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.