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MeeVee Interviews Jericho Star Skeet Ulrich

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In Jericho, Skeet Ulrich plays Jake Green, an unlikely hero with a secret past, attempting to cope with the aftermath of nuclear war in his small hometown. That secret past has kept a lot of fans wondering: Just where has Jake been for the last five years? In this group interview, conducted at the TCA press tour, we attempt to find out.

Will we learn where Jake's been for the past five years this season?

It becomes clear where he had been, certainly for a portion of that five years. But not unlike Hawkins's backstory, it’s sort of one layer of what’s been going on. You learn in Episode 14 quite a bit more than you do in [Episode] 12. The thing I love about the characters is that you never know what’s true and what’s not.

Were you surprised by the secrets in Jake's backstory?

No, that I [sort of] knew. I think the deeper stuff that we developed over the past few months is yet to be seen, why these [events] happen. There’s an interim between [Jake's] leaving Jericho, and the last five years.

Because you know certain things about your character before the audience does, do you drop clues for yourself as an actor?

There are certain physical things that nobody ought to pick up on. I told Jon [Turteltaub, Executive Producer] very early on that I want it in the pilot for people to watch it two years later and go, "Holy shit! I get it!"

I think you have to know in advance. Certainly the obvious question is: Is he a soldier, or was he not a soldier? That plays into a lot of different scenes, and a lot of different ways of handling other characters. So you definitely want to know. Obviously, things get altered here and there.

So, what's the answer? Was Jake a soldier?

I don’t know. [Jon] refuses to tell me what the deal is. So I kind of learn it, not as he learns it, but as the rest of us learn it in reading [the script], but I don’t know beyond what I read. It’s not my choice. I’d love to know. We learn things as we learn them. We don’t see episodes until you guys see them. It’s always a surprise as we read them — how [the writers are] developing other storylines, in terms of the backstory.

Do you fear nuclear war more now? Is that something you think about regularly?

95194_d0769r Not so much. I read the New York Times about gang violence in L.A. – that affects me, but the show, not necessarily. You learn a lot of stuff.

I think the thing that’s most surprising to me is the propaganda of the Cold War, and how it continues to affect people’s idea of what would happen if a nuclear war happened. We have experts at the CDC, who [are] obviously much more well-versed than all of us in the algorithms that they’ve applied in trying to understand what would happen. It’s kind of amazing when I do hear what people think should have happened [on the show]. They say that we’ve overstepped our bounds already – that there would be no fear of fallout whatsoever from that distance. It's shocking to me, given the propaganda we’ve been fed our entire lives.

It’s not that it eases your worries, because I think we all cling to that idea that we’ll all be dead in three years should [nuclear war] happen. And I still want at some point for someone in Jericho to run their hands through their head and find a clump of hair.

Is that the kind of thing you feared when you were young, and the Cold War was still on?

I remember thinking about it quite a bit. I’m not sure why, whether it was on the news or people in my life were talking about it, but I do remember being quite worried about it.

Do you let your kids watch the show?

No.

Why not?

It mostly has to do with my extreme dislike of guns, and not wanting my son to grow up playing with toy guns. I don’t allow him to have them. It has more to do with that, because we are all armed most of the time [on the show]. I don’t want him to think of me as someone who carries around a weapon. So I don’t. It’s hard for [kids] to decipher reality and fantasy.

How do you justify carrying weapons in the show, if you don’t in real life?

I’m not the character. It’s central to the character and the themes. I think it would be harder to justify Jake not going armed into certain scenarios than it would be to justify it. I don’t have on-set romances – I never had. It’s the same question. I don’t need to live my character to understand it and to play it. I think there’s an easy line.

Jake is so different from you – do you identify with him?

It’s always hard for me to talk about character in sort of concrete terms. I think of him as much as I think of everyday. [The characters] live to me, so it’s an ever-evolving thing. I can understand the guilt. I can understand the ability to take action when no one would expect you to. I think he has more of an anger management problem that I do. The emotions change in every scenario with every new episode.

You mentioned your son. How many kids do you have?

I have twins – a boy and a girl. They come to the set quite a lot. Fortunately, kindergarten takes up half their day, and so they’re thriving in that.

Does the busy life of a TV series star interfere with your family life?

It’s great to have three weeks off. You sorta see what I had a year ago or six months ago [before Jericho began], and I pine for it everyday. With the two years off when they were born, and then the year and a half after Into the West, I spent most of their lives on a day-to-day basis with them. It’s heartbreaking to not [be with them]. My daughter lost her first tooth yesterday. Granted, it was at school and I wouldn’t have been there anyway. But it breaks my heart.

It’s where I want to be, but I also love what I do. I hope they find that. And I encourage that they find something that they dig, that they don’t label as work. They want to go and do it. I think they see that side of it. And I hope that helps them to seek that out in their lives, when they grow up.

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