Whoever said Twitter isn’t a safe space? In the summer, E! was running a marathons of one of my favorite shows, Las Vegas. To my delight, The Fast and the Furious writer Gary Scott Thompson was entertaining fans on Twitter by answering their Las Vegas questions. I got in on the fun and found Gary very friendly and approachable, in addition to having an awesome first name. A few months later, I asked for an interview, one thing led to another and so here we are. Enjoy the following as we dig into some of the writers most well known works. His writing has landed roles for Vin Diesel, James Caan, Josh Duhamel, the late Paul Walker, and many, many more.
Gary Scott Thompson moved to Hollywood with 3 scripts in hand after a chance meeting with an old friend and started writing every chance he could. He won acclaim and praise from legendary actors alike and emerged on the writing scene quickly, never stopping to look back. From mentoring to writing, he truly has done it all in the business. What has he done exactly? You can’t stop at just one thing.
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Gary Scott Thompson penned the incredibly successful Las Vegas TV show, which chronicled a surveillance team for the fictitious Montecito Resort and Casino. Headed up by legendary actor James Caan and seconded by hot young newcomer at the time, Josh Duhamel, the series went on to bring in stars such as Dean Cain, Laura Flynn Boyle, and Tom Selleck as well countless guest stars such as Judd Nelson, Christopher McDonald, and Alec Baldwin. The show lasted five seasons on NBC and as Thompson says in the interview below, it was really only the writers’ strike that did them in. His other major baby would be a little movie called The Fast and the Furious. He did the original story line and developed the characters for what has bloomed into a franchise that has grossed over a billion dollars. In addition, the Fast universe has been described by NBC executives as their MCU.
What makes him tick? What are his thoughts on his shows and movies? Grab a cup of joe, sit back, relax, and enter the mind of a prolific Hollywood writer.
What Inspired you to start writing? How did you get your start? How would someone get into writing in Hollywood?
Gary Scott Thompson: I started writing when I was little. I didn’t know what I was writing but I liked to write stories. I had a 7th grade teacher tell me I had quite an imagination because of something I’d written. Then in high school I had a couple of teachers who are no longer with us, they got me to write a play and encouraged me a lot. I went to acting school where Powers Booth was ateacher and Kelly McGillis was a student . While at the acting school, that’s where I really fell in love with theater and started writing plays. I got my MFA at NYU-Tisch in play writing and found out you don’t make any money in play writing. I had a fellow student John Fusco , he wrote Young Guns and had a couple plays done, but when I bumped into him in the street and he asked how I was doing and I said “well I have plays here and plays there but wasn’t making any money”. He pulled out a wad of $100s and said I had to move to Hollywood. I was gone in a couple of weeks.
I grew up very, very, very blue collar with my dad and my uncles working construction and my grandfather had a truck parts place. I was waking up at thecrack of dawn and knew how to work hard. So I just went, okay I know how to do that and you know, I know it’s different. I’m gonna invest as many hours as they do in their jobs and really put my nose to the grindstone as they say and I would write 14-16 hours a day when I first got here, like every single day. Script after script after script. I like to mentor college students, a lot from NYU and a few other places and they always ask how do I do it? I tell them when you come to town you need three scripts. They will always say “What are you talking about three scripts, but I wrote a really good one in college, why do I need three?” Well, because someone is gonna read that and say that it’s pretty good and ask what else you have and if you don’t have anything else, you just blew that shot so you need three scripts and ten really good ideas. So when I moved to town, I had three scripts, three really good screenplay’s that I felt would get attention, and they did, none of them got made but they got me jobs. I always tell young writers that if someone says that they will read your script, say cool and I’m sending it but it better be ready to be read with no typos, no errors, no nothing, it better be great. Allen Ladd Jr. , who is THE GUY that got Star Wars made, after so many people passed on it, hesaid let’s do it. He told me, it only takes one person to say yes.
One of screen plays I wrote in New York was sent off to The American Film Institute which used to have this screen writing contest and they picked my screen play to read and a very famous writer, Ernest Lehman, he wrote North By Northwest and a lot of Hitchcock movies and West Side Story he was the moderator and we had a stage reading he told me afterword’s, that he wanted to tell me, “no matter what anyone tells you, writer to writer, you are very good and don’t let anyone say you’re not.” So, you’re starving as a writer, you’re not getting paid but words of encouragement like that from a big writer can go a long way.
Wow, I love that story.
Gary Scott Thompson: I wanted to transition into Las Vegas since that’s how we connected on Twitter. On screen tough guy and legendary actor James Caan played in the critically acclaimed show playing, well, a tough guy, but with a heart of gold for people that are loyal to him in the show. Caan played ‘Big Ed’ Deline the head of surveillance who would later become the president of the Montecito . This information set up my next question}.
Did you write Ed Deline specifically with James Cann in mind? I can’t imagine anyone else playing him.
Gary Scott Thompson: I didn’t. For me as a writer I see the characters in mind first and they aren’t real life. Then I come up with a prototype. In my minds eye when someone asked the typical actor who we wanted I never thought in a million years we’d get Jimmy. Someone asked what about Jim Caan and I said are you kidding me? Hell yes. Sam Shepard was up there at the top of my list too. He is tall and stoic and could just do something with a look. For Danny McCoy (Josh Duhamel) there were 5-6 people we took to the studio for their auditions. Every single one of them was a star on another television series within the next year. Some things you change too. Marsha’s (Thomason) character was written as a 60 year old man and when she auditioned, she did an American accent which was very good. The casting director told me she was British, and I said I wanted to hear that accent so I ran down the hall way after her and ask her to read in that accent which she did and she was great. I told them I would re write the part for her because there weren’t enough female character’s cast for what we wanted. So I re wrote the part for her.
From here I wanted to talk about a scene involving the casino early in the show Heroes which, like Las Vegas, was also on NBC. Early in Heroes, we see none other than the Montecito Resort and Casino. Were you consulted on that? Did that confirm Las Vegas and Heroes might be in the same universe or was it just a fun familiar background?
Gary Scott Thompson: We built such an incredible set. At the time the biggest set that had ever been made. It was on three sound stages that we knocked the walls out of to make the casino and we had others for the surveillance room, the hotel rooms, the kitchen, the club, and all these other places . We took over an entire lot. We shot the pilot in Vegas and in addition, we shot yearly in Vegas so NBC knew how hard it was to film there. You can’t control the elements like the sounds, the drunks, the girls taking their tops off and flashing you. You can’t control the people that lay down in the valet and demand they be in ‘their movie’. If a whale (high roller) shows up and wants something, you could get booted for them. The original plan was to shoot in Vegas and that was just difficult and it was hard on the crew. So because of that, when Heroes wanted to film an episode with a casino, they would tell them “well we already have one” and I would get the call, so yea I was consulted to a certain extent. There were some rules like they couldn’t blow it up, or really change anything but I couldn’t control their storylines. I don’t think they looked for crossover’s although we did crossovers with Crossing Jordan, but guess you can say they live in the same universe.
How was Las Vegas going to end after the cliffhanger with Delinda. She was seemingly going into a scary type labor situation with some type of possible hallucinations?
Gary Scott Thompson: The baby and Delinda would have both been fine. The baby is named after the two dads, Ed, and Josh’s dad. Between them bouncing us around, Josh filming Transformers, the writers strike, a lot of people didn’t know when we were on the audience didn’t know where the hell we were. Danny would have gotten called back to serve, I wanted the reality of the Iraqi War and Afghanistan because I had nephews that were veterans, I had to set that up because at the end Danny would have been called back and we would have seen what he was doing. He would have gotten injured or something to where he was flown out with a helicopter. The medics would be shocked that he was smiling because he was shot up or injured so bad and they see he is from Vegas, so that’s why he was smiling. Then we see him in his car with Delinda, the baby seat, Mike, Sam, and Piper and driving down the strip just like we opened and closed the first season. The twist would have been if he was just thinking about that while dying or if he really made it. For me, he made it. Ed would have come back and he and Jillian would have gotten back together and just bring as many people back as we could. We got stuck because of the strike.
Any plans for a reboot in the future?
Gary Scott Thompson: People ask me that all the time but NBC owns it. but I do hear whispers occasionally. Josh said it best when he said “Who wants to see an old Danny McCoy?” It’s really an NBC question.
From here, I went on to the behemoth that is The Fast and the Furious.
Did you ever imagine your Fast universe blowing up as it has? We are going on 10 movies now, a couple spin offs, did you imagine this?
Gary Scott Thompson: Well I’m a writer so I can imagine a lot of things. I did imagine it but I also imagine the flip side that it was never gonna see the light of day. I have to think every time going in and I have to believe it will be huge. You kinda think about baseball. If someone is a .300 hitter that’s great. We don’t have a lot of .300 hitters in this business. Going in I have to believe that it’s going to be the one, I did imagine it, but I also imagine the disaster that could have happened.
What kind of ending did you imagine for that universe? Do you think that will be the ending we get?
Gary Scott Thompson: I don’t think they see the ending that I saw, but I don’t think they see an ending either. It’s making too much money. Universal Execs have said “Thank you for creating our Marvel Universe”. They are competing with Marvel. It’s like the only movies getting made out of our studios lately are Marvel, Disney, Fast & Furious, or D.C. Comics. These films cost a lot of money so they want to make a lot of money. They will write it until it dies.
That is a bleak but fun look into the mind of an NBC exec! I like that. Do you see K:9-1-1 continuing or happening?
Gary Scott Thompson: I haven’t thought of that. Peacock is rebooting. In order for them to compete with Netflix and Amazon now, an Amazon who just bought MGM which has five thousand titles which they will exploit. In order for the streaming services to compete, they have to go in and see what is a great IP. They are gonna go in and see what movies they can pull out and turn into a series. For years they wanted to do a Fast and Furious series. They are gonna see what works, so they will pull their titles and the numbers on their titles and say “Well you know, this movie did better than what people think.” Like Waterworld. People think it was a bomb, but it wasn’t.
They will look at it and make a series of it somewhere, I assume it’ll be Peacock and that movie spawned a ride at Universal that’s been going on for like twenty years. Someone has a favorite thing and will ask who has the rights to it because I have an idea for a reboot. It can also be put out into the world that we are looking to do this title, or that title and if anyone has an idea, then come talk to us. Going back to Las Vegas, I had an idea of a dead body off the strip in Vegas and I did not know where it went , but then I was ok now I think got it based on them asking me if I wanted to go back to T.V. With K-9-1-1 and K-9 P.I., a lot of times these rights are bundled up into different places. That’s how it can also happen though. Sometimes it’s complicated and other times It’s not.
Can you dish on future projects?
Gary Scott Thompson: I could but I won’t. I’m superstitious.
Before I let ya go, let’s have a little fun. Who is your favorite football team?
Gary Scott Thompson: San Francisco 49ers.
Wow, that’s my team. It sucks we just lost Raheem Mostert for the season. Any other teams? I could really talk 49er’s football all day.
Gary Scott Thompson:I cheer for the Dodgers, which I shouldn’t because of where I was born. I just really liked Lasorda (Tommy).
If you enjoyed this interview, or if you are fan of his works, You can follow Gary on Twitter @GarySThompson.
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About The Author Gary Lockard (28 Articles Published)
Gary has an extensive informational background in sports radio, where he also wrote sports stories before transitioning to entertainment with MovieWeb.