Posts Tagged ‘24’

24’s Howard Gordon – Final Countdown

May 13, 2010

Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, center) faces his final conflict this season on 24. Photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox

Now in its eighth season with Kiefer Sutherland starring as the heroic Jack Bauer, the inventive and suspenseful 24 has been nominated for a total of 68 Emmy Awards – winning for Outstanding Drama Series in 2006. Over the course of seven seasons, Sutherland garnered seven Emmy nominations and a win for Outstanding Lead Actor – Drama Series. While the series gained global recognition, Sutherland’s portrayal of the legendary character penetrated the American psyche like no other dramatic television character to become part of the English lexicon. 

Premiering on November 6th, 2001, 24 employed a pioneering, split-screen, fast-paced format with complex interweaving storylines as viewers followed anti-terrorism agent Jack Bauer through pulse-pounding episodes, each covering one hour and presented in real time. On Monday, May 24th, the show’s eighth and last season will conclude with a two-hour finale airing on Fox from 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. EST/PST. Last Friday, 24 showrunner and executive producer Howard Gordon chatted with myself and other journalists about the series and his work on it. The following is an edited version of that Q & A – enjoy! 

There is a huge online and Twitter fan base for this show that has been upset about the death of Annie Wersching’s character, Renee. Was there another choice you had been pondering, or was killing the character off the idea from the beginning? 

HOWARD GORDON – Typically we come upon these things as more of improvisations, but this was one that we had come up with at the very beginning of the season and stuck with for reasons that I think everybody is seeing right now, which is obviously motivating Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) to this very final, climactic confrontation and taking him to a place he has never been before. I have to say that I’m taking peoples’ outrage as a measure of interest, and their indifference would have been far more hurtful than their outrage. But we have a history of doing that. I remember when that happened with Edgar (Louis Lombardi) we got a fair bit of angry e-mail, but, yes, this is something that we’ve thought about and thought about very carefully, and hopefully did it well. 

I was wondering if the decision that this would be 24‘s last season came early enough that you could do any adjustments in the show, or is this the way you were going to end this no matter what? 

HG – It’s a good question, and it was one that the network asked as well. To me, the show was always going to end the way it was going to end, whether there was a ninth season or a movie because the story has been told. What I think changed, though, was the context of it all. In other words, it really took on a different meaning. I’ve said this in the past that I think any number of seasons in years past – season four, season five, I think even last year – could have been a really cool series finale.  Only the fact that this was our series finale did it really have the kind of context that, wow, we’re really saying goodbye to this character. And there is a final moment that is very specific to the series finale.  It’s not so much a plot moment, but it’s a punctuation mark that I think is unique to the series finale. But the answer is really no. We told the story the way it was going to be told and would have no matter what. 

Are there any hints you can give about what people might expect in the series finale?  Also, was there an emotional place you wanted to leave Jack as you wrapped up the show? 

HG – We tried on a couple of very different endings for size and the one we came to at the end is the one that felt just right. So it was not for lack of trying a couple of different ways. But we knew it when we saw it, that this was the right way to do it. One thing we tried and didn’t work was happily ever after for Jack. Forgetting for a moment about the last eight seasons, what he does in these last few episodes, which you haven’t seen yet, leaves him once again in a very compromised place morally, ethically and emotionally. This show is a tragedy, so to give Jack a happy ending just didn’t feel authentic. We gave him a happy beginning, and I really am very pleased with the way we started and, of course, gave him something to care about with Annie Wersching (Renee Walker) and his own family. And of course, circumstances and the story dictated a kind of very complex confrontation. 

As far as what can expect in the finale has to do with the things that were aligning, which were basically Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) versus Jack versus President Taylor (Cherry Jones). We’re taking all these characters to places that we’ve never seen them before. We knew it constituted a risk and one that was frankly challenging to write and, among the actors, pretty challenging to play. But it was one really we think was worth taking and I think it pays off really well in the end. In the spirit of trying to take the series to a place where it hasn’t been before, we’ve done this thing. It’s certainly not playing it safe, but it is very emotionally climactic and, we think, we’re pretty excited by it. 

A lot of fans absolutely hated the whole Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff) character and sub-plot; I wanted to sort of get your defense of how that whole thing played out. 

HG – Every season there is something that people seem to fixate on. You know, I got it and I guess all I kept telling people was to please wait until the story had been told before they commented. To me, I think episode 20 answered that question. I’m really, really proud of that episode and what I liked about it, too, was that for the first time, this very complex and admittedly very confused and crazy character, this onion of a character, got peeled down to the nub and you finally really understand a little bit, anyway, who she is. Now, of course, she is a sociopath and it’s kind of an insane story. But we also saw that Dana really cared about Cole (Freddie Prinze, Jr.); that she really had done this all to get out of a situation she got herself into. 

Look, it’s crazy, the fact that  there is a girl from Rock Springs who somehow manages to get in to CTU as an analyst under an alias. And the fact that the Russians had sponsored her and put her in there made it make some sense.  I think it was a pretty wild roller coaster of a character which Katee pulled off, I think, beautifully. What I liked about it was that what felt unnatural or weird and maybe what didn’t resonate with people at the beginning was that very fact that Dana wasn’t authentic, that she was this counterfeit personality in the midst of our heroes. 

I’m happy with the way it resolved. I really haven’t gone online to see how people reacted or whether they are even more upset. But I think in the end, Dana acquitted herself pretty well and her story turned out to be very interesting. 

About a month or two ago there was some talk on the business side of whether the show might be shopped around elsewhere (another network). Was there ever really anything to that? Would that have been something you wanted to do? 

HG – You know, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. It was something that I was willing to entertain as a loyal Fox employee – to help Fox find new personnel to run the show, and maybe even recruit some of the guys who had been with me. But when we really looked at each other, Kiefer included, I think we all felt  that we were really telling our final season. We kind of knew that at the beginning of the year, and we always kept the door open. Fox may have had different conversations that didn’t share entirely the same concerns we had in terms of that fact that we had really come to the creative conclusion of the story and wanted to end as close to the top as we can. But we did have some real conversations, and I certainly was insinuated into them. However, when we really sat down and considered it, it was something that just never caught fire. 

I guess you’re taking Jack to a place he’s never been before, but he’s been pretty far down already in the episodes. Can he get so low, though, that he can’t come back? And can he come back? 

HG – That’s a great question; that was really the question we asked ourselves and certainly the studio asked us. The answer is no. The good part about Jack’s character, and I really believe what has been a good part of the show, is that we never press reset. In other words, Jack is a character and you feel the accumulated scars of his experience and the weight of his actions for eight years. Jack has never been able to sort of snap back, even when he is happy, even when we introduced Audrey (Kim Raver) in season five.  It wasn’t like that didn’t discount all the tragedy that had preceded it.  Like in the beginning of this year, Jack allowed himself a moment of joy or possibility of human contact with his own daughter and her husband and his granddaughter, but it doesn’t discount what has happened before. 

So I don’t think Jack is ever going to recover from what has gone on. It just adds to the weight as well as the complexity and darkness of his character. Jack has never gone happily-ever-after; that’s just not in his wheel house.  The show is ultimately a tragedy and you have to really play that and you have to honor that. 

When you cast Katee Sackhoff, what exactly in her past body of work did you see as potential for the Dana character and how you wanted to develop it? 

HG – Honestly, when we cast her, all the writers were just all fans of hers from Battlestar Galactica. We met Katee, sat down with her and just liked her as a person. We knew that Dana was a character with a past and we knew that she was a really interesting actor. But in all honesty, we weren’t sure where the character was going to go and were just sort of willing to proceed in good faith that we’d find something. It really, really was a challenging part and Katee was completely game for everything we threw at her. And again, particularly in episode 20, I think that was her greatest moment.  She gave a phenomenal and nuanced performance. 

this season, what moment are you most proud of, most satisfied with?  And conversely, is there anything you wish you had done differently but just couldn’t because of time, resources or budget? 

HG – I’ll start with the first question. The moment I’m most proud of, frankly, is the very last one, which obviously you haven’t seen yet. I’d kind of been obsessing for a while about what was going to be the last image or the last second on a real-time show, and I think that maybe it has a little more weight than any other moment of any other season finale.  So for me, that was really something I was very, very happy with. Otherwise, I think we had some phenomenally exciting moments, one being when Renee took off Ziya’s thumb. I loved that moment and the way she played it. It was just a beautiful performance and one that wasn’t necessarily in the script. The way she sort of sexualized the character was a great moment. I loved Hassan’s death, too. I thought that was really moving as well as surprising and sad.  I’d say those are my two favorite moments except for the last one. 

As far as regrets, I have remarkably few regrets, or none. I’d say the only thing was that the budget was rolled back a bit this year as it was across the board for all Fox shows. Hopefully it was invisible to the audience, but we didn’t have what in years past was a real ability to re-shoot or enhance some of the production. So we had to do a little bit of belt-tightening. 

When you look back at the legacy of 24, I know that everybody is going to remember the innovative concept.  I’m just curious, are you happy with that being the legacy of the show, or would you prefer it to be something else? 

HG – I think you’re right. One of the legacies of the show, and perhaps the most important one, is the revolutionary concept. But I think the legacy of the show is also, having been here from the beginning, is the fact that we just never let go of the reins and truly never let down our guard. I’m just proud of the effort that everybody put into the show from our end creating the show. The audience stayed with us by and large, and I think that is a measure of the fact that we kept the story interesting to us to create it. Consequently, it was interesting to write it. 

The legacy of the show, too, we certainly seemed to have an interesting dance with the culture and with our society and with the world after 9/11. So I think we very much were part of the first decade of this century; we played a role in it somehow and I think that legacy is a significant one as well. But hopefully we just put on a really good TV show that people will continue to watch on DVD and in reruns. 

What have you enjoyed most, would you say, about your 24 experience and what has been perhaps the most creatively fulfilling for you, working on the show? 

HG – Getting to work with such talented people is a privilege, and you have to have been doing it for long enough and be of a certain age to really appreciate it. First of all, starting with my colleagues, my fellow writers were just brilliant.  I got to work with, I think, some of the best writers and producers in the business. The entire crew, because of the culture we created, everybody really was a stakeholder in the show so whether it was hair and make-up or wardrobe or props, people all were involved. And our editors, our editors are some of the best storytellers I’ve ever met.  Not that it was a democracy, but it certainly was a collective effort. It was a team, and a lot of these people have been on this team now for nine years, so getting to work with people – I’ll never have the chance to work with this many talented people ever again. I can’t really describe any great moment, but it was just a great nine years and an amazing privilege. 

As noted above, photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

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The Phantom Premieres On Syfy In June

May 5, 2010

THE Syfy Channel’s original four-hour movie event The Phantom, produced by Muse Entertainment and distributed by RHI Entertainment, will premiere on Sunday, June 20th, from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST/PST. In the Father’s Day broadcast, The Phantom’s iconic ring is passed from father to son in an all-new, updated adventure for the legendary character.

Ryan Carnes (Desperate Housewives, Doctor Who) stars as The Phantom and his alter ego Kit Walker in this re-imaginated version of the classic comic book transported to present day. Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) guest-stars in a villainous turn as Lithia, the head of an experimental mind control program. Also starring are Sandrine Holt (24, The L Word) as The Phantom’s trusted advisor, Guran, and Cameron Goodman as Walker’s love interest, Renny.

A favorite costumed hero for nearly 75 years, “The Phantom,” created by Lee Falk, relies on his wits, physical strength and skill with weapons over superhuman powers. In this contemporary version, directed by Paolo Barzman (The Last Templar), young Kit Walker survives an attempt on his life, but his mother’s life is lost. Flash forward nearly 20 years and Kit, raised by loving adoptive parents, is now a young law student who, unbeknownst to him, is next in line to become The Phantom, a role passed down from generation to generation in his family since the 1500’s. Hoping to stop the ascension of the next Phantom, the notorious and deadly Singh crime syndicate sets a plan in motion to kill Kit and simultaneously start an international war.

24’s Annie Wersching – Journey’s End

April 24, 2010

24's Annie Wersching as FBI Agent Renee Walker. Photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox

Annie Wersching discovered her passion for performing when she made her stage debut in a fourth grade production of Cats. The performance led to her joining the St. Louis Celtic Step Dancers, a competitive Irish dance troupe in Wersching’s hometown. She went on to tour and compete with the group for over 14 years, cultivating her skills for live performance.

The actress attended Millikin University, where she earned a B.A. in musical theater. As a student, Wersching toured with the stage productions of Anything Goes and A Christmas Carol. In 2001, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Shortly thereafter, she appeared in the revival of Do I Hear a Waltz? at the Pasadena Playhouse. Her television credits include Star Trek: Enterprise, Journeyman, General Hospital, Boston Legal, Cold CaseSupernatural and Frasier.

For the past two years, Wersching  has played FBI Agent Renee Walker opposite Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer in the hit Fox Television series 24. In the eighth season episode 8:00 a.m. – 9 :00 p.m. (broadcast April 12th), Renee is shot several times by a sniper after she and Jack make love. Our hero rushes her to a hospital, but, sadly, despite efforts by doctors, Renee is pronounced dead shortly after their arrival.

A few days following her character’s tragic demise, actress Annie Wersching chatted with myself and other journalists via a conference call about her 24 experience. The following is an edited version of our Q & A. Enjoy!

What are you going to remember from your time working on 24?

ANNIE WERSCHING – Wow, so much. I would say the biggest thing is the cast and crew, and the friends that I’ve made. However, I was absolutely a huge fan of the show before I joined it, so just being a part of such an iconic series and getting to play a role as amazing as Renee Walker. I really loved this part, and in your career you hope that you have greater things in your future, but it’s hard for me not to, at this time, think of it as sort of a role of a lifetime because she was so dynamic. I’ll probably miss her the most.

Why do you think people have continued to tune in and watch 24?

AW – Well, definitely in the beginning, it was such a groundbreaking show and there was nothing else like it on television. It’s really like a little feature film every week with the ticking clock and the real-time aspect. There’s such an intensity to the show, that at the end of the episode it just leaves you wanting more, which is how I think every television show should be.

What do you think of the fact that Renee was sometimes referred to as “Jacqueline Bauer” (referring to Kiefer Sutherland’s character of Jack Bauer)?

AW – Obviously that’s quite an honor to share that title. I got that a lot last year when she first came on the scene. It wasn’t something we thought about or said when we were filming Season Seven, so it was interesting to hear that it was the fans’ reaction. Again, he’s [Jack Bauer] a tragic hero and, obviously, that sort of ended up happening to her.

Sorry to see you won’t be on the show anymore. I’m wondering, were you happy with the way that Renee’s death was presented and her story line concluded?

AW – Simply because I love the character so much, you always think of other ways that things could have happened. I kind of wish that the Jack/Renee love story-making would have maybe had its own episode to resonate and then maybe she got shot because that was a pretty huge deal. There’s a little part of me that was bummed that both those things happened in the same episode because that’s really kind of getting overshadowed by the fact that she died. That was a big moment for the show, the first time that Jack has ever done that. It’s interesting, too, that Renee went out like that as opposed to maybe out in the field and in an heroic, saving-the-day kind of way. So I think it’s interesting that they switched it up a little bit as opposed to what you may have thought would have happened to her.

What sort of reaction do you expect from what’s happened to Renee?

AW – I’ve actually been very overwhelmed by the reaction. I knew that there were a lot of people out there that really loved Renee and the Jack/Renee dynamic, but I’ve had thousands of messages, either on Twitter, Facebook or different fan sites, where people are just genuinely so sad. However, it’s kind of what fuels Jack Bauer in the remainder of the season, and I think audiences will end up being pleased that they get to see him being the most intense as Jack Bauer can be.

Given the realtime format of the show, how carefully did you guys plan how many minutes Jack and Renee would spend in bed together. After all, you don’t want to go to commercial and then come back and, “we’re done!”

AW – That was a huge consideration, and especially because he’s Jack Bauer. There can’t be like an eight-minute adventure, but we went through many different ways that it was going to be. We weren’t even sure if we’d be able to actually get them to the place where they were actually making love because of the show’s realtime aspect. But they [the producers/writers] finally figured out a way to do it, and it was interesting because they knew that she was going to get shot right afterwards, so Jack couldn’t be naked when he was carrying her to the hospital. So there had to be a way for him to put some clothes on, but yet make it look like they were still going to go back and have more fun.

During your final episode, were there any moments that were particularly hard for you to get through knowing it was your last time, so to speak?

AW – Yes. Since I knew it was coming, I knew that I was pretty prepared for all this. However, we shot the lovemaking and the death together over a couple of days, and Kiefer and I were so nervous about the love scene that it sort of helped tame down the “Oh, Renee is getting shot,” part. The whole thing was bittersweet. It was bittersweet to be able to shoot scenes with Kiefer where Jack and Renee finally get close and then straight into covered in blood.

Obviously both Kiefer and you knew that it was your last scene together; what was it like during the filming [of the death scene] between the two of you?

AW – It’s funny because once I saw it air the other night, it seemed to all happen much quicker than it did in my mind, and we spent something like two 12-14 hour days in a row together of shooting scenes of basically Jack trying to save Renee. It was very intense and very big episode for Jack; I mean, the look on his face when they come out and tell him that it didn’t work was just heartbreaking. We spent quite a bit of time on it, and it was very sad. I felt bad that he had to carry me so much.

How did you originally become involved in 24 and what were some of the acting challenges you found first stepping into role of Renee?

AW – I was cast in a Fox and 20th Century Fox TV pilot that [24 executive producer] Jon Cassar and [24 co-creator/executive producer] Joel Surnow did in the Spring of 2007. That pilot didn’t get picked up, so when they were casting for Renee Walker, they were actually having a very difficult time insofar as trying to figure out how old they wanted her to be, how tough, how cold, etc. So they brought me in for it, and the role that I played in that pilot was very different from Renee, so I think they thought, “Oh, we liked working with her [in the pilot]; she’s not really right for this, but we’ll just bring her in anyway.” That was a very proud moment for me in my audition life just because I feel like I really went in and sort of changed their minds about their preconceptions when it came to the type of actress I was and something I was right for. And the challenges in playing her were pretty much that because most of my stuff was with Kiefer, you really had to show up on your game. You could never be slacking in any sense, so it really challenged me and made me such a better actor and person. It was just an amazing experience.

Which version of Renee was more challenging for you to play, or more rewarding, or maybe both – the by-the-book Renee that we met in the beginning, or the more unhinged version that we saw at the end of last season and then again this season?

AW – Wow, that’s a good question. The by-the-book Renee, that was in the very beginning, so sort of finding her was an interesting challenge, and figuring out that first little relationship between Jack and Renee when they first met was a challenge, too. That’s what was so great about this character – I got to play so many different sides of her. Last year was challenging in that I was in every episode, and there was such a great arc that was written for the whole season, so I really wanted to give it [the character] little nuances and make the arc interesting. This season, I got to do more intense things when I was on, but it was more little bursts. I wouldn’t be around for a couple of episodes, and then I’d be there in a really intense way for four or five episodes. So both versions were challenging and so wonderful.

What do you feel really kind of helped crystallize Renee as a character, either from an acting standpoint or a character standpoint?

AW – Obviously, just the relationship that was sort of able to develop between Jack and Renee in that first day of only knowing each other for 24 hours was a huge thing. Then there was the scene with Jack, Larry Moss [Jeffrey Nordling]and Renee in front of the Capitol that was shot in Washington, D.C. where the three of them are basically having a conversation and battling the whole moral dilemma of what’s right and what’s wrong and everything. For whatever reason, that was sort of her breaking point where she didn’t want to, but kind of chose to do what Jack was suggesting. I think that was a big defining moment for her.

I was wondering if they [the show’s producers/writers] ever talked about Larry Moss as a love interest for Renee last season, and if so, when did that change in favor of Jack?

AW – There was always sort of this lingering question as to what exactly was Renee’s and Larry’s history. They never addressed it specifically in the show, but for us, Jeffrey and I kind f decided that maybe they had dated for a second and then realized that, no, we have to be professional. Larry was still sort of always pining for Renee, though, and longing for her. However, there was no real discussion as to if Larry and Renee were going to get together last season. It was more a lingering history that they wanted you to sort of sense between those two.

Quickly going back to Renee’s death scene – how long did you have to hold your breath at the very end while Kiefer did the long look at you at the end, and how challenging was that?

AW – That was actually very hard. It was probably just 20 or 30 seconds, and even though my eyes were closed, I could sense what he was doing, and you kind of want to watch. I thought, “Oh, there’s amazing things happening that I can’t see right now, and I can’t breathe.” It was easier and less challenging holding my breath when my character was buried alive [last season].

You’ve said elsewhere that it saddens you that there won’t be a future for Renee in any sense in the 24 universe, whether the show is on the air or not. Had her future been different, what would you foresee for Renee?

AW – If it had taken off right from being in Jack’s apartment, I think it would have been very interesting to sort of see the two of them try to make it in the world, maybe going back to California, but sort of always being called back into the line of doing the right thing to help save people. It would have been just fun to see them out saving the day together and running around in different situations and countries and places, always having close calls but getting to sort of save the day together would have been pretty fantastic.

As noted above, photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Riverworld’s Peter Wingfield – Not So Mr. Nice Guy

April 17, 2010

Peter Wingfield as Richard Burton in Riverworld. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Peter Wingfield is just itching for a fight today, but, in fact, he is not the only one. It is a warm and sunny Friday in Vancouver, British Columbia, and one of the last days of filming on the Syfy Channel miniseries Riverworld (Sunday, April 18th from 7-11:oo p.m. EST). Inside the warehouse studio, a two-level platform with stairs has been erected in front of a huge green screen. This is where Wingfield, who pays Sir Richard Burton, and the show’s leading man, Tahmoh Penikett (Matt Ellman), have spent the better part of the day shooting a fight that took quite a bit of time to prepare for. 

“Last Sunday was the first time that Tahmoh and I actually looked at this fight,” says Wingfield during a break in filming. “There are several fights in our story and the stunt guys as well as Tahmoh have been really busy all the way through. The stunt choreographer had gone off and created this fight with his guys, and then last Sunday, Tahmoh and I spent two hours at the gym working through what the fight would look like. This week we’ve tried to find time during lunch breaks and such to, not practice it physically, but just sort of talk through the shape of the fight. 

“Now here we are on set-today and because of the constraints of the location, we have to change bits of the fight. So things that we learnt, we’ve now got to wipe those from our minds and stick something else in there instead. We’re also dealing with time constraints, so we’re shortening the fight, which is comprised of 60 or 70 moves, in one of the parts. 

Burton (Wingfield) plots his next move. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“This is a big throwdown, knockdown, smackdown conflict, and that makes sense given that it’s the end of our characers’ journey and their final conflict. We have a quick exchange at the start of the story, then we have the journey, and now we get to this point and this fight is absolutely personal. My character surprises Matt, and he could have simply knocked him out and killed him, but doesn’t. Burton chooses to get into a fistfight, the reason being that he wants to cause Matt pain, and he wants to see it, too. Burton wants to relish the physical contact and the suffering. It’s all rather dark and ugly,” says the actor with a smile, “but it’s also a really good, really cool, intense story.” 

In Riverworld, Sir Richard Burton is among the countless human beings who, following their deaths, have been reborn on the riverbank of a mysterious new world. Intent on reaching this great river’s headwaters and destroying this place, Burton hijacks a riverboat being captained by Samuel “Mark Twain” Clemens (Mark Deklin). Clemens and his passengers, including an American war correspondent, Matt Ellman, and a 12th century Samurai warrior named Tomoe (Jeananne Goossen), have been searching for Matt’s missing fiancée Jessie (Laura Vandervoort). Carrying on with their search, they must now also deal with this unwanted adversary and any other dangers that await them along the way. Like a few of his fellow Riverworld actors, Wingfield’s character is, in fact, based on a real-life individual. 

“In-between putting a couple of audition scenes on tape for Riverworld and receiving a call to meet with the director, Stuart Gillard, I was sent the script,” he recalls. “I read it and did some research on Victorian explorer Richard Francis Burton, who was quite an extraordinary guy. He spoke 25 languages and, with dialects, was probably fluent in 40. Burton was also an explorer and visited several countries. He went on a pilgrimage to Mecca disguised as a Muslim from Afghanistan. This was at a time when if they had known that an infidel was in the holiest of holies, they would have cut him up into little pieces and eaten him. 

Vivienne (Meg Roe) has a rather unsettling exchange with Burton (Wingfield). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“Burton translated The Kama Sutra as well as One Thousand and One Nights, what we know now as The Arabian Knights. He seemed to be interested in so many different things. Burton was an explorer in the most general of senses, but not just of the physical lands but the emotion and cultural landscapes as well. He was a poet, too. However, the thing that struck me was the sense of danger about this guy. He was a James Bond-type character, not only going undercover, but dangerously undercover. 

Riverworld is based on the books by Philip Jose Farmer, which use the idea that Burton, along with the rest of humanity, has been reborn again on this other planet. When I read the script it had this interesting Sci-Fi flavor and an alien-created world, but the concept allowed you to bring in these various characters from human history, which seemed like a neat idea. So for instance, we have Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemens, and the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro [Bruce Ramsey]. I really liked that because it means you can bring in anybody, and you can also kill them off and then decide to bring them back again. How perfect is that for TV?’ 

Burton (Wingfield) decides to take the upper hand. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

Having done all this research, there was only so much of it that the actor could apply to his portrayal of Burton. “The thing is, there are several different [research] sources that are not identical,” explains Wingfield. “You’ve got the real person, then the character in the novels, and finally Burton in this miniseries. While they’re related to each other, they are not the same. The novels aren’t about the real Richard Burton. They are taking the idea from the historical facts of his life and how he might have lived in this fantasy world. Meanwhile, the miniseries is not a literal translation of the novels, but rather a reinvention of them. So there are some things that you can take with you, and others that are not the same. 

“Ultimately, the story that I have signed up for and that I’m telling is of Richard Burton on the miniseries,” continues the actor. “All the information that is significant is in the script of this four-hour TV movie. So there’s a lot of juggling going on. I’ve taken inspiration from a number of different places, but the facts that I have to work with are just those in the script. And to me what is, I think, the most powerful and demanding of these facts is the darkness of my character. Burton is a scary guy. He’s a really dark and violent man, and yet he is also tremendously witty as well as charming and sexy. I mean, he has love scenes with the two major female characters in the story, and they’re both very different and tell you a great deal about the character. 

“I’ve always felt that love scenes, just like fight scenes or a dance, reveal aspects of a character. Very verbal or very intellectual characters have some sense of control over what they’re saying and what they reveal to you when they’re speaking. However, when you watch them doing something physical, particularly something where they have to some extent lost control, such as a love scene or a fight, they reveal different things about themselves. 

Burton (Wingfield) and Allegra (Romina D'Ugo). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“One of the great joys about playing Burton is that there are two dissimilar stories involving the two women with whom he has liaisons, and I was quite interested in just the visual imagery of that. One of them is a very verbal scene, and the other is completely without words. I spoke at length with our director about this, because we wanted to be telling very different sides of Burton’s story. And that’s been both the challenge and the thrill of playing him, those extremes that are within him. He has a high level of culture and education, but then there’s a brutality and connection with an almost animal-like quality and rage inside him. It’s been quite a trip for me [acting-wise]. I’ve tried to make him the most complex character that I’ve ever played because, again, I feel the Richard Burton who genuinely lived was an extremely complicated individual.” 

Although this is Burton’s first encounter with Matt Ellman and vice versa, Wingfield’s character seems determined to get rid of him. Why? “I didn’t realize when I began this project how simple the heart of this story is,” he muses. “It’s a love triangle. When it all comes down to the final showdown, it’s a woman who has very different sides of herself fueled or expressed by Burton and Matt. However, both men recognize something in each other. Yes, they have a conflict because of this woman, but they also see the world almost the same and yet slightly differently. 

“It’s that slight difference that has taken Burton and Matt in opposite emotional and spiritual directions. From the outset, Burton has been described as a bad guy, but having read the script I thought, ‘In what world is he the bad guy?’ There is a part of Burton who wants to see the world the way Matt sees it, and there’s also clearly a part of Matt that wants to see the world the way Burton does. 

Determined to be the victor in his "final conflict," Burton (Wingfield) prepares to strike. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So once they’re in absolute conflict with each other, there is a sense of recognition insofar as the equality of both these warriors. Here are these two adversaries who are worthy of the fight, and that has very much developed throughout the filming of Riverworld. I didn’t see that initially. However, as we’ve gotten towards the end of shooting I could see that that was where it was going. I looked back at the story we told during the filming and realized it was there all the time.” 

Wingfield recently guest-starred on the TV series Human Target and Caprica, and can be seen in the upcoming Syfy Channel Saturday Night Movie Stonehenge Apocalypse. Prior to shooting Riverworld, he played a multi-episode arc on 24 as well as reprised his role of Dan Clifford back in his native UK in the TV medical drama Holby City. The actor also appeared as Dr. John Watson in the first season finale of the hit Syfy Channel series Sanctuary

“That was a great character,” says Wingfield. “In Sanctuary, John Watson was supposedly a real person who had inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write Sherlock Holmes on the stipulation that he would also write the detective a sidekick and call him John Watson. 

Burton channels his not-so-nice side when threatening Hal (Matt McCaull). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

“So he was a brilliant man from Victorian times and Watson and Dr. Helen Magnus [Amanda Tapping] had a history together in that they were part of a group called “The Five.” In this episode,  the four surviving members reconvene and we learn that through his brilliance and ingenuity, Watson has kept himself alive by creating a machine that could fight off aging. 

“It was such a fun part to do. I’d known Amanda Tapping from Stargate SG-1 years ago, but I hadn’t worked with Chris Heyerdahl [John Druitt] before and it turned out to be a real pleasure. There are some actors who you just connect with and it works, and Chris and I had a relationship where we immediately trusted one another and could play with the scenes – not just get through the lines, but mess with them and change the intention. So they would always remain alive, interesting and fun. 

“There was this one really powerful scene that we were shooting. It must have been two in the morning and the end of what had been a very long day. And I remember it with great affection because once we finished, the crew, who had probably done a 17- or 18-hour day, were all totally focused and concentrating on this scene. Over the next few days, one after the other said how great it was to have been a part of shooting it. That doesn’t happen very often.” 

Allegra (Romina D'Ugo) and Burton (Wingfield) appear surprised by someone's unexpected arrival. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel

While working on Riverworld, Wingfield had the chance to spend some time with his young son. Of all the roles he has had, the actor considers this one to be his most important. “Fatherhood is the only thing of significance I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “It’s the real thing, and all the rest is just mucking about. 

“I love being a father and it’s tough in this business to be a solid fixture in your child’s life. I have a fabulous wife, though, and whenever he’s able to, my son comes to visit me if I’m away filming. He’s had his Spring break while I’ve been doing Riverworld, so he was up here in Vancouver for a week, which he absolutely adored. We still have family here – his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – and he spent a couple of days here on-set hanging out with me along with the rest of the cast and crew on a paddlewheel steamboat. His favorite department is props because he gets to see all the guns and swords. He especially enjoys hanging out when we do the special effects, like blowing stuff up and setting fire to things. It’s tough to impress nine-year-old boys, but if you can blow stuff up they’re usually interested,” notes the actor with a smile. 

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, all photos by James Dittiger and copyright of the Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

24: Day Eight Will Be The Award-Winning Series’ Swan Song

March 28, 2010

Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) saving the day once again this season on 24. Photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox Television

IN a joint decision made by 24‘s star and executive producer Kiefer Sutherland, executive producer and showrunner Howard Gordon, Twentieth Century Fox Television, Imagine Entertainment and Fox Broadcasting Company, it was determined that the acclaimed series will end its remarkable eight-season run. Jack Bauer’s last day on Fox will conclude when the final two hours of “Day Eight” air Monday, May 24th from 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. EST/PST. As the countdown to the series’ climactic conclusion races on, the final 11 hours will air uninterrupted Mondays @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on Fox.  

Multiple award-winning series star Kiefer Sutherland reflected on the show’s run, “This has been the role of a lifetime, and I will never be able to fully express my appreciation to everyone who made it possible. While the end of the series is bittersweet, we always wanted 24 to finish on a high note, so the decision to make the eighth season our last was one we all agreed upon. This feels like the culmination of all our efforts from the writers to the actors to our fantastic crew and everyone at Fox. Looking ahead to the future, Howard Gordon and I are excited about the opportunity to create the feature film version of 24. But when all is said and done, it is the loyal worldwide fan base that made it possible for me to have the experience of playing the role of Jack Bauer, and for that I am eternally grateful.”  

Executive producer and showrunner Howard Gordon said, “Kiefer and I have loved ever minute of making 24, but we al believe that now is the right time to call it a day. I echo his sentiments of gratitude towards the show’s amazing creative team, as well as the studio and network who have always believed in us and shown us unbelievable support.”  

24 is so much more than just a TV show – it has redefined the drama genre and created one of the most admired action icons in television history,” said Peter Rice, Chairman, Entertainment, Fox Networks Group. Kevin Reilly, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company added, “We are extremely proud of this groundbreaking series and will be forever thankful to Kiefer, the producers, the cast and crew for everything they’ve put into 24 over the years. It’s truly been an amazing and unforgettable eight days.”  

Commented Gary Newman and Dana Walden, Chairman, Twentieth Century Fox Television, “We are so grateful to Kiefer and Howard, who have really poured their hearts and souls into making this show over the past eight seasons. To everyone who contributed to this iconic series over its amazing run, we want to extend our heartfelt appreciation for your incredible work.”  

Added Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer, “I’m so proud to have been a part of 24, which has become such a cultural phenomenon. And to Kiefer and Howard and everyone who has worked on the show, many thanks.”  

Now in its eighth season with Kiefer Sutherland starred as the heroic Jack Bauer, the inventive and suspenseful 24 has been nominated for a total of 68 Emmy Awards, winning for Outstanding Drama Series in 2006. Over the course of seven seasons, Sutherland garnered seven Emmy nominations and one win for Outstanding Lead Actor – Drama Series. While the series gained global recognition, Sutherland’s portrayal of the legendary character penetrated the American psyche like no other dramatic television character to become part of the English lexicon.  

Premiering November 6th, 2001, 24 employed a pioneering split-screen, fast-paced format with complex interweaving storylines as viewers followed anti-terrorism agent Jack Bauer through 24 pulse-pounding episodes, each covering one hour and presented in real time. Subsequent seasons combined the show’s unique and trend-setting format while delivering compelling new elements and attracting talented actors and guest-stars including the Emmy Award-winning Cherry Jones (President Allison Taylor). The series also currently stars Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O’Brian), Anil Kapoor (Omar Hassan), Annie Wersching (Renee Walker), Katee Sackhoff (Dana Walsh), Mykelti Williamson (Brian Hastings), Freddie Prinze Jr. (Cole Ortiz), Chris Diamantopoulos (Rob Weiss) and John Boyd (Arlo Glass).  

The first six seasons were set in Los Angeles, and following the strike-induced delay of season seven, 24; Redemption, a two-hour film bridging seasons six and seven, was set in Africa. The nation’s capital, Washington D.C. was the setting for season seven, and the final year of 24 finds Jack Bauer thwarting a terrorist attack in New York. At the conclusion of season eight, 24 will have produced a total of 194 episodes (including 24: Redemption), making it one of the longest-running action television shows in history.  

Tune in Monday, March 29th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST for the next all-new installment of 24 and Monday, April 5th @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST for a special two-hour episode. 

Created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, 24 is a production of 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Television in association with Teakwood Lane Productions. Howard Gordon, Evan Katz, David Fury, Manny Coto, Brannon Braga, Brad Turner, Alex Gansa, Kiefer Sutherland and Brian Grazer and executive producers, while Chip Johannessen and Patrick Harbinson serve as co-executive producers. Brad Turner will direct the series finale. 

As noted above, photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Michael Trucco, Kari Matchett and Eric Johnson In Syfy’s Meteor Storm

January 30, 2010

A passing meteor shower turns into a deadly storm from space that threatens to destroy San Francisco. As the city’s disaster official (Michael Trucco) tries to evacuate the population, a scientist (Kari Matchett) races to unravel the mystery of the repeated strikes. She discovers that remnants of an ancient meteor strike, found under San Francisco, contain a new element that exerts a magnetic pull on the meteorites. While the city is devastated around her, she has a bigger problem to solve – how to stop a huge meteor from being pulled in and creating an extinction event.

Meteor stars Michael Trucco (Battlestar Galactica), Kari Matchett (Invasion, 24) and Eric Johnson (Flash Gordon, Smallville) and airs Saturday, January 30th @ 9:oo p.m. EST on The Syfy Channel.

24’s Anil Kapoor – Bollywood’s Finest

January 25, 2010

Anil Kapoor as Omar Hassan on 24. Photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox

This season of 24 is set in New York, where Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is unwillingly drawn back into action just as President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) negotiates international security with Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor), a determined Middle Eastern leader visiting the U.S. on a peace-keeping mission. As the new day unfolds, an upgraded CTU operates under the command of M.B.A.-schooled, razor-sharp head-honcho Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson), who supervises quirky Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), expert data analyst Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff) and systems analyst Arlo Glass (John Boyd). 

One of the most versatile and successful actors in India, Anil Kapoor has been entertaining audiences for more than 25 years. His talent, charm and professionalism have set the benchmark for a new generation of Indian actors. He has appeared in close to 100 Hindi movies and won numerous awards over the years, including four Filmfare Awards (the Indian equivalent of the Oscars) and much coveted National Award. 

A native of Mumbai, Kapoor recently starred in the Academy Award-winning hit Slumdog Millionaire. The film was the actor’s first feature released outside of India and a favorite of both critics and audiences. It was awarded a multitude of prizes, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as BAFTAs, National Board of Review and Golden Globes. His additional credits include Race, Black and White, Welcome, Naksha, Chocolate, My Wife’s Murder, Bewafaa, Arman, Rishtey, Lajia, Taal, Yuvvraaj and Salaam-E-Ishq

Kapoor is married with three children. He has two daughters, one is a successful model and the other is a film student in New York, as well as a son who is a film student in Los Angeles. The actor divides his time between India and Los Angeles. 

On January 14th, Mr. Kapoor graciously spoke with journalists, including myself, about his work as Omar Hassan on 24 and career in general. The following is an edited version of our conversation! Enjoy! 

In the early episodes of 24,  Hassan is a very standup guy. Over the course of the storyline will we get to see what the problem is with his marriage and why he’s having an affair? 

Anil Kapoor – Actually it is not an affair, but kind of a relationship, which he feels is more like a minor relationship and, intellectually, he believes it’s more of a friendship. While there is a possibility that it might develop later on into a relationship, it doesn’t.  And, yes, you will see the details of his marriage when the other episodes progress and develop after the fourth episode. 

So you think that his relationships with these women is a big part of the character? 

AK – Absolutely, because he is a normal person who has his gray areas, which makes him very human and very real. So yes, of course, he has these relationships and he has his problems with the relationship with his wife and he has a relationship with this journalist. 

Can you talk a bit about what it’s like to work with Kiefer Sutherland and Freddie Prinze, Jr (Cole Ortiz)? 

AK – I’d heard so much about 24 and Keifer, and it never felt to me as if he had done eight seasons of this show. It felt like he was working as if it was his first year, and his commitment and excitement was as if he had just started shooting 24. I was really impressed by his commitment and professionalism. It was wonderful to work with him and every line he speaks, every performance he gives, it looks as if he’s Jack Bauer and not Kiefer Sutherland. He’s completely into the skin of Jack Bauer; he’s become more Jack Bauer than Kiefer Sutherland now when he’s on-set. And working with Freddie Prinze, I could see that he was very eager and curious, as well as extremely hardworking, very sincere and a very good-looking guy. He fits the role and I think  24 is going to gain a great deal from his addition to and participation in the show. 

How was Kiefer welcoming to you, and did he offer any advice? 

AK – The first time we met he said he had seen Slumdog Millionaire and loved my work in the film, so those words of encouragement from Kiefer eased my mind and gave me a lot of confidence. When two actors meet and there is a mutual respect for each other’s work, it makes the job much, much easier. This is only my second stint as a performer in the United States of America, but Kiefer never made me feel like an outsider, and that was really great. 

Did you have any concerns about going on 24? To be honest, most Indian or minority actors on the show play terrorists, whereas your character is a much more positive and very standup guy. What did you think of all that when taking on the part? 

AK – When I first heard about the role I became really inspired because it was not just your [typical] bad man, and I felt that here was someone who stands up for his own convictions and what he believes in. It’s a very strong character and there all these layers and this complexity involved. Being from India, I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to play this role of Omar Hassan and that it was on 24. I’ve read a lot of scripts in India as well as internationally, but the writing on 24 is very special. 

After 24 do you have any plans to keep trying to get work in the U.S. whether in TV or movies or would you be interested in spending more time focusing on your film career in India? 

AK – As an actor, especially the way the world is today where the communication is so easy, I don’t think it’s very difficult to juggle both worlds. And I think wherever it is in the world, I’m going to go where the material is exciting, especially if it’s from the West because for me, it’s much more challenging. I’m performing in a different language, and mostly I’ve been doing films in my local language, which is Hindi, and now here I get an opportunity to speak in English, which is my first language in India. Sometimes I would have difficulty working in films over there because I would think in English, but now I’m finding it much more exciting and easier  to work in films made in the West. So this is an exciting phase in my career, and this second TV experience [on 24] has been wonderful and absolutely terrific. 

Could you tell us how you first became involved in 24 and getting this particular role? 

AK I feel it’s thanks to Slumdog Millionaire, because they [the 24 producers] saw that the movie was such a huge success, critically as well as commercially. It swept all the awards and everyone was talking about it. I got rave reviews and I never really expected this kind of appreciation for my role. I’m sure people on 24 had seen and liked my work and that’s the reason I was given this offer and I grabbed it. 

If Slumdog Millionaire didn’t happen, would you have tried out for a part like this? 

AK – I don’t think this would have really happened if Slumdog Millionaire never happened. Again, I think it’s thanks to Slumdog Millionaire that I’m in 24 and it couldn’t have been a better follow-up. On 24 I play something which is completely opposite to what I did in Slumdog Millionaire, and that’s always exciting for an actor when you do something completely different and opposite in terms of a role. I’ve done over 100 feature films in India but I’ve never done TV there, so for me, this second time doing U.S. TV was something new, fresh, exciting, educational and I really loved every moment of it. 

Was there anything in particular that you did to prepare for this role? 

AK – Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, the most exciting part of all this was the preparation for the role, which I really loved. I play the leader or president of a fictitious country, which is supposed to be a Middle Eastern country, so I looked at a lot of world leaders, past and present, and researched their speeches, their body language and how to speak. I read a number of books as well on the United Nations as well as peace treaties, nuclear disarmament, etc. So all that really helped me. Also, even though I speak English, I had a dialogue coach. I had long sessions with him during the entire filming of 24, and he was of great help to me as far as figuring out how my character would speak. Because Hassan is British, or was educated in Britain, we gave him a bit of a British accent. So in 24 you’ll find a complete change in the way I look, the way I walk, the way I talk and in my voice quality as compared to what I’ve done before. 

Can you tell us a little bit about any other projects that you may have in the works? 

AK – At the moment I am working on two movies in India, one is a comedy called No Problem, which is a mainstream Indian film and I play a cop, and then there’s I Shall, which is based on Jane Austen’s Emma. Both these films are almost in post-production and they’ll be released this year. As soon as I return to India I’ll be doing a play, which is going to tour all over the world.  

What has made a career in this industry rewarding for you so far? 

AK – I’ve been very fortunate from the first time I faced the camera, and it’s always been in terms of satisfaction as well as financial stability, education and meeting people all over the world. I’m not a very academically educated person, but I think being educated is through people and people I work with and the work I’ve done in films, etc. So it’s been very, very rewarding for me. 

As noted above, photo by Kelsey McNeal and copyright of Fox, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

24’s Kiefer Sutherland Visits David Letterman

January 14, 2010

Kiefer Sutherland shows off his fashion sense on the Late Show with David Letterman. Photo copyright of CBS TV

LAST night, 24‘s Jack Bauer, a.k.a. Kiefer Sutherland, gave David Letterman a surprise when he came out on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater wearing a dress on The Late Show with David Letterman

A laughing Letterman, taken aback by Sutherland’s attire of a blue-green print sleeveless wrap dress with a long-sleeved undershirt and combat boots, joked, “It’s, uh, you’re doing a remake of The Beverly Hillbillies? You’re Granny? You’re – what’s happening here?” Sutherland explained, “Far worse than that. I lost a bet. Over the weekend I was so sure New England [referring to the New England Patriots football team] was gonna win that I told a guy who used to be my friend that if New England lost, I would wear a dress on Letterman.” The actor then stood up and modeled his outfit to audience laughter and applause. 

Letterman later joked, “You ride the subway, I’ll give you a thousand dollars. You get on the subway like that…downtown,” prompting audience applause and laughter from Sutherland. “I have to say,” Sutherland said, “riding the subway would be easier than what I’m going through right now. This I think may be the most humiliating moment of my life, and I’ve had a couple to choose from.” 

As noted above, photo copyright of CBS TV, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Gregory Itzin Returns In Season Eight of 24

November 3, 2009
Twenty4-1

Blast from the past - 24/Day 6 - Former President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) and Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). Photo copyright of Fox

THE anticipation for Season Eight of 24 continues to surge with Gregory Itzin reprising his acclaimed role as Charles Logan. The Emmy award-winning drama starring Kiefer Sutherland returns for its next astonishing day with a two-night, four-hour premiere event Sunday, January 17th, 2010 (9 p.m. – 11 p.m. EST/PST) and Monday, January 18th, 2010 (8 p.m. – 10 p.m. EST/PST).

The disgraced former President Logan was last seen after being shockingly stabbed by First Lady Martha Logan (Jean Smart) in Season Six. Itzin’s return to 24 will bring together the series’ two Emmy-nominated “presidents” for the first time when sitting President Allison Taylor (Emmy award-winner Cherry Jones) reluctantly enlists Logan to assist with an escalating international diplomatic crisis.

When asked about this onscreen pairing, 24 executive producer Howard Gordan said, “The opportunity for these two remarkable actors to share the stage was simply too compelling to pass up.”

Season Eight resets in New York City where a retired Jack Bauer (Sutherland) is unwillingly drawn back into the intense action after learning of a plot to assassinate Middle Eastern peace-keeping leader Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor). Meanwhile, Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) and Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) return alongside CTU newcomer Dana Walsh (Katee Sackhoff), Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson) and Cole Ortiz (Freddie Prinze Jr.).

As noted above, photo is copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Defying Gravity’s Eyal Podell – Physician Heal Thy Self

August 30, 2009
Defying Gravity's Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell). Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC.

Defying Gravity's Dr. Evram Mintz (Eyal Podell). Photo by Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC.

On the surface, Dr. Evram Mintz appears ready to take his first step into the unknown. As a member of the International Space Organization (ISO), he participated in a five-year program in preparation for six-year mission onboard the spaceship Antares to explore the other planets in our solar system. However, like his fellow shipmates, Evram brings with him some emotional and psychological baggage that could compromise his ability to care for the physical and mental well-being of those around him. Facing his inner demons is not easy for Evram, but for the actor who plays him on Defying Gravity, Eyal Podell, it is part of discovering just who his character is.

“Evram is the Antares crew physician, psychiatrist, resident drunk and in many ways voice of reality,” says Podell, who is dressed in his character’s flight suit and waiting in his trailer to be called to set. “The greatest [acting] challenge with him came, I think, when my conception of the character changed. Once all the roles were cast and everyone came together, we realized that between Zahf [Paroo], who plays Ajay Sharma, Florentine [Lahme], who plays Nadia, and Peter Howitt [who plays Trevor Williams], we already had three or four different accents on the show.

“So [executive producers] Jim Parriott and Michael Edelstein said, ‘Let’s strip the accent away from your character.’ That immediately sent me right back to ground zero because I felt in many ways that one of Evram’s defining characteristics was his foreign personality [Israeli] and point of view. So having to kind of start from the ground up again was a bit of a challenge, and then in the first few scripts there wasn’t much character revelation or backstory with Evram. However, as episodes four, five, six, seven and eight came along, more and more of Evram’s history began coming through,” enthuses the actor, “so that allowed me to piece him together.

“In general, astronauts have to be terribly brave, visionary and optimistic people, and part of my challenge was figuring out what the hell was Evram doing here. That meant talking with Jim and Michael about exactly why he wanted to be part of this mission, other than the grandeur of being one of the first humans to travel to these other planets. There must have been something else behind it, and answering that question helped me form a clearer picture of my character. Evram has a dim view of humanity and he’s experienced the trauma of war. He has been involved in some of the big Middle Eastern conflicts that have taken place in the future, and those experiences obviously shaped his outlook on life as well as humankind.

Evram ponders what situation might unfold next onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram ponders what situation might unfold next onboard the Antares. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“Maybe it was a subconscious choice of Evram’s to get on a spaceship and get as far away as possible from his own flaws, including his issues with alcohol and war. If he’s billions of miles away, he doesn’t have to be drafted, or read on the Internet or watch on the news the non-stop footage of bombings, killings and murders – the atrocities that man commits against man.”

Was it destiny that led Podell to his role on Defying Gravity? Ironically, when he was in 10th grade, the actor wrote a term paper about being a doctor. “Then, though, I realized I didn’t have the stomach to go to medical school and spend however long it would take with internships, residencies and all that other stuff,” he recalls.

“However, my parents raised me with the idea that an education is your ticket in life. One of the really important things they did for me was make sure I went to a good college [Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire] so that I would have the proper foundation and tools to pursue whatever [career] I wanted. So I actually came into this business thinking, ‘OK, I’ll try this for a little while and see what happens,’ but I soon found that it was almost like a drug. You get a little bit of the joy early on and become hooked. From there, I chipped away at it [acting] and built a resume role-by-role. Just a few years ago I booked my first regular job on a soap opera [The Young and the Restless] and landing Defying Gravity is my first big break.”

The pilot episode of Defying Gravity establishes that the story is told in present day (2052) and in space with the Antares crew – four men and four women – as well as in flashbacks where the astronauts first meet and start their mission training. Audiences also see that despite Evram Mintz’s rather dark and grim view of the human race, he has not scared away someone who truly cares about him.

Dr. Evram Mintz during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Dr. Evram Mintz during training for the Antares mission. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“In the first episode we’re introduced to my character’s love interest, Dr. Claire Dereux, played by Maxine Roy, and it would appear that she and Evram have been in a relationship for a number of years,” notes Podell. “And it’s been interesting to find out through the flashback element of the show how they came to be in that relationship. It’s also a little strange because in the flashbacks we’re all just meeting as a crew, so we don’t quite know each other that well yet. However, in the present day, we’ve already been through five years of training, so what does that mean in terms of our relationships? Which of our strengths as well as weaknesses did we reveal to each other during training? What personal struggles have we seen one another experience? Have we been there for each other as shoulders to cry on? Have we picked one another up off the ground and said, ‘Come on, get back on the horse.’ Have we had fist-fights? Who knows?

“So there’s a while lot of history to be filled in. However, what we do sort of assume is that we’ve reached a point where we can look around at each other and say, ‘I trust you with my life.’ There’s a camaraderie among the crew. They’re a family, and they have to be because they’re going to be together for a very long time. That being said, even with your brothers and sisters, you feel like ‘killing them’ sometimes, which I think is a compelling aspect of our show, especially in that these people are essentially locked under one roof.”

Acting-wise, has it been difficult for Podell jockeying between flashbacks and present day? “It’s not so much the bouncing back and forth as to who we [the characters] are, but more how we relate to one another,” he says. “With relationships in general, you come into them being neutral. So as our characters come into the [training] program, they look at one another and think, ‘Oh, there’s a guy, and there’s a girl.’ The exceptions to that are those who have reputations, like Maddux Donner [Ron Livingston], Ted Shaw [Malik Yoba] and some of the other astronauts who have done some incredible things. However, the rest of these people look at each other and they don’t know one another from a hole in the wall, so they don’t have any preconceived notions.

“As the series begins to unfold, we see our characters in the flashbacks start to uncover pieces about each other. They then gather all this ‘evidence’ up and we sort of see how that affects their perception of one another. So the flashback elements are fascinating in that our characters are still trying to pull things out of each other and fill in the gaps. It’s a strange dynamic, and in some ways I feel like those scenes are much more fun to play when it comes to character development.”

Evram on-duty in the Antares' sickbay. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram on-duty in the Antares' sickbay. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

As far as a favorite Defying Gravity episode, one immediately comes to the actor’s mind. “Part of our characters’ training involves having to back each other up job-wise if necessary,” explains Podell. “So as a physician, Evram has to teach the other astronaut candidates something about medicine. So that was a fun episode where I really got to play doctor and ‘perform’ surgeries and things of that nature. As an actor, I’d never had to do scenes like that before involving medical jargon, special effects, blood and guts and cool equipment like you see on TV. Evram also gets to share some of his backstory with the other characters, which I was pleased about.

“Funnily enough, my wife went in for surgery not too long ago to have her appendix removed. I wanted to make her feel at ease, so I was trying to make light of the moment and asked the surgeons, ‘Do you want me to scrub up? I’ve had some experience.’ I started throwing words around that I’d used in the show and the doctors were looking at me as if to say, ‘Hey, you know your stuff.’ I had a photo taken on my cell phone of me on-set, which I showed to the surgeon and said, ‘See, I’ve been there.’ Meanwhile, my wife is rolling her eyes and saying, ‘He just plays a doctor on TV. Don’t let him near me,'” chuckles the actor.

While Sci-Fi drama is nothing new to TV, Podell is hoping that audiences look deeper into Defying Gravity and discover what makes it different. “Michael Edelstein and Jim Parriott refer to this as Science Fact, and I think that’s very interesting given that we’re right on the cusp of these [real world] advancements with the European Space Agency as well as China and a whole new space race that’s being launched,” muses the actor. “All these things are relevant because our show looks at what’s going to happen with the space program 30 or 40 years from now. Although the series is set in the future, it’s not so far ahead that you can’t comprehend it. I think audiences will be curious to see what our technology might be capable of and where humanity might be headed as far as working together to explore the universe.

“There is also the fact that the stakes with space travel are quite high from a very real perspective because our characters don’t have transporters or any of the typical Sci-Fi devices. For example, they’re still vulnerable to the affects of exposure to space on the human body. I think it’s in the pilot where Donner says something like, ‘When exposed to the vacuum of space, humans are like pinatas. We just explode, burst, freeze, die, etc.’ So it’s a fine line between life and death, which is always intriguing. And then there is the mystery element to our story, in that what are we going to find when we get out there in the universe.

Evram Mintz standing in one of the Antares corridors. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram Mintz standing in one of the Antares corridors. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“Jim and Michael have some really cool stuff planned when it comes to planting things along the way and piquing the audience’s interest to make people wonder what’s going to happen next.”

In addition to Defying Gravity, the actor’s other TV credits include CSI: NY, ER, The West Wing, House and Without A Trace as well as recurring roles on 24 and The Game. On the big screen, Podell made his debut playing Al Pacino’s son in The Insider, and has since appeared in such movies as Unconditional Love, Blowing Smoke and the independent feature Hard Scrambled. His fans perhaps best know him for his two-year stint on the aforementioned The Young and the Restless, as well as his multiple episode arc as Ryan Burnett in season seven of 24.

24 was a lot of fun,” says Podell. “It was great to be back on-set with Kurtwood Smith, who played my boss [Senator Blaine Mayer] in the show. He also played my boss in a little independent film we both worked on. Kurtwood tortured me in that, and here I was getting tortured by Kiefer Sutherland [Jack Bauer] in 24,” jokes the actor. “It was awesome getting to watch Kiefer at work. I’m always looking to learn from people who have been in this business longer than I have and have endured. Kiefer gave 150% of himself. he was the hardest working guy on-set and totally dedicated and committed to making the best product possible. Not one ounce of him was phoning it in, and I thought that was amazing.

“The response I received from people about my being in the show was terrific. The second they saw me on it, they started saying, ‘You’re going to die, right? He’s going to kill you. That’s what happens. If you’re with Jack Bauer, you’re dead.’ So that was tough having to keep my mouth shut about it for a few months. Of course, my character got tortured and then had his throat slit. I don’t know why, but I tend to get killed a lot on TV. Hopefully that won’t happen here,” he says laughing.

No matter where his career takes him, Podell will never forget something Gene Hackman said to him and a group of other actors during a break on the set of Behind Enemy Lines. “One day we were all sitting around – these young actors playing sailors and naval airmen – and nervously pretending to do something else other than stare at Gene Hackman while he was sitting there reading a book,” says the actor.

Evram monitors a situation while on-duty on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

Evram monitors a situation while on-duty on the Antares flight deck. Photo by Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC

“Gene could sense that we were all hoping that he would say something, so he looked up and asked, ‘Do you guys still audition?’ It was a totally redundant question,which he knew, and we were all like, ‘Sure.’ And he said, ‘Man, I used to love to audition.’ At first I thought, ‘Why?’ and then it dawned on me that he got to be the success he is because there was nothing else he’d rather do than walk into a roomful of strangers and put on a ‘show’ for two minutes. It wasn’t about being in Yugoslavia and filming a multi-million dollar feature for Fox Studios. It was about the bare minimum of that moment in the audition room, and that for two minutes a day, a week, twice a week, whatever, you get to entertain people. Learning little lessons like that early on in my career is what continues to serve me well in this business.”

Steve Eramo

Defying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilmProductions, in association with the BBC, Canada’s CTV and Germany’s ProSieben. As noted above, photos by Kharen Hill or Sergei Bachlakov and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!