David Hudgins and Kelli Giddish Discover Their Past Life
The new Fox series, Past Life, created by Friday Night Lights writer David Hudgins stars Kelli Giddish and Nick Bishop as an unlikely pair of past-life detectives who investigate whether what is happening to you today is the result of who you were before? The series premieres this Tuesday, February 9th at 9 PM before it moves to its regular timeslot, Thursday nights at 9 PM starting February 11th. We had a chance to speak with the show's creator, Hudgins, and it's star, Giddish, to discuss the series, the premise, the cast and reincarnation. This is what they had to say:
For starters, Kelli could you tell us a little bit about how you first became involved with the series and maybe some of the acting challenges you found stepping into the role of Dr. McGinn?
Kelli Giddish: Well, there is a pilot season every year and this is actually one of the first projects I went out on probably about a year ago, last January. I really loved the character and went right in for it. Actually David and Deran Sarafian, the director of the pilot, and Lou Pitt, were all down in Baltimore and I was living in New York at the time. I went in and tested and it went from there. They had found Nick Bishop and so it kind of just rolled into a project from there.
When I first got the script, looking at Dr. McGinn, it was just someone that I immediately connected to, in terms of just a through-line for me. It was immediately a character I felt like I didn't have to take a lot away from myself to play her; I just got to add on layers, one being that she believes in a system of reincarnation and past lives and that's her way to help people. A challenge which I think is really nice to see her overcome as a character and one for me as an actor is to really get people on your side and to get the patients on your side. I think she really acts as an emotional conduit to people that are having trouble or experiencing trauma, from what she assumes and what is from their past lives.
David, could you tell us where your inspiration for this series came from and some of the challenges creative-wise or production-wise getting the show off the ground?
David Hudgins: Sure. First let me add on to what Kelli was just saying. The way we cast Kelli Giddish in this role was very unique. Here's what happened. I got her audition on tape, which is actually an e-mail they send. I was sitting at my computer and I queued it up and I watched it and I was absolutely blown away. In the moment I said to myself that is Kate. That is exactly who I had in mind so we flew Kelli down to Baltimore and we screen tested her for this pilot, which is not that common anymore these days. As soon as we screen tested her and showed it to the studio, the network and everybody agreed that she was perfect for the role. I just think that there was good karma from the beginning with Kelli.
In terms of my inspiration, a book called, "The Reincarnationist," written by M. J. Rose, inspires the series. I had a pilot deal with Warner Bros. They sent me the book and asked me to read it and I did. Frankly, I didn't really have any expectations when I picked up the book but as soon as I finished it I was immediately engaged. I said this is an incredibly cool world. It was a world that I was not that familiar with so I immediately started doing research, started talking to people. I happened to see a three-part special on Oprah that she was doing with a guy named Dr. Brian Weiss about past lives and regression. I just got hooked immediately and thought this is just such an interesting, different, unique world. From a storytelling point of view what I love about it is it is so wide open, there are so many different stories you can tell based on this world. I came up with this franchise of the Past Life detective team and building around that just sort of went forward with the series, and created the characters. The inspiration really for the project was this book, "The Reincarnationist" by M. J. Rose.
As far as, let's see you asked about some challenges for production. One of the great things about the show and frankly, something that we were pretty surprised with when the pilot and the first episode started coming in is there are these regression episodes within the shows where the patients are having ... they're basically flashbacks. They're going back and they're experiencing their own past lives and we really wanted to have these sequences ... we really wanted these sequences to have a unique look. Deran Sarafian, who directed the pilot, did an amazing job with that and he came in and he created this visual style that's very filmic. It's very cinematic, it's scary, and it's fast and what we ended up with were these really interesting sorts of mini thrillers that play throughout each episode, which were a challenge to shoot because there is a lot of different coverage and a lot of different pieces that you have to get.
The tools are basically ... at some points Deran running through the forest with the camera in his hands. I mean it was that much fun and that sort of outlaw style of shooting. It really worked. It really cut together well. We developed a whole system for shooting those regressions with a second unit. It required a lot of cutting and a lot more visual effects than we originally anticipated. We actually hired a special editor to do the visual effects and to edit those sequences. That was a challenge to do the regression episodes. The rest of it was really just a dream. It's just an amazing cast and we had a really great crew in Atlanta. It was a great time.
Kelli are there any similarities between you and your character?
Kelli Giddish: Well, yes, I think so. In the script Kate McGinn is a girl from Texas. She drives a big old pickup truck, which I drove a pickup truck for a long time, a stick shift with a camper top. On an emotional level I think, yes, she tries to calmly try and guide people, not by beating them over the head with her agenda or with her beliefs but in the way that she gets people on her side and allows her to heal them I think is a very ... as a Southern woman you can kind of get in people's heads in a way that maybe other people can't. Like I said with this character there was just a lot of stuff that I didn't feel like I had to take away from myself to play her. It was just kind adding layers on.
David, in putting the show together what have you learned from the experience and from the past lives research?
David Hudgins: The past lives research, well; number one is to be open-minded. One of the things about the show that I think is really interesting and that people are responding to, is this question of what if? We're not out here preaching to the world about reincarnation. We're not saying it's this way or that way. What we're basically saying is let's go on a ride here. Let's ask the question, what if this was real? Think about all the possibilities that that opens up and all the stories we could tell. I have learned to be incredibly open-minded about it. I've learned that there is an entire world of people out there who are fascinated by this stuff.
Obviously not only in the United States, but all over the world. Really there is just this fascination with past lives that I really feel is something that we're tapping into. It's wish fulfillment in a way; it's a fantasy show in a way, there is definitely a sci-fi and a paranormal element to the show, all of which comes together with these great characters and Kelli. You know, you asked ... it's funny you asked about the similarities between Kelli and her character, let me say this, Dr. McGinn is a very empathetic character. That's one of the great things about her; she has this ability to connect with people, to read them and to understand them. She's a healer, and that's Kelli. She's also a woman who doesn't take any s**t and I promise you, that's Kelli as well.
Kelli, can you tell us anything about the relationship between your character and Richard Schiff's character, Dr. Malachi Talmadge?
Kelli Giddish: Well, he's her mentor. I think as the series goes along we're going to find out more about what exactly they mean to each other in terms of personally, but professionally they think very similarly. They respect and are highly educated within the field in which they work. I think it's also a very special relationship because we don't know ... in terms of father figure, in terms of he kind of thinks around things in a way that maybe Kate hasn't gotten to quite yet. Sometimes he can simplify things in a great, creative way that maybe she misses. It's kind of great to see his character and his perspective inform the work that she's doing.
David, will Kelli's character, Kate, have any romance on the show?
David Hudgins: Oh, yes, she will. I mean, you can't look at that character and not wonder is there a romantic interest in her life. It's interesting, any time you have a show with a male and a female lead there is always the question of romantic relationship between the two of them. What's great about Kelli and Nick Bishop is there is obviously chemistry. We saw that in the screen test. We saw that the first time we got together and we put them on film and it really translates onto the show. We all know that it's there but as a storyteller and sort of the creator of the show, I just think that's something you have to be careful with. You know, hooking your two leads up, I guess would be the phrase.
For now I think the relationship is strictly professional. They've got a lot of issues to work out in their personal lives and professionally right now they're just friends. But, yes, there is definitely chemistry between the two of them, and as to whether that goes anywhere hopefully people will tune in to find out. Dr. McGinn is single and she lives at home right now with her dog and her mother, who is very interested in her getting out there and meeting people. She is so wrapped up in her work at the moment that she's trying to make time for her personal life but I don't think you can watch that character on screen and not say to yourself, she's going to end up with somebody at some point, she's too great, too bubbly and attractive.
Kelli, with regards to the premise of the show, did any research that you might have done, or people that you met, challenge or change your belief system in any way?
Kelli Giddish: Well, you know as David was saying, it's kind of been interesting to see how much of an interest there is in all this stuff and belief in reincarnation and past lives. I actually went and did my own regression, mainly to check out the woman that was giving them, that kind of thing. It's like ... I went to go see if she was a kook, you know, and see what kind of character she was in her personal life doing past life regressions as a job. She wasn't a kook. She actually has blonde hair; she's like 32 and from Texas. It was like Kate McGinn in real life.
I did that regression and what was interesting about that, it was on the Upper West side in New York and she pulled me back out of the hypnosis and she said, "How long do you think you were under?" I was like, half an hour. It was great though, thanks. She said, "An hour and forty-five minutes." I said, "No kidding, wow!" I have an hour unaccounted for where I was off being an Alaskan boy and a fruit picker in the 1930s. Whether or not I really believe I was an Alaskan Native-American, I'm not sure but I came out of her office really feeling light on my feet and looking around at things with a little gleam in my eye. It's nice. We play the what-if game with ourselves all the time and this is certainly a wide-open world in which to play that.
Kelli you're from Georgia and the series was shot in Atlanta so what was the homecoming like for you?
Kelli Giddish: Well, it was such a great experience to be able to come home and know that there's biscuits and gravy just around the corner. That there's chicken and dumplings being ... the teamsters fixed chicken and dumplings out in the parking lot during one day of filming. There was sweet tea always on the tables at lunch so that was certainly nice to come back home and really explore the city, you know I left when I was 18 so you can't really go down and listen to music and have a drink when you're 18 in the big old city so it was kind of great. It was like being introduced to a new city. Atlanta has changed so much in the last decade it was great.
David Hudgins: Atlanta was fantastic. That was my favorite part about the whole experience was being able to shoot there. The crews were incredible. We got so many looks out of Atlanta. It was just an absolute pleasure to be there. By the way, we can't wait to come back. Our sets, wardrobes and our props are all sitting on our stage behind a locked door. We're ready to come back.
Kelli, what has been your most memorable moment so far filming the show?
Kelli Giddish: Gee, you know you go in for ten to fifteen hours a day and you're just ... I was on set all the time and it was such a joy, it all kind of runs together. No, but the most memorable things that happen on set were with the guest stars that came down, being surprised by their ability and their talent to go into all these regressions that we had them go into and seeing each person do it in a completely different way. I have to say my favorite, I think, was Juliette, the girl that played Sarah. She was like 12, I just remember being on set with her and she knew more words to Beatles' songs than I did. I was just so impressed. I was like youth is not lost, they are not lost, and they're okay.
David Hudgins: What about the improv dance at three in the morning?
Kelli Giddish: Yes, that was amazing. We were on set, David it was the last scene, right, of the day?
David Hudgins: It was the last scene and it was three in the morning.
Kelli Giddish: We had Dean White there who is our directing producer, producing director, however it goes, and so he had been with us the entire time in Atlanta. He was directing that episode and David was there. It was three in the morning, and we're shooting the last scene of the day, and of that episode and it was the last scene and he just ... he put on, what song was it David?
David Hudgins: It was "Ooh-la-la" by Rod Stewart.
Kelli Giddish: Yes. It was "Ooh-la-la," and we just started dancing, Nick Bishop and I in the middle of Talmadge Center and it got captured. It was such an organic, beautiful thing that moved out of this really great conversation that had been written. We just started improv'ing with each other and all of a sudden I'm begging him to dance and we're laughing our heads off. It was great.
David, why do you think people should tune in and watch "Past Life?"
David Hudgins: Well, first of all I think they're going to be immensely entertained. It's a mystery show, we're solving a mystery each week, but we're doing it in a way that is different because of the past life angle to the show. It's a very satisfying viewing experience because you're seeing a mystery be solved from start to finish in a very different and unique way. We're also doing it with characters that are arguing about it as they go along, that are agreeing on certain things, that are taking different approaches, and that are ... the conflict part of it, I think, is very entertaining and informative, but it's also fun.
At the end of the day the episodes are really about hope because patients are, in 90% of the cases, being healed. They're not always going to be healed but most cases they are. It's just a very satisfying experience and very emotional, I have to say. It's sort of a roller coaster ride in each episode. There are great comedy moments in the show, there are also very scary moments in the show with these regression episodes, but you know, each week in doing all the cuts, what's consistent each time are the performances of Kelli and Nick and all the actors. It's really great just to go on the ride with them each week and see them do their thing.
David, from the research you've done, how do you think the way a person acts is connected to the energy of a past life, like karma or someone's destiny?
David Hudgins: What interested me as much as anything in this whole project was this idea of consciousness and I don't want to get too technical and pretend like I'm a super expert but, putting the idea of reincarnation aside, I got into this whole idea that I think started with Carl Jung about consciousness. Basically, all people are connected and the idea is that some people are able to sort of access this level of consciousness and others aren't. Where it really popped for me was, for example, the idea of déjà vu, which I think everybody has experienced. Even something like ... the show touches on all sorts of things related to it such as, I mean people are always coming up to me and telling me a ghost story or telling me about somebody that they met and say, "I swear that was my mom in a past life."
The more I researched and the more I got into it I realized that the world really has out of body experiences, near-death experiences, it's this whole idea of the science of the soul, which I think is tied up in consciousness. There is a line that Kelli's character has in one of the episodes where somebody says to her, "You know you only go around once." And she says, "Actually, not really." That was kind of my takeaway. One of the other characters in another episode has a line, "Live like you're going to live again." I guess for me, again, not getting into technical definitions of karma, for me it's kind of like, this is going to sound corny, but kind of like the Golden Rule. It's like just do right, live like you're going to live again and you don't really have anything to worry about.
Why do you think viewers are more open to a show like "Past Life" now, where ten or twenty years ago they might not have been?
David Hudgins: Yes, I mean, you know, I certainly don't want to ever underestimate the American public and the American viewing audience. I think people are a lot smarter and a lot more open-minded ... than we generally give them credit for. Look, this is an entertaining television show. As I mentioned before, we're not preaching anything to anybody, we're saying just come along with us on this ride. There was a line in the book that really landed with me when I read it, which was one of the characters, I think it was Dr. ... it was Malachi, it was Richard Schiff's character, said, "For me the question isn't why should I believe in this, it's why not?" And that's sort of the attitude that I tried to infuse in that character and in everybody who works at Talmadge. It's this idea of what if? Come along for the ride and I think people will do that. People get on board and they see these exciting teasers and they figure out what the case of the week is going to be. Then it's about solving the mystery, and then it's about the twists and turns that happen because of the regressions with Kate and Nick and everybody sort of taking us along for the ride.
Kelli Giddish: I think David's attitude and outlook on this whole topic, this whole genre that not even a genre yet, but I think it really comes through the characters such as mine. She's not trying to beat anybody over the head with it. I think we all come to work and it's a playground. I really think the question of what if, is really fun to play around with. Why not put that question in the hands of ten writers and ...
David Hudgins: Right. That's actually ... that's a great point, Kelli. After we did the pilot and I hired my writing staff, we got together in the room and I was absolutely amazed by the stories. We spent an entire week with people just pitching stories and experiences related to this world and I was really blown away by that, by how many people seem to have been touched by stories that exist in this world. Again, I just think it's a really exciting place to be able to tell stories.
Now that the premiere of the show is only a few days away, how does it feel?
Kelli Giddish: I'm so excited. I've been watching Fox and all of a sudden you see a teaser and you're like, Wow! That looks great, you know? We've finished filming a couple of months ago so it's kind of great to finally see it coming on. It just looks great. Feeling confident in the job that I did, and that my fellow cast mates did, and that the directors did, and the writers did. It feels great to know that you've got a great product and a great story coming out. A lot of people are going to get to see it after American Idol.
David Hudgins: Yes, again, I'm thrilled to death too. When we heard that we were going to get our preview launched after American Idol on Tuesday night, of course we were ecstatic. The network and the studio are behind the show and they believe in it and we're going to get our shot. I really think and hope that there is going to be an audience for the show because it's a lot of fun to watch.
The character that Nick Bishop plays, Price Whatley, is a cynic so how important do you think it was for the show to have a cynic on to challenge Kate's thoughts, hypotheses and the other team members around her?
Kelli Giddish: Well, I think it's a pretty important character for the audience. If I were watching it I'd want to see the other side and I think that he does that very well and a lot of humor comes out of it. I think he's a very ... his character plays a very important role. He does it with much aplomb.
David Hudgins: He does. I think that's right. You know, look the skeptic and the believer, it's sort of a classic twosome, but what Kelli and Nick did is they brought a lot of nuance to it. Price Whatley, who is played by Nick Bishop, he's not completely one note. He's not just sitting there saying, "I don't believe," every episode. He goes on a journey and Kate takes him on that journey and that's what I think is interesting to me. Price is sort of voicing the other side of the coin in a lot of the episodes, but he's also going on a journey because of his back-story with his wife, who died accidentally.
Kelli Giddish: He's coming to this with a very personal question in something that he doesn't know about, which is his wife is dead. Is she going to come back? I don't know he's just been through some trauma himself. I think that represents a lot of what David and I and the writers have found talking about this subject to people, that everybody ... he's kind of like, I did want to think that, that she was my grandma, you know? It's like this little personal question that maybe, it's not out in the open but it's underneath everything that ... all of his actions.
Can you tell us about some of the other members of the team besides Price Whatley?
David Hudgins: Yes, maybe I can give you a little shorthand. There are four people working at the Talmadge Center on this team. I look at them as a family, both personally and professionally. On a professional level, Richard Schiff's character, Malachi Talmadge, is the boss. He's the namesake of the center. He's the one who sort of all cases, questions, and decisions go through. He puts the team through their paces each week; it's sort of like the Socratic method. They bounce ideas off of him and he sends them off on their certain journeys and tasks.
Of course, you've got Kelli's character, Dr. McGinn. She was actually one of Malachi's graduate students, is her back-story. She is a psychologist. Then Nick is a former NYPD detective, his job is to essentially take the clues that Dr. McGinn gets out of the regressions and use his detective chops to solve what happened in the past life. Ravi Patel plays Dr. Rishi Karna who is a great character. Dr. Karna is the medical doctor of the team. His specialty is cognitive research and brain science. He's like this really smart, quirky, funny student of the human brain. He is involved with the patients medically each week, sort of looking at all the possible physical causes for the symptoms. He's also the rookie of the group. He's sort of like the young brother to Kelli's older sister. Nick is kind of like the new fiancé and Richard is kind of like the Dad. How about that?
Kelli, you began your career on "All My Children" and you always hear actors say that soaps are a great training ground for future work in prime time and film and having now landed this huge prime time vehicle do you feel that way and what lessons did you learn from that experience that you're carrying with you on to this show?
Kelli Giddish: Yes. You know, you think on your feet. When you're on a daytime drama you get one page, you better damn well know your character. You better know what she would do in every situation because it's a very, very fast paced business. You do ninety pages a day on a Soap Opera. It's insane. It's such a small world, the soaps. It's all contained in this little studio. One thing that's so different, you get to explode, you get to see the director's vision of a particular scene and what he's trying to do with it with the camera work. In the soap it's a proscenium so it was so nice to move out of that small box of a studio and actually get to incorporate everybody's ideas and really collaborate on what's happening in the scene between the cameramen, even the focus puller. It's a whole other machine.
David, you helped produce and write "Friday Night Lights" and my understanding is that that show is filmed and put together in a way that is radically different from almost any other television series. What lessons did you learn working on that show that you're now carrying with you to this show?
David Hudgins: Let's see. You're correct. Friday Night Lights is shot very differently from a lot of traditional network television shows. I learned a lot from that experience. Number one is, trust your actors and your directors. Surround yourself with good people and just sort of have faith in the process. We were able to do that here with Dean White who is our producing director and Deran Sarafian; he directed the pilot and sort of set up this great template for us. What we ended up with is in the body of the show the Past Life episodes, it's traditional camera set ups and lighting for the most part.
Then these regressions are much more similar to Friday Night Lights; they were very run and gun, often unrehearsed, often a lot of improv and we found a lot of those scenes in the cutting room. What I love about the Friday Night Lights works and is shot, is it's a very organic set. That sounds like a nerdy technical term. Basically what that means is you get there on the day to shoot the scene and you sort of find it with the actors. You don't sit there and say this has to be recited word for word as it is in the script. You let everybody find the scene, you collaborate and you take suggestions. You just go for it. I found that a lot of times you get great stuff. They're smart people. People have good ideas, especially people who know the characters. That was my takeaway from Friday Night Lights and I try to apply that because I really think it works.
David, you said that Fox seems very solidly behind you guys and they have a verifiable history of taking concepts like this, that are kind of out there, and making them huge hits. "The X-Files" and "Fringe" for example, and even "24" and "House" were revolutionary in their own way, so do you feel lucky that this is the network you're your show landed on?
David Hudgins: I do. I felt that way when we originally sold the pitch. There were other networks interested, it just felt like a good fit at Fox, and they've been behind us the whole way. We're excited and I think the fact that we're getting this preview after American Idol next week speaks volumes.
The first two episodes deal with sisters and that there is a soul-connection between siblings, is that going to be a theme throughout the show or is that just a coincidence?
David Hudgins: Absolutely. We do an entire episode about that. It's the episode called "Soul Music." I believe it's the third episode to air, so it will air a week from next Thursday. It's an episode about that exact concept, about a girl and a guy who are soul mates and who keep finding each other in lifetime after lifetime. I can tell you when we got in the room, with the writers, that was one of the first ideas that came up and it came up over and over again. This idea of do we have a soul mate out there and if so, how do we know who it is and can you find each other across lifetimes? That was something I responded to personally. It's funny now that you mention that I didn't really ... it hadn't dawned on me that both of those episodes involve sisters. I have three sisters and I'm the only boy. Maybe that's where that came from, I don't know? It just so happens that those two episodes are about sisters, they're not all about sisters.
The series deals with past lives so if every life has a lesson to teach, have you ever thought about what lessons you've learned?
Kelli Giddish: Well, you know what, as an actor, it's almost an exact parallel, really. I mean every project you're involved in and any character that you're invested in ... you learn a message from that experience. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it's true. Its kind of funny the parallel that I drew from that, you kind of learn something and you get to apply it to the next thing.
David Hudgins: You know it's funny, I obviously have been talking to a lot of people the last couple of weeks getting ready for the show, doing press and publicity and several people have asked me similar questions or asked about if there is a spiritual aspect to the show. I used to be a lawyer and I quit the practice of law to start writing and one of the reasons that I did that was I had an older sister who was too sick, who had breast cancer and it just got me to this moment of really looking at my life and saying what do I really want to do? What is really going to make me happy? Do I want to be sixty-five years old looking back and regretting not ever having taken the chance or the risk? I think that that really informed the writing of this pilot for sure and probably the series. I can't say exactly how, but there is just this feeling I have of life is short and when you see somebody you love get sick and die it really hammers that point home. I wanted it to be about hope. I wanted it to be about, there is good out there.
Finally, How many episodes did Fox initially pickup the show for and what in terms of ratings are you looking for in order to get the green light to shoot more?
David Hudgins: Sure. We filmed a pilot, plus six, so we have seven episodes in the can that will be broadcast starting Tuesday night. Again, I think Tuesday night is the launch and the regular time period is Thursdays after that. Obviously, you know, once the episodes go on the air Fox and the studio and us, will all look at the ratings and hopefully there is an audience. If there is an audience for the show Fox has said that we will get a second season order and we're ready to go.
Kelli Giddish: And go back to our studio down in Atlanta. I'm all ready for it.
David Hudgins: We're ready to get right back to work.
Past Life premieres this Tuesday, February 9th at 9 PM before it moves to its regular timeslot, Thursday nights at 9 PM starting February 11th.