UPDATE: Out of respect for the victims of the Dallas shootings and their families, USA Network has pushed the Shooter premiere date back by one week to July 26 at 10/9CT.
Yes, USA Network’s Shooter is inspired by the 2007 Mark Wahlberg thriller culled from Stephen Hunter’s 1993 novel Point of Impact. Yes, Wahlberg’s back — this time as an executive producer with Ryan Phillippe (Secrets and Lies) taking over the role of retired star Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, who is lured into a mission to save the president that goes horribly awry.
From there, Swagger’s story gets a 2016, TV-friendly update at the hands of The Shield’s John Hlavin, who wrote the pilot, and his team.
Swagger’s now an Afghanistan war vet and, instead of a mountain-man recluse, he’s a married dad who just wants some peace. FBI agent Memphis is now Nadine (Chicago Med’s Cynthia Addai-Robinson), not Nick. “I have four older sisters,” Hlavin explains. “I have a wife and a daughter. I’m surrounded by a lot of female energy and I really feel like it would have been almost like writing malpractice to not have cast that role as an empowered woman.”
And while Swagger comes out of retirement to aid Secret Service agent Isaac Johnson (Omar Epps, House), his former commanding officer, the conspiracy story that results when Johnson’s plot leaves Swagger on the run and bent on justice is ripped from today’s headlines.
“Although we take the spirit of Stephen Hunter’s book, we adapted it to have to do with Russia and Ukraine and geopolitics — specifically where it revolves around the use of private military contractors and present day Eastern European politics,” Hlavin explains. “Hunter already laid out a pretty interesting plot, so overlaying it for today was really just opening up the newspaper.”
Intent on getting the details right, Hlavin employs Army and Air Force vets in his writing room, and former Marine sniper Steve Seapker, a Desert Storm vet, to ensure that Swagger lives, walks, talks and shoots pure USMC. “He keeps us really honest with respect to almost every aspect of Marine life,” Hlavin says. “When you’re inside Swagger’s gun shack in the pilot episode, everything you see on the walls, that’s real Marine stuff. Swagger goes to the VA in Episode 3 and we made an effort to bring real veterans in. All the Afghanistan flashbacks stuff that comes later in the season was all designed around authenticity.”
Phillippe, says Hlavin, made Seapker’s job easy.
“Ryan hit a 12-inch target at 883 yards — in about his second shot,” he marvels. “He had a kind of organic connection to the rifle! He’s also a black belt in [taekwondo] — not something that he necessarily advertises — but it comes in really handy when we’re shooting fight scenes. He’s in 90 percent of the action scenes we shoot, and it’s actually Ryan performing the action or doing the stunt. He’s also incredibly quiet; he’s an introspective guy. Usually on a set the actors are the last ones to show up and Ryan would quietly get there early and just observe. Interestingly enough, those are almost exactly the attributes of a sniper.”
Hlavin says Phillippe also had natural chemistry with costar Epps, which yields an even richer experience for the audience.
“Whereas Ryan’s part is betrayed American hero — a fugitive on the run, which has its own complications — Omar’s character goes through a very different set of challenges,” Hlavin says. “When actors are really good, you can do so much more when you’re writing for them. You can do so much more in your storytelling, because there’s almost nothing those two guys can’t do.”
Shooter airs Tuesdays at 10/9CT on USA Network beginning July 26.