Jason O'Mara in VEGAS - Season 1 - "(Il)Legitimate" | ©2012 CBS/Cliff Lipson

Michael Chiklis, Dennis Quaid and Jason O'Mara in VEGAS - Season 1 - "(Il)Legitimate" | ©2012 CBS/Cliff Lipson

In VEGAS, Dennis Quaid plays farmer-turned-Las Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb, who has to team up with casino owner/gangster Vincent Savino, played by Michael Chiklis, in the first-season finale, CBS, Friday May 10 at 9 PM.

Jason O’Mara plays Jack Lamb, Ralph’s brother and now a deputy sheriff who has become romantically entangled with mob boss’ daughter Mia Rizzo, played by Sarah Jones. This situation has cost Jack dearly.

As VEGAS is set in 1960-61, this marks the third TV series in a row that’s seen O’Mara playing a period role. He previously starred in the U.S. remake of LIFE ON MARS as a cop who found himself mysteriously back in the 1970s, and in TERRA NOVA, as a man who traveled with his family back to the prehistoric era. He’s continuing the trend with a role in upcoming the Civil War miniseries TO APPOMATOX as historical figure George B. McClellan.

O’Mara, a native of Dublin, Ireland, looks quite at home on the set of VEGAS’ Savoy Casino, an impressively-realized environment in its own soundstage in Santa Clarita. The actor is happy to talk about his roles present and past.

ASSIGNMENT X: Did the early Sixties and/or Las Vegas have any kind of special interest for you before you got this show?

JASON O’MARA: Before the show? Sure. I loved CASINO, I love GOODFELLAS, I love that whole world. I’ve always been a fan of Dennis Quaid and of Michael Chiklis and of Carrie-Anne [Moss, who plays deputy district attorney Katherine O’Connell], for that matter. Once I heard this was happening, before I was even approached, this seemed to me to be the project to be involved with, just epic storytelling, fantastic cast, great scripts, great pedigree.

AX: Are you sort of resigned to bouncing around in time with your characters? This is the third series in a row where you’re working in the past.

O’MARA: Well, there’s no time travel in this, but I haven’t done anything contemporary on TV in quite some time, that’s true [laughs]. I don’t know – I like to take a shot with things. I like to take risks, I’m attracted to things that are slightly different, I guess, than the average run-of-the-mill stuff.

AX: Now that VEGAS has been on for most of a season, can you say if it has turned out the way you expected?

O’MARA: Better than I expected, I think, by far. I thought it was going to be kind of the way we started out. I knew it was always going to be a good show. I knew just from the pedigree of everybody involved that it was going to have excellent production values, excellent acting, writing, the best directors and beautiful sets. That was all a given. But I think the first few episodes that were aired, I thought were going to be the way the show was – an emphasis on procedural, and then the mob story would happen. And then as the weeks went on, while that is essentially our show, there’s been a real deepening of the story. I think they found a way to evolve all these characters in two obviously very separate worlds, but found ways to make those two worlds depend on each other somehow, need each other somehow. It’s not just about keeping them apart, it’s about putting them together. So you’ve got Jack and Mia, you’ve got Dixon {Ralph’s son, played by Taylor Handley] and Violet [a Hollywood starlet played by Anna Camp], obviously, Savino, Rizzo [Michael Wiseman], Katherine O’Connell with her wiretap and her informant, all that stuff – it all hinges on Jack and Mia’s relationship, so even though I knew I was going to be heavily involved, I always saw my character as peripheral, but as time went on, Jack [became] integral to the story, and I’ve got great stuff to play.

AX: How would you describe Jack?

O’MARA: He’s a guy who’s always kept the home fires burning, he’s run the family business, he has brought up his nephew, because Ralph’s been away fighting wars as an MP [military policeman] in Europe. Ralph seems to be the kind of guy who’s always off doing something, and Jack’s the guy left at home doing the paperwork. And now Ralph has brought Jack into another kind of family business, as sheriff and deputy. Jack’s followed him and he’s done the right thing and he’s been dutiful and loyal and faithful to his brother, but suddenly he sees this world with these beautiful showgirls and attractive mob daughters who actually takes a shine to him, and it’s like this whole world that he never knew existed suddenly opened up, and he falls deeply in love with this woman who represents so many of the things he thought he would never experience.

AX: Since Jack isn’t the sheriff, unlike his brother, is there more opportunity for Jack to do some things that are perhaps a little more unethical than one would expect?

O’MARA: I think all of the characters are corruptible and that’s what’s really interesting about this. I think even though the [original VEGAS advertising] poster had a black hat and a white hat, that we wanted to muddy those waters as much as possible. And I think we’re doing that now. We’ve been able to establish all these characters from those early episodes, where it was a clear-cut procedural with the mob story, and now the waters are muddied, all the characters and storylines are bleeding into one another, and now you’ve got a situation where all the characters, even Ralph, are capable of doing the right things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s always really exciting when you see characters challenged like that.

AX: The VEGAS pilot was shot in New Mexico and then the company moved to Santa Clarita. How did you feel about the move?

O’MARA: I loved being in New Mexico. There were weather elements that were quite difficult to cope with at the time, but we had a great crew and fantastic sets. We took this small town in New Mexico and turned it into Las Vegas,Nevada. We took a little side street and turned it into Fremont Street, which is a huge project for just a pilot. But Santa Clarita – the studio there gives us so much more free rein. We’ve converted a parking lot adjacent to a studio into this world [as Fremont Street]. It suits everybody better, we’re closer to our families and it’s more practical.

AX: In one episode, Jack has to hide under a bed from Mia’s father – and you actually fit under there …

O’MARA: Well, first of all, in the bed’s defense, I would say, you never know how high beds are, because you never look under them – well, I don’t. Secondly, it was 1961 and beds were a little more robust back then. So you could argue that there would be room under a bed. By the way, it was a really tight fit. It might not have looked that way, but I could barely get in and out of that situation [laughs]. I had to endure many friction burns that I carried for six full days after that. I had to get under with the camera, and then get out, and because we had to do multiple takes, I had to do it about thirty times in three hours. So plenty of friction burns. It might have looked spacious, but it really wasn’t. There was quite literally about ten inches clearance.

AX: Since you’ve begun working on VEGAS, have you learned anything that’s surprised you or interested you?

O’MARA: That’s quite a broad question, because there are so many things. Of course, when you can think of a hundred things, it’s hard to think of one. There are obvious things like paperwork – the amount of paper that was involved, just ridiculous. Also, that communication was important, because it’s not like now, where we’re all available, twenty-four/seven. It was very difficult sometimes to get a hold of people, because they were only there [at certain times] in front of their phones. I suppose the most shocking thing, as we get deeper into the story, is how much of what was going on simply couldn’t be policed for so many reasons – political reasons, shifts in power. It’s a wonder that Las Vegas ever really survived itself.It really should have corrupted itself beyond the point of survival a long time ago, and somehow it survived.

I suppose it’s a testament for better or worse to the success of capitalism, because money is king, and the money won. Somehow, the casinos prevailed and they’re still there, although they’re run by a different kind of menace now, known as corporations. And they’re huge, they’re vast. Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed when I go there. Even though in itself it is this incredible advertisement for capitalism, it’s not human-sized any more, and that’s also what I like about this area, is that Vegas was human-sized. You can go out and walk on Fremont Street, end to end, you can visit three different casinos, thirty feet [apart], but on the Strip, you have to walk a half-mile to go from one to the other [laughs]. You need to get a cab to go from one to the other, even though it’s next door.

Also, I think another very interesting and sad aspect about the period, and it’s something we’re exploring, is the idea that women, when they put out or flirted or even to the point of abuse, the victim was blamed. And we’re going to be telling some stories in terms of that. And I think it’s important because this show is set fifty-two years ago, so we need to make sure that we have moved on from that, that there should never be a stigma associated with rape or abuse. And [creators/show runners Nick Pileggi and Greg Walker] are smart guys, we’re very careful [in how the subject matter is depicted]. So we’re trying to deal with difficult storylines like that, which hopefully will show how sad it was, and even more sad that it could happen now, in 2013.

AX: Can you talk a little about what happened with TERRA NOVA, which had a lot of promotion but lasted one season?

O’MARA: Sure. We were just finding our feet. I think we proved that by the season finale. There was a lot more story to tell, and I think there was an audience to watch it. Certainly internationally, the show went down extremely well, there were huge numbers. It’s just domestically, it didn’t quite get there. I think creatively we probably could have made some slightly better decisions halfway through, but I think that’s par for the course for such an ambitious series. So yeah, we needed more than thirteen [episodes], I think. Honestly, we were on the bubble and we were a show that they should have just gone with their gut and taken another shot with.

I think there was a lack of clarity in terms of when the mythology needed to kick in. The first few episodes were strangely standalone, and there wasn’t much mythology and I think the mythology needed to be kicking in right from that second episode onwards. So I think we needed to commit to the fact that it was going to be a LOST-like mythological series and not apologize for it.

AX: Do you know what the second season of TERRA NOVA might have been like?

O’MARA: No. The show runners had that conversation with Fox and put together the bible for a possible second series, but I think that changed a couple of times, it was pitched a couple of times and I wasn’t privy to the content of those bibles, but there were definitely lots of ideas floating around.

AX: It seems like a lot of people on VEGAS have recently done genre shows – Michael Chiklis was on NO ORDINARY FAMILY, Carrie-Anne Moss was on CHUCK, Sarah Jones was on ALCATRAZ …

O’MARA: Well, I think as actors, maybe we have that in common, that we go for slightly out of the box stuff or genre stuff,

AX: As amazing as the VEGAS sets are, there is some CGI in the show. After TERRA NOVA, have you gotten better at dealing with scene elements that aren’t there and will be added later via computer.

O’MARA: Oh, yeah. But the thing is, and I think this is the way the business going, is whether is something is sci-fi or genre or not, whether it’s got dinosaurs or monsters or it’s set in space or not, sometimes just regular cop shows and law shows and medical show are using visual effects now. So it just seems to be in everything you do now. So as an actor who’s been around the business over the last ten years, during this evolution of visual effects, it seems to be just par for the course. I’m used to it.

AX: Do you have a favorite episode or a favorite scene that you’ve done in VEGAS?

O’MARA: Yeah. We shot a scene in the episode “Road Trip” that I found very disturbing to shoot, but it was also empowering for Jack and it really is a turning point for Jack and a turning point in the series, actually. We shot it before Christmas. It starts out as a jaunty escapade when Savino, Cota [Sonny Marinelli] and Red [James Russo], Savino’s two wingmen, get caught out in the desert. They’re hot and we’ve got these three fish out of water guys from Chicago walking around like, “Where the hell are we?” and it’s actually kind of fun, and then it shifts in tone toward the end. In the final act, something happens with Jack and it’s really intense. That scene was very difficult to film, but at the same time, it was empowering for Jack, because he took his own fate into his own hands and made a decision and made several decisions after that that defined who he was. It later helps to underline the importance of family, ultimately.

AX: Do you have any other projects coming up that we should be looking out for?

O’MARA: Yeah. I have a cameo in an indie film called IN A WORLD that Lake Bell has just [directed, written and starred in]. I don’t have a big role in it, but it was lots of fun to shoot and it’s got a great comedy cast. I’ve also been doing some animated movies – I can’t talk about them yet, but they’ve been a lot of fun and there will be more on that later coming up. I’ll probably go to Comic-Con with those.

AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about VEGAS?

O’MARA: I don’t think so, other than we’ve got such a deep bench of great actors on this, it’s an absolute pleasure to come to work every day. I hope you can see how well we all get on with each other. Usually on shows, you’ve only got a couple of talented people and everybody else kind of fills out the numbers, but I feel like we have a really deep bench of talented actors and the writers have found a way to write for us, so it’s an exciting time.

Related: Exclusive Interview: VEGAS Star Michael Chiklis

Related: Exclusive Interview: VEGAS Star Carrie Anne Moss rolls the dice

Related: Exclusive Interview: VEGAS Star Carrie Anne Moss rolls the dice

Related: Exclusive Interview: VEGAS Star Dennis Quaid talks going old school in his first TV series role

Related:TV Review: VEGAS – Season 1 – “Pilot” – Series Premiere

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Article: Exclusive Interview: VEGAS Star Jason O’Mara

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