Jason Isaacs may be playing a man unable to tell which of the two lives he’s living is real in his new series “Awake,” but he’s of one mind when it comes to believing in the quality of the show.
Isaacs, best know as the haughty Death Eater Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” films, takes on the role of police detective Michael Britten, who after a tragic car accident finds himself living two different lives: one in which his wife was killed, and one in which they lost their son. Loathe to let either of his loved ones go, Britten lives firmly in both realities whether asleep or awake, though he begins to question his own sanity as a result.
The actor tells PopcornBiz that the series – dreamed up by “Lone Star”creator Kyle Killen and produced by “24” and “Homeland” showrunner Howard Gordon – provided him with an answer to his own wake-up call when it came to working away from his family.
On his soft-sell approach to pitching the high-concept show to viewers:
“I know that when people watch it, within two minutes they get it, literally. My kids got it instantly. It sounds so much more boring coming out of my mouth than I know it works on the street. Because I'm English I'm slightly loathe to do that thing about saying, 'Watch our show. It's utterly brilliant.' I think that's slightly crass. I want people to try it, take a bite of it. If they like it have some more and feel it out. I feel like offering people their money back. Just watch one episode – if you're not hooked then fine. Don't come back. When people watch it, they like it. That's my experience with people that I've shown the pilot to. That should be good enough. I know that in a crowded media environment I should be screaming from the rooftops that we're all phenomenal, but I think the work stands for itself. That's one of the reasons that I'm glad we're not going out in a week when dozens of other new shows are.”
On his twisting path from film to television:
"The truth is that I've been lucky enough to work pretty much consistently for 25 years. I'm sick of Skype – I have small children that are nine and six and I don't want to be away from them anymore, so I was looking for a television show – actually, I WASN’T looking for a television show. I came over and sold an idea to FX for a series that I wanted to make. I met Howard Gordon to be a writer and it has some of the themes from 'Homeland.' He said, 'Well, I have a series called "Homeland."' I went, 'Oh, it doesn't matter.' I came back to work with the writer in January, and Howard and [NBC chairman] Bob Greenblatt got in touch with me – Bob Greenblatt I knew from Showtime to be a very talented, very brave, risk-taking guy. He sent me an email saying, 'We can see you doing this show.' I said, 'Actually I've got my own show, Bob. Thanks very much, but I'm developing something.' He said, 'Well, Howard Gordon is running it.' Then I bumped into Howard in the building where I was talking about the show that I had sold, and he said, 'Come and do this thing with me. It's great.' He gave it to me to read. I read it and it absolutely hit – just like him by the way. He doesn't do other people's shows either. We both looked at it and I said, 'Well, the thing is I'm a producer. I've created something,' and he went, 'Well, come and produce this with me,' and like a good used car salesman I just couldn't think of a reason not to. If I really distill it down to one thing that made me want to do it, yes I wanted to work with Howard, but mostly I wanted to see what happened with Episode Two, like everyone else."
On his own curiosity factor about how the show’s mysteries will unfold:
"Because I'm experienced in this world and have been reading a lot of pilots and creating pilots I had a strong suspicion that nobody really knew what would happen next – much like the writers on 'Lost.' When you get picked up as a pilot, I have known many friends who are writers that suddenly get into a room and go, 'F**k – Now what?' I didn't know if he had more answers, and so I sat with Kyle and Howard, and if they had definitively all the answers mapped out I probably wouldn't have wanted to join in because I wanted to create some input to something. They opened the door and gave me a seat at the table and that's one of the reasons that I jumped onboard."
On the show’s unusual structure going forward:
"We tell different stories and some of them are actually wild and from left field and some of them are more procedural and some of them very emotional, some very personal. But without sounding like some snake oil salesman, hopefully we tick pretty much every box every week. We give you something dramatic. We give you something emotional. We give you something puzzling. We give you something funny. We give you something that's kinetic and intellectual. One of my favorite people sometimes has asked me 'Is the show too difficult?' A) I don't think it's difficult at all to follow, and B) my favorite television show of all time is 'The West Wing.' They took incredibly complex issues and made them incredibly easy and personal and emotional to follow. If we could even approach the foothills of that we'd be doing ourselves very proud."
On the status of the self-created show he hopes to get on the air:
"My own show is still being written and developed. I think it'll be great. I have a horrible feeling that if this thing is successful somebody else will get to play the great part that I was creating for myself, but that'll be a great problem to have. I'll be fine with that."
On feeling proud of the “Harry Potter” film saga:
"I don't even think it's because I'm just personally involved. They produced something that in eight films never once dropped the standard. Sometimes people use the word franchise. For me, that's a way that you sell fast food, or a film is successful so you add a roman numeral and make another one. This is one story told over – I don't know – 18 or 20 hours, and it got better and richer and kept the audience into adulthood, but also brought along new audiences. It's crossed every single culture in the world and never once compromised on the storytelling or the casting or even the artistic craft of it. It looks phenomenal. It sounds phenomenal. I think maybe because it's so popular it could be that the craft and genius of the art involved has been overlooked."
"Awake" debuts Thursday night at 10 PM ET on NBC