More than two weeks before the Thursday (Oct. 9) premiere of Eleventh Hour, the stars and creators of the CBS drama took a break from exploring a smallpox epidemic (fictional, we hope) to chat with a group of reporters.
Sitting on a state on Warner Brothers’ Burbank lot, series star Rufus Sewell explains why he was drawn to the character of Jacob Hood, a roving science adviser for the government.
"What I think is interesting for me about Jacob Hood is that he’s not trained in this area — He’s not a cop, he’s not a detective," Sewell explains, sitting in front of a cave conspicuously full of human skeletons. "He is a scientist and he’s not used to living in this environment or dealing with these people in high stake situations. So he brings what he brings. He’s got a certain way about him that… He doesn’t have a great antenna for danger. It’s not that he’s not very brave, he just doesn’t really see when he’s about to be hit on the head. And he can have a manner with people that is not the best way of dealing, it’s just that he doesn’t understand the procedures — which for me is much more interesting but it means he needs help. And he needs help so that he doesn’t make things worse, he doesn’t upset people, he doesn’t get killed."
Providing assistance and doing bodyguard duty is Marley Shelton’s Rachel Young, comfortable with a gun and hand-to-hand combat, but less well-versed in cloning or biophysics. As Hood and Young travel the country exploring scientific abnormalities and catastrophes, their relationship may give off a distinct Scully-and-Mulder vibe. Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, who developed the series from a British format, don’t think of Eleventh Hour as an X-Files knock-off.
"He’s a pure scientist and she’s a FBI agent. Their approaches are going to be different every time and in terms of ways that she’ll try to solve a case versus what he’ll do, is very different from the X-Files paradigm," Voris explains. "The other thing is that the real hook of Eleventh Hour is that it’s science fact. We really don’t go into the realm of science fiction. I think we’ve occasionally gone into places where I will say that the truth is stranger than fiction. We’ve had a lot of conversations with studio executives, network executives of elements where someone will say ‘That’s not really real, or that seems like science fiction.’ Whereas I’m saying, ‘Well it’s actually real and here is the stuff to back it up.’"
Reiff and Voris attempt to make a similar distinction between Eleventh Hour and FOX’s Fringe, which also premiered this fall and also comes from Warner Brothers TV.
"The thing is, on paper perhaps — at one glance — a sentence or a half-a-paragraph about Eleventh Hour and Fringe will look like ‘Uh oh, those are the same.’" Reiff says. "If you watch the two shows or read a script from the two shows they are as diametrically different… I don’t want to say diametrically opposed because they’re the not the opposition in any way, but they’re so different that they couldn’t be more different… I wish it well. I hope it’s a great success and we all work, get our paychecks from the same people, which is Warner Brothers Studios, and I hope it’s a triumph. And we are what we are and I hope we are a triumph too. I really think it’s difficult to mix the two shows together. There is so much science fiction and so much absolute, over-the-top, beyond-the-edge mythology in that show. And our show has none of that."
Voris adds, "Come on we have Rufus Sewell, they have Pacey from Dawson’s Creek."
While Fringe has a powerhouse lead-in courtesy of House, Eleventh Hour can do it one better, airing on Thursday nights after the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation mothership. Like CSI, Eleventh Hour is executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman, who emphasizes the show’s grounding in reality.
"We live in a time with unlimited possibilities, it’s beyond scary for a lot of people and a lot of great stuff will come out of it," Littman says. "But it would be really easy to turn it on its head. And take things in a direction that aren’t good for the overall general population. And that’s where the show lives. You know you can look at the exactly same discovery and you can use it to cure this and someone will say I could make a billion dollars if I did this. We’ve seen it with the Internet; we see it in hard science and it’s changing all over the world."
OK. We’ll start getting scared now.
Other highlights from the on-set chat with the team behind CBS’ Eleventh Hour:
Sewell, on whether a will-they/won’t-they romantic tension will build between Jacob and Rachel: "People can want what they want. Who knows? I mean it’s not always interesting to give people what they want, as you find in real life. Sometimes people don’t want what they think they want. And I think what is interesting is the possibility of that. The possibility is what makes things watchable. So the idea of finding out, deciding where that goes is something to be left for a long time."
Cyrus, on keeping things real: "The thing about this show is that if you flip through a newspaper or go online you’ll find, I mean the world we’re living in is just infused with science, crazy science stuff all over the place and you’ll find tons of story ideas. The challenge then is to dramatize them in a way that works for the show. The really hard thing with this show is that it’s two fold: one is, again, and maybe nobody cares, but Ethan and I really hold ourselves to a standard of trying to make sure that all the science is real and all that is portrayed is real and researched and could actually happen."
Reiff, on whether the show’s recurring universe will expand beyond these two characters: "I don’t know, we’ll have to see. Right now the simple answer is ‘No’ because we’re committed to doing the two-hander. We’ll see how things go. If there are particular characters that are guest stars that come in that really pop. Like I said, if the demands change a little bit, if the network says, ‘It would be good if we had some more regulars.’ Maybe if these guys are just too exhausted."
Sewell, on the risks and rewards of committing to an American TV gig: "[F]or me, most big decisions I’ve had in my career have been about weighing certain pros and cons and for me the fear would be of being associated with one particular thing. But I think, especially with me, there is a danger of that in what dresses itself up as a varied film career. I’ve found myself coming up against people who see me a specific way that’s not accurate, that doesn’t accurately reflect what I’m capable of. And because of a couple of things I’ve done in the past, people tended to see me as a kind of upper class villain on a horse, blah blah blah blah blah, which has been fun to do a couple of times but as far as I’m concerned I made the decision a while ago that I’d rather not work than do it because, all right, enough is enough. And as I’m primarily –because I’ve always thought of myself as a character actor — a comic character actor if anything, I didn’t want to kind of get bored with myself and in the process bore other people. So the opportunity to show people, for starters, to play a relatively good guy, quite complex, American, not on a horse, not in a boat, opens up… Just the idea of that, even if that is a stereotype that I’m stuck with for a while, there is so much more play in it. There is more play than in the stereotype I was in danger of being caught up with."