NBC’s AWAKE, which airs its series finale next week, is a show that unfortunately did not find an audience. Partly a police procedural – its hero, Jason Isaacs’ character Michael Britten, is a Los Angeles police homicide detective – AWAKE has another component that makes it unique. Following a terrible car accident, Michael awakens to one reality where his wife has survived the crash but their teenaged son is dead; when he goes to sleep, he wakes up in another reality where his son is alive but his wife has perished. Cases in one reality also turn up in different forms in the other, giving Michael clues that are useful, even if he can’t explain them to his coworkers.
AWAKE creator/executive producer Kyle Killen has had some strange realities himself. He wrote the screenplay for THE BEAVER, a movie directed by Jodie Foster and starring Mel Gibson as a man having a nervous breakdown – its distribution was delayed by some bad publicity surrounding the leading actor. Killen also created the Fox series LONE STAR, about a con man living a dual life, which received considerable critical acclaim but was pulled after only two episodes had aired. AWAKE at least has made it on air for all of its thirteen-episode order.
This exclusive interview was conducted before AWAKE was canceled. Killen talks about how creative decisions were made that shaped the uncommon show.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you come up with this idea for AWAKE entirely after LONE STAR, or had this been on your mind for some time?
KYLE KILLEN: [The concept of] a person who had dreams that they literally could not separate from reality is something that I’ve been [thinking about] and I’ve always had an interest in people who are divided between two worlds. I think the cancellation of LONE STAR brought it all together.
AX: At the risk of asking a silly question, does Michael Britten experience sleep? Is he sleep-deprived from feeling like he’s always in one waking reality or the other?
KILLEN: It’s one of the things that B.D Wong’s [psychiatrist] character points out in the pilot, that technically [Michael] is asleep for a seemingly normal amount of time, but he’s not doing it right. He’s holding up an entire other universe. So whether or not that sleep is actually restful and whether or not over time the stress of that is going to cause problems is sort of an open question and we begin to play with the idea that he does in fact have a debt and it does affect how he sees the world going forward.
AX: Did the idea of Michael being a cop provide you with a good way of– letting the two worlds overlap each other, or was that something added because procedurals often do well on television?
KILLEN: I don’t know [how well] procedurals do or don’t any more, I don’t know what the verdict is on them thriving, but it absolutely provides you with a crystal-clear want/need, something to do on a weekly basis and, as a viewer, something to enjoy on a weekly basis, something to see resolved on a weekly basis.
AX: When did your fellow executive producer and show runner Howard Gordon – who is also on HOMELAND – come aboard AWAKE?
KILLEN: Howard joined us right before we started shooting the pilot, but as with anything, as you make it, it becomes the ideas of everybody involved.
AX: What is your collaboration like with one another?
KILLEN: It’s great. It’s like a marriage. As it was on LONE STAR with Chris [Keyser] and Amy [Lippman], I’ve been really lucky to land in two different shows with two different really experienced sets of people – it’s like a mind-meld, it’s been fantastic.
AX: How did you come to cast Jason Isaacs as your series lead?
KILLEN: [NBC entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt had worked with Jason on BROTHERHOOD at Showtime [when Greenblatt was entertainment president at the cable network] and [Greenblatt] knew – it’s almost as if when Bob decided to pick up [AWAKE], he knew exactly who we needed, and once we met with Jason, we saw that he was right.
AX: Did Cherry Jones, who plays Michael’s other psychiatrist, come onto the show because she played the U.S. president when Howard Gordon was show runner on 24.
KILLEN: Yeah. The script originally called for a twenty-eight-year-old, very young, fresh-out-of-school therapist, and two things happened. One, you would put twenty-eight-year-old actresses with someone with Jason’s gravity and have them try to tell him what he was thinking, and you could tell that was never going to work. And then you brought in someone like Cherry, who has a life and a sense of experience and trust, and we just said, “That’s it.”
AX: She’s the epitome of someone who knows what she’s talking about.
KILLEN: That’s exactly right, but does it in a way that she still feels warm and like she cares about you and she’s concerned, and she’s fantastic.
AX: The two realities have different color schemes, red for the one where Michael’s wife is alive, green for the one with his son. How was it decided which one would be which?
KILLEN: We looked at it as warm and cold, and I think that we wanted the world around his wife to be sort of warm, since we think of that as being slightly more tragic, and that’s the one where he’s lost his son, and there’s just a different flavor to the one where he has his son and not his wife. It was mostly about, “How can we make this crystal-clear where you are?”
AX: After the first few episodes of AWAKE were filmed, there was a three-week break in production. What was that about – did the overall idea or specific scripts need tweaking?
KILLEN: It wasn’t about tweaking, it was about, [at that point in production is] when you start to see cuts [edited-together versions of episodes], that’s when you start to see what’s working and what’s not, that’s when you start to see, when you write a sixty-page script, how much of it actually gets into a forty-three minute cut and how do you service all the stories, making sure that, as we move forward, we were able to, in the planning phase, match the execution phase and that [break] just gave us a breath to catch up and think about it that way.
AX: So was that also about the speed of production being faster than the speed of scripts being written?
KILLEN: Oh, yes. And smarter people may do it faster than we do, but for us, every episode is a Sisyphusian task. You get the boulder up, and then it comes right back down for the next one. They’re really hard to break [plot out a complete story], so it’s hard to keep up with production every week.
AX: Might Michael ever have the issue of romantic temptation in the son-only universe, although that’s not exactly infidelity?
KILLEN: I think that’s absolutely a thing that we’re exploring. I think that what we have found is that the speed with which you can pursue those is different than I might have imagined when I came up with it, exactly for the reason that you’ve cited, which is, you say to yourself, “It isn’t infidelity, but it feels like it.” So you have to really work and earn the idea that there’s a romantic relationship in the other world, and so we’re taking our time with that to make sure it feels real.
AGREE? DISAGREE? LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD – COMMENT BELOW
Related Link: Exclusive Interview with AWAKE star Steve Harris
Related Link:TV Review – AWAKE – Season 1 – “Guilty”
Related Link:TV Review – AWAKE – Season 1 – “The Little Guy”
Related Link:TV Review – AWAKE – Season 1 – “Pilot”
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with AWAKE creator Kyle Killen