David DiGilio (left) with author Jack Carr
Chris Pratt as James Reece and Taylor Kitsch as Ben Edwards
Chris Pratt as James Reece
Chris Pratt as James Reece
Free tip if you ever meet Chris Pratt and his The Terminal List showrunner David DiGilio: Make sure they've just been properly fed. "We just had lunch," the actor says, "So you're catching us on a big fueled-up wave of enthusiasm and excitement. And when we knew this was Emmys.com, we were like, 'All right, let's really step up our game!'"
Fans have come to expect that brand of playful attitude from the actor, a go-to hero in the blockbuster Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises. But he gets serious — and steps up his game big time — in the intense new Prime Video thriller, premiering July 1. Pratt plays James Reece, a Navy SEAL who returns home as the only survivor of an ambushed mission. As the mysteries (and tragedies) mount, he demands answers and ultimately plots revenge. (Constance Wu, Taylor Kitsch, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Riley Keough round out the ensemble.)
Based on Jack Carr's bestselling 2018 novel, the eight-episode season is an intriguing mix of Memento, Sicario and John Wick with shockers galore. "This is about truth, justice, accountability and vengeance," says DiGilio, also an executive producer who previously oversaw the 2018–19 CBS All Access series Strange Angel. "And it's remarkable to watch Chris's Reece walk through all that as a member of the warrior class and deal with all those things."
It's also a departure from his most recent regular TV series role: Happy-go-lucky Andy Dwyer on the Emmy-nominated workplace comedy Parks and Recreation. "I was eager and waiting for the right opportunity to present this side of myself," he explains. Behind the scenes, Pratt pulled double duty as an executive producer — and as DiGilio tells it, earned the title. "He came in from the ground level working on his notes for each episode and commanding the material on set. It was commitment."
Though production was not without its challenges, Pratt and DiGilio say they're stronger for it and are eager for a second round. They share all with Emmys.com.
Chris, why was this gritty character so appealing to you?
Chris Pratt: So, he's a man who's actually righteous in his paranoia and justified in thinking that people are chasing him. Then we spin it and watch him unravel the mysteries and he's out for revenge. I liked that it was not only this love letter to the Navy SEAL community, but also to the thriller genre.
David DiGilio: You're really going on a journey with Reece thanks to Chris, and you'll be surprised every step of the way.
Well, there's a major jaw-dropper at the end of the first episode.
DD: We had to fight for that scene. It was a real battle because it's something usually not done in American television. But it was essential to justifying everything that Reece does from that point forward.
It's also a surprise to see Chris doing such heavy drama. Was that a deliberate choice, or did you just happen to connect with the material?
CP: It was absolutely intentional. I remember about ten years ago, it was a big shift for me to play this leading-man character. Everyone was like, "What is this? We always saw you as this lovable goofy sidekick and now you're stepping into this Action Hero mode?!" And that really got me excited to show a different side of myself. This did, too.
You did notably appear as a Navy SEAL in [the 2012 film] Zero Dark Thirty. Did that kind of experience help prep you for The Terminal List?
CP: It's interesting because it was a small role, and I added some much-needed levity to some high tension. But in that movie, I shadowed a guy named Jared Shaw, who was a SEAL Team Six member. To this day, he's one of my best friends. He introduced me to Jack Carr, and he plays [Navy SEAL member] Boozer in The Terminal List and is a co-producer on the project. It's important that he was there because it adds a chilling layer of authenticity. The average viewer won't catch the little details. But the Special Ops guys know that when someone gets shot, the blood doesn't just go flying. The members of that community will watch this and go, "Damn, that is fucking real."
How did you two start collaborating?
CP: I optioned the book from Jack and recruited Antoine Fuqua [The Magnificent Seven, Training Day] to partner up and direct. When we started breaking it out, we realized that it had to be a series because it would have been pretty cookie-cutter as an hour-and-a-half movie. We'd have to remove all the nuances and the ancillary characters. When you lean into what television is doing now, we can work off 480 pages instead of 120.
DD: That 480 number is probably right for those eight episodes. So, I came on board because they were looking for a showrunner and a take on the pilot. I remember calling Chris on the phone while he was in Iceland and pitching the idea that Reece should be an unreliable narrator. And dude, I was telling you the idea and it just goes quiet at the other end and I was like, "Oh, did I lose him?" And then you were like, "I love that!" He loved the idea of building it into a psychological military thriller. From there, we were off to the races.
Given that there were a lot of moving parts with the narrative, what was the biggest challenge during production?
DD: It was a massive nightmare.
CP: It took a lot of resources and manpower and protocols to get it done. You have a budget, and then Covid hits, and you have a different budget.
DD: We actually sold it to Amazon in 2020, the week before California shut down. They had made the commitment to film it around here in Los Angeles, which was a huge deal for us because we got to go on location in our hometowns. It made the logistics difficult, but you'd never know it based on what you see on the screen.
This series is so reliant on the camaraderie of its cast. How did you establish that when everyone is separated because of health protocols?
CP: Well, you know, just like the Special Ops community, friendships are forged in the crucible of stress. And commiseration is one way to get close to someone. Like, "How fucking tired are you to be wearing this mask? What about these shields? Are you saying Covid can't hit us from the side?" The protocols certainly kept people safe, but it was a pain in the butt. But our industry is great because we already move mountains, and we were able to handle it. You just add it to the plate of fires that you're trying to put out.
Was this the biggest undertaking of your career?
CP: Without a question. Listen, working as an actor on a show requires a lot. Now I've gained a brand-new realization for how complicated it is just to get an actor to stand on their mark. But I'd love to do more. It's a whole book series that would play wonderfully into an ongoing series.
DD: Everyone really worked hard to make sure the material was the best it could be at every phase. Both of us come out of a sports background, and we both love the aspect of being on a team. It's ingrained in who we are. We brought that to the set every day. We'd lead by empowering people and not dictating to them. And because of that, you just see everybody throwing their best foot forward. And that's why you get an incredible show.
Chris, we're coming up on twenty years since your first regular series role — in the WB teen drama Everwood. What does that anniversary mean to you?
CP: Wow! I mean, I'll just never forget it. I loved that show. I was truly struggling to get by in Hollywood. I was pretty much broke or in debt, and there were moments when I was close to just quitting acting. The casting director had tried to get me into everything on the WB, and I came so close. And then I finally got that part [as an endearing high-school jock named Bright]. We relocated to Salt Lake City to shoot for four years, which was incredibly impactful for me because we were so isolated and really felt like we were living in a town as pure as Everwood. It was a magnificent step in the direction that has become my career. And for that, I'll always be grateful.
The series is executive produced by Chris Pratt and Jon Schumacher through Indivisible Productions, Antoine Fuqua through Fuqua Films, and writer/showrunner David DiGilio. Author Jack Carr serves as executive producer, as does writer Daniel Shattuck. The Terminal List is a co-production from Amazon Studios and Civic Center Media in association with MRC Television. All eight episodes will premiere on July 1 on Prime Video.