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Imposters Co-Creator Paul Adelstein Talks Pulling Off the Biggest Con of the Season
"It was the hardest thing I think we did all season," the #Imposters boss said.
After so many twists and turns, we didn't know how Imposters would wrap up by the time the season finale rolled around. Well, Tuesday night we got our answer, and we're still wracking our brains about what emotions were real, what was all part of Maddie's (Inbar Lavi) master plan, and who would ultimately come out on top in this cat-and-mouse game. Yeah, we're going to need some time to think about this season-ender.
And we have Imposters co-creator and executive producer Paul Adelstein to thank for blowing our minds and making our jaws drop on the floor time and time again this season. He, along with co-creator Adam Brooks and the rest of the Imposters creative team, crafted a comical, complex, and cunning story that gripped us right from the start.
So how did they do it? We caught up with Paul, who fans may also know as Abby's (Lisa Edelstein) ex-husband Jake on Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, in advance of the Imposters season finale to get all the intel on how this show came to be, a peek inside the mind of Maddie, and what the future holds for all of these cons. And beware of some MAJOR SPOILERS about the season finale ahead.
The Daily Dish: Where did you and Adam Brooks get the inspiration for Imposters?
Paul Adelstein: Adam had been talking to Dawn Olmstead, an executive at UCP [Universal Cable Productions]. And she had a very basic idea about making the show about somebody who marries people and steals their money and disappears. Adam tried talking to me about it, and then we batted it around for about six months and we kind of filled in the Maddie part that it was a long con part and put all the ancillary characters in. Then we went back in to pitch it back to Dawn, we had almost the entire season arc, so it was a great first idea, and she let us run with it.
This show really surprised fans, in a good way. We thought we were getting one con artist with Maddie, and then everybody acts like a con artist, essentially. How early on did you come up with that and know that was the direction you wanted to take Imposters?
Pretty much from the beginning, what we thought would be fun was Adam and I had spent a lot of talking about the kinds of movies and TV shows that would inspire something like this, what we love. There’s two things we were interested in doing. One is we thought of the the con artists and watching them do what they do and all the ideas of identity and who we are and how people get through them and how a con works. That was one thing we were both interested in exploring. And the other thing we were both interested in exploring, what it’s like when people who aren’t good at cons, decide to do cons and the kind of humor in people getting thrown into a life of crime who aren’t criminals and the kind of inherent silliness of that, fun of it, and what they have to learn. The idea of the show gave us the perfect opportunity to do both those things, because obviously on the one hand, you have Maddie, Max, and Sally who are expert con artists, and then you have Jules, Richard, and Ezra, who are beginning con artists and they're trying to learn their way in it. We loved the opportunity to do both those things with that structure, but at the same time it got to the classic idea that in order to avenge yourself or get what you want, you have to become the person or the people that have wronged you. So that structure is obviously built in there, too.
And then you have Patrick (Stephen Bishop) who's conning as well, even though it's for the law, for the FBI.
It’s for the law, but then obviously it gets blurry. We started to talk about the ongoing attraction between Maddie and Ezra (Rob Heaps), one of the things that they see in one another, one of the things that allow them to move towards one another is that Maddie is longing for some normalcy and Ezra is longing for some criminality, essentially. They’re both moving toward the other end in an odd way. And when we go to the Patrick aspect of it, we liked to play with this idea that Maddie could fall in love with somebody and that would be a complication. We always talked about this theme that nobody is who they seem. Even Ezra’s parents aren't exactly who they seem. They have lots of secrets they’ve been keeping from the kids, et cetera. So when we created this Patrick character, we said there’s got to be something going on there that Maddie doesn’t know about, and we came up with the FBI aspect of it, 'cause we wanted her to be in that kind of peril, too.
You reunited with your Private Practice co-star Brian Benben on Imposters. What was it like to work with him on this show?
He’s the best. He's such a pro, and the character is so funny. He’s having such a good time doing it. I thought of him as Max from the very beginning, and so it was great that it worked out.
He and Katherine LaNasa, who plays Sally, feel so old Hollywood.
Yeah, it has that feel, very much old school meets new school feeling that we were going for.
It was interesting how the season finale opens with a flashback of Maddie’s life as a teenager, which is one of the few moments that we get a glimpse of her true past. Why did you think the season finale would be a good time to explore this?
We always wanted a glimpse into the origin story, maybe that’s overstating it, but that’s what it does. We thought it would create a great balance between where she is in this moment in her life and how it all began, because even though she says she’s done this so many times and how many times I've stood here in a wedding dress and I get nervous on the night before my wedding, et cetera, this one is a little bit different. She has fallen in love with Patrick, as fraught as that is. Her victims have caught up to her, the FBI is on to her, it’s gotten incredibly complicated for her. We wanted to flashback and show how did she get into this situation? And obviously, it doesn’t give you every twist and turn that brought her into this moment, but it shows what her initial impulse into wanting this kind of life was.
Would you want to explore more of Maddie's past and her origin story in the future?
We like this idea of peeling off the onion on everybody's life, really. We’ve done flashbacks for almost everybody, and it’s a great way to get a little deeper view without a long monologue about what their childhood was like. It’s great to dramatize it, and so yeah, I think we’ll see more of past Maddie and how she met Max and Sally, and that kind of thing.
How did you go about planning all of the cons that we see in this finale at the wedding, because it seems so complex and intricate as a viewer? How did you figure out what you wanted to do, who was going to do what?
It was the hardest thing I think we did all season. In the writers' room, we kept putting it off. Everything else was fun and smooth, and then we got to this thing, and it became, it would hurt our brains if we talked about it for more than 20 minutes. So what we ended up doing, we ended up actually dividing the room. And ‘Ok, you work on the Maddie escape. You guys work on how they get the ring. You guys work on what happens to Max,' and then we kind of get back together and talk about it and then try to weave it back together. Sometimes it was successful, sometimes it wasn’t very successful, but it took a long time.
Even up to the very end, just like any real con, there are holes. There are things that somebody could [say], 'Oh, what if this person turns left instead of turns right,' then the whole thing falls apart. So we got to the point of writing it where we said, 'Well, just like a real con, they’re timed intricately, but sometimes they go wrong.' I think we ended up with some things that we wanted to keep always in play, keeping, at this point in the season, a step ahead of the audience in terms of whether they think the plan is, and do they think the plan is going right or wrong. Ezra and Maddie are kissing in the church, is that a real kiss, did that happen organically, or did that happen so that Patrick would see it and get pissed off and that would provide a distraction for Maddie to escape? The audience shouldn’t think that the art piece gets lit on fire on purpose until later when she says, 'Oh, that was all purposeful.' It’s fun to play with those expectations.
Ezra comes out on top and pulls off this big con at the end of the finale when he ends up with Maddie's engagement ring. Is that a signal that the Bumblers may be catching on to this con game?
I think that that's part of the idea, yes. [Conning] came from necessity at first, and then it satisfied something in each one of them that was unexpected. And Ezra talks about it a little bit. He’s the guy that always wanted a certain kind of adventure. He wanted to go to Paris and be a writer. He found the adventure of his life; it just wasn’t what he expected. He has a certain skill at it, he’s good at it. It’s exciting to play with that idea that he ends up not being a master criminal but being somebody who’s a step ahead of the FBI and of Maddie. One of the big ideas of the season was watching Ezra go from a boy to a man. If you look at the pilot and you look at the finale, you see he’s really changed. He’s growing into his own in a way.
There's a moment with Maddie at the end of the finale where she considered actually joining the Bumblers on their next adventure. Is that a correct interpretation? Did she actually consider being a part of a family like that?
I think that's really well put. I think what’s attractive about that group for her is that the Sally-Max family has been destroyed, and she’s gotten what she’s always wished for, which is a fresh start and freedom. It’s a little like watching her baby chicks fly from the nest for the first time. I think the question that remains is if the ring had been in the safe, would she have gotten on the bus with them, or was she going to burn them? And I’m not so sure even Maddie knows the answer to that one. I think she was definitely considering going on the bus with them. She built in a few different escapes for herself, but that was certainly one choice, but at the end, she decided not to do it.
So do you think her version of the freedom that she always wanted is completely a fresh start without any ties to the past?
That might be her desire, and I think what we see is that’s actually more complicated than it sounds, both plot-wise, that is, there’s people that will be looking for her, and emotionally. She’s not someone who’s been alone. She’s always had someone to love or to love her, even if it’s not in a traditional way. She has always been with somebody. Being really alone and everything that entails, we’ll see how that suits her or not. What does she do in a small pond in middle America if she's not a con artist?
Will she revert to her old ways?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe actually she really can have a normal life.
At the very end of the finale, we see Uma Thurman return as Lenny Cohen. Why did you decide to bring Lenny back for that final moment of the season?
We wanted to end it like a television season and not like a film. There’s something about them riding around in a bus together, there's still a lot of questions, but there's this sense that they've gotten away with it. Obviously, the FBI’s pissed, and they’re going to be chasing their prey, but we wanted the sense of they might have gotten away, but they haven’t gotten away cleanly, and there are consequences to this life, maybe unintended, but are certainly coming for them.
And always great to see Uma Thurman back on the screen.
Also, Uma Thurman.
Where does the series go from here?
It raises all sorts of questions. If you look at Jules (Marianne Rendón) and Richard (Parker Young) and Ezra, their lives were defined for so long by their love of this woman and then by heartbreak from this woman, and then by revenge or whatever they wanted from this woman, and now that’s gone. They've kind of made their peace with it. They’ve blown up their lives in the meantime. So where does that leave them, not just in terms of peril with the FBI and with the Doctor (Ray Proscia), but in terms of their own identity? So much of the show has to do with identity. So now, who are they? Who are they without Maddie? Who are they without their past lives? The same goes for Max, and the same goes for Patrick, and the same goes for Maddie herself, which is that the way they’ve been living their lives for the last 10, 20 years has been blown up, and so where does that leave them? Who do they become? There’s going to be a great deal further than that, as they try on different personas or try to live different kinds of lives and the kinds of complications that come along with that.
So it sounds like Imposters will be just as much about identity and finding who your true self is in the future.
Absolutely, because it really is ultimately about everybody’s identity and if there is a true self, how you are true to it, and if there isn’t one, then where does that leave you? How do you have a family, and how do you have a relationship and all those things?
Is there any chance that we might see you appear on Imposters in the future?
You never know. I won’t say. That’d be fun, though. Adam and I talk about it all the time. We didn’t quite find the right thing. Adam got to be in it. He was the rabbi in the wedding in the pilot, so it seems only fair.
Relive this emotional moment from the Imposters season finale, below.