When USA Network debuted “Shooter” a week after the U.S. presidential election, series creator John Hlavin couldn’t have predicted American politics would mirror a major theme of the show, which stars Ryan Phillippe as Bob Lee Swagger, an ex-Marine marksman who must protect the president from an assassination plot that leads to Russian operatives. Hlavin talks to Variety about adapting Stephen Hunter’s 1993 novel “Point of Impact” for the small screen.
When you were starting out, what was your vision for your career?
I went to high school with Anthony and Joe Russo, who did the “Captain America” movies. I came out of college thinking maybe I wanted to direct. Anthony and I lived [in L.A.] together for three years, and at that point I had shifted more into writing. The vision was to have a career as a screenwriter. But I assumed it meant something that it wasn’t — in that the job was sort of more craft than it was art — at least it was for me. So that gradually pulled me to television, where I felt like the craft got worked on in a way that I could understand more clearly.
With the lead character in “Shooter” a military veteran, are veterans rights something you spotlight?
Completely. We try to honor the commitment those men and women have made. We support [PTSD aid group] Mission 22 — 22 is the daily number of [veteran] suicides. Last season I made a point [of noting that] in an episode. We could be doing a better job for those men and women.
In adapting the original book to TV, were there any changes you knew you wanted to make?
The first book [in the 10-book Bob Lee Swagger series] came out in ’93. We had to update it. In the book, Swagger is 55 and a Vietnam veteran. He also didn’t have a wife and kid. [As for the Russian aspect of the story], it wasn’t because I knew what was coming with all the business that’s going on today in our administration. It was just “Oh, Russians can be villains again.”
What has been the most rewarding thing about being the showrunner for “Shooter”?
Taking an idea that you have and seeing it all the way through to the very end. Showrunners don’t necessarily have final edit because there are networks and studios, but you get to take your vision way further than you can in movies, where you’re kind of servicing the director’s vision.
What can you say right now about season two?
It had to be bigger, but the budget didn’t change. There was a lot of confusion about the conspiracy [angle], so we thought we would make it simple this year. We have half the story take place [in the past] in Afghanistan when they’re serving and half in the present as this character is hunting Bob Lee.
Things you didn’t know about John Hlavin
Age: 47 Home State: Ohio Alma Mater: Kent State University Favorite TV Show: “The Americans” Booklist: James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet novels