Sherman, set the way back machine to 1997. I was enjoying my junior year at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio (Go Tigers!). As I was a soccer player (yes Nerds can play sports too!) I was on campus early for three-a-day practices. My best friend and roommate at the time Adam Dei Cas was also on campus before classes started, but that’s because he was responsible and giving. He was an Orientation Assistant (OA). Sadly my old age has robbed me from the exact details, but during this time he introduced me to a friend of his. Little did I know this young lady would go on to write for my all time favorite comic book character, Daredevil. So without further ado, here’s Lauren Schmidt Hissrich!
Nerdlocker (NL): Tell us about yourself.
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (LSH): Hey! My name is Lauren. I live in Los Angeles with my television line producer husband (who calls me Muffin, not kidding) and my two young boys (who call me Mommy, with as many syllables as humanly possible). I moved here from Ohio almost sixteen years ago, and have been writing for television since the day I arrived.
NL: When and how did you know you wanted to become a writer?
LSH: My father has all of my journals and diaries from my childhood in his basement. I went through them recently – hundreds of pages of elementary school drama, long long laments about bad teachers, crushes, and girl fights. In sixth grade, I wrote a middle-school soap opera starring all of my friends, and even had a (terrifyingly bad) poetry phase. I’ve always been a writer, but it wasn’t until college that I flirted with the idea of making it a career. My poor parents… I probably gave them heart attacks when I dropped out of my pre-med classes, and changed my major to English with a concentration in Creative Writing (“Sure, I’ll pay off those student loans. Don’t worry!”). As I was considering grad school, teaching, maybe writing a memoir, maybe living in my parents’ spare room for a couple of years, I visited Los Angeles for the first time. It was supposed to be a vacation in the sun, but I got bored and ended up answering phones for a family friend who was on a brand new television show, called “The West Wing.” In my spare time, I devoured several of Aaron Sorkin’s early scripts, and realized there was a whole form of writing I knew nothing about: screenwriting. That trip changed my entire career trajectory – and my life, since I ended up marrying that family friend.
NL: You mentioned prior to being hired for the Daredevil series you had never read a comic book. Did you read any comics after being hired? Have you read any comics, Daredevil or otherwise, since then? Did you have any preconceived notions about comic books?
LSH: You know how it is: my parents both played soccer, and my older brother played soccer, so I played soccer (although I was scared of the ball all eight years). Same with piano lessons. Same, frankly, with my love for wine. But no one in my family read comic books, so I was never exposed to them, and over time, just assumed they weren’t for me. I said as much in my initial interview for Daredevil, and honestly, I was surprised when I wasn’t kicked to the curb right then. But that’s the thing about television: it reaches an insanely wide audience, 190 countries on Netflix, to be exact. Which means there’s an opportunity to reach people who might be thinking – like I had – “I don’t know if this is for me.” When they hired me, my bosses challenged me to fall in love with Daredevil – and then to bring that passion to my writing, maybe make other people fall in love too.
So yeah, although I still roll my eyes when my co-workers geek out about movies I’ve never seen (and likely never heard of), I’m not as stupid as I used to be. My very first comic book was Garth Ennis’ The Punisher MAX Vol 1: In the Beginning. That was an eye-opener. Kids’ guts in hands, bullets in mouths… I can’t lie, I read it before bed and didn’t so much sleep that night. To get to know Daredevil, I tore through Frank Miller’s The Man Without Fear and Born Again. But what I really fell in love with was Miller’s Elektra Lives Again. I came to my bosses and said, without a shred of dignity, “I want to write her. Please please please let me.” The hardcover book of it sits on my desk every day, for inspiration.
NL: Fanboys and fangirls can be some of the toughest critics in the world. How did you go about learning the history of such popular characters like Daredevil, Elektra, Punisher, and Kingpin. How did you feel about tackling characters that had been established in a completely different medium (comic book) by some of the best writers in the industry (Frank Miller, Mark Waid, Kevin Smith to name a few) and now translating that to television?
LSH: Let’s be honest: if you want to work in the entertainment industry, you have to develop a thick skin. The best analogy I heard early on was that writing was like birthing a baby – and then you show that baby to the world, and wait to hear how ugly it is. Movies and television are mediums based on solely on audience response, and if the audience hates what you’ve done, well, you’re done. So that pressure always exists. For me, the fact that I was writing an adaptation of a beloved comic book character upped the ante a bit. But I had some really strong factors on my side. First, season one of Daredevil had just premiered and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I read a ton of reviews and fan threads, gleaning what viewers were loving and hating, filed that away in my brain. I read a ton of comic books, marking the most gorgeous or moving or terrifying panels, the most stark or beautiful or sexy writing (“The days are bright and hot and full of mischief” from The Man Without Fear is still a fave). And I asked a ton of questions. So many. Seriously, endless. In addition to being some of the best people I know, most of the writing staff of Daredevil are self-proclaimed nerds, and were happy to educate me on any part of Marvel canon where I was lacking – and that was basically every part. I guess the best way to put it is: when it came to writing these iconic stories, I was a big, blank slate. I wasn’t combatting years of rabid fan-dom, or the bias that could bring. I didn’t have any preconceptions of what a character should be doing or saying. I wasn’t relying on any well-known comic book tropes or themes. I just tried to pitch interesting stories and character arcs. Sometimes, I was insanely off-base, and I’d get laughed at. Other times, I’d suggest something and my nerd cred would get an immediate bump. (And then it would plummet again when I asked if anyone else had watched the finale of The Bachelor. Because you can take the girl outta Ohio, but you can’t take the Ohio outta the girl…)
NL: You have done amazing work on very dramatic network shows like West Wing, Private Practice, and Parenthood. Do you feel like those more realistic takes on the world helped or hindered your writing for Daredevil? Do you feel there is a drastic difference from writing for broadcast television to a newer medium like Netflix?
LSH: I used to say that I wasn’t a “genre” writer. I was more into “workplace drama.” But these days, audiences are way too smart to be pigeonholed into a singular, rigid category like that – and as a whole, TV has taken the hint. Shows are much more nuanced now, and Daredevil is the perfect example. It’s a comic book show, of course. But it’s also about relationships – romantic and, to a larger degree, friendship. It has a procedural courtroom element to it. A gritty crime element. A couple of my cherished workplace stories, and cool fantastical, mythological stories too. It’s not one thing – so the varied backgrounds of our writing staff, including my realistic, dramatic upbringing, help bring all of those different aspects to life on the screen.
In terms of the Netflix model – it’s a super exciting thing to be a part of. Of course, we don’t have to worry about commercial breaks, or the language or content restrictions that come on broadcast TV. But the most fun thing about writing for Netflix is getting in the mindset of binge watching. Instead of writing thirteen episodes, we’re writing a thirteen-hour movie. How do we keep a viewer engaged and energized, how to we make sure they want to watch just one more before bed, seriously, just one more, we can still get four hours of sleep then, we’ll be fine at work tomorrow, yeah, we will. It’s a thrill to be involved in a project that fans don’t want to turn off. It’s seriously the best feeling.
NL: Now that you’ve tackled the comic book genre, are there any superheroes, mutants, masked vigilantes, etc… that you’d like to write? Would you ever consider writing a comic book?
LSH: I fear I’m way too long-winded to be a comic book writer. Where would I stick my three-page monologue? That said, writing Elektra in Daredevil has been a highlight of my career, and I’m incredibly impressed by what the writers accomplished in making a modern, flawed, complicated, real Jessica Jones for Netflix. I think there are a lot more female characters that deserve to be given the same treatment, and I’d love to be a part of that movement.
NL: What’s your favorite nerd related snack? (like what do you munch on while playing video games, reading comic books, watching movies, writing, etc…)
LSH: We go through two or three packs of Orbit gum every day in our writers room, and I’m a fan of sickly-sweet, kinda-gross fruity flavors. Peanut M&Ms are my real downfall, though. I have a 2-pound bag in my office.
NL: The Nerd world and more specifically comic book world is predominantly male. Did you find it difficult to jump into the superhero universe as a female writer?
LSH: Nope. And I’ll be honest – I mean, I already admitted The Bachelor – I’m a bit of a girly girl. I like wearing dresses to the office, and high heels, and I like pitching about star-crossed romances, and I will never get tired of analyzing the (albeit flawed) plot of Love Actually. I bring this up to say: my predominantly male co-workers will confirm that, despite having the mouth of a sailor, I don’t spend a lot of time trying to be “one of the guys.” Cause I don’t want to be, and they don’t need me to be. In the same way that we all bring our own unique writing backgrounds to a project, we also bring our own unique life experiences. I’m a woman. I’m someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s wife. I gave birth to two kids. I know what it’s like to be judged for the size of my body, or the volume of my voice; I know that my shyness can be perceived as bitchiness, and that voicing my opinions can make me seem smug or superior. I know what it’s like to be a female in this world – so I can relate to female characters who are existing in their own mostly-male superhero universe. There are a lot of important stories to tell, but stories of strong, kickass, complex, fallible, heroic women are way up there for me – and I think increasingly important to a new generation of comic book writers and readers. My bosses understand and respect that, deeply. So – to very specifically answer your question: I’ve only been working in the comic book world for about a year, but I’ve never been treated with anything but complete acceptance.
NL: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
LSH: With the exception of hand gestures when I’m behind the wheel of a car, I’m not a huge fan of conflict, with fists or words or anything else. I’m what they call a people-pleaser: I’ll do anything to make other people feel happy and comfortable and safe.
I’m just saying, if I could control people’s minds, the world would be a nicer place.
NL: Who are some of your favorites writers?
LSH: I’m a serial re-reader. I’ve probably read some of my favorite books – The Great Gatsby, White Noise by Don DeLillo, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – thirty or forty times. I love browsing at Book Soup in Los Angeles, reading their excellent booksellers’ recommendations. I usually buy ten or twelve gorgeous hardbound new novels every Christmas, and read them throughout the year. My husband will tell you that my genre of choice is kinda romantic/kinda depressing as hell. I’m always turning to him, saying things like “I just finished this amazing book about a couple who falls apart when the wife survives the Columbine shooting!” (That was Wally Lamb’s heart-wrenching The Hour I First Believed). He thinks I’m insane, but I like to feel and, apparently, torture myself.
In terms of television and movies, I drank the Aaron Sorkin kool-aid a long time ago, and will force the house to be totally silent in order to watch anything he writes. I’m also a massive fan of Charlie Kaufman. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind dramatically shifted the way I wanted to tell stories, driven all by emotion, not by time or plot or even reality.
Since I’m new to comic books, I count on my colleagues to point me to things they thing I’d like, which is how I found Brian Vaughan’s Saga, and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. My head kinda explodes when I think of all the comic books I’ve missed out on in the last 37 years of my life. I’m always up for suggestions!
NL: What is your game day process, meaning when you start your day with a project, how do you get prepped/psyched?
LSH: The first episode I wrote of The West Wing, the process was brutal. I sat on my office couch for close to two weeks, writing, deleting, re-writing, doing research, eating an insane amount of tortilla chips, crying at least once a day. I couldn’t do it, I didn’t know how to make everything come together, I needed a new career as a helicopter traffic reporter (yes, that’s my dream alternate life, flying above the fray, how perfect!) At the very end, another writer – Lawrence O’Donnell – came into my office and said, “Whatever your process was, it worked. It’s gonna be your process from here on out. This script is great.” Huge compliment, but my heart went through the floor. I didn’t have that in me every time.
I always joke that I’m not paid to write, I’m paid to write right now. My job is to be creative on demand. Thank god, after doing this for so many years, I’m really good at hunkering down in my office with coffee and a blank page. I don’t listen to music (the words are too distracting) but I love to have sports on in the background (Go Buckeyes!) Sometimes, I type up notes, but more often than not, I dive straight into dialogue, get to the heart of the matter. I love to write debates, have two people arguing passionately, have them both be right, the messier the better. Before I know it, I’m on page four or five, and then page fourteen or fifteen. Writing days slip by so incredibly fast, but I always try to be done by 7 p.m. so I can see my kids, have dinner with my husband, and decompress a little.
NL: Star Wars of Star Trek?
LSH: On one of my first days on Daredevil, two of my colleagues got in a heated discussion about how many Star Trek movies had been released. I kept my mouth shut, but made a mental guess in my head (4? 5?) Needless to say, when I later Googled it in the privacy of my office, I was off-base by… a lot.
So. Star Wars. For sure. My kids are obsessed. I had to re-watch the movies just so I could pronounce characters and places correctly in their bedtime stories (Tat-too-een!). I’ve been challenged to hundreds of light saber fights in my living room, and have even won a few with my assigned lightsaber (green, like Yoda). Fun facts: my oldest son identifies with Luke Skywalker, will only wear “good guy” Star Wars t-shirts, and makes my heart burst when he asks why Leia or Rey aren’t in the toy sets. My younger son, who is 3, happily aligns with the Dark Side, says things like “Don’t make me destroy you!” when I tell him to eat his ham, and to the horror of my husband, calls Darth Vader… “Daddy D”.
NL: You mentioned you have been to New York Comic Con. If you could cosplay as any character, who would you chose?
LSH: Have I mentioned my obsession with Elektra?
NL: Give us a Nerdy secret that most people don’t know about you.
LSH: I don’t have a ton of secrets – and probably no Nerdy ones. But let’s see. What don’t most people know? I’m a political junkie. I’m obsessed with dachshunds, even though in real life, I have three cats. I’m too empathetic; I once cried over whether or not a particular fish in an aquarium knew it was uglier than the other fish. I’m a rabid Top Chef fan, and offered up my firstborn to go to an event in LA. I’m really good at badminton. I have one tattoo. I love bacon and guacamole. And I’m terrified of snakes.
NL: If you could nerd out (hangout) with anyone in history, who would you choose and why?
LSH: John Adams. And this is nerdy, but… I often think about where I would’ve come down on massive political or cultural upheavals in history, the first being: the American Revolution. Revolution is a scary concept, by nature. If I were in Massachusetts in the 1770s, would I have supported change, or would I have clung to the familiar? Would I have thought the future Founding Fathers were heroes, or would I have been put off by their drastic tactics? At the end of the day, would I have ended up on the right side of history? I’d pour some wine and pick John Adams’ brain, tell him well done, and try to understand how he knew the difference between bravery and bat-shit-craziness.
NL: What is your favorite movie and why?
LSH: So a couple of years ago, I was down on the floor, playing with my son. He pointed at the words on my t-shirt, so I said in my best teaching-moment voice, “This is a quote from the greatest movie of all time, Harry.”
From the other room, my husband stopped doing whatever he was doing and yelled, “That shirt better say, ‘I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.’”
It didn’t. It said, “I carried a watermelon?!”
There are hundreds of amazing movies I love watching. Gone With the Wind. To Kill a Mockingbird. Mad Max: Fury Road. Die Hard. Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Devil Wears Prada. Labyrinth. And yes, The Godfather Parts I and II.
But… Dirty Dancing is everything.
NL: What is your favorite video game and why?
LSH: That’s cute. Does Legend of Zelda, circa 1988, count? ‘Cause that’s probably the last one I played. (If you choose to kick me to the curb in this interview, I’ll totally get it…)
NL: You’re in the clear. That’s one of the best video games of all time! What is your favorite comic book or comic book character and why?
LSH: I’ve mentioned several already, but I want to circle back to Jessica Jones. I recently read Brian Michael Bendis’ whole Alias run, cover to cover in one afternoon. I think what I was surprised by was Jessica’s vulnerability. Her “don’t give a shit” attitude is what’s most hyped, but underneath it, there’s a truly sensitive portrayal of a woman struggling with who she is and how she wants to be perceived in the world. And between the cases she takes, there are incredibly raw and real relationship moments – about whether or not she’s dating Luke Cage after they sleep together, or just how much Scott Lang is allowed to pry into her emotional well-being while they’re laying in bed. The whole run was a great mix of action, investigation, and honest conversations between normal people (who happen to have superpowers). I loved it.
NL: What are some of your upcoming projects?
LSH: Since it was just announced, I finally (and happily and excitedly) get to say: I’ve re-teamed with my fearless leaders from Daredevil for our new Netflix show, The Defenders. We’re busy at work right now, and can’t wait for the world to see it.
NL: Bonus Question: Like me, you’re from Ohio. But also like me, you haven’t lived in Ohio for a very long time. So when you refer to it, do you call it pop, soda or coke?
LSH: Maybe I lied when I said you can’t take the Ohio outta the girl. Cause… soda. All the way.
Well there you have it Nerds, the incredibly eloquent Lauren Schmidt Hissrich! Needless to say, I can’t wait to see The Defenders and more Daredevil.
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