Jason Isaacs jokes that he took the lead role on NBC’s new series “Awake” “just to find out what happened next.”
“When I was asked to do it originally, I didn’t want to. I had something else that was going on for me and was rather enjoying developing and producing this thing,” Isaacs said when Zap2it visited the “Awake” set late last year. “I got a few pages in,” and he was hooked, he says.
Isaacs (“Brotherhood,” the “Harry Potter” movies) plays a detective Michael Britten in the series, which premieres Thursday (March 1). He survives a car accident with his wife (Laura Allen) and son (Dylan Minnette) — but in the aftermath his mind constructs two different realities, one where his wife survives and one where his son does. In each reality, he has a different partner (Steve Harris or Wilmer Valderrama) and a different therapist (Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong) trying to help him with his condition.
That’s more going on than your typical cop show, but Isaacs isn’t overly concerned that audiences will have a hard time following the series.
“They worried initially, the producers and directors and writers, whether people would get it,” Isaacs says. “And I played this thing I’ve got on my iPhone with my then 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, explaining the plot to me. Everybody gets it when they watch it, and I think it’s very satisfying and rewarding and fun.”
In the video up above, Isaacs says he knows which of Michael’s two worlds is real, but of course he’s not tipping his hand. “The entertainment value for the audience, hopefully, will be first of all not knowing which world is real, like Michael doesn’t know which world is real,” he says, “and then the weekly story, seeing what the consequences are both professionally and personally for him of this very unique and troubling situation he’s in.”
Early on in “Awake,” it’s clear that Michael is carrying a huge amount of grief over whatever did happen in the car accident. But as the series goes on, Isaacs says, that grief does start to lessen — at least to a point.
“He is slightly stuck in a very unusual place, in that he has not really lost his wife or his son,” Isaacs notes. “The people around him have. Which means on one hand that he’s not experiencing the same level of pain, but nor is he able to move beyond it. What felt unusual to me about the pilot … is we try to make sure that as well as the procedural element, it always comes from an emotional place. There’s real feeling in it.
“It’s not a sad show — these people are not sad people. We’re aware that A) we wouldn’t want to make [a sad show], and B) nobody would want to watch it. But it’s an emotional show, because it’s nice to feel something as well as think something when you watch television.”
Hit play up above to hear more from Isaacs on how his character handles his condition. “Awake” debuts at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on March 1.