Created and executive produced by Mickey Fisher (the creator of Extant) and with the pilot was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, The Shallows), the NBC series Reverie follows Mara Kint (Sarah Shahi), a former hostage negotiator and expert on human behavior who is now working as a college professor while dealing with a terrible personal tragedy. When her former boss, Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haysbert), asks her to enter a highly advanced immersive virtual reality program, created to allow people to live out their wildest dreams, in an effort to save ordinary people who have lost themselves inside of this artificial world, she quickly realizes that saving others might lead her to some of the answers that she’s looking for, in her own life.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Sarah Shahi talked about why she felt so personally connected to the story being told in Reverie, how this series is like Inception meets Alice in Wonderland, the memory she would choose to relive, if this program were real, the challenges of being the lead of the series and the one responsible for setting the tone on set, her relationship with showrunner Mickey Fisher, what Jaume Collet-Serra brought to the series, as the director of the pilot, and how the story arc will evolve, over the course of the season. She also talked about her time as Shaw on Person of Interest, and the life-long friendships she made, as a result of being a part of that series.
Collider: This show is such an interesting concept and idea, and so different from everything else that I’ve seen lately, which is cool.
SARAH SHAHI: Yeah, it’s very different, especially for network TV.
When this opportunity came about, how was the show presented to you and what was it that really sold you on it?
SHAHI: It was pitched like Inception meets Alice in Wonderland. I play somebody who basically goes into people’s deep subconscious minds to rescue them from themselves. I believe in timing. The older I get, the more I believe that everything happens for a reason. I feel like, when this show first came to me, it was something that I was destined to be a part of. My father had just died and I was pretty grief stricken. We didn’t really have much of a relationship, and I was surprised by how much my sadness overtook me. I also started seeing him and started talking to him. I started having a relationship with him and healed my relationship with him through his death. I became a believer that there was a lot more to this world than what our eyes can see. When I read the script, here was a character that had lost her sister and her niece, and was also traveling back and forth between these two worlds. So, I felt that I was destined to play this role.
What most interested you in Mara, specifically? She has so many layers to her, from being a former hostage negotiator and an expert on human behavior to now being a college professor. What was it about her that you find most appealing?
SHAHI: The biggest thing was that I felt I had so much I common with her. In the pilot episode, we learn how her sister and her niece died, and I felt like she was someone who was struggling through this immense amount of grief. That was something that I definitely felt that I could relate to, at the time. Also, my views on technology mimic hers. As wonderful as it is, and as many advancements and good things that have come from technology, I also feel that, if we become too immersed in it, then we become disconnected. As a civilization, we were built on compassion and empathy and good. When we spend the majority of our time with our heads buried in a computer or in our phones, then I feel like we aren’t exercising those things, and that’s dangerous territory to be in.
When you do a show like this, you must think about what would this be like, if a program like this really existed. Are you someone who would try this program yourself, or do you prefer to avoid something this high tech?
SHAHI: I would be game to try something like this, only because I know that there’s a lot of good that could come from it. The one reverie that I would do is because I have a very specific memory of me and my dad by the Great Pine Lake. I was no more than four years old, and I just remember being like a cat in between his legs and just living in between his legs. I remember his big hairy legs, the wind blowing in my hair, the song that was playing, and the smell of the air. If I could relive those moments, a couple times, when I remember feeling so safe and like I could do anything and be anything, I would. Being with my mom and my dad, at the same time, gave me such a sense of confidence. When you’re that young, to be able to hold onto those memories for a few moments longer, I definitely think I would jump at that.
What is the biggest challenge of being the lead and being the one to set the tone on set, with a series like this?
SHAHI: It is very challenging. Even though I believe that this is very much an ensemble show and I don’t think any one number on the call sheet is more or less important than the other, I was there more than everybody else. The responsibilities, in terms of just being very well-prepared and making sure that nobody is waiting on you, are a given that you have to have, but on top of that, you are one of the co-captains of this very big ship. I definitely have a no assholes policy. I don’t like assholes. I don’t like working with assholes. Thank god, Amblin Entertainment was the same way. We had an incredible crew. Everybody from the DP to craft service to the janitors for the stage was wonderful. We all made time for one another. If problems came up, we would handle it almost like life coaches would, with one another. We really helped each other get through it. To me, that’s the most important thing because we’re not curing cancer, we’re filming a TV show. We’re there to have fun and hang out with each other. We have to make it a good environment, and we have to have a good time and be respectful. Being there more than anybody, I definitely felt the responsibility to spoil the crew with lots of desert trucks and just make sure that everybody had a good time. I feel like when you have a good time and you like the people you work with, then you also put out more good work.