James Van Der Beek And David James Elliott Talk About The NBC Miniseries Event The Storm

MAYBE it’s Global Warming, natural climate change or, perhaps, Mother Nature just having an off-day (or more), but there is no denying that weather across the planet has turned more violent as well as unpredictable over the past few years. In the upcoming NBC miniseries event The Storm (airing Sunday July 26th and August 2nd @ 9 p.m. – 11 p.m EST) art imitates real life and it’s man versus nature as a single human being manipulates the elements and causes death and destruction to rain down on Earth (no pun intended).

Scientist Kirk Hafner (James Van Der Beek) attempts to stop billionaire Robert Terrell (Treat Williams) from destroying the Earth with his “weather creation” technology. Terrell’s determination to manipulate the weather causes catastrophic weather conditions – a combination of hurricanes, sandstorms and drastic temperature changes that cause panic and hysteria across the globe. With government cohort, U.S. Army General Braxton (David James Elliott), the billionaire envisions the technology as a key military weapon to ensure super power status. Hafner enlists the help of news reporter Danni Nelson (Teri Polo) to help him expose Terrell’s quest. Complications arise when seemingly trustworthy authority figures aren’t who they initially appeared to be. This exhilarating action thriller follows Hafner on his journey to save the human population from extinction. The miniseries also stars David James Elliott, John Larroquette, Luke Perry and Marisol Nichols. Earlier this week, James Van Der Beek and David James Elliott very kindly took some time out of their day to speak with myself as well as other journalists about their work on The Storm as well as various other topics. An edited version of  our conversation follows.

James Van Der Beek as scientist Kirk Hafner in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

James Van Der Beek as scientist Kirk Hafner in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

Can you tell us a bit about your characters in The Storm and any specific acting challanges you found with these roles?

DAVID JAMES ELLIOTT – I play the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m awfully young for the role, but we decided that my character was a brilliant military mind who rose up through the ranks at lightening speed. And as the miniseries kind of supports, he may have gotten there just a little too soon. As far as challenges, every role is challenging and you have to bring nuances as well as levels to your character and keep it truthful and interesting. General Braxton is a military man and I’ve certainly played one of those before, but there were definite differences. Ultimately, he has to struggle with his morality.

JAMES VAN DER BEEK – I play a scientist who is working for Treat Williams’ character. Kirk Hafner is someone with a huge imagination, very creative, very brilliant, and all of a sudden he has all the tools at his disposal to push the limits of science as far as his mind will allow. My character is then kind of betrayed by the guy he’s working for, and from there on he has no idea who he can trust. He has no idea who’s after him, but is now charged with putting a stop to this thing that he’s helped create. And I’d say the biggest challenge for me was keeping warm at 4 a.m. underneath rain towers. That pretty much trumped any other acting challenge.

What were the visual/special effects like in the miniseries? Was there more green screen versus practical or vice versa?

DJE – I didn’t really face any of the effects challenges, so James will have to answer that one.

JVDB – Let me tell you, the rain was real. There was no green screen rain in this thing. In fact, we didn’t have to do much green screen work at all. A lot of it was practical and right there in front of us – everything from the lightning flashes to the wind and even explosions. If they were in-frame with me, then they were there and happening on the day. So it was a pretty real environment, and therefore I didn’t have to use too much imagination for a great deal of it.

What attracted you both to the story?

DJE – The script looked like it would be a lot of fun and it was certainly an interesting topic. Also, the director is a very old and dear friend of mine; he directed maybe 50 episodes of JAG [which Elliott starred in], so any opportunity to work with Bradford May I knew would not only be fun, but it [the work] would remain interesting and the film would look fantastic. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this.

JVDB – I was fascinated by the idea of a scientist who is kind of in love with the exploration and follows his knowledge as far as he can. Then, however, he creates something that somebody else can use for all kinds of other nefarious purposes. My character created this technology with the best of intentions, and then somebody else took it and using it for their own power. So it puts my character in a difficult situation. He’s trying to the right thing, but the right thing isn’t entirely clear. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – that was one of the themes in this story and that definitely attracted me to it and made it interesting. And it sounded like a great deal of fun, too.

David James Elliott as General Braxton in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

David James Elliott as General Braxton in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

You guys both grew up in very different weather situations. If someone had said to you, “OK, you could harmlessly change the weather,” would you have wanted to? David, when you were growing up in Canada would you have changed the weather if you had some way to do it?

DJE – Oh, I’d have changed it in a minute. I hated the cold, so when the opportunity arose to come here [California] I jumped in my car and left immediately, and I haven’t looked back. I’m not a fan of inclement weather. I like snow if I’m skiing, but I don’t enjoy slogging around in it. I dislike rain as well, so that’s why Southern California is a great place for me because I like the heat. I also don’t like hurricanes or earthquakes, but who does?

JVDB – There are three things I do not miss about living in Connecticut – January, February and March. I would certainly do away with that kind of post-winter, pre-spring, cold, dry wasteland.

James, what was it like working with Luke Perry, and did you have a chance to talk with him about being in the same situation as him, albeit a decade apart, and working on a really popular teen show. (Perry worked on Beverly Hills 90210, while Van Der Beek was on Dawson’s Creek).

JVDB – Luke was, I think, a little bit further beyond it, so it wasn’t as present for him, but it’s always interesting to talk with someone who has been through something as unique as that. It’s something you could only really know from the inside, and there’s kind of a mutual understanding that comes from that. Luke is a great guy. He’s got a wonderful perspective on it and I really did enjoy talking with him in-between set-ups.

James, you’re the hero in this story but your character spends a lot of time in front of a keyboard. Is there a new kind of “geek hero” emerging here?

JVDB – Possibly. You know, more and more these days you start relying on people who are good in front of the keyboard. So I mean, that was kind of the idea behind this guy, too. I’ve played characters who were athletic and strong, the kind of typical action hero, but what I liked about Kirk is that he’s not your typical action hero. He’s not particularly suited to being on the run, being shot at or chased, but through his own internal fortitude he somehow scrambles his way though it. That to me is more of an exciting journey as opposed to, for example, watching Rambo.

Former Dawson's Creek star Van Der Beek and Beverly Hills 90210's Luke Perry (as Stilman) team up for the first time in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

Former Dawson's Creek star Van Der Beek and Beverly Hills 90210's Luke Perry (as Stilman) team up for the first time in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

James, would it be fair to say that you’ve taken a break from lead roles since Dawson’s Creek, and is The Storm sort of a reemergence for you?

JVDB – Yes. I mean, I was pretty burnt out after six years on a TV series, and I don’t know that I was really ready to jump back in. I will say that one thing that’s happened in the past year-and-a-half is that I’ve really started to rediscover my passion for acting and being part of a story in a leading role capacity. So I’m really having a good time right now.

What was your most memorable moment from filming The Storm?

JVDB – We were shooting in Van Nuys around four in the morning and it was very, very cold. We were underneath these rain towers, the entire crew, the camera crew, everyone was standing in the ‘rain’ at this point. I was hiding behind a dumpster and there was a big Rottweiler that was supposed to come up against the fence and snarl and scare the heck out of my character. I was attacked by a dog when I was very little, so I have a natural fear of dogs anyway. So this huge Rottweiler, which probably weighed about twice my weight, was being held back by a chain and ready to come up and pounce against this chain-link fence. By four in the morning, though, when they let the dog go he just kind of ran up to the fence and was not angry at all. He more or less sat there panting. In order to save the shot I knew I had to rile him up, so I turned around and actually started barking at the dog and snarling and baring my own teeth. Only then did he start barking – so in the dailies I probably look pretty ridiculous on my hands and knees in the pouring rain and barking at a Rottweiler.

DJE – I was just excited to work with Treat Williams, so my first day was probably my most memorable, working with someone who I’d been a big fan of for many years. Other than that it was business as usual.

What did you like most about working with The Storm’s director, Bradford May?

JVDB – His passion and energy. As David can tell you because he worked with him more than I have, Brad comes in every day with a huge zest for life and loves being on film sets. He started [in the business] when he was 14 and has pretty much done every job there is to do on a film set. Brad’s parents were in the industry. He’s one of those guys who really knows everybody’s job on-set, and was incredibly gracious about allowing them to do it, and then, always in a respectful way, kind of educating them on how they could do it a little bit better. Bradford is one of those pros who you get an opportunity to work with in this business and one of those lifers who reminds you that this is really fun stuff that we got to do. It’s a job, it’s a business, but when you’re on-set we’re all telling a story and making a movie, so that’s what I loved about him.

DJE – Because Brad knows everybody’s job, you move quickly and don’t waste time. As James said, he’s incredibly passionate and is a gas to be around. So not only is the work done efficiently and extremely well, but the process is a lot of fun, too. I remember the first time I met Brad. He walked onto a set that I had been working on for six or seven years and nothing fazed him. Talk about a character. The first take, he was like, “Cut! Print!” We all looked at him and thought, “Oh, my God, who is this guy? He’s not going to last.” And within two or three days we fell in love with him. Brad is just that type of person, you know? He’s a great filmmaker and probably the most underrated filmmaker in Hollywood.

General Braxton has very specific plans when it comes to exploiting the "weather creation" technology in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

General Braxton has very specific plans when it comes to exploiting the "weather creation" technology in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC

David, doing a project ike this, does it make you think about getting back into series TV?

DJE – You know, I’m thinking about it. We’re developing some shows at the moment with various partnerships, so we’ll see what happens. What I miss about series TV is working on the craft every day, you know? Series TV has changed a lot since I left. It’s a different game now and the rules have changed. Reality TV has changed everything. Certainly there is less opportunity for scripted TV, and less money to be made because advertising has changed. TiVo has changed that. The networks may have to change how they do business, and that seems to be happening. So there is less money and less opportunity, but it’s less stifling an environment to be creative in, which is great. Standards and practices don’t have a grip on cable TV like they’ve had on network TV, not that that’s good or bad, but it’s just different. I’m just happy to work, believe me. I’ve been doing a lot of films lately and I just dig working.

James, you mentioned before that by the time you got to the end of your run in Dawson’s Creek, you were pretty burned out. Is there any advice that you might be able to give to, say, young actors who are in a hot TV show now, that might help them avoid that (burnout), or is that just the nature of the beast?

 JVDB  – Wow, that’s kind of a complicated question. I think the only way to avoid burnout is to gain a level of appreciation for the work, and I don’t know that you can really get that without stepping away from it for a little while. The hours are so intense and the opportunities come so fast and furious that it’s almost impossible to be able to appreciate it all to the level that you should. I mean, I was doing movies during the hiatuses as well as press, photo shoots and all that kind of stuff, and Dawson’s Creek was a six-year run. Is there anything I could have done to avoid it [burnout]? I don’t know. Now that I’m older and can kind of have a little bit of a different perspective on it, I’d like to think now that I can probably handle it and not be burned out for so long.

Also, it started for me when I was 20. And I wasn’t in a place of really being able to handle everything that was thrown at me. I came out OK, but what I would say for anybody going through it, is just focus on the work and keep good people around you. And don’t believe the hype either way, good or bad. Just really keep it all about the work and make sure that the people you’re surrounding yourself with are high-quality individuals, and you should be OK. It’s tricky, though. Any time opportunities come up, especially when money comes into the picture, it acts as kind of an indiscriminate magnet. It attracts all kinds of people; some of them with good intentions, some of them not. So it really is tricky. Not impossible, but tricky.

I was just saying to someone the other day that the one thing that I kind of came out of my experience with is a real compassion for anybody else who goes through the same thing. It’s very easy to stand on the outside and judge and look at people making bad decisions and say, what the hell were you thinking? Having gone through it and been in the eye of that storm, I think I would try to judge a lot less than your average person looking at somebody going through that type of “train wreck.”

As noted above, all photos by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!

 

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