Jason Isaacs Weighs In on Awake's Mysteries, Promises the Show Will Leave You Breathless

Jason Isaacs is admittedly a bit caught off guard that people are now actually watching NBC’s Awake (Thursdays at 10/9c). After all, the pilot was filmed about a year ago, and production on the 13-episode first season had wrapped before the premiere hit the airwaves earlier this month.

“We were making it behind closed doors for so long… it’s an odd thing, the topic of watching it now,” the actor tells TVLine. “It’s this strange experience of slowly opening the doors to the sunlight and pushing a baby out. We’re feeling very vulnerable, but it’s nice that people are talking about it.”

And how. TVLine welcomed the opportunity to explore Awake‘s nuances, strengths and aspirations in this conversation with Isaacs, in which he also previews this week’s riveting hour and weighs in on the doubly dynamic drama’s big mysteries.

Exclusive Awake Video: Will Britten Lose His [Spoiler] in Both Realities?

TVLINE | The Awake pilot was so tight, so well written, I was concerned that it’d be a very tough act to follow throughout a season. Were you of the same thought?
Yeah. Yeah. I’ve said it a few times, but the honest truth is I partly took the job because I wanted to see what the f–k they could do next. [Series creator Kyle Killen and executive producer Howard Gordon] are very brave, smart, creative people, but what do they think could happen? And sure enough, they were smart enough to give enough time and space for the writers to come up with a world that justified making a series out of it. And then we did that extraordinary thing of stopping production halfway through [Season 1] to make sure the second half was as good as if not better than the first.

TVLINE | This week’s episode, in which Britten’s son (played by Lost‘s Dylan Minnette) is abducted, is perhaps my favorite out of the first four I screened.
Well, you can tell that the man [Gordon] who wrote most of 24 had his hands on it, that’s for sure. When I first read it, I thought, “Wait, my son gets kidnapped? Isn’t that a bit much?” And then I realized we have license, because one of these worlds is a dream, to do extraordinary things and really push the envelope.

TVLINE | Right — the “kidnapped son” is an obvious card to play, especially this early, but the way it’s executed delivers such a nail-biter. It also raises the question: If Britten needs to go to sleep [and switch worlds], does he have the means?
Oh, I’m glad you picked that up! That was my idea — “Please let me take a fistful of pills” — and Howard Gordon went, “Great idea.” And there it was on the page next day. There are not that many stories in the world, so it’s always about execution, and taste, and tone. And you very smartly put your finger on one of the hats that’s in the ring – how many interesting and different ways can we think of to make him pass out and go to sleep? There’s a bunch of people in that writers building that you’d like to be on a desert island with, because they continue to get more and more creative as the series goes on. They spread their wings until they’re just flying.

TVLINE | So for example, if someone takes a swing at Britten and knocks him out cold….
That’ll do it. Any drop in consciousness. There’s an episode coming up where we play with every permutation of what you can do with this guy. You know that old showbiz maxim, “Nobody buys a ticket to watch the village of the happy people”? We send this guy to hell and back, and one way we play with him is to make him unconscious as often as possible, and we do it in every way you can dream of. Knocked out, getting medicated, being drugged against his will….

TVLINE | Maybe dozing off during a boring movie…
[Laughs] I’m not sure that would make gripping television, but we might put that in Season 2.

Alias Favorite Lands Recurring Role on NBC’s Awake

TVLINE | Where did this week’s episode rank with you?
I like the stuff that we did as we found our feet. But I think when people get to the end of the season, you’ll realize you’ve been holding your breath for a few weeks. The last few are just firing on all cylinders. I’m a big crossword guy, and there’s something in there for people who love puzzles, but there’s also something for those who like a visceral, physical ride. And hopefully there’s also something emotional in there — none of it should be unanchored. And as the actor at the heart of it, it’s such a gift. So many friends of mine go to work and their biggest creative decision is “with or without sunglasses,” and I get to be a guy who’s having a major experience every week.

TVLINE | Last week dropped on us a morsel of mythology. Will the pacing on that be slow and steady, or does it become a dominant theme?
One of the top priorities for us, and for Kyle having his history with [Fox's ambitious, short-lived] Lone Star, was to make sure that people could watch any episode without having seen the week before. My 5-year-old got the plot when I was doing the pilot; I even made this little iPhone video of him telling the plot to me, to make Kyle and Howard worry less about whether people would get it. That’s the power of a simple premise. That said, we wanted to make sure also that if you did watch everything, it was even more satisfying. So there is this season-long arc, and I’m not giving anything away to say that my [car] accident was not an accident. And it well may be that many of the cases I’m dreaming are pointing me towards remembering or putting together the pieces of what happened.

TVLINE | So, the “little guy” isn’t a standalone clue….
Maybe he isn’t? [Laughs]

TVLINE | What can you say about next week’s episode, in which Britten encounters Rex’s former babysitter in both worlds?
That’s a fabulous episode. She made some different choices that took her down different paths [in each reality], and it’s a very sobering thing to come up against somebody and be reminded that your choices can have those consequences. I haven’t seen her for years, and she’s spiraled off in one world, while in the other she’s a high-powered businesswoman. It’s all very freaky for [Michael]; he can’t quite stop staring at her to see the differences.

TVLINE | What do you say to the viewers who are fixated on the why of Britten’s dual-reality existence?
Kyle and Howard have been very clear that it’s psychological — this guy doesn’t want to lose either his wife (TerriersLaura Allen) or his son, so one of these worlds he’s filling in. Michael Britten is a homicide detective, a control freak who wants to find solutions to things; he’s not a guy who is going to make himself vulnerable, so I think it unquestionably springs from something psychological. But it is like a Rorschach test, because people are constantly coming up to me to share what they think is going on. “You’re dead, right?” Or, “I get it, the wife is in a coma!” Everybody has a different theory, and part of the fun of telling stories is to provoke people. So what do I think about it? I love that people are talking about it.

TVLINE | So it’s strictly psychological? It won’t turn out to be some far-out instance of, like, a covert organization injecting him with an experimental mind-altering serum…?
You’re asking the wrong person because I know what the answer is, and I know where we’d like to take it, ultimately. So I’m not going to give you any clues. [Laughs]

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37 Comments
  1. D.J. says:

    Lone Star was on Fox.

  2. kevin says:

    I’ll be sad if AWAKE gets canceled. NBC desperately needs a series to gain more viewers on Thursday nights at 10 p.m.

  3. Dani says:

    I remember reading months ago that Jason Isaacs was worried Awake wouldn’t take on a network channel because it’s too high concept. I really hope he’s wrong because it’s great to see something a bit different amongst all the reality shows and straight-forward procedurals. He’s also a great actor and it’s great to see him with his own vehicle finally. The time slot really isn’t helping though. Guys you’ve got a gem here. Don’t kill it before it stretches its wings…

  4. Jesse says:

    I wanted to like ths show so badly, but I just can’t get into it. I don’t know why, I just find Awake to be incredibly boring, in spite of its high-concept premise.

    • Todd says:

      While the show has been good, it hasn’t blown me away yet. I’m giving it two more shows after tonight to hook me.

  5. zaza says:

    I really like this show. I hope it catches on because I need a show with a good mythology. And…Jason Isaacs.

  6. Linderella says:

    I think the premise is so unique and intriguing it is addictive. I have my own theory about what is Michael’s “reality” – the fun is watching to see where it ends up. I hope NBC sticks with this series. It deserves more than a few weeks to find its wings.

  7. TVDIVA says:

    This show is great, one of my new favorites. I pray NBC stands behind it and lets the writers continue in this fresh take on a police procedural.

  8. Drew says:

    The show has been really interesting so far. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.
    What’s nice about it is, it’s midseason and the whole season has been finished. So NBC isn’t looking to put new shows in its place and they’re not going to save any money by canceling it early on. I think the show is safe until May.

  9. jennifer says:

    Awake is one of those programs which I thought about watching from its’ debut,but, I passed on . I was worried (with Nbc’s recent history),that,if I watched & became addicted to it-Nbc would cancel it before it finished its’ run. I had seen Mr.Isaacs on a pbs station on a sort of detective show(can’t quite remember of it now) & found him to be very compelling. The premise of Awake was something I probably would have enjoyed since I am into those type of programs( 2 different worlds,mysteries & such). For the fans watching it now-I wish you all the best. I truly hope Nbc FINALLY! has a successful 10p.m. Thursday night show-after what happened with Prime Suspect & The Firm. The only reason I never started watching Awake was because I was reluctant to commit to any new show these days-with so many programs being canceled before being allowed to reach an endgame. Thank you.

    • prish says:

      I know the pain. I was a big fan of Life, My Own Worst Enemy, Life on Mars, Terra Nova, and Journeyman. I’m bummed out, but what the whynot. If we don’t grab the minutes of these concepts they do give us, it will be a dry, boring lack of entertainment for us types.

    • Lisa says:

      I know how you feel but this is a most awesome show! You should start watching it! I will be so mad if NBC cancels it. I kind of wish it would have been on ABC because most well written shows seem to last longer on that network.

  10. jennifer says:

    remember*the title*-sorry

  11. Robin says:

    Anyone else what to see the video of his 5 year old son explaining the premise of the show? I think that would be interesting. I am liking the show.

  12. I really am enjoying this show, and I’m not even that big of a fan of crime shows. I think the mythology is interesting, and the characters are compelling. Tomorrow should be loads of fun: Vampire Diaries, Community, 30 Rock, and Awake!

  13. jake says:

    Does anyone think they ruined the series by giving away a huge twist at the end of the second episode?

  14. KCC says:

    I know it’s silly, but I was hoping that both worlds were real somehow. The thought that one is real and the other fake saddens me, because then I would want him just to move on in the real world. Here’s to hoping that both are real

  15. Kermodian says:

    Hello to Jason Isaacs!

  16. Lisa says:

    Matt, you got to talk to Jason freaking Isaacs. How cool is your job?!?

  17. Jaded says:

    Awake is one of my new favorite shows! The hour goes by so fast and I can’t wait to get to each new episode! Plus Jason Isaacs is HOT!

  18. melissa says:

    Very intelligent show so not everyone is gonna get it!!! I love it.

  19. sarah says:

    So far this is a good show. I wonder if the fact that in the world where his son died, it seems to be more light (hard to describe while typing). Where as in the world where his wife died, it is darker.
    For example the doctors office: When he is with Dr John the office is brighter and when he is with Dr. Judith the office is darker.
    My mom thinks he is dead in both worlds, my husband thinks he is the one in a coma and his wife and son survived and are at his bedside.
    Personally I think his son died.

  20. lea says:

    such a good show!!!! hoping it gets picked up!!!

  21. dlr says:

    Really? Mr. Isaacs can’t even answer the very first question without including the F word? Come on. Use some intelligent vocabulary.

  22. Wilma says:

    Finally, an intelligent show for viewers to watch. Kudos to the writers for giving us an interesting, thought-provoking episode each week. I eagerly await for next week’s episode to arrive.

    Many of you have voiced concern about possibility of NBC canceling this show.
    Since many of us are not part of Nielsen , we should contact various tv sites, Facebook, TV Guide, etc. to post our enjoyment of this show.

  23. Andrew H. says:

    I was hoping that he was moving between 2 parallel universes.

  24. Donna says:

    Haven’t been this excited about a show since the premiere of Fringe.

    I’ll be sticking with Awake to see what happens!!

  25. Jean says:

    Hello to Jason Isaacs. And the rest of the cast. I thought I wasn’t going to like the show — thought it would be too sad — watched only to make Mark and Simon happy . But I’m hooked. It’s gripping. Recommending it to everybody. Still waiting for the ukulele

  26. Natalie says:

    I absolutely LOVE Awake. I’ve been raving about it to everyone I know. I’m hoping everyone who watches does the same so the ratings keep going up. I really desperately do not want this show to get cancelled. It’s a really intelligent, thought provoking show with great acting from Isaacs and the week to week story lines are just awesome. If NBC cancels it, they’re IDIOTS.

  27. Margaret says:

    I love this show! I stumbled on it by accident, but was mesmerized by the concept. Also, I kept thinking that Jason Isaacs looks familiar. Then it hit me; isn’t he Draco Malfoy’s father without the blond wig?

  28. See You N.T. says:

    I’m a touch curious about the ‘high concept’ tag, or even the ‘unique’ label.

    [Full disclosure: I was really looking forward to this series!]

    An accident, a man wakes up to two realities, one with his son, one with his wife. Simple really! (The sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart and film The Jacket played with duel realities and timeframes. Without the timeframe conceit, the series may have already reached its first insurmountable obstacle)

    The difficulties, which I’m sure the filmmakers agonised over, were:

    * How does he flip between realities? (falling asleep apparently, but with both realities moving in a constant time, the tension will derive from the ‘gaining of information’, in one reality, which will then be acted upon in the other. Will he always need a quick way to fall asleep? This idea will get strained soon enough.)

    * How often should we have him talking to the psychs? (This has been a large part of the episodes, in fact MUCH larger than I would ever have imagined. These psych scenes jar with the tension and action of the detective side of the series. In fact it grinds the show to a halt. How many ways can two psychiatrists try to convince him that the alternative reality is a projection? Maybe without them, the filmmakers fear the show will free fall into a simplistic detective series.

    Ep 3 played out in a more familiar and natural structure to what the series is. Jason Isaacs learns crucial information in one reality, and resolves the case in the other.

    This series needed to be pushed much farther then that.

    * The filmmakers needed to play much more with the idea of time itself rather than the realities alone. (If he grows a beard in one reality does he in the other? How much are the realities connected?)

    If a con escapes in one reality, why didn’t he in the other? Why different psychs or partners? The car crash split the realities but that split wouldn’t have affected many people outside his close circle. If it did, we need to be shown this. We need to see the ripple affect, otherwise we assume it hasn’t. Clearly each reality has its own antagonists for frshness and to cement the different realities, but having the same people and changing their personalities seems more interesting, unique and high concept to me!!!

    With the episodes I’ve seen so far, the series hasn’t left itself much room to move around.
    It has already fallen into a familiar pattern of possibly:

    * Break down of relationships with son and wife (which has been pushed to it’s limits already in my opinion)

    * Him meeting a woman in the ‘son’ reality and feeling the guilt in the ‘wife’ reality

    * Will the two psychs eventually meet up in one or both their realities?

    * Will his partners develop into ‘bad’ cops. We’ve already seen the police chief up to mischief.

    This show hasn’t got its basics correct, so the sci fi element is a burden rather than an inhancer. The two realities are divided by which family survived, but this is a cop show. Who cares about his family? Really? They ultimately get in the way of action. If you want to keep the family story, then his character needs to be different. His focus should be on them and the loss rather than solving crimes… It jars too much to flip between the two. Eventually they will be fazed out because they are boring, whiny characters.

    If it MUST be a cop series:

    ** Make him ‘good’ in one reality and ‘bad’ in the other. That’s a MUCH better conceit. The series could go in any direction then!

    The series ‘Terriers’ (which also had the Laura Allen and was insanely cancelled) was fantastic. Watch that instead!

  29. Darlene Hoffman says:

    Best show on in a long time. Cancelled?? Why??? No??? It is a great show! ….angry … BRING IT BACK!!!

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