In conjunction with our 2007 Fall TV Guide, BuddyTV will be publishing exclusive interviews with the creators and showrunners of some of the hottest new shows this fall throughout the week. Check back all this week for interviews with: Viva Laughlin Showrunners Tyler Bensinger and Stephen DeKnight, Chuck and Gossip Girl Creator Josh Schwartz, Journeyman Creator Kevin Falls and Director Alex Graves, and Reaper Creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas.
The new CBS drama series Cane centers on the Duque family, the Cuban-American owners of a sugar and rum business. Created by Cynthia Cidre, the show features many elements of her personal experience and unique writing trademarks, such as her father’s experience in the sugar industry and her inclusion of adopted characters in large Cuban-American families. Cane stars an impressive Latino cast, including Jimmy Smits, Nestor Carbonell, Hector Elizondo and Rita Moreno.
Cynthia Cidre spoke to BuddyTV about how the show initially came into being, the comparisons between Cane and Shakespeare’s King Lear, and the overall attractiveness of her show’s cast. Below you will find the complete transcript as well as the mp3 audio file of the interview.
Hey, this is Oscar Dahl from Buddy TV and I’m here with Cynthia Cidre from Cane, the executive producer and creator. Cynthia, how are you doing?
I’m great, thank you. How are you?
I’m wonderful. First off, can you tell us a little bit about you growing up Cuban-American, and how it led to the creation of Cane?
I was born in Cuba and lived there through fourth grade, so all my formative years are there. My family moved to Florida and I still grew up surrounded by Cubans, and my high school was 98 percent Cuban, it was the largest high school east of the Mississippi and south of New York. It was only three grades, 4,500 kids, so it was enormous, like a small university. That’s how I grew up.
In the 29 years I’ve been in the film business, I have written about Cubans at least four times in my life. The movie, I think it was called Little Havana originally, they changed the title [to Fires Within], which was with Jimmy Smits, it was my first feature. That’s how we’re here, is because I had a relationship with him from back then, but that was about Cuban exiles in Little Havana and Florida.
Then I did The Mambo Kings, and I did a six-hour miniseries for CBS, so I’ve done it. I skipped six to seven years in between, but I’ve done it many times before, and I guess the time was up to do it again. This time I got lucky that the timing may be right for the public.
Where did the idea for Cane come from, and how did that coincide with Jimmy Smits being involved?
The idea for Cane actually is very roundabout, because what happened was that Jonathan Prince and Polly Anthony, who are executive producers on the show with me and Jimmy. They had called me and they had an idea to do a show about a Mexican family in the food business in Los Angeles, and at first I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. I was already doing another pilot for CBS just last year, and had never wanted to do two pilots.
But somehow, I’m not exactly sure how, I got talked into it, and we went to see Nina Tassler, who is president of production at CBS. I pitched her the idea about this family and the Mexicans in Los Angeles in the food business, and she said “Sounds great.” She called me up that night, she said, “Why are you doing that? You’re Cuban.” And I said “Well, that’s what I told you,” and she said, “Yeah, yeah, but make it about what you know.”
It was like a Friday night I think – because I had worked this whole other story out, completely different story, which I’m not gonna bore you with now, which could be a different show another day, because it’s so different from this one. Then I just thought, “What’s the sexiest thing I know about my culture?” And the rum came to mind, and Bacardi is a Cuban family, they’ve been in the rum business for 150 years, all family-owned.
I thought when we moved to Florida, how about a family in the rum business. Lots of children in the family, one adopted child, I always put that in anything I write about, the Pedro Pan which is a program whereby 14,000 kids came without their families in the ’60s, and most were reunited with their families, but not all. And so I always find those characters interesting, so I wanted to put one of those always in a Cuban family.
Then I thought rum is…whatever arguments are gonna be had in this family are gonna be in a boardroom, which is boring because it’s dry, and it’s people shuffling paper around. To get a visual, epic story, you really have to go with land. My father’s a sugar chemist, he passed away long ago, but I know how rum is made. I know all about sugar. I know Florida’s a sugar-producing state, because my father was offered jobs when we came from Cuba in the sugar industry.
It actually very quickly came together, you know the rum family who had sugar to make molasses, to make rum and that’s really a long-winded way of saying…it was within an hour or two hours, it all came together and became completely different from the original idea I’d pitched to Nina.
You know, some people refer to Cane as sort of a Latin Godfather. That’s sort of the hook people are giving. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
It’s not unfair, because there are similarities, but it’s really…and believe me, there’s no delusions of grandeur here, but I was thinking more of [Shakespeare’s King] Lear. I suspect Mario Puzo was also thinking of Lear. There’s some basic stories in life that just have a certain, that people respond to.
A father splitting up his kingdom, a king splitting up his kingdom among his siblings, the deserving and the undeserving, has some resonance. That’s what The Godfather was, and that’s what this is. Tom Hagen sort of plays the bigger part in Cane than he did in The Godfather He’s Jimmy, the Alex Vega character.
Jimmy, you say he’s involved from the beginning. Was he always going to play the lead character, or was he ever just gonna be behind the scenes?
He was not involved from the beginning, he was involved only after the pilot was written and CBS sent it to him. I had a previous relationship with him from the first movie I wrote 20 years ago that he was in, and so they knew we knew each other. They sent it to him, and he responded really favorably to it, and we had a lot of meetings and lunches and things like that, and eventually he agreed to do it. But he was not involved at the beginning.
The entire cast is incredible, you got Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno among others. We have an article coming up where we’re gonna name it one of TV’s best-looking casts in general.
I completely agree, it’s embarrassing. When we were casting with Jonathan Prince who is my producing partner, we’d look at each other and say, “Can we really cast this person? They’re gonna just be saying we’re casting them because they’re attractive.” It was the most beautiful group of people I’d ever seen. When we watch dailies in the writing room, we say, “Those are the most beautiful people who’ve ever had dinner together.”
The dinner scenes, the ones that are coming up, because you’ve only seen the pilot, we have a lot of dinner scenes. It’s sort of the boardroom scenes of the family, and the camera just goes around them, and they’re all gorgeous.
You know when Jimmy Smits is not the best-looking person in the cast, you get something. How did the whole cast come together? Did you get everyone that you wanted?
Jimmy was obviously the first. I think at that point it really caught fire, so when we heard that Hector was on the way to meet with us, we looked at each other and said, “Really? Hector wants to be in our show?” And they said, “Yeah, he wants to meet.” We went to see him at the Hamburger Hamlet, and within 30 seconds I was pinching Jonathan under the table like, “Oh my God, he’s perfect.”
Then we heard that Rita Moreno was in town, and she was interested in meeting. I was, “Really, Rita Moreno wants to be in our show?” And sure enough, 30 seconds into the meeting it was like, “Who else could play that part?” Sometimes you try to breathe life into things that are dead, and there’s just no breathing life into them. Sometimes things catch fire and you can’t get out of their way, and it was a little bit like that. It just caught fire, and we were incredibly blessed to have this not just attractive, but talented cast.
Shooting pilots, you hear all these horror stories about re-shoots, recasting, network interference. How did it all go for you guys on the pilot?
Pretty well, no re-shoots, no recasts. We’re intact, we still have the same people. We have more people, we added a couple more, but that’s just because the stories fill out, just because it was too much to start with. I’d say it’s Gone with the Wind in 45 minutes, and I still feel that way.
So it’s gotten pretty tight, and there’s just some stories we couldn’t service. It was only two maybe ancillary characters, but we’re fine. We still have the same show we planned on having, we’re one of the lucky ones that way.
The pilot pretty much sets up the hierarchy of the family, what’s it gonna look like, the Lear aspects. What can we expect then going forward, on an episode-to-episode basis? Is this gonna be one long story arc, is it gonna come one-off episodes, how’s it all going to work?
We’re hoping for both. There are story arcs…I was looking over loose ends from the first 11. Because I’m writing number 11, which will be our last one before we break for Christmas. I’m trying to bring a lot of the loose ends together. There are general arcs that are there. But every episode has a beginning, a middle and an end. Surely, and this is just by whatever example, that Pancho, the character Hector Elizondo plays, has cancer in the pilot. The family doesn’t know it, but they will find out. I can’t remember which episode, three, four, five, in one of these episodes they find out.
It would be wrong to think that in the following episode, they pretend they don’t know. They now know, so we play that in the next episode. But in every show, there will be something that starts and something that concludes, which is your main A-story.
You know in the pilot, it’s hinted that Hector Elizondo’s character, and by extension Rita Moreno’s character, might take some time away from the family and maybe leave. How regular of cast members are they gonna be?
They’ve been in every episode so far.
Alright, that’s good to know.
We originally would say maybe they were meant to be more seven out of the 13, 10 out of 13, because it was such a huge ensemble cast. But the truth is they work so well and they’re so pleasant and they’re so much fun to watch. They’re such good actors that sometimes we just can’t use them because there’s too much story, but we’ve been using them so far.
I’ve got a lot of Lost fans here in the office who’ll kill me if I don’t ask about Nestor Carbonell. There’s been a lot of Lost fans angry that he’s a regular on a series now, so he can’t come back and do Lost. Is he gonna be available? Have you run into anything with ABC about scheduling?
We have not, but we try to be as generous as we can to our cast, because we love them. So he just left to go do Batman, he is playing the mayor of Gotham City in the next Batman. And so he went away for a few days and did the mayor of Gotham City, and he’s back. He’s right across the street from me in the studio now, shooting. So whatever he needs to do he can do, and I’m sure we can move our schedule around it. But he is one of our solid cast members, he’s the brother.
I know sometimes it’s hard to pay attention to, but when the schedules came out, what did you think of your time slot and your competition? Do you have any thoughts about that, or do you just go ahead and make your show?
I guess I have thoughts about it, but they’re useless. Basically all we can do is the best we can, and there are 200 people working really hard, and eight writers up in the writers’ room working really hard, I don’t think we can work any harder, so we can only hope the audience is there. CBS has been fantastic. I mean if you are alive and haven’t been in a coma ,you walk outside, you’ll see a poster or a commercial. Or like the Rolling Stones hits the newsstands today, and Vogue in a couple of days, we’ll have an eight-page spread and I think we have the cover of TV guide.
They’ve really done their job: get people to the channel on September 25 at 10pm. Whether people come or return, there’s nothing you can do, you can’t twist their arms. So I think it’s a good time slot, it’s a 10 o’ clock show, it’s an adult show. I think we’re teed up well with the shows that come before, and the shows that are on the other channels, good shows with a loyal audience. But they’re not new shows, so I don’t know that they have a growing audience. So I think CBS only had that or Sundays at 8am. They have a pretty solid schedule, so I think we’ve got the best we could have that was available.
Going forward, are there any hints, spoilers you can give us about going from episode two and beyond?
No, none that I want to. I don’t even like telling the cast when they ask “What’s gonna happen to my character?” I don’t even like to tell them.
Alright, fair enough. Well Cynthia, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by, and we all look forward to Cane premiering.
Thank you very much, Oscar.
-Interview conducted by Oscar Dahl
(Image courtesy of CBS)