On the new ABC drama series Forever, Doctor Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd) is hiding a big secret. New York City’s star medical examiner not only studies the dead to solve criminal cases, but also to look for answers as to why he’s been alive for 200 years. With the help of his best friend and confidant, Abe (Judd Hirsch), who is the only one that knows his secret, Henry’s remarkable observation skills are proving to be quite useful for Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza), but they’re also raising questions and curiosity.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Ioan Gruffudd talked about how he got involved with Forever, keeping the element of danger when your character can never die, the awkwardness of always coming back to life naked, working with Judd Hirsch, Henry’s mysterious enemy, and not needing to know all of the answers. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
IOAN GRUFFUDD: We’re seeing a trend now with television, where the writing is magnificent. This concept would never exist as a movie, unless it had a real sci-fi element and a Marvel or DC superhero attached to it. That’s just the reality of the situation. So, television is what we’re all very attracted to, at the moment, because that’s where the best writing and the best characters are. This year, I had tested for several shows, specifically with ABC, and this was one of my favorites. It stood out because it had that flashback element. I thought I could lend my skills and experience, having worked period costumes, over the years. They were looking for an actor who could be compelling in every stage of Henry’s existence, and somebody who could bring an element of comedy and an element of the outsider to it. Being a British actor on an American network has that element of being slightly removed from the norm, as it were. I’m flattered that they chose me because Matt Miller’s writing is unique and the story is unique. Granted, we’re taking all of the best elements of Sherlock Holmes, of Quincy, and of a show like Highlander, and are putting them in a melting pot. I think he’s come up with a very unique concept.
Because you’re playing a character who can never die, have you had any conversations with the writers and producers about how you can still keep an element of danger?
GRUFFUDD: These are conversations that I’m sure our creator, Matt [Miller], is having on a daily basis with his team of writers and with the network. I think the challenge is to sustain this to a degree that is believable for 22 episodes. We’re doing a network show. It’s not a special 13-episode run. So, to sustain that is going to be tricky without belaboring the same point or revealing to much and keeping everybody interested. We have to admit that the show, on a weekly basis, is going to be about the crime that’s solved. The fact is that we’re only indicating the relationships in the past and this Moriarty type of figure that we have on the phone, here and there. There’s a chance that we can spread it over those 22 episodes without spoiling it. We may have to have a mid-season finale that is then concluded over the last 13 episodes, but we’ll see.
GRUFFUDD: I hope so, yes. The initial introduction to that, coming out of the Hudson in public, I hope they do it in a more comedic way. It’s not necessarily that he’ll die every week because I think that could become a bit tiresome. How many times can I die, whether accidentally or by truly putting my life on the line, without people becoming more suspicious? We’re going to have to earn our deaths, across the season. If we do it every week, people are going to get very tired of it and not come with us on the journey. But, Matt Miller is a very smart guy with a very bright team of writers.
The relationship between Henry and Lucas (Joel David Moore) is so funny because Lucas just doesn’t have a clue about Henry’s secret and why he’s so good at finding the cause of death of various victims.
GRUFFUDD: On the surface, that relationship is funny for the audience to observe, but god bless Lucas. It’s a tough existence for him to work with somebody that he admires, in some sense, but who he’s not getting any respect or love from, in return. I wonder if Lucas might be the catalyst for revealing Henry’s secret, or Lucas might discover that he has some power in the relationship. At the moment, it’s one-sided, and he’s being very patient with Henry.
What’s it like to work with someone like Judd Hirsch?
GRUFFUDD: First and foremost, he’s an amazing actor. Forget about his legendary TV career and his theatrical career, he’s just brilliant. So, when you’re working against somebody like that, it only elevates your game, as an actor. And he’s just a lovely, gentle, kind, interesting man, and he’s still incredibly passionate about acting, about the process, and about the characters. It’s a really infectious energy to be around. He’s still that determined and passionate about getting it right and taking it to the highest level it can possibly be. Luckily, we hit it off immediately. Often with these scenarios, you don’t get to meet or rehearse or know anybody. You just have to walk in and trust your instinct, and trust the other person’s instinct, and we’re very fortunate that we hit it off immediately and got into a rhythm very, very quickly. And people have responded to that dynamic.
GRUFFUDD: I think we’re playing with that, absolutely. Abe doesn’t have Henry’s powers, and it’s going to be interesting to play with that, as the show goes forward. What’s beautiful about it is that Abe is incredibly positive and is trying to encourage Henry to live in the moment, rather than living on the periphery, not wanting to be seen or heard and just observing. It’s a wonderful relationship that they have.
When someone has lived as long as Henry has, it has to change his perspective on life. Do you think he appreciates things more, or does he have to be reminded of the importance of the little things?
GRUFFUDD: Since losing the great love of his life, which is Abigail, and revealing his secret to her, when she’s probably the only person he’s revealed that to, and then losing that relationship, burned him severely and he’s not quite recovered from that. He’s not dipped his toe in the water or ventured into any relationship, as deeply as that, since then. I think it’s going to be interesting to see if Henry is encouraged to come out of his shell and develop a relationship with Jo Martinez, who’s also suffering from a great loss, herself.
Henry has this mysterious enemy over the phone. What can you say about how that’s going to play out?
GRUFFUDD: I’m sure Matt has an idea of where that should go. The most interesting idea would be to continue the cat-and-mouse and to be threatened by this guy, on a season-long basis. Maybe they could meet, and maybe we could reveal who this person is and why they’re doing this or what the fascination is with Henry. Are they out to destroy Henry? Do they hold the secret to Henry actually dying, if he wants to? Do we reveal a whole universe of people who are unable to die? Who knows? I don’t know. At the moment, I love the way it is.
Are there questions you’d love to know the answers to, or are you find not knowing all about what’s going on?
GRUFFUDD: Not in a naive way or an uninterested way, but I haven’t really had that conversation with Matt, and I’m sure Matt doesn’t quite know himself, either. Somebody writes a great concept and a great script, it gets picked up and you shoot the pilot, and then you have to answer all of the questions that you’ve posed. I don’t know if Matt knows all of the answers. I’m sure he had to give some sort of answer to the network. I’m sure they would have wanted to know what the mid-season climax would be, and what the finale climax would be. I don’t desperately need to know. I trust Matt, as a writer, and the show is heading in a great direction. I think the challenge is going to be to sustain it for 22 episodes without belaboring all the points.
Because Henry has been alive for 200 years, is there an era you’d love to have a flashback to?
GRUFFUDD: Wow, that’s a very good question. I don’t know. The Napoleonic era would be an exciting time. I’m very familiar with that era, having played Horatio Hornblower during that time. We’re touching on the Second World War and that pretty horrendous time. I think it would be fun to see Henry in the peace and love ‘60s. Did he actually go to war? Did he decide to be a pacifist? Who knows. There are so many different eras. There’s not one particular era that I’m in love with. What I love about him is that, because of the secrecy, he’s had to discover all of these things under the radar. He learned the medical trade in Guam. I’m sure he’s a great lawyer in there somewhere, but he had to study somewhere out of the way. All of those things will make it a treat for the viewers to be intrigued by where this seemingly sly-like character has been, along the years.
Forever airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.