Back in February, Medium returned to NBC for its fifth year. Just prior to the airing of the season opener, Patricia Arquette and Jake Weber joined journalists on the phone for a conference call to discuss the show. Hope you enjoy my interview piece from our conversation.
At first glance, Medium‘s Dubois household looks very much like the average one – there is a working mom and dad as well as three children along with PTA meetings, laundry, errands, etc. For the past five years, Allison Dubois has been employed as a consultant for the District Attorney’s office in Phoenix, Arizona and, oh, by the way, she also happens to be a psychic, which is very handy when it comes to helping solve crimes and putting bad guys behind bars. The NBC series is based on real-life psychic Allison Dubois, who, five years ago, told the actress who plays her, Patricia Arquette, that the show would become a hit. As reassuring as that was, both Arquette and Jake Weber, a.k.a. her onscreen hubby Joe Dubois, kept their feet firmly planted on the ground insofar as small screen longevity.
“I didn’t have any expectations,” says Arquette. “I was very ignorant about TV and was told that if I did this pilot, the chances were it would never air, so in that regard it was a long shot. However, I really liked the material, but even so, I certainly did not expect to be here five years later because people were making it clear to me how rare that was.
“I knew there could be interesting stories for several years if that turned out to be the case, and I think the show’s writers have done a very good job of being quite inventive along the way. One of the major things that I felt would be interesting, although I couldn’t foresee exactly how because I have a 20-year-old son now, is the changes in the kids. When we started, the Ariel character [Sofia Vassilieva] was a little girl, and now she’s a young woman. I think the transitions that the kids go through and exploring that a bit as a family is interesting, but I didn’t really foresee it going by as fast as it has.”
Adds Weber, “The show has sort of taken on a life of its own, and I think it’s the most successful when the plot lines are integrated and the home life and Allison’s work life intersect and feed off each other. And they [the producers and writers] have gotten better and better at that.”
Last year on Medium, the Dubois household experienced a meltdown when Allison’s unique abiltiy was made public. Her boss, D.A. Manuel Devalos (Miguel Sandoval) was forced out of his job and her employment with his office terminated. On top of that, Joe ended up losing his job when he stood up for his wife and her gift of foresight. After months of uncertainty, things finally began to turn around for them. Allison eventually got her job back, along with D.A. Devalos, and, after an ill-fated business partnership, things started to look up for Joe as well.
“My character is in a good spot this year,” notes Weber. “He’s got this investor who’s putting up the dough for him to run his own company, and he’s working in a big fancy warehouse. Joe has had some problems finding people to work for him because he’s had some bad luck with that, but otherwise he’s in a big pot of honey this [fifth] season.
“It was so dark for Joe and Allison and their family for a couple of years, which I kind of love from a storytelling standpoint, you know, but I think it’s good to give them a little bit of relief. They’re still in the same type of [economic] spot that our real-world country is in, but the Dubois household has been given a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, which is nice.”
In Medium‘s fifth season opener Soul Survivor, D.A. Devalos asks for Allison’s help with a six-month-old murder case involving an old friend, Gabrielle (Marisa Coughlan), whose sister was bludgeoned to death. Could her long-dead first husband somehow be involved? Meanwhile, at home, Allison and Joe must try to figure out why their middle daughter Bridgette (Maria Lark) is drawing very explicit images of her art teacher. Stepping back into the series for a fifth year, what do both actors feel continue to keep the storytelling process fresh?
“The writers do a terrific job of keeping things interesting for an actor to play and giving us new territory to explore,” says Arquette. “However, I also feel that in order for this type of show to work, you need to maintain a normalcy of life, and family life can be a bit monotonous. Doing a long-term project is like being in a long-term relationship. You establish a pattern and keep doing it over and over again, then you have a breakthrough, and then you go back to the same pattern. I sometimes struggle with that from an acting standpoint and yet see the value in it and the importance of it as well.”
Continues Weber, “It’s kind of like going home now. It’s been five years and Patricia and I probably see more of each other than we do our own families. I think one of the advantages of doing a show for as long as we have and working alongside the same people is that you don’t get nervous any more. It’s all very much relaxed and you have a good time at work, which is what you want when you’re shooting as it allows you to be more playful and spontaneous with your performance.”
Adds Arquette, “Also, because you’re consistently working with the same cast and crew, you have a very safe place to go to and ask, ‘Did that stink? What do you think? Do you think I got there? Should we go again?’ Or every once in a while you might ask one another, ‘Hey, do you have any ideas because I’m coming up blank.'”
“You’ve never asked me that,” teases Weber.
“I have too,” says Arquette.
“Not in five years,” says the actor.
“That’s because you’re not reading my mind,” jokes Arquette.
Such playful banter between the actors is not unlike that shared by their TV counterparts. Allison’s and Joe’s marriage has been a constant of Medium since its first season and is one of those realistic elements that helps keep the program grounded.
“I think that Glenn Gordon Caron [series creator/executive producer], who is a guiding spirit behind this whole thing, has always been interested in this sort of love story between these two characters,” says Weber. “You have a man and a woman with very different world views who struggle with their relationship and marriage, but they come through it because they love each other. Allison and Joe make each other laugh; they tease each other. I think they fight hard, too, but they make up very easily. That’s a hard thing to do in relationships if you have two strong-willed individuals, and I think both of them are fairly strong-willed, probably Allison more so than Joe. Again, though, when they do get into conflict, they’re able to resolve it quickly because there’s a very strong foundation of love and respect as well as fun, lots of fun.”
Continues Arquette, “I also think that there’s an unspoken quality that all relationships earn, and that’s goodwill. A lot of times the actions that people take in a relationship indicate to you the lack of goodwill that one partner has towards the other. For example, you could say to someone, ‘Hey, could you take out the trash?’ and they’ll be like, ‘Sure.’ Or it could be, ‘Hey, can you take out the trash? Don’t tell me to take out the trash. I’ll take it out when I want to take it out.’ In the first instance you’re asking for someone’s help because they’re your partner and you need it, so sure, they’ll help you out.
“So I think these characters have goodwill towards each other and it’s something that is unconscious and not talked about. The actions that are taken by someone who’s a true partner and are in it [a relationship] because they love the other person and want them to be happy is something that’s a constant with Joe and Allison. For me, their relationship is the foundation as well as heart and soul of the show and really what I care about and find interesting. Of course, I always thought the psychic aspect of the story was compelling, but I don’t think I’d have the same connection if it hadn’t been for the family stuff. I didn’t feel like anyone was really exploring a healthy marriage and family life on TV, so that’s crucial for me and I become concerned whenever I feel that that might be kind of waning.”
The Dubois marriage weathers yet another upheaval, albeit a brief one, when, in the fifth season Medium episode A Person of Interest, Allison’s psychic visions compel her to assemble the parts for and a build a bomb in her garage. Her unwanted obsession is somehow connected to a murder case she is working on with the D.A.’s office and that one of Joe’s employees is subsequently drawn into. Along with working in front of the camera, Arquette directed this particular story as well, which was a longtime ambition of hers.
“I’d always wanted to check it [directing] out and see what it was like,” says the actress. “When you’re in front of the camera for a lot of years and on a show that not only has a specific style but also rules as to how it’s shot, you start feeling like you understand those rules. There were moments [with this episode] where I felt like things weren’t explored as fully as I wish they could have been, but the reality is as a director on a one-hour TV show, or any kind of TV, your hands are in many ways tied.
“We shot this episode first even though it aired third because in it you really don’t see much of the other ensemble characters, and for that reason we didn’t want it to air first,” continues Arquette. “However, we shot it first so that I’d have time to prep, and that was really exciting going on all the different location scouts. We’d look at one location, decide it wasn’t right, and then we’d drive down the street and just start knocking on doors until we found the right place. And then talking to each department; I’m a very visual person and since I didn’t have any experience with it [directing] I was extremely interested in every aspect of shooting. The crew was a bit surprised because I’d be like, ‘Let’s look at wallpaper and I’d like to do this type of wallpaper on this wall and this is how I want this to look for this character.’ So I was involved with a number of aspects of it, but then, of course, once we were shooting, everything was moving so quickly. I found that I made mistakes along the way, which was very humbling.
“So I really liked the prep process, but most of all I loved the editing process. It was so exciting to me because as an actor, even throughout my film career, a lot of directors don’t want you to see the dailies. Some will invite you and it’s kind of a party atmosphere where everyone comes and you get a feeling of the movie. Other directors are afraid that you’ll say, ‘Oh, I look ugly in that scene. We need to re-shoot it,’ or something, which I’ve never been that kind of actor anyway. But generally I’ve always know as an actor that it’s out of my hands once it’s on film. So to go into an editing room and be able to play with, for example, scenes involving David Brewer’s character of Kevin Corrigan, the younger version of which was played by my real-life son Enzo, and trying to find little idiosyncrasies that brought his portrayal and my son’s together was really fun to do.
“I learned so much from the process, like Glenn has specific ways that he edits scenes emotionally, and because I don’t have the same experience as he does, I made different choices editorally from emotional places. It was interesting to see how different our visual and emotional language is with the cutting choices that we make.”
As TV has changed over the years, so have roles for women. Along with housewives, secretaries and the girl next door, actresses are also being cast as characters like Medium‘s psychic crime-fighting soccer mom Allison Dubois, which can only help foster more such opportunities, as Arquette explains.
“It’s always great when there’s good work out there [for women],” she says. “I think it helps other actresses because it’s not so much what I think but rather what the bankers and money people think. They look at models that are financially lucrative and then make decisions on future projects according to a model that they’ve seen make money.”
Adds Weber, “I think the writing is getting better, too. TV is getting much more complex. The writers are asking for more of a commitment from audiences. They don’t really allow you to check in once in a while on a program. You sort of have to follow these shows, and the writing along with the acting is becoming far more sophisticated as well as complex, which I feel is working across the board in both men’s and women’s favor.”