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Steve Harris

Wide Awake in Dreamland

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 6, 2012. 

Steve Harris is no stranger to smart, quirky television after having spent eight years playing lawyer Eugene Young on the acclaimed ensemble drama The Practice.  However, little could prepare him for his latest role as a police detective on the mind-bending psychological drama Awake.

The series stars British actor Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter movies) as Michael Britten, a police detective who has survived a fatal accident with his wife (Laura Allen) and son (Dylan Minette).  One of them died and one survived.  The problem is, Britten is not sure which one.  He has entered a weird fugue state where half the time it appears his wife is alive, the other half is his son.  He is literally dreaming an alternative reality, but he is at a point where both sides are so vivid that he does no know when he is asleep and when he is awake.

Harris plays Det. Isaiah "Bird" Freeman, his best friend and his partner in one of the realities and his ex-partner in the other one.  Bird is attempting to help Britten live his life as normally as possible – or is he really a figment of his imagination?

We recently met up with Harris at NBC Studios in New York to discuss his career and the series.

What was it about Awake that intrigued you?

It was written very well.  That pilot episode was written so well that it grabbed me.  I read it and as I recall there were two shows at that particular time that I wanted to be a part of.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the other one.  It escapes me at this point, but there was only two shows.  This was the better written of the two, I felt.  I thought it would be interesting, entertaining.  Then I found out [Executive Producer] Howard [Gordon] was attached to it, and he had done 24, so I knew that it had a nice pedigree.  I knew NBC was going to give it a shot, at least, to be on television.  Then you start adding in Jason [Isaacs], and all the rest of us, Wilmer [Valderrama] and B.D. [Wong] and Cherry [Jones] and Laura [Allen] and Dylan [Minnette].  You put the whole crop together, and then it just seemed like we would have something that would be a good show on television.  It seems that people are believing that cable is the way to go, if you want to watch something good, something interesting.  We were speaking earlier about Game of Thrones.  Today I've talked about that and Mad Men and Walking Dead and various other shows.  I was hoping that you could create a good show on network television, that people would want to tune to and would want to watch.  This show gave me that opportunity, especially if I wanted to come back to television.

AWAKE -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Steve Harris as Det. Isaiah Bird Freeman -- Photo by: Jim Fiscus/NBC When you talk about the pedigree, Kyle Killen, who wrote the pilot, he also created Lone Star.  Had you seen that? 

I was not familiar [with it].  I knew he was a very good writer from what I read in the audition and the process of meeting him.  I even told him as much, even if I wasn't going to be the guy.  Lone Star was only on for a hot second, so I didn't really catch it.  I remember it was getting a lot of buzz at the time, about another dual life sort of thing, but greatly different from our dual life thing.  That's something that he can play in and something he likes to write, but honestly, I'd never seen it.

How do you keep track of your character in both worlds?

It's really not that difficult for me.  The guy who has the main issue with that is Jason, because Jason has to hold true to when his wife is around, and to when his son is alive.  For me, in the world where I'm his partner, that's the world where his son is alive.  So I know what's going on.  My whole relationship is that he's the man who has lost his wife.  I got that.  In the other world, where I will be there intermittently, I'm not his partner.  So it's not something that I have to deal with.  I understand the dynamic of what's going on.  But in both instances, I've been his friend, as well as his partner, for years.  Then they just replaced me [in the other world] to bring in Wilmer.  I still don't know why they did that, but he is a handsome little fellow (laughs), so I guess they had to add a little twang to the show. 

Yeah, I was going to ask, in the pilot you were in both worlds, but in the ensuing shows you've been in just the one world and Wilmer was in the other. 

He was in both of the worlds, too, but he's a regular policeman in one and he's a detective in the other.  I am in both worlds, but in the initial one is where we set up the premise that they would get rid of me to bring in somebody like Wilmer.  I was telling him to watch his back.  So, what you will see, as the show progresses, you will see me cross back over into the [other] world.  I think the reason why they did that, they gave you a splash, then they needed to set up the worlds, because that's the thing that you really want people to buy into.  Buy into both of these worlds.  Then they can start crossing us back over to fill it back in.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised if you keep watching until we get to [episode] number 13.  Pleasantly surprised. 

AWAKE -- Pilot -- Pictured: Steve Harris as Bird -- Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBCI also noticed in one week, with the innocent man in jail, the crimes were the same in both worlds.  In other episodes, they were totally different crimes, just with some similar details.

What you will find if you watch the show as you have, that is the case.  You had one [episode] where you had the pretty Kate girl and then you had the [alternate Kate] girl who had a drug situation.  You are going to have instances where people share the same name, but they are two different people.  Because it's dealing with the mind, it gives you a lot of room to – I don't want to say violate, but to live out there and branch out on what you want to play with, in order to keep the two things.  They find a way to keep them connected, anyway.  They find a way to connect the dots.  That's a testament to all of the writers and the producers.

The last couple of episodes, you're starting to see the seeds of distrust your character is starting to have towards Jason's.

I wouldn't say distrust, but I have to question him.  It's just stupid not to question him.  Just to be perfectly honest.  He's coming up with these things out of thin air.  He's blowing cases that we've got locked up with some Fantasy Island stuff.  I have to question him.  Now, the issue is, underlying, we're like brothers.  We're connected.  So, underlying, you still believe in family first.  But I have to question what he does.  It just happens that it turns out to be correct – at least until now.  So far it turns out to be correct.  It makes it much easier to go along with it.

Do you know where you are going to end up at the end of the season?

I know where this season ends, yes.  I do.  No, [I won't give] information, but I do know where the season ends.  We finished shooting it, so I know exactly where this season [goes].  That's why I feel firm in telling you that if you watch, you will be pleasantly surprised by the end.  I think you'll go like, "Man, okay, that was a nice ride."

There are some show-runners who tell the actors where they are going with a story, and some that don't.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  It also depends on what kind of actor you are.  I'm sure they have a through line for what they think.  If you wanted to know, you could ask them where they think they are going.   That could change, but you could [ask].  I'm not that.  I want to live what we're doing.  I want to be able to go moment to moment with it.  I want to experience it.  Now, if you give me a script and I'm not necessarily agreeing with it, I think we ought to question it.  Which is sparingly.  Then I go to you, "What's going on?  What do you want me to [do]?  How is this supposed to pan out?"  But for the most part, that hasn't been the case.  My through line, it's pretty simple, to me.  The through line of the show is what I really want people to be involved in and dig.  I think they will.

AWAKE -- "Ricky's Tacos" Episode 105 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten, Steve Harris as Bird -- Photo by: Neil Jacobs/NBC Now, not giving up any secrets, but just personally, do you have an idea of which world you think it the real one and which one is the dream one?

Well, personally, I would prefer my life to be the real life. (laughs)  They can go kill off Wilmer and all this other stuff.  That would be great for me.  You know what?  There's not an actor in the world who's not going to say they want their life to be the real life.  Because then the thing goes on, it goes on.  But, the more we allow people to question which way it is, or to believe neither of them are real, or both of them, or to go, "Oh, okay, I think his wife is the one, I think he got to be living with his wife, that kid can't be alive" or "I think that kid..." – the more we have that, the more questions, people are so eager to get answers.  But, actually, questions can spawn better answers.  It allows this type of show to grow.  So far it's been pretty good.  As we close out this season, I think it gets better.  We'll see what happens if we get another one in there.

Is there any word about whether or not it might get picked up again?

Well, there's no word, but I'm here talking to you, which means that they still want to put it out there.  I'm all for them putting it out there.  I think we're one of the best shows, if not the best drama, on television.  Personally, this is me talking, nobody else.  I think that it's clear that we're one of the most highly DVRed shows and people looking on computers and internet shows.  We're one of those.  But the honest to goodness truth, you want it to be around, somebody had got to turn it on Thursdays.  They've got to be there Thursdays at 10:00, or 9:00 Central.  Then we get the shot.  But it's clear that people enjoy it.  We're actually one of those shows you want to be.  We're one of those shows that critics dig, and people who watch it are so invested in it that they're not going anywhere.  I can believe in that kind of show.

If they're hooked in from the beginning, they're going to keep watching.

I think so too, but one of the reasons why you have the procedural aspect to the show is so that [viewers] can come in if you haven't seen the first ones.  They give you the little precursor about what's going on and you can just ride that wave and get into it.  The show has a lot of levels to it.  We want to encourage you to come and watch.  Ultimately, look, if I was on a lousy show, then you'd be in here talking about how great the show is.  But I'm not on a lousy show.  I'm actually on a great show, so it's real easy to talk about how great it is.  I'm just telling you the truth, you know?  People come in here... you have done interviews with shows that you think suck.  Let's be honest about it.  Well, maybe not at NBC.  (laughs)  You've done shows that you think aren't all that good.  Then there are shows where you might believe, "All right, this guy may not be feeding us a bunch of garbage."  I'm here to tell you, I'm not feeding you a bunch of garbage.  If you turn our show on and whatever else is on at that particular time, compare it.  I would compare my pilot with any pilot that came on this year.  I would compare my pilot with any pilot that came on last year.  I think the pilot was out of control.  I think the show is a very good show.  As we come to the climax, I think people who watch shows will go, "He wasn't lying to us, he was telling us the truth."  This show is one of those shows that actually gets better.  That's why I can sit up here easily and do what I do.  I'm not concerned about it being lousy, I'm only wanting it to continue to be on next year.

AWAKE -- "Kate Is Enough" Episode 108 -- Pictured: (l-r) Brianna Brown as Poor Kate, Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten, Steve Harris as Bird -- Photo by: Neil Jacobs/NBCAs an actor, how exciting is it that you've gotten to be a part of a few shows like that, not only Awake, but The Practice and Friday Night Lights?

I did do a year on Friday Night Lights.  Friday Night Lights was originally an NBC show and then did a deal with DirectTV and they ended up getting all these accolades later.  Very good show.  Pleasure to work on, to be perfectly honest.  Clearly, what happened was the critics and the pundits, everybody was supportive of the show as far as the quality that the show was.  I can live with being on something like that.  The Practice, the truth of the matter is, when we came out, we were on Saturday nights.  Ain't nobody thought we were going to be making it.  That's just the truth.  We were a bunch of guys that nobody knew.  Nobody really knew us, the first year people.  Me and Camryn [Manheim] or Lisa Gay [Harden] or Michael [Badalucco].  Even Dylan [McDermott] had only done In the Line of Fire, I think.  So nobody was really well known.  We'd all been working actors.  Then this show comes.  Then a move to a new night.  The critics kept pushing it.  The guys in the papers, you guys kept pushing it.  The next thing you know, we get the right night, and boom.  Now you're talking about it eight years later.  We did eight years on television.  That is [due] to of word-of-mouth and people talking about it.  It's a different time now, because in order to watch that show, you had to be there on Sunday night.  Then, what was great was that you talked about it Monday morning.  Now, we don't have that.  Now we have everything in the world where you can watch it.  Water cooler talk isn't there as it used to be.  That was a fun time.  It was a fun opportunity.  I've been very blessed.  That show, I thought, was a great show.  I think Awake is a great show.  The connection is, two writers who can actually write, David Kelley and Kyle [Killen] and producers who know what they were doing.  Now we just got to hope people want to invest in that.

What about the on-set experience, how is Awake compared to those other series you worked?

The thing about The Practice, it can never be replaced for me because it was my first.  We were all new kids on the block there.  We were all fresh faces.  You tell us to climb a mountain, we go, "Okay, how fast you want me to get up there?"  It had that sort of thing.  The thing that I want to say about Awake is that everybody that I've already mentioned, you know in some way, shape, or form.  They have a pedigree already underneath them.  Most of us, you would know us because we are good actors.  You don't know us because we had a splash in this, or we just showed up.  You actually know us because we're good actors, not personalities.  That's of a different accord.  So it has a whole different vibe to it.  A whole different place you are coming from.  They are very different.  The Practice was very much an ensemble, while the driving force behind Awake is Jason's life.  Is the wife real?   Is the son real?  Are they both dead?  Are they both alive?  Is he crazy?  Is he alive?  Is he dead?  That's what we really have going on.  It's a little different.  In The Practice, you could have two or three episodes where I'm your guy and that's it.  Then Michael will be your guy or Camryn will be your girl.  Or Lara Flynn [Boyle].  Whatever it is.  So, it switched around. 

AWAKE -- Episode: Pilot -- Pictured: (l-r) Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten, Wilmer Valderrama as Detective Efrem Vega, Steve Harris as Detective Isaiah "Bird" Freeman -- Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC Do you think having social media and new technology is helping get a bigger audience for Awake?

It's fantastic.  Let me tell you, first, I think it's fantastic that people enjoy our show.  The numbers they are getting from the DVRs and the computers... if you were any show on television, to be getting those numbers, you'd be the happiest show on the planet.  So, I don't want to take anything away from that.  It does help with people being able to watch the show.  But the thing about having those entities is [they] are now creating an issue.  Advertisers haven't figured out yet how to make their money off of it.  If I've got three people watching me on TV and ten watching me on the computer, it's not really helping the advertisers.  And I understand.  I DVR.  I do the little thing, too.  So I know about it.  You're going to watch March Madness live, versus watching [a series].  I mean, you're going to do that.  I didn't because I'm on a show, but if you've got the Nielsen box you're going to do certain things.  You're going to have your old favorites, then come back for new shows.  You're going to have things like that.  I just feel that [you should] continue doing what you're doing.  I wish you'd watch us Thursday at 10:00.  I want you to watch us.  Your favorite show could be Game of Thrones or Walking Dead.  Whatever it is.  I don't care.  If you wanted to go network, I don't think there is anything better being done than us on network.  If you want to go cable, I say let's go at it.  And let's have our writers and next year, whoever wants to go against us, we'll write and let's see what you've got.  I'm a very competitive human being, if you have not gathered that or assessed that yet.   

If you had to say that fans of another show would like Awake, what would you pick? 

The fact of the matter is, I don't think there is a show out there like us.  I don't think there is a show out there dealing with the realities in that mind.  The shows that I was bringing up are because they deal with... you know, Walking Dead deals with zombies.  That's a whole other world.  Game of Thrones and the historical things they create gives you an idea... you have to have a larger sense of disbelief.  Once you invest in it, because they are actually done well, you go for the ride.  It doesn't matter.  If they sucked, you wouldn't do that.  Because who wants to hear people talk like that if it really doesn't grab them?  If you are a fan of high quality TV that allows you to think and allows your body to get invested, viscerally to be invested, then you're going to dig Awake.  Awake is going to make you think.  You mentioned Comic Con.  I'm a comic book geek, for lack of a better word.  I literally have one in my bag.  It's amazing, I can't even fly from LA to here and not bring a comic book with me.  But if you've got that comic book sense, you're going to like this show.  If you like action, as you will see we do a lot, you're going to like this show.  We also, to be perfectly honest, we cover genders, color...  You've got me and you've got Wilmer.  It's all over the place.  So you've got somebody that represents you doing their thing.  Under the foundation of well written and really good producers, we're a really good show.

AWAKE -- "The Little Guy" Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) Steve Harris as Bird, Jason Isaacs as Britten -- Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBC One thing that came to mind, at least in the color scheme aspect, was the movie Traffic.

I do remember Traffic, yeah.  And, you know, the color scheme, you bring that up, is to make the worlds easier for you to understand.  You've got the warmer world and you've got a little bit colder world, a little starker world, to make it.  That's a great thing.  But Traffic was very good.  Thank you.  If you're a fan of Traffic...  If you're a fan of anything.  Let me tell you.  Whatever you're a fan of, we've got it here.  But thank you kindly.  When you really look at that, you've got to think about this show being shot two different ways.  I don't know how many shows are doing that, but this show is literally being shot with two different color palettes to follow what world you're in.  I don't know too many folks that are doing that.

There is also the mixture of the procedural and the family aspect that makes it more complex than many series.  How vital is that to the show?

It's essential that we get you because it's a human touch.  Regardless of what the show is you like, whatever that show is, a lot of it has to do with not only your personal preferences, but something that touches you.  Our show, we think we have enough of that thing going on that you want to be invested.  You can see his turmoil.  To be perfectly blunt about it, he has serious issues.  When you think about it, that's a serious issue.  But, if I were married with a kid and I thought I was responsible for killing them, and I had the choice – I, Steve Harris, had the choice to decide whether I would take the responsibility for killing them or my mind was tricking me into telling me that they are alive on every other day and I can make it work – I'd make it work.  I would make it work. 

Jason is a really good actor and playing such a complex role.  What's it like working with him?

First off, he's not a really good actor.  He's okay. (laughs)  No, I enjoy working with him a great deal.  He's a very collaborative actor.  He's invested in so many things.  He has a feverish energy to him.  He loves acting and that makes it a lot easier.  He hasn't been in the game on American [projects].  I mean, he did Brotherhood, but he hasn't been where you have this super success.  Like a superhero show, or anything like that.  Egos are right where they need to be for a show, for working together and being collaborative.  Outside of his choice of music, I wouldn't have anything bad to say about him.  He sucks at music.

AWAKE -- "Oregon" Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten, Steve Harris as Bird -- Photo by: Neil Jacobs/NBC So what is his choice in music?

I can't tell you, but Wilmer let it out of the bag that he likes show tunes.  I'm not against show tunes [generally].  I am against show tunes when I'm working coming on all the time in the interim.  Aside from that, he's a swell guy.  He's going to kill me in some interview, I know it.  (laughs)  But let me get him now, and we'll roll it out again. 

We'll give him a musical intervention.

Yeah, yeah, please, please!   

If you had the choice to learn the secret of the show, would you want to know?

No.  I would choose not to know.  We all have a finite existence.  We know that much to be true.  If somebody came down now and told me that they could tell me my finite existence – don't tell me.  I don't want to know that I'm dying tomorrow and I don't want to know if I'm dying 50 years from now.  Just let it happen.  That's what makes it so spooky when somebody gets a terminal illness.  Now, your life has become finite in everything you are living for now.  Actually, you are dying forward.  I don't want to know that.  I wouldn't want to know this for the show.

Talk about Bird as a character, what are the challenges to him?

He's fun to play.  There aren't challenges, because I really understand the being.  I understand where I am.  The challenge is going to be when, or if, the reality of these worlds come out, and where I stand in them.  Where that lives is the important factor.  Here I am your partner, if I discover that you've been doing this stuff because you're crazy, because that's how I have to look at it – then I'm going to have issue with that.  To me, you've just been lucky.  If it's in the other world and I haven't been your partner, I still have the same thing, I'm just removed from you.  There is going to be that issue.  At some point, that's going to come to head.  I'm not saying this year, but I'm saying it has to come to an end.

Well do you think it is even possible to have a conclusive idea of what is happening before a series finale?  Otherwise, what would the show be?

You know, I'm with you a million percent.  I think that's part of what's going on.  I think, though, the people are not going to want [to be left in the dark forever].  You can create another ride.  Everybody wants an answer.  They are going to want an answer to that.  Can you ride it out two, three, four years?  Maybe.  But you're going to have to give them something.  And then you're going to have to evolve from that point.  I don't know how you make anything last.  I mean: Prison Break.  Once they broke out of the prison, it was still on three more years.  They were out of the jail!  But people kept watching.  They had to come up with a new premise, because they broke out after the first season.  I'm not saying that's what we're doing.  Honestly, it's not what we're doing.  But, ultimately, at some point, people are going to be tired of hearing about this right here.  What is it?  They're going to want to know at least a piece of what that is.  Then you've got to know where we're going next.

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2012 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2012 Jim Fiscus. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2012 Vivian Zink. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2012 Neil Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2012 Neil Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#7 © 2012 Vivian Zink. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.
#8 © 2012 Neil Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 6, 2012.

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Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 6, 2012.