What do you get when Brannon Braga, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Jason Clark (JC), Chad L Coleman (CLC), David A Goodman (DAG), Scott Grimes (SG), Mark Jackson (MJ), Penny Johnson Jerald (PJJ), J Lee (JL), Seth MacFarlane (SM), Peter Macon (PM), Adrianne Palicki (AP) and Halston Sage (HS) are all in the room at PaleyFest? A panel for The Orville, ahead of season two. MyMBuzz’s Tanavi Patel was on the red carpet to chat with the cast, and also brings us this report from the panel itself…
What did you learn from season one that helped you craft the second season?
SM: I try to follow as much fan reaction as I can online, and what I learned was that this show is a tonal experiment; combining sci-fi and comedy is always challenging. The helpful thing for me to know is that people embrace this show as a legitimate sci-fi show. They were in it for the storytelling, for the characters. They weren’t just expecting Spaceballs. So that was very helpful. Brannon and I always viewed this show and shows like Star Trek as an anthology series with great characters. The tone should be dictated by what the story is. If you’re telling a story like the Rob Lowe episode you want to keep it light. If you’re telling a story like the episode with Bortus’s baby, you can’t be peppering it with jokes or you’re going to distract from the story. And that’s what delighted me about the fan reaction; people were there for each individual story.
There was a lot of talk initially about is it a comedy, a drama, a dramedy. Once the show started airing and people saw what it was, did that talk kind of stop?
AP: Well, fans are the most important, and fans of Star Trek and sci-fi fans have been so supportive even though it wasn’t what they expected. And I think it’s at a time when we need smart TV and things we don’t expect. So hopefully we’ve given that to you all.
CLC: You know what I think when you’re dealing with some geniuses…
SG: …You looking at me?!
CLC: I’m not blowing smoke but [SM] is ahead of his time. And the crew, all these guys. So I get the scepticism, because you don’t know what you’re about to see. But when they did, they consumed it in a lovely bath. I’ve got one thing to say to you, it’s not Bortus’ baby!
There’s a lot of talk about faith and what that means to different people, and with the baby there was a lot of talk about gender, which was surprising. Can you talk about why that was important to you and why that should be part of the show?
SM: Well good sci-fi should be topical. And character-driven sci-fi should be able to touch on any subject. I was at the first TCA and there was a lot of hostility to that episode and ‘who do you think you are writing about this stuff’ and that’s what science fiction should do, and the fan reaction was the opposite: ‘We’re game for any kind of story you want to tell us and keep expanding this world’. In this genre nothing should be off limits and it goes all the way back to The Twilight Zone. There was nothing they wouldn’t talk about in their own way. I think the second you start closing off issues, and certainly issues of the moment there’s just not going to be drama.
AP: And you do it in a way that’s not wagging the finger. The social issues are there and we allow the audience to grasp onto it and they have, but it’s not like, ‘I’m going to tell you what’s happening right now’.
PJJ: It starts the conversation. And actually I think fans are smarter than people think.
Where do those ideas come from when the scripts are being written; and how does that process work?
SM: They come from everywhere – from something you read in the paper, from a conversation you had outside the office, or in the writer’s room. It’s just really about talking. There’s nowhere you can’t look for an idea.
For the actors then, were there any ideas you tackled in season one that surprised you?
PJJ: Yeah, more tongue! I was shooting this scene with Yaphit, and of course there’s no-one there but me, and I hear over the megaphone, ‘Penny! More tongue!’ And that’s hard as I thought there’s no other tongue here but mine, and I’m hard of hearing, so I said, ‘Seth did you say more tongue?’ ‘Yeah, uh, we need more tongue.’ And when I finally saw the episode – wooooh! I needed a lot more tongue than I gave.
SM: Needless to say I gave her my tongue!
CLC: That’s part of the reason I took this job. You know, outside of needing a job! There’s some hilarious stuff going on in a particular place on the ship this season that absolutely floored me! That’s a teaser guys!
JL: As far as themes and concepts go, I really like that we throw a lot of stuff at the wall. So you’ll have an episode that’s really funny, another one that makes you think. Because to be honest we all talk about peoples babies at our house, we all talk about somebody’s ugly baby all the time! So we are just trying to be a mirror to stuff we deal with anyway, whether it’s race, religion, sex.
MJ: What I liked about the baby episode was the ending didn’t give you what you wanted. TV conditions us to want [the happy ending] and I like that we just ripped the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. I think the show does do that quite often and I think that’s fantastic.
PM: What I get a lot from friends and family is, ‘I can’t get that image out of my head of you sitting on that egg!’
SG: Now I’ve got that image in my head!
PM: But introducing the issue of fatherhood and the juxtaposition of domesticity and duty on the ship. So you go to all these meetings about what the egg’s going to be like, and I’m told it’s going to be as uncomfortable as possible. In my initial meeting with Seth, one of the scenes we read was when he asks are the eggs large and I say, ‘Yeah they’re quite large’. So putting it all together, me knowing that even before we start shooting, at some point Bortus is going to be brooding an egg, sitting there naked for three weeks. It’s a great pot to be throwing into the domesticity, knowing while all these things are happening there’s a child on this ship. And there’s a great sound in this theatre.
CLC: Seth I want to ask, why is Bortus sat on the egg when Klyden is the more domesticated alien?
SM: I think you’ve thought more about the egg than I have.
AP: Did you want to be naked on that egg?
SM: We haven’t really delved into the biology of whether either in the couple can lay an egg.
PJJ: They should have both laid an egg!
For the actors that have to wear prosthetics, how did it go from the start of the season to the end of the season?
CLC: Anything that’s to do with repetition, you’re going to get faster and better. So we started at one hour 30 minutes and we ended at one hour 10.
PM: I go into the make-up chair an hour or two before the crew gets there. We have a system. I have to flair my nostrils at a specific time or the piece doesn’t fit. It’s specific and every time we do it our make-up artist works just as hard.
SG: Seth and I had to do an episode where we wore Krill make-up and I hated it! It’s very claustrophobic, and the only thing that got me through it was knowing Peter and Halston do this every single day. And I was fine with it until Peter told me about this day, where they’d put a cut in his cowl, and then he’d gone back to his trailer where there was an infestation of ants, so for the rest of the day he had 50-60 ants [in his prosthetic]!
PM: OK it was five to six ants! But they sealed me up in it and I get on set and then think, ‘That’s a tickle’. Then there’s another tickle and another and I realised there’s ants in my head! And if I rip it off I rip my skin off, so I beat myself in the face, to kill the ants. It took a long time to kill. How is it for you, because your whole face isn’t covered?
HS: As an actor you always hope for these characters that can bring some form of transformation, and the fact that I get to play an alien at work makes Facetime really fun! And it’s been really great especially with Alara who’s a security officer. It might surprise you but I’m not actually a security officer. So it helps me get into that mode of being in charge and protecting everyone.
SG: Mike Henry, who plays Dan who you’ll see again this year, has a full prosthetic, and he couldn’t turn on his iPhone X!
Moving forward, what can we expect from Ed and Kelly’s relationship?
SM: I can’t tell you!
What’s your process, once you have an idea, for bringing it to fruition?
SM: I tend to do things that I would want to watch, and this is a space in sci-fi that had been neglected for some time. Everything’s serialised or really dark and I missed that optimistic hopeful sci-fi that’s not necessarily a cautionary tale but rather a hopeful blueprint.
For anyone on the cast, what do you really think of the role you have and the social commentary and the power you have to achieve that?
PJJ: I’m a Christian and I love doing the Orville, and I have some people who want to judge: ‘Oh my God, you’re doing a show like that?’ Of course I am! Because what you want to do is present the issues and be generous and loving enough to allow people to make their own decision. We have one life. I find playing Claire extraordinary because Seth and the rest of the writers have allowed me to be three-dimensional and not get stuck on one-dimension, being judgemental or whatever. I get to do everything. And my God I am so excited because if you don’t see me on TV it’ll be somebody else so I’ll be missing my calling. I’m tremendously blessed to be a part of this and I love where my character is going, oh my gosh! Season two you are going to be so surprised!
Could the producers give us some insight into the exciting visual effects that go into the show?
SM: That’s David. It’s amazing what they do on a weekly basis. It’s amazing what they achieve. And we can fold into that Joseph Porro, Tami Lane, Howard Berger. It’s an extraordinary group of people. This show should not be achievable, certainly on the network schedule we have, and somehow they do it. I’m constantly amazed when I’m on set. The creativity is there, the artistry is there, the visuals are there, it’s just the speed at which they work is just mind-blowing. We’re in a little movie every week. We’re asking these people to create a new world every week and they do it. It’s like they’re magicians.
MJ: As actors we get thinks wrong a lot of the time, we’re allowed to it’s part of the process. It’s not encouraged but it happens! But for the make-up team and wardrobe team they can’t get it wrong – it has to be perfect every time. What an achievement to do what they do on a daily basis!
JC: We’re half being inspired by the scripts, and by the cast. Every one of them is giving their all. I think it’s hard because it’s inspirational to work with people who are so dedicated and creativity at the highest level comes from the material we are taking and also the performances that we are seeing. So I give it up to [the cast], thank you.
SG: You’re welcome!
Which comes first: an idea in the script for what a creature should be; or do the guys come and say, ‘Hey we have an idea for a creature’?
SM: It’s either or. Sometimes Howard [Berger] will send me a make-up design and ‘Here’s a crazy idea for an alien’. The character Dan, played by Mike Henry, is a design that Howard built and we thought it was so awesome that we decided to build a character around it. But it’s about half and half.
What was the hardest script to write in season one?
DAG: That’s tough to figure out.
SM: I’ve done comedy for years and I’ve never had an easier or smoother time writing than on this show. I probably went into the wrong business. There’s an episode in Season 2 that actually does not contain a sci-fi plot it’s just all character-based. To me that’s the essence of what a good sci-fi show should be – your characters should be so strong that you want to do a story that’s just pure drama or pure comedy you can do that. If we go a number of seasons it’s going to get hard but at the moment it’s not, and the nice thing about that is it tells us we’ve done our job with these characters. No two characters can say the same line of dialogue. You can black out the name and look at the line of dialogue and know who’s going to be saying it. That’s a rare find.
You had some great guest cameos in season one. Can you tease any for the second series?
SM: Not yet.
What is your obsession with Kermit the Frog and does it extend to all muppets?
SM: I f**cking love the Muppet movies. I think The Great Muppet Caper is my favourite. And the Muppet musicals. I am a big Jim Henson fan, I was always astonished with what they pulled off. Kermit is basically a sock puppet with eyes but has so much personality that I feel Henson never got his due as an actor. There is so much soul in that character.
DAG: What does he sound like?
SM: [Kermit impression]