Interview with Jason Ritter & Blair Underwood from The Event

Stars Jason Ritter & Blair Underwood recently spoke to the press about their new show, The Event, which premieres tonight on NBC at 9/8c.

This new drama is an emotional, high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, The Class, Joan of Arcadia), an Everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his fiancee, Leila (Sarah Roemer), and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history. Sean’s quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including: newly elected U.S. President Martinez (Blair Underwood, Dirty Sexy Money); Sophia (Laura Innes, ER), who is the leader of a mysterious group of detainees; and Sean’s shadowy father-in-law (Scott Patterson, Gilmore Girls). Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind. Ian Anthony Dale and Zeljko Ivanek (Damages) also star in the ensemble drama.

Jump with me to read some of the great questions and answers from the call.

About what drew each of them to the role and the show:

Jason Ritter: For me I just was – I was fascinated by having to put all these puzzle pieces together, you know. Seeing these characters, you know, jump back and forth through time and have, you know, for instance my character be in a completely different place emotionally in the space of 11 days was really intriguing to me. And then on the other hand all the characters felt fully fleshed out and real and it felt like we were in the hands of the first chapter of a really great story. And that was exciting to me.

Blair Underwood: You know, like Jason said, feeling like we were in good hands. I initially sat down with producers and discussed what this whole world would be and what was most impressive to me – actually Jason and I had the same agent and before I went into that meeting our agent said that Jason had gone in, he was impressed and I think you will be too with how much they strategized the seasons. They’ve thought through this world, the mythology of this world, these characters and really kind of plotted out the first five years but really clearly the first two years. Now we know in television that can alter depending on what the audience wants to see this, that and the other but it’s important I think to take a stab and know where you’re going. So what impressed me was their expertise in that and their clarity in that. And then again, you know, the specific character and then also the cast members. The fact that Laura Innes was attached from ER I have great respect for, the fact that Jason was attached. It just – it was a win-win situation of all parts. Great cast. Great pedigree of talent to kind of helm the whole project.

About “THE EVENT” itself, and plans to give answers throughout the show and not just be questions after questions after questions:

Blair: I can tell you, right Jason, by the second episode a lot of the questions will be answered in terms of who these people are, who the detainees are. So we don’t want to frustrate the audience. We want to keep the mystery but not frustrate people.

Jason: Absolutely. And Laura Innes does know what the event is. I’m just in the dark so I’m trying to figure it out. But there is a specific event. You’re not going to find out what that is in Season 3. They have a plan.

When asked how it is to walk around with the public thinking they know what “THE EVENT” is:

Jason: It’s fun. I mean for me it’s great because I’m pretty terrible at keeping secrets so it’s actually a relief for now not to know what the event is so that when people ask me I don’t have to lie.

Blair: Yeah. It’s also, you know, in terms of what the event is of course that’s the overriding question, the way the series is laid out is that there’s a pre-event. The event is something that is to come. It’s all about ramping up to the event. We will see the event at some point and then it’s the consequences and the aftermath of that event.

On trying to be sneaky and find out what “THE EVENT” is, Jason answered:

Jason: I keep on trying new and different tactics. I recently tried to pretend that I knew some incredible secret that I wasn’t going to tell Laura Innes and then I waited a full week and said, “All right, Laura, I’m ready to tell you but only if you trade with me your secret.” And she never bought it for a minute. But it’s a lot of fun. You know, it’s that kind of playful thing where I want her to tell me but I really probably enjoy her – I really enjoy trying to get her to tell me more than I would if she just came right out with it.

When asked about how he decided to play the President, if he can play it “any damn way you wish” because he’s the President after all, Blair responded:

Blair: There’s maybe a bit of that. It’s funny. We have a tech advisor on the set for all the secret service and all the military that we have involved in the show and I ask him often like, “Should I do this? Should I do that?” And he says just that, “You’re the president. Whatever you do is going to be okay in the confines of course in your home and around secret service.” So, you know, for me it was really about I think as an American citizen, you know, just watch – as a voter watching throughout the years and just throughout history, studying history, what different presidents did, how they comported themselves. And really what I found more than anything you have to feel as though you can entrust these people to lead your country. And if you believe and you can put your trust in this person, I think that’s the most important component in a leader.

On how The Event sets itself apart from other shows (like Lost, 24, Heroes, V):

Jason: Well I think that one of the things is – and again not trying to take away anything from any of those shows but The Event is coming at a time where there has – we’ve seen all of those shows and I think the producers have seen where those shows have succeeded and where those shows have left people wanting something different or, you know, are being satisfied or dissatisfied in any number ways. And so they’ve carved out, you know, their own story and way to intrigue people. But I think one of the things that they really wanted to make sure is that they knew exactly where they were going. And I think that’s why they were so excited to find out that our creator Nick Wauters had been brewing this story for four full years as his fantasy pilot. You know, he was writing for other shows and he just was saying, “Man, if I had my druthers, this would be the show that I would do. But no one is going to give me, an unknown writer, the power to do this.” And then low and behold they were ready for it. And the one thing that they were looking for was enough of a back-story. And he had it. So it’s really exciting now to get this story that has sort of aged like a wine in our creator’s mind.

Blair: You know, it’s been said that there are only seven themes of any story and everything we see is a variation on those seven themes. By the same token, you know, there will be elements in The Event that will come out when we finally realize everything and you’ll say, “Oh, I saw that coming,” or maybe you didn’t see it coming or maybe you’ve seen that before or maybe you didn’t see it before but the point is, look at Titanic. We know the ship is going to sink. How do you tell that story? For the characters. You watch Rocky, you know Rocky’s going to win. How do you tell that story? What I think sets The Event apart, and again this is in the marketing campaign, they’re very smart in how the story is told, it’s all about the characters. And as Jason said, it’s the back-story. How does the story unfold and through whose eyes do we see the story unfold?

On why audiences should choose to watch The Event over the other shows premiering this week:

Jason: I think it’s an exciting show and I think that it’s one that certainly for me it really hooked my imagination and it’s the kind of show that you watch and you’re thinking about throughout the week. And I know certainly for me a lot of the shows that I watched I really enjoyed having something to chew on in that time between, you know, in the week between the episodes. And I don’t know. I feel like people – the audiences have shown that they’re ready to go with a show and be taken on a fun ride.

Blair: Yeah. Somebody said to me yesterday, “I hope this show is not going to be like Lost.” I said, “What do you mean? We should only be so lucky to have the success of Lost.” And what she was saying was, “Well it just frustrated me. Back and forth, back and forth.” Here’s the deal. I think people should watch the show because really tonally — and I know this has been said but it’s really true — in the tone of the show it has elements of 24 in its tone and elements of Lost tonally. So to have a political thriller with science fiction undertones is something that obviously speaks to an audience. 24 is gone. Lost is gone. Heroes is gone. FlashForward people liked from the very beginning. All those shows are gone now, so this show, The Event, fills the void and it’s not just tapping into those touchstones and those elements. It really is well done and well written. We have Evan Katz who’s running the show who ran 24 – or was part of the 24 team for years, Jeffrey Reiner, Nick Wauters. So we have a great team of people that know how to do just that.

With regard to how much science fiction we’ll see in the first season:

Jason: I think that the way that the – I was told, you know, and we’re only in the middle of shooting Episode 6 right now. But so far this has rang true. The pilot is about 95% action and, you know, political conspiracy and things like that and about 5% sci-fi. Just a tiny little element in there to make it interesting. And that’s been about the percentage of the show. I mean it generally takes place in the world that we are living in with just a little fantastical element that sort of takes it to the next level which is really exciting.

As to whether there will be much humor in the show:

Jason: Yeah. I definitely – I try to squeeze some in whenever I can. And so far there has been. I mean there’s certainly a lot of – you know, it’s hard to make running funny. But, you know, in a lot of the scenes when there’s a lot of information coming in and, you know, especially in a lot of the flashbacks before Sean Walker’s life has fallen apart, there’s a lot of levity and moments of humor and the writers have been really great in infusing that in there as well.

About whether the rest of the first season will be as action-packed as the pilot:

Jason: Yeah. There is a lot of action coming. And it really – it’s been really exciting. I mean certainly it’s not nonstop action because there’s other storylines and there’s flashbacks. But the action sequences are really sort of mind blowing and exciting. It’s been a lot of fun. So, yeah, they’re definitely keeping that element going as well at the same time as advancing the story and all of that.

Blair: What’s encouraging also is, as Jason said, we’re shooting Episode 6 now and you’ve seen the pilot, Morgan, so you know every commercial break is a cliffhanger and of course the show itself is a cliffhanger. Every script we’ve seen so far has the same formula. I mean you go to commercial and you know it’s going to be a cliffhanger. It’s going to be a nail-biter. And of course at the end of every episode another big wow moment. As long as they can keep that up I think hopefully we’ll be okay.

On how to strike a balance between the “I just want to have fun watching” people and the “mythology” people and any worries about being on a new show with such a huge back-story:

Blair: I have to say the fact that there was back-story was the golden goose for me. I mean that’s what attracted me to the project. So no trepidation there at all. You know, it’s a tricky thing and not being a producer or a writer on the show I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that but I can say they’ve been able to strike that balance thus far. Now of course we’re new into it, six episodes into it, but again they’re aware of that. I mean we now have the benefit to learn from the mistakes of the shows that have come before what worked and what didn’t work in that genre – in this genre.

Jason: And I think all that we can do at this point is take these scripts – I mean it’s been great to be excited and reinvigorated with each new script that comes out instead of saying, “Uh-oh, this is heading down a bad road already.” So it’s been really heartening to see that the writers and producers have been doing such a great job keeping it – keeping the quality of it up to the par that the pilot is at. But, yeah, I think for us at this point it’s just about us doing the best we can to realize their stories and then just hoping for the best. You know, all you can really do is try to make the best product you can and whether people tune in is up to them. But we hope they do. We think they’ll be pleasantly rewarded.

About how far in advance they learn more of their character’s back-story and what motivates their character and gets them out of bed in the morning:

Blair: When we shot the pilot, the night before the pilot each one of the characters received a dossier delivered to our house with our entire back-story, with the direction on top and red letters “Confidential. Do not share with anyone including other actors.” So they’ve been giving us some pretty extensive back-story.

Jason: I think for my character what gets him out of bed in the morning if in fact he’s been lucky enough to sleep in a bed is he just needs to find his girlfriend. She basically means everything to him. And in the flashback before she’s disappeared his motivation to get out of bed is that he has a pretty incredible girlfriend and he better do some nice things to keep her around.

On whether or not their characters have had any storylines together yet:

Jason: So far our storylines have not intersected. I’ve kind of been separated from everybody. But I think that will change. You know, the storylines are all starting to converge which is exciting. There’s an awareness of the other charac – well certainly I know who the President of the United States is and soon I think he’ll know who Sean Walker is, I hope.

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