J.J. Abrams (Lost), Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the team behind Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III and Alias, comes a new series that lives on the edge of science, Fringe. It’s goal- to thrill, terrify and explore the blurring line between the possible and the impossible.
Dish ran into them at TCA in Los Angeles, and got a chance to ask a few questions about the new show. Dish asked Abrams about the genesis of Fringe. “It wasn’t like ‘let’s do X-Files again or anything like that,” he responded. “It was ‘what kind of show would we tune in to see?’ We got together [with Kurtzman and Orci] and just sat in a room and just kind of listed off our [favorite] shows. And for me, I always wanted to do a real genius- geniuses- solving problems. And Alex was a huge fan of Twin Peaks and David was kind of a huge fan of Altered States and those kind of things. It’d be kind of a cross between those three things.”
Knowing that Abrams has been busy on the Star Trek movie, I was curious why he would still want to work in television. “I just love it. I feel so lucky to get to do it. But the draw to do TV is simply the opportunity to do it. I just feel that for this moment that we can, we would be crazy not to. It’s such an amazing medium. It’s such an interesting process. It’s this organic, ongoing thing, and when you have actors as good as we have, and you’ve got a story that I’m really excited about that we’re telling over a long-term, and also episode to episode, to me it’s a thrill.”
Alex Kurtzman added, “Someone asked earlier, actually, about the difference between TV and features, and I think a big part of it for us, too, is that certainly I guess Fringe could have been a movie, but we would not have had the room to explore these characters at the depth that we want to go into in three acts. It felt very organic to us like these were characters who wanted to live together for a very long time, that we would peel back layers over the course of many, many, many seasons, and that there would always be turns and twists, and we just didn’t want to be limited by three acts.
Since their two shows are similar thematically, I wondered how they decided what is Lost and what is Fringe? Kurtzman replied, “I think you find an organic fit for it. I think while it may seem that Lost and Fringe have crossovers, obviously for good reason, there’s a very different identity to the show. I think we find it as we go, but a lot of it is gut. A lot of it is sort of like that feels more organic to this project or that project. I think we’re all now in the discipline of separating our projects so that we can really focus on what’s important.
Abrams adds, “But also the fact is that we all love a very similar kind of thing, like there’s a certain sort of story that takes place in a reality that’s just slightly skewed and where it’s a little weird. So I feel like my guess is that, even though obviously something like Star Trek or Transformers are in totally different universes, that there’s some kind of weird resonance constant with all of them. It’s hopefully a story about people that you relate to, that make you laugh and make you feel something in situations that are absolutely insane. That, to me, is my favorite story.”
As successful as Lost is, a lot of people won’t watch because it’s hard to follow, and sometimes too convoluted to even figure out. I was curious as to whether Fringe would be similar. Abrams said, “Lost has received, you know, garnered a certain reputation for being a very complicated show and one you have to watch every episode. Fringe is, in many ways, an experiment for us, which is, we believe it is possible to do a show that does have an overall story and end game, which Fringe absolutely does. But my point is that we can do a show that has that, so that there’s a direction the show is going in, and there’s an ultimate story that’s being told, but also a show that you don’t have to watch Episodes 1, 2, and 3 to tune in to Episode 4. This with Kirk’s character talking, you know, I love—I’m interested in that, and who has the knowledge, and who has the power and who knows what, and why don’t we?”
He adds, “I’m hoping we create a show that’s entertaining and as much fun as we think it is and hope it is. I think a great show is something that we all want, an ongoing show. So we want people to see this. We want people to tune in next week as well. So at the end of the day, obviously, our fingers are crossed, and we’re excited and nervous, and more than anything, we’re just thrilled to have this chance. FOX gave us this incredible time slot, and I just feel like we are just floating on air.”
Kurtzman explains further, “ I think in the spirit of some of the lessons that we learned on Alias, as J.J. was describing, there will always be an ‘in’ to whatever the particular episode is, and it’s kind of the thing that grabs you and sucks you in, and that’s the mystery of the episode. Then we start—the investigation forms—and is the basis of the episode.
Dish asked Joshua Jackson about his character and the unique relationship with his brilliant father. “Well, what drew me to the character was the fact that you have this man who has this native intelligence but hasn’t really ever chosen to do anything other than get by with it,” he explains. “He’s drawn into this world against his will that engages his brain in a way that it probably hasn’t been engaged before. Then I also liked, there’s a built-in, ingrained conflict for Peter because he doesn’t want to be here, period, but then he also really doesn’t want to be forced to confront his father, and he’s sort of a reluctant participant in the group. All of those things are his greatest faults, that he can’t commit to anything and that he’s never really found an overarching passion.”
“About the uniqueness of their relationship?” he continued. “It’s unique, I think, on a variety of different levels. Probably the most bedrock one being that these are two very, very intelligent men, and that is a constant source of ultimately, I think, appreciation, but antagonism between the two of them. And I think they’re both used to being the smartest guys in the room, and they don’t really appreciate being made second best, or at lest that’s what my character thinks.
Adds TK (title) Jeff Pinkner: And it speaks to why this is fantastic as a series and not a movie, because it will constantly redefine itself as we go on, and obviously the relationship, it’s—in many ways, it’s a family, these three. It’s not just a father and son.
But it’s a family thrown together to deal with these problems.”
In J.J. Abrams projects, casting always seems to be a very complicated project. Was that the case in finding the right actress for Olivia? Orci replied, “Oh, it’s always last minute with us. We found everyone for Lost the night before. Found for Alias the night before. And that didn’t help at all. We were really looking all over to find the right person to play Olivia. And just like we found Evangeline Lilly in Canada at the eleventh hour, we found Anna Torv in Australia.
Kurtzman adds, “One day we got a call saying you really need to look at this tape. And we all slipped it in. There’s something that happens when an actor inhabits a part. They’re not trying to be that person. They just are that person, and they bring an organic life to the words that you’ve written. The minute we saw Anna, we went, this is who we’ve been writing for this whole time. We just didn’t know it.
Abrams is known for creating strong, kick-ass women characters. What did that mean to Torv? “This is the first time I’ve ever had to use a gun, so we had a little bit of training with that, and then little bits and pieces. We’ve just started, so I’m just starting to do some fight training, which I’m really looking forward to.”
She adds, laughing, “I came to the kicking ass naturally. They freaked out when I had to do some of the driving, though, because I’m from Australia, and we drive on the other side of the street, and Josh is a little bit scared as I’m looking over the wrong shoulder reversing back.
Not unexpectedly, there are some weird elements in the pilot, some visual flourishes like little blips that come on before the breaks and they almost seem to be crashing into or flying over or under the letters of the locations. What does that mean? Abrams replies cryptically, “It’s words simply as sort of weird eerie imagery, but these images will be part of—as you’ll even see in the pilot—there will be references within the show. So it’s not disconnected from the series. It’s not like the ad campaign, and there’s the show. It’s part of the code of the show. It’s something that we’re doing for people who care to figure it out and follow it. But it’s not something that a viewer has to consider when they watch the show. “
And what about the cow everyone’s talking about? Will she be a regular? “The cow stole the show a couple of times, so yes, the cow is a regular. But we now have a new cow because we weren’t allowed to travel our cow from Canada (where to pilot was shot), so this one was recast from the pilot. Literally, there have been conversations about making up the cow in case anybody realizes it has slightly different spots.”
Don’t miss the highly anticipated premiere of Fringe Tuesday, September 9 at 8pm et/pt on Fox!