The new MTV series Finding Carter is an emotional family drama that centers on Carter (Kathryn Prescott), a teenage girl who thinks she has the perfect life until one night, after a police bust at a high school party, she is told that the woman who she believes to be her biological mother actually abducted her as a toddler. Now back at home with her biological family, which includes her parents (Cynthia Watros and Alexis Denisof), twin sister (Anna Jacoby-Heron) and younger brother (Zac Pullam), she must not only figure out who she really is, but also what her place is in her family.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Alexis Denisof talked about how he came to be a part of Finding Carter, how challenging the one-hour drama format is, getting to explore the light and dark with this story, the easy chemistry among the actors playing this family, why these life experiences are identifiable for viewers, and not shying away from topics and issues. He also talked about what his collaboration with Joss Whedon has meant to him, personally and professionally, and how much he’s enjoyed being a part of Grimm. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ALEXIS DENISOF: Honestly, one-hour drama is the hardest format there is. I think it’s harder than movies, and it’s harder than half-hour comedy. It’s a grind, and it’s hard to pull off something that people will want to watch and stay with, especially in this day and age with a proliferation of content and when you can easily move onto something else, and things are so available now. I think this show has got something special that really captivates people. The way people responded when it was rolling out, on the first night, and the live media that was happening with people jumping on immediately, was really exciting.
It came to me as a phone call. I was actually in England, at the time, and my representatives called and told me that there was interest from a show. They told me the story of it, and I thought, “I will never be able to read that script. I’m a father, myself, with two young children, and there’s just no way I can handle that. It’s gonna be too upsetting. This is one of the two or three worst nightmares, as a parent.” But they said, “You should read it before you make up your mind. They really think you might be the guy for this. They haven’t been able to find quite the right guy, and they want you to look at this.”
So, they sent it to me and I started reading the script, and I couldn’t put it down. I was immediately riveted by it. I was fascinated by the central premise of this young girl with two mothers, one of them biological and one of them emotional. And I was fascinated by the reintegration of this girl into her family of origin, and how that affected her siblings and her parents, and how her parents had been affected by the original abduction and return. There are so many angles to this, and so many perspectives. The characters are so alive and real, and the storyline is so fascinating. I wasn’t really wanting to do one-hour TV because it’s so hard and I have a young family, but this was too good not to be a part of it. I just couldn’t say no. And it is a shorter season, which is very helpful.
DENISOF: Yeah, it’s fun, if you can get that chance to get light and dark, and not just be stuck in a corner, doing the same thing, over and over and over. Procedurals can be very satisfying for an audience because a mystery is solved, but it’s a little bit repetitive when you’re a performer because you know that you’re really working towards the resolution of a plot more than the development of a character. So personally, my taste is towards development of a character, as well as the resolution of a story plot. I like to find both, if I can, and I think this show does that. It’s got very three-dimensional characters who are going through some extraordinary plot points in their lives. How that affects them, as individuals, and how it affects them, in their relationships and as a family unit, is handled so thrillingly by the writers. We’re really having fun, as actors getting to find the layers in these characters.
When you start a new show, you have to find your groove as a cast, but this show is also really about that, with this family.
DENISOF: Yeah, that’s a good point. The story of the show is, “Hey, can these people get along, when they’re thrown together?,” and that’s exactly what, as actors, you’re asked to do when you’re put together on a project. You don’t know that it’s gonna work. Nobody really knows until the first day, or the third day, or the third week. It can take awhile. But I would say, for sure, we all felt it, right off the bat. There was a chemistry with this family, and we felt like a family, right away. There was just an easiness among us and a certain level of reality. Something just fit about us being together, and I think it holds the story really well.
Is it important to you that this show not shy away from the topics and issues that it’s addressing?
DENISOF: The writers’ room has been very courageous about just calling something what it is. And it’s so refreshing for the viewer to see these things that are so powerful in people’s lives, that nobody will talk about, and have them named. In this show, we name it. There are a lot of things like that. In one-hour drama, you get the chance to reveal people’s lives to them. The viewer gets to identify with and see some of themselves and their own life experiences on screen. It may not happen the way their own lives did, but it resonates with them. I think this show has everything. It has all of the permutations for an audience to say, “Hey, I recognize that. That reminds me of my life, or somebody close to me.” I think that helps the audience to care about the story.
DENISOF: For the biological mother, her prime directive became to find her child and find the woman who took her child. As the years went by, you wonder which one became more important. She became a very obsessed person with this. I think that meant some of the daily things fell to the father, who I play. I like to think of him as though there’s some small daily heroism that takes place, for all parents. How do you get your kids and yourself through a day? That’s regardless of whether you’ve had a tragedy. It’s just a grind. There’s nothing as satisfying, thrilling and gratifying as parenthood. For my wife and I, it’s been the most fantastic chapter in our lives, and it continues to be, but it’s also really difficult. You give up a lot when you enter the years of parenting. It’s a sacrifice.
This mother and father are approaching things differently. He thinks it’s important to have some relaxation and laughter with all of the tragedy. Life is not just one dark moment after another. If we fixate on the moment of loss, we’ll never get to enjoy the moment of recovery. I think that’s what he offers the story and offers his family. Part of her shut down in that tragedy of losing her child and it hasn’t re-booted, so she can’t access that. It’s up to him to find that for her, and for everybody.
Now, as the season unfolds, he also has his own secrets and his own mysteries that we will learn more and more about. He’s not everything that he seems to be, on the surface, and that’s also one of the interesting things about the character. And the relationship between the mother and father is not healthy. It’s not going well, and it hasn’t gone well for a long time. There’s something there that they are trying to find and trying to save, but they’re asking themselves if there’s anything left to save. This season will explore that.
Losing a child in any capacity must so drastically change the individual and the relationship, even if the child comes back.
DENISOF: Yeah, exactly. The return of the child doesn’t just eliminate 13 years of suffering, and it doesn’t delete the fact that she was taken, in the first place. She’s a stranger, and they’ve had to live through a decade of agony. That doesn’t just go away. Something changes. Things break inside of you, and you’ve gotta tape them together and hope they can hold. Survival changes a person.
DENISOF: You’ll see the fall-out from this abduction, in an unfolding way. You don’t just see it in the pilot, and then everybody just goes on. In a strange way, by going forward, we’re also forced to go back. That’s what’s interesting about this concept. The return of Carter to the family means that we have to go back and examine everything, from the moment she was taken, and look at who we became as individuals, and who we became within our relationships in the family. But, we also have to move forward from now. There is an interesting timeline to the piece, which is the timeline that’s real, in their daily lives, now that she’s back and we’re moving on, but there’s also an emotional timeline that goes back 13 years, that’s still alive and being played out.
There are very few filmmakers and TV creators that create an acting family, which you’ve found with Joss Whedon.
DENISOF: Oh, I know! God love him for it. Where would I be? I’d be a barista. Nothing wrong with baristas, by the way. I couldn’t survive without them, but it wasn’t my calling. Thanks to Joss, I have not had to learn to be a barista yet.
What has that relationship meant to you?
DENISOF: It’s wonderful for all of us. I know it has been for me because I love coming back and working with Joss and Amy [Acker], and all of these people again. You have a chemistry and a connection the first time, and it’s still there when you come back to work together again. We enjoy each other’s process and we trust each other. Joss has a talent that we could spend a whole day trying to describe and quantify. He is an extraordinary creative individual, but he’s also a wonderful person and he’s a friend. I like to be around him, and he makes me laugh. I like to share time with him. So, to have that, as well as the incredible inspiration of collaborating with him, it’s been the primary blessing of my career, really. That collaboration has brought so many surprising incarnations. I certainly didn’t know that on day one of Buffy, especially since I was contracted for two episodes. It’s just been a wonderful gift that keeps getting opened, over and over again.
I’m surprised that more people don’t do it because it’s effective. There are so many things to love about Joss, but he’s creative, in that sense. The powers that be tell him, “Go out and find this,” and he says, “No, I have that. I already know who that is ‘cause I’ve worked with that before. So, here’s who I want to use.” Now, they trust him because it’s worked so many times. I don’t know why more people don’t do that. Back in the old traveling theater days, you had a repertory company and different people played different roles, but that company had a throughline and they played together, lived together and performed together. That was a sensible idea. It’s not that we’re a group of actors that’s playing together and living together, but it’s become thought of as that, by the media and the viewers, because he has reincarnated us in different combinations. I know that we’re all intensely grateful that he does that, and always will be.
DENISOF: I think it’s a terrific show. I love it before I was ever even a part of it. It’s another nice return for me because I get to work with David Greenwalt, who was the showrunner on Buffy and Angel, and he’s the showrunner of Grimm. I love David, and I’m a fan of his work. And Jim Kouf, who’s the other showrunner, is just another crazy talented man who brings these things to life in the most compelling way. This character has been a joy for me. I hope that he’s a villain who you either love to hate, or hate to love. We’re trying to find a guy that interests us, despite the fact that he’s essentially screwing everybody over at every possible opportunity. That can be liberating, as an actor and for the audience. And it’s fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I hope we’ve found a dynamic and interesting character that isn’t just there to order the execution. I want him to have color and be interesting and have an intrigue about him that makes you want to spend time with him, on screen. He has an element of surprise, which I enjoy and hope to help bring into the story. I’m a big fan of Grimm, and I’m hoping that Prince Viktor will get to be a part of the new season.
Finding Carter airs on Tuesday nights on MTV.