HitFix Interview: Blair Brown talks 'Fringe'
What's coming up for Nina Sharp and Massive Dynamic?
Back in August, I was on the "Fringe" set in Vancouver.
During that long afternoon, I appeared as an extra in a scene from the episode titled "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?" That episode, the season's fourth, will air this Thursday (Oct. 14).
I'll be telling you more about my scene and my experience acting with John Noble -- I'm gonna keep spoilers to a general minimum, but still... -- later in the week, but I also got the chance to chatter with several of the show's stars.
As I listened back over the interviews, a couple of them were a little too spoiler-y to be posted earlier, but if you've watched as far as the episode two weeks ago, the one which ended with Walter realizing that William Bell's will had left Massive Dynamic to him, I don't think there's anything that should be untoward.
Up first was my chat with Blair Brown, five-time Emmy nominee for "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" and star of the most excellent "Altered States," the 1980 cult classic that supplied "Fringe" with much of its early DNA.
On "Fringe," of course, Brown plays the enigmatic Massive Dynamic bigwig Nina Sharp, a character whose motivations are probably among the show's most mysterious.
What details does Brown know and what details could she spill?
Click through for my full interview...
HitFix: [Keeping in mind that this was August] So how was your Comic-Con experience?
Blair Brown: You know what? I went kind of dreading it, thinking, "Oh, this is insane." And then I got there and after I got over the initial, "Wow, this is bizarre and all of these people are dressed up," I had a fantastic time. I talked to so many people. Of course, actually, we all have the same love of entertainment and, in this case, a love of this particular show, that we like what it tries to do and what it's all about and so do they. So it became, actually, a very interesting experience and I really enjoyed it.
HitFix: How many people wanted to talk to you about your older films?
BB: Some, but you know? Most people were pretty much in the present. The one thing I missed is that I wanted to have more free time on the floor, because I wanted to go see the graphic novelists and the real cartoonists and that was the one piece that was missing from this experience.
HitFix: But you starred in one of those seminal sci-fi films, one that was the basis for so much of this!
BB: But a lot of those fans are not aware of that. Comic-Con is, I think, different from it once was. There's a bigger fan base for all kinds of stuff. I mean, there's no reason for "Glee" or "Salt" to be there, really. But they are! And it seems like, to me at least, that this is becoming just a big fan-based event for people who like entertainment of all kinds.
HitFix: So how would you describe what's happening in the first few episodes of this "Fringe" season?
BB: It's starting to explore the back-and-forth. The first and third episodes are on the Other Side and the second and fourth episodes are over here and I don't know if the show's going to stay that way for all 20-something episodes, but I think they're really trying to establish what these worlds are so that you can really start to mix it up. Then, with all of the changing of the guard with Bell's death, the scene that you all were in, this is basically Walter's first day on the job, where are we headed? There's a quite benign scene that Peter and I just played that may not be so benign. The questions, the bubbles start coming up now about that. It's like... Should Walter being in charge of things? Who's going to let him? Where do the characters that have more duplicitous natures -- Broyles and Peter and Nina -- are they hoping he succeeds? Are they hoping he fails? That's where we're planting seeds for that. And obviously the Olivia stuff is very complicated.
HitFix: Have you gotten to play the Alternate Nina yet?
BB: Not yet. Not yet.
HitFix: Do you think there's a reason for that?
BB: This is a pretty heavily plot-driven show. So there's a reason. I don't know what it is, but there's a reason.
HitFix: If I asked you to guess, what would you speculate? It seems like her absence would be conspicuous at a certain point...
BB: Yeah. Yeah. So I would assume that means that there's going to be a very... Well, part of me's there. My arm is still on the other side. I keep wishing somebody would trip over it and go, "What the hell is this? Oh my God! This is Nina's! Let's take it back!" But no one has done that. They're a thoughtless bunch.
HitFix: I guess that's probably a potential plotpoint as well, like if somebody kept it as a memento.
BB: We had somebody who asked us, in the first year, when Walter was finding a car that he used to have and in it were some jars and there was a jar that had like a hand in it. And several people came up to me and said, "Is that Nina's?" And I didn't know the answer, so I just said, "Perhaps... Perhaps."
HitFix: But now we know it wouldn't make sense for it to be, right?
BB: No. Not so much. Unless Walter... No. It doesn't make it sense. Walter never brought it back.
HitFix: It sounds as if you really like this genre...
BB: I do! I actually love it, going back to, in fact, "Altered States." I've always read a lot of sci-fi. When my son was younger, I actually went to a "Star Trek" convention. Oh yes I did! So yeah, I do. I like the way that our sci-fi is happening. I like sci-fi that is not entirely impossible. I'm less of a "Star Wars" fan, with googley monsters, than actually how do we bend this reality out and how many other realities exist? Because these two kinds of reality are at war, but who says there isn't a third or a fourth?
HitFix: Well, if the show goes on for a couple more seasons...
BB: Exactly! Somebody's gotta be surprised!
HitFix: So does that mean that you're one of those people who actually has an easy time keeping up with what's happening on "Fringe"?
BB: Well, see, I have the advantage. I do have the scripts, so I can go back and take a peek. But no, it is challenging. We're reading Episode 5 now and one person on the crew asked another one, "So what is this about a red..." So we help each other. We have each other to help. But I guess that's what websites are for and blogs and fans getting back to each other and imagining what it could be.
HitFix: Do you follow the conversation online at all?
BB: I don't follow any of it. I think it's tricky for actors, because a lot of times you can just get your feelings hurt. There's no reason to do that. I don't do that. But what I do like is that people come up to you in airports and places and ask you questions. Rather than just going, "Oh, this show is great!" They actually ask questions. And you think, "Well, I'd better stay on top of this." Even the episodes I'm not in, I always read them.
HitFix: You mentioned the hand question. What's the geekiest question anybody's ever approached you with?
BB: The geekiest question? See, I don't think there are any shocking questions that can be asked. When we were at Comic-Con, someone was asking what the business was at the beginning of last year, why Lance and I kissed, what that was about. And I said that Jasika's character, she was our love child and actually a fan had come and asked me earlier if Jasika's character was Lance [Reddick] and my daughter.
HitFix: How have you felt about how much information has been disseminated about Nina, how quickly or slowly we've learned things about her? We're in the third season and she's still mighty mysterious.
BB: She *is* mighty mysterious. I know all actors are different, but I've never sat down and asked the writers, "Where are we headed? Am I good or bad?" I've said, "I suspect I'm *somebody's* mother in *some* universe." But I don't know whose. And maybe I'm not. But I've never wanted to know what it was, because I've loved playing the ambiguity of her, never really knowing whose side she's on, besides her own.
HitFix: Given what you've learned, has that information swayed your opinion on whose side she's on?
BB: Oh no. Not at all. The only thing I suggested to the writers at one point was, don't make her too nice. Even if she ends up a decent person. I like keeping the plates going. I like keeping the plates spinning in the air. We, as actors do that. The first year, Lance and I, we started play all kinds of weird stuff with each other. We just thought, let's just pretend we both go, "Do you know what the thing is?" "I know what the thing is." I think that's the fun for us, is to keep the mystery going.
HitFix: So you both agreed to agree that you knew something, but you didn't agree, presumably, on what it was that you were agreeing you knew?
BB: Yeah. We just decided, "Yeah, let's do that." Because that would be really bizarre.
HitFix: Sounds like a headache to me. Do you ever try guessing at what's coming next?
BB: Nooooo. Not at all. We just do what we're told.
HitFix: So what's coming up for Nina?
BB: In our reality, now, we're just trying to see what changes there are, because it does seem strange that Nina is receptive to the idea of Walter becoming No. 1. Is that genuine, or is that not genuine? Does she think he's controllable. Before, we were led by Bell. Everyone was led by Bell. But Nina has a different relationship with Bell. There are times where she seems like she can make him do things, going back to last year. That's a whole different thing, with how that's going to play out between these two. Again, there are mysteries as to why... In the first season, Peter and I had a scene at a riding ring and I said, "We used to spend a lot of time here." What the hell? And she did a favor for him and said, "Just remember. I can ask a favor of you at any time and you have to grant it." So we have that promise hanging there. So we'll see how all of these things play out.
HitFix: And you never find yourself with any of the writers and casually ask if any of these things are going to get call-backs?
BB: No. They actually remember everything. That's one thing I know. These guys are information omnivores. They remember everything they read, wrote and heard, so I don't worry in that way.
HitFix: If you had your druthers, who would you have more scenes with this season? Somebody who you haven't maybe spent as much time with?
BB: I would like to see some conspiratorial energy with Nina and Broyles again. I feel they've kind of drifted off. And Peter, too. I think we're the ones who should be at cross-purposes at times and I'd like to see that more. But I like acting with everybody. That's one of the good things about the show, because that's not always true. Jasika and I have had very little to do and it would be much fun to do something together.
Stay tuned for more "Fringe" coverage this week...