Read part one of the interview with Jasika Nicole.
While Jasika and I talked about many subjects, the main topic of the hour remained, obviously, Fringe. There were a bunch of questions that the members of The Fringe Report's community submitted, most of which Jasika was kind enough to answer — and the rest of which we just didn't have time to go over. And that's a good thing; we didn't want, after all, to go into spoiler territory! And yes, that means that this piece is spoiler free, and with only one tiny teaser.
During last week's interview with Fringe executive producers Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman, we heard about how they work with every level of the production process to make Fringe come alive. By the same token, John Noble and Peter Weller, the former portraying Walter Bishop and the latter having recently guest starred, stated the same thing. Once again, Jasika Nicole confirmed that the production process is all-inclusive, and character development has rested in large part on the actors' own shoulders.
According to Jasika, "At the beginning of the show, the writers and the producers had an idea of where they wanted the storyline to go, but they were really open about the characters; I don't think they were completely sold on exactly who everybody was, which is great for us as actors, because we were able to part our own ideas on how we want to portray the character. Of course we had the fundamentals given to us in the script, like the lines and what else is described in the story, but apart from that, they were really good with letting us play around and taking suggestions about what we wanted to do with the characters."
"For example, one of John's things right from the beginning was for Astrid to be a little bit like Radar from M*A*S*H, where she's always following him, taking notes, and hanging on to his every word. It was such a great idea but then we got to this place where we wanted her to be so smart that she didn't even have to jot stuff down, that she was absolutely and completely so smart that all she had to do was to hear where he was going, and she was almost going to be able to intuit what he was going to say next, which is kind of cool. So their relationship began to evolve through that, and now they are super close. There is actually a great scene in one of the recent episodes where Astrid and Walter are standing next to each other in the lab and they start saying the same thing and everyone just smiles — it was a great moment."
We at The Fringe Report, as well as fans in other forums such as The Fringe Podcast and on The Fringe Insider's forum, have been clamouring to know more about Astrid for quite some time now. We had so little information that we were wondering, especially last year, if she was a mole planted inside Fringe Division. But as the second season advanced, that hypothesis was put aside as Astrid developed a deeper relationship with Olivia, Peter and, of course, with Walter. At the moment, we don't feel that Astrid is a mole; but to be honest, since we know surprisingly little about Astrid, it's still a possibility.
Being a fan of the show and being kept in the dark herself (I'm guessing it has to do with the often mentioned secrecy around the entire Fringe production process), Jasika doesn't know too much about Astrid either. She said, "At the beginning, I really didn't know too much about Astrid because we got one script at a time. So all we knew is what she had done from one script to the next. It's only at the start of the second season that I had a firm idea of who she was and what she was and how she was."
"I'm still hoping that they will show her a little background a little more, that we will be able to go to Astrid's house at some point and see what she does when she's not in the lab with Walter. I want to know if she has a houseful of cats or something, does she have a partner, does she have a roommate… because you can only imagine what her conversations are like with her friends when they ask her how her day at work had gone, and she answers, 'Well, I dissected 20 bodies today and then this monster came out of one, this eel thing that tried to attack the doctor's arm, so it pretty much was a normal day!' [Laughs] How does she go back into the real world with this, especially since she works so hard and for so many hours a day. So I'm hoping that they will share that in future seasons, and season three even."
Neither we nor Jasika know if and when the mystery of Astrid is going to be addressed. But one thing is certain: we are all going to be quite relieved when it is.
Jasika continued, "It's so funny, they created this character that is really intriguing. I think the audience wants to see more of her, and part of me wonders if the writers are not just teasing everybody by making her kind of mysterious and not giving all the information. Because you certainly don't know about her as much as you know about Peter and Olivia and Walter. And even Broyles, you even know that he used to have a family, and he has kids, and he had a wife he's not married to anymore, you know all this stuff about these characters and you don't know anything about Astrid! That's why so many people were thinking that she's a mole or that she was a spy or something, because they just didn't have a lot of background for her, and I just think that they are really taking their time with this. It's kind of cool in certain ways, because the longer it takes for them to give that information, the more people want to see it, which is kind of nice!"
One of the things about Fringe that fans are keenly aware of and that its executive producers placed a great emphasis on during last week's conference call is that the show isn't just about a story – it's about meticulously building a world. It's also known to build this world in an extremely subtle way. By the same token, the relationship between the characters is just as meticulously built but doesn't only rest on big moments and long-winded monologues. Oftentimes it evolves through little things, such as the above-mentioned "moment" between Walter and Astrid. These moments call on the actors' skills, as they are sometimes quite fleeting while being just as important as big reveals.
Jasika point out that "it's really lovely to have these small, really simple, subtle scenes – it's not a long thing to describe, but you just see their relationship in these tiny little ways and I just love it. I think that it's such a service to the actors that the producers trust us to create these relationships in small ways throughout the show."
Astrid's role has greatly evolved; you could say that she went from "Walter's shadow" to "Walter's baby-sitter" to, dare I say it, "Walter's surrogate daughter." Jasika's thoughts on the progression of the relationship between these two characters are very interesting, and give an insight as to the relationship between the cast of Fringe. "You know, I wonder if this is a situation where you are debating whether art imitates life or the other way around."
She continued, "Because John Noble the actor and Jasika Nicole the actor are such good friends. We hit it off pretty much almost immediately. He definitely has this loving and warm paternal quality to him but it's not condescending at all. I think that he's really interested in sharing his experiences with me. And he just loves me so much and I just love him so much, and I feel like we have become really wonderful, genuine friends. So it's kind of hard trying to imagine that not translating into the show that way, because she's supposed to be the assistant, and of course Olivia needs her to be in the lab and she needs her to report everything that is going on because the doctor is of course not always lucid enough to explain in layman's terms what does he mean or what he is doing, but there is a reason why she stayed there. And you know Astrid first started there because she was fresh out of Quantico and this was her preliminary job. Most of the FBI agents who are fresh out of school do filing or work at the FBI offices, they aren't necessarily out in the world fighting crime immediately. And Astrid is now at the point where she can go out in the field but she doesn't want to because she's learning so much! Essentially, she's becoming a scientist, and that's kind of a cool thing! She's a little bit like the female version of Peter, in that he's so smart but he knows he has the skills to be able to go out and to get what needs to be done, done. And so she's learning from his father, and he's kind of like Daddy, and they are his kids, the people that he's teaching, and so I think it started out as just a job, and she was just there because there was work that needed to get done, but eventually she came to love Walter and love his brain because he's so smart, I mean who wouldn't want to be around this guy all the time and try to absorb everything he has to say?"
"And I think that this is where is is heading, in that they are absolutely more than colleagues, they are friends, they are family to each other. And then in the episodes after that, you see a switch in their relationship because all of a sudden, Olivia is upset with the doctor, because he's has to be faced with her past, with her childhood and being subjected to the cortexiphan trials, and Peter is now upset with his father, because he found out that he's been lied to all his life and that he's not even from this universe. And so the people that surrounded him, his family system has abandoned him a little bit, had to take some distance, and so Astrid is the only person who will step in and still be there for him. And she is going to the only person there to keep him above water, because she knows that is he goes off the edge, who knows what's going to happen. He was in an institution for seventeen years, and we don't want him to go back to that place, and so she kind of steps up and becomes more important to him; I think that relationship is going to help keep him afloat."
"I'm so lucky to have helped develop this relationship and I think that there are a lot of things that people like about this show, but that one of the main things that many fans like, that they mention when they come up to me, is the dynamic between those two characters."
"Astrid has grown a lot in the last two years. In the beginning, she didn't want to be there, and that's why she always rolled her eyes. I mean, he stabbed her in the neck with a sedative! Who wants to be working with that kind of a person? But I think that now when she rolls her eyes, while before it was out of exasperation, now she does it because she can; she gets him; she can appreciate him. It's kind of like you can talk smack about your own family, but if anyone else does, then it's not cool? This is my Walter, this is my doctor, yes he's he's crazy, but he's my crazy, so don't you talk about him like that!"
One of the speculations that have been going on lately among fans is that of how Astrid might be able to use her unique position in Fringe Division to help heal the rift. After all, Walter is the one whose actions caused Peter to be hurt by a lifelong lie and Olivia to be deeply scarred at childhood, as well as having to lie to Peter during the weeks between the reveal in "Jacksonville" and the one in "The Man from the Other Side." While Astrid probably knew what was going on, she in a way is yet another innocent bystander; she is the one remaining unsullied link between Walter and Peter; the former lied by omission to her, too, therfore she was never put in the position of lying to the latter. Jasika has her own thoughts about this:
"Astrid was told the truth about Peter off screen. She had an idea that something was up. And I'm not sure how clear she was about what was going on, because at the end of 'What lies Beneath,' she goes up to Walter and she asks him about what he said in the building, while he was upset about Peter being infected and possibly dying. And he makes this comment. She's a smart girl, she can pick on small clues like that and put them together. Plus she's the one working with Walter the most, so if Peter is telling Olivia that Walter hasn't been himself lately, it's sure she knew something was going on. And so I'm sure that she had put it all together and had just kept her mouth shut the entire time. Because what is she supposed to say, who is she supposed to talk to? Certainly not in the same level as Olivia knew, but I'm sure she knew, that there was something there that she had picked up on and had figured a bit part of it out. And so when Peter leaves, she's kept abreast of what is going on."
One of the big debates that has raged since we met Walter Bishop and learned of his rather unorthodox experiments (to say the least) is the one surrounding the ethics of his work. While Astrid knew about Walter's work for quite some time, she only just recently found out the truth about Peter – and potentially, the extent of what the cortexiphan trials did to Olive and the other Jacksonville children. While on the one hand, the fact that she was kept in the dark does put her in a great position to broker any kind of truce between Walter and Peter, it could also mean that she is going to take sides in the matter.
Jasika says, "In the next episode, you see how Walter is falling apart and Astrid has to kind of make up her mind as to where her allegiance lies. I mean you know that Walter isn't a bad guy. He did what he did out of love, and he just wasn't thinking clearly. And who knows if that was the right or the wrong decision – we don't even know yet. But we are going to find out more in seasons to come, I'm sure. But what is done is done, and I think Astrid knows how hard he has tried in in the past seasons to make amends for all the wrongs that he has done before. And so she doesn't see him as a bad guy, she has to step in and really let him know that she's there for him … For sure, Astrid is the Switzerland of Fringe, and I hope the opportunity it taken to expand Astrid's role."
Those of you who have been keeping away from even FOX-approved spoilers might want to skip the next paragraph, in which Jasika gives us a little nugget of information about how her role is about to expand.
"But the other thing is that people are going to learn about Astrid in a totally different way that they ever imagined, because you are going to get to meet Astrid from the alternate universe. Alstrid is absolutely, 100% different from the Astrid you have already been introduced to, that you have come to know and appreciate. She's totally different! I mean, I'm essentially playing two different people, which is so amazing. To tell you what makes her so different is a huge spoiler, but you'll get to find out in the finale, which is really cool …
When you see Astrid in the other universe – I mean, we've only done the finale, I don't know what's going to happen after, but I have an idea that there is gonig to be a lot of time devoted to who they are in this alternate world, and she so different there that I wonder what the relationships are like with everyone. They haven't been established yet, so it's really exciting, it's like starting the show over and doing it a different way in some aspects, which is awesome."
Of course this means that as actors, they are all going to have their skills tested – playing the same person in a very similar world but in a totally different way doesn't seem very easy to me, especially after you have had two years to create the mold of the first version of the character
Jasika notes, "It's definitely going to be challenging, but see that's what is so awesome about it! We did a musical episode lately; nobody knew we were going to do a musical episode in advance until we got the script, and suddenly you were happy to have something totally different to do. And so to be shoved out of your comfort zone and given a challenge, because you don't really get that sort of opportunity in TV, and I actually miss that about being in theater or auditioning, because once you're done with the character, you go on to the next thing. But this television show is so ongoing, so there is no end in sight. You don't know if the character is going to end up being bad by the show is done or anything else – you don't really know, because you don't have a set idea of who she is, because so many things can happen in the process and will happen, because that's how you keep the audience entertained and keep people watching. So it's really great to be given these opportunities to be different, I mean I feel like I'm so lucky."
It was such a pleasure talking to Jasika, all the more that her love for the show, its production process and the people that she works with is evident, and her enthusiasm permeated the conversation.
And by the way, for those of you who are part of The Fringe Report's community, Jasika thinks that it's awesome that we get together every week and get our Fringe geek on. Just thought you'd like to know.