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‘The Old Man’ Co-Creator on How ‘Violence Is a Character’ With Jeff Bridges’ Antihero

Writer and executive producer Jon Steinberg dives into the mental makeup of the show’s protagonist, Dan Chase

Spoiler warning for FX’s “The Old Man”

In the fourth episode of FX’s spy thriller “The Old Man,” which was recently renewed for a second season, Angela/Emily (Alia Shawkat) described Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) as a “true believer.” She argues that he’s a cause-based individual who is driven by conviction and the central idea that his actions are morally justifiable, no matter how reprehensible they can be.

In a way, “The Old Man” is saying that you can devote yourself to an ideal – but in doing so, you run the risk of losing yourself, particularly when that ideal requires violence. It’s a theme that co-creator Jon Steinberg partly drew from Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Western “Unforgiven” to encapsulate Bridges’ complicated protagonist.

“Part of the ‘Unforgiven’ parallel is that the movie is a commentary about the role that violence played in that world and in that genre,” Steinberg told TheWrap. “And I think that felt important because violence is a character in this story, not just punctuation. People’s relationship to violence is really relevant to their identity.”

Throughout both flashbacks and events set in the present day, we see Bridges’ Dan commit significant acts of violence in the name of what he believes is an ethically superior ambition – whether that’s the fight against the Soviet Union during the Cold War or the struggle to maintain contact with his daughter in the present day. But “The Old Man” wants to ask what the accumulation of such behavior does to a character who’s meant to be the audience’s hero.

“There is something a person who does violence as part of their job has in them naturally by predisposition and by temperament,” Steinberg said. “It can be really important for them to claim, ‘Yes, but it’s for good.’ Because the moment it isn’t, you start to see a series of scary questions come online. ‘What have I broken and who have I hurt and how many people? Am I the monster in their story?’ That’s what we’re trying to get at with Dan Chase.”

“The Old Man” airs Thursdays on FX.

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