Sci Fi Tracker: Eureka’s Colin Ferguson And Jaime Paglia

by | July 28, 2008 at 8:01 AM | SciFi Tracker

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In case you haven’t yet had the pleasure of catching this particular gem, Eureka is what might happen if the Nerds Gone Wild tour bus parked and plied brainiacs with unlimited government funds instead of cheap liquor.

Eureka’s Colin Ferguson and executive producer Jaime Paglia played tourist guide and fielded questions yesterday in an effort to point out some of the scenic highlights of our favorite small town. The two gents hint at what to expect in Season Three as Carter and Allison continue to dance the “Will they or won’t they?” tango, and Frances Fisher slithers into town as an ominous Cheney-esque corporate mastermind nicknamed, “The Fixer.” (Because, let’s face it – if she were nicknamed “The Nice Lady Who Makes Great Homemade Brownies,” there’d be a lot less intrigue to look forward to….)

Following are some of the rollicking Q&A highlights:

Colin, your character is a smart guy but, because of the circumstances, he still is the village idiot. What’s it like to play the least intelligent guy in town?

Colin Ferguson: Well, you look for things you do well. I think it’s probably most challenging from a writing aspect, because I have to be in all these scenes, and yet I can’t really contribute in anything more than a problem solving capacity. It’d be great if my character had [a] science background, because I could sort of jump in like – oh, well this connects to this, and don’t forget about this………….. I can’t. I can only sort of ask questions. And so it’s definitely challenging. For me, it’s sort of an exercise in trying to stay alive in the scene………

Jaime Paglia: An exercise in futility.

Colin Ferguson: Yeah. Well, you know, and trying to …………how can I ask this question in a new way? I don’t want to sort of go to the old standby way of saying, “Well, that sounds dangerous.” You know – “We better fix that.” …….which is what the tendency is, obviously. So it’s a challenge, I guess.

Jaime Paglia: This is actually one of those things that I’ve been kicking around an idea ………….the idea that Carter’s sort of been sneaking off at night, and people are starting to wonder if he – does he have a secret girlfriend? Is he going on a rendezvous? And it turns out that he’s actually on the side being [tutored in physics] or ……..just trying to catch up on things like that. I think that as Carter has been here longer, he’s picking up on things. But he does do things in a different way. As Colin was saying, he observes and solves problems. He’s more street smart necessarily than book smart. But I don’t think that has anything to do with really his intelligence. I think that he’s very good at what he does. He’s the best at what he does, which is why he’s the glue that actually keeps this town from completely spinning off kilter.

Colin, what’s next for you and Allison?

Colin Ferguson: Well, we’re starting Season 3 right now and before I think Carter and Allison do anything….at the end of Season 2, there was a proposal from Stark to Allison. They’re sorting out all that whole line. And we’re trying to do that…….. so hopefully we’ll get back to that, I don’t know, sometime next season. Jaime?

Jaime Paglia: Yeah, we made a concerted effort in Season 2 to sort of force Carter and Allison apart. And, we want to – that’s just a relationship that you want to earn over the course of hopefully many seasons. This is the season that we want to start bringing them back together again, closer to the secret that she was keeping about Kevin’s connection to the artifacts, and trying to solve that with Stark, brought the two of them together. So now we do have this proposal that is going to have to play out, and then you’ve got the first half of this season where we will be dealing with the answer, and how that’s going to impact Carter and Allison’s relationship as well. And then going into the back half of the season we’ll see a lot more about that.

Is Jack going to get a girlfriend this season?

Colin Ferguson: Yeah. I mean, not in the first date, but I want him to have a girlfriend.

Jaime Paglia: Yes, we’re working on that idea, believe me.

Colin Ferguson: I got some classy choices…

Jaime Paglia: Colin’s always sending pictures.

Colin Ferguson: I hear that Michele Pfeiffer’s available……..it would be funny to see if ………….some sort of Eureka eHarmony.com thing, what it would send up.

Jaime Paglia: Well, we are actually working on that episode. An episode idea from Season 1 that we never did, that we’re talking about. A Eureka version, DNA speed dating – you know, you basically take a little DNA swab and put it in the scanner and people figure out whether or not those markers line up, if they’re a good match for each other. So anyway, that’s a concept that we’re still playing with.

How long are we going to see [Frances Fisher] in this particular season?

Jaime Paglia: You’ll be seeing Eva for at least the first eight episodes. We are looking at this being an arc for her, and then whether we continue to have her in parts in the back 13 is still up for debate.

Did I sense that she sort of is shining towards Stark a bit?

Collin Ferguson: Yeah, well there’s all sort of stuff that we’re playing over the course of…you’re never sure where it’s going to go. I know the actors all got together and they’re like wow, we’ll play like we get along, and we’ll play like we get along and……… you make up stuff to play.

Jaime Paglia: She’s kind of a master manipulator too. You never quite know what her – she’s someone who’s come here with a real agenda and a job to do. But she also has a hidden agenda…..a secret, which is sort of the methodology for this season. And that’s the thing, that you never quite know which way she’s playing people, if it’s genuine or not.

Frances Fisher’s character…….has that given you a platform to explore how creativity can be hampered by bureaucracy, or is that oversimplifying things?

Jaime Paglia: Yeah. That’s exactly the idea behind it. So again, we were looking at what’s going on in the real world. My father was a researcher for 40 years at UCLA and he saw the transition from grants that were being put into pure research to……. that when UCLA went from being UCLA Medical Center to UCLA Medical Enterprises. And it was a big shift. They had to start making money in ways. You’re having to do research to generate funds, and that certainly shifts things.

So….. we kind of wanted to explore that a little bit – which is the ideal of Eureka, was that you bring together all these great minds and let them just sort of work and explore and see what they come up with, versus if you come in with a mandate and say, “Now you have to actually produce something, and you have to be physically reasonable.”

What kind of impact does that have? And do you get competition for those grant funds? Do you get people cutting corners, you know……going to great lengths to impress so that they don’t lose their jobs? And those are definitely some of the things that we explore this season.

Colin, how does the presence of Frances’ character challenge yours?

Colin Ferguson: Oh, it’s great. The fun thing is that we’re not sure what she’s doing or why she’s there because she – and that’s clear right at the beginning, the first episode. It gives us a lot to play with. She has obviously the authority, but she doesn’t have the moral authority. And so she finds that a problem as we go through the season. You know – can you rule just having the biggest stick?

Jaime Paglia: …………and Frances is just such a fine actress. She brings a real weight, I think, to the show………….that’s a character that was a challenge, because you don’t want her to be arch. You need her to be powerful, without trying too hard. And you need to believe that she was someone that could have this position in the world. I think that she just does that so naturally. It’s been a real pleasure to have her join the cast.

Why is Jack’s sister, Lexi, in town, and what’s their relationship like?

Colin Ferguson: It’s great, actually. Lexi’s come to town………am I allowed to say why Lexi’s come to town?

Jaime Paglia: I don’t know if you want to reveal why she’s here…

Colin Ferguson: Okay.

Jaime Paglia: …but you can say the general idea behind it.

Colin Ferguson: Okay. Sure. Yeah. She’s here because she wants to get closer to the family. We won’t say why. But she’s – so that’s why she’s here. And that’s why it’s absolutely great. Ever Carradine plays my sister, and she brings such an energy and such life, and she doesn’t look dissimilar to my sister. So we have an instantly sort of fun, cantankerous, irritating each other relationship, which we both really enjoy.

Jack seems upset that Zoe’s getting more independent. How is their relationship going to evolve over this season?

Colin Ferguson: It’s sort of continues on from where it’s been. I mean, it’s definitely been a relaxing of the tensions between Zoe and myself, to the point where she’s getting good grades and she’s in school. And so you can’t really get angry at somebody for wanting a little independence when they’re doing everything right. So we definitely sort of walked that line where…………I think there’s one episode we did where he was nervous about her getting a job. But that’s about as far as you can carry that. And it’s really nice to be in a relationship that develops, as opposed to hitting old beats that don’t really ring true anymore.

Jaime Rogers: ………….you don’t want to fix all those flaws, otherwise there’s no real potential conflict at times. You want them to get better in their individual roles as parent and kid, and they’re certainly evolving together.

Colin has, or Carter has, for the first time sort of eased into this idea of really being a dad, and he’s doing it right, and they’re on the best terms that they’ve ever been. And now there’s a possibility – now she’s almost 18 and she’s going to leave the house and go to college and get a job and I’m not ready for that. I want to enjoy this part more.

The controlling aspect of it is more selfish, and that’s a flaw on his part, but it’s one that, I certainly relate to just seeing kids growing up right now….Zoe still has an impish streak to her that……. you don’t want to lose that. There are going to be times where she will cross the line, just because that’s what she does……

[Besides] guest star Frances Fisher joining the cast, and Ever Carradine….anybody else coming down the pike?

Jaime Paglia: There will be some other guests cast coming in at the back half of the season.

Colin Ferguson: Oh, we had Alan Ruck, too.

Jaime Paglia: Yeah, I was just going to say that one other person that we should definitely mention is Alan Ruck, who was just great. I mean, he’s one of those guys that you bring in for a character you think is going to be a one-off for an episode, and now you start thinking about how do we write back to get that character in, because he was so great. We’re already talking about the potential of a couple of episode ideas that we could bring him back in for.

I think Alan is in the third episode – “Best in Show,” is that correct?

Jaime Paglia: Yes he is. …..the concept was, what does a dog show look like in Eureka? ……he was great. I mean, everybody loved working with him and, I think he just – a great performance.

How do you keep [the show] fresh? How do you keep it from becoming campy?

Colin Ferguson: We ask ourselves that a lot. I don’t know………….you show up, and you try to stay in a good mood……..from our end anyways – I mean, obviously it’s different in the writer’s room and on the set. But we just try to stay as honest as we can. And when something smells fowl, we don’t let it go. You just try to stay vigilant, I guess. Probably not dissimilar to a lot of things.

Jaime Paglia: Yeah, I mean from the writer’s perspective, we obviously want to continue to grow these characters in new and interesting ways, and we consider this to be a character dramedy first, and ideally every episode stands on what’s going on with the characters. The science fiction is sort of that catalyst that we can throw in there that gives us a big toy box to play in that will impact those relationships. And we try to just make sure that whatever the concept is that we’re using, that we don’t push too far.

I know occasionally we will probably walk that line and straight across it, but we do do our best to not go too far. It’s helpful when you’ve got performers like we have that really know their characters and know what they would do or wouldn’t do and don’t go too far.

Colin: I believe Jaime’s got the better answers today – just ask him questions.

[RE: the upcoming episode “Bad to the Drone”:] Was there an actual like a prototype of Martha, or was it just that you were just talking to air?

Colin Ferguson: We had a prototype of Martha. It was smaller, but you could only use it in certain scenes because of the plate – because of all sorts of things and also because of time. So, like in Cafe Diem, it was nothing. It was just a taped “X” on a wall.

But then when you need two or three people who are looking at Martha, as Martha moves through space, all those eye lines are going to be different. So when you’re doing that, you need – you need the tennis ball on the end of a stick or something, just to keep the eye line looking at the same place.

Jaime Paglia: And this was – and this was one of those episodes that, you know, I’ve talked about this a little bit on the blog, and on the Podcast we just did down here. But this was the biggest episode that we’ve done since our pilot in terms of the demands on visual effects and budget, and we completely blew our budget on this episode by half million dollars over budget…because we created, you know, this fully CGI character. And……she had to have personality. She had to have moving parts and expressions and, you know, moods and……if you don’t connect to her on that level, it just doesn’t work. We built this very expensive $30,000 model that we thought was going to suffice for 50% of the scenes. And it was very clear……….I mean, Art Director Bryan Spicer came in – first thing he said: “Guys I just got to tell you, there’s no way this is going to work the way you want it to. I can try but it’s… I’m telling you right now it’s not going to work.”

Luckily the studio and the network – everybody sort of stepped up and agreed. We have this amazing visual effects house and those guys started doing middle mockups of what they would do if they were going to do more three dimensional stuff. And we just said, “All right.” If we’re going to try to do an episode about a drone who is going through a teenage rebellion, we got to see her that way and.. I think that they did a great job with it.

As far as the scientific terminology goes, have you been [researching] or asking for advice from [scientists]?

Jaime Paglia: We do. Frequently we’ll find an article – for example, we’re doing an episode about a mummy…………..and it just sort of happened that after we’d actually written those things, that there was some big discoveries in those realms that came out in some of the science magazines that we were reading.

We also have an actual JPL of rocket scientists, Kevin Grazier, who is also the science advisor for Battlestar Galactica, who reads all of our scripts for sort of a science pass. Sometimes we’ll call him when we’re in the story breaking stage, and we say, I have this idea that I’d kind of like to do, and…….. you know……how would I refer to that, or is there a particular terminology that might make this sound more palatable, not so techie that people are put off by it……? And then he goes through, and he gives us notes on our scripts, and then we try to incorporate them as best we can.

Colin Ferguson: ……….we’re not scientists, and every now and then we do miss something. And somebody brings it up at some point, and we also battle it. You know, because you do your best. But at the end of the day…we’re not at the cutting edge of science and……….. for every mistake we make, we’re sorry about that.

What’s the latest technology you guys are working in the upcoming episodes – like nanotechnology or anti-gravity, stuff like that?

Jaime Paglia: We have been doing a lot of homages to some of our favorite kinds of sci fi concepts in films this season. And some of those are heavier in technology than others. We wanted to do an episode that was sort of a personal nod to my dad, who was involved some years back…… I think you might remember the Biosphere 2 project that was out there in Arizona, and my dad’s a scientist, a medical doctor. He was one of the primary consultants on that. So we have an episode that’s about what does a biosphere in Eureka look like and what happens if you have a missing persons case inside of the closed biosphere.

We’re playing with a nod to a groundhog day, because it’s one of those we’ve always wanted to do. And to Carter, it happens on the worst day possible. We wanted to see what it would be like – it’s a comic book nod to have a super hero in Eureka, and what technologies might he be using in terms of appearing to have super powers.

We’ve got a couple of other things that we’re looking at for the back half of the season that will also be sort of incorporating visual tech as well as tech that’s sort of non-lethal weaponry, and things like that …………..what are the possible affects on our townsfolk if they’re exposed to certain things.

Do you guys keep on top of that yourselves, or do you have the writers researching that?

Jaime Paglia: I think all of us – it’s a team effort. I mean we take a good idea from anybody and it doesn’t matter whether that’s somebody who’s on staff or the crew or the caterer………whoever throws out an idea we love, we’ll run with it. But we all read the tech magazines, and we’re on the Websites, and we have a science advisor, Kevin Grazier, also who throws things into the mix occasionally when he’s not vetting our scripts for actors.

Colin Ferguson: I guess the difference between the different duties of the writers room versus the on set is, the writers come up with the idea and they write it in and they do all the back story on that. And then we’re sort of the beta testers on set.

What kind of feedback have you received from fans of the show, and does that ever influence what direction you head in or the work you do?

Colin Ferguson: The one feedback that – the negative criticism that we always got all the time was it’s really hard to only do 13 [episodes] because, you know, we go off the air in September, and then the show doesn’t come back on the air until, you know…

Jaime Paglia: July.

Colin Ferguson: …..and that was always sort of a problem. You know, people always think, “It’s on, right? It’s coming back, isn’t it?” And so they have fixed that. They’ve gone to 21 [episodes], and that’s our new format, which we’re going to be sort of observing every year. I think that’s going to be a huge help.

Jaime Paglia: Yeah. I think that certainly is………you know, we couldn’t be more pleased that people have embraced our show. And we were fortunate that they sort of came out in record numbers with our premier, and they’ve kept us alive as the number 1 show on the Sci Fi channel.

And that is something that we really are – we are very grateful for, and have respect for them, and want to make sure that we keep on writing stories that they enjoy. I think that we’re just trying to keep doing things that are new and interesting for our characters, without changing the dynamics much. It took a little while I think to find the tone of our show and really hone it, and now we’re sort of – we’re coloring outside the lines a little bit from episode to episode, but we want to always maintain the thing that people seem to be responding to……….

You said you’re doing eight new episodes this summer. And I assume that’s because of the writer’s strike that there’s not more, or is there more coming down the pike?

Jaime Paglia: ………yes, there are more coming down the pike. In order for us to be able to air at our normal timeslot, we were only physically capable of generating and filming eight episodes. And so what we’re doing is – we’re doing those eight episodes, which will air in our normal timeslot, and then there’s going to be like a eight week production hiatus, during which time the writers are madly trying to catch up on more scripts so that we can start shooting the back 13 episodes, which will total 21.

So the question that’s still up in the air is when Sci Fi is going to air the remaining 13 of this season. I know that they’ve been sort of talking about it being probably in the first quarter of next year. You know, February or March – but it’s also dependent on when their pilots air, and how they do, and whether those shows get full season orders. ………….that was definitely as a result of the strike.

Is Eureka based, however loosely, on a real location?

Jaime Paglia: You know, we sort of based it loosely on places like Los Alamos ………….. it grew into this sort of planned community that was supposed to be idyllic for them to make this a place that people would want to live and work. We’ve taken definite liberties in license, you know – Northern Exposure, with a little Los Alamos thrown in.

Colin Ferguson: Actually, this season you find out that that’s actually not where Eureka started, which is a great sort of reveal.

Jaime Paglia: Yeah………..there is a new mythology for this season that will reveal secrets about Eureka’s past. I think it will be surprising.

The new season of Eureka kicks off Tuesday, July 29 at 9:00 pm on the Sci Fi Channel.

(And for an interim thrill, do NOT miss the cast giving Mister Rogers a run for his money in this musical rendition of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?)