In NBC’s new Wednesday-night series REVERIE, premiering May 30, Sendhil Ramamurthy’s character Paul Hammond has created a virtual reality application that allows users to develop their own perfect worlds. The problem is that some users find it so fulfilling that they refuse to leave virtual reality, which puts their flesh-and-blood bodies at risk. Enter former hostage negotiator Mara Kint, who can be put into the Reverie experiences of others and attempt to talk them back into returning to the real world.
Actor Ramamurthy, originally from Chicago, is no stranger to NBC genre programming, having spent four seasons on the network’s HEROES as Dr. Mohinder Suresh. Ramamurthy has also been a regular on COVERT AFFAIRS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Sky TV/NBC International’s STAN LEE’S LUCKY MAN, currently available on Amazon. His feature credits include THE LIFEGUARD, BRAHMIN BULLS, and SHOTGUN.
In a phone conversation, Ramamurthy discusses playing an inventor, why Paul has an English accent, why he’d never want to try the Reverie app himself, and more.
ASSIGNMENT X: In REVERIE, people’s subconscious minds are being altered. In LUCKY MAN, someone is altering people’s luck. Do you see any resemblance between the two series?
SENDHIL RAMAMURTHY: It does, in the sense that I think that there’s that aspect of wish fulfillment that LUCKY MAN certainly had. There’s definite crossover there.
AX: Is there any personality crossover between your characters in REVERIE and LUCKY MAN?
RAMAMURTHY: [laughs] No. Polar opposite. Governor Julian Golding, as he’s known on the show in LUCKY MAN, is very different from Paul Hammond, which is a good thing. I don’t want to keep playing the same thing.
AX: Obviously, on HEROES, you were doing an Indian accent because Mohinder is Indian, and LUCKY MAN is set in England, so you’d be doing an accent to fit in, but since REVERIE is set in America, why are you doing an English accent for Paul?
RAMAMURTHY: I went in to meet with [REVERIE creator] Mickey Fisher and the folks at DreamWorks, and I said, “Listen, I’m reading this, when I read this out loud – when I hear myself, it doesn’t sound right.” As an actor, the first thing you’re trying to do is find the voice of the character, and it didn’t sound right. I kind of made a joke, but it’s half-true. I said, “I don’t feel like I sound smart enough [laughs] as the character, speaking the way that I speak. How would you feel if the character was British? Because the voice sounds right in my head.” I know that sounds really vague and nebulous, but when I’m trying to find the voice of a character, I try different things, and it just sounded right. And they were really into it, especially since all of the other main characters are American, they actually liked that idea. It wasn’t written British, it was written American. So I went in and I was like, “I can do this, and I think I can make a really cool character, but I really think that I’d prefer to do it British, if that’s all right with you guys.” And they were cool with it. I guess the answer to your question is, it’s the way I found I could make the character work for me, in my head.
AX: Are we going to find out much about Paul over the course of REVERIE’s first season? Are we going to find out what his own Reverie would be, or if he has any goals in doing Reverie, other than as a successful business/science project?
RAMAMURTHY: Oh, yeah. In one of the first two or three episodes after the pilot, we’ll find out more about him. That’s one of the things that drew me to the show. Having been on a show where everybody has a superpower and my character didn’t have a superpower, I was like, “I don’t want to be on a show that’s about going into this virtual reality program, and then my character doesn’t get to go into the virtual reality program.” So that was one of the first things that I brought up when I met everybody. I asked, “Is Paul going into Reverie, or not? I need to know that right now.” They said, “Paul will go into Reverie. That’s actually one of the cool things about it.” And that really hooked me in the meeting that I had with those guys, was that we find out the back story of each of our main characters, really, through their reveries. I think that’s a very cool way to be able to find out about these characters. And we find out in one of the early episodes about Paul and what his upbringing was, what his relationship with his parents was, and maybe what drew him to becoming the architect of this dream world within Reverie. Without giving too much away, he [appears to be] a very positive, happy person, and that veneer masks some dark stuff inside him. He suffers from panic attacks, he’s suffered from depression, and for him, Reverie was a way to maybe delve into some of that, and explore why it is that he suffers from some of these things, and that was one of the cool episodes for me, where I bring Mara in with me to my Reverie, and show her, “Hey, this is what I hope this program can be for people. This is what it helps me to do.” And I show her. I found it exciting to be able to do that, to learn about our characters from their Reveries, not just glossing over it in the real world as we pass by each other in the office, or whatever it is. We address it. It’s also a nice break, I think. You don’t want every episode to be, okay, the client comes in, signs up for Reverie because they want to address [their issues], and they go in and get stuck, and then we go in and get them out. That’s repetitive and can get tedious. It’s a nice break-up of things, where you see the different reasons why Reverie came into being in the first place.
AX: Does NBC have a fondness for you, because you seem to be a series regular in a lot of NBC and NBC-owned shows?
RAMAMURTHY: Yeah, I seem to have clicked with those guys for the past twelve years [laughs]. Even LUCKY MAN was an NBC International co-production. Even though it was for Sky in the U.K., it was an NBC International co-production. I was in England for all of 2015 and all of 2016, doing LUCKY MAN. Those guys seem to like me, and I definitely like them. They get me, I like NBC’s commitment to their dramas, I like their commitment to diversity, of which I think this show [REVERIE] is a perfect example. And weirdly, I know this may sound disingenuous, but I promise it’s not – I really did not know this, that out of the five main characters, four are people of color. It didn’t creep into my head until we did the photo shoot, and I saw it, and I was like, “Yeah, there’s definitely a chocolaty veneer to this picture,” and I think that that’s great. It’s awesome, and NBC seems very committed to that. So long may it continue.
AX: Yeah. Sarah Shahi is Persian …
RAMAMURTHY: Jessica [Lu, who plays Paul’s colleague Alexis Barrett] is Chinese-American, Dennis Haysbert [who plays Charlie Ventana] is African-American, and Kathryn Morrison [who plays Monica Shaw] is our blond-haired, blue-eyed girl.
AX: Did you have to learn or research anything in order to play Paul?
RAMAMURTHY: I did a little bit. Obviously, most of the stuff that we’re dealing with is made up, so a lot of my quote-unquote research was talks with Mickey Fisher, because all of this is coming out of his weird, brilliant brain. But an oneirologist, which is what Paul is, is a real thing. That’s the science of studying dreams. So I read up about that. I learned how to pronounce it [laughs], because I literally didn’t know how to say it. I remember the first take, where I meet Mara in the pilot, and I said it, I said it wrong. And Mickey ran out and said, “No, no, it’s oneirologist [pronounced on-I-rall-o-jist].” I thought, “Great, I’m going to get fired on the first day, because I can’t say my profession correctly. Well done, Sendhil.” And I had done it. Because on Google, you can press that button, and it says the word for you. And it just didn’t come out right. But I got there eventually.
AX: In REVERIE, it seems like the main characters only realize they may have a problem getting people out of the VR world once it starts to be an issue. Since in our world, we know that, for instance, people get stuck playing World of Warcraft until they collapse from lack of sleep, do you think Paul et al perhaps should have considered this earlier?
RAMAMURTHY: Look at what’s going on with Facebook. I don’t think that Mark Zuckerberg, when he was creating Facebook, or whatever it was called at the beginning, thought, “Oh, it can be used to influence elections.” And it’s actually something that we address in the show in further episodes – Reverie was meant to be this great thing. And now this other thing is happening that is not so great, that has to do with this program. How do we address it? That’s why this show is so topical. It’s not just that you can’t open a magazine without reading about VR or AI these days. It’s impossible to skirt around that fact. But it’s also what you just said. There are consequences. Is technology always a good thing? Is too much technology always a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I’m definitely in the Luddite camp, where I’m just like, “No [laughs], I do not thing that technology is always a good thing.” You will never find me in a self-driving car, ever. That’s not going to be happening.
AX: So if Reverie really existed, would you want to try it?
RAMAMURTHY: You can try it and let me know about it. No, honestly. It’s not something that I’m comfortable with in real life. I’m not hooking myself up to some machine, not knowing what the consequences are. It scares me. And it’s an issue that we raise in the show, not just on the outskirts – it’s at the center of a lot of what the show is about – is this always good? And what are the ramifications? And what do we do about it, what’s the ethical thing to do about it? In one sense, there’s this dichotomy to Paul. He’s like the conscience of the thing – “No, no, no, we don’t know what’s going to happen when we do this, so how on Earth can we just stick somebody else in there? That’s not morally or ethically right.” And then there’s this other half of him that loves this program so much, and wants to push the boundaries of the program so much, that he can’t help himself. So what ends up happening is, Paul goes into the Reverie to push the boundaries of them through himself, not putting other people at risk, but he’s more than happy to risk himself, because it’s like his crack cocaine. This is absolutely his jam. He can’t resist that temptation. It is an addictive thing, and it absolutely raises all those questions.
AX: From a viewer perspective, how do you feel about REVERIE’s visual effects?
RAMAMURTHY: Really bowled over. First of all, the guys who do the effects on REVERIE, they’re the guys who did the effects on HEROES. So that was awesome, just to see all the guys back on set. I was like, “Oh, my God.” And by the way, we actually shot at Universal Studios on the same stage that we shot the pilot of HEROES on, so it was very weird for me, to be back there, ten years later on a different show, and then have the same effect guys coming on. I was like, “Chris [Nelson], what are you doing here?” “I’m doing the effects.” It was very cool, very déjà vu. I really liked that. The effects are incredible, and having the opportunity to talk to these guys and to see just how far the technology has come [since] HEROES, which went off the air seven, eight years ago now. The difference in what they’re able to do is staggering. For me, that was one of the things where I was, “Okay, I’ve got to be prepared to do a lot of green screen work again.” And I haven’t done green screen, really, in any significant way since HEROES. COVERT AFFAIRS, there was no green screen, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, we had no green screen, and LUCKY MAN, I did a tiny bit of green screen. And I don’t particularly enjoy green screen. I just find it hard to do. I can do it now, because I’ve had so much experience, but it’s not something that I enjoy. And that was actually one of the pleasant surprises. We did a lot of [REVERIE] practically. We’re in this forest – we went and shot in the forest. We didn’t green screen a lot of it in. But some of the stuff had to be green-screened in, and that stuff that these guys can do now, it’s unbelievable. And you’ll see it as the episodes go on, the effects are really amazing.
AX: You’re also involved in doing audio books and doing some TV producing …
RAMAMURTHY: I’ve been developing a TV project that we’re working on, and the book has come out. It’s a series about a private detective, so I’ve recorded the audio books for that. It’s called RAVI, P.I. It’s about a private investigator and – this will come as no shock to you – the whole thing is set in London. I love London. I’m such an Anglophile, my wife is from there and we lived there for a long time. And it’s set in the underworld of posh London. This is about a group of detectives that take on the cases of the uber-wealthy and the very high-positioned people in the U.K., some in British government, and oligarchs, and basically clean up their messes that nobody can ever know about. They have to be done so discreetly that the company never gets to take credit for any of it. And so we’re developing that right now as a TV series.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about REVERIE?
RAMAMURTHY: I want them to know that, at its heart – it’s about virtual reality and all these things that may sound techy and all that – the core of the show is that it’s this psychological thriller that has a real emotional hook to every episode. That’s the thing that was the biggest surprise to me, watching the episodes, because we knew what was happening, and what was coming, and there were moments where the cast was ugly-crying at some of the stuff it happens. These episodes pack a deeply emotional punch, which I was not expecting. I wasn’t expecting it to be as emotional as it is, and it was really satisfying from that point of view. You feel like there’s significance to it. It resonates in the real world, even though these cases are virtual. I mean, people were weeping, and I was not expecting that from this show at all. And that’s been the greatest surprise, and something that I’m really happy about, actually, because it can’t just all be about sci-fi technology-type stuff. There’s got to be an emotional core, and that’s there in every single episode. I’m really proud of that.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: REVERIE – Sendhil Ramamurthy on Season 1 of the new NBC drama