NBC’s new drama series AWAKE challenges viewers to figure out which of Detective Michael Britten’s realities actually exists. After a violent car accident, Detective Britten wakes each morning to two different lives: one in which his wife survived the accident and another one in which his son survived. In order to cope with an overwhelming grief, he has created an alternate reality that he believes and perceives to be completely real. But only one is real and he does not want to find out which it is. In a recent conference call with press, stars Laura Allen and Dylan Minnette shared what it is like play the wife and son of a man who loved their characters so powerfully that he created a mirror-reality to compensated for his loss.
Can you talk about how you started working on the show, like if you auditioned or you were asked to do it? Just kind of how that all happened?
LAURA: It was actually about a year ago, almost exactly that, when I first read the script and was really taken by the premise – and now that the public has seen the first episode as well. So all we had was the pilot episode and I knew Kyle from LONE STAR – just his name and his blog — if you ever read it, it’s hilarious — and then Howard Gordon from 24. So I was excited to go in, and in the audition process Jason was very involved and so we all met about a year ago.
DYLAN: Yes, it was the same thing for me. At the time I was auditioning for pilots and I got the breakdown for AWAKE and as soon as I read the synopsis for the pilot I thought to myself, “If this show doesn’t get picked up I don’t what will” because it sounded so cool. I read the script and I thought it was really, really cool and then when I went to the audition, just like Laura said, Jason was there and so was Kyle and everyone was in there. And it actually was a pretty quick process to get to the end result, but we all met about a year ago and exactly of course that I had the same experience pretty much.
Can you talk a bit about how your characters and how their relationship with Britten evolved as his realities change?
LAURA: That’s a great question. I think, if I could speak for Hannah, he and I are really not adapting to the situation obviously at the same rate. And the question that I’m constantly asking in portraying Hannah: Is he on board with me? Are we grieving together? Are we moving forward together? Can we connect over this loss of Rex? And in the grieving process there’s so many times things that Hannah learns about herself, learns about Rex when he was alive that almost keeps him alive for her. So in that sense, I think she and Michael — because Michael experiences him very much alive — can connect over that. But she evolves in a different way because she’s sort of bittersweet and has the memory of Rex where he’s very actively involved in Rex’s life. So we’re becoming very more divergent and still yet trying to move forward together. So it’s very interesting.
DYLAN: Right. I think for Rex it’s a little different because he’s in a different situation than Hannah where Michael is his dad and he’s always telling him what to do and he’s adamant about things. So I don’t think he really thinks about his dad missing his mom as much as he does. But Rex really keeps it to himself because he doesn’t want his dad to see what he really feels about it. And he opens up to him sometimes, but it’s really hard for him to do that because he was really close with his mom. But Rex kind of evolves with Michael. You’ll see because Michael’s doing his best to feel close to Rex, and you’ll see things throughout the season where Rex gets closer to him or just farther away. And it’s a cool little ride that you can follow with each character and the entire cast. I think it’s really cool.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from people about the show?
LAURA: I had a friend at lunch yesterday who was like, “Okay now that we’re alone, can you tell me are you alive or are you dead?” Of course, I don’t know and if I did know – no, I’m glad not to know. Are you DYLAN?
DYLAN: Yes, I’m glad not to know. I’m just as much of a fan as everybody is of watching it. I like when I’m excited to get a new script and, if I knew the end result of the entire show, I’d think I’d just be disappointed. It wouldn’t be a special.
LAURA: I agree.
DYLAN: But nobody’s ever stopped me on the street yet or anything and I think the funny thing that I see on Twitter is those people that just kind of at first don’t understand what they’re watching like they just tuned in for a few minutes or something. They’ll be like, “Wait, wait, wait. So I’m confused. Which one is supposed to be dead and alive?” And I just never answer. I just say, “I can’t.”
LAURA: And yet I feel like it’s the kind of show that you can catch an episode and you don’t need to have seen the pilot, you don’t need to have seen the second one. You can skip to four or eight and it’s a self-contained story in itself. I mean once you get past the premise which is very understandable. I think now that people are actually watching it on television they do get it. They get that he goes to sleep and he wakes up to somebody else and so each episode has its own crime solving and the therapy I think is really narrative in helping describe what he’s going through. And then he’s got us on both sides too. So people can catch on even now.
Last week’s episode gave us some insight regarding the accident and who was behind it. Can you talk about the accident and what it was like filming that brutal scene?
DYLAN: Filming the car accident scene itself was fun. I mean Laura and I know just as much about behind the accident as everyone does as though watching. But filming the car accident scene itself was a lot of fun because we actually got to do it. It was like a really cool thing we got to when the car spun upside down and it was a lot of fun. It was really fast and exhilarating. Laura, you have any other thoughts on that?
LAURA: Yes. It’s called a gimbal and a lot of actors are familiar with it. But it’s a rotating device so you’re in the body of a car and it spins on itself over and over and over again, and there’s debris flying, and your hair is flying, and you’re screaming and there’s not a lot of acting because it really is kind of off putting at first, but nobody got sick. I think there was some bits of plastic glass flying and stuff, but otherwise.
DYLAN: I think we all had fun. I remember I was watching the first time like you and Jason did it and Jason was just like, “Whoo! Let’s do it again!”
LAURA: Kind of like a ride. Yes if it weren’t for the blood, I would have brought my son to work that day. I think he would have liked that.
Last week we also got to see both your perspectives outside of Michael’s. Do we see more of that as the season goes along? And have the producers kind of told you that kind of works with the constraints of him being in both universes?
LAURA: I know when I first read those scenes — any scene without Michael Britten — I thought, “Does this validate the red world? Does this mean that it really is existing outside of his dreaming?” and all that. But I think what Kyle our writer, creator, producer is saying is that it’s what he calls “disappearing narrative theory” which I think he can talk far more than I can about. But that Michael’s only dreaming – how do I say this? We dream more than we can remember about dreaming and know that there are pieces and that we only remember the parts that we’re involved in or he’s only remembering parts that he’s involved. But that we do exist in part of a larger world if that makes sense.
DYLAN: I felt the same way. Like after we did the pilot and before we got the next script that actually got picked up and everything, I thought to myself, “Well every single one of my scenes is going to be with Jason. So there’s no other way that they can do that.” And then I got the next script I just says like I was proven wrong. I don’t know what’s going on here. But actually we found out about the theory and I’ve learned more. And you will see some more of that this season. I guess it’s Kyle Killen. He’s brilliant so there’s always a reason behind something. That’s what I think.
In the pilot, Hannah told Michael, “Tell Rex that I love him.” But through most of the show she’s kind of against this and doesn’t want to hear about his interactions with Rex because obviously it hurts her. Is there going to be anymore mention of that or is Michael just kind of going to keep it from her so he doesn’t upset her?
LAURA: I think it’s a really sensitive topic between the two of them and earlier on also in the pilot we talked about his dreaming and it’s really upsetting because he’s got these dreams going that I feel are really preventing him from coping with the loss of Rex. So I’m glad he’s in therapy and he’s back at work. Really I just want him to be with me — to choose me. To be in my world and not a dream-world, but just be with be actively grieving with me. Yet he kind of is in this delusion, as I see it, of living with Rex or knowing new information about Rex. So it causes such a rift in our relationship in that I think he no longer opens up to me about it. And that brief moment where I say, “Tell him I love him,” I think Hannah is really willing to momentarily feel like, “Alright if you do experience him in your dreams, let him know what I can’t tell him.” But we kind of avoid it from this point forward. I mean I feel like the other shoe will drop again. But from this point forward he tries to keep it to himself – just like he’s doing at work. I mean he wants to appear to be a sane person.
DYLAN: And Rex has no idea about the dreams. I think Michael feels a little comfortable with Hannah, a little closer to her and I think that with Rex, they’re not having issues, but they’re just having some troubles of communicating with each other after losing Hannah. I think that him telling Rex about the dreams would be the wrong thing to do. So that will probably get brought up in the future too, but Rex doesn’t know and I think Michael thinks that that’s not the right thing to tell Rex just yet.
Is there an extra challenge for you both as actors feeling like you’re supposed to feel something that you see being contradicted in another reality? And do you only read the script for your own story on set?
DYLAN: Well, the scenes in a script are labeled with a G or an R are for green or red, so you know where you are at all times. But I should have something like that. . . what a great serious actor would do would be to just read their world. But I’m such a big fan of the show and the story that I wait by the door for the next script to get there. So there’s no way I’m not going to read the whole thing. That’s just for me, but I read the whole thing.
LAURA: It’s true I do kind of deny that reality in my own acting. I mean I feel like I have to completely believe in what Hannah believes in and so I don’t take into account that he’s in school, and taking tennis lessons, and the whole bit. I really just play it like he was upside down in that car and he’s dead, and Michael and I have to move forward from here.
Have you had a chance to work on scenes together, like in flashbacks?
LAURA: Yes. It was always throughout the shooting of these first episodes like, “Are they going to do it?” Are they going to keep doing it because you’re getting older and we can’t really flashback if you’re looking older.
DYLAN: If they flashback to the accident, they better do it in season 1 or else I’m going to be like 20 by the time the story go back or something.
LAURA: But I think we were pleasantly surprised by the end of the season that we do get to work together a little bit.
LAURA: That’s all I can say.
Laura, how would compare Hannah of AWAKE to Katie from TERRIERS?
LAURA: Well it’s a really different show, isn’t it? I mean Katie was a bit trying to get her boyfriend to grow up, and get married, and move forward. And actually maybe that’s what they have in common is like just wanting to get on board with this relationship and be together. But TERRIERS, there’s a lightness and a humor to it and AWAKE I think has so much resonance, I’m a mother of a teenager and I suddenly had to grow up a little bit in a year. But I’m loving the dual reality of AWAKE and working with Jason and we’ve got such an amazing cast on the show. It’s also my first foray really into network television so it’s exciting to be on NBC and, you know, reach a wider audience.
The first 2 episodes have been so intense, what can you both tell us about the upcoming episodes?
DYLAN: They’re just as intense.
LAURA: This next one is DYLAN’s episode. I’m real excited for it.
DYLAN: It’s actually really intense. It’s very exciting. The next episode “Guilty” — which I guess I can sort of say now, because they’ve shown it in the previews and there’s clips online and stuff — where a an escaped convict from Michael’s past kind of is trying to get back at Michael to prove to him that he’s innocent, and he finds Rex and takes him, and Michael is on this race to find him in one reality. And then he goes to the other reality to try find clues, and it’s just really cool, exhilarating episode, the third one. And I think that people continue to be like, “Wow, this show is not losing momentum yet.”
LAURA: Yes, it really is an action-packed episode, I think. We already are sympathetic to Michael’s schizophrenia, but he could possibly be losing his son twice now. And I think that any sense of guilt he has over the accident is just compounded by perhaps losing him again, and that’s devastating. Hannah, in the meantime, she has to speak in front of a group at the memorial for Rex, and so she has to give a speech, and I think that that’s a bit uncomfortable for her, because really her momentum has kicked in and she’s repainting the house and wanting to move forward and move on. And she slows down in this episode to take a moment to remember Rex. And she doesn’t usually take that time, and I think it catches her by surprise.
In the pilot we kind of see Hannah almost asking whether or not it’s time to move on and maybe try for another child. Is that something that they’re going to continue to explore?
LAURA: The desire for a child, I think, is something Hannah has not let go of, and yet, Michael says, “Let’s hold off for a minute. Let’s make sure that we are dealing with all of our issues first.” So the pursuit of law school in Oregon and moving forward is really Hannah’s focus at this point, but losing a child I think — and she’s somewhat young enough still to really do it now. Losing a child, it just biologically probably kicks in to want to not replace it, but continue on with your mothering instinct. So it’s very much alive in her, I’d say.
There was this little acknowledgment that Laura’s character made that her husband that he still sees Rex in his dreams, but are we going to see that in reverse where Rex acknowledges that his mother’s on the other side of his dad dreams?
DYLAN: I’ll have to say no. I think, like I said earlier, that Michael just thinks that’s not the right thing to tell Rex, especially when Rex is kind of standoffish of him. Because Rex was really close with his mom, and he’s actually deeply affected by the loss, whether he shows it or not. He just doesn’t show it to his dad. Really he shows it to his tennis coach, but Michael knows that they’re struggling with really feeling close to one another. So I think Michael just feels like that’s not the right thing to tell Rex if he wants to become closer to him, because that would just push Rex away even more. Rex thinks his dad is crazy, because Rex opens up to Michael sometimes and Michael knows that he’s really grieving deep down over losing his mom, that that would just probably mess up things more. But he doesn’t know. I think it’s a risk that he could take in the future, but just not any time in the beginning, no.
LAURA: It’s a fascinating premise though, isn’t it? Because even though if you think about just anybody who might actually be grieving the loss of a wife or a mother, and you experience your son and he’s growing up and you ask yourself, “Oh, man, what would his mother say if she knew,” you know? And he has the benefit that he gets to go to sleep and wake up and kind of indirectly ask her or, you know, and find out about the fabric softener. And then borrow from that world and go back to Rex and then wake up and make it right. So it’s kind of ideal in that way.
DYLAN: Right. So there’s like certain things in there that he uses from you where you’re still kind of taking care of me a little bit, because he’s just getting tips from you.
LAURA: Yes, exactly. And he tries to be that bridge. He tries to. I think that’s the best he can do.
Dylan, can compare AWAKE with your role on LOST and kind of the different challenges you’ve faced?
DYLAN: What’s different for me was my role on LOST? I don’t know. With that show, I didn’t get to be in every episode of the season because I was only in a few episodes. But on this, I know everything that’s going on. I know that there’s one world that’s real, one world that’s not. But in LOST — especially when I did my first episode of LOST, I hadn’t watched it yet, and I didn’t know what was going on. I seriously was convinced that what I was doing was a flashback. So, as far as I knew, I was alive, and then after I did my first episode of that, I bought the first season while I was in Hawaii filming it, and when I went back for the like later episode of that season, I’d already watched three seasons, and started meeting everyone and I was like dying on the inside when I met everyone. But in the end, I didn’t know that I didn’t exist. Once I started watching the sixth season, I knew that I did or did not exist, but in the finale, I didn’t get that entire script, because it was so secretive. So when I was watching it on TV, I was like, “Oh, I’m not real. Wow.” And then I didn’t know til I watched it. Whereas with AWAKE, I know that there’s a possibility of me being dead or alive. I mean obviously to have to play it like you’re alive. And you have to play it like you have no idea, but that was the difference. With that I had idea, but with this I knew that there was something fishy going on. So they’re a little different in ways you can think about it while you’re acting.
LAURA: What’s it going to be like for you or for me to find out that all this time, we’ve been dead, and for Cherry or for BD? I mean how do they justify it?
DYLAN: It’s going to be so cool.
LAURA: It’s going to be bizarre, isn’t it?
DYLAN: I like it. Really cool. I’ve been through it once like with LOST, when I found out I was just like dead. I was like, “That’s actually really cool.” So whenever we find out the result, I don’t know, I think I’ll just be like, “Wow, that’s so awesome.”
What do take away as far as carrying the emotional part of the show? So much of the show is the two cases that Michael works on, but your characters really are the emotional pulse?
LAURA: Oh, it’s my favorite. I feel so privileged to get to tell this story. I mean I feel like that’s the kind of television I like to watch — I mean, is the emotional part. So it’s a big responsibility and yet, I feel connected to mothers and people who’ve suffered any kind of loss in this role. So it’s an honor, I feel. Although there are days I wish I could be the police precinct just shuffling paperwork.
DYLAN: You know what’s funny? I literally have the exact same answer, so if I were to answer, I’d just be wasting time and end up saying the same thing as you. So I’d say the same thing.
LAURA: You know, and what is also so interesting too about grief is that there are really light moments and beautiful like life-affirming moments in acknowledging suffering and sharing it with other people. I mean I’ve experienced that this season playing Hannah, and so, yes, like I said, it’s an honor as an artist to get to tell that story.
DYLAN: Definitely, definitely. That’s it exactly.
Is there anything that the both of you would really like to see your character experience on the show?
DYLAN: I’d like to see how Rex would react to finding out about the dreams. That’s just for me, that’s what I can think of off the top of my head.
LAURA: I look forward to — because I hope that there’s a day that he has full disclosure with me about his dreams — but I like that they kind of tease us with it and don’t. We’ve got a ways still to go with this story.
DYLAN: Yes. For now. I mean throughout the long run, I’m going to end up coming up with as other things are brought up, I’ll think of a lot more things of, “Man, I’d like to see this happen.” And I do have a lot of those, but most of the things that I could say are things that would give stuff away, because when I spark up things that I’d like to see happen, it’s after other twists are brought up. So right now all I can really say is what I’d like to see is for Rex to find out about the dreams. That’s all I can say.
LAURA: I will say I hope there’s more tennis. I took all these tennis lessons. Did you?
DYLAN: Did you take tennis lessons?
DYLAN: I took like eight tennis lessons before the pilot.
LAURA: Okay. I’ve taken a bunch.
Are there any specific guest stars coming on the show you can talk about?
DYLAN: Laura Innes is really cool. She’s great and she also directed an episode and she was awesome to direct an episode with her, to have her direct one of the episodes I was in.
LAURA: Yes, towards the end.
DYLAN: But I think Laura, that’s really cool that she was on the show especially when I found out about it. That was really, really cool.
What’s your take on the individual psychologists and their different methods in terms of how it relates to your characters and how Michael will be able to get through this?
DYLAN: I feel like with Dr. Lee in Hannah’s world is very adamant and he knows that Hannah’s alive and that there’s no chance of living in another world where Rex is alive. And Dr. Evans, who is in the reality that I’m alive, I think that she also feels the same way. Like deep down she obviously knows that reality is real and that Hannah’s not alive, but she’s more open to the idea of what Michael is experiencing. So that’s the two different things about them that how adamant Dr. Lee is and how Dr. Evans is just more open to the idea. That’s my take on them.
LAURA: I feel like even though their approaches are so different they are equally convincing and I love seeing brief moments where they affect him and they persuade him and he goes into his world a bit more panicky at thinking he really has lost Rex or he really has lost Hannah. So whether it’s Dr. Lee being logical and forceful or if it’s Dr. Evans who’s being nurturing and encouraging, I think they’re both threatening too.
DYLAN: Yes, and I think honestly one of my favorite themes in the pilot was when Dr. Lee made a good point about “why reality is real” and Dr. Evans had him read a page from the Constitution, “why would you do that?” He’s so scared to go to bed and wake up thinking up you’re going to be gone. And then he wakes up without the rubber band and he freaks out. Every time I watch that I just like get the chills because I think that’s so cool how much a little thing one of them says will affect him.
LAURA: Yes, in the original script Dr. Lee had a retort to that also. He said, “Look there is so much that your mind can contain that you don’t even realize that you might have the whole Constitution memorized but you don’t know it, it’s all in your subconscious. So how do you know that you don’t have it word for word verbatim?” I love that.
DYLAN: Right, if they can just throw things back at each other that makes one seem real — it’s just like this giant game that they play.
Are either of you kind of rooting for one or the other as far as being the one that’s alive?
DYLAN: I’m not. Because I think the purpose of the show is that it’s not for Michael to find out who’s alive, who’s dead — it’s Michael struggling and trying his best to keep both of them alive because he is so scared to lose one — that I think throughout the show the viewers and as the actors ourselves are just going along for the ride with Michael. That’s the purpose of the show is to go along for the ride and hope that both are alive. . . I like the two alternate realities and I know that in the end we’ll have the end result. I know we’ll get there and I just kind of like not knowing. It’s going along and I’m not rooting for one or the other really. I don’t know about you, Laura, but I’m not.
LAURA: Yes, no. I think it’s like the anti-rooting. It’s like we are on Michael’s journey and if anything we’re rooting against the therapists who are disproving one reality over the other. I think he’s just trying to keep it together and be good at his job and have a fulfilling meaningful relationship with both his wife and his son.
DYLAN: I just realized there are so many things coming that nobody expects.
LAURA: I know. There’s stuff that I’m almost saying and I’m kind of like, “Oops, don’t talk about that.”
DYLAN: Yes, I know!
Can you talk a bit about acting alongside Jason Isaacs on the show?
DYLAN: Jason is he’s amazing. He’s an incredible actor and especially as a young guy, right? I’m a male, and just learning from such a great older male actor like that every day is really amazing. Jason gave me some great tips and I learned so much from him, and also he’s just a really fun and funny guy. No matter where he is he always has his iPod dock with him and he’s always wearing his iPod and, every day at work, he can get the whole crew to just sing along to some 80s tunes. There’s like stressful days where people are scrambling to get things done, and Jason always knows how to set the mood right. He’s just really fun to have around.
LAURA: He is and he’s tireless. I mean, he goes from — I don’t know — 5 am to at least 11 o’clock at night and he’s rewriting with us along the way. I mean, he never gets stuck. He never phones it in ever and he’s got the full range. I mean, with me, he has to do some really sensitive scenes and with [DYLAN:] I’m sure too. He’s father and so there’s a lot that I think he just taps into naturally. But then he’s got all this stunt work that I never get to see but I’m sure he’s like crashing over walls and driving the car, and then he gets to sit in the therapist’s office and use existential conversations. So I delight in him and I too am learning a lot just watching him. His humor is so wonderful for all of us on set and the crew adores him too.
DYLAN: Yes. There’s something about Jason. It’s just like he’s the full package when it comes to acting and just working with him. It’s great, it’s really great.
LAURA: And he’s a friend, he’s a good friend to all of us.
Is there like anything that you’re waiting for the fans to see that you can talk about without giving away specifically?
DYLAN: You’ll word it better than I do without – I’ll give something away.
LAURA: I’m excited for the penguin episode. It’s an episode called “That’s Not My Penguin.” I can’t remember is it next week or two weeks from now?
DYLAN: I think it will be Episode 6 now.
LAURA: Episode 6. Because it introduces a whole new color to his dreaming. I don’t mean literally red or green, I just mean there’s a new dimension to what this man can dream about.
DYLAN: Yes, that episode is one I’m really particularly excited for. There’s multiple episodes that I’m really particularly excited for everybody to see, but that’s the first one that I’m like, “Oh my God, I just want people to see this one now!” But that one’s really cool. And then towards the end of the season there’s just things that get brought up left and right that just I can’t wait for everyone to see. I wish they could do a marathon where they just aired it all now.
What are a few reasons viewers need to tune in right away to AWAKE?
LAURA: I got two. First of all I think it’s a stellar cast, led by Jason Isaacs, but the ensemble is phenomenal. I mean, to have Cherry Jones and BD Wong and Steve Harris and Wilmer and Dylan in this cast, it’s a dream for someone like me. There are elements that are really going to satisfy most any audience. I mean there’s a family drama at the core, but then there’s a police procedural that’s self-contained in each episode. I mean he’s solving two cases not just one. And the writing, I mean I think as we go further into the season it just gets more and more daring. That’s all I can tease. But with such an unusual premise it doesn’t stop there.
DYLAN: Right. I also think that one point is that it is a family drama at the core about the loss of a family member, but it also is you can tune in and, it’s like Laura said, it’s a police procedural and then it’s also an action show. It really gets really action-packed at times. You’re just like, “Oh my God.” You can always tune in and be excited or intrigued. You’re never going to be missing something or there’s always something intriguing going on, something emotional going on, something happy going on or something action-packed going on. You’re never going to be bored, I feel like. I feel like it’s just a show where you’re never, ever bored. That’s what I think.
To see how much more intertwined and mysterious these two different worlds of Michael Britten become and what the real secret is, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of AWAKE on Thurday nights at 10PM on NBC .