Following up on the posting of interviews with Michael Taylor and Nelson Lee and Gene Farber from this week’s “Virtuality” premiere on the Universal lot, here are two more brief interviews with the show’s stars, these with Clea DuVall and Erik Jensen.
Just a reminder that “Virtuality” — Read HitFix’s review — premieres on Friday, June 26 at 8 p.m. on FOX.
For much of the potential fanbase for “Virtuality,” Clea DuVall may be the most familiar face. She tangled with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” battled alien invaders in “The Faculty,” tried to investigate superheroes on “Heroes” and earned her Ronald Moore bona fides on HBO’s “Carnivale.”
In “Virtuality,” DuVall plays no-nonsense pilot Sue Parsons, who likes to use her virtual reality time to surf. Sue has some dark secrets in her past, but on any good TV show, who doesn’t?
HitFix: What’s the feeling of having “Virtuality” vanish and then reappear now?
Clea DuVall: It’s definitely like a little ray of hope in a very dark sea. It was so sad, but it’s amazing to have a chance, even if it’s a two-percent chance, it’s still a chance. This is a really special project and a special group of people who got along really well and it deserves to have more of a life.
HitFix: Most actors have had pilots that have disappeared. Have you?
CD: No! The only pilot I ever did was “Carnivale” and that ran for two seasons, so this was my first experience with network pilots. And it’s tough. I’ve watched a lot of my friends go through the pilot process, but I think because I didn’t know any better, I was like, “Oh, well we’ll do it and we’ll find out soon and then we’ll probably get picked up, because it’s Ron Moore and who wouldn’t want to pick up a Ron Moore show? It’s in the bag!” But apparently it was not in the bag. Very far out of the bag.
HitFix: Have the other actors told you that uncertainty, maybe not this much, is pretty common on pilots?
CD: I think we were all so on Cloud Nine when we were making this movie, that we’d all sit around going, “This is going to get picked up, right? It’s gotta get picked up.” But you know. I think the fact that FOX moved the airdate shows that they realize what a quality show it is. Yes, it’s daring. It’s not a slamdunk. But I think that investing in this would really pay off. Audiences would really respond to it.
HitFix: Audiences are certainly going to respond to all of the questions at the end.
CD: I know, right! When I finished it in my house, I was like, “What the hell is going on around here! That doesn’t make any sense!” The original draft of the script, the ending was different and then they changed the ending to what it is now when we were up there and I was like, “But what does that mean?!?” and Michael Taylor was like, “You’ll have to wait and find out.” I was like, “That’s not good enough! I don’t understand what’s going on.” There were a lot of things in the pilot that didn’t make it in. We shot so much that a lot of it was, unfortunately, left out. There are really fascinating storylines that should be explained further.
HitFix: There was also a lot of improv on the pilot, right?
CD: I definitely tried to use the script to build off of the improv. I always went back to it, because it was so good. I didn’t want to not use it. Every line had such purpose that I didn’t think I was better than Ron Moore and Michael Taylor.
HitFix: Did you expect the improv going in?
CD: No. Not at all. And I was petrified. We all got up there a week before we started shooting and only two or three people worked in the first few days and the night after the first day of shooting. I think it was Sienna [Guillory] and James [D’Arcy] and Nicolaj [Coster-Waldau] came home and we all met downstairs in the bar at our hotel and we were all waiting for them to get home from work and they got home and they were like, “So. There’s a lot of improv.” And we were like, “Whoa, whoa. What do you mean?” You really have to know your character and your character’s background and all that stuff and not everybody had gotten theirs yet and everybody panicked. Everybody was writing e-mails to Michael Taylor like, “What’s going on? Can I get my character backstory?” It turned out to be great and so much fun. It was something I’d never done before, but really hope that I have the opportunity to do more of.
HitFix: You’ve done plenty of effects-driven work in the past. Are you comfortable with it? Are you a natural in front of the green screen?
CD: Yeah. It’s all imagination and since so much of my job is imagination, it just takes it to a more physical level than mental.
HitFix: Was that always the case, or have you figured it out over the years?
CD: I think I’ve definitely figured it out over the years. When you’re a young idiot and you don’t have a lot of experience, you complain about stupid s*** and you don’t realize that you’re just lucky to have a job. So you’re like, “This is dumb. I don’t see anything. Where’s the monster?” But now I’ve learned to make it work to my advantage.
HitFix: So what’s the quick pitch to get viewers to watch on Friday?
CD: Best show ever! Because it’s unlikely anything on television and yet completely engaging and accessible.
Like DuVall’s character, Erik Jensen’s Jules, navigator on the Phaeton, has a tragedy in his past, one that he willingly rehashes and unearths through the ships virtual reality system.
Jensen appeared with “Virtuality” co-star Nicolaj Coster-Waldau on an episode of FOX’s short-lived “New Amsterdam” and also appeared on multiple episodes of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” But for baseball fans, he’ll be familiar as Thurman Munson from ESPN’s miniseries “The Bronx Is Burning.”
HitFix: I was just telling Clea that there may be an audience uprising with all of the questions at the end of the pilot.
Erik Jensen: You know, a good artist knows how to leave ’em wanting more and that’s what Michael and Ron and Peter have really done effectively here. I think we live in a culture where people really want answers, like right away and we get trained to expect things to be started and finished. One of the things that I love about things “Lost” or old science fiction movies like “Solaris” is the hanging ending, the unsettling feeling that there’s something left to do. That’s what drew me to the script in the first place, that slam-bang ending. I want to know what happens next. I have that feeling because I’m invested in the characters, even as an audience member. Good science fiction is always about the inner life of the characters. It’s not about the rubber monster in the corner, as much as we like to think it is. Good science fiction takes some really controversial things, some strange ideas, and breaks them down in a way that makes them understandable and interesting and exciting to think about.
HitFix: How much did you want to learn about the character outside of what we saw in the pilot, either before or after?
EJ: I believe, and this is going to sound a little bit weird and wonky, but I believe characters are the sum total of what they do. What’s hidden underneath is sometimes something that I can bring to it and what’s hidden underneath is sometimes something that a good writer or editor can bring to it. I may not know something’s lurking there, but they may pick up on something. There are scenes in the piece where you maybe see me observing other people arguing or conversations and it’s interesting the way the hang the camera on me. I’m not part of the argument, but there’s something they’re insinuating by that that I think is kinda interesting. In terms of storytelling. Not in terms of it being on me. But it’s the ambiguities in life that we’re all trying to chase. It’s OK for stories to raise questions. It’s OK for stories to leave us unsettled.
HitFix: What has it been like seeing this project drop off the radar and then reappear?
EJ: Well, in this economy, I understand why things dropped off the radar. A lot of things dropped off the radar for a lot of people, not just those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs like we have. I think that with Ron and Michael and Peter, I think that team is an unbeatable team and I think there’s so much truth to what Ron has produced and what Michael has written that if the fans have as much fun watching this as we did doing this, then I think we’re all in for a nice long ride. I try not to think past this present moment, if I do, my life gets very distracting and becomes about what’s over the horizon. But I’ll tell you what, I’ve waited since I was 11 to get in a spaceship and have somebody say “Blast off.”
HitFix: Since so much of the show’s future is going to be based on a good showing on Friday, what’s the pitch to get people to watch?
EJ: Well, if you like “Alien” or you like “Close Encounters” or you like any sort of drama that doesn’t provide easy answers right up-front, if you like to be really scared and intrigued by something, I think you should tune into “Virtuality.” It’s an immersive experience. If you dig playing video games, you’ll like the show. It’s not like anything people have seen on television before.
“Virtuality” airs on FOX on Friday, June 26 at 8 p.m.