At the San Diego Convention Center for the 2005 Comic-Con, the cast and executive producers of Paramount Television's new science-fiction series Threshold were ready to meet the press and their public. I chatted with Carla Gugino (Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey), Charles S. Dutton (Deputy National Security Advisor J.T. Baylock), Brian Van Holt (Cavennaugh), Rob Benedict (Lucas Pegg), Peter Dinklage (Arthur Ramsey), Brent Spiner (Dr. Nigel Fenway), and executive producers Brannon Braga, David S. Goyer, and David Heyman. The series will have its two-hour premiere ("Trees Made of Glass") Friday, September 16 at 9pm on CBS, joining CBS' Friday night line-up in its regular one-hour form the following week at 9pm.
Groucho: How would you describe the aesthetic of the series? What was the design approach, and were there any stylistic points of reference?
Brannon Braga: Well, David directed the pilot, so he could answer this better, but we definitely wanted the show to have this whole David Lynch quality. We keep referring to it as supernatural science-fiction. And it's stuff that's so weird, as it probably would be, that it defies even a team of experts to explain at times.
David S. Goyer And the other artistic goal of the series was to make it feel as realistic as possible. So, I guess, for lack of a better word, a more naturalistic approach to it. It's meant to feel like it's really happening; there's also a bit of a verité aspect to it...
Groucho: This question is for the cast. And after seeing the clips, it sort of has a new meaning, but take it how you will. The premise of the show is dramatic change for the people of Earth. How does your character change as a result of facing this crisis? In other words, who were they before and who are they becoming?
Carla Gugino: Definitely with Molly...this is a person who's a bit of a loner, lives alone with her dog, certainly has people skills in the sense that she's dealing with people in her job and everything, but [she]'s much more a theorist, someone who comes in and sort of gives you the answers to a situation and leaves. So I think in this case she's really expecting that she'll be there for support. You know, they'll be taking this [plan, and she's] going to figure out what's going on, and, in fact, she finds out that she is leading this sort of mission because she is the closest thing that they have to an expert, because she has done this, you know, huge sort of research project on potentially what would happen if this actually came to fruition. So her life is pretty much thrown absolutely upside-down. And I think for everybody, basically our lives in a way are taken away from us, in the sense that we have something now to service—a lot bigger picture.
David S. Goyer: The characters in the show want—Molly drafted this plan and nominated all these experts in various fields that she thought should be brought in. And she didn't know any of these experts per se and sort of wanted to hand-pick them, and all of these people are sort of plucked out of their lives and [told], you know, "Come with us." They're not allowed to tell their loved ones what they're doing or when they'll be back—
Carla Gugino: And we're privy to information that frankly we didn't just ask to have.
David S. Goyer: But there's a lot of personal stress among all of the character's lives because they're having to keep this secret, and they don't know when or if they'll ever be sort of let back and reintroduced to civilian life. I mean, Peter, your character says something like that in hour two, basically.
Peter Dinklage: Yes. This character tries to escape. He's terrified, and Brent Spiner's character is something of a '60s radical who does not trust the government, and yet here he is. His life was shattered by the government, he's brought into this situation, and he's forced to work for the government, which does not sit well with him.
Carla Gugino: And on the flip side there's also the amazing-ness (chuckles) of the scientific discovery for these times, so there's that weird combination of "Wow, this is the most incredible thing that we could ever be, kind of—introduced to," and yet it's affecting our lives in really a kind of shocking way.
David Heyman: Be careful what you wish for.
Carla Gugino: Yeah, exactly.
David S. Goyer: The other thing that is a big sort of thing in the series—is that, you know, there are some various sound and visual kind of recordings of an event that happens, and even these secondary recordings of it have somewhat of an effect in the way that it escalates: you know, um—
Rob Benedict: Well, sure—
David S. Goyer: The character of Lucas, yeah. Some of the team members are exposed to something and they don't know if changes are happening to them as well, and that creates a lot of anxiety.
Rob Benedict: Right, yeah. If nothing else, I mean it's a metaphor for what's happening after we sort of experience this and found out that this is happening...just that we feel different. Feel like something different—something definitely happening that's greater than all of us. And, you know, my character does any—he's sort of overcoming, like, fear. I mean, I'm sort of, uh, uh—.
David S. Goyer: Well, we can tell people. His character is supposed to be married in six weeks time, and then you find out that his fiancée is—in fact pregnant. And you're just concerned about—that you can't tell her anything that's going on, and it could be the end of the world...
Rob Benedict: Right.
Peter Dinklage: With that, there's sort of—I mean, being faced with such a huge change in our world. Also credit to these guys—I mean, just great writers holding on to the everyday—you know, like we're faced with this [and] my character's hitting on her. In a crisis, you just change subtly, you know? With good characters, it's not like—(adopts a stentorian voice:) "They learn because there's been an invasion"; you're still going to be who you are, fundamentally, which I really like. At least with my character, I really like that, that he sort of struggles with that, you know. His answer is to go out and get drunk in the face of some violence, which is really, I think, realistic—
Groucho: Mr. Dutton, you play Deputy National Security Advisor; at least two of you play doctors, in the academic sense; and Mr. Dinklage plays a linguist with a penchant for strippers and booze. So my question is: are any of you actively researching your roles? (Peter Dinklage raises his hand. Laughter.)
Peter Dinklage: I think I'm the only one.
Peter Dinklage: And they're researching my role, too. (Laughter.) I'm like, "Back off, it's my role!"
David Heyman: He's very comfortable—very comfortable with the character's sensibility.
Peter Dinklage: Yes—
Groucho: Mr. Spiner, you play a disillusioned NASA microbiologist. Where did that disillusionment spring from, and how does that put you into conflict with the other characters?
Brent Spiner: Uh, well, you know, the back-story of this character, I think, is going to get revealed as we go forward. And so I don't want to give away a lot of stuff about where it's going, and a lot of it I don't know where it's going. But I think where we pick him up is a guy with a lot of armor, who really is not that fond of the human race in general. And—
David S. Goyer: A lot of ex-wives.
Brent Spiner: A lot of ex-wives, we do know that. And I think a lot of disappointment. And I think that's what's informed his character at the moment.
David S. Goyer: And also mistrust of the government. That you feel the government has abused—
Brent Spiner: Right. Mistrust of the government, as David said. But I think a general sort of mistrust of everyone. And I think maybe the journey this guy is on is towards finding hope and trust again. Uh, we'll see.
Peter Dinklage: I think that just goes hand-in-hand with being really smart. (Laughter.)
Brent Spiner: Well, I feel that way—
Groucho: I wanted to ask about the notion of the moral ambiguity of the show: are these heroes or are they anti-heroes?
David S. Goyer: It depends on, you know—the episode, frankly. I mean, 'cause we're going to see in the pilot, second hour, they're sort of heroes. But then you're going to see some episodes from other people's point[s]-of-view, and they're kind of the Men in Black, you know what I mean? There are instances where—there are only a handful of people when our show begins that know this is happening, and for a variety of reasons, they're trying to keep that information under wraps. And part of the show is about what happens when other people find out, and what do we do with them? And it's not always pretty, what we do with them.
Brannon Braga: Also, even in the pilot [there are] a couple of morally ambiguous areas. Like, for instance, Peter's character doesn't want to know, he doesn't want to come, and Cavennaugh—what's your real name?
Brian Van Holt: Brian, Brian. (Laughter.)
Brannon Braga: Brian's character basically tells [Peter's] character, "You either come with us, or you're going to be thrown in—"
David S. Goyer: You're going to go to Guantanamo.
Brannon Braga: You're going to be in prison until this is over, which could be weeks, could be years: it's your choice. And already—that's not legal. I think you can say that's not legal.
Brian Van Holt: It doesn't matter what's legal anymore. These guys are operating under the radar.
Carla Gugino: And I think also in terms of the reality of the show, it brings sort of a real-life nature to it, when you see real people. People are morally ambiguous. That we all sort of say, "We're not capable of this, or this person—you know, I would never do that," but really we're all capable of everything. And I think that in this—certainly, when we're put through to face a major crisis, you don't know what people will do, so hopefully we can keep us guessing and [the audience] guessing—
Brannon Braga: Absolutely. And in the series, the point of Charles's character is to help Molly deploy various facets of the government and military. And that's kind of what he's going to be in charge of, getting stuff done. So there may be situations where we have to do huge things to cities, or to people's lives, that are illegal. That are insanely illegal. And morally questionable. But it's part of the—plan Molly's working, and it's very difficult to pull off, but they have to do it. Brent's character, in the pilot, questions whether or not he can even tell his father, but it's part of the plan that you've got to keep this as contained as possible. There are lots of things that they have to do that you could say make them anti-heroes.
David S. Goyer: Or villains, sometimes. It depends on the—what we'd like is if there's a—if something like this happened, there's a pragmatism involved that goes so far beyond the rule of law. —there's an issue that comes up vis-à-vis the Geneva Conventions, and it's like, "Geneva Conventions—are you kidding me? This is—there aren't any conventions." There's no rulebook.
Charles S. Dutton: Also, as far as heroes, or whatever, what's interesting for me about the guy I play is that I've spent most of my—practically all of my adult life despising guys like the guy I play. You know, politically, philosophically, I think the guy I play is the kind of person who's in a position to derail history. You know? Things are going one way, and people like him and other governmental kind of people can do things to cause history to be derailed in certain ways where it's not supposed to go. So—on one level I think it would be very interesting every week to get into the skin of a character like that, whether or not he's—I'm sure he'll have some heroic moments and some villainous moments as well. I mean, I hope he stays—I hope he doesn't become an alien. I'd like to stay a human being! (Laughter.)—It's one of those, for me—as an actor, I read the script and I said, "You know, this has the potential to really be totally unpredictable, where the character's going.