Jericho: Leannie James Interview
Review by: Sal
Source: iF Magazine & SpoilerTV
Leannie James Interview:
His character may have the 'smoking gun' on the show, but his intentions are still a big mystery during the seven-episode run of Season 2 of the CBS series
While fan favorite TV series die on the vine year after year with the usual grumblings, it’s rare when that audience support turns into a last minute reprieve.
With CBS’s JERICHO, which follows a small Kansas town trying to make sense of a nuclear attack on U.S. soil after being cut off from the rest of the world, the network unceremoniously cancelled it last year despite a large fan base and decent numbers.
Fans rallied though, and brought it back from the wreckage – albeit with only a seven-episode second season commitment from CBS (which continues airing Tuesday's at 10:00 p.m. EST).
That was fine though for actor Lennie James who plays the mysterious Robert Hawkins on the show. Showing up right after the attack, Hawkins intentions and motives were a big mystery until it was revealed he had been hiding the last nuclear bomb – something he plans on exposing as the “smoking gun” to prove that the attack stemmed from inside the U.S.’s own government and not from another country.
“We didn’t frighten the audience off, we drew them in to the particular plight of Jericho,” explains James. “It wasn’t a town that was hit. It was a town cut off from the town's that were hit and that made a difference. Because we kept it on the level, it resonated more with the audience.”
At the end of Season One, Hawkins let one of his closest new allies Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) in on his secret and as the series continues with the second of its seven-episode season tonight, Hawkins proceeds with his plan to rebuild a team to expose this dark secret to the world as the country itself is rebuilding despite a fracture splitting it into two different camps.
In an exclusive interview with iF, James spoke of his role, what to expect during the rest of Season 2 and how indebted he feels to the fans for saving a show that was very close to his heart.
iF MAGAZINE: How much did the writers tell you about your character last season, or did they keep his big secret a secret from you until the last possible minute?
LENNIE JAMES: The writers were itching to tell me, but it was me who held them up. I didn’t want to know the details of my character, in the sense of the secret. I don’t think it necessarily benefited me in the early stages, until it became impossible to play the character without knowing. I wanted to see how long I could go without knowing the secret. The reason for that is the best way to tell a lie, is to keep it as close as possible to the truth. If you’re in a situation where you have a lie to tell, you don’t want the whole thing to be a lie. I wanted, in the early stages, that everything I said was the truth. I wasn’t doing that thing, that really annoys me that actors do, where you’re playing a scene and you’re making it known to the audience that you’re lying, but somehow the actor in front of you can’t see that and it makes them look stupid. I didn’t want to fall into that trap. I didn’t trust myself with all the other stuff that was going on. And when it became impossible not to know, that’s when I went to ask [producer] Jonathan Steinberg what was my secret and he told me. And I became the gatekeeper of Hawkins’ secret, and I protected it, and how it came out and how it was revealed. I sometimes held off the writers and producers when I felt they wanted to give too much too soon. That was the journey.
iF: Do you feel like you have to do twice as much work to spread the word about the second season, so the series has a fighting chance to regain its audience and has a shot at a third season?
JAMES: I do and I don’t. The fact of the matter is that, I hope JERICHO goes on. I think it will be a complete waste if it doesn’t. I think one of the things that is absolutely staggering about our fans and the campaign they lead, is for them, the campaign is not over. They are pounding the pavement, making sure everyone is going to tune in, which is surreal to a certain extent because the battle was fought and won by the Internet community and Internet fans of our show. What they have to do is encourage people to sit down and tune in. They have to encourage people to do that, not for any other reasons that the network and the way they are counting up the numbers, are not ready for them. The network is this huge tanker and it takes a long time to turn, and while it’s turning, they have to watch the series in a conventional way. The notion of on-demand television is going to get bigger and bigger, so they have to get around to where our fans are. They TiVo’d, they watched it on iTunes or from the CBS website, so how are you going to count them? That’s what that battle was about and that’s how the battle was won. The battle now is we have to pull people to watch it on television. It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s what needs to happen, it’s the only way to make it count. The networks, they’re going to have to catch up and they’re not even aware of how many people are watching their programs because the means of which they count people watching is not fully worked out yet.
iF: Tell us a little about what happens during the second season with Hawkins and the bomb.
JAMES: The only thing I can say, is at the end of the first season, my wife said the bomb represented “the smoking gun” behind the biggest terrorist attack on the world, and I have the proof. If you trace the bomb, and trace the uranium, you will get to the people who did it. So the story of the seven episodes is “who do we need to get that bomb to in order to prove that case?" And prove that what is currently being said by the current government, isn’t necessarily the truth of the situation. Hawkins’ team got wiped out, so he starts to put his team back together. It starts with Jake and it incorporates other people from Jericho. He’s rebuilding the team.
iF: Then again, this could be a set up that Hawkins was the mastermind behind the attacks …
JAMES: That’s entirely possible. I can’t possibly comment. [laughs]
iF: We’re coming into this season where Jake knows about your past, as opposed to not knowing. Is it fun to open up your character and start to finally peel away his layers?
JAMES: That was the exciting thing when the writers pitched the seven-episode arc to me. With all the stuff my character and Skeet’s character has been through, we really don’t know anything about each other. One of the things I have to do, is bring him in to my team and he’s sharing my secret, and he has my burden and my weight. It is now two guys who don’t know each other, don’t know whether they can trust each other, and they’re stuck with each other and have to figure it out. And the climax that we kind of suggest with the seventh episode, is really going to test that journey as these two men go on. The final denouement between the two of them is really going to test this friendship and newfound bound between these two guys to the extreme. We’re going to have the action JERICHO has and all that kind of stuff, but there’s going to be some real sh*t going down between Jake and I.
iF: Twenty-two episodes during a given season are hard to do and keep up the quality throughout, and maybe four or five of those episodes skate along and then everything gets back on track. For seven episodes though, it’s almost like there can be no fat – the season literally has to be constructed as a seven-hour film.
JAMES: We can’t drop the ball. Every episode is going to be tight. We don’t have any room for any kind of slack. Everything has to register, but we’re having to do that on a smaller budget and with less time. It’s a very weird situation. If the show is successful over the seven, CBS will have really lucked out. They would have been given a really good show, for less money and less time. Wherever we kind of succeed, on one level we’re doing the network a real big favor, so it’s an interesting situation to be in, but it’s a unique situation to be in, because no one has ever been here before. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.
iF: Is it a nice feeling to be the underdog in some instances?
JAMES: Our aim, is to genuinely give the network their money back. We are going to make it as hard as possible, as we’ve had all along the line. Right from the beginning, JERICHO wasn’t a show people thought was going to get picked up and go to the full 22. JERICHO has not been the one that everybody had been banking on, but every single time we’ve proven people wrong and I hope that continues. We are the underdog.
iF: On some shows, you can tell when actors don’t want to be part of their show, but you can see that your cast is a tight knit group.
JAMES: We enjoy ourselves when we do it, but we take their work seriously and that definition came from Skeet and we always have big laughs.
iF: Anything you would like to say to the fans?
JAMES: I am exceptionally grateful and staggered. I think one of the things that is so impressive about what they did, is what a really, really clever, and a really, really classy campaign they put on. They didn’t threaten anybody, they just convinced people with their passion and it’s incredibly humbling that those people took that time out of their life to fight for our show and I am deeply grateful. Even if it doesn’t go beyond this seven, I am deeply grateful for them showing that commitment to the show.