On NBC’s groundbreaking new mystery drama Awake, Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) has experienced a devastating car accident and learns the devastating news that his wife (Laura Allen) died in the crash. And then, he wakes up to realize that his wife is very much alive and his teenage son (Dylan Minnette) died in the accident. Unsure as to which is real and which is a dream, he goes back to work solving crimes, alternating between realities and partners.
At a press day held on the show’s set during a break from filming, actor Steve Harris, who plays Detective Freeman, Britten’s partner in one world, and actor Wilmer Valderrama, who plays Detective Vega, Britten’s ambitious young partner in the other world, talked about keeping track of their characters in each world, what it’s like to play different versions of their characters, whether either of their characters are getting suspicious about Britten’s grasp on reality, and how the car accident is part of a bigger journey and plot within the series. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
WILMER VALDERRAMA: I have to give a lot of credit to the showrunners and the writers. They’ve found a very surgical way of really constructing the way we read the scripts to really understand where we are, at all times. When we are in the reality with the wife, where I’m the partner, there is an “R” for red, on top of the scene description. When we are in the reality with the son, and Steve Harris is the partner, there is a “G” for green. So, we can understand where we are. Occasionally, I’ll see my character’s name under the green and, in that reality, I’m the other guy.
STEVE HARRIS: And, it’s actually written very differently. Even if you’re reading the script and you’re not looking up top to see the color, you’ll read it and go, “Wait a minute, I don’t do that.” And then, you realized, “Okay, I see which world I’m in.” It’s really not an issue, at least for us, and hopefully it will be as clear to the audience. We believe it will be.
What’s it like to have to play different versions of your characters, as though they are both real?
VALDERRAMA: That’s pretty much it. You play it as real. You definitely don’t make any really odd choices. All of us have different processes and theories for how we approach the characters, but for me, specifically, I play what’s in front of me and not so much the big picture. I think that’s the best way to be, and that’s what an everyday person would do, presented the situation that we are, in an episodic format. For us, it’s been a really interesting journey because there’s obviously a big picture that we’re building towards, that some of us might know and some of us might not know. So, the idea is that we really carry on with the journey and the momentum of each story, as it presents itself.
Do you want to know which world is real?
HARRIS: No. For me, as much as everybody else, I like the journey. A lot of times, when you do your acting thing, you’re in the now. That usually seems to work the best. As regular folks, you’re different with your wife then you are with your kids and your neighbor and your mom. You’re different people, depending on the circumstances, although everybody considers you the same. It has that ride. That’s what goes on with this show, with a little something extra special ‘cause you don’t know which is the dream world, which is the reality, if they’re both dreams, if neither is reality.
VALDERRAMA: The important thing to understand – that will actually help the momentum and the journey for the viewer – is that there was this accident that happened. This accident is definitely part of a bigger journey and a bigger plot, and it’s going to be played out throughout the series, and it’s going to play out specifically through the first season. This accident is evolving into a very mysterious, unpredictable and emotional journey, for every character. As you discover what this accident was all about, and how and why it happened, you are going to discover more and more, and get closer and closer, to the reality of where Michael Britten is going and where he probably needs to be. The beautiful thing about this show, which is very exciting for me, is that we are living the information. We jump in this emotional journey with him and we are rooting to learn more, with this character. Living it through his eyes is what makes it really fascinating to read, with every script, and really fascinating to be emotionally invested. That, to me, is what’s very unique and special about the show. With every episode, we’re doing a movie and, in every movie, something happens. Now that we have a bunch of movies in one series, there’s a big picture as well. That’s what I can tell you.
HARRIS: For me, in particular, we were partners in both realities, initially. I’ve been his partner now for 15 years or so. When you’re partners, you’re closer than some of your family. They’re as close as your wife. Now, he’s coming up with this stuff and, after 15 years of marriage, basically it would be like, “Okay, now you’re trying something new in the bedroom and I don’t know what’s going on.” After 15 years, you’ve done what you’re going to do. And, that’s what’s going on, time and time again. The fact of the matter is that all of the cases, to a certain degree, seem to have turned out in the right way. We’ve caught the right person. We’ve had a grasp on the right people that we’re supposed to catch. But then, there’s always that possibility that, all of a sudden, that information takes him another way. We don’t know. We haven’t opened that door up. There are a lot of doors here, that have been left to us to figure out if they will be opened, or how they will be opened. For me, in our relationship when I’m his partner, I have to question, “Where is he taking me?” This isn’t the way we’ve always done it. We had a pattern. We were very successful. We were very happy, and we were doing it. After the accident, you give a little space because the man’s world has changed and he knew how much he loved his family. Now, we’re getting back into it and we’re trying to hold on, and I’m trying to figure out where all this is coming from. And, we have no idea that he’s looking at penguins because that might have a bearing on whether or not we really believe him, in the first place.
VALDERRAMA: For Detective Vega, it’s a very unique scenario. He gets promoted by his captain from an LAPD officer to be a rookie detective, and he gets assigned to keep an eye on Michael Britten, a guy who has done some really great work within the department and is someone who’s looked at as one of the best. For my character, specifically, I’m playing this double edge. My job is to be his partner and report back with what I’m seeing. Is he not fit for this job, or is there something else that I need to report? Who knows? For me, it’s about, “How do I do what I was meant to do and promoted to do and, at the same time, walk that fine line of being his partner and being out in the field, and saving each other’s lives and solving cases together, and being emotionally invested in his personal journey and his life? How do I play those two cards, and find out what my mission really is, throughout this relationship with him?” In the other reality, I’m an LAPD officer who is eager to learn and who wants to be promoted. It gives it this very interesting dynamic. After that accident, I was assigned for a specific job, and I find myself torn between the morals of it all and what the right thing is, and what I’m supposed to do, as someone in uniform.
HARRIS: Without question. You have an emotional drive, and then you have this visceral thing that you want to get done. This will provide enough of both, so that you can go with it. You have his family life, and what he’s dealing with and how he’s dealing with that. You have us, dealing with him, and how we’re dealing with him and his family. But, at the end of the day, a lot of people who experience trauma, dive into something. This work thing that he dives into can hold that fine line and keep it all together. If you’re not somebody who cares about two worlds, or you think you’ve seen that sort of thing, or you think you know what’s going on, I think you will gravitate towards this, with the way it’s written and put together.
Awake airs Thursday nights on NBC, starting on March 1st.