Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Abrams and Jackson Talk Fringe

In an interview to help promote Fringe (Tuesday at 9pm on Fox), show executive producer JJ Abrams and series star Joshua Jackson participated in a conference call. IESB wrote out the transcript of the call and below are a few select bits from it.
Q: Thank you, guys, both for taking a couple of minutes for coming on. J.J., this is actually a question for you. In regards to all the different types of, I guess, going into this Fringe science, are the writers, is everybody sitting around and wondering how far can we push it before it becomes unbelievable? Or is that one of the nice things about this type of genre work where you can keep everything together and be able to tell something maybe far-fetched, really true science fiction type stuff to still keep the audiences in?
J.J. Abrams: Thanks for the question. The truth is that when we did the pilot for Lost, we had the monster appear at the end of the first act. We did that very consciously because we wanted to say to the audience, “We’re jumping the shark now,” like we’re doing crazy stuff from the beginning. We’re not going to wait. On Fringe, we very consciously did what is in many ways a preposterous out there, far-fetched scientific story point in order to say to the audience, “This is what you’re going to be getting on the show.” Now it may be more extreme in some cases, less so in others.

Some shows, I think, as we’re writing scripts will deal with science very much as it exists. But I think for the most part the fun about it for me with movies and TV shows, especially in the genre of either horror of sci-fi is that pushing of the envelope and going further than you might otherwise. I think the show will definitely be pushing the edge of the envelope, but I don’t think it’s going to be about that. I don’t think we’re going to be trying to top ourselves every week because then we’ll just be in a race against ourselves and then there’s no way to win that one.

So I feel like the key is to tell stories that are as compelling, as emotional, as funny and certainly as weird and out there as possible, but not to try and have it be exploiting that aspect of the show. I would rather be delving into who these people are and what makes them tick than doing something just for shock value.

Q: This is kind of a split question, so I apologize. But, J.J., for you what did you see in Josh that made him right as your “Peter Bishop”? Josh, for you, talk about working with John Noble and Anna Torv and what interests you about “Peter’s” relationships with their characters?
J. Jackson: Actually, the answer to both ultimately becomes the same because while there’s a lot of stuff going on with “Peter Bishop,” what I’m finding is a lot of the fun of playing him is exactly what you described, the relationship basically which boils down to being a translator more often than not between “Walter,” who is brilliant, but sort of half cracked, and then “Olivia,” who is an intensely no-nonsense type person. She’s not the type of character that you would sit down and have a lyrical, philosophical conversation with. She’s very much a “Just the facts, ma’am” type of person.

And you bring this other character, this “Peter” character, into that world who has to try and be the go-between, and initially the extremely reluctant go-between who’s really only brought in by happenstance and then can’t get himself out. That’s an interesting dynamic because ultimately what that boils down to in my mind, and J.J., feel free to correct me, is a very typical dysfunctional family. And you put that dynamic, something that’s relatable and understandable to everybody, and you put it in this fantastically outrageous world of Fringe and it makes for an interesting day’s work.

Q: And, J.J.?
J.J. Abrams: To answer your question, I’ve known Josh a little bit for a long time back in the days of Dawson’s Creek. I was doing Felicity, so we were sort of in that same universe—
J. Jackson: Actually, not to make this too romantic, but I remember the first time we met.
J.J. Abrams: At Disney.
J. Jackson: Yes, exactly, at the screening for Felicity.
J.J Abrams: That’s right. I’ve always been a fan and loved his sense of humor and also the gravity that I thought that he could bring to something, even something as soap operatic as the stuff you were doing on the WB. I felt that same way about when I was working with Keri Russell. It’s like you find, there are actors, you go, “Okay, they are really good, they elevate the material. They make it better.” As a director/writer/producer, all you ever want is to work with actors who make you look better, who make the work you do seem as good as it can be and even better than it is. I always felt that Josh had that ability. I’m thrilled to finally get a chance to work with him.

Q: So with the Anna and Josh chemistry we have going on, will there be love in their future? Josh, you also mentioned at the premiere that it would be kind of inappropriate for their characters to get together. Inappropriate how, if you could both touch on that?
J. Jackson: I’ll leave the big question to you, J.J., but the little question, actually what I said at the premiere was that it would be inappropriate in the pilot because it’s awkward hitting on a woman when her boyfriend is dying in front of her eyes. But the big question I’ll leave to you, J.J.
J.J. Abrams: The odds are so much better. There’s no doubt going to be a sort of slow burn relationship that develops between the two of them. I don’t think it will happen exactly as you might think. But there obviously will be a dynamic there that we will play up, but like Josh said, it needs to be burned and it needs to be done right. There’s a lot going on their lives on the show that are more urgent issues, but there’s definitely going to be over time a relationship between the “Peter” and “Olivia” characters.

Q: Hello, J.J., I wondered is there some point you want to make about corporations in this and how much will that figure in the show?
J.J. Abrams: The show doesn’t quite hit on the corporate conspiracy aspect, as the pilot might suggest, but there definitely is an ambiguous role that is played by Blair Brown. She works for a company that it’s much more important, the relationship between her boss, who we have yet to meet, and “Walter,” John Noble’s character. Their back story, how they ended up where they are, these are things that are much more about the characters than about a sort of cliché, cynical look at corporate culture. Having said that, I don’t trust corporate culture at all.

Q: Can you tell us who is playing her boss and how soon we might see him?
J.J. Abrams: I can’t tell you that yet, but I can tell you that you will definitely meet him, he’ll definitely be a featured part of the show. We want to make sure that when you meet him it’s something you’re hungry for, as opposed to something that you’re just experiencing. So the way it’s going to happen, which will happen over time, but by the end of the first season you’ll meet “William Bell.”

Q: J.J., you have a really great track record with your leading ladies, Keri Russell, Jennifer Garner, Evangeline Lilly. How did you find Anna Torv?
J.J. Abrams: Our incredibly talented casting director … showed us a video audition that Anna did for another show, a movie. We were trying to see as many people as we could and I saw this audition. It’s just that feeling that you have where you just immediately know that’s the person. I wish there was some really cool, clever technique that we use to do this, but the truth is whether it’s Keri Russell walking through the door, Jennifer Garner, who I’d gotten to work with on Felicity, and who my wife was insistent was going to be a star, or Evangeline Lilly, who I got a video of her audition, or now Anna, it’s simply the fact that when you see the right person, the first thing you’re concerned about is, “Oh my God, can we actually get her? Is she really available?” Like it’s no longer about giving her the part, it’s just we have to make this work. When I saw Anna, I just knew that she had a quality that was unique and smart, and she was beautiful, but not in a way that felt like she was phony. She seemed tough and sophisticated. I just felt like she was the right one.

Q: I’m wondering about, one of the more important questions that have come up, Fringe is done in such a cinematic fashion and we’re seeing a lot of shows now on television deal with this, we’re seeing more kind of a movie type atmosphere. Do you like this direction for dramatic shows? Do you think more shows should incorporate it into their style?
J.J. Abrams: I do. I feel like obviously the standard for what TV looks like changes all the time. There’s certainly a cinematic quality to much of what you see on TV. In fact, it’s funny when you watch some movies now, they’ve gone to a much more rough, the Bourne films, for example, that feels almost documentary style the way Paul Greengrass does his stuff. So it’s funny how television has taken on a very sort of cinematic look, more sophisticated lighting and camera moves. A lot of movies have gone to a rougher place.

So it’s interesting to think the line is so blurred now, it’s hard to know. If you just want to look at something in a vacuum, I don’t know if you’d be able to say, “That definitely is a TV show. That’s definitely a movie.” I think it’s sort of become, just as, by the way, actors and writers and directors are seemingly existing in television and film without real regard to being a TV star or a movie star, if you’re an actor, you’re an actor and the medium is less important than the material.

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