In the new ABC drama series The Whispers, a mysterious entity is manipulating children to play games that often have very deadly and dire consequences. In Washington D.C., several kids have been talking about their imaginary friend, Drill, who turns out not to be as imaginary as everyone initially thinks. As the families of these children are tested, on every level, what Drill wants and why he or it is only communicating with children will set these families on a suspenseful race to save the world.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Barry Sloane (who plays Wes Lawrence, a Defense Department operative and father to one of the children caught in this deadly game) talked about what attracted him to The Whispers, what viewers will relate to, being given an idea of what would happen in the last episode, as well as a possible Season 2, when he initially signed on, that this character is a bit more open than the one he played on his last ABC series Revenge, working with such talented child actors, how this story is essentially being told in three acts, and that viewers will start getting answers about who and what Drill is by Episode 4. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: The Whispers really is a blend of many different things. What was it that attracted you to this and made you want to be a part of telling this story?
BARRY SLOANE: During pilot season, you can come across quite a lot of scripts, in this business, if you’re fortunate enough to be in that position. It was one that I got and I was instantly drawn into it. The first minutes of the pilot, even in script form, was tense, just reading it through with your own brain and without any visual help. The entire script stood out for me. It was the story, overall. My character is not particularly heavily featured in the pilot, but I just thought it was a totally unique story. The scope of this and where they wanted to go with it was very exciting. I did feel it wasn’t a story that had been told before, in this way. I did think it was something that would pique curiosity, and I did think that it was brave subject matter. I think you should always try to do things that are a little bit left of center. That’s why I was interested in it.
This story does have a big element of mystery to it. Should viewers be anticipating answers to that mystery, or would you prefer that they care more about the character drama of the story than what the driving force behind it is?
SLOANE: One thing that got me into the story and what I initially related to was that you don’t have to be a parent to get it. We’re all slightly jealous of the innocence of children because that innocence goes and we become very protective of that innocence. And when we see something, whatever it is, be that an entity, a human being, or another slightly older children, taking that innocence away from your child or a child, it gets us very angry and very protective. The primal nature in all of us kicks in and we want to protect them. That’s something everyone can get on board with, early on. That’s the thing that will make it less of a global threat show, and more about how these two families will get through this problem, how they’ll rebuild after a crisis, and what’s right and wrong after a crisis.
Does the fact that your husband had an affair matter, if your child is being abused by something outside the family walls? Can you invite the woman who he had an affair with into your home, if necessary, to save your kid? What are you prepared to do to make it work? That is what people will be able to relate to, initially. Once you relate to that, I think you can go on whatever story these people want to tell. But with any good TV show, you have to care for the characters, or you can’t go on any journey with them.
It’s clear that this story is unraveling in little bits, with each episode, as far as the connections between the characters and what’s going on with everybody. Were you told much ahead of time, when you signed on, or were you anxious to find out with each script, like the audience will be, as they watch each episode?
SLOANE: When I first took my initial meeting for this show, another reason why I signed on was that they discussed where we could go in Season 2. I knew what was going to happen in the last episode. I knew what we were working toward, or at least the suggestion of it. But episode to episode, we could have had more information offered to us, if chosen, but especially with a show like this, I like to discover it as the character does. I think it’s more natural and it helps you not plant too many seeds. It was important to uncover it, as the scripts came out. It was certainly interesting, that way.
Your character on Revenge was always pretty dark and brooding and mysterious. How would you say this guy compares, from an acting standpoint? Is he a bit more open, as a character, or does he get equally dark, as this story unravels?
SLOANE: I would say that the guy gets dark. I would say that the world gets dark around hi. You will see him, as a human being, cope with this scenario. The thing with Aiden was that, by the time we took up his story on Revenge, he’d been through so much trauma that he’d already put up these walls and barriers that basically informed all of my choices, as an actor. He didn’t have any emotions, apart from anger. So, this guy is a lot more open. He hasn’t done that work on himself. You’ll see him make rash decisions. You’ll see him break down. You’ll see him become brave and weak, in equal measure. It’s an interesting journey to watch. He’s an accidental hero. He’s someone I hope people can relate to. He’s not a superhero. It’s about how a father and a husband would get through an awful crisis. That’s what I enjoyed playing with him.
Whether or not this show succeeds in its creepiness and having that unsettling feeling that’s inherent whenever kids are doing bad things or are having bad things done to them really relies, in large part, on the believability of the kids. Did you have that concern, yourself, and what was your experience with the kids you got to work with?
SLOANE: You’re right, I did have that concern, to start with. I knew that, if they didn’t cast the kids correctly, we could be in trouble. Obviously, going forward as well, there are more kids that come into the story. With the main kids – Kylie Rogers, Kyle Breitkopf and Abby Fortson – who drive the pilot and the initial episodes, I don’t think they could have cast it any better. Kylie played my daughter. I had a great deal of stuff with her, and I think she’s a real talent. I think they found a future star, quite frankly. She was so present.
Kids are usually exactly what you’re looking for in a scene partner. They’re really there, they’re not affected, and they’re not trying to look cool on camera. They matched Lily [Rabe], Milo [Ventimiglia] and my style, which was to be as real as possible. And these kids could play and mix it up. I have a scene with Kylie, much later in the story so I can’t go into detail, but it was like playing with a pro tennis player. I was throwing curve balls and trying to throw her off, and I was mixing the performance up, from take to take, but every shot, she had an answer for it. It’s always fascinating when someone does that, whether they’re a child or not. I just think they cast really good actors, regardless of whether they were children or not. That should be the key.
Will we start to get definite answers about Drill and what’s going on with the children, before the last episode of the season?
SLOANE: Yeah, and that’s something I was really happy about with the writing. By Episode 4, you know what we’re dealing with. The series is in three acts. The pilot to Episode 4 is one act, Episode 4 to 8 or 9 is another act, and then Episode 9 to 13 is another act. By the end of Episode 4, you get a mini season finale. We close off that story and give the pay-off for that particular branch of the story, and then we move into the next area. Questions are answered. You’re not waiting 13 episodes to know what you’re looking at. By the end of the fourth episode, you know where we are. Not exactly where we are, but you know what page we’re on. I think that will keep people happy and wanting to move into the next block.
The Whispers airs on Monday nights on ABC, and you can learn more about the show at http://abc.go.com/shows/the-whispers.