Question: What do you get when you pair the mysterious Michael Emerson with the intensity that is Jim Caviezel? Answer: A hit CBS show that has quickly become one of the fall’s most intriguing new offerings. One part police procedural, one part mystery thriller, PERSON OF INTEREST sees Emerson and Caviezel team up to help stop crimes before they happen. And here to talk about what is shaping up to be one of the small screen’s most bizarre bromances since NIP/TUCK’s Christian and Sean is none other than creator and executive producer Jonathan Nolan, who recently took some time with reporters to shed some much-sought-after light on the CBS’ newest dynamic duo.
First of all, maybe you can comment on why you think the show has become an over-night sensation?
JONATHAN: Oh, you know what? I have no idea! I’m just very happy. My philosophy is basically to just kind of make the sorts of stories, film or TV, that I would want to see myself; and we just go with that and, hopefully, enough folks agree that you just get to keep telling your story. So it has been very, very, very satisfying to finally start telling the story to a big audience.
So when you finally got to see the finished pilot, what was your reaction when you saw it on screen?
JONATHAN: It’s always so tricky the first time you watch anything that you worked on that long. You’re still seeing many of the things that you feel you got wrong. But I did feel very smart about the cast that we were able to put together, the amazing crew, the ability to be able to shoot in New York — and I felt hopeful that we had it. There’s a kind of magical alchemy kind of thing that happens. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the script is — you’d like to think as a writer that you wrote the best script ever and it wouldn’t make any difference with all the other choices you made along the way; but the truth is all of those choices are in many ways much more important than the script itself. So it’s about the casting, it’s about the concept, it’s about the look, and there’s so many different intangibles that go into it that the first time you sit down and watch it, you just have a sense for: “Do I have it or not?” And I definitely had a sense that we had done it with this group of amazing and talented people — with what we had shot and with the designed sets, and thus, I felt we had a really good shot.
In hindsight, it seems like these characters were cast just perfectly with Mr. Caviezel and Mr. Emerson. Were they always a first choice or was there a laborious casting process?
JONATHAN: Casting is one of those amazing things. I can’t just think about a specific actor when I’m writing. I find it really distracting. I tend to write the character first and then what happens is that you go in the casting room and sit down. We had an amazing casting director on the pilot, April Webster, who’s done almost all of J.J.’s stuff and she’s just wonderful — and we sat down and had a conversation and she asked, “Okay, who are these guys?” Those conversations for me are fascinating because you are kind of alone with the characters locked up in a room for months and then you start trying to put a face on them. Jim Caviezel is a guy who I had seen in “The Thin Red Line” years ago — I think I saw that film a half-dozen times in the theater and he stole the movie from a dozen of the best actors in the world. He’s just an amazing, amazing actor. And I was a huge LOST fan, so Michael Emerson obviously was great. Actually, all three of our regulars: Jim, Michael and Taraji, really they were actors I hadn’t even dared to think about to be in the show. I didn’t think we’d be able to get them in the show. So it was pretty magical experience putting that cast together, and when we showed up in New York, I thought, “Wow! We had better not screw this up, we have some great actors here.”
Will there actually be things that you are embedding throughout the series, like Easter Eggs just for your regular fans, or is that something that is too much to add to this kind of show?
JONATHAN: We’ve actually already had a couple for the folks who are watching carefully.
That sounds like quite a tease!
JONATHAN: Yeah, well, in all the movies I’ve worked on — my brother Christopher and I are a big fan of that — and J.J. is a big fan of that with the shows that he has worked on. And I was a huge LOST fan and Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spent a lot time layering, threading and kind of embroidering the little details of that world, and I think that is such a gratifying thing as an audience member. For me, watching LOST, I wasn’t one of the folks on the message boards breaking apart every little piece. BREAKING BAD is another great example of where they care so much that you could feel the persistence of that universe even when you turn the TV off. You know that Walter White is still out there somewhere and there’s a coffee mug in his sink and it’s still dirty. You know what I’m saying? And the eyeball of the teddy-bear is still rolled under the bed. When a show’s creator, writers, and the crew and the cast care that much in the world that you as the audience member are investing so much time in — I know that first-hand — it’s enormously difficult to keep all these plates spinning. My wife is a TV writer and she made fun of me as I was going through the pitching process, and she was like, “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.” And it’s true, it’s an enormous amount of work. But when you have people devoted to watching your show for an hour every week, you owe them something. What you owe them is the time that takes to get it right and making sure that you’re putting something in — you’re paying it off.
In creating these now iconic characters that are larger-than-life and they feel like modern day superheroes, in a sense, because they are coming to people’s rescue in impossible situations, what is it about their natures that you created that makes them drawn into this situation and that they are natural for this?
JONATHAN: I think what we got with Finch and Reese and with Carter are three people who all have secrets and all have damage. I mean, these are people who have seen some difficult things and had to do some difficult things; and consequently, the thing that unites all of them is whatever path they took to get where they are now, they all deeply care about protecting people. And I just thought that was sort of an interesting jumping off point to these characters and that’s what makes them heroic. Obviously, I spent a lot of time working in the superhero genre; it’s a favorite of mine. I wouldn’t call this a superhero show, but I think that it appeals to one of the same kind of visceral, fundamental things that all comic-book superheroes appeal to, like Batman and Superman — any of those costumed crusaders. Fundamentally, they are all trying to help people and protect people. And I think there is a certain amount of wish-fulfillment as people in the real world, we all kind of wish there was someone out there who gave a damn and would get out there and get in harm’s way and try to protect people.
Well, you created an interesting series that is quite fun to watch. So is there anything you can tease about what we can be expecting as the season develops?
JONATHAN: Oh, goodness. What can I say that won’t get me in trouble? We’re hoping to peel enough layers back to reveal the layers beneath. I think the show is as much about what happened, as what is going to happen.
Clearly, PERSON OF INTEREST is a mystery within a mystery type of show and for those fans paying close attention, there is something extra to be gleaned from the densely-woven stories each week. To catch an all new episode of PERSON OF INTEREST, be sure to tune in Thursdays at 9PM on CBS (CityTV in Canada). Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).