Comic-Con 2011: AWAKE Pilot Screening and Panel Recap

     July 21, 2011


Every now and then a TV show captures your eye and won’t let go of your imagination. For me, simply seeing the trailer for the high-concept NBC drama Awake was enough to leave me wanting more. Thanks to the pilot screening and Q&A of Awake in Room 6A earlier today, I came away with a lot of answers and some new mysteries. During the brief panel afterwards, star Jason Isaacs (Lucious Malfoy in Harry Potter), writer Kyle Killen, and executive producer Howard Gordon answered a string of questions that drove home that they aren’t afraid of taking risks and doing something different. For my impressions of the pilot and a recap of the panel, hit the jump.

Awake follows Detective Michael Britten after a horrendous car wreck. The aftermath has left his reality splintered, as in one waking moment his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) has survived but his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) has died. In the other, the roles are reversed. He has to balance the separate realities with his day job as a detective and the anguish he feels from never being able to have the reality he wants where they are both alive. Of course, given the choice between living out one reality for the remainder isn’t an option he is willing to consider either. Detective Britten also starts to realize how the separate realities and cases that he is solving in each have interesting parallels, something they will explore further as the series progresses.

awake-nbc-image-05Having seen the trailer, which essentially lays out the scenario above, I had wondered how they would keep that dynamic going. While the pilot doesn’t answer that mystery, it does show how deep they are going to go down the rabbit hole. As Detective Britten realizes how the realities share similarities in specific aspects of a crime, including the hair color of a killer, he starts to accept that he will live out this existence. As he goes through therapy, we see him work out the issues of dealing with the grief he is supposed to be dealing with. But how can you grieve when your son is dead when you go to bed but wake up to the complete opposite?

The realities also are given specific hues to separate them for the audience without heavy-handed clues. There are the more obvious bands that Detective Britten wears; green for the reality where his son is alive, and red for when his wife is alive. But beyond that there are the aforementioned shifts in the hues with a deep blue during the green scenario and a normal toned reality in the other. They also play with object colors and more throughout. The pilot really felt like sensory overload, almost like an eye-spy game. I am very curious to see if they continue to play this out throughout the series as well. Speaking of, the pilot was exceptionally shot and many thanks is likely due to director David Slade (30 Days of Night). While he won’t be present for the entire run, it will be fun to see how they drag the series out visually.

As for the panel afterwards, we had a brief but intelligent flurry of questions from the attendees. Often times, the questions are less than thought out and detailed. They even have a tendency to border on the cringe worthy, with fans just wanting to interact with their favorite stars. However, the intelligence of the pilot’s concept seemed to bring out the best in the attendees and we were treated to some great inquiries. The first question revolved around whether Detective Britten will become increasingly weary as the show continues on. Writer Kyle Killen responded that they would absolutely play with that scenario, as the reality starts to splinter and he has to keep track of the increasing amount of differences in his mind. Isaacs also pointed out that the normal goal of sleep is rest, but that his character isn’t getting much because he is living out a separate reality.

The next question focused on whether Killen wrote in a certain direction for Isaacs’ character and whether he had a vision of where he was headed. The questioner also asked if he shared that vision with Isaacs. Isaacs quickly quipped that he was surprised by that question because he is used to less than intelligent questions from the press and he complemented the attendee. As for the answer, Killen explained that they shared as much as they could. Yet they don’t want to know too much about which reality is real and which isn’t. They are invested in these realities and this character as much as Isaacs.

Asked whether Isaacs was reticent to play a detective in another show, he absolutely agreed. He said he didn’t want to do another TV series nor play a detective. However, he fell in love with the script and mentioned that he saw something in himself in the script. He felt that we’ve all had a moment where we are dreaming and wonder if it is a dream or reality and then you try and rationalize it. However, nothing ever weird happens in his dream. He’s never flying or has two heads, so they seem real. The simplicity enhances that, and he was hooked to that idea.

Isaacs also went on to state that he doesn’t know why so many detective shows exist where it is all about solving the crime and nothing else. There is a setup and knockdown scenario that misses the center; the life of the cops beyond solving the cases. He mentioned that he has shadowed many detectives for roles and that he was fascinated by their lives. This show actually explores beyond that and it was another reason why he was attracted to this role.

The next questioner was younger and focused on Isaacs’ role as Lucious Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise. She asked what it was like to play Lucious for so long and then come along and play a very different character. Isaacs, quick witted as ever, responded, “You think they’re different?” to raucous laughter. Undeterred, she continued on, asking whether he could get out of the mindset of Lucious on set or whether he kept thinking of things in character. Isaacs pointed out that he has high hopes for the series, but that it was missing an elf. Getting more serious, he mentioned that the great writing and stories from Potter made it incredibly easy to play that role. He mentioned that was the similarity here; he really wanted to know what happens with Detective Britten and the job only becomes difficult when the writing is bad.

Our own Hunter Daniels was the next questioner, and asked about the role of the overlapping realities in helping to solve the crime in the pilot. He asked whether those would continue to help each other or if the realities would have devastating effects that would lead to mistakes, like chasing the wrong suspect or even killing the wrong person. Killen mentioned that they would definitely play with those exact scenarios and that they were having a fun time doing so. Isaacs reiterated that point, adding that they basically had this new box of tricks to experiment with in the show. Howard Gordon even compared it to having a new car that no one has ever driven, and that they are still figuring out new and interesting things about the concept.

Asked whether continuity was a nightmare in the scripts and shooting and if it was hard to keep track of what was what, Isaacs simply stated, “Yea.” He went on to point out that there were times when they would have trouble, but that it does kind of feed into his character having trouble keeping track as well. They were almost doing too good of a job. He also added that it was so refreshing to be challenged like that, and how it is a great thing for him to be able to get lost in the mentality of the character and not be constantly reminded that this is a day job.

awake-nbc-image-04The next questioner pointed to the different hues in the different realities, and asked whether they would continue to play with that with filmmaking tools. To that, Isaacs asked if this was the smartest audience. They responded that it was definitely part of the fabrics of what they were working towards. There were plans all the way from wardrobe to set design to show the different realities in an interesting way. Even the music was picked to accentuate the differences.

Another interesting question was how difficult it was for Isaacs to play such a complex character in a foreign accent. He mentioned that he is constantly in awe of how odd it is to be American all day on set, and to even wake up like that. When he is around friends and family, he isn’t quite sure to be at those moments. He points out that he uses it all day for times, and whether it was good or not, at least it was consistent.

The next questioner bluntly stated that while in line, all of his questions were taken, so he was curious if Jason Isaacs would continue to be a bad ass as he had in his previous roles. Looking between Gordon and Killen, he simply stated that he would do whatever his parents asked him to do. That led to the next attendee, who, dressed in garb as one of The Guardians from the Green Lantern universe, said he had some questions for Isaacs to which he responded that he had his own set of questions as well. The questioner continued on after a spurt of laughter and pointed out the use of a circular pan around Detective Britten wasn’t used to transition to a different reality or anything else. He added that that was typically the only use for that type of shot, and asked whether it was hinting at something deeper to be looking for.

They responded that they wished Slade was in attendance to answer the question but that he absolutely built every shot from the ground up to represent something in particular. Slade was having fun with the idea of two different realities occurring right after another, and they felt he was definitely attempting to tweak expectations of what would occur. Isaacs added that Slade is truly a master of imagery and that he felt it was most akin to working with Ridley Scott. He said that Slade dreamt the whole show, in the sense of how it would look visually.awake-nbc-image-03

Asked about the deep sorrow and melancholy look by Detective Britten, Isaacs noted that it was easy to latch onto that because he does fear losing his life, his wife, one of his children, or even his sanity. He says that the material gives him something to engage in, but that it’s a blur. He doesn’t know what it’s like because he’s in the moment. Isaacs also fielded a question of which roles he liked playing better: the bad guy or the good guy? He noted that he doesn’t prefer either, but that it is the story that matters at the end of the day. He despises playing characters that are insipid or that don’t seem to do what someone normally would do in reality. That a false character rings hollow for him. He further said that he doesn’t like bad guys that stroke invisible mustaches that end up being outsmarted by moronic good guys that have been to the gym a lot.

That wrapped up the panel, but I have to say the series still has me hooked. They certainly have a tough path to carve, but it should be fascinating to see where they go. There is a ton of room for experimentation, and the talent involved helps draw you in. As for when the show will air, it is targeted as a mid-season replacement during the 2011-2012 season. So stay tuned and as always, stay right here for our ongoing coverage of all things Con.

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