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SciFi Vision - Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Spotlight: Midnight, Texas Set Visit - Jason Lewis on Playing an Angel

Jason LewisNBC’s Midnight, Texas, which is based on the book series by Charlaine Harris, centers around the town of Midnight, which is home to a variety of supernatural creatures, including an angel, Joe Strong, played by Jason Lewis, who is also a protector of the town.

Lewis talked to journalists earlier in the year at a press day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which SciFi Vision attended.

The actor talked to SciFi Vision about reading the novels. “I didn't read them before I got hired, truth be told, but I did as soon as I got hired. I did my homework and read the books - actually the third one wasn't out when we were first shooting the pilot, so we were all begging [Harris] for, ‘So where's it go?’ ”

Jason LewisHe also talked to the site about approaching the physicality of the wings. “It's the idea that it's a physical transformation, that the wings actually exist in my body. They took the time to look at it, and instead of them just magically appearing, there would be some sort of physical [part to it].

“So, I look at it is as like a very painful birthing process. It's kind of a contorting thing where you've got to move some muscles out of the way and bones out of the way and spread and open, and then like they're supposed be coming out of my back in like special pockets of musculature that I have in my anatomy. So it sucks; it's painful. So I just went with pain. [laughs]

“It's not a comfortable transformation, at least that's how I chose to play it, and nobody told me to stop, so I think it lives. But I just figured, you know, these things are massive. The binding of them inside of my body, I figured it had to be somewhat uncomfortable. It's like Wolverine popping his claws.”

Lewis also discussed with the site where he took inspiration for his character, aside from the books and script. “What I started with was one of the history of the universe type spreadsheets. Here's the big bang, and then here's all the important history events in the history of man and the last few seconds of it. I started marking events that I thought would be important to my character, and then I went through those, and I started building stories.

“Like I have this personal story that I wrote from about 1600 years ago with the people here, the pretribal Indians, who existed here that have no history. And I wrote a cool story of my first contact with humans that pulled me out of the way I thought and what I'd been indoctrinated in...It's a mishmash. You're just looking for things that have a sort of creative glue to hold on to and move through it. I'm not married to any one idea in so much as they serve the character and his needs and the story's needs.”

Another thing he discussed with the site is how dark and gory the series will get compared to True Blood, which was also based on a book series by Harris. “There's the difference between HBO and NBC in terms of what you're going to see in terms of graphic and sexuality, and what not. But it's also just totally different; this is not True Blood. It's Charlaine Harris's imagination, but we're not trucking in V (vampire blood). Most of the tropes that are in True Blood don't make it into here. We've got a vampire. So, we're in the same world, but a totally different world.

“It's not a light show. I mean, we're killing things. Things are crawling out of the dark and trying to grab us and eat us and stuff.”

He continued on that it isn’t just vampires. “Pretty much every episode has some sort of different supernatural creature that is drawn out.”

Lastly, Lewis talked to SciFi Vision about who he would like to get more screen time with. “Honestly, I have such an awesome cast. I want to work with Parisa [Fitz-Henley] more, mainly just because I love her, and she's awesome. She's fun. And I didn't get to work with Dylan [Bruce], just a few crossover scenes.

“We end up getting a lot of shared screen time, which is hell to shoot, because then you have to cover eight actors, but it's fun, because everybody works on this show too: no prima donnas; nobody phoning it in. You show up, and you got actors, and that's fun to play with.”

Lewis also talked to the journalists about his relationship with Chuy (Bernardo Saracino), his relationships with other Midnighters, and more.

Please read the full transcript below.

Midnight, Texas
Jason Lewis

January 31, 2017


You've been in some genre projects before. What interested you when you came across this script?

The writing. Straight up, it was fun. It was clever, and it was character based. As much as this is very seeded in a genre show, we're fantasy and supernatural. The characters are really well advocated for. I think that's the fun of any story for an audience member, to be able to relate some aspect of their own life to it.

SCIFI VISION: Did you read the books at all?

I did. I didn't read them before I got hired, truth be told, but I did as soon as I got hired. I did my homework and read the books - actually the third one wasn't out when we were first shooting the pilot, so we were all begging her for, "So where's it go?"

Jason LewisHow much do you consult with [Charlaine Harris] about your character as far as what you may or may not have seen?

Not so much actually. She doesn't take such an advocacy role in the actual making of it. She wrote the books and sold the rights, so she's not there so much on the day to day.

Monica, our showrunner, she's had extensive conversations with Charlaine. So a lot of Charlaine's input got into it, but it's not a direct link for me.

So you've had conversations with Monica.

Absolutely.

Is Chuy also supposed to be an angel, because in the books they're both angels. Is this Chuy also?

I don't feel like that's a reveal I should give away. I will say that in terms of that, the books didn't delve that deep into the background of the relationships.

They were a little mysterious.

They just comb across the surface. I've done a lot of thinking and pondering on what that means for these two characters, because you're dealing with a love affair that's spanned over a thousand years the way we're presenting it. I think basic human sexuality concerns sort of go by the wayside, all this tyranny of hate and us and them. It kind of has a different perspective for us.

Do we know around the time they came to Midnight?

No! I don't even know. I write things for my character for actor work backstory and stuff, but no, I don't know. I don't think they've set that in stone.

In the pilot, they say that he's always there for this town and that he's a protector. Can you expand on that a little bit? Why does he have this affection for midnight?

The town itself is a nexus point for reality. It is a spot between Earth and Hell that's very thin, and he has been there at this battle before. He has been watching over this space on the Earth for a long, long time. So, he has a lot of history there. He's watched this possible Armageddon trying to manifest itself in this place for quite some time.

I think the idea of him being there now, is it's a place where supernaturals have kind of congregated, unbeknownst to themselves why they've been drawn to it. It's a place where they can exist without having to be under society's conventions. I would say that's probably the strongest draw consciously, but there's a lot of unconscious draw that goes more to the supernatural for these characters.

SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about the wings? Not just the effects, but sort of the physicality of getting into that and how you approached it.

Well, I've done it in 27 degree weather without a shirt on, so I kind of approached it with a shiver [laughs] and a little spasming.

It's the idea that it's a physical transformation,that the wings actually exist in my body. They took the time to look at it, and instead of them just magically appearing, there would be some sort of physical [part to it].

Jason LewisSo, I look at it is as like a very painful birthing process. It's kind of a contorting thing where you've got to move some muscles out of the way and bones out of the way and spread and open, and then like they're supposed be coming out of my back in like special pockets of musculature that I have in my anatomy. So it sucks; it's painful. So I just went with pain. [laughs]

It's not a comfortable transformation, at least that's how I chose to play it, and nobody told me to stop, so I think it lives. But I just figured, you know, these things are massive. The binding of them inside of my body, I figured it had to be somewhat uncomfortable. It's like Wolverine popping his claws.

Angels are new in Charlaine Harris's world, so what do we know about them?

In this mythology, she's not extensive in her books. I'd have to say, as much as I think that our show honors it, it's not verbatim of the books. It takes Charlaine's world, and it presents it, and I think that's really where Charlaine's magic lies. She's created these incredible worlds.

We're kind of working it out on the fly; it's not that Biblical; it's more supernatural. So, we're not married to the Biblical events of history or the same conundrums of being the first born of God. I'm a fairly young angel, I think. I'm less than two thousand years old...A lot of this is a work in progress. They get the thing, and they're on the fly; they're being as creative as they can. They come up with rules that they then have to marry themselves to later.

Have you seen their bible or have they let you in on stuff?

[laughs] Typically writers are like this little mysterious enclave; they could be playing Dungeons & Dragons for all I know. It's been one of the most inviting, warm, wonderful, collaborating, like direct access, call anybody who's writing and talk to them about character and what they think. And they give away what they can give away; they hide it from us too. [laughs]

At the same time, how does it feel to have a source material that you can go to to kind of get an idea of where your character's heading?

It's fantastic, especially as I was developing my character, like I must have read thirty pages before we got to shooting stories and ideas and things, and to be able to share those in conversation over drinks in a really casual, fun, creative setting like that, it was great.

But mostly I get kind of affirmatives by non-commenting [laughs]. I'd have to say that's one of the things I love about this project in general, is what a great synergy on it.

Monica, who is our showrunner, what a classy human being. She's just somebody to look up to who's super talented, and who's put in her time, and the team of people she's put together, I look up to a lot of the crew and cast and producers. It's a nice situation.

SCIFI VISION: Especially given the fact that your angel is a different kind of angel than most viewers are used to, is there anything other than the book or the script that you kind of took inspiration from, or maybe that you researched a bit, just to give you some ideas when creating the character?

I did, and I'm still not sure exactly how old I am; like I said, work in progress. What I started with was one of the history of the universe type spreadsheets. Here's the big bang, and then here's all the important history events in the history of man and the last few seconds of it. I started marking events that I thought would be important to my character, and then I went through those, and I started building stories.

Jason LewisLike I have this personal story that I wrote from about 1600 years ago with the people here, the pretribal Indians, who existed here that have no history. And I wrote a cool story of my first contact with humans that pulled me out of the way I thought and what I'd been indoctrinated in...It's a mishmash. You're just looking for things that have a sort of creative glue to hold on to and move through it. I'm not married to any one idea in so much as they serve the character and his needs and the story's needs.

So Rasta? What's the name of the dog you're actually working with?

Well, Rasta has kind of disappeared from the storyline. He was in the pilot, but he kind of disappeared from the storyline. I think they just felt like there were one too many actors still in the scene.

Or too many animals, perhaps?

Yeah. Cats and dogs are not as easy to work with as you would think.

And Mr. Snuggly (voiced by Joe Smith) has to stay.

Mr. Snuggly is awesome.

Were you relieved perhaps or was it difficult?

No, actually, I'm really good with dogs...The dog we used for the pilot is an Australian terrier. Super smart, super clever, and I could have been just fine. It's like having an emotional therapy dog on set [laughs] so I was kind of bummed.

Can you talk about Joe's arc a little bit, after the pilot what can we expect to see from him on a weekly basis and with his development?

I think Joe kind of came to Midnight to hide, to be out of it all, to take that weight off of his shoulders. He's like many people who have left their tribe; he's living with sort of an outcast sensibility: "take care of my own," and that's it. And as the season goes forward, it becomes apparent to him that he's not alone in the situation, and he must care for others and put himself on the line for a family that he's now part of.

I know this is fictional, as far as the little town goes. Was there anything you learned about Texas and the makeup of the different cultures? Because it seems to be like a microcosm.

It is a microcosm. I mean we are sitting so far outside, that you can say that about any place; it's a crossroads town. It's set in Texas, but it could be anywhere. It just sounds great, "Midnight Texas," doesn't it? One of the things I've liked about shooting out in New Mexico, is I had a grandfather who was born in 1911 and lived as a dust ball baby in Oklahoma and lived through the depression. And I think that's really what Midnight's really about, is it's out of the norm of thinking.

In terms of your question and asking, "Did I do any research there?" no I just got familiar with what that sensibility means, and I happen to have some personal sensibility towards it, because I've grown up with that man. But there was a time when we didn't worry about our tweets and our Instagrams and our Facebooks and what we said. We worried more about what was right to do, not how it was going to be received by others. So, I think that that's really what drives the idea of being out there. Because we're outside of society, that's the whole idea. It doesn't matter what society; it's the us and them of everybody; we decided to step away, and we'll be us over here.

Outside of his husband, can you talk about his major relationships? Who does he bond with and who does he have friction with?

The whole trope of Midnight is that people have sort of stayed unto themselves. Events of this season drive us to need each other more than we have before. So, there's kind of a distance thing that everybody was a bit of an isolationist before this happened - I figured my character more than Chuy's character, because Chuy's the one who draws back to the light, but through the course, we all become really dependent.

I'd say my character becomes more bonded to the Rev, Yul Vazquez, to Manfred, François Arnaud, and probably Lem, Peter Mensah, just because we share that supernatural sensibility. And of course, you know, I bond to Chuy a little bit through the course of the season. [laughs] He's the best. Bernardo, I wish he was here. I'm so lucky to be working with him; we've had such good times. It's nice when you actually work with people who enjoy each other's company.

SCIFI VISION: Obviously True Blood was dark and gory and everything, because it was on HBO, but how dark and gory is this show compared to that?

Jason LewisThere's the difference between HBO and NBC in terms of what you're going to see in terms of graphic and sexuality, and what not. But it's also just totally different; this is not True Blood. It's Charlaine Harris's imagination, but we're not trucking in V (vampire blood). Most of the tropes that are in True Blood don't make it into here. We've got a vampire. So, we're in the same world, but a totally different world.

It's not a light show. I mean, we're killing things. Things are crawling out of the dark and trying to grab us and eat us and stuff.

SCIFI VISION: You said how there's a vampire, is there any more different supernatural creatures coming other than in the pilot that you can tease about?

There are a lot; pretty much every episode has some sort of different supernatural creature that is drawn out.

Did you learn any tattooing?

When we did the pilot, I hung out with the tattoo artist and went over how to use it. I actually did a thing in the pilot without a needle in the gun and talked to him about it. It's pretty straight forward, the running of the mechanics. The making it look good, that's years practice, so we didn't do that really.

My character is an artist; that's something I can tell you about Joe. He's always been an artist, so this is just an iteration of him. Like he doesn't have tattoos himself. In the story he's always painting in the studio, something I've talked with the props masters as we go forward that I continue to move through different mediums. We've sat and looked through a lot of different pictures together, gigging on like whether it's painting on dark water or stone sculpture or something. This guy, he's creative, and he's had thousands of years to play with creativity, so I think this is just something that's new to him, and he's like, "Oh, hey, let's paint on flesh."

I'm just curious what your thoughts were on having two male angels married together. That's going to be a little bit controversial for some people. When you came across that, what were your thoughts?

It is [controversial].

Because I don't think we've ever seen that before.

No, you haven't. Honestly, not to be political, but I'm going to go ahead and do it, in today's political climate, where it feels like we're slipping so far back on the values and ideals that we've achieved as a society, I am so stoked to be doing something that flies in the face of other people's considerations. And that is one of the things that I've specifically used like a touchstone for myself as the character. It's what I mentioned earlier; these are not gay angels. That's just a label. These are two creatures who love each other, and love is the paramount interest and way beyond human sexuality concerns. I mean, this whole idea of us and them, it's got to end. So, the whole idea that I get to be - and I think that's great about our entire show, but the fact that I get to play that character, bring on the criticisms. I'm ready to answer, you know?

Controversy is always good too. It never hurts.

Jason LewisEspecially about this one. We should be so far past this. If you ask any ten year old, they would be. Our leaders are still thumping that drum.

SCIFI VISION: You said how your character kind of hangs back in the beginning. Is there someone that you would like to have more scenes with that you didn't get to work with as much?

Honestly, I have such an awesome cast. I want to work with Parisa more, mainly just because I love her, and she's awesome. She's fun. And I didn't get to work with Dylan, just a few crossover scenes.

We end up getting a lot of shared screen time, which is hell to shoot, because then you have to cover eight actors, but it's fun, because everybody works on this show too: no prima donnas; nobody phoning it in. You show up, and you got actors, and that's fun to play with. Good question.

What are your thoughts on a Charmed reboot?

Good for them. [laughs]

What about revisiting?

Let's see what they present. [laughs] I don't think anybody's thinking about me.

Question for you, who are they rebooting? Are they doing a whole reboot of the idea?

I think it's supposed to be different witches, supposedly not connected to the sisters.

I actually think it would great. It was a cute show for its time, and if they update it with better special effects and heavier storylines, which we can afford on television now, it would be great.

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