Monday 20 February 2023

The Last Orphan Q & A with Gregg Hurwitz


Ayo:                Hello Gregg how lovely to see you after such a long time. How are you?

Gregg:            I am doing well. It is always good to see you. Always a highlight.

Ayo:                I am so pleased to get the opportunity to do interview this evening as I have loads of questions. What I wanted to start of with first of all with is one of things that you seem to have gathered with the Orphan Series is the fact that you have this huge swath of new fans. How did you come up with the Orphan X concept?

Gregg:            Hmm, well I do a lot of research with many of it with sketchy characters. I have interviewed outlaw biker gangs; I have gone undercover in a mind control cult and one of the community's I am pretty close with are former spies or spec ops guys. A lot of friends in the Navy Seals community and they are always talking about these “black programmes” right buried deep in the DoD (Department of Defence). I was always interested in how they ran the money, how they work, how they function. And I just thought, look what if there is a programme called the Orphan programme where the Government were taking these kids. They want to train basically US assets to go places the US cannot go and do things that the US cannot legally do.  And what they want is expendable weapons.  They want disposable people that no one is going to miss. Okay, well that is a notion that is not wildly unheard of. David Morrell played in that sandbox – La Femme Nikita and so that was the starting notion of it. 

What would that be like and what would that kid be like? But one of the big things that turned the corner for me was when I thought what if his handler who takes him out of this foster home, In Evan Smoak, Orphan X is the smallest kid in the whole foster home.  Jack Jones(?) who is his handler his CIA handler picks him because he tells Evan you know look you got knocked down the most time as the smallest kid but that also means that you got up the most times. He wanted a kid with grit. And it turns out that Jack actually loved this kid and that for me is where it started to take on a little bit more depth and humanity. Not only was joining the Orphan programme one of the most crazy and difficult things that Evan is going to encounter to be a twelve-year-old who is now trained to be an assassin, but it is also the best thing that ever happened to him.  Jack is the first person whoever treated him like a human being. And Jack even says to him, and this for me is the key line around which the whole series coalesces, he says to him the hard part is not going to be making you a killer, the hard part is keeping you human. And I thought okay, well now we have something because that collision between being trained to be a killer and trying to stay human with Evan being trained under these very very strict rules of the assassins ten commandments that gives me a template of a series that I can keep writing on and forward and that was the opening kernel for it.

Ayo:                Following on from that did you expect it to become such a well-loved series? Because everyone just loves the Orphan X series.  Did you expect it to go down that route or did you just think oh, just let me write this series and see where it goes?

Gregg:            I think I have been doing this long enough not to have that be an expectation for sure. I think that was certainly the hope. I mean, look, I was afraid to write this book. I had the idea for it. I wrote four other standalone thrillers first. I kept back burning it, developing it more in my head, letting it simmer. Because if I was going to step off on this stage you know and think about trying to create a character that might one day have a place in a pantheon with Reacher, Bourne and Bond I better really figure out what it is that is going to make this unique. That is going to make every plot, and every bit of dialogue, every action sequence feel like that it is an Orphan X not, like it could just be anyone else that has done it. Because we all know that Reacher has a particular feel. We all know Reacher dialogue, we all know Reacher fights, we all know that kind of style of dry wit that Lee is so masterful at and now Andrew. But I really wanted to get this character three dimensionalised before I sat down to do it and a lot of other pieces had to come into focus for me before I was willing to do that.

Ayo:                So, when Evan broke free and became the Nowhere Man so that he could use his skills for those in dire need did you expect the response that you received? Because it just appears that with The Nowhere Man the action went up a notch.

Gregg:            Uh um, Look I mean if you raise someone to be a human and to also be a killer it’s just not going to work. One of the ways that I think of Evan is that it is almost as if he was raised and trained to be Pinocchio, but he wants to be a real boy. Right, I say he never learned to speak the strange language of intimacy.  So, this series it’s really about his process of becoming. Why he was raised totally outside of society. He was trained one on one in dojos, he was drown proofed, psych ops training, he learned foreign etiquette right, so that he could blend in in Eastern Europe and commit all these acts. Hand to hand combat, knife fighting. Everything that he was trained in, but he never learned to know what is was to be real or to be in a real family. And so, I think of him always that he has his face up to the glass and that he is like looking in on other people leading these ordinary lives that he himself can never but at least he can protect it for him. He is like the wolf that is going to hunt other wolves. And so with The Nowhere Man, part of what happened was when he became the Nowhere Man which was one of his operational aliases he put the full focus for the first time, his whole operational ability and strategy and all of that was put finally in a position where it was aligned with his moral compass and so there was greater force for that and greater willingness to do anything he had to do to help somebody who no one else can help.  It is always somebody who calls that encrypted number whose got nowhere to turn but are in a desperate place and they are just being terrorised by another human or group of humans.

The complete interview with Gregg Hurwitz can be found on the Shots website at the following link.

The Last Orphan by Gregg Hurwitz (Penguin Books) Out Now.

The world needs a new hero, and Evan Smoak - aka Orphan X - is here to help in this electrifying new adventure perfect for fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. As a child, Evan Smoak was plucked out of a group home, raised and trained as an off-the-books assassin for the government as part of the Orphan program. When he broke with the program and went deep underground, he left with a lot of secrets in his head that the government would do anything to make sure never got out. When he remade himself as The Nowhere Man, dedicated to helping the most desperate in their times of trouble, Evan found himself slowly back on the government's radar. Having eliminated most of the Orphans in the program, the government will stop at nothing to eliminate the threat they see in Evan. But Orphan X has always been several steps ahead of his pursuers. Until he makes one little mistake.  Now the President has him in her control and offers Evan a deal - eliminate a rich, powerful man she says is too dangerous to live and, in turn, she'll let Evan survive. But when Evan left the Programme, he swore to only use his skills against those who really deserve it. Now he has to decide what's more important - his principles or his life.

 ©Ayo Onatade (2023)

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