I had the pleasure to participate in a conference call with Person of Interest executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman on December 14th, 2012. I give credit for my doing this to the Relevant to Someone site that posted the media alert as well as Alice Jester, my friend and mentor in blogging, who runs this site.
Also, thanks goes out to CBS for putting together the call and granting access. Finally, thanks to Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman for making themselves available to answer the questions posed to them. They are quite good at telling you very, very little, while at the same time making it seem like you’ve learned a lot. That’s an art, these two are artists.
As fate would have it my audio recorder failed me, and while I took quite good notes, what follows will be a bit paraphrased at times. I apologize for that. Also, this is in two parts because CBS requested certain pieces of information not be made available until after December 27th.
So, with that lengthy preamble out of the way, let’s dive in.
I loved this question because the answer reinforced the views I’ve had on Reese and on Jim Caviezel’s performance. Some have criticized Jim saying he (and by proxy Reese) are too wooden. I’ve always thought it was a brilliant performance showing a shattered man slowly coming back to life. Thus it was a pleasure to hear Jonathan Nolan’s answer to this question:
Q: Like to follow on that last question a little bit (which tiptoes into Episode 11 territory and thus you’ll have to come back after 12/27 for that Q and A). Obviously we did see Reese going to great lengths to rescue Finch earlier this season. Even in this episode he was experiencing a sort of general happiness and expressed out loud how important this partnership has come to mean to him. He’s still not a cuddly guy but what do you want to say that you’re doing with Reese as he is becoming more dependent on that sort of partnership and it’s sort of changing him and having that being part of his decision to go down the way he did there at the end?
Jonathan Nolan: I feel like the premise of the show, from the beginning, Greg and I were interested in these four very wounded, very broken characters who are rebuilding themselves. Reese probably the most, or Finch as you discover, there’s a lot of damage there. So watching him over the course of a season and a half, collaborating with Jim and Michael on these performances in which they are ever so slightly giving these tiny glimpses of a connection between them – it means so much. The way we see Reese is this kind of wounded animal slowly sort of rebuilding his trust and connection to the world. And we love to do that and then right at that point we smash it all to pieces. Our writers really are sadists.
What followed from that was a discussion on the first three episodes of the New Year, which you’ll have to wait until part 2 to read about.
We did have some discussion of Detective Lionel Fusco (I love that character!), as well as Kevin Chapman, who Nolan and Plageman respect greatly. They also teased that Kevin hadn’t been ‘paying his checks regularly’ so that’s why Fusco keeps ending up on the wrong side of HR.
Q: Why doesn’t Fusco bring Reese and Finch up to speed with what’s going on of late with HR and how dire things are now becoming?
Greg Plageman: That’s an excellent question. Obviously Fusco is in a predicament that is part of Reese’s doing as well, but, the original sin of Detective Fusco’s predicament is actually his own doing, something Reese will remind him of; these things come home to roost. I think in terms of when he decides to reach out to Reese in 2.09, right when Reese was preoccupied with another case Fusco wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to squirm his way out.
Greg then went on to tease how they have yet to figure out how Fusco has become such a ladies’ man…well, I lay the praise at the feet of Kevin Chapman who has made this character at times loathsome (“Cura Te Ipsum”) but also vulnerable (“Blue Code,” scene just before Reese rescues him) and then makes him absolutely adorable in this season’s “Masquerade” and then on his date in “‘Til Death.” Greg does indicate that there is more fun with the ladies to come for Kevin/Fusco in 2013.
This question I thought was quite good as it prompted a lengthy response from Jonathan Nolan that had me inwardly cheering:
Q: Concerning our dynamic trio or our amazing quadruplets, are we going to see them follow their own path permanently where they actually are ripped apart?
Jonathan Nolan: I think one of the things Greg and I said from the beginning of the show is we wanted the characters to be able to sort of change and grow, we didn’t want them locked. There are many, many great TV shows in which you are not invested in the personal lives of the characters but rather more invested in what they’re doing rather than who they are. With our show we very much wanted our characters to evolve and change and grow from season to season, even if that threatened relationships that are kind of comfortable and that we’re happy for them.
Mr. Nolan then reminded us that there is another, up until this season, silent character of the Machine.
He went on with this observation regarding their core cast:
Jonathan Nolan: Also, just because those relationships are where they’ve been for the last dozen episodes doesn’t mean they stay there. What these guys are doing is highly illegal, dangerous and in many ways unethical or ethically dubious. These questions will continue to drive and drive our heroes apart. I think we want to keep the stakes as high as possible and as we keep sort of the burner going on the season, as this goes forward, that question of the relationships with each other, their trust with each other will continue.
Fusco is obviously in quite a pickle with Carter actively investigating his misdeeds, which also goes back to his original sin. It’s funny, everyone loves the character, we love the character and love working with Kevin Chapman but occasionally we have to remind everyone, the network and the fans, that this character came to us as a bad guy. In the Pilot he’s actively driving our hero out to kill him and dump his body.
In the end Mr. Nolan summed it up by saying that these are broken people and that they intend to keep challenging that idea.
Then there was a brief exchange between Nolan and Plageman that I hope comes to fruition in some manner…Greg asked Jonathan what he thought of perhaps telling the story of Fusco in flashback. Jonathan thought that might be something folks would be interested in. (raises hand!)
Who knows, could happen. I remember Kevin Chapman giving an interview last year where he stated that he hoped they did an episode with Reese off the rails, really dangerous and out of control because he really liked that aspect of Reese; then we got “Many Happy Returns.”
There were questions regarding Elias, Kara and Snow as well as Root, all of which will be held until Part 2. There were comments from Nolan and Plageman about how fortunate they were to be working with so many extremely talented people. It seemed to be a bit of a blessing as well as perhaps a curse because there appear to be some instances where people have come and guested on PoI and then have suddenly become quite in demand and thus it makes it difficult for them to get booked back on the show. I’m thinking that explains the lack of Annie Parisse thus far as she has landed a new role in The Following, but I’m hopeful that there will be opportunities for Kara to appear again on screen soon. Had I been braver, I would have asked such a question…nope, wasn’t brave enough.
There was discussion on how much Enrico Colantoni is respected and Greg Plageman had this to say:
Greg Plageman: We love Enrico Colantoni. He’s an amazing actor. I’m always amazed to see him playing a good guy on another show because I think he devours this role in a way that’s fun and with such relish. We definitely want to revisit their relationship (speaking of Finch and Reese’s relationship with Elias) which is also a complicated one.
Q: In relation to the characters of the show, the core cast is a very small, distinctive group. The guest cast, Zoe, Root, Elias is great, but there’s a tight knit cast of characters. Was there ever a decision to go with such a small group or did the story play itself naturally this way rather than larger? Do you think having a small core group is an advantage to these types of storylines that Person of Interest has to tell?
Jonathan Nolan: I think the missing character there is the PoI. Every week there’s a world that we kind of enter. Growing up — Greg and I talked about the shows we grew up watching, from Magnum to The Equalizer to Quantum Leap, some with the hard-boiled conventional PI type and then there was the more heightened concept of say a Quantum Leap. We have an opportunity here to enter into a different world each week. The world defined by our show is the person of interest; the person whose life Finch, Reese, Carter and Fusco all kind of insert themselves into and figure out and unravel before everything goes sideways.
So I think those shows often always have been smaller casts, not ensemble casts. One of the great pleasures of creating a show and in having success, as with this show, is getting to continue to write and work with these phenomenal actors. You mentioned many, and some of the others, Paige Turco, Ken Leung, Amy Acker, Michael Kelly, the list goes on and on. Greg and I get a chance to work with all these actors that we’ve always wanted to work with and there is an extreme wealth, especially shooting in New York, in the actors that we get to work with.
The goal at the beginning of the show was to take four characters – by the end of the Pilot you realize it’s a quartet – and over the course of the coming seasons we grow that universe and continue to grow that universe. I think we have the best cast on TV. We really get to explore each of those characters, and it’s not a thing where everybody has two lines an episode; this show’s attention shifts focus, some episodes there’s a little more about this character.
Greg Plageman: I also think the advantage that it gains us is you never know who is going to come and go. If you have recurring actors, some phenomenal actors, it breaks your heart when they have to go.
Jonathan Nolan: They’re always the sad ones. There’s a badge of courage, a PoI badge of courage, when they pop on our show and all of a sudden they start getting offers for all these other shows and we can’t get them anymore.
Q: Speaking of not knowing what’s going to happen, we have the story from “Blue Code” that involved the CIA funding the war on terror. I thought it quite brave and cheeky that storyline. Is there ever one that you’re like, we can’t do that, can’t go that far?
Jonathan Nolan responded that their writers come up with some incredibly bold, sometimes subversive, odd pitches. He then likened the shows to the X-Files, a show he and Greg refer back to often and was an influence in their development of the Pilot for PoI. The balance the X-Files had between the case of the week and the serialized larger mythology and how the stories dovetailed between the case of the week and how it connected to the larger mythology.
Q: When the episode ended and we’re kind of left knowing that, yes, Finch is going to be kind of on his own investigating the numbers with Reese out of the picture, at least for a while. I couldn’t help but remember that scene in Season 1 where Finch had Reese’s file and Jessica’s file and he’s trying to do something on his own which apparently did not succeed. Are we going to see more of that story, what may have happened then? Did he have a partner then? How did he get injured? Was he trying to help Reese and Jessica and that entire situation or is that not going to happen?
Jonathan Nolan. No, I think if we don’t continue to tell some of the story in flashback with his partner, Nathan Ingram, and Finch – how Finch became Finch — and Grace, I think if we don’t tell that story, Michael will probably kill us, if the fans don’t.
Greg Plageman: Yeah, we really enjoyed having Michael’s wife, Carrie Preston, on the show. It was a phenomenal episode that Amanda Segel wrote, 208, but we fully intend to tell that story before the season is out.
Q: Season 2 had started out with more information on the Machine’s AI and the development of that, however, as the season has progressed there has been a return to more of Season 1’s storylines with HR and Kara and Elias. Are we going to eventually return to the issues of the Machine’s AI?
Jonathan Nolan answered: Yeah, I think there’s a steady sort of drumbeat. One of the great problems we have with the show is this: our writers, our incredible writers have come up with so many compelling storylines and villains.
He went on to say that he really likes writing villains and that he and JJ had spoken in the beginning about having a tapestry of villains on the show as they have a fun way of driving the plot forward. He mentioned that they have an absolute wealth of them at this point with some amazing actors, Enrico Colantoni, Robert John Burke, Clarke Peters and Amy Acker. He likes exploring those characters and their stories as do the writers and they intend to continue to explore them as long as they can and to the degree that the audience is willing to come along for the ride.
Jonathan then completed his answer with this tantalizing teaser:
Jonathan Nolan: We tend to tell our stories in chapters. We don’t explicitly draw attention to it but the story keeps a steady simmer going. At this point the Machine’s AI, all of it is poised to erupt and come into view. However, when you have actors playing great characters, you want to go back and service those storylines again. None of our villains are ever too far from the surface. We like to keep the audience guessing on these storylines.
Q: At the end of Season 1 all of the characters seemed to be on board, following the same plot regarding the person of interest for the week. In “Shadow Box” it seems the main characters sort of followed their own paths, with Fusco dealing separately with HR, Carter doing her job and saying to Finch and Reese that she was explicitly going to do her job as well as Reese following his own dictates to the point that he not only aided in breaking into a bank but ultimately got caught. Where does all of this lead in the second half of the season?
Greg Plageman: All falling apart.
Jonathan Nolan followed up by noting that Carter and Fusco are more on a need to know basis regarding the Machine, while Finch and Reese deal more with the issues of the Office of Special Counsel and Hersh and his operatives who are interested in the ‘man in the suit’ as well as have dealings with the Machine. Then of course there is Root, who we will hear from again in the season. Kara and Snow remain in the mix. All these characters sort of coalesce and bump up against each other in the City of New York, and their stories cause the main four characters’ to sort of bump against each other as they need one another to help them out.
In the end Jonathan summed it up this way: It’s fun.
The final question of the session came from yours truly…and in this case I smiled, because it’s a great answer, that tells you nothing while giving you (or at least me) tantalizing hope for some awesome reveals as time goes by.
Q: In the Pilot we see Reese on the subway and he’s got a yellow box, which we’ve learned seems to indicate people who have knowledge of the Machine. Are we going to learn more about that aspect of Reese, his history with the Machine?
Jonathan Nolan: That’s a really good question. It’s kind of a delight when talking to folks who are watching the show really closely and looking for the little details. But these storylines do all connect to each other and we hope to continue exploring how they connect to each other for as many seasons as we got.
So there you are folks, Part 1 of the conference call. It was a great opportunity to hear from Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman. Their excitement about the show, where it is going, the main cast, the writers, the guest actors was evident.
We’re one third of the way through the winter hiatus. In another week the second part of the article will come out and after that we’ll start seeing scenes and photos from Episode 11. January 3rd, 2013, is not that far away! Hang in there!
Thanks for reading, Elle2