Ten months and six days after the last episode of season one, Mad Idolatry, showed the crew of the USS Orville discovering a multi-phasic planet and Cmdr Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) accidentally becoming a deity, fans have been rewarded with a second season of Seth McFarlane’s sci-fi dramady, The Orville.
Among the crew is an artificial intelligence from the planet Kaylon 1 named Isaac. Serving as Science and Engineering Officer on board the USS Orville, he is not actually an official member of the Planetary Union. He instead works as a representative on behalf of the Kaylon to help foster better relations between his people and the Union.
Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) meets Isaac during introductions with senior staff and notes that his species is said to be “legendarily racist;” Isaac explains that Kaylons simply view biological life forms as inferior. He adds that the Captain will find him to be “his most capable officer” aboard the ship.
Isaac is played by British actor Mark Jackson. Before landing the role of Isaac, Jackson was predominantly known for his work in theatre. His extensive stage credits include appearing with Celia Imrie and Robert Glenister in the award-winning Noises Off at London’s Old Vic Theatre, the international tour of One Man Two Guvnors with Rufus Hound, performing opposite Robert Powell in Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee and playing Captain Stewart in the National Theatre’s acclaimed production of War Horse by Michael Morpurgo at the New London Theatre in London’s West End.
How long are you in the UK for?
Mark Jackson: A few months, actually. Well, I mean, it all depends on what happens with season three. I’m just riding the wave at the moment.
A large percentage of your career has been in the theater up ’til now…
…so, how the blazes did you land the awesome role of Issac in The Orville?
Well, like anyone else, I just auditioned for it. In the UK, most actors, 90% of their work is theatre and it is for life. What’s so wonderful about the industry here in the UK is that you can have a career in the theatre, which perhaps you can do a little bit in America but it’s pretty rare. When the audition for The Orville came along, I just put my heart and soul into it thinking, “This would be quite fun. Go to America, work with the genius that is Seth MacFarlane on a sci-fi show playing a really, really weird part.”
But, like most actors, I didn’t really expect anything to come of it. I think the biggest shock of it was actually getting the part, rather than it coming along and me having the opportunity to audition for it. But, yeah. It really has been a quite seismically different two years for me working on the show.
When you were digging deep for the audition, what were you exploring upon?
I know, it’s bizarre really. I was definitely subconsciously influenced by all the great science fiction weirdo roles that have preceded me. But, again, all an actor can really do is look at what’s in the script and take it from there. You know, the brief description of the role. Obviously, I had no idea what he looked like ’cause I didn’t find that out until I got the role.
To a certain extent, you can make it up, which is quite fun. It would be really, really interesting to look at all the tapes that actors sent in for Issac and just see how differently he was interpreted. I’d find that very fascinating. But, luckily, Seth liked my version. Quite rapidly, I think within 24 hours, we knew that he did, which was totally surreal. It all happened from there really.
Sci-fi comedy is a niche sub-genre that tends to end only in great success or abysmal failure. Galaxy Quest was a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series. Without a doubt, The Orville is a parody of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Seth is a self-confessed Trekkie. So, are you a Trekkie?
I am a Trekkie. I love, love Star Trek. Yeah. I love the way that our show is a love letter to The Next Generation. I think it’s a really beautiful thing. I think Seth has captured the best elements of that show and transported them into The Orville and made it a different show.
Obviously yes, it’s funny. In fact, I think most of the humor in The Orville is not derived from a parody of Star Trek. I think it’s humor that stands on its own feet. I think it’s humor that comes from observing the daily life of the star ship in the future; the boring bits, the bits you don’t tend to see on screen where people have to go to the loo or they have to, I don’t know, just go and pick up the kids or whatever. It’s those mundane daily activities that The Orville captures so well and that’s where a lot of the humor comes from, which I think is fantastic.
Yeah. I’d almost say that it isn’t actually a parody of Star Trek at all, really thinking about it. I think it’s an ode to Star Trek, the best things of Star Trek; the sense of adventure, the variety of creatures that you meet and the real heart that you get from The Next Generation, you really care about the characters. All those things have been brought into The Orville with that special Seth MacFarlane comedy.
There’s also ethnic entries into the niche sub-genre of sci-fi comedy like Red Dwarf.
Now, obviously, they are so different. You can’t really see how it would be influenced by Red Dwarf. Red Dwarf relies on the audience being aware how tacky and flimsy the show is, which I absolutely loved. I was glued to Red Dwarf when I grew up, eating Pot Noodles after school and all that kind of stuff. I think that the comedy’s very different. It’s very British, Red Dwarf comedy. What I like about Seth’s comedy is although it’s American it’s got that biting East Coast quality, which makes a transfer quite well over to this side of the Atlantic.
Are there any tropes from sci-fi in particular that you would like to see in the show or possibly even avoid at all costs?
What’s great about The Orville, it has the winning formula of The Next Generation where we can just go anywhere we want with it. What’s really nice is, the writers and Seth, they’re quite open for suggestions from the cast about where they want to see their characters going or any ideas that they may have.
They’re all rooted in issues that we have today. As the world news develops politically, socio-economically, this show is going to develop; which is so exciting, to have something that can react like that. I think it’s really thrilling to be able to do that. I don’t know, really. Specifically, I feel like with this season, they really nail a lot of the current situations we find ourselves in. No, I think they’ve done that pretty well. I’d be foolish to think that I could improve on any of the scripts. It’s probably better for me to stay out of there.
When you were working out the character of Issac together with Seth and in your own mind, did you perhaps consider working with a mime artist like Moni Yakim who helped Peter Weller in RoboCop?
I did not know that that happened. That’s really interesting. No, I don’t think FOX has thought about it for that. They never suggested anything like that, anyway. I think the worry might have been there that, if had parts in anyone’s mind, it would be too much, really. Issac has an economy of movement, which is really important because he’s an efficient machine. Any unnecessary expenditure of energy would be deemed almost sacrilegious to an artificial intelligence like him. So, I think mime might be a bit too adventurous.
What do you have to say to those who constantly keep comparing The Orville to Star Trek: Discovery?
Well, being a Trekkie myself, everyone can see that Star Trek has evolved and I think that’s fabulous and I think we’re so lucky to have a show like The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery on at the same time. What a wilderness of riches. I think everyone should watch both and just enjoy them for what they are.
The Orville returns for a second series on Thursday 10th January at 9pm on FOX.
Scott Snowden is MyM’s US Editor. Follow him on Twitter.
• The Orville, season 2, first trailer
• The Orville Season 2: “In this genre nothing should be off limits”
• The Orville – every episode reviewed
• Scott Grimes Interview: The Orville actor on boldly going the MacFarlane way
• Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville first trailers: who wins?