Steve Harris would do well to look on the bright side. If his show, Awake (which airs Thursdays on NBC at 10pm), is cancelled during or after its critically-acclaimed first season run, he can certainly fall back on a career in sales.
In a scene that evoked memories of Ben Affleck in Boiler Room, Harris met a trio of reporters at 30 Rockerfeller Plaza on Monday, and made a sales pitch for Awake that rivaled anything Affleck offered in the 2000 cult classic.
"I think we're one of the best shows," Harris said, "If not the best drama on television."
Part of being a great salesman is conveying an unshakable belief in your product. If Steve Harris was simply posturing, and he doesn't genuinely believe in Awake, then the two-time Emmy Award nominee is an even better actor than the public thinks he is.
Perhaps this confidence stems from Awake's unique premise. The show centers on Michael Britten - a police detective who, following a tragic car accident, lives two parallel lives. In one, his wife died in the car accident. In the other, his son died. Britten's two worlds alternate constantly - and he is unable, as yet, to determine which one is real.
Harris plays Detective Isaiah "Bird" Freeman - Britten's partner in one of the worlds. Though he was loathe to divulge spoilers, Harris did open up about plenty during the course of a half-hour discussion on Monday. He compared the strong ensemble cast on Awake to previous ensembles he's been a part of on shows like The Practice and Friday Night Lights. He speculated as to the show's prospects for a second season. And he talked about the cast member that he considers "a handsome little fellow."
On what first attracted him to Awake:
It was written very well. That pilot episode was written so well that it grabbed me. There were two shows that I [was considering joining]...but this was the better written of the two shows, I felt. I found out [showrunner] Howard [Gordon] was attached to it, and he had done 24. So the show had a nice pedigree. And I knew NBC was going to give it a shot to e on television.
Then you start adding in Jason [Isaacs], and all the rest of us, it just seemed like something that would be a good show, on television. My thing is, it seems that people are believing that cable is the way to go, if you want to watch something good. [People talk about] Game of Thrones, and Mad Men, and all these other shows. And I was hoping we could create a good show on network, that people would want to watch. I thought that this show gave us that opportunity.
On keeping track of the show's alternate realities:
It's really not that difficult for me. The guy has the main issue with that is Jason, because Jason has to hold true to when his wife is around, and when his son is around. For me, in the world where I'm his partner, that's the world where his son is alive. So my whole relationship with him is: the man's lost his wife. In the other world, where I'm there intermittently, I'm not his partner. So it's not something that I have to deal with. But in both instances, I've been his friend for years. It's just, in the one world, they brought in Wilmer [Valderrama] to replace me. I still don't know why they did that. He's a handsome little fellow (laughs), so I guess they had to add a little twang to the show.
What you will see, as the show progresses, is me crossing back over [more frequently] to the other world. But the reason why they did that, they gave you a splash, and then they needed to set up the worlds, because that's the thing that you really need to buy into. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results by the end of episode 13.
They find a way to keep the two worlds connected. They find a way to connect the dots. And that's a testament to the writers and the producers.
On which world he, personally, believes is real:
Well, I'd prefer my life to be the real one. (laughs) And they can go kill off Wilmer.
There's not an actor in the world who wouldn't say that. Obviously, you want the thing to keep going. But the more we allow people to question which way it is, or to believe neither of them are real, or both of them are real, the more it allows this type of show to grow. I think so far it's been pretty good. And I think it gets even better.
On what it's like to play Bird:
For now, it's not very challenging. I understand the being. The challenge is going to be when, or if, the reality of these worlds come out, and where I stand in them. At some point, that's going to come to a head. I'm not saying this year, but at some point.
On working with Jason Isaacs:
First off, he's not a really good actor. (laughs) No, I enjoy working with him a great deal. He's a very collaborative actor. He has a feverish energy to him. He loves acting. And that makes it a lot easier. Outside of his choice of music, I wouldn't have anything bad to say about him.
Wilmer let it out of the bag that Jason likes showtunes. I'm not against showtunes [generally]. I am against show tunes coming on all the time when I'm working. (laughs) Aside from that, he's a swell guy!
On Bird's growing wariness of Michael's behavior:
I wouldn't call it distrust, but I mean, it's stupid [for Bird] not to question him. He's coming up with these things out of thin air. He's blowing these cases that we've got locked up with some Fantasy Island stuff. And I think that I have to question him.
The underlying issue is, we're like brothers. We're connected. You still believe in family. But I have to question him. Up 'til now, he's been correct, so it makes it much easier to, sort of, go along with it.
On how his experience on Awake compares to his experiences on The Practice and Friday Night Lights:
Friday Night Lights - very good show. Pleasure to work on. Clearly, the critics, and the pundits, everybody was supportive of the show's quality. And I can live with being on something like that.
The Practice - when we came out, we were on Saturday nights. Ain't nobody thought we were going to make it. That's just the truth. We were a bunch of guys that nobody knew. We'd all been working actors. But the critics kept pushing it. We moved to a new night. The next thing you know, we get the right night, and boom. We [ended up] doing eight years on television. And that happened because of word-of-mouth, people talking about it.
It's a different time now, because you had to be there on Sunday night to watch it. And what was great about it was that you talked about it Monday morning. Now, we don't have that. "Water Cooler" talk isn't there like it used to be.
But it was a fun time, and a fun opportunity. I've been very blessed. That show, I thought, was a great show. I think Awake is a great show too. [With both shows] you've got two writers who can actually write, and producers who know what they're doing.
The Practice can never be replaced for me because it was my first. We were all new kids on the block then. We were all fresh faces. So you tell us to climb a mountain, we go, "Okay. How fast you want me to get up there."
The thing that I want to say about Awake is that everybody in the main cast is someone that you know in some way, shape, or form. They already have a pedigree. You know us because we've been in other things. You know us because we're good actors, not personalities. So it has a whole different vibe to it.
The Practice was an ensemble, whereas the driving force behind Awake is Jason's life. The Practice - you could have two or three episodes where I'm your guy. Then the next two or three episodes, Michael [Badalucco] could be your guy.
On the prospects for a second season renewal:
There's no word. But I'm here talking to ya'll, which means that [NBC] still want[s] to put it out there, and I'm all for them putting it out there.
I think we're one of the best shows, if not the best drama on television. And we're, clearly, one of the most DVR'd shows. But if you want it to be around, then somebody's got to turn it on Thursday.
We're one of those shows that critics dig, and people who watch it - they're invested. They're not going anywhere.
On how long he thinks the show can keep the "two worlds" premise going:
Can we keep it going three, four years? Maybe. But at some point, people are going to want answers. You're going to have to give them something. And then you're going to have to evolve from that point.
[Take] Prison Break. Once they broke out of the prison, it was still on for three more years. They were out of the jail! But people kept watching. They had to come up with a new premise.
Ultimately, at some point, people are going to be tired of [the premise]. They're going to want to know, "What is it?" And then [we've] got to know where we're going next.
Catch Awake on Thursdays at 10pm on NBC.
(Image courtesy of NBC)