HitFix Interview: Jasika Nicole talks ‘Fringe’

10.14.10 8 years ago

As viewers realized in last season’s “Brown Betty,” we’ve only begun to see the tip of Jasika Nicole’s potential on FOX’s “Fringe.”

Sure, her Astrid Farnsworth has been an effective foil for Walter Bishop, particularly at Walter’s most eccentric and unpredictable, but in the midst of drug-fueled madness, Nicole got to show Astrid’s dramatic side and she got to sing. She may not be asked to do that again, but it’s nice have that information in the background in case the writers decide that it’s time for an Astrid-centric episode.
For now, Nicole is enjoying the opportunities presented by this season’s dual-universe structure, as the differences between Alternate Astrid and Our Astrid are legion.
While visiting the “Fringe” set in August, I had a lengthy chat with Nicole, a conversation that went into rather intriguing depth on the background to Alt-Astrid that we have yet to see. 
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: This has been my standard opening… What do you want to give me for what’s happening through the first four episodes?
Jasika Nicole: OK! Let me tell you what’s happening in Season 3. We pick up pretty much exactly where we left off at the end of Season 2. You see Olivia and she’s in a padded cell and the little window is closing and she’s trying to get out. They pick up right from there in the first episode. So the big question is, of course, is she going to get out? Are they going to let her out? Is she going to stay in there? Who knows that she’s in there? If she gets out, what’s going to happen? The trend that they’ve set for their season-opening episodes has been so fantastic and this one definitely delivers, too. I’ll just say that there are some explosions.
Then you have to wonder… OK, what’s going on in this universe? Who’s going to realize that we have the wrong Olivia first? Peter’s in love with her, so you would imagine that it would be him, but Walter’s pretty observant, in weird ways, so you think maybe he’s going to figure it out. And then you wonder how long is this going to take? How long can this possibly go on with our two Olivias in the wrong places? I’m sure you know that the format that’s established is that we do one episode in this universe and one in the other universe and what is so great is that the Fringe teams are working on cases at the same time, so you get to see how differently they work together, what it means to be the Fringe team in that universe, as opposed to our universe. It’s very different. How does a Fringe team work when you have a mole on it? And what happens to this Fringe team when they don’t have their Olivia? Or do they have their Olivia? That’s the big question! Is that good enough for you?
HitFix: Absolutely. So where’s Astrid in all of this?
JN: Oh! So… Astrid has to be, we’re calling her the buffer, the buffer for Walter in this universe. Walter and Peter are not in a good place. They’re probably as low as they’ve ever been because, of course, Peter is still really upset with his father for stealing him from that universe.
HitFix: As you would be.
JN: Exactly! It’s understandable. Of course we have this other Olivia here, who we think is our Olivia, but she’s not, so she’s a little distant and she’s kind of weird. So Walter doesn’t really have anybody in his corner anymore. So Astrid steps in and you’ll just get to see some really cool scenes with them, where their relationship becomes more concrete and it’s not just her taking him to the store to buy him food or her looking after him. It’s more like they’re friends. 
Of course, our Alternate Astrid is so different from this one who’s been established. She, as you may know, has Asperger’s. So far you’ve only gotten to see her in the FBI headquarters. All she does is stand in front of her computer and shout out information to people. She’s totally uninterested in social time, in laughing, in hanging out. She’s not comfortable in those situations, so all she wants to do is relay information to these people and if they question her, she gets really pissed off. So she seems kind of nasty, but it’s just because she doesn’t know how to function in social situations and the Fringe team that’s over there, with Lincoln Lee, Charlie Francis and Olivia, they’re developed this really great rapport, so when they’re around her, they play around with her, because she’s so off. She’s so different than they are. It’s really cool to be playing those two completely different characters and to find the nuances between them. What do they do alike and what do they do differently?
HitFix: Is it acknowledged Asperger’s? TV has so many characters on TV who have tendencies on the spectrum, but it’s rare that anybody actually acknowledges it.
JN: It said it in the script. I don’t know if it’s going to actually come out in anyone’s conversations, but the whole thing, and this is what Akiva [Goldsma] came up with, is that he wanted there to be a group of people in this alternate universe… There are certainly autistic people in this universe, but they’re treated one way here and they’re heralded in that universe. What they do with autistic kids who happen to be really, really good with numbers and data and mathematics, is they educate them and they teach them how to use their skills so that they can be contributing members to this division. She’s probably studied and gone through a bunch of workshops and courses so that she can have this super-important job. She’s like the head “looker.” She’s the best “looker” they have. Not the best looking, but the best “looker.” So it’s a really cool idea to take kind of a disenfranchised group in one area and then say, “These are the same group of people, look at how differently they can be treated. Look at how we can appreciate them in a different way here.”
HitFix: How did you go about crafting that character? 
JN: This is interesting for me, because the writers didn’t know that my sister is autistic. They wrote it in the script and I read it and I said, “I don’t *think* I said anything to anybody about this happening.” So it was just born of their own discussions. Akiva used to work with autistic kids, so I saw the script and I just thought, “Wow. This is great. It’s something I know really well.” Astrid is not like my sister. My sister is lower-functioning than someone who has Asperger’s, but there are definitely a lot of the same qualities. It comes from the same core. My sister can’t communicate verbally and Astrid finds it difficult to communicate in ways that people want to see her communicate. People want to be social and she’s totally lacking in that way, that format that she’s supposed to settle into. All she wants to do is relay information. Even the way that she dresses is so different from our Astrid. So far, the easiest way for me to slide into her is just to sit in my trailer and put her clothes on. She got these army fatigues and these big combat boots with heavy soles and she’s got all of these badges and all of these buttons and she’s got a beret. There’s a very select way that she puts everything on and it’s so different from this Astrid, who wears jewelry and wears heels. They’ve got the same look and they might even have some of the same mannerisms, but they’re two extremely different people who have lived very, very different lives. And they’re so different that it’s just like playing one character on one show and another character on another show.
HitFix: That has to be about as nice a gift as an actor on a TV show can have.
JN: I know! Who gets that on television? Except for the guy on “Quantum Leap”! That’s something that not a lot of people get to experience, so it’s pretty cool.
HitFix: Do you remember how you were told that there was going to be this split?
JN: I had no idea til I read the script. They didn’t even talk to me about it, which is what it is. But the good thing is that I read it and I was immediately excited about it. If it had been anything else, if she’d had some other quirky thing about her, I just wouldn’t have had a personal connection to it. So I feel like I have it easy, because I know exactly where she’s coming from. Well, not exactly, but I know where she’s coming from.
HitFix: Are you particularly sensitive to noticing other characters who are on the autism spectrum, where it maybe goes unmentioned?
JN: Yeah. You know, I feel like I am and I’m like that in regular life, too. I cross paths with a lot a lot of people and I think, “That’s in the spectrum.” That’s always my euphemism for it. I definitely wonder. Certainly not everybody that is different is necessarily autistic, but there are a lot of undiagnosed people and it’s not necessarily something that needs to have attention to it, unless that person is feeling uncomfortable in the world or they need extra help or something. But yeah, I’m sure that there are a lot of people that we cross paths with and I’m reading all of these stories about people who are in their 40s that are just diagnosed and they’re like, “Oh, this is why I’ve always been an outsider and why I’ve always felt this way.” It’s very interesting, actually. But yeah, I definitely feel like I’m sensitive to it, because of my sister.
HitFix: It’s just so interesting, because shows like “Bones” or “The Big Bang Theory,” the creators are constantly avoiding just coming out and putting this kind of label on their characters, even if you actually watch the characters…
JN: It’s so clear. Yeah! That is so interesting. It totally says it here. I wonder where that decision came in. Maybe it’s just a show that’s able to take that notion and then build a story around it. I don’t know. Maybe with the other shows, they feel like it’s dangerous to just have that one guy who’s The Autistic Guy.
HitFix: Was it in the script even in the finale last season?
JN: It was the first time she was introduced and she’s only in one scene in the Season 2 finale and there’s that scene where she’s with Broyles and they did that cool thing with her eyes where you can see her looking and the screen and the numbers and that was the first introduction of Astrid. In the notes, not the stage directions, but when they introduce her, it said, “This is Astrid. She’s very different from Our Astrid… She’s autistic.” Then I talked to Akiva about it and I said, “Akiva, did you know that my sister’s autistic?” And he said “No, but I’ve been working with autistic kids for years!” So there was this excitement that we both had, having had our hands in something similar.
HitFix: What do you see as the take-away from this character decision?
JN: I think that the big thing is the fact that you take pretty much any community of people who have been outsiders, you can take all of the deaf people in the world or all of the blind people or all of the people who have this, that or the other and if you treat them one way here and treat them a different way there, it makes you sit back as a viewer and go, “Wow, does it have to be like this? What have we done wrong in separating these people from our society and making them feel different?” So I think more than anything, beyond the scope of it being about autistic people, it’s just about people who are different and if you treat them certain ways, the outcome can be completely different.
HitFix: Let’s go back to Our Astrid for a bit. What would you, personally, like to see for her character this season?
JN: OK. We’ve seen Olivia and Walter meet their counterparts. They’ve seen them and interacted with them, Olivia has fought her own counterpart. It’s been crazy to see those differences. So I’d love to see what happens when the other people meet their counterparts. What would this Astrid do when she saw this other Astrid, who doesn’t really like to make eye contact, who doesn’t really smile ever, who’s super-smart, but seems to be a loner. I want to know what happens when she sees her! I don’t know if they’ll ever actually meet, or if she’ll find out about her. I would just love to see how the writers could create a scene for Astrid to find out about her counterpart.
HitFix: And how comfortable have you been with the slow pace at which we’ve learned things about this character?
JN: [Laughs, with a big smile.] I have to be OK with it, because if I wasn’t, I would just be so frustrated. I was definitely frustrated in the first season. But it was the first season and they were figuring everything out. It was the first season and people died pretty quickly and I knew I was in new territory. It was my first television show and I just had to make sure that I was honoring the words they put in the script and doing the best I could. But you’re right: There wasn’t a lot of Astrid. We still don’t have a lot of background on her. So I was just taking it one script at a time. At this point, I feel really satisfied with who she is, because she’s growing. She’s a different Astrid now from who she was in Season 2 and Season 1 and that’s all you can really hope for as an actor, that you get to have something different to play.
HitFix: And, heck, you got to sing last season.
JN: And I got to sing last season! I know! It was incredible.
HitFix: Has that opened up any eyes regarding your range?
JN: Well, I don’t know if this is actually going to happen, but the guy who does the music and soundtrack stuff for the show works at Bad Robot with JJ Abrams and… he just wrote me the other day and asked me if I might be interested in doing the vocals for a couple songs that he wrote that he wants to be on JJ’s new show, “Undercovers.” I don’t know if it’s going to happen. It could be one of those things where it’s just a lot of talk and nothing ever actually happens from it, but he’s who I worked with in the studio when I was putting down the tracks for the musical episode. So definitely somebody is interested. He wouldn’t have been interested before the musical episode.
HitFix: And it sounds like that would be something you’d be interested in.
JN: Dude, are you kidding me? I would be so excited! I just want to do a movie musical and then if I could do some recording stuff, that would be amazing! I would die a happy woman! I really would. It doesn’t take much!
HitFix: You don’t want to make all of your dreams that accessible, then…
JN: I know, right? That’s like so unimpressive, right? I’m sure I’ll get some other dreams soon to replace these! 

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