A few years ago, showrunner, writer and producer David DiGilio was looking for a new project that would help him get back to the creator route in entertainment. Through that search, he happened to come across a book that already had Chris Pratt and director Antoine Fuqua attached to it, and it piqued his interest not just for the compelling story, but more so how author Jack Carr was able to examine the spirit of a warrior and what happens when he comes home from battle.
Carr, a former Navy SEAL and best-selling author, has a few novels, but ‘The Terminal List’ specifically follows James Reece (Pratt,) who survives a mission gone wrong where almost all of his men die. After returning home from deployment with grief, stress and a conflicting memory (according to everyone else), what he has to try and do now is piece together what really happened on that mission, and why there are people out to get him and his family.
“Carr’s incredible look inside a warrior’s ethos—that was the thing that really grabbed me,” DiGilio explains. “He had something going on in Reece’s head and as a psych major, I really gravitate towards psychological thrillers. There was a way to do something a la ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ where you’re talking about war following someone home that I thought was really interesting.”
Carr knows how to produce a convincing story on the page, and one that’s also accurate to military procedures. Walking the walk himself in years of service, and now talking the talk as an author, DiGilio was also drawn into Carr’s story, and the idea that by accurately portraying special operatives on screen could do a lot for the military community and beyond.
“We knew if we could put as much focus on [the authenticity] as we did the characters, we would have something really special. It’s what makes Jack’s books really connect with audiences, and it’s the reason the show will as well,” DiGilio continues. “We look at the property and think, if we can do what Jack has done on the page on screen then that’s a way to honor our military veteran community in ways that few do.”
That ideology was also on the mind of Pratt and Fuqua who both have ties to the SEAL community, and also Carr, who DiGilio talked to every single day after signing on with the project. Throughout making ‘The Terminal List,’ the showrunner and cast and crew brought in people who know the ins and outs of military procedure and the reality of many harsh situations—former SEALs themselves.
“One thing that’s really unique to the show, we actually cast a number of military veterans on camera. Including the Alpha Platoon, James Reece’s platoon in this operation gone wrong that kicks off the season,” says DiGilio. That representation both on-screen and off came from former SEAL Jared Shaw, Garrett Golden and Ray Mendoza (who also worked on 2013’s ‘Lone Survivor.’)
DiGilio also recalls the creative decision to nix some of the dialogue specifically in the beginning (an idea brought to him by Pratt and Shaw) to cast actual vets in the role and let their actions speak louder than words.
“[I thought] boom, that’s the show,” he recalls. “The character comes from a place of true experience and authenticity. And so you’ll either have military veterans in roles, or you’ll have actors who are so committed to honoring that tradecraft and that service, that they have trained up to be able to perform this as if they have served themselves.”
Also starring in ‘The Terminal List’ is Constance Wu, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Taylor Kitsch, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Riley Keough and Jai Courtney. Although Carr’s book is based from the viewpoint of Reece, for the show, they decided to build out characters and more arcs to expand the storylines. But the plot, and the authenticity remain in tact.
“There’s so much passion behind the people who made this. Some of them are military veterans themselves like Max Adams (a former Army Ranger/writer/producer). But then there’s a lot of us who are civilians who have military in our families and who have looked at ways to tell a story that honors that service. But, also, along with that, it’s just a really compelling psychological conspiracy thriller,” DiGilio continues.
We see as the first episode unfolds that Reece is paranoid about what happened to his platoon, and for good reason. With a wife and daughter at home, and friends who perished in just the first few scenes, there’s a lot at stake for him. And he just about loses it all, bringing out a vengeful side to the man—but it’s not all about revenge.
“It would be very easy to just dismiss this as a revenge thriller. I think it’s a journey for truth and consequence. This notion of what is truth? It’s incredibly relevant in today’s society,” the showrunner continues. “We live in a time where the notion of truth is bent backward and forwards every day. Reece is on a path of vengeance, but he’s also on a search for truth. He’s aided by characters who are equally compelled by the notion of truth: There are some who are seeking it out…there are others who are seeking to hide it, but they all have a true sense of care and real consideration for Reece on this journey. I love that.”
DiGilio references the 2004 Denzel Washington film ‘Man on Fire’ when talking about ‘The Terminal List ‘ as well.
“That’s not a revenge thriller, that’s a tale of beauty and the beast. The tale of a guy who is in a moment where he views himself as a monster and there’s this young girl who brings out his humanity,” the showrunner explains. “That is really about James Reece. He really lives both sides of that coin. He lives the warrior ethos and the family man. Can he ultimately reconcile these two parts of himself? It’s incredibly important not to lose sight of the character, even after he gets further and further down the path of vengeance.”
‘The Terminal List’ is a thriller and an exciting plot to follow. But deep down, it shows the story of a warrior, of someone who doesn’t do what’s fair to himself, but rather what’s right for those he serves. There are warriors out there every day who do the same without the spotlight of Hollywood, but that’s something DiGilio, Carr and the cast and crew are hoping to change.
“Very few people tell their story and the real cost of what we’ve put upon them,” DiGilio finishes. “They are truly some of this country’s greatest warriors of all time. When Jack wrote this book and really got inside the mindset of one of those great warriors and that apex predator pushed to the point of no return—that’s a really important story to think about in terms of what we’ve asked of them, and what they deal with when they come back.”
‘The Terminal List‘ drops on Amazon Prime July 1.