Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
After appearing at the Person of Interest panel at New York Comic Con, stars Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Taraji P. Henson, Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi joined Executive Producer and showrunner Greg Plageman to talk with reporters about the hit CBS crime drama.
The thriller follows ex-CIA agent John Reese (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.
The third season sees a new status quo, and a move to a new night and time, which Plageman said is something the writers were particularly conscious of in the first episode.
“We wanted to bring in new viewers to the show, and there was a certain amount of resetting of what do these characters do,” he said. “We had the two opening action vignettes where you see Shaw with Fusco, and then Carter comes upon Reese after the car crash and we see her walk up in the uniform. There was a little bit of resetting there, reminding the audience where everyone was at.”
“I think the difficult part of doing a show on broadcast television is we want to be able to tell standalone stories but we want to be able to tell serialized arcs,” Plageman continued. “If we can do the resetting within the drama itself, great, as opposed to everyone trying to watch a recap. My understanding is people just tune out when the recaps come on. You want to be able to tell that bigger story. That’s the kind of show we are. We want everybody on board. We don’t want to be a show that totally alienates new viewers. It’s a delicate balance between the standalone and the serialized.”
“We love working with Clarke Peters. Taraji has some amazing scenes coming up you guys are going to see with her and Clarke Peters. Robert John Burke was cast for one episode and we were like, we’ve got to have this guy back. He’s just so great,” Plageman said of two of the series’ recurring villains. “People pop like that. We try to bring them back and develop further story lines for them.”
For Henson, Acker’s Root, who joined the show as a regular this season, is her favorite character. “She’s the bad guy you love to hate,” she said. “That’s very difficult to play. That’s a fine line to walk and she does it effortlessly. I love watching her. And because she’s so sweet, that’s why you love her. She’s so cuckoo and does it so well. But then you wonder, is she crazy or am I crazy?”
Henson’s own character, NYPD homicide detective Joss Carter, has been demoted and is now plotting her own course of action to take down HR, a group of corrupt police officers. Carter remains a key part of the team, but she’s also alone in a way she hasn’t been since the Person of Interest began.
“Pretty much all the characters are like that. They’re loners and that’s why they work so well together because they understand how to move in that space,” she said. “Again, Carter is good down to the core. If there’s anything she can do to right a wrong situation, she’ll do it. I think that’s why the audience loves her because at the end of the day if you want the truth, you look to Carter, because she’ll give it to you. She’s the last of a dying breed.”
The character is being pushed in new ways. and Henson said it’s been both difficult and fun. “It’s great to be on a show – and I say this over and over again – where you can totally trust the writers,” she said. “I totally trust them and jump in with my eyes closed. I don’t even worry because I know that they have every character’s best interests at heart.”
“I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I’ve received some pretty shitty scripts, especially on television,” Henson continued. “When I got this script–and you have to remember in the pilot Carter was barely in it – I just knew that it was something special. At that time I had no idea where the show was going and all of these incredible ideas. It’s been a great journey.”
“I’m so grateful to our actors because we give them so little sometimes,” Plageman said. “We’ve been really sparse with defining Carter’s backstory, and it’s something we want to get into this year. I think it’ll be really rewarding for fans. When fans want to know something I feel like, do you really?”
“We always saw your character as the moral compass of the show,” Plageman said to Henson. “You’ve actually up to this point been the least gray character in terms of understanding where she’s coming from and what she believes about right and wrong whereas Reese has done some stuff. What’s becoming interesting about her character now is in the vendetta she has against HR is putting her out on a limb and you have Elias in a basement and we would never have seen that from Carter in the first season. She’s been doing some desperate things.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Henson said.
When asked whether part of Carter’s solitary quest this season is self-imposed because the character feels like she betrayed her own values, Henson emphatically disagreed.
“I think Carter’s very clear on everything she’s doing. I don’t think she questioned any of her motives,” she replied. “Once she decided this has to happen, she went for it. You have to understand, underneath it all, it’s the right thing to do. Maybe she’s going about it in a not so legal way but it’s something that must be done. At the end of the day, she’s a cop to the core. She’s going to save a life no matter what by any means necessary. She did it for the right reasons.”
“I am not a computer person,” Acker said when asked about her character. I can barely check my emails and all of that so there’s a lot of times where I’m reading that and I have no idea what I’m talking about or what I’m saying. I was Googling one of my lines in the last episode because I was like, what am I talking about, and all this stuff came up about the singularity and all of that stuff so I went through that rabbit hole of reading that stuff and watching all of those movies so now I sort of see what she’s talking about.”
“It’s scary in a way because it really might happen,” she said. “There are very smart people who believe all this stuff she believes is going to happen so when I say she’s not crazy I think I’m protecting myself for later when people say, you thought you were crazy but it all happened.”
Shahi’s character is part of the team but has a different dynamic. “She won’t fully commit herself to the team,” she said. “I don’t think she’ll fully commit herself to anybody. At this point she’s a man without a country. Her own country turned against her.”
“The other part of it is, she’s a soldier. She’s an advocate of the Machine because she knows the Machine does good and she’s there to carry out whatever orders it is that Finch gives her but I don’t think she’ll ever fully join the team. She’s a lone wolf and she likes to be kept that way. But they are teaching her to be a polite assassin,” Shahi laughed. “Shoot the kneecaps.”
She said she thinks Reese sees himself in Shaw, but that feeling is not necessarily returned and cites her character’s emotional stiltedness. Shahi admitted she hasn’t had the level or length of training that Caviezel has had, but she did prepare for the role.
“When I first got the role I had about two weeks of eight hours a day,” she said. “There was a military adviser that kind of became my coach – and I have such a crush on this man; I love him so much – his name is James Deaver. He’s like 60 years old but built like Arnold. He’s just incredible. It was a crash course in military training, gun training, knife fighting, stunt fighting. That was in LA and in New York. Other than that, that’s been about it. Roles that I had before – even when I played a cop – there wasn’t much for me to do. I barely shot my gun. I was an NBC cop so it was a little different.”
The result has been that she does most of her own stunts. “I’m always trying to argue with them and get them to let me do more. I want to be the one to dangle from the single and jump from the roof and wrestle the shark,” Shahi said. “They’re always having to tell me no, but one of these days I’m going to get my way.”
Acker was asked how she plays the character so relaxed and smiling even when acting crazy. “I feel like I have the upper hand because I have the Machine in my ear,” she replied. “I think that’s where the smiling comes from. I know I’m doing the right thing. Up until the end of last season I was trying to get contact with her and the fact that she’s come to me and reached out to me is just telling me all the stuff you did in the past was right, you’ve been going down the right path.”
Although both joked that the writers never tell them anything, they were asked if they have a vision of the show’s finale years from now.
“Bear runs the world,” Shahi laughed.
“I think Root’s would be the Machine is the one who’s left,” Acker said. “For me I want it to be me and Sarah on a beach. We move the show to Hawaii and we’re there drinking cocktails.”
“I’ll sign up for that,” Shahi said.
Like many shows, New York City is a character, and they have many stories about how that has played out in odd ways. “One of my favorite stories is Fusco and Reese having a private conversation in a public place,” Chapman said. “We were approximately 6 inches from each other. We had two cameras going, 65 crew members, and a little old lady walked right between the two of us, hit me with an elbow on the way by as if I was in her way and just kept right on walking. That was in Season 1, and that was one of the first times we were out in the streets of New York and it was like, OK, this is what we’re up against.”
“A lot of times the cameras are hidden so you can’t see them,” Caviezel said. “They’ll be across the street. I remember I had my trench coat on and some person came over and completely blocked the camera and said, ‘I love your show’, while I’m on the phone with Finch. I said, ‘Turn around, you’re on candid camera.’” He laughed. “This happens all the time.”
“John’s in the people saving business – if he can,” Caviezel said of where Reese is this season. “He’s a bully-killer. The Machine can go wrong. There’s common ground there – so can Reese. He shoots people in the knee or the arm because he can, but that doesn’t mean he’ll keep doing it. He can go off the handle, too, and you’ll see that this season.”
Caviezel agreed that the relationship between Reese and Finch is fascinating, and in some ways it echoes how he and Michael Emerson have come to know each other.
“I don’t know if you know the opening sequence, where we walk down a dark alley and turn to each other and it becomes a silhouette. We were literally walking down the street getting to know each other,” he revealed. “He’s a fascinating man. I never watched Lost; I was always working, shooting. That was one of our first conversations we ever had. Just walking down getting to know each other. You couldn’t find two guys more left and right, but it works and we work as people.”
“I think that’s one of the things that makes the show so interesting is that if you line each of the cast members up shoulder to shoulder there, are no two cast members alike,” Chapman said. “Everyone brings their own dynamic to the thing. What I think Fusco does is he gives it a sense of gravity. It grounds the entire piece. Just for the simple fact that you have this CIA operative, this billionaire – you don’t know how much money he has — you have this cop who has this military background but you’re not quite sure what her military background is. These are all characters that could very easily take flight into a place of disbelief. You see these characters and you see them unfold and then you see this schlep of a cop and you go, I see that. This looks real so the rest of it looks real and it brings the piece down and gives it a keep it to a place of levelness.”
Chapman’s character Fusco is in a very difficult position this year. “Fusco’s swimming in a tank full of HR. He’s the only one left at the precinct. Carter has been demoted,” Chapman said. “Fusco knows that Carter is out for revenge for the loss of her boyfriend. I think the relationship the dynamic has changed. I think Fusco has a level of unpaid gratitude to Carter for her support at the end of Season 2 when things got real dark for Fusco, and we weren’t quite sure that he was going to make it to the other side.”
“I loved his redemption,” Caviezel added.
“He just wants to be as supportive as he can and try to help her in this task but also prevent her from getting them both harmed,” Chapman said.
He laughed when asked whether Fusco will become the babysitter for models after last season’s episode in which he protected Karolina Kurkova, who played herself. “I had a conversation with [writer and co-executive producer] David Slack, and I reminded him that he owes Fusco two supermodels,” Chapman said, laughing. “I want one for each hand.”
Person of Interest airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.