J.J. Abrams Is Feeling the Fringe Benefits
J.J. Abrams, creator of Fringe
's J.J. Abrams
is returning to TV with the fall's most-buzzed about new show, Fringe
(premieres Tuesday, Sep. 9 at 9 pm/ET, Fox). Even, so, Abrams says he's a little nervous. We chatted with Abrams about how he handles the pressure, his strong female characters, and exploration strange new worlds on Fringe
and his upcoming big-screen take on Star Trek
. TV Guide: Everybody is talking about Fringe. Are you feeling the pressure?
I feel the pressure every time. I felt it on Felicity
, on Alias
, on Lost
, and I feel it on Fringe
. It goes with the territory. But I'm far more excited about people seeing it than I am nervous that they may not like it.
TV Guide: What can you tell us about it?
Abrams: I don't want to give away too much.
TV Guide: What a shock!
Abrams: [Laughs] I know, right?
TV Guide: OK. So the show revolves around a female FBI agent who investigates bizarre cases with the help of a formerly institutionalized scientist and his equally brilliant but estranged son. Will the story line be ongoing, like Lost's?
Abrams: For the most part, you'll be able to tune in whenever you want and get it. You'll have a beginning, middle and an end. But if you want to track the big bad guy and the big overarching story, you can do that, too.
TV Guide: The first episode opens with a troubled flight. Was it an intentional nod to Lost?
Abrams: It's almost embarrassing, but I wasn't even thinking about that. The idea for that sequence came to me, and then I thought, "Oh, Lord." [Laughs] Then I was like, "Do we change it?" But the story could not be less like Lost. To me, there's just something about airplanes. I was obsessed with the "Airport" movies when I was a kid. I saw all of them, including "The Concorde — Airport '79." So it's a place that's kind of a go-to for me. But I'm guessing I can't really do another airplane thing for a while.
TV Guide: You've become known for writing strong female characters: Alias' Sydney, Lost's Kate and now Fringe's Olivia. Is this another go-to place for you?
Abrams: It's funny because I don't consciously write strong women. I just hopefully write strong characters who may happen to be women. If Olivia were a guy, I don't know that you'd be saying, "Oh, it's a strong male." But what I love about Olivia is she's got a lot going on that's just barely alluded to in the pilot. And Anna [Torv] is so good because she's clearly the prettiest person in the room, but she's not inaccessible. She's not phony pretty. When I saw her audition, I had the same undeniable feeling I had when I saw Jennifer Garner or Evangeline Lilly.
TV Guide: In the last few years, you've primarily focused on film — directing Mission: Impossible III and the upcoming Star Trek and producing Cloverfield. Did you miss TV?
Abrams: I did. It's a lot of work, but every time I get to do television, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
TV Guide: Are there any shows you watch now and think, "Man, I wish I would've come up with that"?
Abrams: There's only one that I am in awe and envious of: Mad Men. My dad wasn't an adman, but he sold advertising time for CBS in the '60s and early '70s, and he lived that world. Mad Men doesn't just take place in that world — which is incredibly rich and funny and ironic and oddly heartbreaking — but it does so beautifully. It's just an incredible thing to behold.
TV Guide: You always have a million different ideas and projects bubbling at once. Does J.J. Abrams ever suffer a creative block?
Abrams: Every day. I'm not kidding. You literally just described my status quo.
TV Guide: How do you overcome it — candy, alcohol, a baseball bat?
Abrams: Part of the way I dig out of the hole is being reminded of the people I'm getting to work with.
TV Guide: On Trek, one of the people you worked with was Leonard freakin' Nimoy!
Abrams: I know! But it's funny, because it wasn't until very recently that it really hit me how cool that was. There was so much work to do during the shoot and there were so many fires that needed putting out that there wasn't much time to sit and acknowledge the reality of working with him. Then the other day I was watching the movie, and there he was. There was Spock! And it hit me like, "Holy s---!" [Laughs] It was kind of like a huge delay.
TV Guide: There are still nearly nine months until Trek's release. What can you tell us?
Abrams: All I can say is that I think this movie is going to be worth the wait. It's blessed with a wonderful optimism and an incredibly alive and invested cast. While the visual effects are gonna be unbelievable, the movie is working right now with only 50 of our 1,000-plus visual effects finished. It's funny, it's scary, it's dramatic, emotional and entertaining—all without having the stuff you'd think a movie called "Star Trek" would require. That to me is exciting.
Watch clips from Fringe in our Online Video Guide.
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