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One of the central characters of Person of Interest is New York City itself, so it was perhaps only fitting that the cast and producers came to New York Comic Con to give fans a look ahead at the CBS crime drama’s second season.
Created by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), Person of Interest revolves around ex-CIA agent John Reese (Jim Caviezel) and billionaire genius Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) as they use a computer system — referred to as “the Machine” — that can predict violent acts to secretly try to stop the crimes before they happen.
After a brief reel highlighting moments from the first and second seasons, Nolan, producer/director Richard Lewis and producer Margo Lulick came on stage with much of the cast: Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Amy Acker and Emerson, who received thunderous applause. Noticeably absent was Caviezel, whom moderator Ken Tucker promised was on his way.
Tucker, Entertainment Weekly’s editor-at-large, then introduced the latest addition to the cast, Boker, the Belgian Malinois that plays Reese’s dog Bear.
“It’s so hard to focus when he’s on set, you just want to play with him,” said Henson, who plays Detective Joss Carter.
“We got a lot of dog lovers on our writing staff, that’s where it originated,” said Nolan, co-writer of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.
Asked by Tucker what he wants to accomplish with the new season, Nolan said his goal is to go beyond the episodic storytelling seen on so many network dramas. “I grew up watching episodic TV like Magnum P.I., Miami Vice and The X-Files, and they were able to tell a story of the week but they were kind a secret delivery device for character,” he said. “Over the long haul, you really got to see their stories change. Shows like Hillstreet Blues, shows where the characters weren’t held in stasis, they were free to change, grow and suffer. You saw the positive things that happened in their lives and the negative things.”
Person of Interest is filmed on location in New York City, which Lewis said is something he particularly loves about the series. “They use the people of New York so beautifully that if you’re just walking along a street, someone might come up to you and say, ‘Keep walking, you’re in a shot.’ It’s magical the way we turn 20 extras into 2,000 extras. In L.A. it takes a long time to find a good location. Here, it takes a long time to find a bad location”
“Most of my career has been in New York,” Lulick added. “When you’re doing the show, you have to have a love affair with the city, which we all do.”
Responding to a question about his character’s ability to remain principled using the show’s crime-predicting computer, Emerson said, “The friction with the Machine is a growing theme in the show, particularly in the second season.”
Tucker then asked the actor who play police offers how their characters rationalize helping Reese and Finch.
Henson said Carter grapples with an ethical dilemma. “Because she’s by the book, from the onset, her battle was, can she trust them? Once she realized that they’re doing pretty much the same thing she’s doing, but they’re doing it against the law,” she said. “That’s always her struggle. That’s always her battle. But at the end of the day, they’re saving somebody.”
Chapman, who plays Carter’s partner Detective Lionel Fusco, said he gets around the moral ambiguity by ignoring anything happening in the show that doesn’t affect his character. “I only read my scenes,” he said. “I don’t read the complete script. That way I don’t draw any preconceived notions or go in to areas I don’t have any business going in to. That’s how I work as an actor.”
Tucker wondered how Acker, veteran of television series like Angel and Dollhouse, is able to play a character as devious as Finch and Reese’s nemesis Root. “Root was already introduced on the show before I was actually cast,” she said. “Last season when I came on to the show as a psychiatrist, it started out that I was just this nice psychiatrist who was in trouble.”
At that point, Caviezel ran onto the stage to riotous applause.
“I had to smack a couple bad guys on the way over,” he joked.
The show’s impressive range of villains was raised, and Nolan said the rogue’s gallery was integral to the concept and something he discussed during his first meeting with executive producer J.J. Abrams.
To that end, characters scheduled to return this season include Paige Turco’s Zoe Morgan and Ken Leong’s Leon Sung. Other guests will include Julian Sands and Lost alum Mark Pelligrino.
The topic moved to Reese’s trademark outfit, a simple, crisp black-and-white suit. “Everything’s very simple with Reese, very basic,” Caviezel said. “He doesn’t like to carry too many things, that was something he learned in the Special Forces. He just takes what he needs.”
Nolan was forthcoming when asked about how the high-concept show landed at CBS. “I’m a big believer in, you figure out the idea and then you figure out the best home for it,” he said. “For me, this was always a CBS show. You look right now at the state of television and it’s not a million miles away from the film business. […] We have all entered in this giant cluster of information. It was pitched as science fiction, but we believe that the show is reality that is just upgraded in our show. This is where the world is headed. How far is too far? How much of an invasion of privacy are you willing to put up with to protect yourself?”
Tucker then opened the floor to audience questions, which began with a focus on Emerson’s penchant for playing enigmatic characters, from serial killer William Hinks on The Practice to Benjamin Linus on Lost to Harold Finch on Person of Interest.
“I tend to gravitate to characters who don’t give it all up. I like a bit of mystery and a bit of ambiguity,” said the two-time Emmy winner. “That tends to be on the sinister end of the scale, but not always. I person you can’t figure can tend to be a danger to you so even if they’re a good guy, like Mr. Finch, you still wonder about them. I like to be the burr under the audience’s saddle. That’s a terrible metaphor!”
Emerson said he doubts that Finch and Root will enter in to a romantic relationship. “He’s shell-shocked and even that less likely to form a romantic bond,” he said
Asked which superhero could kick his butt, Caviezel answered, “My mom.”
Responding to a question about adding a fifth member to the show’s core team, Nolan replied, “When something ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. But one of the great things about television is you get to work with new actors every week. One of the rules we’ve kind of applied is that when a character sticks and we’ve enjoyed working with an actor and there’s that great intersection of character and actor then we have the ability to bring that person back.”
When asked whether he’ll appear on any Terry O’Quinn shows, his Lost co-star Emerson joked, “I’m watching 666 Park Avenue, but I don’t have any plans to be on it. I don’t think I’m allowed.”
Fans will “get an answer eventually” why Finch is so damaged, the actor promised, admitting he doesn’t know whether it will be in this season, though.
Emerson accepted a compliment when a fan said his portrayal of a disabled man was spot-on but said, “I shouldn’t say how I worked it out.”
Asked whether there would be any more sci-fi elements added to the show, Nolan said, “This is a sci-fi show, absolutely, we just try to keep it as grounded as possible. The idea is to ease in to those ideas.”
Nolan said there’s a significant difference between writing for film and writing for television. “It’s the opposite problem,” he said. “In film, you try to figure out how to tell a huge problem in a relatively tiny amount of time. In TV, it’s ‘What do you got?’”
As the panel closed, Caviezel expressed his gratitude to the show’s fans. “I wanted to thank you all, because people are finding this show because of you,” he said. “Thank you.”
Person of Interest airs Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.