, and we just kept making it more so. Then, it was a great script, and Peter was brilliant, and Murray Gold did gorgeous music. So, it was just one of those things that came together.
Well, I love it, and I'm very excited to see the special. I figured you couldn't tell me anything about that; that's okay, but I'm excited for it, at any rate.
It's a ways away. That's the problem. I mean, they're not talking about the release date yet, but it's not imminent, that's for sure.
Well, I don't even have an exact release date on this season yet.*
I know. I mean, the centenary is going out pretty soon. I can't believe they haven't officially announced that, but it is going out pretty soon, but the one I did, the David Tennant [special is] not imminent.
Well, eventually, we'll get to see it.
I can't wait!*Interview took place before the announcement. The special will air October 23rd, 2022.