“The Event” is one of those TV series which has a bigger-than-usual shroud of secrecy around it. Just what exactly “the event” is has been deliberately kept a mystery in all the ads and promotional materials that the public saw before the show’s debut. (“The Event” premieres September 20 on NBC at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time.) As far as political thrillers go, “The Event” is a TV series that many people expect to deliver shocking plot twists and never-ending suspense.
What is known about “The Event” is that one of the main characters is a man named Sean Walker (played by Jason Ritter), who is frantic about finding his missing girlfriend, Leila Buchanan (played by Sarah Roemer). Sean’s search for Leila leads him to uncover secrets that the U.S. government wants to keep hidden from the public. Meanwhile, the president of the United States, Elias Martinez (played by Blair Underwood), is a central figure in the story. Underwood and Ritter talked about “The Event” in a recent telephone conference call with journalists.
What exactly is the mysterious event in this TV series?
Underwood: I can tell you and tell you all is that the event is something very eventful but it is something that can potentially change the course of mankind as we know it. In a nutshell that’s what is to come.
Your face plastered on buildings on promotional posters and billboards for “The Event.” That has to be exciting, right?
Underwood: Yeah, I have friends of mine saying, “Listen, dude, I’m tired of seeing your face. You’re scaring me. Every time I turn around I see your face.” But I have to say one of the things that I’m really excited about and proud of with this show is, number one, when you see the pilot, I think the executive producers and NBC has been very smart in introducing the characters very methodically.
And that transitions and translates to the marketing campaign that you’re referring to in that the campaign is all about the characters, introducing the characters, and you see these faces of Laura Innes and Jason Ritter and myself as the president and Sarah Roemer [and] about five or six of the cast members. But it’s very exciting, and I think they’ve been very smart in looking at the landscape of other shows, serialized shows like this, and knowing it can be too big, especially with a show named “The Event.” And I think it’s very wise and clever to focus on the characters that are within this world.
How does it feel taking on such the iconic role of president of the United States, especially since we’ve seen black presidents on television before? Dennis Haysbert did such a great job on “24,” Morgan Freeman’s done it on screen, and we have Baracl Obama in office.
Underwood: Well, it’s exciting. You mentioned Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact.” Laura Innes and I actually did the film “Deep Impact,”15 years ago, and at that time conference calls like these and lots of the questions from the press were, “Do you think we’ll ever have an African-American president?” It was unheard of at that time. And now that it is a reality in the world in which we live and we have seen it on television, it’s not an enigma anymore. It’s not even unique.
That said, to play a character that is a leader of the free world is very exciting for me and especially the way we’re approaching it because one of the things Jeffrey Reiner and Nick Wauters and Steve Stark, our producers, said from the very beginning from our very first conversation … what they wanted to do with this president was not just see the president as we would see him on the news, CNN, Fox, whatever else, on news stations, but really see the human being behind the office. And they’ve done a great job of doing that so far.
Jason, in the past few years, you’ve done a lot more like low-key independent movies. So how does it feel to go from like smaller independent stuff to something as big as “The Event”?
Ritter: It feels really great. After a couple of years of doing that, I felt really ready to jump into something like this and challenge myself. Not that it was my choice. Not that I had made the announcement to join something like this but I really worked hard on the audition and I was excited. I mean, it definitely feels like a lot of pressure.
And one thing about an independent movie, there’s a lot of room to experiment and make mistakes and things like that. But then on a show like this, where there’s so much money going into it, the pressure is higher but you realize that most of that is coming from your own self and it’s still just a group of people making the best thing that they can and it’s been a lot of fun. I mean, this project in particular has been a dream.
What jumped out of “The Event” script to get you interested?
Ritter: I was fascinated by having to put all these puzzle pieces together. Seeing these characters jump back and forth through time and have, for instance, my character be in a completely different place emotionally in the space of 11 days was really intriguing to me. And then on the other hand, all the characters felt fully fleshed-out and real and it felt like we were in the hands of the first chapter of a really great story. And that was exciting to me.
Underwood: Like Jason said, feeling like we were in good hands. I initially sat down with producers and discussed what this whole world would be and what was most impressive to me — actually, Jason and I had the same agent, and before I went into that meeting, our agent said that Jason had gone in, he was impressed, and I think you will be too with how much they strategized the seasons.
They’ve thought through this world, the mythology of this world, these characters and really kind of plotted out the first five years but really clearly the first two years. Now we know in television, that can alter depending on what the audience wants to see this, that and the other, but it’s important I think to take a stab and know where you’re going.
So what impressed me was their expertise in that and their clarity in that. And then again, the specific character and then also the cast members. The fact that Laura Innes was attached from “ER.” I have great respect for the fact that Jason was attached. It was a win-win situation of all parts. Great cast. Great pedigree of talent to kind of helm the whole project. And also that said, we were talking about independent films with Jason. The fact when you can do independent films and take a lot of risks, it’s one thing and you can sometimes be creatively fulfilled, but sometimes those films can sit on the shelf. And I’ve been in that position. You work hard, you’re proud of the work, but people never see it.
Underwood: So to have the creative that you’re excited about and then also have a network that’s going to get behind it, that also of course plays into the decision-making process.
So we’re going to find out what the event is on this call?
Ritter: When you do, tell us about it.
Underwood: This is important to know that because NBC and our producers have been very acutely aware of some of the shows in the past that felt as if to the audience they weren’t thought through. And sometimes the audience can be frustrated. And I can tell you by the second episode a lot of the questions will be answered, in terms of who these people are, who the detainees are. So we don’t want to frustrate the audience. We want to keep the mystery but not frustrate people.
Ritter: Absolutely. And Laura Innes does know what the event is. I’m just in the dark so I’m trying to figure it out. But there is a specific event. You’re not going to find out what that is in Season 3. They have a plan.
What does it feel like for you guys, walking around knowing that everybody thinks they know what it is?
Ritter: It’s fun. I mean, for me, it’s great because I’m pretty terrible at keeping secrets so it’s actually a relief for now not to know what the event is so that when people ask me I don’t have to lie.
Underwood: Yeah. It’s also in, terms of what the event is, of course, that’s the overriding question, the way the series is laid-out is that there’s a pre-event. The event is something that is to come. It’s all about ramping up to the event. We will see the event at some point and then it’s the consequences and the aftermath of that event.
Blair, can you talk about how you decided to play the president? He seems like a furious person. Did you draw on anyone who has been president or other officials?
Underwood: That’s interesting. No one in particular. It’s funny, I don’t see him as furious. This is a man, President Elias Martinez, who was born of Cuban refugees and he’s Afro-Cuban in our story. But he is someone who is a good man. He’s a good man morally, ethically and he’s a man of faith and wants to do the right thing.
I think he feels though he’s put upon and he’s newly elected and he realizes once he’s in office that there are secrets that have not been told to him that he feels are very important. So I think there’s a certain sense of self-righteous indignation but not fury or anger for the sake of being angry.
You were talking about when we will see this event at some point. Is there a timetable? Do you think we’ll see the event before the first season is over?
Underwood: That’s a good question. We can’t really answer that right now and just because we don’t know. And I, like Jason, of course if we ask the producers, we can find out but I think it’s quite a fun exercise to figure it out as the characters figure it out. But I know they know. I just don’t want to ask.
Jason, Taylor Cole (one of your co-stars of “The Event”) says that do you not know the event but you keep trying to ask her what the event is and she taunts you, “I know more than you know.” Is this true?
Ritter: That is absolutely true. I keep on trying new and different tactics. I recently tried to pretend that I knew some incredible secret that I wasn’t going to tell her, and then I waited a full week and said, “All right, Laura, I’m ready to tell you but only if you trade with me your secret.” And she never bought it for a minute. But it’s a lot of fun. It’s that kind of playful thing where I want her to tell me, but I I really enjoy trying to get her to tell me more than I would if she just came right out with it.
Blair, what sort of insight that might come to play when you’re portraying a president?
Underwood: It’s funny you mention you that. There’s maybe a bit of that. It’s funny. We have a tech advisor on the set for all the Secret Service and all the military that we have involved in the show and I ask him often like, “Should I do this? Should I do that?” And he says just that, “You’re the president. Whatever you do is going to be OK in the confines of course in your home and around Secret Service.”
So for me, it was really about I think as an American citizen, as a voter watching throughout the years and just throughout history, studying history, what different presidents did, how they comported themselves. And really what I found more than anything is you have to feel as though you can entrust these people to lead your country. And if you believe and you can put your trust in this person, I think that’s the most important component in a leader.
You have done a lot of TV but you’ve not necessarily done a show like “The Event” that has so much mythology. How different does it feel?
Ritter: For me, it feels completely different and that’s very exciting. I mean, I’ve never had to be this physically active before and it’s a nice addition to feel invigorated in that way at the end of every day. It’s exciting to be in a world that moves forward so quickly. Especially in the sitcom world, I think that generally you can watch all the episodes out of order. And I think in “The Event” you can enjoy an episode in and of itself as well, but there are more rewards for the people who watch week to week and that’s excited to have this forward momentum and be telling a story that is moving quickly forward.
Underwood: Yeah. For me what’s unique, and I alluded to this before, is really a fence, internally even that everybody knows where the show is going. It’s more rare than you might realize. Oftentimes people have a great pilot, and they kind of pop through the first couple episodes, but to actually have a sense that there’s a plan here, and we’re going to execute the plan is kind of unique. So that’s very different.
And I’ll tell you, I read the scripts sometimes and I see all the action that Jason gets to do and I say, “Man, that’s sounds like a lot of fun.” All I do is walk around in a suit and talk a lot. So I hear it, but I also fear it because I know it can be physically exhausting sometimes. But it’s great stuff and part of what makes this unique and special. I don’t know if it’s unique, but special, is that you really have a little bit of everything. You have a love story. You have action. You have sci-fi. You have political conspiracy theories going on. So it’s a little bit of everything for everybody.
Are there specific challenges that come with making character choices or how you’re going to play a scene where you’re not exactly sure what will be happening five episodes down the line?
Ritter: That’s an interesting question. We’ve all been brought up to speed with what our characters know up to the point of the pilot. So we know as much as we would know, and then we start doing the episodes. It’s actually more difficult for me the other way. Once I know something in the script because I’ve read the new episode, there’s so much new information coming in and it’s such a big thing, that it’s more of a challenge for me to wrap my mind around. “Well what would I do if I found out that I was that I had stumbled onto the biggest cover up in U.S. history?” I mean, it’s not something that I do every day or that I’m used to. So that’s more of the challenge is once I find out all the information pretending like I forgot it all and learning it.
So it’s easier not to know why your girlfriend has disappeared than to know why?
Blair, did you get much backlash from your role as an abuser in “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion”?
Underwood: I was going to say something but I won’t say that. Yeah. I have to say I really didn’t get any backlash that I even really noticed. And part of that was I think “Madea’s Family Reunion” came after a couple projects I had done where I played a serial killer or a murderer or an abuser but that was after 10 years of playing a good guy on “L.A. Law” and some other projects. I think maybe I had banked some goodwill with people
Blair, how do you balance your film projects with your TV projects and family and your book? You’ve got a lot going on.
Underwood: It’s just finding the right project. I knew when I started in this business I wanted to act and that was my focus. But I quickly realized about seven years into it that I wanted to just be a storyteller. Sometimes you can be a storyteller by way of books, by way of producing, by way of directing and not just acting. So it’s just looking for great projects and great properties and working with great people.
Have you heard from President Obama?
Underwood: I have not. I ran into the first lady about a month-and-a-half ago, and I told her about the project. She was not aware of it at the time. I said, “Wait, you haven’t seen all the marketing? You haven’t seen the ads? Come on now.” But she said she’d be looking out for it. But they’re a little bit busy right now.
In recent years, there’s been this brand of high-suspense mystery thrillers recently with shows like “Lost” and “24” and “Heroes” and “V.” How does “The Event” kind of set itself apart from the pack?
Ritter: Well, I think that one of the things is — and not trying to take away anything from any of those shows — “The Event” is coming at a time where we’ve seen all of those shows, and I think the producers have seen where those shows have succeeded and where those shows have left people wanting something different or are being satisfied or dissatisfied in any number ways. And so they’ve carved out their own story and way to intrigue people.
But I think one of the things that they really wanted to make sure is that they knew exactly where they were going. And I think that’s why they were so excited to find out that our creator Nick Wauters had been brewing this story for four full years as his fantasy pilot. He was writing for other shows and he just was saying, “Man, if I had my druthers, this would be the show that I would do. But no one is going to give me, an unknown writer, the power to do this.” And then, lo and behold, they were ready for it. And the one thing that they were looking for was enough of a back story. And he had it. So it’s really exciting now to get this story that has sort of aged like a wine in our creator’s mind
Underwood: Like fine wine. It’s been said that there are only seven themes of any story, and everything we see is a variation on those seven themes. By the same token, there will be elements in “The Event” that will come out when we finally realize everything, and you’ll say, “Oh, I saw that coming.” Or maybe you didn’t see it coming or maybe you’ve seen that before or maybe you didn’t see it before but the point is, look at Titanic. We know the ship is going to sink. How do you tell that story? For the characters. You watch “Rocky.” Rocky’s going to win. How do you tell that story?
What I think sets “The Event: apart, and again this is in the marketing campaign: They’re very smart in how the story is told; it’s all about the characters. And as Jason said, it’s the back story. How does the story unfold and through whose eyes do we see the story unfold?
“The Event” deals with a lot of conspiracy theories. Why people like conspiracy theories so much? And do you personally believe in any kind of conspiracy theory?
Ritter: Well, I think one of the reasons that we like conspiracy theories is I think that we like to feel like there is a group of people who are so smart and powerful that they can pull the wool over an entire country or in fact even an entire world’s eyes. That certainly makes us feel like somehow we’re protected maybe even if it’s not in our best interest or it is in our best interest. But I think it’s just exciting [and] more fun to look as things as though there is a plan.
I mean, you can look at everything and go through life just saying, “Oh, what a coincidence,” when something happens that’s serendipitous or you can say, “Maybe this has been orchestrated by a group of superpowers.” And it’s just fun. There are a few conspiracy theories that I believe in, but not too many. Area 51 is an interesting one that strange aircraft landing in New Mexico. What are some of the other ones? I don’t think Elvis Presley is still alive. That’s one that I can’t quite get into. But I enjoy those unanswered questions.
Underwood: I think the audience enjoys it too. I mean, one of the things that people realize is that the audience is so much more educated and sophisticated nowadays. Sometimes you want to see a movie or a TV show where you don’t have to think, but other times you want something that’s smart. And a lot of these shows that you’re referring to, the conspiracy theory shows or movies — “Inception” comes to mind — people want to use their minds and think.
Do I believe in [any conspiracy theories]? Yes, I do. My father was in intelligence at one point. He was 27 years military, and so I grew up knowing there were always things that the government knows about that we don’t know about and don’t need to know about. Like wasn’t it Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” who said this? “You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall.” And I there are things I don’t think we really want to know about, in terms of what goes on in protecting our country or protecting our way of life. So yes, I do believe in some conspiracy.
Why do you think people should tune in to see “The Event”?
Ritter: I think it’s an exciting show and I think that it’s one that certainly for me it really hooked my imagination and it’s the kind of show that you watch and you’re thinking about throughout the week. And I know certainly, for me, a lot of the shows that I watched I really enjoyed having something to chew on in that time between in the week between the episodes. And I don’t know. I feel like the audiences have shown that they’re ready to go with a show and be taken on a fun ride.
Underwood: Yeah. Somebody said to me yesterday, “I hope this show is not going to be like ‘Lost.’” I said, “What do you mean? We should only be so lucky to have the success of ‘Lost.’” And what she was saying was, “Well, it just frustrated me. Back and forth, back and forth.” Here’s the deal: I think people should watch the show because — and I know this has been said, but it’s really true — in the tone of the show it has elements of “24” in its tone and elements of “Lost.” So to have a political thriller with science fiction undertones is something that obviously speaks to an audience.
“24” is gone. “Lost” is gone. “Heroes” is gone. “FlashForward,” people liked from the very beginning. All those shows are gone now. So this show, “The Event,” fills the void, and it’s not just tapping into those touchstones and those elements. It really is well-done and well-written. We have Evan Katz, who’s running the show, who ran “24,” or was part of the 24 team for years. Jeffrey Reiner. Nick Wauters. So we have a great team of people that know how to do just that.
Jason, how many elements of science fiction are we going to see in the first season?
Ritter: We’re only in the middle of shooting Episode 6 right now. But so far, this has rang true. The pilot is about 95 percent action and political conspiracy and things like that and about 5 percent sci-fi — just a tiny little element in there to make it interesting. And that’s been about the percentage of the show. It generally takes place in the world that we are living in with just a little fantastical element that sort of takes it to the next level which is really exciting.
And for Blair, your character is Afro-Cuban. Is that just a coincidence, given that “The Event” addresses the issue of detaining immigrants?
Underwood: What you’ll find is in this show like a lot of TV shows that really work and resonate with people … “Law & Order” comes to mind. A lot of those shows are ripped from the headlines. The storylines are ripped from the headlines. By the same token, you’ll see a lot of these storylines and events and elements in “The Event” that will resonate with real life.
Right now, immigration is a big topic in the world in which we live in America right now. An outsider becoming president is topical right now. And from the very beginning, when Nick Wauters wrote this script four years ago, he wanted this first family to be Latino. So my wife, the first lady, is played by Lisa Vidal, who is Puerto Rican. Elias Martinez is supposed to be Afro-Cuban. He’s the first Afro-Cuban president in the United States. And you’ll see as the show unfolds how that comes to play that this outsider, who was born of Afro-Cuban refugees, becomes the president, and he has to wrestle with this idea of releasing detainees. You’ll see in the first episode — if I give anything away, it’s all in the ads — but he has to really decide if he’s going to release these group of people, these detainees, into society. And this is coming from a man who himself was born of Afro-Cuban refugees. Thus, the name Elias Martinez.
Jason, you’re very good at comedy, so will there be a little bit of sense of humor in “The Event”?
Ritter: Yeah. I try to squeeze some in whenever I can. And so far there has been. It’s hard to make running funny. But in a lot of the scenes when there’s a lot of information coming in, and especially in a lot of the flashbacks before Sean Walker’s life has fallen apart, there’s a lot of levity and moments of humor and the writers have been really great in infusing that in there as well
Jason, what it’s like playing such an alpha-male character. It’s quite different from what you’ve done before, isn’t it?
So have you been doing stunt work?
Ritter: I’ve been doing running. I’ve done crawling out of wreckage. I’ve done lots of swimming. The one stunt that I didn’t do was jumping off the cliff in the pilot. Although I thought about it but when I saw the actual cliff it looked a little too dangerous, and some things you just want to leave to the professionals.
That must have been quite scary if you were on a real cliff.
Ritter: It was pretty scary filming it. We were all tied in, and it was very secure, but I had to run right up to the edge and pretend I was going to jump. And I wouldn’t have fallen all the way down, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant had I slipped over the edge. So it was a little terrifying, which is great.
Had you ever thought of yourself doing those kind of action man roles?
Ritter: No. I mean, when I was 5 and I was running around with my finger in the shape of a gun with my friends, we were all being our own heroes. But once I started recognizing a pattern in the kinds of actors who get to play these roles, I started seeing myself as less and less of a possibility. But it’s been really great with this role to have this guy who is a video game programmer. Hhe doesn’t have years of police officer training in his back pocket to pull out when he gets into trouble. And he’s basically just the guy who loves his girlfriend so much that he will do anything to get her back and that’s what’s motivating him past his fear.
So you don’t think he’ll ever turn into a Jack Bauer from “24”?
Ritter: I don’t think so, although Sean Walker has definitely had to grow. He’s grown a lot in these last couple weeks. I think that there was a certain innocence to his character before all of this happens and he quickly has to become a man. But I don’t think I’ll be torturing anyone anytime soon. Well, maybe I will.
Is “The Event” going to be phased a little bit more with a political intrigue or a little more sci-fi? Because it seems like the show could be potentially a huge hit with a lot of ratings but also have a cult following. So what direction is it going to lean more toward?
Underwood: Definitely, it’s 95 percent political intrigue and a smattering and maybe 5 percent sci-fi.
Ritter: Yeah. I think that it has the potential to be both. Have a cult following of the people who watch the show and get really into the mythology and go online and look at all of the clues and the information that they’ve been putting on there. This has been one of the fun things about shows like this is you can create a whole other world for everyone who wants to delve more into it. And for me it’s been exciting because I am one of those people.
So I look on the NBC website. There’s another one called TheEventIsComing.com. And since my character is pretty much in the dark, I’m also trying to find out all the information and it’s been exciting to hear that if you look at the map of Inostranka, there’s a clue hidden in there somewhere. I’ve been scouring it and I can’t figure it out. But it’s exciting to have all of these alternate materials for the cult audience and then but be able to enjoy in and of itself for everyone who just casually wants to watch and get into it.
Will the rest of the first season of “The Event” be as action-packed as the pilot?
Ritter: Yeah. There is a lot of action coming. And it’s been really exciting. I mean certainly it’s not non-stop action because there’s other storylines and there’s flashbacks. But the action sequences are really sort of mind blowing and exciting. It’s been a lot of fun. So yeah, they’re definitely keeping that element going as well at the same time as advancing the story and all of that.
Underwood: What’s encouraging also is, as Jason said, we’re shooting Episode 6 now and you’ve seen the pilot, Morgan, so every commercial break is a cliffhanger and of course the show itself is a cliffhanger. Every script we’ve seen so far has the same formula. You go to commercial, and it’s going to be a cliffhanger. It’s going to be a nail-biter. And of course at the end of every episode, another big wow moment.
Looking at what you guys have done in this whole first season so far, do you think that there are any far-reaching political messages?
Underwood: Good question. I’m not sure. What I can say, in terms of politics, they’re dealing with issues. I mentioned immigration is topical, underlying under the surface, and other issues. In terms of politics, I know they want to stay away from that. Other political shows, “The West Wing” and others are very smart I think in not ever identifying the political party of the president, and we’re doing the same thing.
I don’t think this comes up in the show but on the Web site TheEventIsComing.com, some of that information back story is that this is the first administration to have a dual party administration. In fact, whatever party the president is, the vice president is the opposite party. But in terms of raw politics, I think they’re pretty much going to stay away from that.
Ritter: But I think that they present political issues. The president is dealing with different political issues, but it’s never presented that this is the right answer. You’re constantly either agreeing with the president or disagreeing with the president but there’s it’s a real complicated problem that he’s presented with. So it’s interesting to see how a guy with all of the good intentions in the world is faced with real difficult — more than political, actual sort of moral — decisions, and seeing a guy try to keep his integrity in tact as he tries to figure out what the right thing to do is in the situation.
How do you sort of strike the balance to keep the people that just sort of want a fun show with the people that want the mythology? And did either of you guys have any sort of trepidation about getting into a show that has such a rich back story?
Underwood: I have to say the fact that there was back story was the golden goose for me. That’s what attracted me to the project. So no trepidation there at all. It’s a tricky thing, and not being a producer or a writer on the show, I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that, but I can say they’ve been able to strike that balance thus far. Now, of course, we’re six episodes into it, but again they’re aware of that. We now have the benefit to learn from the mistakes of the shows that have come before what worked and what didn’t work in this genre.
Ritter: And I think all that we can do at this point is take these scripts. It’s been great to be excited and reinvigorated with each new script that comes out instead of saying, “Uh-oh, this is heading down a bad road already.” So it’s been really heartening to see that the writers and producers have been doing such a great job keeping the quality of it up to the par that the pilot is at. But yeah, I think for us at this point it’s just about us doing the best we can to realize their stories and then just hoping for the best. All you can really do is try to make the best product you can and whether people tune in is up to them. But we hope they do. We think they’ll be pleasantly rewarded.
You mentioned there’s going to be a fair amount revealed in the second episode of “The Event,” that it’s not going to be a frustrating series for viewers. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that? Because obviously a lot of these shows that do have these big mythologies, they take years and years and years to reveal something notable. Are you pleased that as soon as Episode 2 airs, that there’s going to be important information revealed?
Ritter: Yeah, yeah, that was really exciting to me. I think a lot of times it’s frustrating when you have a cliffhanger where someone says, “I want you to tell me everything.” And then they go, “All right. I will.” And then it comes back from commercial and they go, “Oh, wait first we have to go do this other thing and I’ll tell you in three episodes.”
What’s great about this show is that if they pose a question and when they come back from the cliffhanger, it picks right back up where you left off. And I think the thing that’s frustrating to people is not necessarily not getting every answer immediately but not making a situation where it would make sense to finally learn something and then not giving that to the audience. That’s when sort of the teasing comes in. And that’s been great about this show is at the end of the pilot Sophia says something and it’s very intriguing and mysterious. And so it’s nice that the second episode starts with basically them saying, “So what do you mean by that? Why don’t you elaborate?” Which is great.
How much information do you have in advance for the back story? What do you feel is it that motivates your characters to get out of bed each day?
Underwood: Well, it’s kind of hard with this first lady because she’s kind of hot. One thing that we didn’t say that we should mention is that when we shot the pilot, the night before the pilot each one of the characters received a dossier delivered to our house with our entire back story, with the direction on top and red letters “Confidential. Do not share with anyone including other actors.”
So they’ve been giving us some pretty extensive back story. What motivates my character to get out of bed … That’s funny, I was doing some research on other presidents but also other actors who’ve played presidents. And I never watched “24,” but I watched some interviews with Cherry Jones. And she said something that I thought was right on point. She said, “Every time the president comes on screen, every time she comes to work” — and I feel the same thing as president — “the stakes are enormous.” And if you have great writers, and we do, they’re going to give you great stuff to do. So that’s always exciting for me as an actor but also the president. You’re the leader of the free world so you’re dealing with stakes that affect human lives.
Ritter: And I think for my character what gets him out of bed in the morning — if in fact he’s been lucky enough to sleep in a bed — is he just needs to find his girlfriend. She basically means everything to him. And in the flashback before she’s disappeared is his motivation to get out of bed, that he has a pretty incredible girlfriend, and he better do some nice things to keep her around.
Underwood: We both have hot girls we’re excited about.
Blair, how does your role in “The Event” compare to some of your other dramatic works that you’ve done on television? And does President Martinez get his hands dirty on this show? Does he get out of the White House and try to figure out what’s really going on?
Underwood: I’m sure he will. Right now, a lot of his work has been in and around the White House and the offices but, no, he’s very much involved.
Well, for instance, in the pilot you see him immediately as he learns about these detainees — and again, this is in the trailer. I’m not giving anything away. The first thing he says is, “I want to meet them.” They’re in Alaska. We know they’re in Alaska. So he goes directly to see them. And he’s the kind of president, he is hands on. And actually you’ll see very soon, I think in the third episode, he leaves the White House again to be hands-on, so he does get his hands-on. I think it’s important to him.
How this compares to other roles? I don’t know if anything compares to playing the president. It’s funny, Jimmy Smits shoots right next door to us. He has a new show called “Outlaw,” and he, of course, has played the president [on “The West Wing”], so we joke about during “L.A. Law.” We went to TV law school together. So now I get to play the president, you play a former Supreme Court Justice. And he’s played the president already on “The West Wing.” But in terms of other roles … I did a show called “In Treatment” last year, which was very internalized. It was all about people talking about their emotions and thinking … and it’s very similar to that.
Jason, how much pressure do you feel with this show? And regarding the characters of Sean and President Martinez, how much interaction do you all actually have? Do your storylines ever intersect?
Ritter: So far, our storylines have not intersected. I’ve kind of been separated from everybody. But I think that will change. The storylines are all starting to converge, which is exciting. I know who the President of the United States is, and soon I think he’ll know who Sean Walker is, I hope. But yeah, there does feel like a lot of pressure.
The exciting thing is for me that whenever I start to feel that pressure I go back and read whatever script that we’re working on and that alleviates some of it, because I can fall back on the material and go, “OK. I believe in this. I really like what we’re doing here and I stand behind it.” And that’s the main thing because usually pressure will just make me cave to the other side and it’s like, “Hey, you guys are right. It totally sucks.” I think everyone wants it to be a good show, and that’s what the pressure is, and I believe it is a good show. So it sort of equals itself out.
What are some of things you’re most proud of in your career?
Underwood: Oh, that’s easy. Well, “L.A. Law, of course, because it just really kind of got me in the game … “Mama Flora’s Family,” which is a miniseries, an extension of Alex Haley’s “Roots.” It’s one of my favorites that I had chance to do. My mother was very sick at the time, and it was all about family. And “In Treatment,” which was on HBO about two years ago, because it was an actor’s dream getting the chance to just talk and explore and dig deep and it’s just two people on screen talking. And that’s it. And I know it’s not just being PC [politically correct], but this role [on “The Event”] right now. I’m having so much fun with this guy, with President Martinez.
Away from what you do on screen, what are some of your proudest off-camera accomplishments?
Underwood: Oh, that’s easy. My three children and picking the right wife.
For more info: “The Event” website
RELATED LINKS ON echoflam.com:
Interview with Jason Ritter and Sarah Roemer for “The Event”
Interview with Blair Underwood and Željko Ivanek for “The Event”
“The Event” news and reviews