The actor who plays Agent John Scott talks about the show's new episodes
Fringe has been one of the biggest freshman hits of this TV season. The show returns with all new episodes on Tuesday, February 3 at 9 PM ET on Fox. Mark Valley, who plays Agent John Scott and deceased love interest of Anna Torv's Olivia, recently held a conference call to discuss the show's return, and here's what he had to say.
What has your contractual status been this season? Is it when they need you, they call you, and if you can show up, you do? How has it worked for you?
Mark Valley: Contractually, I can't really say too much. Basically, it's one of those situations like they have with most TV shows is they can keep you as long as they want, but it doesn't necessarily mean you can leave whenever you want. That's all I can really say about that.
Your situation has been more tenuous than that, because of your character's particular situation, as it were.
Mark Valley: It's what they call seven out of 13 or something. That's what they call it. There is regular and then there are seven out of 13. There are different categories. You guys probably know more about this than I do, to be honest with you. Then it goes on down the line. I was never signed up to be in every episode regularly.
Do you think "John Scott" is really a traitor, or that he's more of a misunderstood hero on the show?
Mark Valley: Good question. I've said this before, and I think he's just a real believer. I think he's really serious about what he does, and whoever it is that he is working for, he's extremely loyal to them. Aside from that, I don't really want to judge it, to be honest with you.
I was wondering if when you signed on, or before you signed on, if you needed anyone to assure you, yes, "John" dies in the first episode, but he has some really cool stuff coming, don't worry. He's not really most sincerely dead. Did you need that kind of assurance so that it wouldn't be just one great episode?
Mark Valley: To start out with, sometimes I need assurance as to what to wear when I leave the house. [Laughs] That having been said, I think you can make an assumption on that. But I just always felt, for a guy whose character dies in the pilot, I've gotten an awful lot of work on this show. That's where I was at.
You work most with Anna. What do you think of her as an actor and as a person?
Mark Valley: I think she's just a fantastic actor, and I really like working with her, because she has such a solid idea of what's going on in a scene and what her objective is and what she's going to do. Yes, I've enjoyed working with her, and as a person, she's just delightful.
Since a lot of "John" is still quite a mystery, does that affect the way you play him, since maybe you don't know if he is a good guy or a bad guy? Is that hard to convey that then with your performance?
Mark Valley: I think that whether he's good or bad, there's a degree of guilt that he carries around with him. Actually, now that I think of it, I actually forget to play that, but it makes a lot of sense though, doesn't it? [Laughs] I think that when you watch it, you'll have to make up your own mind about that. I just look at him as a regular person. He's done some things and he did them because he believed in them and there is sort of a tragic situation that comes out of it.
[Executive producer] J.J. [Abrams] and other writers promised some closure with your storyline. Do you feel like these upcoming episodes give some closure?
Mark Valley: They do answer some questions that have been lingering in my mind, like who he's been working for exactly, and he sort of confirms the verity or the truth of his feelings toward "Olivia."
Some of the recent episodes have been a little more standalone. Is this much more a mythology episode?
Mark Valley: I would have to see the final cut the way it comes out. Sometimes it depends on what parts of the story they choose to accentuate and edit, but I would say this is, as they all are, standalone episodes. If you have been watching it, it will sort of enhance the experience of watching it.
Do you have a theory as to what is really going on with "John"?
Mark Valley: Oh, a theory. Yes. My theory is that he is working for the government and he's working for the Postal Service, and he's not very happy about it, and he is a disgruntled postal worker. [Laughs] I'm just joking. I don't have any theories, to be honest with you, because every time I've gone down that road and come up with something, it seems to take a turn in a different direction, so I try to keep an open mind about all of that.
How far ahead do they let you know what's coming up for you?
Mark Valley: I only know when I get the script, basically. They don't have an episode for any other scripts. But I generally just know, as with all of the actors, probably four or five days before the episode starts, sometimes less time.
Speaking again about whether you play the character differently if you know whether he's a good guy or a bad guy, do you play him differently whether you know whether he's alive or dead?
Mark Valley: That's really a good question. I think when you're talking about "John Scott" being inside "Olivia's" brain, then you're dealing with a consciousness, or the way someone remembers someone, as well as his own particular memories and his own conscious. I like to think that his consciousness is actually in her head, so it's actually as if he were definitely alive. No, I think when somebody is dead, your job is a lot easier. I just kind of lie there. You don't really have to do anything, so that's probably the big difference. Work's a lot easier when he's dead. [Laughs]
The action on the next episodes centers around an airplane again. I was curious, how is that different from the pilot?
Mark Valley: It's a completely different airline. [Laughs] The first one was a Boeing 727. This was an Airbus 380. Oh, 627, sorry. [Laughs] No, I have no idea, to be honest with you. They were both big airplanes and they had a lot of people on them, but in terms of how it was different, yes. A lot of airplane crashes on [executive producer] J.J. Abrams' shows. Can you imagine being on an airplane with J.J. Abrams, just kind of sitting there, what's going through his head? He's probably thinking about people screaming and luggage flying everywhere. [Laughs]
I also wanted to know, do you believe something like this could be happening right now?
Mark Valley: Something like what, the stuff on Fringe?
Mark Valley: When you look at some things like the spread of an Ebola virus, or some of these other super viruses and strains that just act so quickly, that can get your imagination running. I think that there are aspects of science fiction and technology that can hint toward what this show portrays, but to answer your question, no. I don't think so, but then again, I don't believe in ghosts, and some people say there are ghosts. I just would have to see it myself.
For people that have not gotten on-board yet with Fringe and are definitely interested, but they know the J.J. [Abrams] philosophy with Lost and everything, it might be hard to step in. What would you tell people who wanted to join with this next episode?
Mark Valley: Do you mean viewers?
Yes, I guess viewers that aren't familiar with the show and wanted to jump in. Is this a good spot to jump in, or do they need to know a lot of what's gone on already?
Mark Valley: I think anytime is a good place to jump in, and then they can just buy the DVD edition for the first season to catch up on it in their own free time. [Laughs] It's probably the best way to do it. It's exciting to watch the shows when the episode comes out, because that's when everybody is finding out about it, and it's somewhat of an event, as opposed to just a discrete television show. So I would say start watching as soon as possible and catch up when it comes out on DVD, or you can probably download the episodes too. Get on board.
I noticed you majored in math and engineering at West Point, so I'm going to go ahead and call you a geek like the rest of us.
Mark Valley: Oh, my God, I've just been outed.
I'm wondering if your math and engineering background helps you get your head around some of the extreme scientific concepts in the show.
Mark Valley: It's definitely pretty interesting. I used to watch Numbers just to see what the heck they were talking about, but usually, it's pretty advanced stuff. A lot of the stuff that comes up on the show, like repeating series and things like that, I'm a little embarrassed because I've forgotten what it all is. I need to be reminded, so it's really pretty humbling in some ways. But I guess having been a math major, I am sort of fascinated with numbers and series and formulas and models and simulations and things like that, but there hasn't been a lot of really heavy math on the show. Most of it's been biology and chemistry I think at this point, but yes, I love that stuff. You've outed me. That's my secret.
What about the role do you find challenging?
Mark Valley: What I think is challenging is playing a character that is in her memory, or in her consciousness. It is challenging trying to think of where he comes from, where he's going, what he's aware of, and what is he not aware of, and what does he remember, and what does he not. That is a little bit challenging. It is sort of taking the character out of the ether and placing him somewhere and trying to figure out how he would react. That I find challenging.
What has been your most memorable moment you've had from filming Fringe?
Mark Valley: The most memorable moment was probably in the pilot when I was covered in an inch of goo and prosthetic muscle and veins running all over me. It was probably one moment where I was just lying there. I can't think of just one specific moment. I think it was once I was walking down the hallway and somebody saw me and freaked out, and I realized just how grotesque I looked.
We know that "John Scott's" current arc on the show is about to be resolved, but is there room for him to come back next season or later on the show?
Mark Valley: I think there's room for even you to be shot with a tranquilizer gun and dragged onto the set of Fringe for a couple of seasons. [Laughs] I think it could happen to anybody, so I'm not going to rule it out.
I know you have a strong military background as well, and I wondered: do you draw on that as you playing "Agent Scott"? Does that help you with that portrayal?
Mark Valley: Yes, it did, because I remember cutting my hair really short and I assumed that he had some military background. What I find with guys that have military backgrounds is sometimes, they go to great lengths to hide it. There are ones that try to hide it. They were previous military and they kind of down it, and I think "John Scott" was one of the ones that didn't. But they use different weapons and everything than I've been accustomed to.
What's the coolest thing you've learned about Fringe science since starting the show?
Mark Valley: The coolest thing I've learned is a couple of things. Probably that LSD can actually be used for practical purposes [laughs], and maybe the idea that a virus could actually be grown into some sort of parallel organism, like that cold virus is still kind of creeping me out, especially because I have a cold right now. Every time I cough I think, it's not like one of those things.
I believe that's called the rhinovirus.
Fringe returns with all new episodes on Tuesday, February 4 at 9 PM ET only on Fox.