When ComicBook.com spoke with Austin Basis--who plays J.T. Forbes on the cult-hit series--earlier this year, we talked about the uncertainty of working on a series that's on the bubble--a feeling he can now step away from at least for the time being.
ComicBook.com: Is it different playing a character on a serialized show, where you're building a continuity as opposed to a feature?
Austin Basis: Yeah--even just from the beginning, based on my experience last time with Life, Unexpected, in which I wasn't in every episode but it was a similar experience. This is more of a marathon. We're filming the nineteenth episode right now, and I think I filmed nineteen episodes in all on two seasons with Life, Unexpected.
So this is like nineteen episodes in a row, basically and I made it a point because I come from theater school and acting techniques of creating a backstory for characters. As you know, with TV a lot of time those backstories get created proactively so ten episodes, fifteen episodes down the line I could find out something about my character that I wasn't incorporating or I hadn't known up until that point.
So I try to get ahead of the curve which is almost impossible because with every decision and every move the character makes or the writers make for the plot, it's approved by the studio, the network, et cetera, edited down, cut out of episodes and so I made it a point to have a meeting with the creators about what they saw as J.T.'s backstory and his relationship with Vincent so that when they started to create their actual history where they would bring it up throughout the episode that I could use that even if it wasn't discussed in the context of the script.
So talking about Vincent and J.T. knowing each other since they were very young--it's not like they were just college roommates who stuck together. So it brings more of a family thing where they've always been there. Different things like that have guided me throughout the episodes. It's kind of the actor's job on TV because most episodic television, especially on network, you're getting a different director every episode. A lot of cable series sometimes get directors who do two episodes in a row so there's more of a continuity of direction. With us, it's kind of one to the other and it's really up to you as the character's integrity to string that throughout from one episode to the next. Within three episodes, you can have three directors and three different storylines and I have to determine where I think the character exists within that story arc.
There's the season arc that the writers know, probably before they write the first episode, and then there's the actual episode arc so it's much more of a mini-arc kind of development because I can't really see down the line. Things get approved as we go and you kind of just hold on for dear life and try to maintain the integrity and the basics of the characters you've developed over the last episodes.
ComicBook.com: Is it fun to have the kind of super-science role where you have to speak authoritatively, but you know about 2/3 of what you're saying is kind of made up on the spot?
Basis: I think what most people don't realize is that that's most of what acting is. Most of the characters and people I've played, I do my best to relate my life and my experience to that character's experience but for the most part, I play thing that I've had no idea. I've never been a teacher. I've been in classrooms, so I kind of have an idea, but I've had to play teachers before. There's been parts where I've played criminals and thugs and it's a similar thing.
When it comes to technical jargon and scientific, supernatural stuff, it's based in a reality where they're trying to connect it to some sort of known chemistry mix or known possibility within the physical world and so I always have a reference back, just to understand the essence of the words I'm saying and what I'm trying to do. There's a whole series of episodes where we're trying to figure out what's happening to his DNA because it's changing. So we found out it was mutating and the question was, can organisms mutate within one lifetime and you get to the clown fish which actually at one point could change sexes within one lifetime based on the needs of the spawning pool. Just to do a little research like that gives you enough of the essence and an understanding of what you're saying that you understand the intention and I think with actors at least as long as you understand the intention and what the goal is in you saying that to begin with, sometimes the words or the specifics of what you actually mean doesn't carry as much weight as you trying to save your best friend or solve your best friend's problem. As long as you're following that trail, it all makes sense to that end. You get the kind of, "A plus B equals C." You know the C, so as long as you can make it sound like you know what A is and you know what B is, you can sell the point.
ComicBook.com: Is there anything that's really different about this show in terms of challenges?
Basis: Well, I think the challenge--and this is just a simple thing--is that because we shoot in Toronto and all the writers are in L.A., that's a different time zone--three hours' difference, and a geographical separation. So when we have issues and things where we're trying to figure out the best way to do a scene or we have certain back-and-forth conversations about a certain dialogue or a scene or a character point or a plot point, it becomes inherently difficult. I always feel like that's the biggest challenge and I've had experiences where we've been away from the writers' room--the production is away from the writers' room in a different state or country--and sometimes they have a representative, a writer or producer, which we do, but to have the writer who wrote that episode is probably the best thing that you could have. Or an executive producer who could make the exact decision.
Under the circumstances we've done just fine but in an ideal world I would feel like that would take a lot of challenges away in the continuity of the storylines and a lot of times when we get a script, we don't necessarily know what happens next. As an actor, if you're doing a film or a play you know the beginning, the middle and end and you and the director could navigate that arc in a collaborative way but a lot of times with TV, you don't know what the end is. You only know what the middle is and so you have to play the end of the middle like the end and then when you get the next one, it's the beginning, middle and end of the next middle, if that makes sense. A lot of times if you have someone who knows the full arc and has created the full arc, then you might have a little more knowledge and so there might be a wider range of choices that you can make--but not always.
Sometimes a director like Woody Allen, he only gives you your lines. Shakespeare used to do that; that's why everyone has their role or their sides--they call the auditions sides--because in Shakespeare's time, they didn't have printers so they would write only the person's lines--like Romeo's lines all on one roll of parchment and it would be their side of the script would be on that role. All they would get is the three cue words from the next person's line that they're supposed to respond to.
Stuff like that--you really don't know what's going to happen next; you only know your side of it. It's kind of a similar thing with TV and not knowing the full arc of the story. It allows you to be in the moment a little bit more and kind of play out the scenes and trust where it's going to go, which is always a hard thing for anyone--that kind of trust that it's going to work out without you manipulating it.
ComicBook.com: As you're saying this--the show is still up in the air for next year so as you're shooting closer to the end of the season, is there a sense of culmination, or are you still on edge because you're not sure of what's ahead?
Basis: Like with The Walking Dead, just to compare it to that--with them not knowing the next script and the future of the storyline because they're living in a world like that...we're kind of in a similar thing and we're getting into a terrain now in the episodes we're filming because the s--t hit the fan in the last episode we did and now Muirfield is after Vincent but so is the NYPD, who have a task force out for him.
That's the biggest thing, where we're trying to maintain our endurance throughout the season, our stamina, and it's progressively harder and it's probably on most shows like this, where you get to these last four episodes that you're filming and you don't know the future of the show. But I can see that if we found out today, tomorrow, whatever that both with the writers and the actors and the crew there would be an energy and a rejuvenation that you're connecting it to the future as opposed to culminating an eight-month process that's happened so far.
So only in respect to energy and morale and security and the confidence that the story is going to continue to be told and that you are able to connect your life and job and future which would be at least through the end of this year is an important thing for most people. Actors don't usually work under those circumstances, knowing that you'll be working for the next year. Most actors is in days or weeks. Some actors is in months if you do movies, and I would say it would just be a confidence-booster and sort of give us that extra motivation you would need at the end of a marathon where there's people on the sidelines that you don't know that are throwing Gatorade in your face and cheering you on and you're like, "Now I've gotta do it." Because it's long.
I'm speaking from my perspective, but Kristin and Jay--especially Kristin who is on site almost every day--for the past seven and a half months. It's a good six or seven months of work, twenty days a month and sometimes Saturday, and usually Kristin is involved with that and then publicizing the show, going to the People's Choice Awards, the TCAs, the upfronts, et cetera--these are the obligations of the leads and they have the full weight ot bear and it's a long season. Not like a cable show with ten episodes or thirteen episodes where you've got a lot less time.
ComicBook.com: We touched on the idea that it's a show you don't know the future of--for the fans out there who don't have a Nielsen box, what can you do to support a show when it's on the bubble?
Basis: I think because The CW has been a new media-based network for a good portion and they have a more interactive website than most networks--and also based on the need because the demographic is changing and the landscape is shifting to new media with iPads and iTunes and Amazon--Mark Pedowitz is totally aware of that and in a way is ahead of other network presidents in not putting so much weight on the Nielsen box because it's limiting. It's a statistical estimate that people take to heart and unfortunately a lot of advertisers base their numbers and networks base their sale numbers on the Nielsen box.
But the CW for years now, and now under Mark has really pushed toward trying to grasp and understand the full impact of computer-watching or laptop-watching of TV. I think anytime you pay for something, it's always counted. So if you're paying for iTunes season pass for Beauty & the Beast or watching an episode, those numbers are definitely going to be known by The CW. Amazon, I think similarly. As long as it's a legal source--even watching it on the CW website but I don't think that's available in other countries. As long as you keep to the legal pathways, it's all going to be counted, especially by The CW, because they know their audience is out there watching TV in a non-traditional way. I have confidence in that because of the response that we've gotten. We won the People's Choice Award, we win virtually every online poll. We have people out there who are on their computers and they're always on top of it and they're very passionate about the show and so if that's a marker or an indication of the future, I feel good. It's just--you'd feel better when you know, for sure, contractually, that you're on for another season but I think that The CW is well aware of all that stuff. To a degree, they're still young as a network and they have to because that's where their fan base is.