"Red Widow": "Twilight" Screenwriter Turns to TV

Melissa Rosenberg hopes her new family crime drama will win star Radha Mitchell an Emmy

By Scott Huver
|  Friday, Mar 1, 2013  |  Updated 4:06 PM EDT
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Rasha Mitchell in "Red Widow"

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As a former scribe on “Dexter” and the screenwriter of all of the “Twilight” films, Melissa Rosenberg has been bloody successful – and she’s keeping consistent with the crimson color for her next project, ABC’s “Red Widow.”

What was it about the premise that got its hooks into you and made you say, this is something I want to do?

Primarily, the lead character, the Red Widow played by Radha Mitchell, is so rich. It's like going from a soccer mom to finding these parts of yourself, delving into the criminal world and realizing that you're actually pretty good. You're a moral person in an immoral world, and everything is driven by protecting your kids. That to me, is a really interesting character, very flawed character, making some super questionable decisions. She's bringing drugs into the country. She's running guns. You don't do that on network TV a lot. You don't see, or you haven't seen it in the past.

You see it on cable with characters like Tony Soprano, or Dexter, or Claire Danes’ character in ‘Homeland.’ You're allowed to see flawed female characters, only recently with Edie Falco and Claire Danes. But on network TV, unless you're doing comedy, you have to be the noble one or the Madonna or whore, one or the other. This is a very dark character. It's a very complex character. First and foremost, a loving, devoted mother. And then everything else around it is just her trying to figure her way through this extremely dangerous situation.

Have you talked to any people who exist in the real world of organized crime and Russian mob families that you're depicting here?

We have our go-to man, our consultant, Jeff Eiveson, who's a former FBI agent, and he actually headed up the bureau in San Francisco that was working on the Russian mob – and that is our world, San Francisco Russian mob.  So we’re constantly talking to him, doing a lot of research also. But really, the main focus is not the Russian mob. This is not a gangster series. It's a family drama ... in the same way that ‘The Sopranos’ was a family story. It wasn't a mob story necessarily. It just happened to be mobsters in them.

You’ve said you want to see Radha Mitchell earn an Emmy nomination for this role. How hard is it out of the gate to really get to know everything an actress like her is capable of so you can get it on the screen?

Well, after my ‘Twilight’ experience, is there any limitation? Come on! I dream really big, and ‘Twilight’ was beyond even my dreams. And ‘Red Widow’ is even beyond that. To say my goal is to get Radha an Emmy nomination, it's not so much about getting the literal Emmy nomination. I'm just trying to write an interesting and compelling a character. I want the writing to be as high quality as any cable show. Network shows have been so disregarded in the awards arena, in part with good reason: cable's doing more interesting stuff, for the most part with a few great exceptions. So I am thinking about this from the beginning as a cable show.

Are they giving you that smaller eight-episode order so that you can add the biggest bang to it?

It's all about the small episode order. Time equals quality writing, and there's no two ways about that. I mean, there are a lot of show runners who think, ‘oh, last minute inspiration.’ I don't believe that for a second. Have that inspiration, and spend two weeks writing that scene. That scene's going to be better. So I'm all about the time. If you look at ‘Twilight’ from beginning to end, the first original ‘Twilight,’ I had like five weeks to write that script. There are a lot of things about it I would do differently now. These other movies I had months to work on, really working them over and over and over, and it just gets better. So I think that's one of the issues for network television is, when you're trying to do 22, 23 episodes in the season, you're going to show up with an evil twin by Episode 18 unless it’s a cop or medical drama where you have a case of the week.

"Red Widow" debuts Sunday, Mar. 3 on ABC.

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