[WARNING: The interview contains information about the premiere. If you don't want to get spoiled, please stop reading.]
Anthony Edwards needs no introduction. A film star going back 30 years, he's had roles in myriad film classics -- "Top Gun," "Revenge of the Nerds," "Zodiac" -- and was the heart of medical drama "ER" until 2002, when he left series TV to spend time with his family.
We talked to Edwards about his re-introduction to primetime with "Zero Hour," ABC's new conspiracy drama in which Edwards plays debunker-magazine publisher Hank Galliston. Galliston's on the hunt for his kidnapped wife, using a map lodged in a diamond that was stashed in a Rosicrucian clock. (Right?) He spoke to us early this week about medical jargon, playing the Everyman, and how a day of shooting stacks up against toilet-training.
We were going to ask if it was a relief to return to a series where you didn't have to download a lot of complex lingo, but then we realized that that's not really true, because conspiracy theory has its own language.
But it's nowhere near as complicated as having to do the lingo of an ER doc. I think after eight years of emergency medicine, my short-term memory for medical jargon was completely used up.
I've become a runner in the last ten or twelve years, so I'm happy that we're actually more of an action show and I get to run around more … I do that better.
But you're not missing dialogue about aortic dissections, for example.
No, no I'm not; I absolutely have no regrets, and I loved that show, but yeah, it's really nice to be in a different genre of storytelling.
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How into this kind of thing, this conspiracy genre stuff, are you in your actual life? Are you a grassy-knoll guy, or are you more like Hank and you think everything has a rational explanation?
I'm pretty rational; I think I'm a little bit more romantic, because my life doesn't depend on it. But bottom line is, I like it when things add up, and I like to hear a good story, but I'm not one to follow it. I love to hear about how we didn't really land on the moon. I love hearing that.
(Laughs) They have really good arguments!
We feel like "Mondo 2000" had an article on this in every issue, and we were like, "You know, they make some good points."
Yeah, that's what's always good about it, is that it touches on something that feels real. That's, I think, the world that we're playing in, whether you're defining life, or religion or science or whatever, the stuff that we get excited about is the emotion part.
That it does tap into something true.
Mmm hmm, yeah.
Do you think that's going to be how it is for the viewers? We're feeling like this could turn into a phenomenon like "Lost" was, where people are flocking to Google to analyze clues and get up to speed on Rosicrucian minutia. Is that something you see happening?
We're certainly ripe for that, and we use big paintbrushes. So we are taking big swipes. You know, we've got that theme. We've got religion. We've got conspiracy, we're into science -- and I think it'll be fun for people … those little things, like, "Oh right, treasure maps didn't exist, before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about them," you know.
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That was a good line; we never knew that, and it was like, "Oh, really?"
There's certainly things that the writers -- we're not pretending to be a documentary, so, they're gonna play with that area. But the important thing is that it's entertaining, and that you feel, you know, stirred by it. I was saying to someone in an email, [part of this] being really episodic and serialized, it's exciting not knowing what's going to happen on "Downton Abbey" next. We're playing in that same world; we're not in the serious part of the circus, but we want everybody to believe it. I think that's why they wanted me, to play Hank. I kind of traditionally, I make people feel like, "Oh yeah, that's my cousin," you know. Familiar. So we need that, that conduit into this wacky world [with] Michael Nyqvist and Carmen Ejogo and all these wonderful actors.
Do the writers give you an overview as to what's coming up, like what Laila's real story is? Or are you keeping it more fresh, just seeing what happens when you get the script?
The reality is, we shot the pilot in March, in Montreal, and even before talking to the writer, it was like, "What is this show gonna be?", and he described a show in which this big story that we do in the pilot, we're gonna solve this story, in the first season. So, he already knew where this story's gonna end when we did the pilot.
So then, we actually as of last week finished, we just finished shooting; we've done all of our episodes, so we have the whole season done. And the process of the season was fun because even though we knew kind of the big, general way our characters were heading, how we get there is what each episode's about. Since we knew where they're ending up, every episode they could take big steps. [You] didn't have "oh s---, where're we going? We gotta delay; keep delaying that story, keep delaying that other story because we can only move forward on this one." And it's an interesting thing, 'cause it gave the writers a real format, but because of that they really had to work on the minutia, on the details.
We were relieved to hear that, that they did have a plan and they were gonna end this story at the end of the season, 'cause if it's the end and it's like, "Oh, Laila is Keyser Soze," that's always sort of frustrating for us as viewers, to watch that.
(Laughs) Right, right, right. We're gonna solve a lot of the bigger stuff that we set up early, and then it -- yeah, it's interesting. Definitely interesting.
Yeah, no need to spoil us. We'll be watching.
Yeah, you'll be fine. All I can say is that we genuinely looked forward to every script for the last six months, as we were shooting this, and so it kept us interested. It's also so cool-looking, is what I love. I mean, it really feels big.
And that scene from the pilot where you are facing your own frozen self -- that was pretty intense.
It won't be the last time we'll deal with that subject!
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So there's, like, a shelf of Anthony Edwards heads in the studio somewhere? One's covered with frost…
The amount of jokes of, you know, "Which dummy are we shooting now?"
Did you have a feeling before reading the pilot script that this was gonna be what brought you back to network primetime, or were you reading it to humor your manager and you got sucked in in spite of yourself?
All I knew was that my manager liked it, and I've known him for a long time so he knows the kind of quirkiness that I like -- [I have] lots of friends in procedurals, and it's not what I get excited about as an actor, necessarily, or a director. So the fact that he was interested in it, and that Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who I've known for a long time, this was like the beginning of his television producing career -- it was interesting…and I really enjoyed reading it.
But what really cemented it was what I just told you, that they knew where they were going. That was like, "OK," because then as an actor, all you need to do is worry about what you're doing; you never want to be in a place where they turn to you and go, "So, Anthony, what do you think should happen in the next couple episodes," I'm like, "Oh, no. Don't ask me." It's a little like your parents are like, "OK, I guess you'll pick out your pre-school."
And how was the transition back into this more regular work? It does sound like you had a firm plan in place leaving series TV.
How was the transition back in? Was it kinda like, "Oh, this! I know how to do this."
It was very much getting back, you know, like riding a bike. The truth is, how to get through a shooting day is much easier than raising children. It's a really familiar jungle gym. I also feel, you feel good because you can really be a part of the success that day, and you know what you need to do to get it done right, quickly. And working with people, I love that environment, so that was fun. And honestly, the last time I was doing it, at this kind of intensity, I had always had a kid under two years old.
It's not toilet-training, so it's a cinch.
Yeah, yeah, this is great. We can work long hours, but I always get eight hours of sleep, so that's fine. As my wife would say, she's like, "When you're an actor on a set, people have to laugh at your jokes." You really get spoiled. You get home and your kids are like, "You're not that funny, Dad."
We just saw "Revenge of the Nerds" on cable, and that must be interesting, to explain to them about "High School USA."
They can't believe -- like, they see a picture from "Gotcha!" or something, and all they immediately do is start making hair references. And I was so vain about my hair when I was a young actor.
"Zero Hour" airs Thursdays at 8 PM on ABC.