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'Scorpion' Inspiration Walter O'Brien Talks CBS Show & Elyes Gabel Relationship [INTERVIEW]

By Andrew Meola (, | Jan 04, 2016 12:02 PM EST


(Photo : Ethan Miller/Getty Images) SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 24: Scorpion Computer Services CEO Walter O'Brien attends the 'Scorpion' premiere screening and panel during Comic-Con International 2014 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 24, 2014 in San Diego, California.


Scorpion has been a successful addition to CBS' Monday night lineup with an average of more than 13.5 million viewers in Season 1 and strong ratings in Season 2 thus far. In an exclusive interview with MStars, the real-life Walter O'Brien, the inspiration for the series, discusses his role in the creation of the show, his relationship with actor Elyes Gabel, and more.

Every episode of the show begins by informing the audience that it is "Inspired by the life of Walter O'Brien," a statement that proves even more true when you learn of just how involved the man was in creating the series.

O'Brien runs Scorpion Computer Services, a group of geniuses that solves a host of problems for clients in the areas of information technology, cyber security, and other general areas. But a few years ago, the company hit the point where it needed to find more individuals to bring into the fold, a tall task when you consider that 1 of every 1,000+ people has an IQ above 150. That need sparked an idea.

"We solve problems for a living, so I thought we could solve our own problem," O'Brien said.

O'Brien, who has stated that he hacked NASA at age 13, thought that the entertainment industry would be a way to expose his company to a larger audience. He could write a book, but people might not read it. He could film a movie, but people could forget about it in six months or so. But a television show could live on for years and, as O'Brien puts it, encourage geniuses to "come find us as a dysfunctional family of people with low [emotional intelligence]."

Through a chain of connections that included Scooter Braun (who manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande) and Justin Lin (who directed several of the Fast and the Furious movies), O'Brien linked up with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who now serve as executive producers on the show.

O'Brien sat down with the men, along with Nick Santora (who developed the show), and told his story. From that meeting, Scorpion was born.

"I was finally the dumbest guy in the room," he said of his first experience in the Hollywood world. "This was an exercise in me letting go."

O'Brien's involvement in the show didn't end there. He meets with the writers at the beginning and middle of each season to give them story ideas based on real cases from his company that have been declassified. As he puts it, he's like the Q of the James Bond series because he brings the gadgets.

As the writers put the scripts together, they'll send them to O'Brien with "AW" scribbled in various places to indicate "Ask Walter." These questions typically involve the technical problems that an average person couldn't solve.

How do you breathe underwater? How could you tell if someone is inside of a house if all the doors and windows are closed and locked? How do you cheat at cards in Las Vegas? How do you escape from a jail cell?

O'Brien looks at these problems and explain to the writers how he'd solve them. For example, he'd explain how to use the electromagnets in a microwave to pop an electronic lock.

Furthermore, the prop department will sometimes call him and ask what a particular formula or code should look like on screen. He'll explain, but then he humorously gets another call asking for some changes to the code so people at home don't try to actually hack a satellite.

Of course, these adjustments lead to some snarky comments that O'Brien doesn't know what he's doing when it comes to hacking, or that it's ridiculous that someone could hack a supercomputer or power system in 30 seconds as it is on TV. But he had a simple response to that.

"Have you ever looked at a real hacker?" he said. "It's not the most exciting thing in the world."

His relationship also extends to the actors. Elyes Gabel, who plays Walter on the show, and some of the other actors will call him on occasion with a line from the script and ask "What the hell am I saying here?" He then explains the essence of the jargon to them.

O'Brien maintains a respectful and cordial relationship with the actors on the show, and he tries to do lunches with them when he can. But with Gabel, the relationship runs deeper.

When the show was in its early stages, all O'Brien had heard was that Gabel was a great actor. To get started, Gabel booked about three days of O'Brien's time and probed him about his personality with intelligent questions, some of which O'Brien said he never even thought to ask himself.

What are you like when you're frustrated? What do you do in your down time? What's your relationship like with your parents? Do you get angry? Sad? Do you cry?

Gabel just kept going deeper into the character, a trait O'Brien respected and admired, especially given the task Gabel had in portraying the character to a general audience.

"Here's a guy who has to act unemotional and still emotionally connect," O'Brien said. "And that's a hell of a trick."

But it has all worked out, if only because of the approval of one extremely important person: O'Brien's mother!

"After the first 20 minutes [of the pilot], she started accepting him as me," he said. "I can't think of a better compliment than that."

Aside from his role as inspiration of and executive producer on the show (And writer, to some degree. He wrote the speech the Walter character gives at the end of the pilot word-for-word, and the writers never changed it.), O'Brien is also a fan who has seen all of the episodes. There are several occurrences on the show that seem improbable to the average viewer, but O'Brien points out that the relationships among the characters, who are all based on real people with whom he works, are the core of the series.

"It's the interaction among them, the sarcasm, that's the part that's very real," he said. "Some of the jokes are actually things we have done to each other in real life."

Okay, but some of it has to induce an eye roll even from the man himself, right? Even if it's just part of making the show entertaining?

"When they're all dressed up in the Super Fun Guy outfits, it's like, oh geez," O'Brien said with a chuckle.

Still, he's always proud when he turns on an episode.

"It's like your memories up on screen," he said. "You just sit there all smiley at all the inside jokes."

But one mystery still remains: the origin of the Scorpion name. And it's really not a surprising story.

As O'Brien admits, he was a quiet kid in school who got picked on a lot. He was a big kid, but he would take beatings from bullies. He used his size, however, to step in and take beatings for other, smaller kids (In his words: "I've always been the geek protector.") One bully in particular pushed him too far after about a year and a half, and O'Brien gave him a "spectacular ass-kicking."

Kids in school used to nickname each other as animals based on their traits, so O'Brien became Scorpion because they are docile until pushed too far and are fiercely loyal to their cyclone, or group. The name stuck and O'Brien carries it with him to this day.

"We're still that same cyclone," he says of his friends, "and I'm happy with that brand."