Interview with J.J. Abrams and Joshua Jackson of "Fringe" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Joshua Jackson

Here is a conference call that we were fortunate enough to hear from FOX.  It was with J.J. Abrams (creator of "Lost" and "Alias" as well as director of the new Star Trek movie) and Joshua Jackson (formerly known as Pacey on "Dawson's Creek:) to ask questions about their latest project, "Fringe".

J. Governale Good morning and good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for taking the time to participate in our Fringe series premiere conference call with co-creator/executive producer/writer J.J. Abrams:, and series star Josh Jackson. As a reminder, Fringe premieres next Tuesday at 8 p.m. and will encore Sunday, September 14th at 8 p.m. on FOX. Thanks again and, Art, letís proceed with the first question.

Moderator: Because of the number of people on the call, please limit yourself to one question and then re-queue. Our first comes from the line of Daniel Fienberg. Please go ahead.

D. Fienberg: This question is probably more for J.J., but Josh can answer if he wants. Like lots of people, I sort of have the election on the brain. Iím wondering do you view this show and its contemporary setting through the filter of anything thatís happening in American society at the moment? Does it really make any difference to Fringe which party takes over in January in terms of storytelling?

J. Jackson: Iím going to leave that one to you, boss.

J.J. Abrams: I really think that Josh should answer this because, first of all, because the show, Iíll try to answer quickly in a non-political mode, which is, the show is obviously coming out at a time when every week we read or hear or see about some kind of potentially horrifying scientific breakthrough. The reality is that we are in a time, whatever party is leading the country, where science is out of control. Having said that, maybe everything is out of control and maybe the show should be called Ö. The political aspect of it is obviouslyóit wasnít created to mirror the election, all Iíll say is hope is a good thing.

Moderator Next we have a question from the line of Amy Amatangelo. Please go ahead.

A. Amatangelo: This is actually for Josh. I want to ask you a little bit about your decision to come back to TV. Were you purposely staying away from the genre for a while and decide to go back in, or was it this project specifically that drew you to getting back on TV?

J. Jackson: It was this project specifically that drew me back to TV. Frankly, first it was the quality of the script, which is now our pilot and the density of it. And the fact that even while it was a totally satisfying story unto itself, you can see that it was laid in there, the potential for a whole world, a whole universe of other stories.

And the other J.J. on the line and his ability with the group of people that he keeps around him to tell these stories well over a long period of time. Because that was my hope, if I ever came back to television, to be part of a group of people who had the track record of being able to keep shows at a high level of quality over a long period of time. J.J., cover your ears. I think heís the best on TV at that right now.

A. Amatangelo: And did you purposely, were you staying away with the purpose for the last five years of not wanting to go back to TV and try to define yourself as not that character you had played? Or was it with intent or just happenstance, I guess is my question.

J. Jackson: There was some purpose in that TV is exhausting. It takes a little while to recover, but I donít know. Itís hard to say. I try not to live my life as much as possible defining myself against something. So I wasnít really too worried about coming back and being labeled as ďPaceyĒ or as that guy from Dawsonís Creek because thatís really an actorís job. If I get labeled as that, itís probably because Iím not good enough to define myself as something else. So I wasnít purposely running from that, but I certainly wasnít looking Ö.

Moderator Next we have the line of Michael Hinman. Please go ahead, youíre open.

M. Hinman: Thank you, guys, both for taking a couple of minutes for coming on. J.J., this is actually a question for you. In regards to all the different types of, I guess, going into this Fringe science, are the writers, is everybody sitting around and wondering how far can we push it before it becomes unbelievable? Or is that one of the nice things about this type of genre work where you can keep everything together and be able to tell something maybe far-fetched, really true science fiction type stuff to still keep the audiences in?

J.J. Abrams: Thanks for the question. The truth is that when we did the pilot for Lost, we had the monster appear at the end of the first act. We did that very consciously because we wanted to say to the audience, ďWeíre jumping the shark now,Ē like weíre doing crazy stuff from the beginning. Weíre not going to wait. On Fringe, we very consciously did what is in many ways a preposterous out there, far-fetched scientific story point in order to say to the audience, ďThis is what youíre going to be getting on the show.Ē Now it may be more extreme in some cases, less so in others.

Some shows, I think, as weíre writing scripts will deal with science very much as it exists. But I think for the most part the fun about it for me with movies and TV shows, especially in the genre of either horror of sci-fi is that pushing of the envelope and going further than you might otherwise. I think the show will definitely be pushing the edge of the envelope, but I donít think itís going to be about that. I donít think weíre going to be trying to top ourselves every week because then weíll just be in a race against ourselves and then thereís no way to win that one.

So I feel like the key is to tell stories that are as compelling, as emotional, as funny and certainly as weird and out there as possible, but not to try and have it be exploiting that aspect of the show. I would rather be delving into who these people are and what makes them tick than doing something just for shock value.

Moderator Next we have Ian Spelling. Please go ahead.

I. Spelling: This is kind of a split question, so I apologize. But, J.J., for you what did you see in Josh that made him right as your ďPeter BishopĒ? Josh, for you, talk about working with John Noble and Anna Torv and what interests you about ďPeterísĒ relationships with their characters.
J. Jackson: Should I put the phone down for a couple minutes?

J.J. Abrams: You can go first.

J. Jackson: I go first? Okay. Iím sorry what was the second half of the question again? What is it about Anna and John that brings ďPeter BishopĒ to life?

I. Spelling: John especially because heís playing the character kind of like a little bit of a mad scientist type of way and Anna is very straightforward. So itís interesting for you to play off of, Iím sure. And then what interested you about the characterís relationship to their characters?

J. Jackson: Actually, the answer to both ultimately becomes the same because while thereís a lot of stuff going on with ďPeter Bishop,Ē what Iím finding is a lot of the fun of playing him is exactly what you described, the relationship basically which boils down to being a translator more often than not between ďWalter,Ē who is brilliant, but sort of half cracked, and then ďOlivia,Ē who is an intensely no-nonsense type person. Sheís not the type of character that you would sit down and have a lyrical, philosophical conversation with. Sheís very much a ďJust the facts, maíamĒ type of person.

And you bring this other character, this ďPeterĒ character, into that world who has to try and be the go-between, and initially the extremely reluctant go-between whoís really only brought in by happenstance and then canít get himself out. Thatís an interesting dynamic because ultimately what that boils down to in my mind, and J.J., feel free to correct me, is a very typical dysfunctional family. And you put that dynamic, something thatís relatable and understandable to everybody, and you put it in this fantastically outrageous world of Fringe and it makes for an interesting dayís work.

I. Spelling: And, J.J.?

J.J. Abrams: To answer your question, Iíve known Josh a little bit for a long time back in the days of Dawsonís Creek. I was doing Felicity, so we were sort of in that same universeó

J. Jackson: Actually, not to make this too romantic, but I remember the first time we met.

J.J. Abrams: At Disney.

J. Jackson: Yes, exactly, at the screening for Felicity.

J.J Abrams Thatís right. Iíve always been a fan and loved his sense of humor and also the gravity that I thought that he could bring to something, even something as soap operatic as the stuff you were doing on the WB. I felt that same way about when I was working with Keri Russell. Itís like you find, there are actors, you go, ďOkay, they are really good, they elevate the material. They make it better.Ē As a director/writer/producer, all you ever want is to work with actors who make you look better, who make the work you do seem as good as it can be and even better than it is. I always felt that Josh had that ability. Iím thrilled to finally get a chance to work with him.

Moderator Next we have the line of Natalie Abrams. Please go ahead, youíre open.

N. Abrams So with the Anna and Josh chemistry we have going on, will there be love in their future? Josh, you also mentioned at the premiere that it would be kind of inappropriate for their characters to get together. Inappropriate how, if you could both touch on that?

J. Jackson: Iíll leave the big question to you, J.J., but the little question, actually what I said at the premiere was that it would be inappropriate in the pilot because itís awkward hitting on a woman when her boyfriend is dying in front of her eyes. But the big question Iíll leave to you, J.J.

J.J. Abrams: The odds are so much better. Thereís no doubt going to be a sort of slow burn relationship that develops between the two of them. I donít think it will happen exactly as you might think. But there obviously will be a dynamic there that we will play up, but like Josh said, it needs to be burned and it needs to be done right. Thereís a lot going on their lives on the show that are more urgent issues, but thereís definitely going to be over time a relationship between the ďPeterĒ and ďOliviaĒ characters.

Moderator Our next question comes from the line Hal Boedeker. Please go ahead.

H. Boedeker: Hello, J.J., I wondered is there some point you want to make about corporations in this and how much will that figure in the show?

J.J. Abrams: The show doesnít quite hit on the corporate conspiracy aspect, as the pilot might suggest, but there definitely is an ambiguous role that is played by Blair Brown. She works for a company that itís much more important, the relationship between her boss, who we have yet to meet, and ďWalter,Ē John Nobleís character. Their back story, how they ended up where they are, these are things that are much more about the characters than about a sort of clichť, cynical look at corporate culture. Having said that, I donít trust corporate culture at all.

H. Boedeker: Can you tell us who is playing her boss and how soon we might see him?

J.J. Abrams: I canít tell you that yet, but I can tell you that you will definitely meet him, heíll definitely be a featured part of the show. We want to make sure that when you meet him itís something youíre hungry for, as opposed to something that youíre just experiencing. So the way itís going to happen, which will happen over time, but by the end of the first season youíll meet ďWilliam Bell.Ē

Moderator Our next question comes from Michelle Stark. Please go ahead.

M. Stark: My question is for J.J. Josh touched a little bit on the successful longevity of some of your other shows, such as Lost and Alias. So I was just wondering how you felt Fringe compares to these shows and what kind of expectations you have for it compared to those.
J.J. Abrams: My expectations are sort of irrelevant because I never really know what to expect. You can never guess or assume what anyone is going to think. I can say that itís one of those shows that if I had nothing to do with it and saw it coming out, Iíd want to kill myself. Iíd be so miserable because it is so the show that Iíd want to watch. That doesnít mean that anyone else will. That doesnít mean that itís good or bad. It just means it is so the kind of the show that I am excited to see.

In terms of the other series, I donít know how to compare. Fringe is a very different show, but I would say that one of the experiments that weíre doing on Fringe is writing the show so that it is not as overtly serialized as certainly Alias and Lost are or were. So how that translates, I donít know. What it will mean, Iím not sure, but because Iím so drawn to overarching and sort of long-term stories, there will still be the mythology, the evolution of characters, the revelations of their story and what ďThe PatternĒ means and what theyíre doing and how they connect to that. So thereís all the stuff thatís happening. But weíre doing it in a way that is much less week to week installments of that story, which then requires you to reset things every time you do an episode that is a mythology episode, which makes it, I hope, something you can watch without feeling like youíre not in the club if youíve missed an episode.
Moderator Our next question comes from the line David Martindale. Please go ahead, youíre open.

D. Martindale: Thanks, hello, guys, I enjoyed the pilot. A question for Josh, do you have a head for science? Iím not talking about fringe science, just the generally accepted kind of science they teach in school.

J. Jackson: Head for it as in my interest for it?

D. Martindale: An aptitude for it, an interest in it, are you good at it? Is that why youíre an actor because youíre not good at it?

J. Jackson: I think the standard answer to that is: Iím an actor because Iím not good at a lot of things. I donít know. I would have to say itís been a long time since I appliedówell, thatís actually not true. We all apply scientific knowledge in one way or another on a daily basis. But itís been since high school since I found myself in lab. Some of the jargon is new to me, but I find the world of science interesting. I find the fact that weíre in a couple of weeks going to turn on the large Hadron Collider and maybe or maybe not incinerate the entire universe, that definitely piques my interest, so I certainly in the popular science world, I guess Iím aware of it, but no, I think the science kits, my chemistry set has been in the basement for a long time.

Moderator Next we have the line of Gloria Goodale. Please go ahead.

G. Goodale: Hello, this is for J.J. Weíve got a quarter of the new shows out there coming from overseas. You have cost cutting at the networks. Do you think itís a tougher climate right now for writers with new ideas? Also, what advice would you give to somebody, a young writer that wants to get the kind of show runner clout that you have?

J.J. Abrams: I think it is a particularly difficult time. Obviously Iím thrilled that Fringe, the show was not based on a format from another country or something that was imported, just because I feel beyond feeling lucky that we got a show on the air, itís good to see that what is probably a fad, a limited phenomenon of importing these foreign shows. Itís nice to see an anomaly to that, although all the actors are imported.

What was the second question?

G. Goodale: What advice would you give to a young writer that aspires to have the kind of show runner clout that you have to get stuff on the air?

J.J. Abrams: I feel like it is at least 51% luck that Iíve been able to view any of what Iíve done. I would say the great news about writing and being a show runner is that itís free to write. You donít need equipment. You donít need permission. For anyone who wants to run a show, it literally is just about exercising that muscle. Because writing as much as you can, itís been said that if you write a great a script and you throw it off the Brooklyn Bridge, someone will find it and make it because people are desperate for good material.

Having said that, Iíve read a lot of stuff that is far better than what I write that has not gotten on the air. Weíve all seen stuff that is generally perceived as garbage that gets on all the time. So there are no rules, but I think really the key is writing as much as you can. And then when you write it, youíve got your leverage. Youíve basically created your own momentum. At that point if you want to get a show, if someone wants to make that script that youíve written and you want to be a show runner, you need to say, ďThis is what my involvement is going to be.Ē

But really, the only real answer, the practical one is, if you want to be a show runner, the key is write the pilot that is something you want to make, which is literallyóthat just goes back to: what is it you want to see? Donít write what you think they want to see or what you believe or what youíre told is selling. Write the show that you desperately want to see and that is the closest you can get to certainty that will appeal to a lot of people.

Moderator Next we have the line of Don Kaplan. Please go ahead.

D. Kaplan: J.J., Don Kaplan from the New York Post. I have a question, I guess, about this recurring theme of distrust of corporate culture. Itís something that pops up in Lost and itís something else that pops up in Cloverfield. Iím wondering where that all stems from.

J.J. Abrams: Ö.Gillette .... it probably comes fromóI feel like there are so many entities that are powerful and far reaching. Itís funny, the descriptors of many large corporations could be applied to countries and when you have such a large presence itís hard to look at those companies and not at least ask the kind of questions, at least dramatically, that make that kind of institution interesting.

So while itíd be easy to not ask those questions and not scrutinize, to me there have been a few instances where Iíve looked at things that certain corporations have done and I just canít help myself and think, ďOkay, wait a minute. Whatís the real agenda there? Whatís really going on?Ē Because thereís got to be something more thanóand so itís just a very real thing that we are all surrounded by, as much as we are surrounded by the geography and the political world, weíre surrounded by a corporate world. Itís hard to believe that there isnít some kind of interesting, compelling intrigue happening behind the doors of those corporate headquarters, so itís an intriguing idea.

Having said that, itís also been overplayed and done a million times so if you donít have something interesting to say about a corporate culture, conspiracy, you probably should say nothing. But it is, for whatever reason, it is interesting to me.

Moderator Next we have the line of Abe Fried-Tanzer. Please go ahead.

A. Fried-Tanzer: When you talked a little bit earlier about the serialized nature of the show, how it wonít be as much serialized as Lost and Alias, do you envision more like the X-Files where maybe ten out of 20 episodes in a season have to do with one particular back story and the others have nothing to do with it, or more like Lost where thereís a number of different mythologies, but theyíre introduced every episode and donít seem to go anywhere, but you plan to revisit it at some point? Which do you see it more as?

J.J. Abrams: Iíve never seen the X-Files [laughs]. Ö.Iím such a fan of not just X-Files, but the Twilight Zone is one of my favorite shows of all time. I love the original Nightstalker was great. What I love about shows, the X-Files did so well is they could do creepy stuff Twilight Zone style, and like you said, it was actually even more than half the season, but they would do a number of shows that had nothing to do with the overall storytelling, the overall mythology and then they would jump in and do one. That is definitely closer to the model. I would even say closer to thatóitís closer to ER almost where you have these ongoing relationships, these ongoing storylines and yet week to week when the door bursts open youíre faced with the insane urgent situation of the week.

A show I loved when it was on was The Practice. Thatís another show that would do that well, which is they would deal with the interpersonal relationship stuff. The funny thing about, I am so interested in those relationships. When I look back at doing Felicity, and Iím sure Josh felt this way on Dawsonís Creek as well, that the problem with those shows is that thereís nothing to interrupt the relationship story. So while there are things here and there that you come up with, there was no franchise that would distract the main characters from their emotional storyline.

So I think a show like ER is a good example of a show where if these characters were not doctors and they were just hanging out, you go through their emotional stories in a few episodes. But because of whatís happening everyday, every week on those shows, thereís stuff they have to deal with, thereíre fires to put out. So anyway, the X-Files is definitely a good model. ER for some reason is one that feels more in line with the rhythm of what weíre doing, but the X-Files is a great example.

Moderator Next we have the line of Joshua Maloni. Please go ahead.

J. Maloni: Thanks for you time today. J.J., when you look at the current television landscape and you think about what shows like Lost and Heroes and Battlestar have done and what Fringe could potentially do, do you consider this to be almost the golden age of sci-fi?

J.J. Abrams: I would like to think that weíreóitís funny because Lost was always a sci-fi show that was kind of secretly a sci-fi show, and something like Battlestar Galactica is obviously much more overtly science fiction. The weird thing about Fringe is that although you can say itís science fiction, a lot of what weíre talking about is stuff that is at least in the realm of possibility, even though weíre definitely pushing it. So some of the stuff that weíre talking about now is not as much sci-fi as much as it is just sci, like when Star Trek came out and they had their communicators, that was a cool dream and now we all in our pockets have communicators and itís just real. So when weíre working on an episode and we read as we did a week ago, that invisibility is coming, they think weíve cracked invisibility. And youíre like, ďOkay.Ē Like the stuff that you just would never in a million years think is actually possible is happening every day.

So I think we may be living in the golden age of sci-fi for the TV, but I think itís partially because weíre living in an incredibly advanced, and almost uncontrollably so, period of scientific achievement. Itís pushing what we all thought was our Ö itís that comfortable almost quaint version of what sci-fi is to a very different place, and thatís where Fringe lives.

Moderator Next we have the line of Jim Halterman. Please go ahead, youíre open.
J. Halterman J.J., you have a really great track record with your leading ladies, Keri Russell, Jennifer Garner, Evangeline Lilly. How did you find Anna Torv?

J.J. Abrams: Our incredibly talented casting director Ö showed us a video audition that Anna did for another show, a movie. We were trying to see as many people as we could and I saw this audition. Itís just that feeling that you have where you just immediately know thatís the person. I wish there was some really cool, clever technique that we use to do this, but the truth is whether itís Keri Russell walking through the door, Jennifer Garner, who Iíd gotten to work with on Felicity, and who my wife was insistent was going to be a star, or Evangeline Lilly, who I got a video of her audition, or now Anna, itís simply the fact that when you see the right person, the first thing youíre concerned about is, ďOh my God, can we actually get her? Is she really available?Ē Like itís no longer about giving her the part, itís just we have to make this work. When I saw Anna, I just knew that she had a quality that was unique and smart, and she was beautiful, but not in a way that felt like she was phony. She seemed tough and sophisticated. I just felt like she was the right one.

Moderator Because of time restraints, we have time for one more question. That comes from the line of Alex Beene. Please go ahead, sir, youíre open.
A. Beene Hello, J.J. Iím wondering about, one of the more important questions that have come up, Fringe is done in such a cinematic fashion and weíre seeing a lot of shows now on television deal with this, weíre seeing more kind of a movie type atmosphere. Do you like this direction for dramatic shows? Do you think more shows should incorporate it into their style?

J.J. Abrams: I do. I feel like obviously the standard for what TV looks like changes all the time. Thereís certainly a cinematic quality to much of what you see on TV. In fact, itís funny when you watch some movies now, theyíve gone to a much more rough, the Bourne films, for example, that feels almost documentary style the way Paul Greengrass does his stuff. So itís funny how television has taken on a very sort of cinematic look, more sophisticated lighting and camera moves. A lot of movies have gone to a rougher place.

So itís interesting to think the line is so blurred now, itís hard to know. If you just want to look at something in a vacuum, I donít know if youíd be able to say, ďThat definitely is a TV show. Thatís definitely a movie.Ē I think itís sort of become, just as, by the way, actors and writers and directors are seemingly existing in television and film without real regard to being a TV star or a movie star, if youíre an actor, youíre an actor and the medium is less important than the material.

Moderator Once again, that is all the time we have for questions. Speakers, please go ahead with any closing remarks.

J. Jackson: You want closing remarks? Thanks, everybody, for coming. J.J., a pleasure to talk with you.

J.J. Abrams: Give a little speech. Thanks very much.

J. Jackson: Thanks to the other 78 of you who didnít ask questions.

J.J. Abrams: By the way, there must be at least 77 questions for Josh. Should we do one more for Josh?

J. Jackson: Are you throwing me a bone? I almost jumped in there because you know with the whole ďJ.J.Ē thing, technically I could answer one of those questions.

J.J. Abrams: That is true.

J. Jackson: Iím sorry. I didnít prepare a speech, strangely.

J.J. Abrams: Okay.

J. Governale Okay, thank you, everyone. Again, Fringe premieres next Tuesday, September 9th at 8 p.m. on FOX. Thank you, J.J., thank you, Josh, thanks again.


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