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Interview with Zak Penn and Warren Christie of "Alphas" on Syfy
I like both these guys, and I think they generally do
great work, even though I was not too fond of the "Alpha" pilot and gave
it a bad review. It was kind of hard to know what to ask them when I
felt like asking, "So why did it suck?" But I refrained. I am very
surprised that Zak Penn did this show because he did the superhero
movies for X-Men and The Incredible Hulk so well. He also did the story
for "Last Action Hero", which I really enjoyed. But this show is
not at all as cool and fun as those movies. I think he tried so hard to
be realistic and pander to the average person (as you can tell by his
comments below) that he forgot to appeal to the superhero fans and what
they like: lots of cool stuff like outfits and gadgets, action, and
special effects...and he also didn't make the characters very appealing.
Well, anyway, it was a very interesting interview, and we'll see if I am
right and it gets canceled quickly, or I am completely wrong and it's a
Warren Christie is the star of the new show, and he does
a great job in it. In fact, he is the only likable character, IMHO, and
he is an awesome actor. He was the bad guy, of sorts, in his previous
shows, like Happy Town and October Road. He is gorgeous in all of
them, though, and sounded very nice on the phone. I hope for HIS sake,
at least, that it is a hit. I really want to be wrong because TV needs
more superhero shows (especially now that Heroes and Smallville are
Syfy Conference Call
Zak Penn and Warren Christie
July 7, 2011
12:00 pm CT
Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and
welcome to the Alphas conference call. During the presentation all
participants will be in a listen-only mode. We will be conducting a
question and answer session. At that time if you have a question please
press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. And if at any time
during the conference you need to reach an operator please press star 0.
As a reminder this conference is being recorded Thursday, July 7, 2011.
I would now like to turn the conference over to Stephen from Syfy.
Please go ahead.
Stephen Cox: Good morning everyone, thank you for joining us
today. We have Warren Christie on the line, star of our new series
Alphas which premieres Monday at 10:00 pm only on Syfy. And
unfortunately Zak Penn is unable to join us at this moment but weíre
hoping that he might be able to join as the conference call continues.
So with that weíll turn it over to your questions so you guys can get
started talking to Warren.
Operator: Certainly. Ladies and gentlemen, to register your
questions please press the 1 followed by the 4 on your telephone. You
will hear a three tone prompt that acknowledges your request. We ask
that you please limit yourself to one question and one follow-up. Then
you may re-register for additional questions. Our first question comes
from the line of (Kathy Huddleston) with (Blaster.com). Please proceed.
Ms. (Huddleston) your line is now live.
Kathy Huddleston: Hello?
Warren Christie: Hello.
Operator: Ms. (Huddleston) please unmute your line, youíre live.
Kathy Huddleston: Oh great, great. Sorry, I got disconnected for a
sec. Warren, hi.
Warren Christie: Hi (Kathy), how are you doing?
Kathy Huddleston: Iím doing great. How are you?
Warren Christie: Iím doing really good thank you.
Kathy Huddleston: Itís so good to talk to you. So what can you tell us
about your character Christian Hicks?
Warren Christie: His name has been changed, itís actually Cameron Hicks
Kathy Huddleston: Oh Cameron Hicks. Why did that put that in - okay
Warren Christie: No problem.
Kathy Huddleston: Iím glad you told us that.
Warren Christie: Itís all right, everybody calls him just Hicks anyway
so it will work out fine. Cameron is a guy who we meet in the pilot,
heís had a bit of run of bad luck and heís divorced, his son doesnít
really want to spend much time with him. Heís a recovering alcoholic and
through a chain of events is brought into this group run by Dr. Rosen
who wants to help him while at the same time using the ability that is
just new to him that he is just figuring out that he has to help him
investigate other alpha abilities.
So I think Cameron is interesting because I think in the pilot
specifically heís kind of the eyes for the audience because as he is
brought into this group of individuals who have been together for a
short amount of time, he doesnít just jump right in with both feet.
Heís very skeptical, he doesnít understand what these abilities are. He
doesnít necessarily believe in them. And so itís not like a type of
thing where heís just all gung ho and sign me up and letís do this. Heís
very resistant to the whole thing. And by the end of the pilot heís
almost forced to choose to work along with them.
And so heís spent a lot of time as a loner and he has had a really bad
run of luck and so heís got trust issues and used to being alone. So
immersing himself into a group is not the first thing that he is looking
Kathie Huddleston: Well I thought the pilot was great. And so now tell
me, and to your opinion you want people to watch this obviously. Why
should people tune in to Alphas? What makes this unique?
Warren Christie: I think what weíre doing is weíre putting a new spin on
a genre that has been around for a while. Anytime you have a show of
this nature people want to compare it to this and they want to compare
it to that.
But weíre putting our twist on it. Weíre really delving into people and
how their abilities which are exciting and yes there are these action
packed sequences but really thereís drawbacks to it. Whether it be
physical, whether it be psychological, theyíre all dealing with things.
And when you bring this eclectic group together it causes drama but a
lot of humor. Itís just a very dysfunctional group, you know,
individuals and as a group.
So like I said, I think that at the end of the day weíre working very
hard to make sure that we are going to entertain the hell out of you for
an hour every week and hopefully at the end of the day thatís what we
Kathy Huddleston: Wow, thank you so much.
Warren Christie: You got it, have a good one.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Jamie Ruby with
Sci-Fi Vision. You may please proceed.
Jamie Ruby: Hi, thanks so much for talking to us today.
Warren Christie: Hey Jamie, how are you doing?
Jamie Ruby: Good, you?
Warren Christie: Iím good thanks.
Jamie Ruby: Great. So how did you come to work on Alphas? How did that
Warren Christie: Yes Alphas, you know, it was kind of a very boring,
regular process. The script came my way and I kind of fell in love with
it right away. And then the order of events with Zak and then next Jack
had signed on to it, Jack Bender. And Jack and I had worked together
about - I think about a year before that. We had worked on another pilot
And I was a huge fan of his and I knew that in his hands he could take
what was already a great script and great characters and really take it
up a notch. And then finally when David Strathairn signed on it kind of
became an I need to get into this project and do whatever I have to do.
So, I was working on something up in Vancouver, I sent a tape in and
they kind of took it through the works. And I was working so I wasnít
able to kind of follow up on it and I just kind of got the job from
Jamie Ruby: Okay great. And as a follow-up, what do you find the most
challenging about filming the show?
Warren Christie: Like any show we have extremely long hours. Anytime you
add, you know, we have great character development, we have a lot of
great things going on but we do have stunts and stunts end up taking
time and things like that.
I really love that aspect of it, it was another thing that attracted me
to it. Actually itís the character and what heís going through but the
physical elements that - something that I hadnít really delved into as
much as I have on this show in a while and it has been a great
challenge. It has been a fun challenge, itís interesting the things that
we try and do.
And the other thing is with Hicks, heís new to the group and because he
is just scratching the surface of what he can do his abilities are
expanding and growing. And so the stunts are getting, you know, bigger
and more elaborate and I find that itís a really fun challenge on a
Jamie Ruby: Great thank you.
Zak Penn: Hey Warren?
Warren Christie: Yes?
Zak Penn: This is Zak Penn calling from Los Angeles.
Warren Christie: Oh hello Zak. Do you have a question?
Zak Penn: Yes I do. How come I didnít call in ten minutes earlier? Guys
Iíd like to apologize. There was a bit of a mix-up on my end and I was
under the impression I was going to have someone call me but I am now
Stephen Cox: Thank you for joining us Zak, Iím sorry about that mix-up.
Zak Penn: Totally my fault.
Warren Christie: Just so you all got that, Zak Penn doesnít make calls,
he takes calls.
Zak Penn: I take calls, thank you Warren. What did I miss? Could
everyone repeat everything theyíve said so far? No Iím just kidding. Iím
Warren Christie: Hey Jamie are you still there? No? Jamie from Sci-Fi
Vision? Wow, Iíve got to be honest Zak, it was going well and then you
Zak Penn: Is it over now? Itís over, no more questions?
Warren Christie: You can collectively hear...
Operator: Jamieís line is live.
Warren Christie: Okay.
Jamie Ruby: Yes Iím still here.
Warren Christie: Oh there you are.
Jamie Ruby: I guess I was muted, Iím still here. Yes Iíll ask you the
same questions then. I asked him first how he became involved in the
Zak Penn: Well we saw his audition and thought he was excellent. Jack
Bender knew Warren, I guess they had worked together on something. What
show was it Warren that you guys had done together?
Warren Christie: We had shot a pilot about a year before that never went
to air so I refuse to name it.
Zak Penn: Okay so Jack had known Warrenís work so we got one of those
audition tapes from Canada where the person is like off in the distance
shot through a dirty drinking glass. But even that way we could see that
Warren has a charisma that we wanted for the role. I distinctly remember
actually, I guess you had shaved your head for the audition or cut it
Warren Christie: Yes I had done it. No no, I hadnít done it.
Zak Penn: And he immediately popped for us so it was actually one of the
less controversial, you know, thereís always a lot of back and forth but
Jack had told us about him and I was aware of his work. He had worked
for some friends of mine so we saw him, we said that guy is Hicks, letís
go get him. And we did.
Warren Christie: And I sent a blank check.
Zak Penn: That blank check really did help by the way. I mean, none of
the other actors did that.
Warren Christie: You didnít even watch the tape. You were like this guy
knows the business, get him.
Zak Penn: Yes and once I got that check and I was able to buy myself
that solid gold Prius that Iíve always wanted, I was like weíve got to
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Pattye Grippo
with Pizzazz Entertainment Network. Please go ahead.
Pattye Grippo: Hi guys, thanks for talking with us today.
Zak Penn: Pleasure.
Warren Christie: Hey Pattye, how are you doing?
Pattye Grippo: Pretty good, thanks. So let me ask you. Warehouse 13 is
an effects-based show -- oh God, sorry, Alpha is an effects-based show.
Zak Penn: You can call us Warehouse 13, itís fine.
Warren Christie: Yes weíll answer to that.
Pattye Grippo: Sorry about that, itís early here, okay? Do you have to
do a lot of green screen work and what exactly does that involve?
Zak Penn: Do you want me to field this one Warren?
Warren Christie: Yes, go for it.
Zak Penn: Okay. What screen? No, we do have to do some green screen.
Most of the movies that I work on are like I feel like theyíre set at a
green screen. Theyíre just like - thereís so much green screen in the
big comic book movies.
We donít have to do anywhere close to as much of that on this show
partly because our goal with the effects is to make them as naturalistic
as possible so weíre quite often enhancing in more subtle ways. But that
said, sure there is plenty of green screen. I mean, Warren and I, we
have certainly had to do a number of green screen shots when Iíve been
up on set.
But itís less - hereís the thing. The show is so set in the real world
that quite often if we are doing green screen itís not to put in some
sort of amazing backgrounds or to show them jumping out of a plane or
whatever. Itís far more often simply to make the locations in New York
City feel more seamless.
Pattye Grippo: Okay. And well let me ask both of you this then. Do you
have a favorite artifact from the series that you wish you had for
Zak Penn: Warren, Iím sure itís that giant sniper rifle.
Warren Christie: Well, Iíve been stealing things since day one so thatís
why itís such a broad question, itís a tough one to answer. Iíve been
pilfering things from the get-go.
Zak Penn: But I donít think they meant office supplies Warren, I think
theyíre talking about more substance.
Warren Christie: Oh cool stuff, then I misunderstood.
Zak Penn: Yes.
Warren Christie: I canít really think of anything thatís really that
mind blowing which is funny because normally you would think - oh I
probably would steal one of the cars I guess. I mean, thatís all I can
really think of.
Zak Penn: Yes thatís a good...
Warren Christie: Is that too big? Would I get caught? I would probably
get caught. Thatís too big.
Zak Penn: Take it.
Pattye Grippo: Nah.
Warren Christie: Yes Iíll take a shot at it today.
Zak Penn: Do you mean like artifacts like a prop or something from the
show? I mean, or...
Pattye Grippo: Yes I do actually.
Zak Penn: Because actually I will tell you that the one - well I have a
couple. This is weird, youíve kind of asked me the perfect question.
First of all the ghostís notebooks I wish I had taken. I probably could
have gotten away with taking them. You have seen the pilot I assume?
Pattye Grippo: Yes.
Zak Penn: Those notebooks, you know the scene where theyíre looking
through the ghost stuff and thereís like these meticulous drawings of
everything he ever did?
Pattye Grippo: Right.
Zak Penn: Itís got even a drawing of Hicks firing his sniper rifle. Our
artist, you know, one of those people in our art department meticulously
drew those over the course of weeks and they are incredible, they really
are. So I wish I had taken one of those and maybe itís not too late.
And the other thing is that they mocked up for the record store scene
with Dr. Rosen and Iím going to say this because my friends from high
school will be psyched. I was in a band in high school and kind of as a
joke they took the picture of my band and created an album and when Dr.
Rosen is looking through albums in the kind of vintage record store one
of them is my crappy band from high schoolís album.
Warren Christie: What was the band called?
Zak Penn: It was called Oedipus and the Mamaís Boys. And they actually
framed it and gave it to me at the end of the shoot. So of all the
artifacts I have gotten from almost any movie Iíve worked on or show,
that actually meant quite a bit to me.
Pattye Grippo: Well great. Thank you both very much for your time today.
Zak Penn: Thank you for that question.
Warren Christie: Have a good one.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Reg Seeton with
Deadbolt.com. Please go ahead.
Zak Penn: Hey Reg, how are you doing?
Reg Seeton: Not too bad. Now Zak can you talk about the Alphas and how
theyíre a metaphor for tapping into your true potential as opposed to
Zak Penn: Well interestingly, I mean, obviously when you do a superhero
movie usually that is working on a metaphorical level, right, because no
matter how Jean Greyís struggle with turning into Phoenix is obviously
so extreme but itís operating on a metaphorical level.
I think with Alphaís part of the point is these peopleís abilities and
problems are so close to reality that sometimes itís not only not
metaphorical, it allows us to actually tell the same human story.
You look at Hicksí story. Itís pretty close to the story that any of us
would have who have a talent that kind of we have trouble managing. Even
look, thereís a long history of writers who have an instrument that they
can access occasionally but when they canít they turn to drinking or
turn to other things to manage that problem.
And Warren can speak better to this but we really tried to keep both the
upside and the downside of their problems so close to human that we end
up writing stories that are, I mean, I donít mean to get all semantic
and a lecture about semantics versus metaphorical but itís actually a
real - itís fun.
I mean, on the X-Men itís pretty hard to write a story about Wolverineís
problems, paying his rent and working in a grocery store, whereas with
Hicks those are real issues. Warren?
Warren Christie: And byproducts from what has led him up to this point
in his life. Like Zak said, I think Hicks sees this as much more of a
curse than a gift because he has known there has been something
different about him but it seems to always have failed him at the
So because of that, like Zak pointed out, because Hicks is so agile you
can have something like a professional athlete. Professional athletes go
through a lot of different things where they have these highs and then
because of that they have these very big lows. And I think itís that
fine line and that balancing at that is what makes each of the
characters so rich in the show.
Zak Penn: And also, yes and most professional athletes by just the
thread thatís in there, like whenever you read about, Iím a big baseball
fan, Iím a big sports fan. Warren and I have talked about this a bit.
But almost every professional baseball player, 70% of their job if
theyíre good is failure. Any good hitter, if they bat 300, 70% of the
time theyíre failing. So itís something that Hicks is kind of coming to
grips with that, you know, I think is real even for quite a few players.
Reg Seeton: Excellent. And I also wanted to know what interesting things
did you learn through neurology research on that side of the story? And
is there anyone out there like Gary and Rachel?
Zak Penn: First of all, in terms of what I learned during the research,
itís so, so much more and so voluminous compared to anything else I have
ever worked on just because itís been five years Iíve been working on
this project. And everything about the brain fascinates me and I was
already a huge fan of Oliver Sacks and so I had already read everything
he had written. So, I really wouldnít even know where to start.
I can just tell you maybe the persistence of vision, the nature of the
persistence of vision was one of the things, the way that our sight is
so much less real than we think it is something that kind of blew my
mind when I first uncovered the idea that you have two giant blind spots
in your vision and your brain just kind of fills it in for you. So that
was fascinating for me. And what was the second part again?
Reg Seeton: Is there anybody out there like Gary and Rachel?
Zak Penn: Yes absolutely - in terms of Rachel thereís people who are
incredibly close to her in terms of - there is a woman who, you know,
and all of these people we did a lot of research. We put together
videos. In fact part of the way we sold the show was presenting, you
know, hereís the real people that are the equivalent of this.
Now with Rachel there is this one woman for example who has a very
similar type of synesthete which allows her to perceive things with her
senses that other people canít. Admittedly it is a science fiction show
so itís all - Rachel is maybe ten times better than she is.
And certainly that woman doesnít have the same downside although for
example there was a very touching thing where she talked about her
inability to go to certain public places because sound is color to her,
it would overwhelm her and she could not deal in big public situations.
So for Rachel, and we talked with Azita a lot about this, itís
incredibly close to reality albeit, we need to push it at times.
Gary, I donít know that there is a person out there like Gary. Thereís
certainly people who can perceive different wavelengths that others
canít. Thereís people who can hear things that others canít. I do think
his ability is probably the one that we most took a leap with, I mean,
just to be - just to divide them up. His is the one where we said we
havenít found a person like this but what if they existed.
Reg Seeton: Excellent. Thanks guys.
Warren Christie: Yes, have a good one man.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Jim Iaccino with
MediaBlvd Magazine. Please go ahead.
Jim Iaccino: Hi Zak and Warren, how are you doing?
Zak Penn: Great.
Warren Christie: Good Jim, how are you doing?
Jim Iaccino: Okay. Iím not too sure if youíre familiar with other Sci-Fi
shows of this particular genre oft of which are good and all of which
have survived several seasons starting with the 4400 and then going into
Heroes. And so there is sort of a legacy of these gifted individuals not
only in the comic books but also on TV. So one remark is that I think
youíre going to have a long life on Syfy with multiple seasons
Zak Penn: Well thank you. Are you - could you possibly become the head
of Syfy or of the (unintelligible)?
Jim Iaccino: I would like to do that.
Zak Penn: That would be great.
Jim Iaccino: But I did want to know first of all, are you familiar with
those shows at all? Hopefully you are and how does your show help us
take a different spin on what has been done before?
Zak Penn: Okay I think Iíve got to field this one.
Jim Iaccino: Okay.
Zak Penn: To start although Warren you feel free to interrupt when I
make mistakes. Iíve never seen any of those - no, okay I have - I am of
course familiar with those shows, some more than others.
For myself personally obviously Iíve worked on the X-Men franchise so
even though itís not a TV show it definitely had, you know, I have
worked in the business of people with extraordinary abilities so Iím
Warren Christie: Thank you.
Zak Penn: Sorry?
Warren Christie: I thought you were talking - I said thank you.
Zak Penn: Exactly, I mean, Iíve worked with Warren and he is an alpha of
acting and particularly of acting with his shoulder is something I have
learned. But what I would say is first of all (Ira Bear) who is the show
runner of our show and my co - and my partner in crime obviously worked
on the 4400 and so did a number of people on the staff and we have some
people who worked on Heroes here and there.
Weíre definitely aware of those shows. One of the things that we did set
out to do from the very beginning, we always said as opposed to most of
the shows that weíve seen like this which usually start with letís say a
pretty heavy science fiction or fantasy premise, we tried to start from
the standpoint, Michael Carnell and I when we first came up with the
idea of whatís the most real version of this story we can tell? How can
we start at the absolute reality of it and then build up from there?
And so, it always gave us this perspective of there would be times when
we would accidentally arrive and we would go oh my God, thatís actually
pretty close to something that happened on one of those shows. The
difference is our guys are driving a minivan and they donít get there
and Gary has to be home by 9:30 and Hicks misses the shot and Harken has
a heart attack.
So, that became the real differentiation point from those other shows. I
think thereís a reason why the Marvel movies have been so successful
which is thereís just something innate in all of us, that idea that a
regular person could have abilities that fulfill some sort of fantasy or
wish fulfillment in our head that is just so powerful that it endures.
People who donít understand comic book culture for example who donít get
why do these people want to keep seeing these stupid comic book movies
or why do they want to keep doing things about, you know, people with
extraordinary abilities? Theyíre not getting that is our modern
I believe it was (Neil Damon) who astutely said, he might have said this
to me actually but he made the point that the Marvel universe is the
single largest work of contiguous or continuous fiction in
civilizationís history. More than Greek mythology, more than the Bible,
more than anything. Itís an enormous mythology.
And I think the reason for, and obviously DC is closed and all those
other shows you mentioned. But thereís a reason why people want to keep
watching stuff like that. Itís not because theyíre dumb or they donít
know what else to do, itís because it touches into something really
profound that appeals to us.
Jim Iaccino: And Iím glad you mentioned the X-Men because as youíre
familiar with the X-Men, thereís a good core of mutants and then thereís
a bad core of mutants too.
So I guess my other question, without revealing any spoilers but will we
get to see if there is an Alpha, is there going to be a group like the
Omega? Is there something like that the Alphas have to defend against by
the end of or the middle or the end of this first season?
Zak Penn: There absolutely is and Iím going to have a good segue to
Warren at the end of this Warren so be ready.
Warren Christie: Cool.
Zak Penn: So first of all Red Flag which is introduced even in the pilot
is a group of alphas with a very different agenda than Rosen and our
government. One of the things I will tell you, and I feel like perhaps,
you know, one of my contributions to the X-Men franchise was from the
very beginning I felt like, you know, letís pull this as far away from
mustache twirling villains and as much towards an actual movement or a
terrorist group or, you know, etc. And, you can judge the success or
failure based on those movies of whether everyone listened to me or not.
But on Alphas one of the things we set out is -- and I think you will
really see this in the upcoming episodes -- that Red Flag who is
absolutely the antagonist for the team is not your average group of
antagonists, that they are some very unusual people with a very
political and specific point of view. And the debate over whether or not
theyíre right or wrong is an extremely cogent one.
So while they serve as like, obviously thereís a foil and thereís a lot
of confrontation with them and obviously they werenít too nice to Hicks
in the opening episode, ironically itís Warrenís character and even he
has gotten a taste of this already.
Because he is the newcomer to the group and because heís not as much
aware of what Rosen has been doing, the more he learns about Red Flag
and the more he learns about other alphas and their attitudes, heís the
one who is really kind of saying well wait a second. They kind of seem
to have a point, you know.
And from my point of view, whatís so much better about what youíre
saying than what theyíre saying. And to me thatís what makes a good
antagonist. So I donít know if Warren, Warren that was my segue to you.
Warren Christie: Yes - the thing I would add to that which is one of the
things that has been so great about this is, we donít just open up every
episode and say oh weíve got to get so-and-so and then wrap it up and
go. Thereís always storylines.
So the Red Flag is always hovering. We introduced them, we learned about
them in the pilot. So they are always something thatís going on but itís
just so blurred. Thereís no black and white, thereís gray.
And itís not necessarily always tracking down someone with alpha ability
who is just out there trying to hurt people. Sometimes itís an ability
maybe that just they canít control. So, itís never getting from point A
to point B from the beginning of each episode to the end because that
gets very cut and dry and a little bit boring. There is always different
And thatís the great thing. Itís like what Zak is saying, through
Hicksís eyes he is kind of not necessarily saying like who are we to say
- he actually says a couple of times like who are we to get in there and
stop this person or that person or how do we know whatís right and
And because those lines blur so much, thereís a lot of questions that
keep arising. Every time they think they answer one another one pops up.
And I think thatís what hopefully is going to add texture throughout the
whole season. Itís not like oh letís go get so-and-so, boom, done, move
on, letís go get this person.
Itís nice to have the Red Flag always being around and always being this
dominant, I donít want to use the word threat because thereís no other
way it works but itís the other storylines that are being woven
throughout it. And these gray areas trying to figure out who is right
and who is wrong I think is going to add so much texture to each
Zak Penn: Right I would add, just lastly because I just saw and Warren
hasnít seen it yet but, one of the episodes that Warren and I just
worked on together, thereís a number of scenes where he and Rosen are
watching Red Flag propaganda and Rosen is kind of trying -- and I donít
think this is a spoiler -- Rosen is turning it off because he has seen
it before and he has heard what they have to say and Hicks is saying
leave it on.
First of all, because the motive, Iím interested to hear what their
motive is but also itís not like, listening to an Al Qaeda tape thatís
just filled with like horrible, death invective. Thereís a real point of
view that is relevant in all of them.
So in addition to what Warren is saying, sometimes theyíre chasing
people down that need their help frankly. So itís all kind of all over
the place. But Red Flag I feel confident is a pretty interesting
antagonist that isnít quite like what youíve seen before.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Carla Day with
CliqueClack. You may please proceed.
Carla Day: Hello.
Zak Penn: Hello.
Carla Day: Thanks for talking with us today.
Warren Christie: Hi Carla.
Carla Day: For both of you, was there an ability that you had that was
kind of pushing the limit of believability as far as something that they
have to do, you know, in a scene but that you felt strongly about having
Warren Christie: Iíll go quick just because mine will be fairly quick.
When we first meet Cameron he really doesnít understand or believe in
his ability. Rosen had an actual line where he said, youíre just
scratching the surface. That doesnít mean that all of a sudden he
becomes great at like party tricks and flipping quarters and stuff like
As we have gone along in the series the biggest thing heís trying to do
is learn how to control it and have it not fail him at really
inopportune times. So more than that, as he learns to start to control
it, itís growing. And his ability within the realm of what he does is
growing and itís being nurtured and heís starting to actually control it
but heís starting to see things differently and do things differently.
So as it grows, new things come along all the time which from an acting
point of view means we have - our stunts can be a little bit more
elaborate and things are happening. So as he progresses as a person his
ability is progressing with him so we can kind of introduce a few new
things here and there.
We donít want to make too many giant leaps because then all of a sudden
weíre getting a bit away from what we want to do which is have
everything completely rooted in reality. But itís been fun to watch the
character grow as a person but see his abilities and a new little twitch
coming in every once in a while. Zak Penn?
Zak Penn: Yes and I would say Warren that thereís a couple coming his
way that he doesnít even know about yet. But one of the things is...
Warren Christie: Ooh, spoiler alert.
Zak Penn: Yes exactly. He flies in outer space and he gets a ring and
becomes a guardian of the universe. I mean, I thought that was in the
tone, in the show. I donít know why.
No, but for example one of the things that happens quite often is weíll
be sitting around researching their abilities even after weíve -
particularly Warrenís because, itís just something that part of the way
we sold the show, I donít know if you guys were told this, but we
actually created a video of a guy - in the video I think his name is
Christian Hicks just because the namage was different and we shot in my
house for a few hundred dollars this video of this guy playing quarters.
And we released it onto the Internet as, you know, we doctored it up, I
got some special effects guys I knew and for very cheap they doctored it
up so it looked like he threw ten quarters into ten glasses at the same
time. And we released it on the Internet actually somewhat by accident
and it got a million views. And by the time we went in to pitch the show
nobody believed us and we said oh no no no, we created that for the
show. Itís not real.
So from the very beginning that was kind of the sales pitch of the show
is this could be real but it also led to weíre always sitting around
looking at okay, well wait, what is the neurology of how Hicks - if
Hicks can do this what else can he do?
For example, if heís got perfect aim and perfect balance, what does that
mean to have perfect balance? And could he - how does perfect balance
come in a way that we havenít thought of yet? Could he survive a fall
for example from a height that most of us, you know, our legs would be
broken or our femur would shoot through our brain. That wouldnít be the
case for Hicks. So I guess what Iím saying is Iím going to throw Warren
off a building pretty soon.
No but seriously, so but there are things like that keep coming up where
weíre like hey wait a second. And then there are some in an episode
coming up where Hicks is able to - itís not just that he has perfect aim
but itís also he can see how certain events have happened more acutely
than other people can because thereís the way his mind is wired. So I
donít know if thatís exactly what your question was but I answered
Carla Day: As a follow-up, if you could have any of the charactersí
abilities, who would you each want to - whose abilities would you want
Zak Penn: Warren?
Warren Christie: Somebody asked me this question once and I was totally
wrong. I would say easily Ninaís. I think that everybody - I mean, all
of them have (unintelligible). The ability to be able to actually tell
somebody do something and actually have them listen, I donít get that
very much in my life so to actually have that happen I think would be
The twist on it that I was saying to somebody I think yesterday was itís
a bit tricky because Laura Mennell who plays Nina is so gorgeous that I
feel if she asked somebody to do something they would do it anyway. So
thatís the twist with her whole ability. But I think if I could look
someone in the eye and say hey go do this and they could do it, that
would be all right.
Zak Penn: And I think the subtext of what Warren is saying there is that
he would like to look like Laura Mennell which, I think is something he
should be proud of but he doesnít like to talk about it.
Warren Christie: I mean, like you touched on a sensitive subject.
Zak Penn: I have to, you know what, itís going to sound very unoriginal
but I completely agree with Warren. I mean, for me Ninaís ability is the
one that would make life the easiest.
By the way particularly for example on set with Warren, when itís the
daily tantrum about where is my bigger trailer, how come I donít have
the warm running toilet flush. I could just say Warren, come on man,
live with it and he would be okay.
Warren Christie: We can - you can set your watch by it really every day,
every single day.
Zak Penn: No but seriously I do think that Ninaís power is the one that
- and even with its limitations, even with the fact that it doesnít last
that long, it just seems like the one where your daily - everything you
did during the day.
And even when we were conceiving the show we would sit around and say,
how would Nina like - how exactly would she get an apartment rent free
and we kind of figured out that she would have to find a place that has
like a corporate manager and twist that guy into signing a contract
giving her the apartment.
Weíve had a lot of fun figuring out if you could go around making people
do what you wanted for a short period of time, how many things could you
organize for yourself that would just make life fun and easy? I do think
it would backfire on you and you would end as a very sad person but I
sure would like to have it in the abstract.
Warren Christie: Well Zak, youíve got three kids, I mean, come on.
Zak Penn: I know, God, bedtime would be so easy. You want to go to
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Heather (McGetchy)
with Televixen.com. Please go ahead.
Zak Penn: Televixen?
Heather McGetchy: Hi Warren, Hi Zak, how are you guys today?
Warren Christie: Good Heather, how are you doing?
Heather McGetchy: Iím good thank you. Thanks so much for taking time
to talk to us. So I will start with Warren. Warren, Iíve enjoyed your
work in your movies of the week that youíve done, your Hallmark stuff is
actually real popular with my family so we have enjoyed those.
Warren Christie: Thanks.
Heather McGetchy: And your series roles have tended to be a little bit
darker with Big Cat was kind of a villain, depending on how you were
watching the show and then on Happy Town. So on this show what I really
liked was you get a chance to see you be a good guy in a bad situation
just trying to sort of figure out what all of this means.
So how did you approach this knowing that you were going to have some
time to build this character, that it wasnít just a one shot, you know,
do the movie, get in, get out, that you were going to have 13 hours to
really work on him. What did you sort of look for as how to inform his
background and dealing with all of this?
Warren Christie: Yes well, thatís always the hope. When you shoot the
pilot for anything you never know whatís going to happen. But it was an
interesting character and it was one of the things I fell in love with
right at the top was this character. Heís just got so much going on in
his life and not good, in too many ways.
What I really loved about him, heís definitely nobodyís hero. He doesnít
want to be anybodyís hero, he has kind of painted himself in a corner
with his life and heís had so many ups and downs and recently so many
more downs than anything that he has isolated himself and he almost just
kind of put his head down and said this is my lot in life and this is
what Iím going to do.
And then at the end of the pilot he is given this opportunity force. I
really donít think he wants to do this and you see at the end of the
pilot that he is kind of brought in against what he wants to do. And I
found that one of the most interesting things.
I remember the first time reading the pilot screaming like oh this
character is great and then thereís these action sequences and this is
so much fun. And I love the fact that it didnít get a big bow put on it
at the end of the pilot and itís like oh letís go team. I mean, this
guy, he is forced into a situation that heís not comfortable with, that
heís not necessarily looking for.
And I just thought that the pilot left not just with Hicks but all the
characters and the team so many places to go. Iíve read some great
pilots before and when you turn that last page it was kind of wow that
was great. And now what are you going to do? I think that Zak set up
such a good situation for us to have so much play. And then when get in
the Sci-Fi genre you are able to push the boundaries a little bit.
So it was about making sure that Hicks was going to fight in his own
way, heís going to try and pick himself up and trying to do that.
But like I said, from the get-go he was nobodyís hero. He was an
anti-hero, he was just trying to get through. And I just thought the
texture of him and his life and all this different stuff was going to be
a nice challenge. And it was nice to not be the bad guy again although
itís not exactly loads of fun all the time.
Heather McGetchy: Thank you. And Zak my follow-up question is for you.
I loved that in the pilot if you were to look over at the Alphas in
traffic you wouldnít know that they were sort of potentially
superheroes, they were just - they could be going to lunch from the
office and that their office isnít, you know, an ultra modern, all
metal, you know, dark lighting. Theyíre just refreshingly normal. Was
that a really intentional thing to keep them as grounded in reality as
possible so that they do have normal lives except for what they do at
Zak Penn: Yes, I would say youíve probably hit the key point of the
series for me right on the head which is not only did we want them to
feel normal, you know, for me. And this is true for Michael Carnell as
well who is not on this call but the guy who - a good friend of mine who
really brought a whole sensibility to the show which is we felt like we
wanted to see what the normal aspects of life are that we all deal with.
Itís a pet peeve of mine in every movie and TV show if a group of people
are pulling up to a crime scene or wherever they park. And Iím from New
York City and I can tell you that does not happen. There is not a
parking spot in front of any building that you want to go to when you
want it to be. And when there is you like call friends and say oh my
God, I got a spot right in front, itís amazing.
And the office politics of just dealing with people every day. Those are
things that you donít normally explore, certainly I havenít been given
the opportunity to explore those things in the other things in the genre
that I have written and that was essentially, I mean, I felt like thatís
what makes - first of all itís what makes the show funny at times.
Second of all itís what makes me believe that itís actually happening.
And it just tickles me and it interests me. And I donít want to spoil it
because itís really one of my favorite moments in the series so far but
there is a moment between Gary and Hicks that is coming up which is just
this incredibly simple moment that uses both their abilities but itís
the equivalent of someone turning the air conditioning down because they
know the guy in the office next to him is a little too cold.
To find those kinds of human moments with these types of characters, to
me thatís the reason to do the series honestly more than anything else.
And obviously all the stuff about the back stories of characters are
essential to creating something actors can play.
But literally finding those moments like Rachelís sense of smell, you
know, when people donít clean up or when Harken leaves his food out,
itís a bigger deal than when one of the other writers does it in my
office although by the way it bothers me there too particularly when
Carnell does it.
So I think that those elements of the show at least to me - thatís like
the life and soul of it and it has been there from every- in every draft
and as you can imagine itís sometimes hard - there are sometimes fights
where people are like do we really need a scene of them stopping to put
change in the meter?
And me and Michael are saying we absolutely need that, we need that as
much as we need Hicks to fire a sniper bullet through an air grate. We
need there to be change for the meter and things like that. So Iím glad
you noticed that and I hope people appreciate it because itís something
that we care very much about it.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Suzanne Lanoue
with TV MegaSite. You may please go ahead.
Suzanne Lanoue: Hi, thanks for taking our calls today.
Zak Penn: Our pleasure.
Warren Christie: Hi Suzanne.
Suzanne Lanoue: Sorry about that. Letís see, Zak I was going to ask you
if there was anything you can tell us about the episodes after the
pilot, what we have to look forward to? Anything you can spare at all,
any morsel or anything about guest stars and things like that?
Zak Penn: You know, I actually - I donít - this is going to reveal my
ignorance for - this is the first time I have done a television show.
Iíve exclusively done movies my whole career so I donít know exactly
what the rules are in terms of spoilers. So forgive me if Iím - I might
be more careful about this than other people would be. I think that some
of them have been announced, right, I mean, Summer, right Warren?
Stephen Cox: No, whoa, whoa. Valerie Cruze has been announced.
Zak Penn: Valerie Cruze has been announced.
Warren Christie: And we all know Callum Keith Rennie was in the pilot,
you know. Callum is very well known from Battlestar and whatnot.
Zak Penn: Itís really funny, I made a mistake on my first one. But I
didnít say the whole name so you donít know. Okay so I will be super
careful about that. I guess I now am gun shy about it. I mean, I could
tell you that we will be going in a lot of unexpected directions and
there will be a lot of different people coming into the mix and a lot of
interesting guest stars. I know this is like the lamest answer ever
Warren Christie: And also what Iíll say on top of that since Zak...
Zak Penn: Iím being the low point so yes go ahead.
Warren Christie: What we do have is some really, I mean, obviously you
canít give story points away. We have some really incredible guest stars
who have been in and out and specifically ones that I think people who
like the genre are going to be - a couple in particular are going to be
really blown away by and theyíre going to really like to see how they
And theyíre also going to get to see them play against type a little bit
which I think is going to be real exciting. But other than Valerie Cruz
and Callum Keith Rennie I think thatís about all we can really say.
Suzanne Lanoue: All right thanks. And Warren I was going to ask you,
were you a science fiction or comic book fan before doing this show?
Warren Christie: Yes I was. When I was a kid I was crazy about X-Men
comics and whatnot and then coming up Iíve always been a film TV junkie
in general but the Sci-Fi genre. But what I really love about it is the
leaps and bounds it has made in the last I donít know, Iím going to say
like five to ten years.
I mean, first of all it has become so much more mainstream I think, for
lack of a better term. And there was a time when maybe Sci-Fi was viewed
as something with low quality, low budget. But as you have seen and as
Zak pointed out with the Marvel franchise and the television series that
it has become this hugely viable genre that at this point in time, not
just the people enjoy but people of different generations can enjoy.
And I think that if you also get the right show, I mean, in most times
itís like this, but you can have a father sitting down with his son or a
mother sitting down with her son or daughter or whatever it might be and
enjoying the same type of shows and doing that type of thing. Because
itís really starting to bridge generations and it has become very
But I love it because it also from an acting point of view it allows us
to kind of push the parameters a little bit and do things. I mean, the
one great thing about our show is that like Zak has said, itís always
rooted in reality and I think thatís whatís bridging the gap a little
But it gives you a lot more play and when a script comes in there are
times when a script will come in on Alphas and Iím just like Iím blown
away and you see how it works in. And at the end of the day I hate to
say this word but itís just a lot of fun.
Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Erin Willard with
SciFi Mafia. Please go ahead.
Erin Willard: Good morning gentlemen, thanks again for taking the call.
Zak Penn: Good morning.
Warren Christie: Hi Erin.
Erin Willard: Hi, I was looking forward to seeing you at Comic Con
Warren, sorry youíre not going to be there, thatís kind of a bummer.
Zak Penn: He needs to shoot.
Erin Willard: Well okay, thatís a fair reason.
Zak Penn: We were filming that day, right Warren?
Warren Christie: Yes I think it was going to boil down to work, like we
were all trying to get there in some way, shape, or form but
unfortunately we are pretty pedal to the metal right now with work.
Erin Willard: So yes I think thatís an excused absence then. I really
enjoyed the pilot. I thought it was just terrific and itís going to be a
great set I think for that 10:00 hour. Thereís not the kind of silliness
that creeps into the earlier two shows and Iím just really looking
forward to it.
I did really enjoy the - I could recognize a lot of the aspects of these
people, obviously not the kind of super powers aspects but knowing
people, I know these people, you know, the people who didnít
(unintelligible) very easily. I know these people too. So it was great
that it was so comfortable but never whiny, it didnít get too dramatic
and so the writing I think has just been exquisite and Iím really
enjoying it so far.
Zak Penn: Thank you.
Erin Willard: Zak I was wondering if the show as it has developed then
and itís actually being produced has changed very much from your
Zak Penn: Well has it changed very much from my original vision? It
certainly hasnít changed that much from the pilot obviously because it
has been the same people and it has been pretty consistent. There has
been some stylistic changes that are partly choice, partly necessity of
trying to move quicker. Obviously you have a lot more time when youíre
shooting a pilot.
If you go back to the original documents we wrote up itís pretty amazing
how similar it is because it seems like weíve had two years of arguments
with 25 different people about what exactly the show should be and it is
weird to go back and look at our original pitch and itís pretty damn
Thereís characters, a couple of the characters have changed. Not Hicks
for example but there are a couple of the other ones have changed
because either who was cast or, nationality or other details.
But no, for the most part it has been pretty weirdly consistent which I
have to tell you I have such a bad track record, you know, the first
script I ever wrote was Last Action Hero so I was fired the day that
they bought it. And when I went to see the premiere, I was looking
around at my writing partner saying oh my God, what has happened.
And that has happened to me a number of times in my career where I have
written something about a bunch of real people and I go see the movie
and theyíre all psychic now.
So that has been actually a fairly painful part of my certainly the
early half of my career so it is kind of almost like a weird dream that
I keep expecting to wake up from like Iíll turn on Alphas and suddenly
it will be a wacky comedy. But so far that does not happen to me so good
Warren Christie: But the one great thing, obviously I donít do any
writing. The one great thing I have to say about Zak and Carnell and the
writing team in general is as we have gone along they have always been
very open to listening to us, just little things, you know, and making
it as naturalistic as possible.
And then what great writers do when they have as a group is they so
quickly found everyoneís voice that you see it changing and working
their characters are really flushing out. I mean, they were - they just
kind of tweak things and not - as they learn more about us as actors and
the characters where theyíre going.
And the little tweaks which may not seem like the biggest thing at the
time has - to make it much easier on the actor and it really helps to
solidify the voice of each of the characters.
Zak Penn: Thank you. Let me add to that. I have done a couple of
improvisational movies and when I set out to do this show despite some
protestation said I want actors who are able to improvise, who are able
to ad lib where they will feel comfortable making the dialog sound
naturalistic. Iím a little bit tired of like every line having to be a
So, the actors really do deserve a lot of credit. They all are very shy
about admitting this but quite often, weíll let them come up with stuff
on their own and say thatís better than what we wrote. Letís put that in
Because I feel like thatís one of the problems a lot of writers have is
they get very precious about their words and, unless youíre Shakespeare,
and Iím not, I know that sometimes happens, the confusion.
I feel like a lot of the character growth comes from each of these guys
saying, you know, I was thinking, wouldnít I do this and maybe I should
say that. And we try to always be open to them and take it and it really
has allowed the characters to evolve. But the vision of the show I would
say has actually stayed pretty close to what it was.
Erin Willard: Thatís great.
Zak Penn: Yes so I count my lucky stars.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Ann Morris with
Airlock Alphas. Please proceed.
Ann Morris: Hi, and I just want to add my thanks to everyone elseís for
you taking the time to talk with us today.
Zak Penn: Our pleasure.
Warren Christie: You got it Ann.
Ann Morris: Thank you. And my question, I did really enjoy the pilot for
Alphas. One of the things that I particularly found interesting was the
idea that things werenít always black and white and there was a big gray
area. And one of the characters who really seems to be a part of that
big gray area is Dr. Rosen.
So I guess Zak this question really is for you. I want to know are we
going to find out more about his background and are we going to find out
more how he got this team together?
Zak Penn: You absolutely will find out a lot more about that. Youíre
going to find that out almost immediately I would say, in the next two
episodes. You will find out a lot more and that continues to be a
crucial part of the storytelling.
And in fact, with David Strathairn - we wouldnít get him if the part was
just every week youíre going to deliver a case and he knew that going in
that was not going to be the case.
But for me Rosen, we definitely started with Rosen when we were creating
the show. For me the idea was instead of having someone whoís suited to
this job, what would make sense is a guy who has got the background in
the clinical and the neurological part of this but is completely
unsuited to running a tactical team for the Department of Defense.
nd that is something that not only drives a lot of the plots and how
they approach the cases but the more you find out about Rosen -- and
look, Hicks has a good scene with Rosen at the end of the pilot which, I
think is one of the better scenes where you realize that Rosen is not
quite the warm cuddly guy that he appears to be.
Ann Morris: Yes that was kind of why I liked him. In fact it was funny
because at that point it kind of had a little bit of a dollhouse feel to
it and itís like oh, heís maybe not so nice.
Zak Penn: Well put it this way. It will not - even that will not take
the twists and turns that you might expect, you know, itís not going to
be exactly what you might expect. But heís also not just this benign guy
who is there to help. Heís got his own agenda and heís got some stuff in
his back story that a number of things are going to come out that are
pretty big that will change and change again your opinion of him I
Ann Morris: Okay and one other question.
Zak Penn: So if you like that, get ready.
Ann Morris: Yes I really did and yes, Iím anxious to see more. So if Iím
too sleepy my DVR will be set. But I also, I found the character of Gary
really interesting. It has been a while since I saw the pilot so correct
me please if Iím wrong. I was thinking heís autistic. Is that correct?
Zak Penn: That is correct, yes.
Ann Morris: Right. What made you decide to give him that particular
disability to go along with his extra power?
Zak Penn: Well obviously that one really came out of the research and
having read all of Oliver Sacksí, I donít know if youíre familiar with
Ann Morris: I know who he is, yes.
Zak Penn: Okay. So, between An Anthropologist on Mars and The Man Who
Mistook His Wife for a Hat and all the other fascinating books he has
written, the more we talked about - first of all one of the things that
fascinated us was the idea that these kind of repeated stereotype
movements that you sometimes see in people who are autistic.
I know people who are autistic so itís a pretty common thing. We just
thought wouldnít it be fascinating if there was a secret language going
on behind that.
And as Warren could attest, Ryan has created that secret language, I
mean, he is the one who knows it. So when we have questions about it we
call him. And we have worked with a number of doctors to make his
portrayal incredibly accurate.
But I will tell you that we felt like really we were looking for in
every case where we came up with an alpha ability, we tried to say like
if this were in Oliver Sacksí study, you know, if this were about a guy
who could draw incredibly well, what is the most likely problem or what
part of his brain would have suffered.
I mean, thereís a thing about Einstein, I donít know if itís apocryphal
but I believe itís true that they found, you know, after he died when
they looked at his brain that the part of his brain that controls like
visual and spatial understanding was enormously, it was much bigger than
it should have been in a normal person.
And other parts of his brain were slightly smaller which explains why he
didnít speak until he was - they thought Einstein was mentally
challenged until he was five or six years old because his speech was so
So for Gary the strength of his ability and the nature of it we felt
like the amount of stimulus that would have caused, it seemed only
natural that he would have the kind of autism spectrum disorder that he
has as opposed to someone for example like, Warrenís character with
Hicks, with hyperkinesis didnít seem like it would lead to that kind of
problem. So it really was organic I would say.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Josie Campbell
with Spinoff Online. Please go ahead.
Josie Campbell: Hi, thank you guys so much again for talking to all of
Zak Penn: Pleasure.
Warren Christie: Hey Josie.
Josie Campbell: Hey. So my first question is for Zak. Sort of with
Alphas the whole premise of a bunch of sort of misfits with powers also
dealing with some real world issues, that feels a little bit like the
comic book X-Men team. How much has your work in Marvel superhero movies
and sort of your background with comic books influenced the initial idea
Zak Penn: Iíve been reading the X-Men comics since I was, I donít know,
six so I think itís burned into my brain in a way that is inextricable.
When I did an improvisational comedy about (Burner Hurtsog) I found that
I was doing stuff that felt like it had some sort of antecedent X-Men
which donít ask me to explain that further.
But, all that stuff has been such a big part of my life and even my
professional life so thereís no question that it lurks there in the
background and that universe is so rich.
I will say that thereís a lot of different stories obviously that touch
on people who have unusual abilities. A number of them have been raised
in these questions. The key is differentiating them, the key is making
sure that youíre not starting in the same universe with the same type of
And so, I actually think in a lot of ways I very consciously said, in
fact they kind of get sick of me in the writerís room because Iíll say
we cannot do that, that was in X-Men, no, that character canít say that,
thatís exactly what he says in X-Men. And after a while (Ira) jokes with
me, heís like between Star Trek, X-Men, all the shows that all of us
have worked on weíd never be able to write anything if that was our
But for me personally I do try to - Iím always conscious of letís try
not to do what has been done well elsewhere. Letís try to do something
Josie Campbell: And for the following up with that, because you talk a
lot about the ideas that you want to get through with Alphas and really
grounding it in reality. How did you come up with the initial idea? Was
it something that you and Michael Carnell had wanted to write for a
while? I mean, I know you said that you spent about five years pitching
Zak Penn: Well it actually wasnít so much five years pitching it because
it did sell, it kept selling and then there was a writerís strike or
whatever. But very quickly, Michael Carnell who is a bit of a history
buff came to me and said he had been reading all about these programs,
the CIA, the KGB ran in the 50s and 60s and 70s where they tried to
recruit people who are psychic or people that had unusual abilities.
And most of those programs ended almost hilariously in disaster. I
believe that George Clooney was in that movie Men Who Stare at Goats
which is kind of the comedic version of it.
But he was basically, he brought me this idea while we were making
another movie and said wouldnít it be cool if that had actually worked.
Wouldnít it be cool if they actually found a group or people who were
helpful and that very quickly spun into the idea that we have right now.
The reason why the development has been so long as I said is that it was
purchased by ABC and then there was a writerís strike and then we ended
up going to Syfy. So Michael and I have been working on this thing for
five years even though itís only been in production for however long it
has been at Syfy.
But that is the origin. If anybody wants to write the origin story of
the writing of Alphas which would probably be an amazing comic book,
there it is. Thatís the secret origin.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of Sheldon Wiebe
with eclipsemagazine.com. Please go ahead.
Sheldon Wiebe: Hi guys, thanks for doing this.
Zak Penn: Hi Sheldon.
Warren Christie: Hey Sheldon.
Sheldon Wiebe: Zak, okay we have established your thorough fluency with
the X-Men so I would like to propose the idea that the Alphas are kind
of like a blue collar X-Men wrote small who work for an underfunded
subsidiary of the Department of Defense.
Now this means they get hassled by government red tape so even as
theyíre trying to do their job there are problems from within. Can you
speak to how that will impact the series as it evolves?
Zak Penn: I certainly can. In fact another shout out to Michael Carnell
here, you know, Michael is fascinated and loves the finality of
bureaucracy, you know, the fact that - I think both of us are - the idea
that, so often in fiction and TV and movies youíve got some sort of
imperious overlord of a government official who makes them go do
When the truth is as we all know, most of the time that person just has
to file the report by Friday and just want to, you know what I mean?
Theyíre just interested in the paperwork they need to hand in or the
requisition form or whether you stayed on budget.
And thatís something I feel like obviously you know, talk about
comparisons. In the X-Men nobody ever comes up to Professor X and says,
you know, the hangar for the jet is over budget and behind schedule and
we need to cut back on the danger room. You know, like it just doesnít
work that way.
So not only did we do that something that interested us and felt more
real to us, it actually turns into a pretty interesting conflict for the
team for exactly the reasons you just said which are itís - it makes
their lives difficult in a totally different way. That some of the
conflicts are enormous but some of them are as simple as thatís not the
way the government works.
So I think Rosen says to Hicks in one of the early episodes, you know,
Hicks says so I guess Iím on call or something and he says yes but at
least you have a good dental plan and thatís true.
Sheldon Wiebe: Cool. Warren, youíve got the most complicated role in the
pilot, most complicated art. Not only does your character have this
unusual power, he also has the most profound art. And on top of that he
also as you mentioned earlier the audienceís entry point into the show.
What were the specific challenges of working under those unique
Warren Christie: Well it was so well written that it was more about
trying to stay true to what was on the page. I think that it was
important when I read it I understood what this guy was going through
but I think it was - one of the things was the confusion and the
This is a very skeptical guy. Itís not until he starts to see the other
peopleís powers that he start to be kind of won over a little bit. Even
then as you see at the end of the pilot, like it doesnít mean that he
wants to jump on board and be a part of it.
I think that the journey goes from the beginning as he is sucked into
this world. Itís very convoluted. And again it goes back to what we were
saying earlier about all these gray areas. And the growth in the pilot
and there are times when Hicks doesnít understand whatís wrong with what
so-and-so is saying, like whatís wrong with what theyíre doing, itís so
cut and dry here.
So it was specifically with the pilot, I mean, heís going through so
much. He has this blank period of time where he canít remember anything
and heís trying to piece that together. He wakes up and heís in, heís
tied down, heís in an MRI machine. Itís just very confusing to him, itís
a scary situation to be chased down by people which he doesnít
So I think that I see it more as a jumping off point. Like I said it was
all there on the page. I think the character is very well written. He
has all this stuff going on but what Iím most excited about is actually
where itís going. And as we see, and like we were talking about before,
I feel like the fact that thereís no ribbon at the end of the pilot and
itís like oh great, high fives everybody, letís do it. Itís just
scratching the surface of where I think weíre going.
Operator: And our next question comes from the line of (Michael Simpson)
with CinemaSpy. Please go ahead.
Michael Simpson: Hey guys, thanks for coming in and talking to us
about this new series.
Zak Penn: Hey (Michael).
Warren Christie: Hey (Michael).
Michael Simpson: A question for Zak. It says on your IMDB profile that
your first memory is of the Watergate scandals. My question is that
true. And secondly, has that sort of inspired you (unintelligible)
writing and particularly up to and including Alphas?
Zak Penn: I only heard the first half. What was the second question? You
cut out a little.
Michael Simpson: Do you think that if thatís true, that was your first
memory, so do you think subconsciously that has inspired your writing?
Zak Penn: I know this is going to sound crazy, I have no idea how that
ended up on my IMDB page. I thought it was an old friend of mine put it
there as a practical joke.
It is vaguely true that like I remember as a kid watching my parents
watching the news and seeing things about the Watergate break-in but I
have questioned every person who could possibly know that and they all -
half of them were like whatís IMDB.
I have only not asked them to take it down because itís so weird to me
that - is it still up there? I donít know that itís informed my writing.
I must have been four or five when that happened. So nobody has even
asked me this before but Iím glad someone finally did because itís like
my own little conspiracy theory and I donít know whatís going on.
I donít know that it actually has informed my writing because I really
kind of grew up post, you know, obviously being four, I didnít write
much when I was four although I did start writing.
Warren Christie: Lazy.
Zak Penn: Yes, I did actually write my class play when I was nine so I
guess I did start early but it had nothing to do with Watergate. Look,
the stuff I grew up on more I would say, I grew up on Monty Python, on
Saturday Night Live, on Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg. Those were the
things that really influenced me.
But of course, Watergate, without going into an incredibly long answer
you could make an argument that a lot of Spielbergís films, you know,
particularly those great 70s films, feel like imminently post Watergate,
you know, in their attitude towards the government. But no, I donít
think that has had a tremendous influence on me. And then what was the
other - and then the other part of the question was?
Michael Simpson: No that was the first one.
Zak Penn: Well then I answered them both. But if you ever figure it out.
Warren Christie: What is IMBD?
Zak Penn: Yes, one day I want to figure out who did it. I mean, Iím
Operator: And our final question comes from the line of Jamie Ruby with
Sci-Fi Vision. Please go ahead.
Jamie Ruby: Hi again, great, I get the last question.
Zak Penn: Hi.
Warren Christie: Hey Jamie.
Jamie Ruby: All right, what have the two of you learned most about
yourselves since you started working on the show?
Zak Penn: You go first Warren, Iíve got to think about this.
Warren Christie: Zak you go ahead, Iím ordering a sandwich and Iím
paying for it so you go ahead.
Zak Penn: Okay. I have learned that Warren loves sandwiches. No, what I
have learned most about myself? God thatís a tough one. I guess I would
say, I donít know if this is the most about myself. I have to say I am
humbled by the pace and intensity of making a television show and I say
this to the guys who I work with every day.
Even compared to features, even compared to the biggest or the most
difficult features Iíve done or even the lowest budget ones, it is
really a daunting task to create a show like this and to work as hard as
these guys do, as we all do and the actors as well for such an enormous
amount of time.
So for me, I had always prided myself, certainly as a writer that it was
never, , no matter how fast something needed to be written or how
quickly you need to shoot something or how many changes we have to make
on the fly that I would be able to do it.
And I have to say that many times making this show where I realize wow,
no wonder these show runners are such valued commodities. Because
television actors sometimes you wonder oh why does that guy want to
leave that hit show after five years. And you realize like, itís not
like a movie where youíre sitting there getting pampered in your trailer
and you come out for two hours and then you have a nice meal. Itís a lot
of hard work, it really is.
I think for me that was a big eye opener and as Warren will tell you, I
prefer not to work so hard. So that - it forced me to actually step up
my game. Warren have you ordered your sandwich?
Warren Christie: I have ordered my sandwich and I paid for it. Itís
coming. This is going to be a weird answer, have an interesting spin to
it. Oh thank you, my sandwich.
I think one of the things I have learned, and this may seem a little bit
of a silly answer but itís how much I enjoy doing this role but what I
mean by that is the character like this. There is a physicality to this
role thatís new, thatís something I have not really done before and Iím
loving being a part of it.
Iím loving getting the opportunity to try and do - and donít get me
wrong, obviously I donít do them all. But trying to do certain stunts
and trying to do certain things along that line.
And that alone I donít think would be enough to have me be as excited
about the role in the show if it werenít for such a deep character and a
group of people to work with. We have a fun show and we have a lot of
fun doing it.
And Iíve been on shows before, the majority of my career has been
television and television series and Iíve had the opportunity to work
with some great people. But I have also been on shows where itís not
exactly a whole lot of laughs.
I think most people are always going to say oh, itís great but weíve got
a great cast, weíve got great higher ups, great writers. Everybody is
great and very supportive of it. I think more than anything itís been an
eye opening experience to realize how much joy can be in finding
something great. I love playing this character because itís challenging.
I like the physical aspect of it so I think more than anything Iíve just
learned more specifically and as I get older a little bit as well what I
look for in a character, in a job, in a show.
Because Zak is right. When you sign on to do a TV series you better be
ready for some very long hours for possibly five or six years. These are
all possibilities. And in a good case, these are all possibilities. I
could be wrong.
If you show up and on day two youíre like oh man, I canít stand these
people, then itís, youíre looking at a long trek. So I think more than
anything it has opened my eyes to the type of people I want to surround
myself with to take the jobs that I want to do.
And real quick even though I know itís not a part of it. One of the
biggest things I have to segue into David Strathairn. This guy is
everything that is right with this industry. He is our leader in front
of the camera and off. He is a phenomenal talent to work with and just
an incredible man to be around and to work with. And so yes, his energy
and he attacks his roles with such integrity, he has been a really great
example to the rest of us.
So itís been a lot of fun. It is hard hours. Iím on my way to work right
now, Iíve got my sandwich. But when youíre going with a group like that
and everybody is on the same vibe of trying to do something great itís
Jamie Ruby: Okay. As a quick follow-up, is there any specific stunts
that like you really, you know, that sticks out in your mind, talking
about the physicality?
Warren Christie: Well sometimes I consider just getting out of my
trailer a stung so maybe I exaggerated a little. No, Iím just trying to
think. When we were doing the pilot I got to do a thing where a car was
coming up, hit the brakes and skid.
And as it was still moving but coming to a stop I ran up, ran across the
hood, jumped down, another car was coming the other way, and was just
kind of jumped and used my arms to push off of that and that was
exhilarating. It was pretty exciting, scary, no accidents in my pants or
anything like that but Iím just going to say it was close. But yes,
getting to challenge myself with these things.
And Iíve got to say, Iíve had a couple of incredible stunt guys coming
through and my man (Stefan) is a guy who is my stunt guy right now and
he does a lot of hard core. I like to challenge myself and try to do as
many of the things as I can but I have to give a hats off to our stunt
crew that comes in. I mean, they do a phenomenal job. And itís those
things that take our show I think to another level stunt wise.
Jamie Ruby: Great, thanks so much both of you.
Zak Penn: Our pleasure.
Warren Christie: Take care.
Zak Penn: Warren, enjoy your sandwich.
Warren Christie: Oh you have no idea, Iím so excited.
Stephen Cox: Thank you everyone for calling in. Alphas premieres Monday
at 10:00 pm only on Syfy. Thank you Warren, thank you Zak, have a great
Zak Penn: Bye guys.
Warren Christie: All right, bye guys.
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