Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
At today’s TCA panel for Person of Interest, a new CBS crime thriller series from the producing team of J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Jonathan Nolan, David Semel and Greg Semel, star Taraji P. Henson said she took the role in the series because “you can’t go wrong with J. J. Abrams.” But it seems that you can — 2010’s one-season failure Undercovers for NBC being a case in point. Co-executive producer Nolan answered a question about that this way: “One of the things I love about J.J. is that he’s not precious. He creates material, he likes to work, he likes to put kick-ass TV shows out there. The nature of the TV format is, it’s a big risk, it’s not like a movie … it’s kind of a one-shot gig. TV, as I’m discovering, is a marathon. Personally, I think J.J.’s record in TV and movies is unsurpassed.”
But that was said at the end of the session. Before that, the panel — via satellite from New York and also including stars Michael Emerson (veteran of Abrams’ hit Lost) and Jim Caviezel (Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) — collectively raved about how excited they were to be attached to the latest Abrams effort. Nolan joked that he had such confidence in the show, about trying to track a mystery figure before he commits a crime, that he was willing to give it a title that critics could easily have their way with — as in Person of Disinterest or Show of No Interest. A person of interest, he said, can mean a suspect, victim or witness. “A lot of what our show is about is uncertainty,” he said.
The show deals with surveillance and secrets, and panel members joked that Abrams had inserted a device in their microphones that would make them go dead whenever a plot twist or secret about the show was to be revealed (indeed, there were some silent pauses when questions got too pointed). Nolan, making his foray into TV, said the new show is tapping into the same brooding darkness he brought to The Dark Knight Batman installment. “I love crime procedurals, I love cop shows, [but] I was interested in writing something a little more dangerous,” he said. “I’ve always been drawn to that aspect of Batman … maybe we are tapping into some of that.”
Emerson said he hoped his role in this show as software expert Finch will allow him to grow beyond the type of character he portrayed in Lost – a success he never expected. “My part on Lost was just another guest spot as far as I knew. … Every character actor’s secret dream is that they’ll hit it out of the ball park and they’ll be asked to stay … that kind of happened on Lost — I was never allowed to go home from the Hawaiian island,” he said. He added that in the new role he hopes to do “an odd turn” once in awhile: “I would like it to have a limp or an accent.”
Caviezel said he took the role because his character, in search of the mystery figure, is “searching for a purpose … I think, like it hit me, it’s going to hit other people there’s something besides all the technology in the story.” As an aside, Caviezel addressed the experience of being part of Gibson’s hotly controversial Christ movie. “It was a little more controversial than I thought it would be,” he admitted, joking. “For a while there, I thought we might have been more popular than the Beatles. It was one of the things that I did and I just kept moving on.” When asked specifically about his relationship with Gibson, he said: “He certainly directed it, but I always look when I’m going to do anything at the material. … I’m a basic, simple, small-town guy.”