DEBRIS is in its freshman season, Monday nights on NBC. In the series, created by J.H. Wyman, an alien spacecraft has exploded, near enough to Earth to have its debris land all over our planet. Each piece, large or small, has unique properties. Some create clones; others cause humans to breathe chlorine rather than oxygen; some allow teleportation.
A joint U.S. (i.e., C.I.A.) and British (i.e., MI-6) task force has been created to track down and retrieve every bit of the alien technology. Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) is the main C.I.A. field agent, who investigates with his MI-6 counterpart, Finola Jones (Riann Steele). Not surprisingly, the Americans and the U.K. sides are keeping secrets from each other.
Norbert Leo Butz plays Craig Maddox, who’s in charge of the C.I.A. task force. Scroobius Pip portrays Anson Ash, a leader of the mysterious group Influx, whose members are willing to kill and die to prevent any government from obtaining the extraterrestrial wreckage.
Butz, originally from St. Louis, MO, played the late Paddy Chayevsky in the FX miniseries FOSSE/VERDON. His other film and TV credits include TRUST, BLOODLINE, MERCY STREET, THE DEEP END, and FAIR GAME. Butz was nominated for a Grammy along with the rest of the cast of the 2018/2019 Broadway revival of MY FAIR LADY, and has starred in numerous other Broadway musicals.
Pip (real name David Peter Meads) is a native of Essex, London, England. He is a podcaster, former poet and hip-hop performer, whose other film and TV credits include THE LETTER FOR THE KING, WALK LIKE A PANTHER, TABOO, and THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER.
Both Butz and Pip are on a video conference call, arranged by NBC, with three reporters to discuss their work on DEBRIS, which shoots in Vancouver. At the outset, they are commiserating over the Canadian weather.
NORBERT LEO BUTZ: It is really chilly when that rain comes. You stay close to home.
SCROOBIUS PIP: Genuinely, I had an umbrella in my Airbnb, and it’s now in the bin [garbage can] outside the front of my Airbnb, because it just came apart on the way back last night. So, I guess I have to replace that.
BUTZ: That must happen in London, it happens in New York constantly. They sell the tourists these $3.99 little umbrellas that are just –
PIP: [makes explosion hand gesture]
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the characters that you play, and how you prepared?
BUTZ: Well, Pip never prepares –
BUTZ: He just shows up, and he says [does British accent], “Oh, I’ve got an accent, everybody like me, everybody like me …”
PIP: I do it, mate. I’ve got an accent and a beard.
BUTZ: He doesn’t have to prepare. He just shows up, and people are like, “Oh, British! Beard! We love him!”
PIP: Joking aside, the weird world that we’re in, and the weird situation [with COVID] meant that we had a month or two of isolation out here in Vancouver. So, obviously, it was tough as a human. But as an actor, having more time to prepare and get to know your character was amazing. So, one of the things I did was make a playlist for Anson Ash. And I’d go out for walks of an evening, and just kind of really get myself into that mindset, and into that character.
BUTZ: I want to see that playlist. I’m a little scared of it, but I want to see it [laughs].
PIP: A hundred percent. It’s an aggressive playlist. I told a friend of mine about it, and he was saying, “You know, last time we spoke, you were saying that you have insomnia. I think it’s ‘cause you’re putting on this really aggressive playlist and walking around Vancouver at night.”
PIP: I was like, “That could well be it, but anything for the role.” [laughs] But yeah, I think it allowed us, kind of, a really gracious extra amount of time to get to know these characters before we even set foot on set, right?
BUTZ: Yeah. That’s such a cool point, Pip. I really agree with you. The life of a C.I.A. operative – my character, Craig Maddox, he would be heading this division, dealing with the debris. He’s somebody that would have come up through Special Ops work, paramilitary work, probably recruited for his IT knowledge, or his tech knowledge. He’s a guy who was a soldier. My character would have made his name not just in the Middle East but, say, in Central America, and battling the huge drug wars of the ‘80s is where he would have started, and he’s worked his way up, and has been asked to lead this division to deal with this debris. He recruits Bryan, Jonathan’s character, because he sees tremendous potential in him, as a soldier, but also as a spy, and as a tactician. So, it’s a really interesting relationship that I have with Jonathan’s character. I’ve read some books on C.I.A. ops, and Special Ops. CAPTURE, KILL, VANISH is a pretty famous book, an amazing book. But Pip is right. The isolation of COVID has really made me think a lot. These are characters who live in tremendous isolation, right? So, these are people who keep their own company a vast majority of the time, and it’s been interesting to reflect on that.
BUTZ: With just this aloneness, how you keep your mind engaged, and stay disciplined, that’s something that these guys would do a lot, and you’re right, it has added to, I think, what we’re doing in front of the camera. The world of C.I.A. life, it’s – I don’t want to say “lonely,” because Craig would never [say something] like, “Oh, it’s lonely” or not, but from the outside looking in, these are people who really have to compartmentalize their lives, they have to keep information from even their most intimate relationships, their families, their friends. They thrive in isolation. I’m so different from that, I’m totally relational [laughs]. That’s what I love about what we get to do. You make these huge leaps out of your comfort zone, so it’s been a really cool world to explore.
PIP: Yeah. It’s great, because the mystery of Anson Ash continues throughout, really. We get more and more information as we come along. What I can tell you is, he’s ex-military. I was thinking about this more and more as we were talking about the research. More than looking into the military side, I looked into radicalization, because I think he sees himself as a revolutionary, as a radical.
PIP: And that’s a really interesting mindset, and a really interesting world, because the perception from the outside and from the inside is completely opposite, there’s no crossover. So, yeah, he definitely sees himself as a revolutionary, and he’s fighting an important fight. And then it’s up to you guys [the audience] to decide if you, from the outside, see him as the good guy or the bad guy, as such.
BUTZ: Mm-hmm. One of the great, thrilling parts about playing Craig this season, the audience will get into his home life. He’s married, he has a seventeen-year-old son, and this is not easy work – spying, Special Ops. It’s not easy work for the people inside, or for the people who love them. So, we do get to explore his home life a little bit. It’s a complicated marriage, as anybody who’s married to anybody in this line of work would say. So, he’s a guy who is trying to do the right thing all the time, extremely intelligent, but constantly having to remain morally flexible [laughs].
ASSIGNMENT X: How likely do you think that the DEBRIS scenario actually is? Not necessarily in terms of the exact personnel investigating it, but the possibility that something fell out of the universe onto Earth, and we’re just finding out about it now?
PIP: It’s really interesting, because I think it’s crazy to assume that anything that would come here from an unknown place would have properties that we’re familiar with, all of these kinds of things. The assumption that it be a chunk of what we know as metal is crazy. So, yeah, I think it’s highly possible and weirdly exciting and to imagine what could come, and what the impact of that would be, literal and figurative.
BUTZ: Pip, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience – I’ve always been very aware that we are, in doing a piece of sci-fi, it’s not very likely at all, I would have said. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, if you’ve heard about the plane that sort of fell apart over Denver , and they were interviewing and showing video. [Butz is referring to the incident on Saturday, February 20, 2021, when United Airlines Flight 328 had engine failure and rained debris down into residential areas below, although the plane was able to return to Denver International Airport safely, and no one on the ground was seriously injured.] I got chills up and down my arm – all these massive pieces of metal on people’s front lawns, right? Listening to what these people are describing [in interviews], what the sound was, what they thought they were seeing, what they thought they were hearing – I got chills up and down my body. It’s the exact same thing that characters of our show [are dealing with]. Of course, the properties in our debris change matter and make people do crazy things, but this idea, that’s basic laws of physics, gravity, what goes up must come down – it suddenly [hit] on a very real level, as this man [being interviewed], he’s beside himself. He’s laughing, he’s kind of upset, and there’s this massive piece of bizarre metal –
PIP: Debris –
BUTZ: From this airplane. Luckily, no one was hurt. I don’t know if you read about this story –
PIP: Completely. No one was hurt, and it felt like the best guerilla marketing campaign for DEBRIS ever.
BUTZ: This idea that there are objects, intergalactic objects, spacecraft, God knows what – we know that there is a lot of – there’s matter [laughs]. So, who knows?
QUESTION: What do each of your characters think of the C.I.A. and MI-6 working together on this?
PIP: From my character’s perspective, they’re the enemy. Two of my enemies have come together. The outlook of Anson and his Influx teammates is that neither the American government or the British government can be trusted with this technology, and control of this, and I think he’s got a lot of historical evidence on that belief [laughs]. There’s been a lot of misuse of power, and misuse of tech over the years within the governments, so yeah, for him, that team-up is very much, whether it goes smoothly or not smoothly, the strengthening of his enemies.
BUTZ: There’s an interesting scene that I have with a Russian colleague/counterpart, and we have this little dialogue about the race to space between the Russian space program and the American space program. And they’re ribbing each other a little bit on, “Everybody remembers who Armstrong is, and nobody remembers who your [Russian] guy was.” It’s a little bit like that with MI-6. I’m working with MI-6, we’re going to help each other, but I still want the U.S. to be the first one to solve this mystery. So, we are obviously allies with our British counterparts, and yet there are going to be some areas that we’re going to keep just for ourselves, because that is the nature of politics and power. I find the geopolitics of the piece so, so interesting, and so prescient. We’re talking about this science-fiction stuff that isn’t [makes air quotes] “real,” but the dynamics, the way that diplomacy works, the show gets into that, and I find it fascinating.
PIP: I think it’s fascinating. As you said earlier, about how the world of espionage doesn’t exactly lend itself to a marriage, with all the stuff that needs to be shared, similarly, it doesn’t lend itself to collaboration, because the whole point is that there’s secrecy. So, it’s interesting to watch the two sides hiding different things from each other.
BUTZ: And yet we act as if we’re completely transparent with MI-6, and we’re working on this together. It’s working both sides. For my character, the show is a huge game of chess. It’s an incremental moving of pieces. Everyone is strategic, everyone tactical, no matter if people around me don’t know that it is tactical. So, every phone call with MI-6 would have a purpose, and would have a future goal. It is. It’s like a big game of chess, isn’t it?
AX: Do you know if there were any episodes about germs from the space debris, and if there were, did you actually shoot those episodes, or did they change them because of COVID?
BUTZ: Not that I know.
PIP: Yeah, not that I know.
BUTZ: There was nothing on germs. But the metaphor is so obvious – hopefully, it’s not too obvious, but the debris – [in the series], we’re trying to harness what this stuff even is. We haven’t even begun to get to the depths of its power. It’s all unseen, it’s all a mystery, and that’s how so many of us feel about this virus as well. You know, it all gets down to what the human being can control, and what the human being can’t control. And the show gets right to the heart of that. It’s really an existential question.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview: Actors Norbert Leo Butz and Scroobius Pip on Season 1 of the NBC sci-fi series DEBRIS