We had the pleasure of talking with Blair Underwood and Jason Ritter from NBC’s much talked about new series, The Event.
I’m so glad that you’re going to tell us all what exactly The Event is, right?
Blair Underwood: Right. Of course. Of course. Listen, what I can tell you and tell you all is that The Event is something very eventful but it is something that is – can potentially change the course of mankind as we know it. In a nutshell that’s what is to come.
You’ve had so many great roles in your career and I’m pretty sure this is the first time you’ve played the president. How does it feel taking on such an iconic role like that, especially since we’ve seen, you know, black presidents on television before? Dennis Haysbert did such a great job on 24, Morgan Freeman’s done it on screen and now, you know, we have Obama in office. So how does it feel today taking on a role like that?
Blair Underwood: Well it’s exciting. You mentioned Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact and Laura Innes and I actually did the film Deep Impact 15 years ago and at that time conference calls like these and lots of the questions from the press was, “Do you think we’ll ever have an African American president?” It was unheard of at that time. And now that it is a reality in the world in which we live and we have seen it on television, it’s not an enigma anymore. It’s not even unique.
That said, to play a character that is a leader of the Free World is very exciting for me and especially the way we’re approaching it because one of the things Jeffrey Reiner and Nick Wauters and Steve Stark, our producers, said from the very beginning from our very fist conversation – what’s up Jason? Jason Ritter just walked in everybody.
Jason Ritter: How’s it going?
Blair Underwood: Good.
Jason Ritter: Good to see you.
Blair Underwood: But what they wanted to do with this president was not just see the president as we would see him on the news, CNN, Fox, whatever else, on news stations, but really see the human being behind the office and they’ve done a great job of doing that so far.
So Jason you know the past few years you’ve done a lot more like low-key independent movies. I just saw this move Dry Land which you were really great in and now you’re probably like in the biggest role that you’ve had yet. So how does it feel to go from like smaller independent stuff to something as big as The Event?
Jason Ritter: It feels really great, you know. I mean I felt – after a couple of years of doing that I felt really ready to jump into something like this and challenge myself. Not that it was my choice. Not that I had made the announcement to join something like this but I, you know, I really worked hard on the audition and I was excited. You know, I mean it definitely feels like a lot of pressure.
You know, and one thing about an independent movie, you know, there’s a lot of room to experiment and make mistakes and things like that. But then on a show like this where there’s so much money going into it, the pressure is higher but there’s also – you realize that most of that is coming from your own self and it’s still just a group of people making the best thing that they can and it’s been a lot of fun. I mean this project in particular has been a dream.
What jumped out of the script to get you interested or what drew you in?
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.
And also that said, you know, we were talking about independent films with Jason. The fact when you can do independent films and take a lot of risks, it’s one thing and you can sometimes be creatively fulfilled but sometimes those films can sit on the shelf and I’ve been in that position. You work hard, you’re proud of the work but people never see it.
Jason Ritter: Absolutely.
Blair Underwood: So to have the creative that you’re excited about and then also have a network that’s going to get behind it, that also of course plays into the decision-making process.
Blair Underwood: That was a long answer. Sorry about that.
Well I’m guessing I’m not going to find out what the event is on this call so I wanted to know…
Jason Ritter: When you do, tell us about it.
Blair Underwood: Well this is – yeah, right. This is important to know that because of – again, NBC and our producers have been very acutely aware of some of the shows in the past that felt as if to the audience they weren’t thought through. And sometimes the audience can be frustrated. And I can tell you, right Jason, by the second episode a lot of the questions will be answered…
Jason Ritter: Yeah.
Blair Underwood: …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 Ritter: 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.
Excellent. Well with that being said I just wanted to know, what does it feel like for you guys walking around knowing that everybody thinks you know what it is?
Jason Ritter: It’s fun.
Is it fun?
Jason Ritter: 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 Underwood: 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.
Jason, really quickly first off, Taylor last week told me not only do you not know the event but you keep trying to ask her what the event is and she taunts you, “I know more than you know.” Is this true?
Jason Ritter: That is absolutely true. 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 her 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.
I just wanted to ask you both a little bit about how different this is from other shows that you’ve done just to talk about – because I think both of you have done a lot of TV but you’ve not necessarily done a show like this that has so much mythology. And just, you know, how different does it feel?
Jason Ritter: You know, for me it feels completely different and that’s very exciting. I mean I’ve never had to be this physically active before and it’s a nice addition to feel invigorated in that way at the end of every day and also to – I don’t know. It’s exciting to be in a world that moves forward so quickly.
You know, I think in – especially in the sitcom world you – it’s very important that, you know, I think that generally you can watch all the episodes out of order. And I think in The Event you can enjoy an episode in and of itself as well but there are more rewards for the people who watch week to week and that’s excited to have this forward momentum and be telling a story that is moving quickly forward.
Blair Underwood: Yeah. You know, for me what’s unique and I alluded to this before is really a fence, you know, internally even that everybody knows where the show is going. You know, it’s more rare than you might realize. Oftentimes people have a great pilot and they kind of pop through the first couple episodes but to actually have a sense that there’s a plan here and we’re going to execute the plan is kind of unique. So that’s very different.
And I’ll tell you, I read the scripts sometimes and I see all the action that Jason gets to do and I say, “Man, that’s sounds like a lot of fun.” All I do is walk around in a suit and talk a lot. So I hear it but I also fear it because I know it can be physically exhausting sometimes.
But it’s great stuff and part of what makes this unique and special I think – or special, I don’t know if it’s unique, but special, is that you really have a little bit of everything. You have a love story. You have action. You have sci-fi. You have political conspiracy theories going on. So it’s a little bit of everything for everybody.
And are there specific challenges that come with a show like this? I know that you just said everyone knows where it’s going but in a lot of ways you probably don’t know all the intricate details more than you would in say another TV show and you don’t necessarily know what’s coming up but it seems like on a show like The Event there’s even more where you might not know what’s happening. Are there specific challenges that come with making character choices or how you’re going to play a scene where you’re not exactly sure what will be happening five episodes down the line?
Jason Ritter: You know, that’s an interesting question. I think that certainly for me – we’ve all been brought up to speed with what our characters know up to the point of the pilot. So, you know, we know as much as we would know and then we start doing the episodes. It’s actually more difficult for me the other way.
Once I know something in the script because I’ve read the new episode, there’s so much new information coming in and it’s such a big thing that it’s more of a challenge for me to wrap my mind around, you know, “Well what would I do if I found out that I was, you know, that I had stumbled onto the biggest cover up in U.S. history?” I mean it’s not something that I do every day or that I’m used to. So that’s more of the challenge is once I find out all the information pretending like I forgot it all and learning it.
So it’s easier not to know why your girlfriend has disappeared than to know why?
Jason Ritter: Yeah.
There’s kind of been this brand of drama, you know, of high suspense sci-fi mystery thriller recently with shows like Lost and 24 and Heroes and V. How does The Event kind of set itself apart from the pack?
Blair Underwood: Ah, good question.
Jason Ritter: 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…
Blair Underwood: Like fine wine.
Jason Ritter: …in our creator’s mind.
Blair Underwood: 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?
How long do you think the series could run for? Do you know how long sort of the producers have planned ahead?
Jason Ritter: I believe five seasons.
Blair Underwood: About five seasons. But trust me, if the desire is there, I’m sure they’ll go another five. I’m going to go with 20 years. I like that. That sounds good.
Jason Ritter: Thanks. Sean Walker’s 50th birthday.
Blair Underwood: Right. Mine, 80.
So looking kind of over what you guys have done in this whole first season so far, do you think that there are any sort of far-reaching political messages?
Blair Underwood: Good question. I mean I’m not sure. I mean what I can say in terms of politics they’re dealing with issues, I mentioned immigration, you know, is topical, underlying under the surface and other issues. In terms of politics I know they want to stay away from that. I mean other political shows, The West Wing and others are very smart I think in not ever identifying the political party of the president and we’re doing the same thing.
In fact what we do say in this – I don’t think this comes up in the show but on the Web site The Event Is Coming some of that information back-story is that this is the first administration to have a dual party administration. In fact whatever party the president is, my character, the Vice President is the opposite party. But in terms of raw politics I think they’re pretty much going to stay away from that.
Jason Ritter: But I think that, you know, they present political issues – I mean the president is dealing with different political issues but it’s never presented that this is the right answer. You know, you’re constantly either agreeing with the president or disagreeing with the president but there’s not – you know, it’s a real complicated problem that’s presented – that he’s presented with. So it’s interesting to see how a guy with all of the good intentions in the world is faced with real difficult – I mean more than political, actual sort of moral decisions and seeing a guy try to keep his integrity in tact as he tries to figure out what the right thing to do is in the situation.