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Wayward Pines has a cast of Academy Award winners and nominees that could put any movie to shame, with Melissa Leo, Terrance Howard and Juliette Lewis playing some of the residents of the town of Wayward Pines. The show was brought to life by blockbuster director M. Night Shyamalan, who directed the first episode, setting all the balls in motion.

Leading the way into Wayward Pines is Matt Dillon, playing Secret Service agent Ethan Burke. Burke is looking for two missing federal agents. After an automobile accident, Burke wakes up in the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho but can’t get a straight answer to any of his questions. Everyone, from the nurse to the police officers, seems to want him to just keep quiet and stay in Wayward Pines.

EthanBut Burke is a bit too stubborn for that. He stays on the case and interrogates everyone he meets. It might actually serve him better to play along, rather than tell everyone in town, “I’m onto you and you’re not going to get away with this!” That only makes them try harder to deceive him. Dillon agreed with my assessment, and assured us that his character’s tactics become more nuanced as the miniseries continues.

“These are things we went over a lot on the show,” Dillon said when Fox presented Wayward Pines to the Television Critics Association. “A lot of the questions people were asking were: what about the reveal at this point in the plot? I look for more things, I look for when the character should be asking questions, not asking questions, speaking up, saying something. He has a background as an investigator so he’s going to ask questions. I think that’s important for the tension of the story, and truthful.”

Police and EthanAs frustrating as it gets to viewers when Burke makes things harder on himself, Dillon felt it would be worse if he wasn’t a thorn in the side of Wayward Pines. “There’s nothing more frustrating than why isn’t this guy confronting or asking questions?” Dillon continued. “So at the very least, those were the things that needed to be done. He needed to ask questions, and there are times he plays along, and there are other times he doesn’t. I feel with the show that there’s a time to play along when he discovers certain things, but why would he play along when he doesn’t know what he’s playing along to? He doesn’t even know what it is yet. He has to find out what the hell is going on. Why are these things happening? He can’t play along unless he knows what the boundaries of the game are.”

Just the premise of an insular, inescapable town with a group of people keeping secrets, Wayward Pines fits in the tradition of shows like Lost and Twin Peaks. If those shows paved the way for Wayward Pines, Dillon didn’t know, but he reaped the benefit of that kind of mysterious storytelling. 

Wayward Town Sign“To be honest with you, I’m not really that drawn to [television],” Dillon said. “Like I don’t go home and go, ‘I’ve got to watch that show.’ I’m being honest. That’s me. I like good storytelling, and I am drawn to the creative potential that television has. You have the ability to tell a story over a long period of time. The thing about television, really, is it is all about characters. It’s all about characters, ultimately. That was interesting because most of my career life has been in three act structured movies, you know. I got to a point where I felt like you start to actually think that’s the only type of structure there is. But, then, television, there really is no ending in a way. There really is no beginning. It’s all the middle part. That’s what’s kind of fun about it. So there’s a lot of potential. I love that.”

Whether or not Dillon knows shows like Lost or Twin Peaks, viewers may draw their own comparisons. The British classic The Prisoner came up during the Wayward Pines panel as well. To that end, Dillon resists comparison. “I never watched Twin Peaks but I’m a huge David Lynch fan,” Dillon said. “I’ve seen his movies because I don’t really even watch television that much. I saw a little Twin Peaks but I’m never comfortable comparing anything to David Lynch because David Lynch is totally unique. This is unique too. I never saw The Prisoner, but I know The Prisoner. I do know that there’s a strong analogy.”

Ethan at nightThe mystery of Wayward Pines might not be as fantastical as Lost and other mystery shows either, according to Dillon. “I think the word that comes to mind, and the word that I learned is my favorite word, is verisimilitude,” Dillon said. “That’s what this story is about. This show is about the search for truth and the acceptance of truth. Hey, this is the situation, you’ve got to accept it. That’s, I think, what Ethan does throughout the show. He’s a guy seeking to find out and there are other people who don’t want other people to know the truth. Those are the battles.”

In some ways, Burke’s conflict with the town of Wayward Pines is the same one Dillon faces on the set of any movie. “That’s really interesting because that’s what we’re battling all the time as storytellers, as actors,” he said. “Verisimilitude means the appearance of truth. It’s not to say it’s false. It’s the appearance of truth that can be a very powerful thing. That’s a lot of what’s going on in this show. This town seems to be a real town. It appears to be a normal place but it’s not. There’s another truth underneath. It’s entertainment, this thing. That’s why we did it but there’s a lot of things that are germane to bigger topics.”

Dillon joins film actors like Kiefer Sutherland, Kyra Sedgwick, James Spader and Halle Berry in finding preferable roles in long-running television series in stead of films. He says he was not thinking about the recent legacy of film actors migrating to TV when he took this part.

Woman Smiling“I kind of went along,” Dillon said. “I thought it was an interesting character. I wanted to get back to work. I liked where it was going and I just jumped in with both feet. It was an interesting journey. I learned a lot. I liked M. Night Shyamalan, the fact that he committed to it, and I liked the script. Basically, what I had to go on was what you guys have. You’ve seen the first two episodes. So that’s what I had. And there were a lot of questions, and I had questions. I continued to have questions even after I committed to doing the show. I think that’s what drew me into it. I like the world. I’m drawn to atmospheric projects, and I like this.” 

Asking those questions, Dillon was not alone. It turns out all his co-stars had their own questions. “There were a lot of discoveries made throughout the process. And in my experience in working in films, the best experiences that I’ve had have been when there’s been discovery,” Dillon said. “It wasn’t that you just showed up and you shot the script the way it was, and then it was edited exactly the way it was written. Usually, there’s things that happen along the way, and that, I’d say, happened in this process. I’d be lying if I tried to say, ‘Oh, you know, there were never any issues.’ No. Things came up, but we were able to work together to make it better, to work to improve it. I would say that everybody was committed, and their passion was in doing this show and making it the best that it could be. That part was very... it was exciting. It was challenging, and it was exciting.”

The root of some of those questions was the internal logic of Wayward Pines. The audience may not understand what is going on. Burke certainly doesn’t, but it was important that the residents of Wayward Pines did. Otherwise, there would be no menace for Ethan.


“For me, the most important thing is the characters, that there’s logic behind everything that they are doing,” Dillon said. “It doesn’t have to make sense to anybody but that individual, but there has to be a truthfulness to who the characters are, and I think we all felt that. This show is particularly tricky because you have different levels of reality for everybody, you know. My character stumbles into this town early on, and he really doesn’t know. He’s discovering stuff. I mean, it’s kind of a subjective piece of storytelling in the beginning from his standpoint. He’s sort of with the audience discovering things. But it’s interesting because I would talk to the other actors, and they have a whole other reality. I mean, he runs into the woman that he’s come there to look for, his ex partner, and she’d been living there for 12 years, but he saw her two weeks ago. Things like that that really don’t make sense. Right? So there are different realities.”


Discover Wayward Pines when it premieres Thursday, May 14 at 9/8c on Fox. 

 / Issue 169 - September 2018
Turnpage Blk

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