Blair Underwood and Jason Ritter Talk The Event
Blair Underwood and Jason Ritter talk about the highly anticipated new drama, The Event
The Event is an emotional high-octane conspiracy thriller that follows Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), an Everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his fiancée, Leila (Sarah Roemer), and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history. Sean's quest will send ripples through the lives of an eclectic band of strangers, including newly elected U.S. President Martinez (Blair Underwood); Sophia (Laura Innes), who is the leader of a mysterious group of detainees; and Sean's shadowy father-in-law (Scott Patterson). Their futures are on a collision course in a global conspiracy that could ultimately change the fate of mankind.
The Pilot premieres this Monday, September 20th, on NBC. To help usher in this exciting new series, we caught up with Jason Ritter and Blair Underwood to find out more about what we can expect to see throughout the season. Here is out conversation:
You're going to tell us all what exactly The Event is, right?
Blair Underwood: Right. Of course. Of course. Listen, what I can tell you and tell you all is that The Event is something very eventful but it is something that is - can potentially change the course of mankind as we know it. In a nutshell that's what is to come.
Well that sounds exciting enough. It must be exciting for you too because I don't know if you've seen your face plastered on buildings but I have driving by, you know, promoting the show. That has to be exciting, right?
Blair Underwood: You know, 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 Innesand Jason Ritterand myself as the president and Sarah Roemer the entire cast of - 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.
Yeah. And you've had so many great roles in your career and I'm pretty sure this is the first time you've played the president. How does it feel taking on such an iconic role like that, especially since we've seen, you know, black presidents on television before? Dennis Haysbert did such a great job on 24, Morgan Freeman's done it on screen and now, you know, we have Obama in office. So how does it feel today taking on a role like that?
Blair Underwood: Well it's exciting. You mentioned Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact and 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 was, "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 our producers, said from the very beginning from our very fist conversation - what's up Jason Ritter? Jason Ritter just walked in everybody.
Jason Ritter: How's it going?
Blair Underwood: Good.
Jason Ritter: Good to see you.
Blair Underwood: But 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.
Yeah. Well that's great. I have one question for Jason if that's okay, if you're ready to take it.
Jason Ritter: Yeah.
Yeah, okay. So Jason you know the past few years you've done a lot more like low-key independent movies. I just saw this move Dry Land which you were really great in and now you're probably like in the biggest role that you've had yet. So how does it feel to go from like smaller independent stuff to something as big as The Event?
Jason Ritter: It feels really great, you know. I mean I felt - 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, you know, I really worked hard on the audition and I was excited. You know, I mean it definitely feels like a lot of pressure. You know, and one thing about an independent movie, you know, 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 there's also - 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.
Actually for both of you, what jumped out of the script to get you interested or what drew you in?
Jason Ritter: For me I just was - I was fascinated by having to put all these puzzle pieces together, you know. Seeing these characters, you know, jump back and forth through time and have, you know, 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.
Blair Underwood: You know, 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 Ritter and I had the same agent and before I went into that meeting our agent said that Jason Ritter 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, you know, the specific character and then also the cast members. The fact that Laura Inneswas attached from ER I have great respect for, the fact that Jason Ritter was attached. It just - 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, you know, we were talking about independent films with Jason Ritter. 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.
Jason Ritter: Absolutely.
Blair 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. That was a long answer. Sorry about that.
Well I'm guessing I'm not going to find out what the event is on this call so I wanted to know...
Jason Ritter: When you do, tell us about it.
Blair Underwood: Well this is - yeah, right. This is important to know that because of - again, 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, right Jason, by the second episode a lot of the questions will be answered...
Jason Ritter: Yeah.
Blair Underwood: ...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.
Jason 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.
Excellent. Well with that being said I just wanted to know, what does it feel like for you guys walking around knowing that everybody thinks you know what it is?
Jason Ritter: It's fun.
Is it fun?
Jason Ritter: 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.
Blair Underwood: Yeah. It's also, you know, 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 my question is for you. Can you talk about how you decided to play the president? He seems like a furious person and I'm just wondering, did you draw on anyone who has been president or other officials?
Blair Underwood: That's interesting. No one in particular. I don't - 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.
And can I ask you a quick follow-up? You were talking about 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?
Blair Underwood: That's a good question. We can't really answer that right now and just because we don't know. And I, like Laura Innes, 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, really quickly first off, Taylor last week told me not only 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?
Jason 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 Innes, 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. You know, it's that kind of playful thing where I want her to tell me but I really probably enjoy her - I really enjoy trying to get her to tell me more than I would if she just came right out with it.
Okay. And Blair, talking about playing the president, I once interviewed a guy who played an admiral on JAG for several years and he had this really long period of searching where he was, "What does an admiral act like?" He asked people and a lot of people didn't - you know, weren't able to give him any insight until one fellow said, "Hell, he's an admiral. An admiral can act any damned way he wishes."
Blair Underwood: I like that. I like that.
Is that sort of kind of maybe the insight that might come to play when you're playing a president? You can act any damn way you wish?
Blair 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 okay in the confines of course in your home and around secret service." So, you know, for me it was really about I think as an American citizen, you know, just watch - 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 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.
I just wanted to ask you both a little bit about how different this is from other shows that you've done just to talk about - because I think both of you have done a lot of TV but you've not necessarily done a show like this that has so much mythology. And just, you know, how different does it feel?
Jason Ritter: You know, 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 and also to - I don't know. It's exciting to be in a world that moves forward so quickly. You know, I think in - especially in the sitcom world you - it's very important that, you know, 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.
Blair Underwood: Yeah. You know, for me what's unique and I alluded to this before is really a fence, you know, internally even that everybody knows where the show is going. You know, 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 Ritter 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 think - or 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.
And are there specific challenges that come with a show like this? I know that you just said everyone knows where it's going but in a lot of ways you probably don't know all the intricate details more than you would in say another TV show and you don't necessarily know what's coming up but it seems like on a show like The Event there's even more where you might not know what's happening. 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?
Jason Ritter: You know, that's an interesting question. I think that certainly for me - we've all been brought up to speed with what our characters know up to the point of the pilot. So, you know, 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, you know, "Well what would I do if I found out that I was, you know, 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 the know why?
Jason Ritter: Yeah.
It's a two-part question. How do you balance your film and TV projects? And did you get much backlash from your role as an abuser in Tyler Perry's Family Reunion?
Blair Underwood: I was going to say something but I won't say that.
I know black audiences can own movies. It's like after Waiting to Exhale there was a lot of backlash on Michael Beach.
Blair Underwood: Yeah. I have to say I really didn't get any backlash that I even really noticed. And part of that was I think, you know, that filmn came after a couple projects I had done where I played a serial killer or a murderer or an abuser but that was after ten years of playing a good guy on L.A. Law and some other projects. I think maybe I had banked some goodwill with people. And the other - what was the second question? I'm sorry.
How do you balance your film projects with your TV projects and family really and your book? You got a lot going on.
Blair Underwood: You know, to me 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 ten years - well 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.
And have you heard from President Obama?
Blair Underwood: I have not. 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.
I was just wondering, you know, there's kind of been this brand of drama, you know, of high suspense sci-fi mystery thriller recently with shows like Lost and 24 and Heroes and V. How does The Event kind of set itself apart from the pack?
Blair Underwood: Ah, good question.
Jason Ritter: Well I think that one of the things is - and again not trying to take away anything from any of those shows but The Event is coming at a time where there has - 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, you know, are being satisfied or dissatisfied in any number ways. And so they've carved out, you know, 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 had been brewing this story for four full years as his fantasy pilot. You know, 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 low 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...
Blair Underwood: Like fine wine.
Jason Ritter: ...in our creator's mind.
Blair Underwood: You know, 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, you know, 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. 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 Ritter said, it's the back-story. How does the story unfold and through whose eyes do we see the story unfold?
I have a question for both of you. You know, The Event deals -- like many great shows in the last year -- deals a lot of conspiracy theories. I'd like to know in Europe what is the reason why people like conspiracy theories so much? And do you personally believe in any kind of conspiracy theory?
Jason Ritter: Well, you know, 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, you know, it's not in our best interest or it is in our best interest. But I think it's just exciting to - I also think, you know, it's 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. I personally - I believe - you know, there's a few conspiracy theories that I believe in, not too many. But, you know, Area 51 is an interesting one that strange aircraft landing in New Mexico.
Blair Underwood: I think the audience enjoys it too. I mean one of the things that people realize is that people are so much more ed - the audience is so much more educated and sophisticated nowadays people want to - 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 - I - yes, I do. You know, 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. You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall. You know, and I there's 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.
So there is a ton of shows that are premiering next week. Why do you think people should tune in to see your show? I mean for both of you, you know, what's really special about this series?
Jason 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, you know, in the week between the episodes. And I don't know. I feel like people - the audiences have shown that they're ready to go with a show and be taken on a fun ride.
Blair Underwood: I think people should watch the show because really tonally -- and I know this has been said but it's really true -- in the tone of the show it has of a political thriller with science fiction undertones, it is something that obviously speaks to an audience. It really is well done and well written. We have a great team of people that know how to do just that.
I want to know how much elements of science fiction are we going to see in the first season? And for Blair I want to know it's really interesting that they made your character it's not even Afro-American. It's Hispanic. It's Elias Martinez. So is that just a coincidence?
Jason Ritter: Well the first part of the question, I think that the way that the - I was told, you know, and we're only in the middle of shooting Episode 6 right now. But so far this has rang true. The pilot is about 95% action and, you know, political conspiracy and things like that and about 5% sci-fi. Just a tiny little element in there to make it interesting. And that's been about the percentage of the show. I mean 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.
Blair Underwood: (Salvador), what you'll find is in this show like a lot of TV shows that really work and resonate with people, New York - The storylines are ripped from the headlines. By the same token, you'll see a lot of these storylines and events and elements 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. 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, I think some of you have seen the pilot, 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.
Okay. Just one more question for Jason. Jason, you're very good at comedy so I want to know if there's going to be some - a little bit of sense of humor in this show.
Jason Ritter: Yeah. I definitely - I try to squeeze some in whenever I can. And so far there has been. I mean there's certainly a lot of - you know, it's hard to make running funny. But, you know, in a lot of the scenes when there's a lot of information coming in and, you know, 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.
I wondered if you can tell me a bit about what it's like playing such an alpha male character. It's quite different from what you've done before, isn't it?
Jason Ritter: Absolutely. Yeah, it's...
So have you been doing stunt work?
Jason Ritter: I've been doing running. I've been - I've done crawling out of wreckage. I've done lots of - yeah...
Blair Underwood: Swimming, swimming.
Jason Ritter: Lots of swimming. Yeah. 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, you know, some things you just want to leave to the professionals.
I was going to say that must have been quite scary if you did the real cliff.
Jason Ritter: You know, it was pretty scary filming it. You know, we were all tied in and it was very secure but I had to, you know, run right up to the edge and pretend I was going to jump and, you know, 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...
Jason Ritter: What?
Had you ever thought of yourself doing those kind of action man roles?
Jason 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, you know, we were all being our own heroes. But, yeah, no, 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, you know, he 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?
Jason Ritter: I don't think so. Although, you know, Sean Walker has definitely had to grow. You know, he's grown a lot in these last couple weeks. I mean 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.
So we had talked a little bit earlier about how this show really mixes political intrigue and sci-fi, you know, kind of derived from Lost and 24 and V. And kind of this whole new theme going on. Is it 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?
Blair Underwood: Definitely it's 95% political intrigue and a smattering and maybe 5% sci-fi.
Jason Ritter: Yeah. I mean I think that it has the potential to be both. I mean 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. I mean 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, you know, for me it's been exciting because I am one of those people. So I look on the NBC Web site. 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.
I was just wondering, the pilot episode is very action-packed. Will the rest of the first season be as action-packed as the pilot?
Jason Ritter: There is...
Blair Underwood: He can attest to that.
Jason Ritter: Yeah. There is a lot of action coming. And it really - it's been really exciting. I mean certainly it's not nonstop 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.
Blair Underwood: What's encouraging also is we're shooting Episode 6 now and you've seen the pilot, Morgan, so you know 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. I mean you go to commercial and you know 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. As long as they can keep that up I think hopefully we'll be okay.
And how long do you think the series could run for? Do you know how long sort of the producers have planned ahead?
Jason Ritter: I believe five seasons.
Blair Underwood: About five seasons. But trust me, if the desire is there, I'm sure they'll go another five. I'm going to go with 20 years. I like that. That sounds good.
Looking kind of over what you guys have done in this whole first season so far, do you think that there are any sort of far-reaching political messages?
Blair Underwood: Good question. I mean I'm not sure. I mean what I can say in terms of politics they're dealing with issues, I mentioned immigration, you know, is topical, underlying under the surface and other issues. In terms of politics I know they want to stay away from that. I mean 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. In fact what we do say in this - I don't think this comes up in the show but on the Web site The Event Is Coming 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, my character, 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.
Jason Ritter: But I think that, you know, they present political issues - I mean the president is dealing with different political issues but it's never presented that this is the right answer. You know, you're constantly...either agreeing with the president or disagreeing with the president but there's not - you know, it's a real complicated problem that's presented - 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 - I mean 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...
So, you know, obviously for as much as the critics want smart shows, as much as the actors want to be participating in smart shows, you know that there's not always a correlation with the audience. You guys have mentioned, you know, Lost and 24 and obviously those were great iconic shows but obviously they reached a point where it was hard for them to keep going and they were losing viewers year to year. So 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?
Blair Underwood: I have to say the fact that there was back-story was the golden goose for me. I mean that's what attracted me to the project. So no trepidation there at all. You know, 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 new into it, six episodes into it, but again they're aware of that. I mean 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 that genre - in this genre.
Jason Ritter: And I think all that we can do at this point is take these scripts - I mean 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 it - 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. You know, 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.
Blair Underwood: Yeah.
And you guys mentioned that, you know, obviously in the second episode there's going to be a fair amount revealed, that it's not going to be a frustrating series for viewers. Can you sort of elaborate a little bit more on that? Because obviously a lot of these shows do have these big mythologies, you know, they take years and years and years to reveal something notable. Are you guys personally - are you pleased that as soon as Episode 2 that there's going to be important information revealed?
Jason Ritter: Yeah, yeah, that was really exciting to me. You know, I think a lot of times it's frustrating when you have a cliffhanger where someone says, "I want you to tell me everything you know." 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 having it - not making a situation where it would make sense to finally learn something and then not giving that to the audience. You know, that's when sort of the teasing comes in.
Blair Underwood: Yeah.
Jason Ritter: And that's been great about this show is, you know, at the end of the pilot Sophia says - oh, actually I shouldn't say that. But she 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.
Blair Underwood: Right, right.
Well, yeah, I mean it was a great pilot and I'm looking forward to hearing that answer in Episode 2. So good luck to you guys this season.
I was curious. I'm not sure how much information you have or how far in advance you've learned about any of the back-story for your character but, you know, at this time what do you feel is it that motivates your characters to get out of bed each day?
Blair Underwood: To get out of bed each day? Well it's kind of hard with this first lady because she's kind of hot. You know, 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. You're dealing with - you're the leader of the Free World so you're dealing with (stakes) that affect human lives.
Jason 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 his motivation to get out of bed is that he has a pretty incredible girlfriend and he better do some nice things to keep her around.
Blair Underwood: We both have hot girls we're excited about.
And I'm sure that we will see some of those motivations continue to change like as the series goes on.
Jason Ritter: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
I have a question for each of you but I'm going to start with Blair. We know that you're going to play President Martinez but I'm wondering how this role compares to some of your other dramatic works that you've done on television, especially shows that people still love today like L.A. Law and even the short-lived City of Angels. And as kind of a two-part question to that is, regarding President Martinez, I'm wondering does he kind of get his hands dirty on this show? Because usually we see presidents sitting in the Oval Office dealing with crisis - dealing with a crisis but I'm wondering if he kind of sort of gets out of the White House and tries to figure out what's really going on.
Blair 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 seem him immediately 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 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.
And for Jason I'm wondering how much pressure do you feel with this show because the ad campaign is insane, you know, there's a void on television for -- and no pun intended -- but for event programming with Lost and 24 ending. So I'm wondering how much pressure do you the writers and producers feel about the show? And regarding the characters of Sean and President Martinez, how much interaction do you all actually have? Do your storylines ever intercept?
Jason Ritter: So far our storylines have not intersected. I've kind of been separated from everybody. But I think that will change. You know, the storylines are all starting to converge which is exciting. There's an awareness of the other charac - well certainly 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, you know, 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, "Okay. 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, you know, pressure will just make me cave to the other side and it's like, "Hey, you guys are right. It totally sucks." But they - you know, 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.
A quick one for Blair. Over the conversation we've talked about some of your crowning moments on television and past TV - movie roles. If you could, give me a couple of your professional and personal highlights. What are some things that you - what - looking back what are some things that have made you most proud?
Blair Underwood: Oh, that's easy. Well L.A. Law of course because it just really kind of got me in the game. The movie that premiered recently - not premiered, but showed again last week, but Mama Flora's Family which is a miniseries, an extension of Alex Haley's Roots. Love - it's one of my favorite (piece) 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) but this role right now. I'm having so much fun with this guy, with President Martinez.
Okay. Now away from the television screen and the big screen what are some of your proudest off-camera accomplishments?
Blair Underwood: Oh, that's easy, my three children and picking the right wife.