Q & A: Elizabeth Mitchell on the Return of ‘Revolution’, Shooting On-Location and Why She Loves Working in Television
NBC’s Revolution returns tonight and if you’re a fan of the show, it sounds like this season is going to be bigger, faster and tons more fun.
Elizabeth Mitchell and Creator/Executive Producer Eric Kripke were clearly excited about the direction this season has taken and they’re equally excited for the fans to watch.
In this interview, they talk about what it’s been like to be away for so long, shooting on location in North Carolina and how working on the show is like a “Meisner approach” for Elizabeth.
Revolution airs on Mondays at 10pm on NBC
Elizabeth, you have said how you love being in like action adventure oriented shows, are you going to get to do any action of your own this second half of the season?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Yes, yes we are and my father will be thrilled because that’s really the stuff he likes to watch the most. I think that Linda Hamilton’s his favorite actress.
I do get to do some more actiony type stuff and I have a wonderful time. I love that stuff.
Eric Kripke: Yes she totally kicks ass.
Can you talk about the challenges of having been away for awhile, how you’re going to reintroduce things to viewers and your concerns about being away, being off the air?
Eric Kripke: Sure. Yes I mean look any time you’re off the air for four months you hold your breath and you hope fans come back but we take solace and encouragement from a few things which is I think there’s a long history of genre television really working with these large breaks in between like Walking Dead or Game of Thrones and also because the second half of the season is such a different mission and quest and energy than the first half that it really does feel like a natural break. It feels like it’s its own particular season of television in that the first half was the drive to find Danny was prologue to it opening up into a much larger and more epic and exciting story.
So I think because there’s such a natural break in the storytelling, I think people will be able to jump right in and watch one recap and remind themselves where all the characters were and then dive in the way that – I won’t see Game of Thrones for literally a year and then I’ll watch one 90-second recap and be right in the middle of it.
And then finally, you know, the break gave the writers and the producers and the actors like a minute to really explore what was working about the show and what wasn’t working and how to make it better so whether we were on the air, whether we were off the air, the risk that it, you know, the inevitable risk that goes along with it, I mean that’s all true but it allowed us to make a higher quality better series. And at the end of the day that’s the thing I have to put at my first priority. The show’s better because we took the break so therefore I’m glad we took the break.
You’re returning to an NBC that’s kind of different too. Things have sort of changed for the network in the past couple months. Any thoughts about that?
Eric Kripke: No like any good player we just keep our head down and focus on our game and I mean, look we’re coming back with The Voice and the fact is there is no bigger show on television and there’s no better lead in. And we’re very, very happy and grateful to have such a monster hit as our lead in.
And so we’re hopeful that we’ll come back strong. Again one, because the episodes are really strong and in my mind I love the first half but I think the second half is better no question. And we have a hell of a lead in so those things are all reasons for hope.
Can you talk about the advantages or challenges of filming in North Carolina?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I will say the advantages are Wilmington is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen so that has been beautiful. And then what I think that Billy and I were talking about the other day is just how lush and gorgeous the world around you is how that plays a little bit of a part — not a little bit, quite a bit. It’s almost another character in the show and we’ve all loved it. The cast has all loved it here.
It’s been, I don’t know, beautiful, interesting to be outside, every time you are you’re kind of amazed by what you’re able to find especially in the second half. I think some of the architecture, some of the abandoned buildings it’s truly beautiful. So for us it’s been a gift. Eric for you?
Eric Kripke: I second all of that. I second that emotion. The locations are stunning and haunting and we have been able to find just, you know, our production team there has been able to find just a remarkable variety of looks that we’ve had to do actually very little CG work or visual effects work or dressing them up. I mean a lot of these locations, these massive abandoned factories and power plants and we’ve been able to just move right into them and shoot them.
It’s always a little challenging being 2000 miles away from my production. You know, it would be nice to be able to, you know, be on set and have that sort of guiding hand but we have an incredible team in Wilmington. And ironically enough on this show we are absolutely reliant crucially upon technology and we’re emailing and Skypeing and sending photos and dailies are coming – dailies don’t come as film or tape or DVDs anymore, they come on our desktops and so then we’re responding quickly in real time. And you can actually get quite a lot of producing done just by sitting at your computer which is funny and ironic.
Elizabeth Mitchell: Yes it is. But it was great too. I mean it’s really great. There’s a lot of talent here which is awesome.
Eric Kripke: Yes, yes we have amazing producers there too that are really steering the ship quite, quite well.
Do you get to go out there much at all or are you mostly in L.A. the whole time?
Eric Kripke: I would, except they keep me handcuffed. Part of this call was to secretly ask you all for help and to tell my story. No I haven’t been actually which is a shame but we’re so jammed getting scripts out and in postproduction, all of which happens in Las Angeles that unfortunately I haven’t been able to make the trip yet but I will.
Can you talk a bit about working with the Lost guys again and why don’t they throw you a bone for like Star Trek or Star Wars to give you a part on that too?
Elizabeth Mitchell: You know, I’m campaigning hard to be a Jedi. My friends like to tell me that I feel like I’m one in life so yes that would be really awesome. And I love it. I love complicated, good characters. I love complicated, good characters set in extraordinary situations so to be with the same people who kind of made that happen for me before is an absolute joy and I’m always honored.
It’s always nice to come back. It’s better than people being like let’s just not work with her again. So I’m honored and it’s fun and selfishly it’s just I love the complication of the characters I get to play. I just love the work so to be able to be with the people who make good work — is that proper English — it’s fun and I’ve had a great time getting to know Eric. It’s been great. He’s along those lines of thinking and different and wonderful and it’s neat. So yes and yes I’d love to be in Star Wars, just putting it out there.
Do you have maybe a favorite scene or moment coming up that you can talk about without spoiling too much and if not then a favorite moment from earlier?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I have a scene in the moonlight next to water with Miles that is probably one of my favorite scenes as much for the silence as for the words. I enjoyed playing it, I enjoyed reading it and I just kind of got a chance to do ADR for it and I normally can’t watch myself but I liked it. So I think that’s probably one of my favorites. It was simple and lovely and exactly the kind of thing that I like to play and to watch. So just a simple little scene. I don’t know if anyone will feel the same way but that was one that I truly enjoyed and I thought that Billy was terrific and great fun to watch.
Elizabeth, you’ve been on shows like this with large casts before, what do you think is the key to keeping everyone happy and engaged and how would you say that Revolution is doing that for you?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Oh what a great question. I love ensembles I think mainly because I started in theater and I love that idea. What keeps people happy and engaged is good work, great words and then I think coming together there’s a lot of…Lost was the same way. We were all very supportive but everybody came ready to play and I think if you have that attitude and there’s not ego which is also the case on Revolution which I really like then it’s fun.
You go in and it’s fun and you play together and you antagonize each other on camera and you love each other on camera and you hate each other on camera and then you go off and you try to figure out how to make it even better and you come back and you try to do that. And that’s the collaboration of a group is and has always been very exciting to me. I think it elevates everybody. You rise to the occasion and I love that.
I hear that from all of the actors when we’re walking around. How did that go? Oh I had scene with Giancarlo and I learned so much, it was fantastic. Or I did this or I did that. So I think just that respect and passion so yes. That keeps it going and makes it really nice.
I know you’ve talked some about Lost — I just want to know could you compare the whole filming process like it’s how the same and different to Revolution?
Elizabeth Mitchell: You know, it’s really interesting and I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone but it is slightly different. Lost we started with wide, we’d come in the middle, we get right into tight and we’d go for the eye like we’d get in really close. And on Revolution right now we’re shooting a lot of long lenses which means that I don’t necessarily know when the camera is right on my face so it’s been something of a surprise.
And what is done is that it felt more like in some ways like a play. You’re doing all of this, our operators are catching all of this but they’re not right exactly there. So it’s been really interesting, really fun.
Eric Kripke: That is really interesting.
Elizabeth Mitchell: Yes isn’t that kind of – it’s been really interesting how that is because I was so used to having the camera just right there. But the thing that I have found very similar is that we as the actors are all very exciting to know what’s happening next and I love that. I love the fact that we want to sneak in and who has a script and has anyone seen script and does anyone have a script and should we call Eric, should we ask Eric. Oh let’s not ask him. Oh maybe we will. Everybody kind of (unintelligible) and everyone’s like okay I asked it. And I was like did you, what happened? Well you know it’s about my character. Come on!
So I love that we’re all so excited and we were that way on Lost too and that to me is a huge and wonderful commonality.
What’s been the most challenging for Revolution?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Well I like challenges, I’m weird that way. I’m the one who ran stadium stairs as a kid. Challenging…I always find shooting outdoors to be challenging. It’s loud, it’s dynamic and you can either raise your game accordingly or you can get incredibly frustrated so I suppose that I enjoy that particular challenge of making all of that work and shooting a show with no electricity in a very powerful world. So there’s the cars, there’s the planes, there’s the (unintelligible), there’s the cell phones so that’s definitely a challenge but it’s pretty funny.
Eric Kripke: Yes. I would say for me it’s the story breaks are remarkably challenging. It’s definitely very, very rewarding but it’s also the most difficult to show I’ve ever written for. There’s so many characters, there’s so many storylines. They all have to hit the targets of being emotional and true and honest and action packed and exciting and genre and it’s a son of a bitch to break this show.
And I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten an entire story up and then I went back and read it over — we put them on these giant dry erase boards — and we’d show back up in the morning and read it over and literally just erase the whole thing and the writer’s come in and they see the empty board and their faces fall and it’s so tragic and it happens so often. And we say okay let’s go back, let’s talk about what we want this episode to be. Let’s go back to theme and then do it all over again. But they’re all in and we’re all excited to do it because we want it to be great and everybody really cares and hopefully the viewers will see that in the payoff because we really take very meticulous care with these stories.
Elizabeth Mitchell: It’s in the scripts. I mean, it’s really truly is. And I feel like we need to have a reality show of you guys in the writer’s room now.
Eric Kripke: Yes and then you should see me – because it’s just my show-running style where I’ll act out every part as we’re working through the scenes. I’ve always threatened to have like a DVD special features which is like a video of me acting out the part with how the actor ended up doing it professionally.
Elizabeth Mitchell: I’m going to hold you to that.
Eric Kripke: But I will say this that in my version of the performance I would say every other word is fuck or shit and so my version of Revolution is much more R rated and blue and it’s much more like as if David Mamet had written Revolution than what ends up on the screen, like a lot of the fuck and shit in the writer’s room becomes hell and damn by the time it gets to the screen.
Elizabeth Mitchell: That’s awesome.
Elizabeth, in episode ten the scene with you and Tracy where you come face to face, I mean that was so powerful, so raw, I mean what was it like to shoot that and did you and Tracy, I mean did you guys just I mean go over those lines first or did you just – how did you do it?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Well Tracy and I – Tracy and I really like each other and we have a very kind of easy and lovely relationship so we didn’t bring too much of that into the room. I think that we were both feeling just as awkward as the characters were because you want things to be so amazing with the people that you love the most. You want to be the perfect mother, the perfect person, the perfect whatever is and we both wanted that.
And what came out of our mouths and what happened was so awkward and stilted and raw and kind of horrible and that was the feeling the whole time. I mean both of us were like oh we just wish we were nice, you know, that and I liked that. I liked how awkward and raw and kind of horrible it felt in the room. I felt like there was something really real there and Tracy and I looked at each other and I don’t know who said it but we were both like this is exactly how it would be. This feels so real to us and that’s kind of what we walked away with, I mean this sad, awkward horrible thing where you just want them to just hold onto each other and be like I’m so happy to see you.
So it was awkward and horrible and kind of wonderful and raw so I think that Eric did a perfect job on that one. I really do.
How far in advance did Eric give you guys the script? I mean did you – were you prepared for this or did Eric just kind of spring this on you? How’d it go?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Well we got the scripts before and we both of course memorized it the day before and then we walked in, we read it through but we didn’t actually work on it together. It was more what’s going to come out when we’re on camera together and that’s basically what came out. It was very fresh and very raw.
And as far as being sprung, sure episodic television is the best because you get the script and then a couple days later you’re doing these crazy huge scenes and I love that, I really do. It doesn’t give you time to think before you jump off the cliff, you just jump and I’m a fan of that.
Terry O’Quinn said that he would never get his scripts in advance and is that how they play it here? I mean, well you said you get yours like a day in advance but he said he didn’t want to know what was going to happen next. He just like wanted to go with it and just act in the moment. Is that how you guys are playing it on Revolution versus Lost or is it a little bit different on Revolution?
Elizabeth Mitchell: No I think it’s very much the same. I think it’s the idea of you get it and play it and you play it with everything that you’ve got. And you may look back and be like oh gosh why didn’t I but I think the immediacy of it is what makes it so interesting. It’s one of the reasons I love television is that you can spend a long time agonizing over every choice or you can simply jump and a lot of times with episodic you just have to jump which is what Terry does so beautifully. I loved watching him in the immediacy of what he would do. So I like it.
I mean it’s kind of a Meisner approach to the whole thing but I just enjoy springing things on people, watching their reaction and reacting back. I think it’s really fun.
Do you guys stick a lot to the script or do you improve at all? Are there things you add?
Elizabeth Mitchell: We really – it was the same with (Moss). We don’t improve all that much.
Now Eric is incredibly kind and generous. His feeling is, “Please say one, exactly as written, and then if you feel the need to play, please play, but just make sure that we get one as scripted.”
And if I feel like there are things that I want to say or that should be said or certain things, then I will do one exactly as scripted and then I’ll play in one. And sometimes they’ll use it and sometimes they don’t.
But for the most part, you know, we try to stick exactly to the script because they’ve obviously, you know, as Eric was talking about acting the whole thing out.
But I sometimes can’t help myself. I mean I was an improve actor for a long time, so there’s always a situation where I’ll add this or that and the script supervisor just rolls her eyes. So sometimes it’s affective and sometimes it’s not.
But Eric’s been really generous about letting us play if we have the desire to do so.