‘Debris’ Star Jonathan Tucker On Tonight’s Debut, Thrill Of Network TV, More ‘Kingdom’ & “Our Time Here On Earth”

“It’s thrilling to be on a platform that can get the content to the people, so to speak,” says Jonathan Tucker of returning to NBC with tonight’s debut of Debris. “I think there’s incredible opportunities now in network and in primetime,” the Parenthood and Hannibal vet adds.

Co-starring Riann Steele, the J.H. Wyman-created Debris focuses on Tucker’s CIA operative Bryan Beneventi and The Magicians alum as very different MI6 agent Finola Jones as they track the literal and figurative fallout from an alien spaceship on Earth and its inhabitants. A mind bender and a physics-shifter in primetime, the compelling Debris is Tucker’s first network lead role since 2007’s The Black Donnellys.

Ordered to series by the Comcast-owned net last summer, the Vancouver-shot Debris had its own starts and stops due to the coronavirus pandemic delaying its pilot and a busted Achille’s heel for Tucker later in the shot. With the almost other worldly realities of the real world in mind, Tucker chatted with me about Debris and working with Fringe showrunner Wyman. The actor also discussed the possibilities of more of MMA drama and cult fav Kingdom and the bigger picture of a big platform.

DEADLINE: So, you’re back on NBC, from The Black Donnellys onwards, it seems like the network has become a core building block in your career. Why the return to primetime now?

TUCKER: Yeah, I had a good time on Parenthood, that was NBC too. And you know, frankly, I had a very kind of seminal experience on NBC for myself professionally when I did Hannibal. That was really something for myself that I needed to kind of go through creatively to find myself, and so it’s great to be back at NBC.

As for why now, I thought Debris was an exciting opportunity to come do a network show. This is something that would probably be a 22-episode order and I’ve never done that before.

I’m interested in the challenge and having toiled on the Audience Network, which couldn’t find meaningful penetration for an audience. It’s thrilling to be on a platform that can get the content to the people, so to speak. I think there’s incredible opportunities now in network and in primetime. And, if I many say, I’m not scared of having a bit of a procedural element to the show because there’s so much mythological and serialized parts of Debris.

DEADLINE: You mean as an actor?

TUCKER: It’s fun to work on it as an actor.

DEADLINE: How so?

TUCKER: Because if you’re doing a sci-fi show almost anything is possible. Maybe in Season 3 that necklace will pay off. Who knows, right, or that choice. Oh, he made a really strange choice in that scene. Is he a terrible actor or is there something we don’t know that we’ll start to learn down the line?

DEADLINE: The premise also plays into the aura of the pandemic, by implication at least …

TUCKER: Well, I do think that there’s meaningful parallels in that. I think Covid in many respects is kind of like that, in that people are affected by it in lots of different ways and it ends up putting a magnifying glass on our greatest fears and the things that we appreciate the most and the things that we want the most, the things that we’re most scared of

DEADLINE: There’s a nice synergy in Debris shooting in Vancouver, where most of The X-Files was made and the Mulder and Scully tendencies of your CIA man Bryan Beneventi and Riann Steele’s MI6-er Finola Jones chasing alien debris, and, to draw that out, Joel EPing Fringe up in BC too

TUCKER: (LAUGHS) Yeah, I mean, the easy popcorn version is it’s a totally unique idea. It is fun to watch too, but it is also a conduit to ask those different questions. Like, what’s important and what changes if you found out that we are not the only intelligent lifeforms out there in universe and what things stay the same?

That to me, I think, is the quick pitch here.

Also, I admire Joel, and what he outlined in terms of multiple seasons, was really compelling and he’s put in the effort, the time, and the thought to what this world, and the methodology, and the development of the character looks like over multiple seasons, and so that’s interesting to me.

I also don’t think everybody wants all the time to be tuning in to a show like Kingdom where sometimes we want to have something slightly resolved during the week. Sometimes we want to be wowed, and awed, and allow our imagination to expand with some big questions and ideas about the universe and about our time here on Earth. I think our show does a really good job of that. Then there’s all the fun tech stuff and the special effects are great, but I think it’s really a bit of a ride. Every week you get a bit of a really good, fun ride.

DEADLINE: From your POV what drew you to Debris coming off of Kingdom and City on a Hill?

TUCKER: Well, in terms of which jobs to take and what not to take, I think if you’re going to take a leap into telling one of these stories you have to be secure in storytellers with whom you’re collaborating and that your creative process aligns with theirs. That has been the case with the best showrunners that I’ve worked with, and that’s a great majority of them. It’s really the only way, for me, that meaningful work comes together. So I think the first thing is, does the showrunner subscribe to that and the best ones I have…all of them have, and that’s certainly the case with Joel Wyman.

DEADLINE: I know you are such a keen student of the process, so how does that manifest itself for you over 15-hour days, away from home, in wet and cold Vancouver on Debris?

TUCKER: Honestly?

DEADLINE: Honestly.

TUCKER: Well, I’m lucky, I have my wife and twins with me, But as for the show, it’s like an advanced stage of a theatre rehearsal.

DEADLINE: Really?

TUCKER: Yeah, because you’re stepping onto a set you might have never seen before, or working with actors that you might’ve only just met that morning in the hair and makeup trailer, handling props for the first time, and you need to try things that might not work in order to discover those moments that are derived from the page but that are on the page, and that means appreciating that magic happens in trying the things that might fail, and that’s a scary process, but a fulfilling one.

DEADLINE: Speaking of fulfilling, you’ve hinted at the frustrations and the joys of making Kingdom with showrunner Byron Balasco and co-stars Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas and Kiele Sanchez on the almost hidden and not defunct DirecTV channel Audience. But what is it like now that all three seasons of the series is on Netflix and suddenly so much accessible to a wider audience?

TUCKER: Stupid gratifying.

DEADLINE: Ha!

TUCKER: Seriously. In many ways it’s overwhelming.

DEADLINE: How?

TUCKER: Because having access to social media gives you this opportunity to hear from people. I’m unable to read all of it or respond to all of it, but I’ve got to tell you the amount of people whose lives have been meaningfully impacted by the stories that we told on Kingdom have been truly emotionally overwhelming.

DEADLINE: Any chance we will see more of the Kulina clan and Navy St. Gym?

TUCKER: You know, I think that’s really up to Byron. You know, maybe it’s one of these Ray Donovan spinoffs type of things or something. I don’t know

DEADLINE: One of things that occurs to me is that unlike you’re a lot of your past work, Debris is you totally front and center, the undeniable lead with Riann. Is that quite the shift?

TUCKER: (LAUGHS) You know what is really different?

DEADLINE: What?

TUCKER: I haven’t ever shot a show and continued shooting that show once it’s premiered.

DEADLINE: Really, over your entire career?

TUCKER: Really, I know. Everything I’ve always done has always been wrapped and then it comes out.

DEADLINE: How is that going to be once Debris launches on March 1?

TUCKER: There’s all of these funny tricky things that end up changing when a show comes out when you’re actually still shooting. You know, the dynamic on set changes if it’s a hit show, or not a hit show, or a critic reviewed well or not. You know, then they start pulling certain actors out because certain actors resonate with the audience or they don’t. Certain people are doing press on set and certain people aren’t, and all of those things change. You know, I’m sure it changes with award stuff, too, but I haven’t been a part of that. Now I am, so we’ll see how it goes

DEADLINE: Sounds like you’re sussing it out …

TUCKER: We cannot connect the quality of our experience here together, or the quality of the work that we’re trying to do, to some outside force, some outside Nielsen number. That’s just is no way to live your life.

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