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Writing 'Andor': A Conversation with Tony Gilroy

Script caught up with Tony Gilroy to talk to us about the writing of the 'Andor' finale and what advice he has for screenwriters.

With the end of Andor’s first season, the sum of Tony Gilroy’s power as a writer has been revealed full in the world of Star Wars. He’s brought together dozens of different story threads into one satisfying crescendo, sending the title character, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, into a thrilling new direction. It’s political and relevant, but also cuts deep into the experience of oppression and revolution. Set five years before the events of the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, Andor shows us the beginnings of the Rebellion against the oppressive Empire.

The cast of the show is vast, revolving around people across a massive swath of life in the galaxy. From laborers on the dirty, industrial world of Ferrix to the Senators and decision-makers in the halls of the senate in the high towers of Coruscant. Caught in the middle is Cassian Andor, stuck between the life of a rogue and a rebel, fighting against the people he’s swindled and betrayed as well as the Empire itself.

The final episode ties all of these threads together and shakes them up in a spectacular fashion, giving fans of Star Wars and good, dramatic television a hell of an hour of entertainment.

We caught up with Tony Gilroy to talk to us about the writing of the finale and what advice he has for screenwriters.

Script Magazine: I wanted to ask about sticking a landing like this, with so many threads creeping out. How do you approach that as a writer to come to a satisfying conclusion? Or a conclusion and a continuation because you've got to set up for season two as well. How do you approach that?

Tony Gilroy: Oh, I try to get to it as quickly as possible. When I'm sketching it all in the beginning and trying to build a structure and writing scenes and doing a lot of writing scenes… you know a scene that'll go here, a scene for episode 7, a scene there… At some point in there, way before the gaps have been filled, I really need to know where we're going. I have changed my mind over the years if something better came or it was where that turned out to not be the right answer, but I gotta know where I'm going to make it right. So I had that early.

There's a certain point at which you're really wasting your time because you're gonna be building things that are going the wrong direction. It's just such a huge time-saver and motivator to know where you're going. So yeah, I knew I knew where we were going.

[Tony Gilroy Checks in after 10 Episodes of 'Andor']

Script Magazine: I want to ask about the structure of the arcs in the episodes. This arc that ends with episode 11 and 12 jumps forward a little bit and we pass over Maarva's death. In 11, you're really able to build something that I think on shows that are not as well written, it could have been a very boring episode of table setting, but I think you were able to infuse that with a lot of tension and I'm wondering if you could talk about how you approach that and why you made that choice for Maarva.

Tony Gilroy: Well, I knew that I could dispense with her that way, because I knew I had the eulogy, you know as a whole card. What's the ask in the first episode, in the first five minutes or, whatever as you move along—do we have confidence in the storyteller? Do you have confidence in the people that are telling you the story? The best feeling is when you feel “OK, these people are gonna take care of me. I can relax. This is gonna be okay.” If that's been the bargain with the audience and then you kill her offstage, there are probably people going like “wow, you didn't do that” and I would only do that because I knew I had this other thing coming. Were you surprised when you saw her come back in the hologram?

Script Magazine: It felt very very inevitable, like it would function properly that way. You know what I mean?

Tony Gilroy: Right, but that's why I do that. Ben Caron just brought a whole elegance to [Episode 11] and it really felt right for it. And my god, what they got with the stuff with Cassian on the beach at the end, you know to tie into the end of Rogue One. It was tough to get that and it's meant to be an emotional episode. It's meant to be that sense of loss and quite honestly, yes, of course, you're setting the table. I mean everybody's showing up to the party, right?

Script Magazine: It felt like everyone had been given the right motivation and the right information to get there as quickly as they could, and it felt like a whole bunch of immovable objects running into a whole bunch of unstoppable forces, right?

Tony Gilroy: It’s a tricky thing. Why people want to be there is a lot easier than how people know where to go. Man, if you want to know how much hard work there is in a Bourne movie… The freaking Bourne movies are impossible because just getting people to have conversations, just getting people in the same space—in any kind of space even if it's on a phone to have a conversation—you have all your characters and they're all chasing each other and who knows what. What really falls in that category is when Syril gets the call from Sergeant Mosk. That’s some fancy plot drop but you don't really notice it because it's so much fun and Alex Ferns makes it so much fun. You're so eager for him to come back that you don't realize that's a very “How do I get Syril to get to Ferrix?” trick.

Script Magazine: And it's couched between that and his mother's disappointment again…

Tony Gilroy: Exactly! It's buried under so many things that you're interested in that you just go out and you want him to go. And there's all these things to pull your attention away from the fact that I have to get him that piece of information. That's a little bit of carpentry there.

Script Magazine: How do you balance that sort of thing with the bare bones of the carpentry as you call it with juggling something like the Star Wars timeline?

Tony Gilroy: We work it from the negative side, not the positive side - I suppose that's the easiest way to say it. I know what the calendar is, I know what the general rules are, I know I have a pretty good handle on the cosmology of what's out there and the canon somewhat. And I know the places where there's potential conflicts. I've also been cleared from the very beginning. We're using that as cannon fodder as we go forward. And you hear it in Maarva’s speech.

We raise it on the show several times. Saw says “Oh, you know, what are you Luthen, and there's human cultists and separatists,” and we've established that there's a great variety of rebel movements that are happening. When Nemik gives this manifesto that Cassian listens to the night before the funeral, he talks about all of the little seedlings of revolution that are sprouting up independently all over the place. There’s an established idea that a lot of people could be working at doing things at the same time and be completely unaware of what's going on and/or be conceivably in conflict with one another.

[Tony Gilroy on the Screenwriting of 'Andor']

But I do not go back and look at the materials [like Star Wars Rebels and the novels Catalyst and Tarkin] to figure out what I should do. We do what we want to do and if we bump or we hit a guardrail or we get a high sign or we get a flashing yellow light or sometimes we change and do something else. We have one or two things coming up that have been pretty articulated in that way in the second half. We have to tiptoe around some things.

I’m not out digging through that material looking for inspiration. In fact, I have to stay away from that, so it works the other way. We decide what we want to do within what we know, they tell us if we've gone too far or not far enough.

Script Magazine: I want to ask about Nemik's manifesto because I thought that was an elegant bit of carpentry, to actually put some of that voiceover in the finale. Was that something that you'd planned when you gave Cassian the manifesto at the beginning? Or is that something that came and you said, “Oh, here's this tool.”?

Tony Gilroy: We talked about Nemik and all his antecedents and all the young intellectual, the dialectical genius thing, so we had all that stuff. But finally getting the voice to it… When I was over before COVID, when I was going to direct, I was actually auditioning actors. A lot of actors came out of the show from there because a lot of people came in and they did one audition and we didn't audition anybody else. We didn't audition anybody after Denise Gough [Dedra Meero] didn’t audition anybody after Kyle Soller [Syril Karn], they were the first two people who came and I was like, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” And Alex Lawther [Nemik] came in and we had an audition scene and it just was like “Wow, let's write for this guy.” You find the voice for it and make it bespoke for him and you realize what he can do and you build it up.

But yeah, once the manifesto was in play, it'd be pretty hard to give it up. That's the gift that keeps on giving. We may not be done with it yet. It's material.


Script Magazine: What advice do you have for screenwriters who are working on stuff absent those tools, where they don't have maybe the guardrails of like Pablo Hidalgo and the Story Group, and they don't have the actors they can write for because they're writing in a vacuum? What advice would you give to them to produce something that's quality work?

Tony Gilroy: Those are two entirely separate questions. I mean Pablo is there as a gatekeeper. He's there to say this is catechism and this is not. That's a different thing. I would not write on spec for Star Wars, either. So if you’re making up your own world, be your own Pablo is what I would say. Who needs Pablo? Make your own world.

The second question is kind of interesting. There's a sort of two-stage screenwriter experience: One is when you write all the years you write; you're trying to make it. I was never a playwright, so I spent five, six, seven years writing scripts without hearing any of it. It's just me doing it. I'm not doing workshops, I'm not in a theater company. So when my shit starts to get shot I have to get slapped in the face with, “Oh my God, this is what it sounds like when actors really do this stuff?” The stuff you thought was tight is shaggy and, ugh…

You know, we made Dolores Claiborne and we got dailies every night and Taylor [Hackford] loves to shoot coverage. It was a whole company dailies every night and I sat for four months in Nova Scotia and just had to be subjected to my own dialogue, over and over and over again, take after take after take, and that'll beat it out of you. That's the first experience hearing your stuff and realizing you can see how little you have to say or what really works. Staying in production keeps you stronger and makes you learn more. It's hard for young writers if you're not in production—I would advise anybody—I wish I'd been writing plays or even if I wasn't writing plays I wish I was hearing scenes, because there's nothing like hearing your flabby dialogue and realizing you could have done it in half the time. And realizing that the camera is going to take care of things. And a great actor is going to take care of it. Or realizing there's times where you're just hearing other people do it.

Script Magazine: That's all the time we've got. I want to thank you. I really think you stuck the landing and it's been a really terrific ride. I hope we get to speak for season two.

Tony Gilroy: All right, Bryan. Thank you very much for the whole ride man. Much appreciated. Thank you.

Script Magazine: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

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The first season of Andor is now available in its entirety on Disney+.

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