Simon Racioppa and Giancarlo Vople are the producer/writer and assistant director, respectfully, of Amazon Studios’ The Boys Presents: Diabolical. In this interview with Awards Daily, it’s very transparent that they both are excited not only about what new things they were able to do with this show but also the kind of new stories they can tall. They also geek out on several aspects of The Boys lore and show an appreciation for blowing up heads (when necessary, of course).
Awards Daily: How did you both get involved in this project?
Simon Racioppa: I was in post on Invincible, which is another series I’m doing for Amazon and two of the producers doing that show with me are Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg who are also executive producers on The Boys. They came to me and said we’d like you to do something cool and fun and animated for The Boys fans before season 3 comes out. We only have a year and we are deep in a pandemic so we think it needs to be animated, and we’re thinking about an animated anthology. Would you be interested in coming aboard and helping us? I said absolutely, I was a huge fan of The Boys to begin with even before that and it just sounded like a fun, cool, awesome challenge. So yeah, they just basically called me up and asked me to be involved and I just got lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time and said yes.
Giancarlo Volpe: Mine was somewhat more pathetic. I was between jobs so I was unemployed and thinking, hey, maybe something cool will fall out of the sky. Then sort of a friend of a friend, Benjamin Kaltenecker, who was line producing at the time, called me out of the blue and said, “Hey, I might have this gig you might be a good fit for. Do you know about The Boys? Do you like The Boys?” The truth was I hadn’t watched it yet. It was on my radar for a couple years because a bunch of my friends kept telling me, “You need to watch The Boys. You would love The Boys.” I think I was going around to mutual friends saying, “They need to do a superhero show that shows how awful superheroes would actually be. How awful people would be if they actually had superpowers.” My friends said, you know that show exists, it’s The Boys. So when I finally got the job offer I had the pleasure of binging it in a matter of days. I think I watched season 1 and 2 over the weekend or something and I was just in love with it. It’s so good. As I’ve joked, it suddenly put a lot of pressure on my job interview with Simon and the others because I said I can’t mess this up because I really love this show and I want to work on it.
Awards Daily: I was curious if either one of you or someone else was behind the joke in the beginning of each short of having the bulldog doing something random.
Simon Racioppa-That was us. We came up with that. So here’s the thing. It’s an anthology series, obviously, and every episode is completely different, a completely different style, different writer, different animation look, different feel, different composers. We wanted something that would link them together that would still make it feel like a series, like a coherent piece. We decided the way to do that was with an opening credit sequence. But our episodes are only 11 to 12 minutes long so it seemed crazy to do a long credit sequence. Most shows aren’t even doing a one minute sequence; I prefer shorter credits personally. My other train of thought about them is that the credits are the only part you watch in every episode and they’re usually the same in every episode so we wanted to make them different so someone would have a reason to watch them more than once. So that was the idea. What is something we can do that’s cool that’s 8 to 9 seconds long, maybe shorter, that showcases something fans love about The Boys that’s different every single time? We brainstormed a couple different things Terror could do in each episode that are kind of related to that episode thematically. Without beating the nail on the head, we wanted it to still feel like something a dog might actually do and not get too crazy. It’s like a byline for all of them. That’s how those came about.
Awards Daily: Giancarlo, you directed, and, Simon, you wrote the short “One Plus One Equals Two,” which was declared canon by Amazon and the people involved with The Boys. Did you know when you were making the episode? Or was that something that just happened because they liked what you did with it?
Simon Racioppa: I think it was the latter. There are actually three episodes that Eric Kripke considers canonical now. “One Plus One Equals Two,” “John and Sun-Hee,” and “Nubian vs Nubian.” When we started out we made the decision that we didn’t want to limit the show. So we said, let’s imagine all these things that could potentially happen in other universes or dimensions. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to making everything feel like it had to be canonical; we wanted more creative freedom than that. So Justin Rowland’s episode is just bananas. There’s probably not a guy with a speaker for a head in the live-action version of The Boys. But we wanted to have that freedom. It was really as they started to come out that Eric said this is probably what happened. It’s his universe, he gets to declare what’s canonical and what’s not canonical.
Giancarlo Volpe: I am really curious to see what a live action The Boys Groundhawk might look like. Like how do one’s hands become giant hammers.
Simon Racioppa: I think that would totally fit. I think they would have that guy on The Boys.
Giancarlo Volpe: I can sorta picture it. Maybe it makes his hands really big and hardened but it’s very awkward and frustrating for the poor guy, but it packs a punch.
Simon Racioppa: I don’t think he has hands. I think Vought put those on top of him.
Giancarlo Volpe: Oh, is that how it worked!
Simon Racioppa: So yeah, it felt great when Eric said, let’s make this canonical, let’s make this Homelander’s backstory. That was huge.
Giancarlo Volpe: That was really cool. And it’s fun to watch season three knowing his backstory, like his childhood. It makes him that much more complicated. Because it’s so easy to hate that character, but you sort of feel sorry for him because of the way he was raised. It was cool to tell that story.
Simon Racioppa: Let’s be clear: he is still a monster.
Giancarlo Volpe: Yeah, I don’t know if he’s redeemable. But you know if I was grown in a lab and forced to put my hand in a furnace on a daily basis maybe I’d be a little hard to get along with.
Awards Daily: I liked the bit of backstory for Black Noir as well. I thought that gave him a new element as a character.
Giancarlo Volpe: That was fun to see. I don’t know if Simon knew a little bit more about season 3 because he had to know you couldn’t do this because of season three. But I was trying to not know these things because I prefer to be surprised. But the Black Noir flashback was cool.
Simon Racioppa: Yeah, I’m a fan of the show too, so I was trying to avoid personally anything I didn’t need to know because I just wanted to watch season three and enjoy it. But there were a couple things where I had conversations with Eric just to make certain the backstory linked up. Like exactly what Black Noir’s backstory is, just to make certain that fit into what we were doing. But they are clearly buds in the main show so that felt like an obvious thing to explore and develop a little bit even though we only had eleven minutes.
Awards Daily: You’ve both worked in several different forms of animation, from kids stuff to the more adult. What gets you both interested in a new project?
Giancarlo Volpe: That’s a good question. I think I have to connect with it in some way. Which sort of sounds like a broad answer but there’s got to be something that I feel like I want to say or I want to learn about playing in that world. The Boys for example, I’ve done my share of superhero shows. I am particularly proud of Green Lantern. It’s a different type of show. It’s hopeful and heroic. You are meant to watch Hal Jordan and go, I want to be like him. That is typically what these shows do. But I’ve also started to have a sort of cynical take on the news, politics, and corporations. The older I get the more I’ve learned how the world goes around, and The Boys felt like the right thing to talk about right now. Look how messed up the world is and how power is abused, how people will manipulate, how celebrities are perceived in the public eye. I think that’s what I connected with more than hey, we get to blow up heads! Although that is also fun when the story calls for it. I’ve spent so much of my career not even being able to entertain the possibility of showing a head exploding. But if you need to do it to shock the audience, like water in the face PAY ATTENTION there is some crazy stuff going down. It’s great to have that in your tool kit as opposed to a very narrow range of things you can show.
Simon Racioppa: I would agree with the first one. You have to have something to say in the genre. I’m at the point in my career now that I’ve done a fair amount of television so I want to consider what do I have to say with this show or this field that I haven’t done before? Then ideally, what is the show doing that isn’t already out there? There is so much television nowadays and a lot of it is pretty good but I just don’t want to add to that pile of just another pretty good show. It’s easier said than done, but I would like to at least have the goal of this is doing something nobody else is doing right now, or saying something nobody else is saying right, or opening up a new field. Invincible was the first hour long dramatic animated series that I’m aware of, at least in North America. So that was unique and broke new ground and something I really wanted to do because nobody’s done this before. Diabolical–obviously people had done anthology series before but not like that. Not that fast so there was a technical challenge to do it at that speed. Also I was a huge fan of The Boys and the kind of things it was saying. So that’s what I look for in taking on new projects now. What can we say that hasn’t been said before and what can we do that hasn’t been done before. Or at least hope for that.
Awards Daily: Giancarlo, you were involved with the short “The Pusher” and worked directly with The Boys creator Garth Ennis. Did that create a different experience for you?
Giancarlo Volpe: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Simon had a little more interaction with Garth, I just read his script and maybe asked some questions via email, or did a couple versions of the animatic and he gave me his thoughts. But it was definitely cool to see how he sees these characters. There were a few things we got kind of wrong in an early version of the animatic. I had Butcher roughing up OD a lot more physically and Garth said it should be more that his presence alone is intimidating. Which is trickier to show. If you were just throwing the guy around the apartment that would read quicker but having Butcher give him a look and OD slowly, over the course of this episode, realizes who he’s dealing with. So he severely underestimates this guy and then by the end of it he is just a sobbing, blubbering mess. That was cool. There were detaily things like one late goof up that we did where the logos on the stage said Vought International, then we realized Vought is actually Vought American. We had to pull in different designers at the last minute to go in and change it for a few dozen scenes. It was one of those things where we can’t get this far, getting Huey to look like Simon Pegg, then screw up the logos.
Simon Racioppa: It just slipped through the cracks. It was like, ah, crap, we put the wrong logo on everything. So that it was “replace it all” and “hold these shots.”
Giancarlo Volpe: I would be curious to see if Garth felt that that was canonical in the books. Like could it fit between issues X and Y.
Simon Racioppa: The way he described it was a lost issue. It even had an original cover from Derek Robertson that we see at the beginning of the short; we see him pull out a comic book with that cover. The cover is an original Derek Robertson cover that he did just for the show. In my mind it can’t get any more authentic than that. We have original art from one of the original creators and a script from the other creator. It is like a lost issue from The Boys. It is as authentic as you can get.
Awards Daily: You did individual episodes but Giancarlo, you were an assistant director on all of the episodes, and Simon, you produced them all. What is it like being involved but not being the direct creative person in those moments?
Simon Racioppa: For me, I was the executive producer and showrunner on the series. So at the end of the day I was responsible for the creative content of the show along with Giancarlo. On a usual show like Invincible where you are showrunning you are bringing everybody into you. You are saying this is the story of the show, you have your writers working on different episodes, you are bringing everyone into line. You are just trying to be the funnel that focuses the creative output of the show and makes sure that it matches the vision of the show. This show was a little different. We were going out to all these writers. We asked these seven other writers plus myself to give us their version of what a The Boy’s story could be or a short film set in the world of The Boys. And we wanted to keep that voice. We wanted to go out to Justin Roiland, we wanted to go out to Andy Samberg, to Awkwafina, to the Glazers((Eliot Glazer and Ilana Glazer). And say, we want to tell your story but we want to help you get there. So that was challenging because I didn’t rewrite scripts so we had to put the scripts together. Because they just wrote them and gave input on them but they weren’t making them. So we had to make them but try to follow what they had set up originally with that script and work on them with the story and keep their voice through all of that. So kind of the opposite of what you normally do when you show run a series. Which also made it an interesting challenge. But the brain trust was still Eric Kripke, Seth and Evan and myself. Early on all the writers pitched the stories that they worked on to develop them to what we thought were great The Boys stories, while keeping the voices.
Giancarlo Volpe: Simon described it well. I wanted to make sure that every episode hit the quality bar and felt distinct. But I didn’t want to impose my taste too much. Or else all eight episodes would just feel like a Giancarlo short and not a Steve Ahn short or a Madeleine Flores short. I wanted to make sure that I was really deferring to the specific director so that they were really controlling their short. It’s a tricky sort of lesson because, as a supervising director, I am used to being like a piano instructor constantly reminding them from behind saying, don’t look at your fingers, look at the music sheet. But you want to sit back and let them play and get their hands dirty and see what they come up with.
Awards Daily: Is there anything you want to leave our readers with?
Simon Racioppa: I hope everyone enjoyed the series. I think there’s an episode for everyone, even if there’s some that don’t speak to you. I hope there are other ones that do. I think the show has a lot of variety so I think it’s worth watching through them. You will definitely find something there you love and maybe you’ll find something that you don’t like.
Giancarlo Volpe: Part of the fun of anthologies is they’re like those Halloween candy grab bags. There are the coveted Snickers or M&Ms, then there’s the weird candy in there that no one eats but your grandma. I am sure that may happen. I personally like all eight of them for different reasons. Some are wacky and absurd and some are really dramatic and intense. I would actually be curious to see what personality type is the type that likes all eight of them equally; who are all equally balanced and can’t choose.
Simon Racioppa: It’s you.