Wilmer Valderrama – Awake (TV)

March 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Best known for the eight seasons he played the flirtatious foreign exchange student Fez “That 70s Show,” Venezuelan American actor Wilmer Valderrama returns to the small screen in what might be the most accessible series he’s starred in since the blast-from-the-past comedy that ended six years ago.

In the TV drama “Awake,” Valderrama, 32, plays Detective Efrem Vega, partner to Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) who is involved in a car accident that leaves him caught between parallel realities. In one of those worlds, Vega is assigned to keep an eye on Britten who is finds himself in an extremely bizarre mental predicament.

During an interview with me, Valderrama, who also has a few films on his resume including “From Prada to Nada” and “Larry Crowne,” talked about what makes a show like “Awake” different and fresh, and why he doesn’t think he could handle working as a police detective in real life.

“Awake” airs on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on NBC.

What do you think it is about “Awake” that makes it one of the most original shows on TV right now?

I think the writers have done an incredible job to find a unique way of narrating [Britten’s] journey. It’s what makes it fun and different and fresh. It’s very refreshing to see the way we are telling this story. It has so much more heart than any regular [police] procedural. Audiences are so much more invested in the cases and [Britten’s] personal journey. As awesome and cool and thrilling as “Awake” is, there is also this great fundamental heart, soul and spirit to the show that is very easy to relate to.

During my interview a couple of weeks ago with actor Jason Isaacs, he told me he felt “Awake” was not a high-concept show and that audiences shouldn’t have a problem following the narrative. Do you agree?

Well, the writers and producers have done an incredible job in staying with a formula that is easy to follow. I don’t think “high-concept” is a bad phrase. I describe it as something outside of the box – something original. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this show. I wasn’t going to be doing something that I’ve been doing on TV for the last decade and a half.

What kind of police detective do you think you’d be in real life?

A really good-looking one, I can tell you that. (Laughs)

(Laughs) But could you solve a crime?

To be honest, as a detective I wouldn’t know what to do. (Laughs) Detectives are their own breed of human being. I give them the same of love and respect I give the men and women of the Armed Forces who go on these journeys to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. These are very powerful individuals. I mean, we are all powerful in our own unique way and play to our strengths, but my hat goes off to them for how they look at life and the thankless job they take on.

Jason Isaacs – Awake

March 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new TV drama “Awake,” actor Jason Isaacs (the “Harry Potter” franchise) plays Michael Britten, a police detective who finds himself caught between two parallel universes after being involved in a terrible car accident. In one world, Britten wakes up to learn his wife died in the accident and his son survived. In the other, it’s his son who has died and his wife who has survived. Britten must decide which world is real and which world is only a figment of his imagination.

During an interview with me, Isaacs talked about what kind of stories he likes creating as an actor, and why he doesn’t think “Awake” is as confusing as people are making it out to be.

With the amount of reality TV there is today, not much these days on the small screen is very thought-provoking. Do you think “Awake” is going to fill a void in the overall TV landscape?

God knows. Luckily, the stuff I love and enjoy doing is creating stories in interesting ways so you recognize the humanity of them. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past six months from dawn to midnight every day. I’m learning about other stuff like how [the show] collects an audience, what network it’s on, what its lead-in [show] is and what its demographic is, but it’s completely out of my control. Hopefully it is successful because I’m working with really talented people who are doing good work.

Do you think audiences are ready to open their minds and think about something with a little more complexity?

There’s been an odd thing that has happened in the making of [“Awake”]. First of all, the creator of the show (Kyle Killen) was nervous about whether or not they had to make it clearer which world we’re in. Is it too complicated? I have two daughters. One of them was five years old when I was making the pilot. She was explaining the story to her friend in the park and I shot it on my iPhone. I came back and showed [executive producer] Howard [Gordon] and Kyle that my five year old could explain the story in two sentences. I told them, “I don’t know who is going to be watching out there that you’re worried about, but you’re wrong.” The story is incredibly simple.

“Awake” is not only a thought-provoking drama, but it is also a police procedural. Are the police storylines going to take a backseat to the things Britten is experiencing in his mind?

In some weeks it’s very procedural. In other weeks it’s incredibly domestic. In some weeks it goes absolutely wacko. Some crazy stuff happens in [Britten’s] mind that manifests itself in his world. It’s like we’re making an indie movie every week. This season will have 13 episodes. It’s like you’re giving 13 different writers the same brief and seeing what each of them comes up with. I want people to be able to watch an episode without having to watch the others. The studio wanted to give some closure to every narrative every week so people wouldn’t think just because they missed last week’s episode they can’t tune in.

So, you’re not worried about audiences tuning out if the narrative ends up being too much for them?

American audiences are very sophisticated. They made “The West Wing” one of the most popular TV shows in the country for almost a decade. They made the issues of global politics interesting through character. Again, this is a really simple concept. Which of these worlds are real and what would you do if you didn’t know which world was real? Will [audiences] get it? Yeah, I think so. There’s no way we’d make any story too complicated. Is it unlike anything else on TV? Yes. Hopefully it’s original enough to have people come on board. I’m not interested in getting an audience for the sake of getting an audience. I want to make something really good and engaging that’s fun to watch and talk about. If people find it and like it, great; if they don’t, that will be a shame.

Kyle Killen & Howard Gordon – Awake

March 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

TV can be a cutthroat business. No one knows that as well as TV show creator Kyle Killen. When his show “Lone Star” premiered on Fox in 2010, it was critically acclaimed and talked about as one of the best pilots of the season. But the viewers didn’t tune in for the first episode, and it was pulled after just two episodes had aired. Taking what he learned from the experience in stride, Killen is bringing programming back to network TV with his new show “Awake,” a high-concept show about a cop who lives in alternate realities after a car accident, one in which his wife dies and one in which his son dies. The catch? He doesn’t know which is real and which is a dream. Along for the ride is producer/showrunner Howard Gordon, who among other things, was a showrunner for “24” and most recently co-created the Showtime hit “Homeland.”

“Awake” airs on NBC every Thursday at 9 p.m.

Since the Super Bowl you’ve had a strong advertising campaign. What do you think of the ads and how do you feel there is a challenge in getting across such a complex plot and nailing the tone of the show in a 30-second ad?

Howard Gordon: Kyle and I went to a NBC marketing and promotions meeting last week and saw their campaign and were kind of blown away by its intelligence and by its commitment. The network is clearly very committed to it and they are spending money on it. Some of the promos, two in particular kind of blew us away. One really does sell the procedural aspect and the duality and the other really sells the emotional anchor. They are airing them across a lot of platforms. I think remarkably, legibly people can understand what they are going to tune into and they have been getting a lot of positive response. So we are psyched about NBC’s approach to this.

A lot of people have been connecting the show in some ways to the film “Inception.” Kyle, how do you as the creator of the show feel about that comparison? Is it welcomed or not?

Kyle Killen: I mean I thought “Inception” was an incredible movie. I don’t know how much we have directly in common with it other than there is certainly that idea of your waking life and your dream life and the dreams feeling incredibly real, sometime so real that you can’t quite tell which is which. I think beyond that it is not necessarily an “Inception”-like experience on a weekly basis. We are simply playing different notes. But anytime someone associates your work with something that is iconic, I have no problem with whatsoever.

When you guys found out that you weren’t on the fall schedule and you would premiere mid-season at the earliest, did you use that time to tinker with things or do rewrites or reshoots or did you save that for your production hiatus?

KK: You know, there is really no difference when [a show] starts. I mean we are finished and finishing alongside shows that were fall series. You start work at essentially the same time. There was a little bit more lead time, which we were incredibly grateful for. It has been a complicated show to figure out on a week to week basis and make work in a satisfying way, so any and all extra time was incredibly welcome. I think having the opportunity of being a mid-season show, we get a launch that isn’t cluttered with the launch of everything else. It doesn’t feel like a demolition derby of new shows. I think it sets up well for a show like this.

How did your experience as working on “Lone Star” change your approach to working on network TV?

I mean it does and it doesn’t. I think anybody who tries something and has it not work would be stupid not to look at what occurred and what lessons you could take away from that. I think one of the big takeaways is that “Awake” is that it offers some standalone elements in comparison to a completely serialized show. With “Lone Star,” the effort was always to try a cable style show on network. The risk in that is if you don’t get a network-sized audience in Week 1 you are going to be battling uphill from then on. You are not just saying, “Please join us for Week 2. Please join us for Week 3.” You’re also saying, “Please go back and catch up on Week 1 and Week 2 so you’ll have some idea of what’s happening.” I think trying to lower the barrier to entry for subsequent episodes so that a show could gain momentum rather than just bleed it from the top is something that felt like it was going to be smart to bake into future network television ideas.