Banshee – Inside Cinemax’s New Drama From True Blood’s Alan Ball & House’s Greg Yaitanes

Cinemax’s pulpy new drama – “Banshee” — about a former prisoner who assumes the identity of the Sheriff in the very town his ex-girlfriend and former partner in crime is living a cozy new life, debuts this Friday.

From “True Blood” creator Alan Ball, the punchy premiere kicks off as our anti-hero, played by New Zealand’s Antony Starr, exits prison, and after bullying his cross-dressing, computer genius old associate — Job (Hoon Lee) – for his ex-girlfriend’s new location, he’s quickly (under five minutes into the episode) involved in a cinematic-worthy chase scene.

Pursued in traffic by a careless henchman seeking retribution for Starr’s character ripping off a crime lord named Rabbit (to the tune of $10 million in diamonds), the ex-con is sent dodging and diving among crashing cars and an out of control bus (with a “Strike Back” poster on the side – an intentional nod from showrunner Greg Yaitanes).

It’s a dense episode that lands Starr’s character in Banshee (where his ex, Carrie, played by Ivana Milicevic, lives). And, after an unfortunate event at a bar owned by ex-boxer Sugar (Frankie Faison) leaves the real Lucas Hood dead, the impulsive ex-con assumes the identity of the new Banshee Sheriff.

“The blessing and the curse of Lucas Hood is that he’s impulsive, and that he’s working from an impulsive place,” Executive Producer Yaitanes (“House”) told of Starr’s character. “It’s like, if he’s mad, he’s gonna punch you. He’s not gonna think of the consequence of that. So when he sees the opportunity, he impulsively acts on that. In that particular case… he’s not thinking three steps ahead, he’s thinking in the moment. Lucas very much lives in the moment and that’s how he had to survive for 15 years.”

And it’s in that moment – as the ex-con picks up the dead man’s phone and begins speaking as if he’s Lucas — that the real drama the series is set up to focus around, begins.

“In that moment of choosing to take on Lucas Hood’s identity, he has doomed everybody around him because his presence – he’s not supposed to be there and by inserting himself in that, while in the moment he has found the quick solution for staying close to Carrie, he hasn’t thought it through. Like, ‘What happens if I get caught?’ ‘What happens if somebody knows him,’” Yaitanes explained. “He’s not thinking about all that stuff and he’s just acting impulsively.”

But, Lucas quickly finds Banshee isn’t an ordinary Pennsylvania town. There’s a smooth and sinister local crime boss – Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) – Amish vs. redneck issues, and the Banshee Police Department team, including Brock (Matt Servitto), who was passed over for the head job and is immediately suspicious of Lucas.

Despite the title, Lucas remains prone to acting impulsively – often in a physical way, something Starr believes has to do with his character’s lengthy prison stint.

“I looked at it like, someone that has been in prison, in an environment where life threat is probably a daily occurrence, that is probably your resting state,” he said. “We all walk around and if there’s no threat, we feel good. This guy is walking around not knowing what to do with himself because there’s no threat and then when the threat comes up, that’s a comfort zone. You see that in the first episode.”

It’s a packed premiere, but Yaitanes promises the drama remains dense as it continues throughout its first season.

“Every episode unexpectedly takes you on a turn,” Yaitanes said. “There’s no filler in a season of ‘Banshee.’ In fact, every inch of ‘Banshee’ tells the story. Our title sequence changes every week, we have a scene at the end of the credits… I’ve gotta say — fast forward if you dare.”

“Banshee” will also offer new fans an accompanying comic book series and a website featuring a look at the characters’ pasts.

“, will have a series of back stories that we shot for each character,” Yaitanes explained of the additional elements. “I shot a series of prequel films that start 15 years ago when Lucas went to jail, that end months before the pilot starts. So if you’re really into the characters, there’s a back story that I did for every character.”

“Banshee” premieres Friday, January 11, at 10 PM ET/PT on Cinemax.

-- Jolie Lash

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