Fox’s “Lethal Weapon” reboot has the unenviable task of following four iconic movies and two of the most memorable cinematic performances in decades, but the executive producers are confident that the performances of Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs and Damon Wayans as Roger Murtaugh will make viewers forget all about Mel Gibson and Danny Glover while they’re watching.
At the Television Critics Association summer press tour, showrunner Matt Miller recalled sitting down with Richard Donner, who directed the four “Lethal Weapon” films, to get his blessing on the project. After hearing the pitch, Donner approved of the idea, Miller said, but warned, “If you don’t have the guys, you’re screwed.” That was a lesson the producers took to heart. “Two guys played these roles really, really famously. Finding actors who not only have chemistry but can make you forget about those guys was really a challenge,” Miller admitted.
Finding Wayans was the first piece of the puzzle, Miller said, because, “Damon as a performer, as an actor, brings such a different perspective to the role than Danny Glover does. He read with a lot of guys… It was hard to find Riggs, we searched all over the world. Every actor who came in, whether they knew it or not, they were kind of doing a Mel Gibson impression.”
Their casting director found Crawford — best known to discerning viewers as Teddy Talbot on SundanceTV’s critically acclaimed “Rectify” — on an independent film, and the rest was history. “Of all the challenges of remaking this iconic franchise, I’m most proud [that]… you watch it and you don’t think of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover,” Miller said.
While Wayans managed to slip in a reference to Glover’s iconic “I’m too old for this s–t” line during the panel, Crawford admitted that he was hugely intimidated to tackle the role originated by Gibson. “On stage you rarely get an opportunity to play a role that hasn’t been played by many other actors… but film lives forever, you can compare. I didn’t want to read the script,” he said. “I read the material and I couldn’t, as an actor, say no to a man that was so broken but yet was a hero and trying to do the right thing — it grabbed me immediately.”
There have been a number of high profile adaptations of major film franchises of late — last year, CBS launched another odd couple cop show, “Rush Hour,” which was cancelled after one season — but the “Lethal Weapon” team believes the show has heart, as well as nostalgia, on its side.
Wayans notes that although “‘Lethal Weapon’ is a global, iconic piece of property… the secret sauce [on the show] is heart, and I think that’s where they went wrong with other franchises. People want that warm, fuzzy feeling, and nostalgia brings that.”
The show also plans to introduce other fan-favorite characters from the franchise, including Leo Getz (played by Joe Pesci in the movies) and Lorna Cole (originated by Rene Russo), somewhere down the line, although there are no immediate plans.
“Lethal Weapon 4” was released in theaters in 1998, and executive producer Dan Lin said that “there’s still potential for a ‘Lethal Weapon 5’ film” even with the TV show in production. “The feature side were very gracious and let us extend the series for television; right now the focus is 100 percent on the television series,” he said.
“Lethal weapon’ premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. on Fox.