In Awake [NBC, Thursdays, 10/9C], B.D. Wong’s Dr. John Lee and Cherry Jones’ Dr. Judith Evans have the unenviable and possibly fruitless task of trying to guide the unwilling Detective Michael Britten [Jason Isaacs] to accept one of their worlds as real and the other as a dream.
Earlier this week, Wong and Jones talked with a group of journalists/bloggers about their roles in NBC’s unique and addictive new series. Find out what they had to say – and check out the first seven minutes of tonight’s premiere – after the jump.
Hi it’s such a pleasure to speak with both of you. Thank you for your time.
B.D. Wong: Sure.
I was wondering, BD what was it about this role that made you want to play another psychiatrist, psychologist.
Wong: I didn’t really want to play another psychiatrist or psychologist, but I was looking for a change after being on SVU for 11 years, and I just liked the script, the Awake script, which was then called REM, so much that I kind of just jumped at the chance and I did it rather blind to the fact that the characters were in the same job, actually. I just really thought the script was great and I wanted to be on the show.
Cherry, what brought you to the role?
Cherry Jones: Well, I was contacted by Howard Gordon a while ago, I mean a long time ago, about this show. And he, you know like producers do and writers do, he just told me this very, very rough, rough sketch of the show. And I thought, well that sounds awfully intriguing. And then I guess when they wrote the part they wrote it for a, like a, you know, 29-year-old blonde, very inexperienced, very enthusiastic psychiatrist.
And at that point, you had Britten’s beautiful young wife, you had the tennis instructor for Britten’s son, who was a beautiful young woman, and then you had this young psychiatrist who was a beautiful young woman. And I think finally the producers said to Kyle, we’ll give you one, we’ll give you two, but we ain’t going to give you three.
And so they upped the age of the psychiatrist and called me and like BD I read the script and I just thought it was really intriguing, had no idea how it could work or sustain itself, but wanted to come along for the ride. And again, you know, it’s like the thing with pilots, you never have a clue whether they’re going to get picked up or not. And we just, you know, we just didn’t know, except the quality of it sure looked good while we were making it.
And just quickly, BD you’re a part of the social networking site Twitter, why is that such an important place for you to connect with fans and promote things you’re working on.
Wong: I find it a little bit like a game and I really enjoy it, it really entertains me in a way that I was surprised by, it’s quite addictive. And I do find it a little bit like a platform for a kind of weird performance art, you know, 140 characters for you to say something that’s hopefully interesting and not too self-indulgent.
And I just really have enjoyed it. And the side effects of it being a way to interact with people who are interested in what you’re doing is also been great. You know it’s come in really handy when this show was about to premiere and I’m testing the waters of how people respond to the show and have a good, really god feeling for their enthusiasm for it.
Hey, I think it’s so impressive that these are two Tony winners going against each other as dueling therapists here. I’d like if each of you could reflect for just a second on kind of what does it mean to you the first time you won a Tony. And in this case, is this role feel a little bit like you’re doing a play, because in both cases, absolutely two actors just eye-to-eye and nothing else going on.
Wong: Oh wow.
Jones: Lovely question.
Go ahead, yes, go ahead.
Wong: Well I’ll just say I don’t, you know, I only have the one Tony so I don’t have more than a frame of reference.
Wong: But I do feel that the style of this show affords me more of an opportunity even though it’s on television to use some of the – I don’t know, to access some of the fun and the depth of the work that you can possibly do on – I don’t think it’s at all similar really, I always find television completely different from working on stage.
But I do feel that there is a kind of depth to this particular show that is a new thing for me. And I would kind of compare that in some way to the writing and the execution of a good play. But it is still kind of different.
Okay, and Cherry the same thing for you. Kind of tell us for a second just what it means to be a two-time Tony winner, I mean is that a cool thing to follow you around as you go up for jobs and also the same thing, does this feel like a play in some ways, your scenes.
Jones: Well, I’ll tell you honestly the first time I won a Tony, I was, the next day I was so depressed. I think it’s cause – I think, well, Newt Gingrich is a great example, I can’t believe I just cited Newt Gingrich, but we all like to be the underdog, and there’s something about being the underdog, the expectations are not as great or something, and when you win a Tony, the next day I was young enough that I thought, oh no, now I’ve got to be really good, and it depressed me.
The second one is like, this is great, you know, I was old enough to just enjoy it. But it – I can’t say, I’m like BD, I can’t really say, it’s so different, and of course our roles are rather just physically rather static. So it really is about my brain trying to figure out his brain.
And that’s about as – I don’t know if micro is the right word, but in acting it doesn’t get much smaller than that in a way, because you’re just going from one brain to the next, and just trying to – and we have very different techniques, the two doctors, which is fun to play, although we rarely have – you know, I wish we could be in a court of law sometimes the way he goes about it, just trying to help Detective Britten.
But it’s, I can’t even begin to say that it’s like a play. I mean, I guess it’s like if you string them all together then it’s like a play. If you string all 13 episodes and our scenes together, then it’s like a play, then it’s our play and Britten’s play.
BD Wong: Really not like a play in that, you know, we never see each other face-to-face as characters, we’re not really going head-to-head in that way, except the editor is making us go head-to-head. We are never even in the same room. So we don’t have the action of playing off of each other in that way that you do when you’re on stage. We definitely are robbed of that.
Let me ask you both, I got a million questions but of course I can’t ask that many. So I’ll start with – Cherry, of course we last time we saw you on television was on 24, which was fantastic. And that was an incredible role, and it’s – I wish it would have been – we could have seen more of you, but the show ran its course. How did you enjoy doing that, and then coming into this show?
Jones: Well, I loved being the president of the United States. You get a lot of respect in airports, especially from the screeners. No, it was a great job. And things have gotten much more quiet for me now, I’ve gone from president of the United States to a psychiatrist with seemingly only one client, so my responsibilities have become smaller.
But I, you know, it is, it’s cool to just sit in a chair and you can’t even really, I don’t know, I don’t even think of it as acting. It’s something about when it’s that small, and so intimate, it becomes something else, I don’t know, of course it’s acting, but it’s a very different experience from anything I’ve had before.
What would you say BD? Do you see what she’s trying to say, I mean do you agree with her in terms of that, of – in terms of being a psychiatrist, psychologist, or…
Wong: You mean me?
Yes, sir, I’m sorry.
Wong: Well, you know, who else is there, right? The thing that I would agree with is that definitely that its focus is taken off of your body entirely when you’re sitting on that chair and is put on your face and inside your brain more. And so you’re – I know exactly what Cherry’s talking about when she says there’s a completely different feeling to the kind of acting that you’re doing.
I don’t think there really is a name for it. It’s just not body acting at all. I mean it’s very rarely at all related to anything you’re doing physically. And so that causes a kind of uber-cerebralness to it, I think, it makes you really aware of the thoughts and the ideas that you’re talking about in a way. It’s almost like turning the lights out or something like that
And you know, like hearing a person’s voice and really being able to concentrate on what it is that they’re saying because you’re only looking at their face and listening to their voice and not processing their body language. So I totally agree with that, I think that’s really an interesting aspect of the part.
And on those very few times when I’ve actually stood up or been in a situation there have been a couple of situations in the course of the season in which I was not sitting in that chair, it was a little bit of an adjustment to make. Oh wow, this person actually walks and talks and does, you know, behaves differently outside of that chair, so.
Jones: And if I had anything to do over, I have a gorgeous chair in my office that I sit in, but if I had anything to do over, I would have made it much more comfortable. Nice padded arms, I have spools, wooden spools for arms, I would have done something about that, since it’s my one little stage, that chair.
One last question for you, BD. You were on Law and Order for 11 years. Did you jump, did they woo – were you wooed from that to do this, or was your time up there?
Wong: No, my time was not up, I was kind of just looking around and I decided at the time when new shows were starting to be cast, I decided to just kind of throw my hat in the ring again and see if anything would turn up. And I was lucky that this came along, and so I just basically kind of quietly transitioned from one to the other. They never even really explained what happened to Dr. Huang on…
No, he just disappeared.
Wong: And I suppose that left the door open for some kind of reappearance or something, but it was very quiet and uneventful, and so no, I was kind of in my – by my own doing kind of lured from one to the other, really.
Well, thank you both for your time, and best of luck, this is going to be one of the greatest shows of this spring season. I wish you all the best, because you are both fantastic.
Wong: Thank you.
Jones: Well, thank you – and we’re both firm, strongly behind our leading man, Mr. Jason Isaacs. He’s superb in this, and he’s just the greatest guy. He’s fun.
So I have a question for you guys here. What do you think your reality – do you think your reality is the real one or the imagined one, and why.
Wong: Well, obviously mine is the real reality. There can be no other, and there’s no even questioning it as far as I’m concerned. In fact I’m not even sure who it is that we’re talking to right now.
Jones: I’m – of course, I’m sort of amazed that Detective Britten’s psyche would come up with a therapist like Dr. Lee, but we’re going to be working on that.
Wong: Really there is no, to be honest, no other way to play any of the scenes than that you are the one that is real and that the other person is the one that’s imagined. If you start thinking about it to much, you’ll go crazy, literally.
Jones: And you can’t say – I mean it’s ludicrous, I mean of course we’re the real ones. And that’s what’s so, you know for – as real as we know we are, that’s the dilemma for Detective Britten. Each world is as real as we know we are, you know, I mean it’s – it is, it’s like a hall of mirrors.
Wong: Yes, I think that he, you know, that as far as it being also a television show, one must always be open to any possibility. I mean the show can be, who knows what the writers have in store for what really is real and what is not, and there are times when I’m not clear about it at all, and I like it that way. I think…
Jones: What I love about it is I mean when you think about our own dreams and how we can create, flesh out living, breathing people that we know intimately or that we’ve never met before, and yet our brains are capable of these incredible scenarios.
And you know, even when we dream about famous people that we know, we’re writing – our brains are writing all the dialogue. I mean, we’re brilliant in our dreams. And what makes this one unique is that he has ordered this other dream in such a completely realistic way that of course you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.
So my question, we talked to Jason just earlier this week and he said that his relationships with both of you shifts as the season moves along and the end of the pilot he basically kind of rejects both of you helping him. And so, tell me a little bit about how you approach being his psychologist. Are you kind of, either of you coming at him aggressively, or how does that relationship kind of evolve in both of your offices?
Wong: I think he’s probably most resistant to me and that’s partly because I’m the one that’s more aggressive and challenging and a little bit less pleasant, to be quite honest. And also who wouldn’t be more irritated by me than by Cherry Jones?
And I think that he is, you know, what’s funny to me is that he really is in my, from my perception, Britten is resistant the entire time from the whole idea of treatment or even dealing with any of this, as well as he should be to support the premise of the show.
And he – and so that’s just an evolution that continues throughout the season until there’s finally a kind of breaking point. But I find him very resistant the entire time, don’t you Cherry?
Jones: Yes, because he just can’t, you know it means giving up one of his loved ones, so of course he’s going to resist.
Dr. Evans’ approach is, it is much softer and she is – understands that he is in tremendous pain and rather than trying to confront him with, you know, the absurdity of what he believes to be true, my character really does want to try to create a very safe environment, so that he can feel free to tell me everything and through, you know, this we can maybe create a blueprint for him to move back to one world.
Wong: You know it really does make you realize how, you know it’s very rare that you have a character that has two therapists. I mean, none of us has two therapists, I mean not that I know of anyway, and so it’s very rare that you can make a comparison between two different doctor’s techniques. And it makes you realize how crucial that relationship you have with your therapist is.
I mean there are all these other therapists out there, is there a one that would be better for me than the one that I’ve got? And that kind of thing. I just think that’s really interesting. Their techniques are so different, and he seems to be equally uncomfortable or comfortable with either of them.
I don’t think he’s more or less comfortable with one of us than the other. But he is uncomfortable with the whole idea of being treated, and yet he knows that something’s really not right with himself, and so he continues to stick it out. But I just find it really fascinating that you get to see how two people deal with the same problem. Two different doctors are dealing with the same situation, because it’s quite different.
On yesterday’s call with Jason, he said that he was told which world was real and which wasn’t. So are you guys saying that you don’t know, or you do know?
Jones: Wait a minute. Would you please say that again?
Jason Isaacs said that he was told which world was real and which was not.
Jones: Had you heard that BD?
Wong: That he said that? No I did not. I wouldn’t be so surprised that he would say that. But I – and maybe he was, I don’t know. We – I’m – you may be able to tell from our reaction that we were not.
Suzanne Lanoue: Yes.
Wong: I think we – I won’t speak for Cherry but I prefer it that way. I don’t really want to know.
Suzanne Lanoue: Sure, it works better for you as an actor, right?
Wong: Yes, absolutely, and I think the longer that we suspend that mystery and suspense about one being real and the other not being real, the better it is for the show in some ways.
Jones: I am intrigued by that statement. No, well, not yours but that Jason knows. I am stunned. And now we can just – when we see him again we can just throw him down on the floor and tickle him until he tells.
Wong: That you – yes. Which would be fun in any case anyway.
Jones: Yes, but you’re right, we must not know until, you know, the fat lady sings with this one.
Wong: That’s what it feels like to me. I’m shocked. But doesn’t – I mean it is kind of a Jason-y thing to say, don’t you think?
Jones: So you don’t think it’s true?
Wong: I’m not saying that he would lie about that. Because I think that he probably has some kind of perception of the resolution of the show, possibly, maybe as the co-producer of the show and as the leading man of the show, he does have a better understanding than we do of what’s to come. But that is actually, I’m just guessing that, because you know when I spend the day-to-day with him, I feel like he really doesn’t know, and I feel like…
Jones: I forget the co-producer part.
Wong: What did you say?
Jones: I forget the co-producer part, that he has more responsibilities than just acting Detective Britten.
Wong: Yes, and he also plays a role as the person who’s the centerpiece of the whole show, you know as the leading man of the show. And you know, he, I suppose he could if he wanted to demand to know what their thoughts and plans were. I don’t think I personally would if I was him, but maybe he’s done that.
Jones: Maybe the writers in both worlds have told him which one is real.
Wong: That’s right. They’re…
Jones: Maybe he’s splitting off into many different characters and his, maybe – I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I’ll just stop right there.
So it almost seems as though there are two casts on the show, you know, the red and the green. Do you guys get to see each other on set, you two, you know, do you get to compare notes or, you know, sit down and work out ways to exacerbate the differences between the therapists?
Wong: We do, I mean we don’t…
Jones: Go ahead, BD.
Wong: Sorry. We don’t really act with each other but we do pass each other in the night as it were. Our sets are next to each other, Cherry’s office set and my office set are right adjacent to one another. So invariably they shoot our scenes on the same day and we either – one of us will be first and the other one will follow, and they’ll call us in a kind of overlapping way.
So we definitely see each other and we see each other as we’re preparing in makeup and all of that stuff. But we also, you know, like I’ve taken to kind of leaving notes for Cherry on the set and stuff like that, that she might find randomly.
Jones: Little Easter eggs, yes.
Wong: Easter eggs.
Jones: Dr. Lee was here.
Wong: There is a kind of, well I don’t know, you know, there’s the Rex and Hannah thing, and I never get to act with Dylan, who plays Rex, and you know but I may be there on the same day as Laura as it turns out.
I’ve run into everyone, but for the most part, my scenes are all with Jason for the most part, and I only really work with Jason and then everyone else I run into is just based on whether they’ve been called a little earlier or later than I am and I’ve just run into them in the makeup room or the trailers or at the food table or something like that.
Jones: And I’ll tell you what Allison, we all kind of fall on each other when we see each other, because it’s a really, really sweet group of people.
Wong: It is.
Jones: Everyone gets along and supports each other, and when we do run into Wilmer or Steve or Dylan or, you know, we all are just so happy to see each other and do a quick catch-up on how their world is going.
Wong: Yes, I do really like everyone, it’s a really nice group of people. One of the nicer groups.
Jones: Yes, it’s one of those groups, and you know, the crew is so great, you’d love to see it go on and on, just because those kind of – it’s not that they’re rare, those kind of families making a show, but it has, I think this one must be particularly pleasant.
Wong: I mean, they often say that there’s always one kind of icky person, and we don’t have that. I don’t think we have it even on the crew, which is kind of amazing to me.
Good morning and congratulations. This looks to be quite exciting.
Jones: Oh good, thank you.
Since you, sorry I lost my spot here. Although your characters have really different approaches to the therapy, are they on a parallel journey with each other to the same place with Britten, or different? How do you both see it?
Wong: I would imagine, I think that we are on a parallel journey, don’t you think?
Jones: Yes, yes, towards one world in health.
Wong: And I think that parallel journey has to do with the fact that the arc of the season is following the central character, Britten, and so his issues are bouncing, you know, our work with him is bouncing off of what he’s experiencing. So he’ll come in one day and say, “This happened.” And then either of us will say, ‘Oh, well tell me about, I’ll tell you what I think that means that this happened.’ And so we each have a different take on that one central theme of the episode or something like that.
And so I do think that that forces us to be kind of running alongside one another, where nobody’s every, you know, way off in a different place, because we’re linked by this character.
True. That’s true. And can you both tell us how your characters were different when you first read this script, and how they changed to fit you as the actors, what you’ve brought to the particular role?
Jones: Well, I know that because mine was originally written as a very inexperienced, very enthusiastic young psychiatrist, obviously – and I don’t know if she was almost written originally as some kind of comic relief. Because she was sort of, you know, almost, you know, gee whiz about everything, you know, everything was fantastic and wow.
Wong: She nodded a lot.
Wong: She nodded a lot.
Jones: She nodded a lot and was just sort of blown away by, you know, every revelation. And obviously when they hired a more mature actress, they had to, through the first two or three episodes, they’re still trying to figure out who she is, and I think they still wanted to keep this, this very extreme contrast between the two psychiatrists.
So, and I think maybe the second episode, they have my character be very, you know, I’m talking about Greek mythology and aboriginal dreams and you know I’m doing all this sort of almost more academic stuff, but with a great deal of enthusiasm. And then they sort of settled her down into more of a Mother Earth kind of character as it goes along.
So I was just along for the ride for the first two or three episodes till they started to hear her voice. So that’s my journey in the first few episodes.
Wong: I think that my journey has maintained a certain kind of thread of consistency, although I did discover at the end of the season a kind of a – I don’t want to give away what happens so I’m going try to be careful about what I say, but I did realize how much I cared about him at the end of the season, because in the beginning of the season I found that I was very challenging to him and kind of giving him a lot of ultimatums and tough love, in a very clinical kind of way.
And I think somehow either just naturally or partly naturally, partly written into the arc of the character, was the sense that he was not only very invested in the outcome of the health, of mental health of Britten’s character, but that he actually was invested enough to care, to have emotions that had to do with, you know, either his happiness at his success or the sadness of his failure.
Yes. Hi, thanks for doing the call. And I’d – you know, I love what I’ve seen so far, I kind of consider it sci-fi, but I love it either way so far. This is kind of expanding on what you guys were just talking about, but it seems like at least over the course of what I’ve seen so far that obviously they’re both going at different angles of how to approach everything.
But do you think they have different motivations, because at times it seems they’re not – you know, maybe one is more concerned with, that, you know, Cherry your character’s concerned with the dreams helping him see other things where Lee is more like, you know, you have to stop these dreams because they’re hurting you. Do you think that they both are after something different, or do you think it’s just part of the approach?
Wong: Ultimately I think they really want him to admit that he’s dreaming. And how they go about that, or how they view it may be very different. I’m all about, and I’m saying, “You are dreaming,” you know, “Fess up that you’re dreaming,” almost. And Cherry I think finds, well I’ll let her speak for herself…
Jones: Thank you.
Wong: …it seems to me she finds it useful that the dream is actually happening and as a tool, it’s part of a tool.
Jones: Yes, I mean I think that’s a very interesting question because yes, we both want him to come back to living in one world. But I think Dr. Evans’ approach may bring him back to one world, with a greater understanding of that one world. Because she is delving into why – I mean and I know your character is too, BD, why are you dreaming this, and what, you know, what does that tell you about the here-and-now in this world.
But I, you know, if they can get him back in the same world and he’s learned something about his real world from those dreams, that’s, yes, that’s what we’re looking for.
Wong: Except that you and I will no longer have a job.
Jones: This is true.
Are the characters going to start delving more into kind of about the accident somewhat? So we can learn more about that?
Okay, good, I don’t want to spill too much. My other question was, did you guys do any research kind of on psychology before the role, I mean BD you may have before, but did you need any of that?
Wong: I didn’t, I mean I didn’t even do it very much before, although Neal Baer who was the showrunner on Law and Order, is a doctor himself and that’s partly why I, my character was added to that cast, was because the medical perspective was brought in by the showrunner.
And so all the research that I was able to do on that show came from Neal and his understanding of, you know, and his knowledge and all of that. I didn’t really do much on my own, except for years of my own therapy. And so I – my doorbell is ringing, isn’t that bad luck? Cherry why don’t you talk for a second?
Jones: I guess I, you know, I haven’t done much research either, I guess because whatever the writers have us say sort of becomes our instruction manual as psychologists. I, you know, I almost don’t want to delve too much into other techniques since the only techniques I’m going to be given are from the writers, so that becomes my bible for Evans’ approach.
Jones: I don’t want to start knowing so much about it that I go to the writers and say, ‘Well, Jung said…’
Wong: I don’t either, and I also – I just like to be, I mean that’s the strange thing about being in a television show as opposed to being in a play or a movie. You have to be as open as possible to any number of things that are going to turn or twist in a way that if you had made a decision about something, or know something very specific, it could be wrong, actually.
Jones: Yes. You chisel out your character as you get the scripts in a way, too.
I’m a huge theater geek and this is totally making my day listening to you guys talk.
Wong: Wow, great.
Yes, so, you guys are all wonderful at the TV, film, and theater. But if you had your choice, what would you guys prefer to do, all the time?
Wong: The theater.
Jones: Well, if – yes, theater. If it’s one or the other forever more, I think it’s definitely without any question.
And, oh go ahead.
Wong: I’m sorry, you cut out there, I didn’t hear what you said.
Oh, no I was just going to ask another question. I always love to ask this to people I admire, but what’s one of the worst auditions you’ve ever had?
Wong: Oh, God.
Jones: Oh, there’s been so many.
Jones: I have terrible nerves, I’m the worst auditioner in the world. I just become terribly nervous because I can’t stand having one shot. You know, it’s such an unnatural thing to do. It’s like, you know, you, as an actor, if you’re worth your salt, you’re going to grow and grow ad grow each time, and you know often you don’t have the material long enough to really be able to give it your all.
And there’s some people who are much better at it than others. But I remember one in particular, Peter Frechette and I went in to audition for Julie Harris’ Glass Menagerie. I think Calista Flockhart and Zeljko Ivanek eventually got the roles, and Peter and I were just, we were big Lauras and Toms and we were big people, and Julie was so petite, and we just did not do probably our best work that day.
But I remember Peter said as we exited, he said, ‘You know, Cherry if we ever play Laura and Tom, the only woman we could do it with playing Amanda would be Nancy Marchand.’
Wong: Or Leontyne Price.
Jones: I’m the worst auditioner in the world and my heart goes out to anyone out there today who’s going in for an audition.
Wong: Yes, I mean I don’t know how to top that. I have had too many bad auditions to even begin to think about the worst one. I do actually like to audition and…
Jones: Oh, you do not. You’re one of those?
Wong: I am one of those. Not that I like to, but I think of it sometimes as a bit of a sport. And yet that doesn’t mean that I, that it’s by any stretch of the imagination that it’s always good or that I always do well or anything like that.
Jones: That’s a healthy approach.
Wong: I don’t know, I just think I’ve made a bit of a game out of it, maybe it’s because I felt like I had to do it so much earlier on in my career that I did it as a survival, you know, some kind of survival mechanism kicked in or something.
Jones: I usually leave auditions muttering to myself in such a way that people avoid me on the street.
Wong: Well, and then I’m always muttering to myself on the way in as well, because I’m trying to over-prepare something. You’re muttering in completely ways on the way in and the way out.
Jones: Yes, I think half the people in New York City that people think are schizophrenics are just actors coming or going from auditions.
Wong: Yes, I find it always, afterwards I feel this really huge sense of relief and a sense of almost always not having done as well as I had hoped for myself.
Jones: Oh, and then there’s those rare ones where you just feel like you nailed it. Which we can probably note for each of us may be three.
Wong: I would say that I have done that very few times and they’re very memorable times. I would say the one time that I knew that I had done that was the audition for M. Butterfly, that was probably – I felt that in such a potent way.
Jones: How old were you when you did that, BD?
Wong: Twenty-seven. Not as young as one might think, but…
Jones: No, but that’s young.
Wong: Extremely inexperienced. But then I did, to finish the anecdote, I was in a play at the Pasadena Playhouse, a musical, and I had to fly back home after this audition to do a performance that evening. And I left the theater on a high, and I got in a taxi and I went to the airport, I went to JFK and realized that my ticket was for Newark.
Wong: So I was completely, in a complete state of, you know, disorientation the whole time. I don’t think I can add anything else to that.
Now the pilot was fantastic.
Wong: Oh, great, thanks.
Jones: I’ve not seen it yet, I can’t wait because people have responded so well to it, I can’t wait to see what they came up with. The little bit I’ve seen it looks so gorgeous.
Wong: Yes and I have a very early version of it and I’m really looking forward to watching it actually on the broadcast because I too am very curious about it. It does look quite beautiful, I think.
Yes, there’s nothing like it on TV.
Wong: Let’s hope that’s a good…
Yes, it is. Now David Slade directed the pilot, so what was it like working with him and some of the other directors?
Wong: We had some great directors. I like almost every single one, I don’t recall not liking any of them, which is kind of rare for me, I hate to say. I – he was great, he was very helpful, actually he was, you know, my best memory of David Slade is that he was very helpful for me during the audition process because he was the director for the pilot and involved in the process of coaching me before my final test. And that was extremely helpful.
And he gave great notes, and he has a great cinematic eye and I think one of the reasons the pilot looks so great is because there’s a lot of interesting camera moves and interesting lighting choices. In the pilot, kind of sad to me that we didn’t ever go back to this, but there was this, there is this dreamy kind of thing that he did, if you’ll notice in the pilot, that it’s as if the clouds are covering the sun while we’re talking in the office. Did he do this in your room, Cherry?
Wong: He dimmed the lights down and brought them back up at very weird times during the scenes, as if the sun was peeking behind the clouds and it was really interesting, and when you see some of these scenes in the show, I don’t think you really will notice it unless you’re looking for it. It’s quite beautiful and very cinematic.
Jones: Yes, you know so much more about making television and film, and if that happens in my office I wasn’t aware of it. What a neat – to bring in nature that way, to illuminate and darken the scene, that’s really interesting. I enjoyed him immensely too, I mean he’s a very eccentric man…
Wong: Very quirky.
Jones: Very quirky, and I believe he told me that, you know, he was incredibly shy as a young boy and he’s a bit of a performer now. He’s gone the other way, and he’s really delightful. And you just never know what he’s going to do or say next.
Jones: And, you know, coming from the theater where you have, you know, if you’re lucky and you’re in a successful production, you have one director, and that’s the only director you’re going to see for months. And, or in my case with Doubt, was the only director I saw, I had worked with in a couple of years, and yet I was, you know, on stage every night of those couple of years.
And with this, you know, every week to have a completely different personality come in and take the helm, it is fascinating, because you know, and you go into the makeup trailer each day of the newest episode and you start polling everyone and say, ‘Well, what do you think?; and ‘What is their approach?;’ and you know, and the answers are always completely different.
Jones: But they have been terrific, all of them.
Wong: They have. I was really very pleased with all of them. I enjoyed it.
Jones: And there’s some that work incredibly quickly, and then others, you know, that take their time. But they were, for the most part they were always, they were all very, very gentle with us.
Wong: Yes, and mindful, and had done a lot of – many of them had done a lot of research on the show and watched all the episodes. You would think that they would have, but were very articulate about the show, which is – gives you a real nice sense of trust when you’re working with someone new like that, that they really know what they’re talking about.
Jones: And then they always, you know, Jason will often have conversations with directors, you know, about things in the script because now he’s been living this part since August, and he’s – he knows it better than anyone, so it’s always fascinating to hear his conversations with the directors about a moment.
And, you know, there are times when Jason, you know, with the permission of the writers and the director, when we’re about to shoot something, he’ll change, again, with the consent of the writers, he’ll change a line because he realizes that it’s going to make more sense in whatever world it applies to, you know. He just knows it backwards and forwards now.
Wong: Yes, and so that’s built in to the relationship that any director comes into this particular show with. That dynamic with Jason.
Jones: Because it is complicated.
Wong: It is.
Jones: I can’t imagine what it’s like to, you know, play two different realities at once.
Wong: Yes, and in many ways…
Jones: …and such dynamic worlds.
Wong: Yes, every one in some ways turns to Jason as the fulcrum to what is really, you know, Jason will often say things like, well I can’t say this, because on the other side I said this, and this relates to this and this is why I’m saying this. He’s the only person that knows in some way. And that’s really interesting to see revealed.
He is extreme – Jason himself is really on top of the two realities and what each of them, how each of them functions in the episode. And so, we’re actually lucky that he takes such care and is so diligent about keeping track of them.
Jones: He also plays great music in between set-ups.
I was going to ask, is there a specific like scene or moment that you can talk about that you’re excited for the fans to see?
Wong: I’m not – there is, definitely, I’m not sure how to describe any of them without giving too much away. What do you think, Cherry?
Jones: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear the question.
I said, is there any specific scene or moment you want – you’re excited for the fans to see that you can talk about?
Jones: Are you talking about in the series, you know, or in the sessions with…
Either, if it’s something you can talk about, that’s good.
Wong: I would just say that there are rare occasions when, like I said earlier in the interview, when I am – was not sitting in the chair for one reason or another. And I think those times are going to be really interesting for people, for the fans of the show.
Without saying too much about that, I mean it just – I found it interesting for me and I found I think it was a really interesting aspect to the show. But go ahead.
Jones: And I have to say that I think what I’m looking forward to the most, and this is not to be a tease, but the final moments of the final episode.
Wong: Yes. Cherry and I were both there for some of those moments as they were shot and some of it was really exciting and really wonderful and beautiful, as well. It had that Awake kind of beautifully shot, beautifully lit and extremely evocative and thought-provoking and mysterious.
Jones: Shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh.
Wong: Well, yes.
I just wanted to say that you know, earlier you mentioned doing M. Butterfly at twenty-two, how old are you? Ten years old when you started? You have aged wonderfully.
Wong: Wow, that’s nice of you. No, I’m 51, I’m going to be 52 in October.
Is that what you always wanted to do, was acting?
Wong: Yes it was. I was a very hammy kid and was interested in music and that segued into acting in high school and then I just could not think of anything else. I mean I could not think about anything else, I became so dedicated to it, and so one single-minded about it, and have even to this day, not really loved anything more than it.
Yes. So, how tough was it leaving a show like CSI, where you – I mean, CSI, I’m sorry, Law and Order, since you had been on it for 11 years.
Wong: It was easy and hard, you know, it’s hard to tear yourself away from anything that’s so comfortable and so, it’s something that was so good to me. I mean it really was the foundation for, you know, for so many things in my career. It was a very important job to have taken.
In my personal life, I signed that contract because my son had been born, and I – you know my son is now 11, and so that’s how I know how long I was on that show, is because I signed that contract because I wanted to stay in New York and not go to L.A. while he was little.
And so personally for me there are a lot of really strong resonances to that show, and yet at the same time as a creative person, after many years of doing the show, I really wanted – I just craved a change, and I craved feeling more a part of the driving thrust of a show than I had felt with being on Law and Order.
And so I was just like I said before, I can’t say it enough, just lucky as can be to be able to make the transition that I made. My son was a little older, I spent the time of shooting season one commuting back and forth to L.A., and it really has been a lot of fun. I’ve really enjoyed it.
And so it was very easy because I really, really wanted to make, to do something new. And it was difficult because I have very strong emotional and personal ties to that job and that family of people that I was working with.
That’s wonderful. And I guess, let me ask Cherry I’m going to ask you before I let you go. Is this what you always wanted to do? Be one of the greatest actresses in the world?
Jones: I just never wanted to stop play-acting. I grew up in the woods with all of my childhood friends creating all sorts of dire situations that we had to survive, and it was, you know, to me this is – I still shake my head and wonder that I have been allowed to do what I love so much all of my life. I wish that for everyone. But I do know that it’s unusual, and I – no one is more surprised by my career than I.
That’s wonderful. Well thanks both of you. I appreciate your time, it’s been wonderful, and I have candles lit for the show.
Jones: Thank you so much. Like all new shows on television, we’ll need those candles.
Wong: Thanks everybody.
Photos by Lewis Jacobs and Jim Fiscus/Courtesy NBC