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Interview: Fringe's Joshua Jackson
Fringe returns for a second season tonight at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central on Fox. Earlier this week series star Joshua ďDonít Call Me PaceyĒ Jackson did a conference call with journalists, and below weíve got the full transcript for your amusement and edification.
What do you enjoy more as an actor, when you get to do an episode in which thereís lots of action, fighting, racing around, or when itís crazy science elements, or when itís simply doing a scene with the cow?
The cowís a diva; itís a little-known fact. Sheís not very giving. I donít know that I have a particular favorite. I think if I did any one of those things too much, each one would become boring in their way. The hope is to try and balance those things out as much as possible, if not in every episode, in every couple of episodes. I would tell you that the thing I spend the time thinking about is trying to keep the dynamic between Peter and Walter truthful and growing, but the beauty of being on a television show is that you get to do a little bit of everything all the time.
What is your reaction when you get the scripts and itís some new crazy thing that theyíre bringing into the story?
Thatís the beauty of our show; if we donít have a new crazy thing, somethingís gone horribly wrong, so I take it always as a positive thing. Each week itís a little bit of a science lesson for the class, itís a little bit of a vocabulary lesson for the class, and it always presents you with some other kooky thing.
As a fan, the things that I like most about our show, the genre that our show is in, is the bigger story rather than the individual creepy, gooey stuff. What weíve done pretty well is to make each one of the creepy, gooey things add up into a much bigger story. Thatís the thing that I geek out on, that I think is so cool.
Did you see the twist in the finale coming?
Did I see the twist coming in the finale? Which one?
The twist involving you.
They thankfully gave me a heads-up a couple months before that happened so that I didnít read it and think that I had been fired. It sounds a little bit like a tag line, but it is the truth. The great thing about our show is that if we can dream it, we can do it. I donít think anybody really saw that twist coming. I was only told about it four or five months in advance, but I think thatís amazing. To put the last frame of the show in the World Trade Center is incredible. I love our show for that. It should keep on pushing boundaries and envelopes like that.
Going forward now, what can you tell us about that particular storyline?
The Peter storyline or the Olivia storyline?
The Peter storyline.
The Peter storyline, what I love so much about that, beyond the ďainít-it-cool factor,Ē is now the audience knows something about Peter that he doesnít know about himself, something crucial about him that he doesnít know about himself. We come to find out that this is a large part of the guilt that Walter carries around, is that he baby-snatched Peter as a young boy. Inevitably, that information had to come out, so while I donít know the particulars much further than the episode that Iím shooting right now, I do think eventually that has to come to a head, and it will lead to a conflict between the two guys.
The entire first season for Peter and Walter was about this father and son reconnecting through the craziness of their circumstances and actually becoming something of a family, a very dysfunctional family. And season two has carried that forth. In the beginning, Peter is really invested now in being part of this team and actually belonging to this Fringe family, but eventually heís going to find out that this horrible [thing] happened to him as a child, and thatís going to blow up his relationship with Walter and probably with Olivia, I would imagine. To me, thatís the great thing hanging over Peter the entire season, and it gives me something to move toward as they go forward.
Do you think that Peter and Olivia will have some sort of romantic relationship or do hope that they donít?
My estimation, I just kind of said it a second ago, which is that I feel like this is more of a family dynamic than a romantic dynamic. Whatís unique and whatís great about our show is, as opposed to having just a leading man and a leading lady, you have this crazy father in the center of it. That would be a very, very awkward love triangle, so I donít think theyíre going to go in that direction. I see Peter and Olivia as more brother and sister rather than lovers on this show. Where theyíre going to take it, I have no idea, but for right now I run under the assumption that this is father, son, daughter rather than boyfriend, girlfriend, dad.
Peterís sarcasm is a huge selling point for my wife and me and a lot of other viewersÖ
[My] sarcasm is not really all that welcomed in my household sometimesÖcall my girlfriend.
We really like the interplay between Walter and Peter and the asides that Peter has. How much of the sarcasm is improvised versus scripted, and how much is you versus Peter?
Iíll give the writers credit. Iíd say most of those lines are written, though there is, particularly in the scenes with John, John and I have a very strong working rapport and heís a very playful actor. I mean that in a good way, that he likes to keep things live, and so you keep on testing and trying. Just to toot my own horn, I feel like Iím a bit that way myself. I think a lot of the humor of those moments comes out of the two of us just playing around until we figure out something that pops out of it, though the scenarios are definitely written. I would say that Peterís a much more cynical man than Josh is; his sarcasm has a tendency to be a lot darker than my sense of humor.
When we first met you in the first season, we got a sense of this kind of dark background that you had, doing arms dealing and such. Will we get back to that and what he was doing in his life away from his father and the life that heís got now?
Yes. We actually delved right into that very early in the season. We kept on hinting at it last year but never showing it, and itís not a problem of the format of the show. Itís not called Peterís Fringe. Itís difficult to put these charactersí backstories into the show. Thatís not true, not their backstories; itís difficult to put their outside lives into the show. Does that make sense?
Each episode has a central focus; however, we immediately understood what it was, what function Walter has as part of this Fringe team, and we spent the first season explaining exactly why Olivia Dunham, in particular, as opposed to any other FBI agent, had to be the center of this Fringe team. What we never really got into until the final episode, the final frames of the final episode, was why it is specifically that Peter needs to be a part of this. Now that weíve brought him in, this season weíve gone a lot deeper into actually showing, rather than just talking about, this prior life that he had.
Is there an aspect of that character that is exciting you to play?
Absolutely. Itís the thing that drew me into the character in the very beginning, the idea that he has, not even gray, a very black past that he was in a way running from and in another way wants to run back to. Oddly, being an arms dealer and being generally not a very good person is probably simpler for him emotionally than having to deal with his father and to confront all these things from his childhood.
During its first season, Fringe was one of those shows that seemed to sort of steadily gain an audience before it really broke out and became a hit. Was there a particular moment during the season, either from watching the show or from seeing the fans, where you really knew that it was catching on?
Thereís always a lag time for those of us who work on the show between making it and the reaction, because, of course, it takes six weeks for it to get on the air. But I think internally, Iím pretty sure Iím not alone in this, but the first big cliffhanger when Dunham gets kidnapped, I think itís in episode 11. I think thatís creatively when the show really hit its stride in the first season.
Do you think that Fringe can continue being accessible to new viewers this season?
Yes. Weíre just starting the eighth episode this year, and I would say that we are. The eighth episode is a mythology-heavy episode. Iíd say weíre about 50/50 for episodes that are heavy into the big backstories and stories that are just one-off investigations. The idea is also that, regardless of whether itís a mythology episode or part of the larger story or not, each one of these investigations in every episode will always have a beginning, middle, and end. Even if it is a heavy mythology episode, you can still tune in and get a satisfying story, as opposed to tuning in to the story halfway through.
Everybody uses Lost as an example. Lost is a fantastic show, but each one of those episodes doesnít really have a beginning, middle, and end; itís part of a continuing story. So, if you donít know the things that have come before, itís incredibly difficult to just drop in, which is just what Lost is. We should be so lucky to be as good as Lost on our show. The difference being that the format of our show lends itself to simpler storytelling, which is that every week thereíll be something that this group of people has to investigate. Sometimes itís going to lead them to learn something about the larger story theyíre investigating, and if you donít know anything about that, you probably wonít be engaged by that. But regardless, it will still come to an end that episode. Does that make sense?
Thatís one of the conceits of Fringe, that if you want to pay attention every week, thereís a lot of story being told all the time, but if you just want to tune in, drop in for a fun hour away where you get to cringe at the bad stuff and root for the good guys and hiss at the bad guys, thereís that aspect, too. It doesnít turn you away at the door.
Like any new show, Fringe had its share of ups and downs during the year, but I think it had a really strong second half. When do you think the show really found its own voice, its own style, and what kind of show it wanted and should be?
I think right around the midway point of last season the show decided what it wanted to be. From about the midway, point it got on a pretty good streak of episodes. I canít remember the exact number, but the two-part episode where Dunham gets kidnapped. After that, it was pretty clear; we introduced the bad guys for the season and there was a much clearer narrative drive through the rest of the season.
I would say, though, that I donít think the look of the show changed. I think, visually, the show always knew what it wanted to be. What we were trying to figure out was the alchemy, what proportion was going to be a serialized show, what proportion was going to be one-off. We were still discovering who the character was. I think it was much more about the storytelling than it was about the look of the show in the first season, like every show, frankly, has to figure out.
Has working on Fringe altered your perception of public transportation and pretty much everything else?
Strangely, I still fly, which you would imagine you would be a little nervous [about] as you worked on the show. No, it hasnít really altered my perception of public transportation too much. In fact, I still take public transit to work; I guess Fringe has inoculated me.
Obviously the show deals with parallel universes. Has this opened up your mind to the idea of parallel universes, and what do you think about the probability that there might be a parallel version of yourself in some universe?
I do think this idea is part of the zeitgeist right now. Maybe itís my West Coast, liberal upbringing, but the idea of parallel universes doesnít really strike me as being too far out there. After the Ď60s, and after all the psychedelia and the doors of perception and what-have-you, I donít think itís really all that far out.
What defies my imagination is that there would be nothing out there that would defy my imagination, and maybe itís because Iím a sci-fi fan. It just seems like the only justifiable position that a human can have in 2009 is humility in the face of the universe. Weíre learning so much, and everything that we learn, itís like that Carl Sagan thing, the candle in the dark. Every time the candle gets a little bit brighter, it only serves to illuminate how much we still donít know.
The showís being called a cross between The X Files and Dark Angel and a couple of other sci-fi shows. Whatís your opinion about that?
I donít really get what the Dark Angel reference would be. Oh, maybe because Dunham was experimented on when she was a kid, perhaps. I donít know. I think The X Files is a more fair comparison, but even in the opening credits The X Files, by design, dealt with things that were supposed to be part of the paranormal. What Fringe is trying to say is that these things that we would normally classify as fantastical are actually part of the normal. They all have legitimate explanations in the scientific world; they canít be chalked up to alien possession or fairies or Dracula.
Youíre a big science fiction fan. I was wondering if Fringe satisfies all of your science-fiction needs, or is there some science-fiction plotline out there that youíre really just dying to do?
Of course Fringe doesnít fill up the science-fiction quotient of my acting life. I donít know if thereís any in particular; itís hard to say that youíd be dying to do something, because itís probably already been done, but thereís an infinite number of stories out there. There are plenty of books that I read as a young man that I would love to turn into movies, some of which have already been turned into movies.
It is a ton of fun for a guy who loves science fiction to be working on a science-fiction show. None of the concepts that are raised on this show are entirely foreign to me, nor do they seem that far out there, but Iíve never worked on a show before where we got to actually explore those ideas.
Is there anything in particular that you would be interested in doing?
I would have loved to be part of Lord of the Rings, and now theyíre making The Hobbit. Iím not in that, either. I guess Iíll have to wait for The Silmarillion.
You mentioned that youíre a big sci-fi fan. What is it like working with Leonard Nimoy?
Iíve been shafted so far; in fact, Iím going to lodge a formal complaint through this conference call. Leonardís been up here twice, and while I did get to meet him and thatís cool, I have yet to be able to do a scene with him, and I think thatís un-cool.
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