So we know Star Trek 2 is coming out in the summer of 2012, so that must mean it’s J.J. Abrams’ priority, right? Well, he’s got a lot going on, including the ongoing series Fringe, and starting up a new spy show Undercovers. He had a lot to discuss with the Television Critics Association with a group of reporters surrounding him, but even they wanted to know about Star Trek.
Q: On Fringe, where did the combination of outdated ‘60s technology and the future come from?
J J Abrams: Part of it is I feel deleted. I love that feeling of anachronistic technology. You know, the printing press at the office, I just love that stuff. Part of it is to go the opposite of hyper f***ing floating holographic technology and go back to insanely tangible steel pins, pulleys, strings. I just love that.
Q: Is that more or less expensive to create?
J J Abrams: It’s sort of a combo. It was well, you come upon something like oh my God, look at this thing. Other times we make it, which is crazy, but it’s always more interesting for me.
Q: Where will the second half of the season go? Will we see the “other” version of Walter?
J J Abrams: I will say that the story we had at the very beginning of the season is going to play out. There were some adjustments that we made along the way, some things came up earlier than we thought, but what I think is fun about where it’s going is on the one hand, there’s this inevitable thing that will happen but I think there’s going to be a huge surprise too at the end of the season so I’m really excited.
Q: When we first saw the other world, it was better, with the twin towers standing and Len Bias alive. Now is it a sh*thole and that’s why they want to come over?
J J Abrams: I think the fun of there is this sort of growing problem and that there is something brewing sort of between these two places, to me is just a fascinating kind of premise. It’s so big and the key is how you make it specific and how you make it personal. I think some of the stuff you’ll be getting to with all three of our characters, I’m really happy with where the story goes.
Q: Are there any more plans for Leonard Nimoy?
J J Abrams: I have tons of plans for him. Whether he’ll be part of them is another question but there are plans aplenty.
Q: I should say for William Bell.
J J Abrams: I would love him to return as a character and I think that there’s a chance that will occur.
Q: Are you satisfied with the ratio of standalone episodes to seasonal arc episodes on Fringe?
J J Abrams: I think it will be somewhat consistent with where it’s been but I always like a great standalone, but I’m also a sucker for that ongoing serialized story. So I’m sort of in a place where I would be thrilled with more serialized stuff but I also know that that’s a reasonably difficult way of doing television.
Q: Are the two universes on Fringe finally going to start to collide?
J J Abrams: There is some pretty cool stuff that’s going to happen, by the end of the second season. Then again, Jeff [Pinkner] and Joel [Wyman], who are really running the show, have threatened to kill me, if I reveal anything. I will say that the plot that they had, at the beginning of this season, that we all talked about with Akiva Goldsman as well, will be coming to a really cool conclusion. I’m very excited about it.
Q: Are you looking forward to doing more standalone spy stories in Undercovers?
J J Abrams: Yeah, this show does have ongoing stories as well but they’re much more personal based and character based, but I’m excited to do a show that has a more fun energy and a little more comedic than arcing dramatic.
Q: Obviously the marriage will be a continuing story, but nothing like Rimbaldi mythology from Alias?
J J Abrams: There won’t be any of that. I think that there will be some things that will give the story a sense of inevitability, and yet you’re right, it won’t be going into that place of crazy mythology heavy stuff.
Q: How did you decide to direct the pilot of Undercovers?
J J Abrams: I just enjoyed the idea of it. I enjoyed the script. Part of it was I enjoyed the parts that Josh wrote but I enjoyed the chemistry of these two people and it became clear as we were working on it that rather than be sitting on the set every day with someone else directing it being annoyed, I’d rather just take the burden on myself and try to annoy myself.
Q: Did NBC just go to you when they opened up the 10:00 slot?
J J Abrams: Well, we sold the show to NBC before all this went down so we’re suddenly surrounded by hours that need to be filled. So all I can tell you is if we don’t make it on the schedule now, we’ve totally screwed up. There were already some slots. Now there are five more slots available so I’m like oh my God, the pressure’s on even more now. It’s exciting. It’s also like oh God, I hope we don’t screw it up.
Q: How many projects are you working on now?
J J Abrams: Well, we’re working on the Star Trek thing. We have Mission Impossible we’re working with and then Lost, Fringe and Undercovers. There’s a bunch of stuff also floating around.
Q: Since they’ve announced a Star Trek release date what does that do for your schedule? Do you have a production start date?
J J Abrams: No, but I think if you work backwards, one could probably figure out generally where it would be. There’s no hard, fast date.
Q: Have Bob and Alex started typing yet?
J J Abrams: They have not yet started typing but discussions are being had, discussions about typing.
Q: How do you feel about the end of Lost?
J J Abrams: Bittersweet. Again, Damon and Carlton have been running that show so they’re the ones who are really I think going to be going through that phantom limb feeling of having worked on something for so long and all of a sudden it’s not there. I’m sure Damon and Carlton will both be insanely relieved because they’ve been working their asses off but I’m sure it’s also a little heartbreaking too.
Q: Are you satisfied with it?
J J Abrams: Oh my God, yes. This year’s going to be really cool.
Q: With Lost ending this season, will you be directing the last episode?
J J Abrams: No. Jack Bender has really been the guy on that show as the directing producer, so it would be wrong for me to come in and be like, “Oh, move over, I’m going to direct.”
Q: But, you did the first episode.
J J Abrams: I know, but it would somehow be spoiling all this amazing work that he’s done. The fact is that he’s been living in Hawaii with the cast, so he’s going to do the last episode.
Q: But, you will be directing on your new show?
J J Abrams: I’m doing the pilot of Undercovers, yeah.
Q: Does NBC suddenly seem like it’s a welcoming place for scripted drama, now that they’re going to free up the hour again?
J J Abrams: They were a welcoming place when they bought the pilot, so I’m thrilled to be there. There’s suddenly more hours available per week, which is good, but it doesn’t make it any more or less welcoming. The people at NBC have been extraordinarily nice and really supportive of this pilot. It’s the beginning of a relationship. It’s a weird thing. When you do a pilot with a new network, or even with a familiar one, with actors you haven’t worked with, it’s always a leap of faith. You’re rushing into a marriage with people that you believe will be great partners, but you just don’t know for sure. All you can do is, day-to-day, go “How is it? This feels good. That bugs me, so let’s talk about it.” It’s literally like being in a relationship. So far, we’ve had no fights. We’re still in the honeymoon period.
Q: With terrorists around the world and wars going on, can you do serious dramas about terrorism and fear, or is it better to do something lighter?
J J Abrams: One of the fun things about this new series that we’re doing is that it’s much more fun, light and escapist than heavy, intricately complex drama. For me, the idea of grappling with anything that feels like real terrorism, that’s not what I want to be watching, at the moment. I’m not saying that it’s not something that I wouldn’t watch, if someone else did it, but it’s something that I’m not focusing on right now.
Q: Is it a bigger gamble to try something like that, with the way the world is now?
J J Abrams: In terms of what people have gone to see at the movies, at least, it’s been harder to do stories that are war-centric. But, one of the great things that TV allows is a chance, not only to learn the news and what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world, but also escape from that. Getting a dose of wish fulfillment, escapist fun is something that, as a fan of television, I can understand, now more than ever.
Q: Do you find it hard to go from the sci-fi drama to a lighter show?
J J Abrams: No, it’s always a relief to jump from one genre to another because, no matter what, as much fun as you’re having or as well as it might work, after you work on one thing for a little while, it’s a breath of fresh air to work on something that has another point of view, another approach and another genre.
Q: How hands-on will you be with the new show? Are you going to launch it, like with Lost and Fringe, and then trust your team, or are you going to be more day-to-day with your involvement?
J J Abrams: My guess is that, in the beginning, I’ll be more day-to-day with the show. I’m directing the pilot, but then my guess is that Josh Reims, with whom I’ve worked on Felicity with before, will be running the show more day-to-day. But, it was important to me that we set the tone, and get the right energy and dynamic with the characters.
Q: Would you like to direct an episode of Fringe?
J J Abrams: I would love to. That was before Undercovers popped up, but that doesn’t diminish my desire to do it. I never got a chance to work with Josh [Jackson], Anna [Torv] and John [Noble], and get in there, so I would still love to do that. It’s not something I’m ruling out at all.
Q: Do you feel like Fox is committed to doing a third season of Fringe, despite putting you on Thursdays?
J J Abrams: Despite our time slot, which is always frustrating, they’ve been wonderfully supportive. I have no complaints at all about how Fox has supported us or dealt with us. Though there’s no official news about anything, I’m hopeful that, despite everything, we’re holding our own with them.
Q: Is the season going to end on a cliff-hanger?
J J Abrams: It will not end concluding the series.
Q: Are you closer to a decision about whether you’re going to direct the next Star Trek movie?
J J Abrams: No. We don’t have a script yet or anything, but we have a release date. There’s a release date, but we’re still working on the script. The idea is that they have faith in this team.
Q: How gratifying was it to find out about the Writer’s Guild nomination for the first film?
J J Abrams: I’m very happy for Alex [Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci].
Q: Did you have any idea that that might come your way?
J J Abrams: No. I’m thrilled for them. The truth is, they’re incredibly talented, hard-workers who often get marginalized because they’re so successful. But, they’re great writers, so it’s wonderful to see them get the kind of credit they deserve. Scott Chambliss was nominated. The make-up team was nominated. The visual effects were nominated. It’s great to see these amazing artists who have worked so hard, who could easily get marginalized because it’s something called Star Trek. They’re so good. I hope that Michael Kaplan, who did an amazing job with the wardrobe, gets recognition too. Amazing people worked on that movie.
Q: Now there’s buzz that it could be up for an Oscar. What would that mean for the film?
J J Abrams: I can’t imagine it, but it would be a wonderful thing for everyone involved. It’s hard to fathom
Q: What did you think about the outcry over Lost being interrupted by President Obama?
J J Abrams: That was ridiculous. That was silly. I love TV as much as anyone, but at a certain point, it’s priorities, people. It’s a little silly.
Q: With Lost, because you knew what Damon and Carlton were going to be doing, as the final season was playing out, were there moments of real excitement and joy, as you learned what was going to happen?
J J Abrams: With this season, they’re doing some amazing, intricate stuff that’s really unexpected and very different, in a lot of ways. The way that it’s going to conclude is consistent with their unbelievable track record of brilliant storytelling, that’s really surprising in ways that are mind-bending, which is the thing about the show that I think they’ve done so wonderfully.
Q: Is the end of the series what you thought it would be, from the beginning?
J J Abrams: Oh, no way! No. There are little threads and elements, here and there, but truthfully, when we started it, we didn’t know exactly what was in the hatch. We had ideas, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be. The notion of The Others was there, but we didn’t know exactly what that would mean. Damon hadn’t come up with the idea of flash forwards yet. To see where we are and what they’ve created is insanely gratifying and it’s something that no one could have predicted, at the beginning of it. The evolution of it is really part of their glorious experiment of taking a show that we were all, at the beginning, saying, “How do you make this a series?” and to see what Damon and Carlton have done is amazing to me.
Q: You had the idea for the basis of it though, right?
J J Abrams: There were a lot of ideas, but the specificity with which the thing played out was part of that leap of faith that it was going to work. That doesn’t mean that you plan everything out. You have big ideas, but when the better bigger ideas show up, you go with them.
Q: What have you learned from Lost that you can take to other genre shows?
J J Abrams: Lost is a special example. It’s hard to know. You could say that you shouldn’t get too intricately serialized because, at a certain point, it’s difficult. But, the truth is, I don’t know if Lost would have worked, if it had been anything else, and I don’t know how you would apply that to another show.
Q: If the minutia and mythology hadn’t worked with the viewers, would you have tried to change Lost, or would you have just walked away?
J J Abrams: It’s hard to imagine the alternate universe version of Lost where you think, “Oh, that’s the version that is the other way to tell the story.” It really does feel like the trajectory that was started had no obvious place to go. Over time, they created this amazing narrative that is really just a result of that leap of faith and trusting that the characters will tell us what the show is, as much as anything. Damon and Carlton really did an amazing job.
Q: How satisfying do you think this final season will be for those who have followed the show since the beginning?
J J Abrams: I think it will be really bittersweet. While I think it will be very satisfying, I also think it’s going to be the end of something that, for the cast and everyone involved, has been a magical ride. So, the idea that it’s ending is a little sad, but it’s much better to end this way than to have it be, “You should have ended two years ago.” I believe it will be a satisfying ending, for sure.
Q: Would you like to have a similar plan for Fringe, to end the show on a specific date?
J J Abrams: I think that would be wonderful. I don’t know how you go wrong when you know exactly where it’s going to go. Some shows don’t require it because they’re so funny that you don’t want them to end. But, with a show like Fringe, at a certain point, you want to have a sense of how long you’re going to be running.
Q: Do you have a sense of where you want to take the show?
J J Abrams: Oh, yeah. We had some really good sessions, early on, about where this thing could go, but no matter how much you talk about it, when you’re in episode 40-something of a series, it’s telling you what it is too. It’s evolved a lot, but any series does.
Q: What has happened this season that you didn’t expect?
J J Abrams: There were certain stories, especially the Walter and Peter story, and things with Olivia, that were actually going to play out longer, but that we jumped to and did sooner. And, there are other things that we’ve talked about, like her stepfather, that we’re putting off. There’s a lot of opportunity for where we’re going beyond this season, and I’m going to be optimistic about that. I feel like we have a long way to go still, but the evolution was key. The show has found a rhythm that is nice to see, and I’m really proud of everyone doing it.
Q: Were you aware that people were having trouble warming up to the character of Olivia?
J J Abrams: Yeah. That was always a part of it. Her character is naturally someone who is in this weird world with these characters and situations, and it’s a little bit hard for her to be warm and cuddly in that role. So, it was about giving her some vulnerability and uncertainty in her own life, and where she’s from and where she’s going. That was one way in.
Q: Do you envision a six-year arc for Fringe, in the same way as Lost?
J J Abrams: With Lost, we didn’t get to a place until the third season where we said, “We need to know where half-way is,” and I feel like that’s something that, if we’re lucky enough to continue going, it would be smart to say, “Okay, let’s figure out what the actual date is, so we know how far we should push things.”
Q: But, you’re not there yet?
J J Abrams: Not yet.
Q: What do you think of Spider-Man going up against Star Trek 2 for Summer 2012?
J J Abrams: I’d be psyched to see what that is. I know they’re talking about a reboot of Spider-Man, so that will be interesting. I would think that there’s room for all of us.
Q: Do you have a date for delivering a script for Star Trek 2?
J J Abrams: Not really. I’m sure there is one, but I haven’t figured out what it is. You can work backwards and figure out that you probably would need something… now.