It’s early March and I’m chatting with Christian Slater next to the set for his new FOX comedy “Breaking In” on the Sony Pictures studio lot.
We’re perched 20 yards away from the Contra Security game room, which hasn’t been featured in either of the two episodes I’ve seen, but which features several fully operational video games, as well as a working Skee-Ball console.
“We have a whole room full of prizes!” Slater gushes when I complain that Skee-Ball without prizes is almost sad. “There’s a whole secret chamber full of stuff.”
Slater’s kidding, I think. But I’m not 100 percent sure, which is appropriate, since “Breaking In” features the “Heathers” star as Oz, the enigmatic, geeky and possibly unhinged head of a motley team of security testers brought in to make sure that even worse criminals can be kept out. The comedy co-stars Bret Harrison, Odette Annable, Alphonso McAuley and Trevor Moore and premieres after “American Idol” on Wednesday (April 6) night.
After we got our Skee-Ball discussion out of the way, Slater and I had a good chat about his recent string of TV roles, what it means that he’s a producer on “Breaking In” and his new show’s five-year plan.
HitFix: I’ve seen the pilot, but readers won’t have seen it yet when this runs, so tell me a bit about Oz…
Christian Slater: Oz is the head of this company, Contra Security. We’re a security company that tests the security of anything you can think of. We’ll break into banks, museums, government agencies. Whatever you’re trying to keep safe or protect, we will go in there make sure and nobody else can get to it. That’s pretty much our job.
HitFix: We learn a few things about Oz in the pilot, but how much do you think we trust this guy and what he says he is and what he says he’s done?
CS: One of the things with this particular character, he is eccentric. He’s odd and he’s definitely off-the-wall. He’s an off-the-wall boss, so for me to get this opportunity is great. He definitely likes things to run smoothly, but also to create a little bit of chaos and also keep his team as much in the dark as possible. At the end of the day, it’s sorta for his own means and his own reasons. I think he’s the type of character who knows what the solution is going to be right from the get-go. He knows how it’s all gonna wrap up and how it’s all gonna end. He’s an eight-moves-ahead sort of character. He’s mapped it all out and as we go along here, we’re discovering more and more about the guy, but at the same time keeping as mysterious as he can possibly be.
HitFix: He’s a guy who’s not afraid to use threats to keep his people in line.
CS: Well, yeah, he knows what motivates certain characters. This new guy, Cameron, played by Bret, he comes into this new workspace and a lot of these people have been assigned and recruited into this particular field because they were doing some illegal things in the past, so in a way, you need to have somebody who represents some level and danger and authority and keeps the guys in line. We’re dealing with computer hackers and lock-pickers. These are not the most reputable of people and what Oz is really trying to do is motivate them to use these skills which could be channeled in a negative way and guide these kids, for lack of a better term, in a more positive direction.
HitFix: Your last two TV forays, both dramas. Why do a comedy this time around?
CS: First of all, everything is a process. Entering into TV, that was a decision that didn’t necessarily come lightly. I wanted to take some risks and branch out and find some interesting things.
I certainly felt like “My Own Worst Enemy” was an interesting premise, an interesting idea, but one that required a great deal of focus and attention. If everybody involved wasn’t really on the same page, it was going to leave things with a lot of loose ends and keep it very, very confusing. So we ended up only shooting nine episodes, as much fun as I had. During the process, I discovered that I like TV. I enjoy the process. I like the pace of it. I like how quickly it moves along. I always felt that with that particular show, the first attempt, they never really made a decision whether it was going to be a comedy or a drama. It walked that fine line, which left me feeling very confused and, I think, everybody else feeling very confused. I think that easily could have been a comedy. Or it could specifically have been a drama. The choice needed to be made. They were trying to throw everything in and when you’re trying to do that, I think it just ends up feeling very, very empty. Everybody gets gets the feeling of being very scattered.
Then with “The Forgotten,” look, it was a Jerry Bruckheimer show. He’s obviously a phenomenal producer and very very good. We were trying to do something new, with a “CSI”-kinda-vibe to it, based on real people. I think at the end of the day, it’s difficult to build a show where every episode ends in a funeral. It’s not an uplifting topic. It’s hard. And at the same time, even though we only did 18 episodes of that particular show, we did solve some real cases, so I’m very very grateful for that fact. So some people really did experience some genuine closure, which was the whole point of that show.
Now after saying all of that, doing comedy is a phenomenal relief. It’s great, man. It’s like bliss. This is a half-hour, single-camera project that knows exactly what it is. It’s specifically a character-driven comedy piece with some very, very quirky and very, very eccentric characters. Adam Goldberg and Doug Robinson were phenomenally open about allowing the people they hired to incorporate some of their own personal eccentricities and things that they’ve loved or grown up with and I’ve been very, very happy with that.
HitFix: You’re a producer on this, right?
HitFix: Was that a decision you made calculatedly after those last two TV projects?
CS: Well, I don’t know if it was a result of the last two projects, per se, but it was the deal that was presented and seemed to make the most sense. I certainly wanted to be as much involved as I possibly could be. At least there’s the opportunity for consultation and communication. In a way, I think it’s helpful to play this particular character, to kinda have a little bit more insight and have just a little bit more information, seeing as how I am playing the guy who’s a little bit more of a puppet-master.
HitFix: So how are you taking on that producing role?
CS: Just with communication, really. I’m not lording anything over anybody here. I think I have a great relationship with Adam and Doug and Seth Gordon. Look, the fact that they’re doing doing such a great job really means that I, as a producer, I don’t have to do much of anything other than play the character of Oz, which is really, at the end of the day, all I’m here to do. But if there’s anything I can contribute, any phone calls I can make… Certainly, I’ve been in this business for 34 years now, so if I can make a phone call or reach out to somebody in particular to try help get something done… These guys have very creative ideas and they want to put in as many things and make it as authentic as it can possibly be. You can write a lot of stuff, but a lot of things are trademarked or legally owned by this person or that person and that can make it very difficult. When you have one lawyer from one studio calling another lawyer from another studio, the answer’s always going to be “No,” but if you have a guy who has maybe been in the business for 34 years calling the guy he worked with back in 1986, you know, it can help to bridge the gaps.
HitFix: You find that people in this town still have long enough memories?
CS: Surprisingly, a lot of people I worked with years ago have certainly gone on… Some assistants then, now are studio heads. That’s how long I’ve been in this business, long enough to know people as they were coming in the door and then to have gotten the opportunity to watch their careers blossom.
HitFix: Going back to Oz… Do you compare this guy to any of your older characters? He definitely feels like an extension of the smarter-than-the-room anti-heroes…
CS: Well, in a certain respect. In a lot of ways, Adam and Doug tailored this particular character for me and maybe some of the other characters I’ve played in the past. I like to make things a little bit easier for the press and just say that maybe at the end of “Heathers,” J.D. didn’t die, he escaped out of there and this is the job that he would be doing. I think Jason Dean, that character from “Heathers,” this is where he would be at 41, working this kind of deal.
HitFix: And don’t think we don’t appreciate having things made easier for us!
CS: Hey! We’re all in it together. I don’t want to complicate things. Again, I’m all about bridging the gaps.
HitFix: Is it fun going back to that kind of wry observer character? You’ve done a lot of things in-between. You did the action hero thing. You did straight drama. Is it fun returning?
CS: You know, every aspect, I’ve enjoyed it all. Getting the opportunity to do some of those action things, all of that stuff comes into play in this kind of show. All of that experience, all of those moments, they’re definitely things I can call upon to incorporate into something like this, which is really what I would like to do. At the end of the day, I’d love for this to be a home base. I think that in a way, it really has to be, because according to Adam Goldberg, very much like “Star Trek” had a five-year mission, we have a five-year plan. Oz has a five-year plan and he’s hired all of these people for very specific reasons and if we don’t get to the end of the five-year plan, we’re never going to know what this guy’s main intention was. So we’ve gotta get there, man.
HitFix: So there’s a longer-term goal?
CS: Oh, Adam’s mapped it out. He’s mapped it out and he’s given me certain clues, but not enough for me to sink my teeth into at this point, so I’m very interested to see what’s in this guy’s mind.
HitFix: If you only have clues, surely there’s no harm in giving me a few hints?
CS: Well, more and more is going to be revealed. We’re doing six episodes this season and as far as the five-year plan is concerned, more and more will be revealed in the next six. The pilot sets it up, establishes what this place is, and as we get deeper and deeper involved with the characters, we’ll discover more and more about what Oz’s plan is, what secret rooms he has in this place and what he’s doing in there.
“Breaking In” premieres on Wednesday, April 6 at 9:30 on FOX.