On Wednesday night, just two days before the telefilm/pilot’s Friday, June 26 airing, there was an intimate premiere for FOX’s sci-fi drama “Virtuality” on the Universal Studios lot.
Created by Ronald Moore and Michael Taylor and direct by Peter Berg, “Virtuality” is about the perils of space flight, the fate of Earth, the horrors of reality television and virtual reality. The show’s two-hour pilot will air on Friday and… Well, the Magic Eight Ball would tell you that the future is cloudy and to come back after the Nielsen results are in.
HitFix caught up with a number of the “Virtuality” stars at the premiere, to talk about the show and its future.
To start things off, here’s a pair of brief Q&As with Gene Farber and Nelson Lee…
Gene Farber — Valentin Orlovsky
Although he’s been seen on episodes of “The Mentalist” and “Numb3rs” in recent months, “Virtuality” will probably be Gene Farber’s greatest exposure for most viewers.
On “Virtuality,” Farber plays Valentin Orlovsky, a geologist on the Phaeton, an interstellar vessel on a mission that may hold the key to the fate of humanity. Val is also one of the ship’s self-appointed chefs, along with his partner Manny (Jose Pablo Cantillo).
HitFix: Has seeing this summer resurrection for the pilot given you a glimmer of hope?
Gene Farber: We’ll see what’s happens. I’ve learned in this town to let it go. You do the best you can and then the rest is up to the Gods. If it comes back around? It does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
HitFix: Are you surprised it’s still the subject of buzz or discussion that your character is in a committed gay relationship?
GF: I just think that it’s like with anything new. This has not been done before and that’s why it’s big deal. When it’s done, there’ll be something else new. There’ll be a next thing for people to get excited about or angry about. Next, there’ll be gay aliens and that’ll be a problem. It’s a character like every other character and people are making a big deal about it because it’s new, not because it’s taboo. We’ve gay characters on TV before for some time now.
HitFix: Talking to you now, you don’t have an accent, but I know you came from Belarus. Is the accent on the show taken from a family member?
GF: Exactly. It was very difficult to do at first. I’m basically doing my dad.
HitFix: And presumably you’ve put some effort into losing that accent for American roles and now you’ve got to bring it back?
GF: It was very hard in the beginning when I started to do Russian parts, to bring it back, because I’m sure it’s there slightly, but I had to actually remind myself of how to do it and talk to my dad. I was like, “Hey dad, just speak.” And he’d be like, “What do you want me to say? I don’t know. OK great.”
HitFix: Obligatory question. Since virtual reality is such a big part of the show, if you were in this situation, what would your ideal virtual reality be?
GF: This is a good one and I have a perfect answer, because I’ve talked to Michael Taylor about it, if the show got picked up. I’m a huge fencing fan. I’m a fencer and I love “Three Musketeers,” so I thought why not do a Louis the 14th, going back in time. I love history, so I’d love to be in virtual worlds where I have to travel.
HitFix: And what’s the pitch you’d give to encourage people to watch on Friday night?
GF: Space travel. Time travel. Well, not time travel. But space travel, think “Battlestar Galactica” in 2040 meets reality shows. Go and see it. It’s going to be fun.
Nelson Lee — Kenji Yamamoto
Nelson Lee’s Kenji Yamamoto is an astrobiologist on Phaeton. He’s also married to Joy Bryant’s (Alice Thibadeau), because in the future somebody decided that the best way to keep order on a space exploration mission would be to popular half of the crew with astronauts in committed relationships. We’re not sure we understand the logic either.
A regular on “Blade: The Series,” Lee has also appeared on episodes of “Bones,” “Law & Order” and “Oz.”
HitFix: What’s it been like seeing this project seemingly vanish and then now reappear?
Nelson Lee: It’s tough, right? Like with lots of projects, you get married to them, you love them and then you have to teach yourself to separate yourself a little bit when they start to look like they’re going away. And trust me, even this, even these glimmers of hope, as much as I want it to happen, I try really hard not to make myself believe that it’s going to be possible until I’m sitting back on set in this beautiful show.
HitFix: The show has to come back so that your character can actually get a virtual reality scene…
NL: The funniest thing is, I actually auditioned for the show with my virtual reality scene, which would have been in Episode Two. So it they never make it, I’m gonna make it anyway, just on YouTube. It was this amazing scene where… I can’t give anything away. It was really… If we get cancelled, call me up and I’ll tell you. It was great and it was so human and interesting. It’s like any ensemble show. You have to trust that you can’t overdose everyone. There are 12 of us and you have to focus. So I have no problems with that at all.
HitFix: So you have extra details about your character that we don’t see?
NL: Oh, completely. And that takes confidence. In a lot of pilots, it’s like, “We have to tell them everything, otherwise no one will get it.” In this show, they had confidence that the show would continue and so we’re not going to force-feed you all this detail. Little tidbits get in there. Michael [Taylor] was very open and available to all of us, talking about where our characters come from and where they’re going, so we had a lot of knowledge.
HitFix: I hear Peter Berg encouraged a lot of improvisation on the set. What was that like?
NL: It was frightfully thrilling. That’s the way I always described it on set. Because you never knew what was going to happen when you got on set. So there was something really liberating about that and also really scary. You’d get out there and you wouldn’t know if you were going to be doing the lines, if you were going to be doing a completely different scene and it usually ended up coming back to what it was, only with the fat trimmed off. So he really did know what he was doing.
HitFix: Obligatory question: If you were in space, what would you want your own virtuality reality simulation to be like?
NL: You know, I’ve given so many of these answers. If I were to give a stock one, I’d probably say something in the West. I always like the Wild West. But if it were something else, I’d probably just take an old “Star Trek” episode and put myself into that.
HitFix: And give me the pitch to get people to watch the show on Friday…
NL: There’s nothing like this on television. Definitely nothing like this on FOX. So I really everyone’s going to try to tune in and give us a shot.
HitFix: And who would you recommend the show to?
NL: I think obviously anyone into sci-fi, but I’d almost hesitate to say this was science fiction. OK. It is. Insofar as we are in space. OK fine. But still, but the thing about it is the human relationships and the relationships that’ll develop and it’s the line that starts to get blurred between those relationships and being able to separate from those relationships in virtual reality space. That’s what I think is really going to appeal to a broad spectrum of people, not just people who love sci-fi, but people who love drama.
“Virtuality” airs on FOX on Friday, June 26 at 8 p.m.