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The 4400 Cast & Exec. Producers—07/17/05

The cast and executive producers of Paramount Television's science-fiction series The 4400 returned triumphantly to the San Diego Convention Center for the 2005 Comic-Con, where they discussed their ongoing second season with press and fans. I spoke to stars Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, and Chad Faust, as well as executive producers Ira Steven Behr and Maira Suro. First-run episodes appear Friday nights at 9pm on USA.

Groucho: What are the advantages and disadvantages to a short-form season?

Ira Steven Behr: I would think [only] advantages. Usually, when you do a season, you do 22 episodes, you just know...three or four of them...are just not going to reach the potential that you were hoping for. It just happens in a long season. People get tired, you get tired, but when you're only doing thirteen, you have no excuses. You know, every one of those shows should be gold. So I think that's a tremendous advantage. All of [the] sketchy episodes that you think you might maybe do or maybe not do, you toss those, and you only go with the ones that you have faith in.

Groucho: I'd like to ask Mr. Ali and Mr. Faust, since you play members of the 4400, there's a certain imaginative leap there: is there any kind of research you've done to ground those types of characters? And since you don't know for syre maybe where your characters are going, have you made a personal decision for yourself about where your character is coming from, how to play that?


Mahershalalhashbaz Ali: Oh, wow. I pulled so much from people I know. As far as grandparents, you know, both of my grandfathers had military backgrounds. Very strong, proud men...So just my time around my grandparents and being able to pick up on mannerisms of the way they talk and the way they carry themselves—how they just tend to be passionate. They're just gentlemen, you know. And I really wanted to bring those aspects of family, people that I've been around, who I grew up around in church. There's certain ways that people do things, coming from that era. So I'm just a very aware person. I just pick up watching...I observe, and I just try to add those little things. I steal stuff all the time, as far as behavior, you know, you see some dude who comes into a coffee shop or what have you. Or telling the guy at the Starbucks coffee store that he's doing something with his hands a certain way for it. That's my research—I just steal from life. So as far as where my character's coming from, I'm very connected to this piece-of-mind thing, as far as what the characters of the 4400 all want is piece-of-mind. I think that's what we all want in life, but I feel like because there's just ways they feel heightened in comparison to ours—the stakes are so high—that you can feel their needs and desires just to have piece-of-mind, just to have everything...settled: this is my significant other, I have a child. I have a job. There's just some of that order in that piece-of-mind. And I constantly feel, playing Richard, that he's off-balance. And he's always fighting just to find that balance, and it's as simple as that. And right there I have a whole world of stuff to work with that gives me a lot to pull from. You know, it's all there in the script. He died in 1951; that's all you need! (Laughs.) ...You take off from there. He's in an interracial relationship—it's all there. It's so much to deal with where you actually pull back and just think about it for a second and take it in and try to figure out how Richard [would cope]. It's a very rich story, to where—so much to do, you know. And very pleasant to have this story and this character and being part of this creation.

Chad Faust: I remember when I first got the [script] for "Trial By Fire" last year, when I woke up from—from my coma.


Chad Faust: Just the whole—I don't know what he had. But I was trying to find how to connect to this character who's so disconnected from his world. I mean, how do you connect to that? So I was just pacing around the hotel room, just trying to figure out who he is, and "This kid—what is going on with him? Who is he? What does he want?" And da da da. And I was just like rearranging the furniture, turning it upside-down, trying to find what I'm going to do from the chaos, and quickly realized that this was him: me in this hotel room trying to figure out who I am—that's who Kyle Baldwin is. And that's exactly how I played him last year. I played myself going crazy in a hotel room!


Chad Faust: And this year, now that he's released from mental's much different this year. I've kind of had to reinvent the character all over again, to be honest: Kyle Baldwin with...[this] presence inside him. I think I've created the character basically off of my relationships with the people I have scenes with, mostly off my relationship with Joely Gretsch. The bond that Joel and I have as friends is very similar to, I think, the relationship that Kyle and Tom have, at least that's what we've decided to do in bringing them together...Also I think it's been really interesting—for the press, earlier this year. They had—it was laid out: the detectives, you had, you know, April with Diana, and there's all the 4400, it had everybody, and it says, "Others": it was just me.


Chad Faust: So I realized that was Kyle...he doesn't really fit in any category; he doesn't fit in any mold. He's a complete outsider, and he just wants to be on the inside, but he's not. And so I've tried to keep...that, as much as I can. I think that's kind of something that we all feel at some point in time, being cast more as "Others." (laughs) But I just try to bring that heart to him...

Groucho: Mr. Gretsch and Ms. McKenzie: each of your characters has a personal investment in the 4400—can you talk about how they see that conflict of interest, and will those conflicts continue to test your characters in this season?

Jacqueline McKenzie: After you?

Joel Gretsch: Take it.

Jacqueline McKenzie: (Laughs.) I don't know what to say.

Joel Gretsch: Go ahead.

Jacqueline McKenzie: (Laughs.) ...How we deal with conflict of interest. When I heard the thought, you know, I had lines, because Ryland's character actually says to [Diana], "I think, you know, the conflict-of-interest." And I say, "No, it's not a conflict of interest," and he's staring at me....[But] I still see the conflict-of-interest. And it just makes the stakes so much higher; it really does, so it just gives you such a more colorful range to play. It's not like we're just, you know, "Shove them in quarantine" or "Bring them out of quarantine." There is such a human face put forward...I don't know what you got—.

Joel Gretsch: I agree.

Jacqueline McKenzie: (Laughs.)

Joel Gretsch: My conflict—my nephew's in the 4400, so there's the conflict for me. But yeah, I mean, they're human beings. It's extraordinary circumstances, but they're people. And we need answers. But yet there's so much that we don't know. And the fear of not knowing is pushing a lot of us in this world to do things we shouldn't do. So, yeah, I—trying to balance that: try and balance facing the 4400, past certain abilities that you've just never seen before. And yet needing to get answers from them when they're human guinea pigs...And then, what Jackie said: the obstacles and what we have to play is great from an actor's standpoint, to show up and have to do this. It's so layered; it's not just "Where were you on the night of—" You know, man, there's just so much going on. And the wonderful thing that we found out last season, that our future really is troubled, and we have to do something about it: those stakes...So there's just so much going on that it's a pleasure to do it.

Maira Suro: It also speaks to the crux of the series: how do you—whether you avoid conflict or do you live on this planet when something of this magnitude happens? That pitch was in the original idea of this; that's 9/11...when something this big happens—whether you knew somebody in the Tower or not—you knew somebody who knew somebody, right? Or even just as a human being you're affected...everybody's going to have a point-of-view...and they have some individual conflicts. Everybody's had this strong reaction and an opinion about how to deal with it. So you can't sit by on the sidelines...

Jacqueline McKenzie: Also, I've found that, going back to my character, I thought it was really quite interesting when my character...[the 4400 can't] go. They could be in a possible disease stage—they need to stay in quarantine, and then later on, the little girl who doesn't have anywhere to go wants me to take her home...and the first thing I say is something like, "You know, I'm not ready for a kid, and I can't make...dinner and stuff." I didn't actually say, "No, you're a pre-cog, and I'm scared." (Laughs.) I actually thought more on a human level, about adopting—the fear of helping her into my life. And then I thought that that would be really huge in character terms. I'm actually liking what's brought to that character...and that's really kind of—

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali: And you still remember all your lines.

Jacqueline McKenzie: Not really!


Jacqueline McKenzie: I don't have a photographic memory...Joely can just have a look and later on that day say, "You know that scene in the next episode where I say this," and I go, "Mm, no..."

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