From: Ain’t It Cool News March, 2004
I am – Hercules!!
Does everyone know what the Paley TV festival is at this point? The Museum of Television and Radio in Los Angeles invites the creators of big-deal TV shows. They show an episode (or clips). Then the audience tries to contain its worship long enough to fire off questions. This goes on nightly for two or three weeks every March. It’s the funnest, man!
The first night of this year’s 21st fest was Wednesday, and it featured “Felicity”/”Alias” creator J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Garner, Kimberly Russell and “Felicity” co-creator Matt Reeves.
Also in attendance? “Kzingirl,” my new best friend, the absolutely coolest university senior you’ll ever meet, who sat in the front row among the AICN contingent, scribbling in a thick spiral notebook far more furiously than the “mighty” Herc dared. She will now save you $20 by pretty much describing everything that went down. Someone asked if Jennifer and J.J. knew if Sloane was Syd’s dad. Jen said “no.” J.J. said “yes.” Care to learn more answers? Here’s “Kzingirl”:
I was able to attend the “Felicity”/“Alias” panel at the Paley Festival this past Wednesday (Thank you, Herc!) and it was an amazing presentation. It was insightful and hilarious at the same time. The analogy I heard that best describes it was that it was like watching a live interactive DVD commentary.
It was also apparently unique. I’ve never been to one of these before but apparently they usually start out with showing an episode from the series and then the cast and crew comment on them. In this case it was a panel focused more on a theme than a particular show, namely, “Creating Characters.” In attendance were JJ Abrams (“Felicity,” “Alias”), Matt Reeves (“Felicity”), Keri Russell (“Felicity”), and Jennifer Garner (“Alias”). Essentially the format was that they showed one clip per show handpicked by Abrams and then got right into questions with the moderator and then another couple of clips and questions from the audience.
The first clip that they showed was from “Felicity” and it was the scene from the Pilot where Felicity confronts Ben at his apartment. Then from “Alias” they showed a clip from “Phase One” aka the Super Bowl episode where Sydney escaped from the plane. It was funny to watch the actresses watch themselves. Jennifer is apparently a huge “Felicity” fan and was totally engrossed in that clip but when her own clip came up she winced and laughed at some of her antics along with JJ and Keri, whom she was sitting between.
Then the questioning started. I took notes on what the gist of each comment was but I only have a few direct quotes since recording devices weren’t allowed.
Question: Where did the characters come from?
Apparently JJ loved the name Felicity and wanted to do something with that as the title. They started brainstorming ideas about a girl that has these plans and totally leaves them behind to follow a guy to college. They figured that could be Felicity. But when they started to flesh out the plot they realized that it couldn’t be a movie so they decided to write it as a TV show. They pretty much outlined it and scripted the pilot in a very short period of time. They missed pilot season but the WB asked them submit the script later and the network wanted to make it. They’d never done TV before so they weren’t used to the pace or any of it for that matter. But they found that what they were excited about were “the tiniest of moments” that they could explore with television.
Then JJ went on to tell how he knew a girl in high school that he’d see constantly drawing and she’d do the posters for the school plays. He thought she was a genius and right before graduation he realized that he’d never talked to her so he went up and told her what he thought. In JJ’s words she basically thought he was a freak. But he used her and his view of her as his inspiration for Ben’s view of “Felicity.”
They also talked about how they liked the college setting because you were forced into intimate living situations with perfect strangers.
Matt’s personal contribution to the character was a girlfriend he broke up with that used to preface everything by telling him not to get angry about what she was going to say which of course made him worried.
They basically kept asking themselves, “How do you make it personal?”
Question: (to the actresses) Do you have any personal connections or secret entrances to the characters?
Keri joked and said that she did but if she told then they wouldn’t be secret. Then JJ told the story about how initially they thought she was too pretty to be insecure and that the audience wouldn’t be able to empathize with the character. Keri busted up laughing at this.
Question: How much of Felicity is in you?
Keri basically said that she related a lot to the character. She also mentioned how one of the great things about acting was that it allowed you to show a side of yourself that isn’t necessarily part of people’s perception of you but is actually the way you feel on the inside. With Felicity she said that she really connected with being nervous, awkward, naïve, and hopeful.
Then JJ talked more about casting her and how they were actually looking for a homely woman and when she walked in he couldn’t see her as the character. But she proved him wrong by being funny and vulnerable.
Question: What were you looking for?
He said that the vulnerability was a big part. Also he wanted someone “unformed,” a person that believed enough in themselves to act but didn’t always think things through. Another reason he cast Keri was because she had an uncanny sense of timing and he knew he could write anything for her.
Then Matt talked about how they auditioned all these woman using the scene where Felicity confronts Ben and they played it “scary crazy.” But when Keri came it she played up the more humorous aspects of it and made it funny and sweet. It was crazy but he loved her. Keri said that that’s just how she saw it and she was actually worried cause all the other actresses played it differently that she thought she’d missed the point.
Question: Are there any parts to Sydney that you relate to?
“Definitely.” She talked about how she related to Sydney’s search for approval from her dad, Sloane, and Dixon. Then it was funny cause she was talking rather seriously and she said, “Sydney…” but then paused like she was really thinking about something and the entire audience was silent. She stopped and said, “Wow, I don’t have anything that amazing to say.” Everyone just busted up and JJ was laughing cause he said it was like a vacuum in the room.
Then she talked about how in the pilot for “Alias” there were a number of what she called “Felicity” moments. This is when she got all adorable and obsessive about how much she loved “Felicity” and how much she admires Keri and that she was trying to have the same “kind of ease that Keri has” while she was shooting the pilot. The best though was that as she was saying this she made this gesture with her hand and she stopped and talked about how that was a total Keri thing to do. She was hilarious with her “Felicity” and Keri love.
Question: How much of Felicity is in Sydney and vice versa?
JJ talked about how the idea for “Alias” initially came up during the third year of “Felicity” when they were having trouble coming up with stories. It was hard cause there aren’t any “bad guys or crime or medicine or law.” Then there’s the fact that college is this place where you’re supposed to screw around and fail with a safety net and so there was “not a story to be had.” At which point Matt Reeves threw in, “Not another failed test!”
And basically the writers were in the room just staring at each other at a complete lost and then they went out to lunch and when they came back JJ just through out the questions, “What if Felicity was a spy?” He knew there were CIA recruiters on college campuses and it would be great cause she’d be a spy and she couldn’t tell Ben or Noel or anybody. JJ claimed he was just joking but the writers looked at him as if he’d lost it. At which point Reeves interjected, “We thought you were serious!”
After that they started discussing how if something isn’t in the pilot of a show it’s hard to put it in later and make it work. They couldn’t just have Felicity come out and say, “By the way, I’m a spy.” You “better put all that shit in the pilot” so you can do it later.
Question: The mod rambled on but basically he wanted to know when JJ decided to add the family drama aspect of “Alias.”
“Always.” He wasn’t interested in doing just a spy show he was drawn to the characters. Then he and Jen started talking about how they got together for lunch before the second episode shot and he told her that he knew the last shot of the first season already. JJ clarified saying that he didn’t always know that that was how he wanted the season to end cause while he was doing the pilot that was what he focused on and it was only after that they began to try and map out where they wanted to go.
He also talked about how television moved at such a fast pace and they were always rushing to get things done. They do the best they can but it’s difficult to know exactly where you’re going. He and Matt likened it to driving in a fog. You set out for a certain destination that becomes clearer the closer you get but you also see other places you want to go on the way. They said that you just have the trust the experience because there’s “no time to be afraid.”
They also discussed how there are times when you realize that a story isn’t working but Reeves said that it’s like turning a ship. You’ve set things up and you have to deal with that first. Then there are characters that you find along the way that take you on a detour because they’re so interesting or engaging. So you have to be willing to respond to what you don’t expect. You still get to where you’re going but, as JJ said, you have to be willing to “embrace the precarious… whatever.”
Question: How far ahead have you planned? Do you know if Sloane is Sydney’s dad?
This was hilarious cause the second the mod asked this question Jen was looking at JJ like, “Yeah”! Is he?” Then JJ made like he was going to whisper in the mods ear and the guy just looked like he was uncomfortable with JJ invading his space. All the while Jen’s over on his right asking for him to tell her. When he doesn’t she says, “He tells me less and less all the time.” Apparently he tells her things and instructs her not to tell anyone but then she’s so excited that she goes back to the set all, “So Victor…” She can’t help it. “If Spy Daddy’s sitting there he’s going to get an earful.” Then JJ said that she wasn’t too bad and that Greg was the worst.
Question: The mod brought up how JJ and Matt loved “Thirtysomething” and on that show they were known for taking the actors’ lives and using them to shape the characters. Is that what they did for Felicity and Sydney?
Keri was the first to answer and she said it wasn’t like that. It was more that they use general things that happen to most twenty year olds and that that is why it’s so relatable. Keri has been really serious and Jen added just as straight faced, “Well, there’s one thing for me where I was looking for Rambaldi. It was weird. What if everyone finds out?” The audience died. Her delivery was completely serious it was great.
Question: Where do the characters and the actresses intersect? Do they take them places that the writers never intended?
Matt and JJ talked about how it was always a collaboration and that Keri brought Felicity to life. In the pilot it’s different because the actor is looking at the character for the first time and creating them from nothing. However as the show goes on it becomes “more of a dialogue than a monologue.” The writers get to know the actors and hear their rhythms. It’s not that they take incidents from their personal lives but you do draw from experience.
Then JJ talked about Victor and how no one on the show is less like their character but still JJ “knows who he is as Jack” and he writes the character in a very specific way, one that he wouldn’t write if it weren’t Victor. “The fun is seeing the alchemy.”
Question: Keri had to audition for Felicity. Did Jen have to audition or did JJ write the part for her?
JJ explained how he can’t write a part with someone in mind and he related that he had a hard time writing the pilot for his new show starring Greg Grunberg because while he’d written Greg as Sean and Weiss he didn’t originally write those characters knowing Greg would play them. It was kind of a long aside about Greg and toward the end he paused before he said, “Anyway, I really wish I could remember the question. I have no idea what I’m talking about.”
The mod reminded him and he got right back into how his wife had seen Jen on “Felicity” and told him to cast her in something because she was going to be a star. Still he didn’t write the pilot for her but as soon as he finished the script he slipped it to her. Then she auditioned and he said, “She was amazing.”
The mod seemed surprised that she auditioned and Jen said, “Oh, I auditioned many times.” The mod asked her how it went and JJ deadpanned, “She got the part.”
Then Jen went on to explain that after JJ slipped her the script she was determined to get the part because it was essentially hers to lose. She took it very seriously because she badly wanted to work with JJ since she knew that he would write wonderful stuff for her and take care of her. So she was excited and terrified while auditioning and, as she said, “I couldn’t have been more balls to the wall.”
Then her and JJ talked about the pilot and everything that she had to go through. They’d do an exhausting scene and would look forward to getting through it but when they did they’d realize that the next one was even worse. Jen likened it to going down a rapids that kept getting bigger and bigger. So much had to happen to her. She had to be in love and beaming and then go to screaming over her dead fiancé’s body and then to strutting to the airport, “all these extremes.” JJ said that she did amazingly well, “it was like watching an Olympian.”
Next they showed more clips. The “Felicity” clip was from the episode “The Slump.” While JJ was introducing it he talked about how it was inspired by a real slump faced by the writers when they hit Felicity’s sophomore year. Apparently none of the writers could remember theirs so they wandered UCLA and asked students about their sophomore years but they couldn’t remember either so they decided to use that. The scene they showed was one of their favorites where Felicity was talking about going to ballet camp.
The “Alias” scene was from the third season premiere where Sydney rips into Vaughn. JJ said that Jen “gave the crew chills watching her perform in it. It was kind of creepy.” Again it was fun watching them react to their own scenes. Jen was totally into Kari’s scene but when hers started she looked almost uncomfortable and toward the end she seemed to be really affected by it.
Then they opened it up to questions from the audience.
Question: (for Jen) Do they script things like you pushing your hair behind your ears? Or is that something that you just do?
Jen said that that’s all her and then she added, “If you ask my hairdresser it’s an obsessive characteristic.”
Question: What happened with those last few episodes of “Felicity”?
JJ talked about how he was really involved in “Alias” at the time and that it was weird cause he’d look out and Weiss would be playing basketball with Ben.
Then Matt explained how they started getting ready for the fourth season and they knew that Felicity was going to graduate but not much after that. Then the net came to them and said that the show would be ending so that solved that problem. They were also told that they’d get either 17 or 22 episodes, the net wouldn’t say which. Later they were told definitely 17 so they wrote for 17 and wrapped it up with Felicity graduating. That’s when the net tried a new show in their slot and it failed so they asked for more episodes. But they didn’t know what to do because, in Matt’s words, “She graduated!” The net suggested that she take summer school and Matt again said, “But she graduated!” He joked that they weren’t going to have her go back and take Spanish in the summer.
Apparently Jennifer Levin had the idea of doing something similar to Peggy Sue Got Married. JJ liked it because he loves weird stories and “non-linear things.” To which this “Alias” fan mumbled, “No kidding.” So they decided to go back and see what would happen if Felicity with the full knowledge of the consequences of her actions were to make different choices. They liked it cause it gave her this “new burst of life.” Still it wouldn’t be as simple as saying, “Go to hell, Ben!” She’d have to experience the “emotional consequences” of her new choices and they thought it would be interesting if she eventually ended up in the same place.
Then JJ talked about how they have great writers but the truth is that none of it would work if the actors didn’t commit completely to the world. He used the “Twilight Zone” episode of “Felicity” as an example of this. That it was the commitment of the actors that made it real. Jennifer does the same thing. What they write is sometimes better than others but no matter what the actors “always elevate the material.”
Question: When did you decide to make the character of Lauren bad?
JJ answered this one saying that it was discussed from the beginning, how, when, and why they would do it. This is because if they didn’t there’d be no conflict and they need conflict. Then Jen talked about how it would be nice not to have conflict and that her and Victor keep trying to get JJ to give them a scene where they just have a nice dinner with a linen tablecloth and wine. It could be 6 pages or 15 pages they didn’t care. They could even make it a bottle show. It was cute.
Then JJ continued on about Lauren and how Melissa George got booed at the ABC Primetime Preview weekend before she’d even been on the show so Melissa knew going in that the fans would hate her. Jen then talked about how you can’t just put a character between the two main characters and expect the fans to like them. She apparently received the same reaction to Hannah. The “Felicity” fans totally hated her.
JJ compared what’s happening to Lauren with what happened to Francie. Every scene with Lauren since she became evil has become ten million times more interesting. It’s like with Francie before she was killed. Her and Sydney would have scenes and the show would come to a “screeching halt.” But after Francie was replaced by Allison Doren they could be “talking about fucking soup” and suddenly the scenes were engaging.
He then reiterated what Jen said about how you can’t have a character come between the two main characters and make the fans like them and sympathize with them. In fact, he said that, the fans “will resent us for trying to make you sympathize with her.” Still you can’t exactly say, “Dream!” You have to “play it out.”
Question: Was it a challenge to build up Irina in Season 1 and then deliver such an amazing character in Season 2?
JJ apparently met with Lena during Season 1 and tried to get her to be in the finale but it didn’t work out and they used their casting director instead. But Lena is a genius and she wasn’t going to disappoint. She was a “thrill to write for.” Actually the hardest thing, according to him, was not having her this year. Still he “feels like it’s inevitable for her to come back.”
He also talked about how it was amazing to watch her scenes with Jen, especially when the glass was between them and you’d see Lena or Jen’s reflection. He said that they couldn’t have “cast someone who looked more like her mom.”
Question: It was basically which alias does Jen enjoy playing the most? The man mentioned how the geisha was his daughter’s favorite.
Jen said the geisha was her favorite too but that in general it’s just fun to get dressed up and speak a different language. At which point Keri starts laughing and breaks in about how at a BBQ Jen was complaining to her saying, “I gotta learn this Indian thing. It’s so annoying!” Jennifer then said, “It is annoying, learning it. But when it’s done I love it.” Then she just starts busing out with lines in two languages. I didn’t know the first one but the second one was from the pilot where she tells the guard Dixon’s sick in Mandarin and then says, “Fide! Fide!”
Jen also says she recently played a nerdy character and “got to act like Marshall. Well, not quite Marshall. No one can do Marshall except Kevin.” She also loves it when they’re in hospital scrubs cause they’re so comfortable.
She mentioned how it’s a huge part of her character and how it helps her to slip into other roles. Then she joked about how they sometimes don’t do much except, “Oh, it’s me but now my hair is red.” Even better they talked about how Dixon is never in disguise and yet no one recognizes him. They were laughing about that.
Question: Why does JJ tend to avoid using household names when he casts the main characters of his shows?
JJ said that he finds it a hindrance because known actors come with “specific baggage.” He’s just looking for someone who’s right for the part since unlike movies, where it helps to have a big name, television viewers are much more willing to check out shows with relatively new actors. This is because then the actors become the characters, “that’s who they are.”
Question: Did Keri have a preference/influence over who Felicity picked, Ben or Noel?
The short answer is, “No.” Keri said that she liked them both and “thought they were both perfect.” Ben was the fantasy and with Noel they got to have those fun scenes with the fast talking and where everything was a disaster. This is when Jen has her ultimate geek moment and exclaims in excitement, “The beats! I loved it!” It was a total fangirl reaction and everyone laughed. Keri then said that she liked being in the middle cause how often does a girl have two great guys to choose from.
Question: Someone, who shall remain nameless, complimented JJs directing work on the pilot of “Alias” and asked why he wasn’t directing more?
JJ loves to direct but he just can’t cause it takes weeks and you’re completely focused on it so the writers are like, “What’s up? We hate you!” He is directing the pilot for his new show “Lost.” And it’s hard not directing “Alias” cause he loves the cast and he misses working directly with them. Matt agreed that he felt the same way on “Felicity” where he directed the pilot. And when you do the pilots everyone pulls together and you want to get back to that and reunite with them.
Jen then talked about how she likes it when he directs because while “Alias” has amazing directors JJ is the one behind the show she wants to do it his way, the way he sees it. She’ll even call him from the set asking him what to do. Although that doesn’t always help because as she related one time when she called him and he told her, “This is the biggest moment of her life. Play everything.” In his defense JJ said that she responded, “I know what you mean.”
JJ said that it was the same with Matt on “Felicity.” The other directors were great but when Matt would do an episode he would get sucked into because every episode had something. He still does when he happens upon it when it plays on WE.
They asked Matt the same question, why he didn’t direct more episodes of “Felicity.” His response was that he’d try to do one in the beginning of the season or in the middle at the break because to direct you have to get out of the process of overseeing the show and writing the show. But it’s just as hard for him as it is for JJ cause, as he said, “there’s nothing like being with your favorite people.” When he’s an executive producer he’s always needed somewhere else. He prefers the detail stuff.
Still JJ said that it’s fun with directors like Larry Twilling, who directed more episodes of “Felicity” than anyone else, and Ken Olin they’ll do things that you never thought of that make you say, “That’s cool.” According to JJ the “final fabric of what a series becomes is the sum of all these decisions” and you have to trust it because “until it’s over you can’t really know what it was.” Even in between seasons it’s hard because you finish and you’re still wondering which way is up when you have to start again.
Question: I think what the person was trying to ask was why if Julia Thorne was Sydney would she erase her memories knowing that when she woke up her personality would lead her to find out what happened. However JJ just heard the why did Syd erase her memories part.
His answer to that was to watch Episode 10. Then he talked about how they always knew that Syd erased her own memories but then the ads for Paycheck started showing up with Ben Affleck talking about how he couldn’t remember the last two years. They were saying, “That’s our story!” Even though they knew it was originally a Philip K. Dick story. He said that if you just watch Paycheck it’ll answer all of your questions.
Question: What did Keri think about everything that happened with the haircut?
Keri said that it was “bizarre” and “crazy.” Matt then said that it wasn’t even her decision. It wasn’t that she just decided to cut her hair over the summer. Apparently she put on a wig and sent a Polaroid of it to the writers saying, “I’m sure it’ll grow back.” The writers kept the picture while they were figuring out the story for the next season and they decided to include it in the story. Around that time they also “got off track” and “got scared” about having her start a relationship with Ben so they had her break it off quickly. It was a story they tried and didn’t work and the hair got blamed.
Then Jen jumped in and said that she loved the hair. Keri said that the whole thing was awkward and Jen said, “They were mean.” Keri talked about how it was named number four in the top one hundred entertainment mistakes of all time. Then Matt deadpanned, “Why’d you do that?” And she threw back, “I just thought it looked good.” It was funny.
Next JJ talked about how that was a mistake to break them up because Ben really had the best story on the show. He started out this “gorgeous, vapid, shy guy” (Keri leaned over to Matt and joked that “vapid” was the perfect word to describe Speedman. He was in the audience.) that eventually found his path. JJ loved the moment where he reveals that he wants to be a doctor and he’s lying in bed with Felicity and says, “Don’t laugh.” He thought it was a sweet moment and they wished that they’d followed through on that.
Question: What happened with Elaina? How was she dead but then alive?
This was great. The mere mention of Elaina dying sent Keri into a fit of laughter. Everyone just looked at her and she said, “It’s funny!” They were like, “Keri’s mean.” Then JJ piped in and said that it was all Matt’s fault because he cut out the one scene that would have explained what happened. Matt said he did it cause they had to cut something cause the episode was too long and that scene wasn’t one of the better scenes. JJ said that they should put it on the DVD and there was much rejoicing.
Question: (to the actresses) What are your favorite episodes?
Keri and Jennifer in perfect unison said, “Oh, geez.” Then Keri went first and said how her favorite had to be the pilot because it was the very beginning of the show and she loved the “pure, sweet story about a spazzy girl following a guy who doesn’t know she exists.”
Jennifer said that she couldn’t really say because she doesn’t have hindsight on the show yet. They’re working on episode 18 and her favorite will be episode 19. She then said that she liked the pilot because “no episode was ever as extreme.” For last season her favorite was Phase One where they “blew up SD-6.” This year she doesn’t have one yet. Then she said that she could name her favorite “Felicity” episodes. After she said that she stopped and turned to Keri and said, “Do I sound like a crazy person?”
Question: Which characters started off small but they surprised you so their role became bigger?
Matt almost instantly said, “Richard.” Then Keri chimed in with, “I’m gonna report your ass!” That led to them talking about the scene in the library with Ben where they talked so softly – and it’s not like Speedman speaks that loudly in the first place – that you couldn’t hear them. That’s why they added subtitles to that scene. It was a joke.
For “Alias” JJ said that it was Sark. He said when they were casting the role “this kid” came in and “was insanely brilliant” even though he was only 19-20. The character was written to be older but David Anders stunned them so they cast him. It worked out because the character was written as arch but with Anders’ youth it made it seem like Sark was just this “cocky young prick.” They loved him because they felt like they “could write like crazy for him.” Then JJ added that even more so than Victor David wasn’t anything like his character. He’s just a “goofy guy.” But suddenly he can become (JJ gets real serious) “Mr. Sark.”
Then they mentioned Ian Gomez as Javier on “Felicity.” They just looked at the dailies and he was incredible. Then JJ quipped , “Jen requires that I say, ‘Hannah.’” I don’t think Jen really said that but she
Question: Any chance that we’ll see Keri on “Alias”?
At this point Jen gets all excited and does the most ridiculous karate chop move at Keri. The woman is a huge goofball. It’s adorable. JJ said that he’s called to ask her but all she does is giggle and hang up. He’d love to work with her though. I forget who suggested it, I think it was Matt, but someone tossed out that she could come on as Felicity. Keri liked that and said to Jen, “I could steal your boyfriend.
Q uestion: There was a flow to Season 1 and 2 but this season the pacing has changed and the archs for the characters have changed. Why? Where are you going?
As soon as this question is asked Jen is once again all over JJ to spill the beans but he refuses. But he said that this season was about the “deconstruction of Sydney.” Instead of focusing on external issues like SD-6 and her mom she’s forced to deal with more internal issues. There’s Lauren and the whole element of “sleeping with the enemy.”
Then he said that they also wanted to investigate Vaughn. He and Sydney got together but they couldn’t just be a happy couple all the time so they added Lauren. Now it’s like they were saying before about steering the ship. They have to play this out. He admitted that he knows some people are frustrated and think that she’s a disaster but there are others that like her so they can’t please everyone. They’re just trying to do the best that they can but when they’re in the middle of it it’s hard to know if a story works until it’s too late. Then he went on to explain how his focus is the big picture and that he sees the series in phases. He says that this phase even if you don’t like it is leading to the next.
After that he started to apply that to Vaughn and how they’d never really dealt with him so they decided that this season they’d demolish him. They knew the fans wouldn’t like it but JJ said, “It’s leading to something that I can only hope will be worth it.” He then said he’d give one hint. “Vaughn is exactly where Jack was and that is a really cool story.” He then posed the question, “What does that mean for him?” The whole time Jen is paying rapt attention and when he mentions the hint she gets all excited and he looks at her and says, “Cover your ears.”
Question: How do you give such honest performances? How do you approach a character playing another character?
Neither of them answered so Keri just looked at Jen and said, “You dress all up. You do the fancy stuff.” Then Jen told the story of how in the second episode of the show Syd told Will to stop investigating the death of her fiancé. She said that she tried to play it for real but she couldn’t find it. Ken Olin, the director, told her, “As much as she feels it she’s also playing.” So Jen decided to do the crying but added the look at the end so that the audience knew that she was deliberately crying to get Will to stop.
JJ added that Ken is insightful and that he knows which “nugget to give to inform the moment” and at the same time one that informs everything. Jen contributed her praise saying that he was an amazing director that elevates all of them emotionally. JJ said that after they filmed that scene Ken called to tell him that Jen was amazing. It was the first time that they’d really seen her multiple existence.
Question: Given the popularity and profitability of procedurals and shows with stand alone episodes how did you sell a serialized show?
JJ said that they don’t sit down and try to think what the networks want. They just came up with a story that they wanted to see. He says that he just writes what he writes and hopes that it works. It isn’t until his wife reads it that he knows what it is. As for “Alias” he doesn’t know what they were thinking. Although there have been stand-alone episodes on “Alias.” He actually likes them and the upcoming episode co-starring Ricky Gervais (“The Office”) is one that worked really well. That’s partly why they took down SD-6 because the show was confounding to viewers that missed an episode so he tried to make it more accessible, not necessarily to dumb it down just make sure that if you missed an episode you didn’t get too confused.
Question: How do you get such incredible guest stars on “Alias”? Are they knocking down your door?
“No.” In the case of Gervais, JJ called his agents but they said that he was busy. Still JJ sent him the DVDs and while he and his wife were in Maine on vacation he gets a call and it’s Gervais saying that he loves the show. JJ said it was great cause he loves “The Office” so he was kind of “star struck.” They started e-mailing each other and it worked out.
Question: What impact did the fans have on Will’s character arc and will we see more of him?
JJ said that they would love to have Bradley Cooper back. Part of the problem before was similar to when you’re in a relationship and you stop and ask yourself where you are. That’s important but if you do it too often you’re not letting yourself have a relationship. Moments don’t make characters. There are highs and lows. For example, Vaughn is in a dire place but he’s there because the story they’re telling requires that he earn it. It’s painful but that’s what he has to go through to get there.
With Bradley Cooper’s character the audience hated them cause he was pursuing Danny’s killer but the audience knew who that was so they were just yelling at him, “You idiot!” They would get mail saying, “Please kill Bradley Cooper. I think they meant Will.” So they performed triage on his character and made it so that Will was ahead of the audience and they loved him. But then they killed him cause Cooper is such a great actor they didn’t want to keep him around if they couldn’t find ways to challenge him.
Question: How far ahead do you think about a season? Just the end or into next season?
JJ said that they look at the season and try to figure out what it looks like without thinking about the next season. But as they get toward the middle and the end they start to see the next season. He used the driving in the fog analogy again. It’s not that he doesn’t know where he’s going. He feels that it’s important to have some idea because, as he said, “If you do not know where you’re going you’re lucky if it good.” Still he added that even if you do there are no guarantees but it’s still better to have a place to go because “not having an endgame is hell.” It’s too hard to figure out where you’re going as you go along.
Question: Where does your insight into female characters come from since you’re not female?
“I was born…” Everyone laughed and then JJ said that there were a “couple things.” The first he said was a “stupid answer.” He said that he doesn’t feel like he’s “writing strong female characters just strong characters that happen to be female.” The other is that he’s had a lot of strong women around while he was growing up, his mother, sister, and grandmother. Also it’s no coincidence that he’s written “Felicity” and “Alias” since he met his wife. Then there’s the fact that he went to Sarah Lawrence where he was in the minority.
And that’s where they ended it. All in all it was an extremely good presentation with a lot of interesting tidbits about both series and the characters. It was also nice because everyone, Matt, JJ, Keri, and Jennifer, were so funny and there was a definite sense of camaraderie that made it fun to listen to them. Afterward they were all kind enough to sign autographs for quite a while until their people ushered them out. It was a great experience. Thanks again, Herc.