“I just thought, ‘Instead of there being a bomb, what if there’s a person in there?’”
The first real breakout hit of the fall TV season is NBC’s Blindspot (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET), and tonight’s just-aired hacker-centric episode continues to ratchet up the high-stakes action without taking a breath. “Director Rob Hardy captured maybe one of the biggest explosions of all time on television. We made the evening news — that’s how big it was,” marvels show creator and executive producer Martin Gero (Stargate Atlantis, Bored to Death).
At its core, Blindspot follows the trajectory of an FBI team led by Special Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton, of Strike Back and 300: Rise of an Empire fame) trying to figure out how the mysterious, memory-wiped Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander, a.k.a. Lady Sif in the Thor movie franchise) came to have her entire body tattooed with clues about yet-to-happen crimes and deep-rooted conspiracies, including having Weller’s own name displayed in big capital letters across her back.
“Jaimie is amazing,” continues Gero. “I always wondered why she wasn’t a bigger deal, but I’m glad she is now. I didn’t write the character with her in mind, but after five seconds of talking to her about the role, that was it. We couldn’t think about anybody else. We had to do everything we could to get her.” Adds Stapleton, “It was one of the best pilots I read. It was a win-win situation — a great story created by a great guy, with a great premise for what seems to be a great series.”
The opening scene in Blindspot’s pilot, shot with flair by noted director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, U2 in 3D), set the show’s tone immediately: Jane’s fully tatted-up leg emerges out of a bag in an empty Times Square, with the rest of her to follow au naturale. Naturally, the FBI is intrigued. Notes Stapleton, “It’s all unraveling, and we’re starting to see what drives this show.” Teases Gero, “Some of the tattoos have double meanings. And just because you solve one doesn’t mean you’ve solved it all.”
And that’s merely the beginning. Blindspot has been so well embraced by viewers and critics alike, in fact, that it received an early back-9 order to bring it to a full 22 episodes for its first season. Digital Trends sat down with most of the cast and the show’s creator at the New York Comic Con recently to learn how to clear out Times Square to get the perfect shot, the best way to watch the show, and what we might see next season.
Digital Trends: Blindspot is beautifully shot on location all over New York. I’d say the city is a hugely important character in the show, wouldn’t you agree?
Sullivan Stapleton (Special Agent Kurt Weller, head of the FBI Critical Incident Response Group): Yeah. I love all the footage we’ve gotten here, especially when we went down in the subway for the explosion, and also out at Liberty Island [both in the pilot].
New York is a pretty good place to work. That’s the joy of doing a TV show — you can settle in New York for more than just a few months. And on a show like this, you can also explore the character in a longer period than when you’re doing a film.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (FBI Assistant Director Bethany Mayfair): I agree. New York really is a key character in the piece.
Ashley Johnson (Patterson, the head of FBI Forensic Science Unit with no first name as of yet): Yeah, it’s fun shooting here.
Jean-Baptiste: Say that in December! (all laugh) Well, we’ll be in the office with our warm, snug boots on.
Audrey Esparza (FBI Agent Tasha Zapata): We’ve seen people try and do it, but you can’t fake New York City. There’s a pulse and an energy that the city brings — and the show captures it, 100 percent.
Rob Brown (FBI Agent Edgar Reade): Being from New York, when we roll up to a location and our people say, “Spring Street,” I’m like, “Yeah!”
You can’t fake New York City. The show captures it, 100 percent.
Stapleton: It’s exciting to get into a taxi and see your head going by on a bus or another taxi, but it made me a little bit nervous. It’s exciting to be part of a show that everyone seems to like. It feels great.
If the proposed Strike Back movie winds up shooting in New York, Kurt and Damien [Sullivan’s SB character, Sgt. Damien Scott] should have a beer together, on camera. They could CGI yourself with yourself.
Stapleton: I’d love that! (chuckles heartily) I’d love them to, that would be great! A Strike Back movie — I’m definitely in. If we can work it into the schedule, that would be a great end, and a great film. We could go to any continent and do part of the mission in the snow, part of the mission on the beach, part of the mission in the jungle, and part of the mission in New York. That would be exciting. (laughs)
Martin, talk about the visual quality of Blindspot and how you were able to nail that opening scene in Times Square.
Martin Gero (show creator and executive producer): I’m incredibly proud of our incredible team. I was just color-correcting Episode 5 [“Split the Law,” which aired October 19] before I came out to Comic Con. I was like a proud papa: “This show looks fucking great!” You know what I mean?
It was important for us to give the show such a visual flare. [Director] Mark Pellington is a genius, and we have amazing Directors of Cinematography, David S. Tuttman and David Johnson. The two Davids are doing such a great job of maintaining that vision. I say to every director that comes in, “Hey, all of that stuff they don’t let you do on other shows — you can do on this show. I want to see at least five shots every episode that I haven’t seen on TV before.”
Esparza: The image of a bomb, and a woman being covered in ink in Times Square, seemed so beautiful. The man who could imagine that is the kind of boss I want.
Gero: The coolest part of this job is when you walk onto a set you thought of. When we were in Times Square shooting that sequence, we really did it for real. There are no visual effects in that scene. We emptied Times Square out. You stand there and see it all happen, especially in the wide shots with no one there and our [production] people all out of the shots. It’s super-overwhelming to manifest stuff out of your brain into reality like that. It’s a fun thing to do.
Was that a 2 a.m. or 3 .a.m. kind of shoot?
Gero: That’s an all-the-way-to-5-a.m. type of shoot. We started at 9 p.m., and wrapped at 6 a.m.
Wow. How should people watch Blindspot — on their phones, on the NBC App, or on a big-screen TV?
Esparza: It depends on who you ask. I’m kind of a technologically behind girl (chuckles), but I think our show is one of the most beautiful on television. It’s worth watching live. Tweet us during the commercial breaks. There are enough things happening that you need to track. Martin said it best: “The puzzles are everywhere.” The audience should be really careful when they watch. They should look up from their phones.
Brown: Like she said, you’re going to miss something if you Tweet. We’re the only people who should live Tweet because we’re the ones in the show. I’m sorry, did you say people watch the show on their phones?
I just thought, “Instead of there being a bomb, what if there’s a person in there?”
Yeah. You could do that via the NBC App, or on the NBC site.
Brown: That’s awesome too — I mean, get it how you can, but you should watch it on the biggest screen possible, with the best sound. I have a 55-inch screen with a soundbar, and I’m locked in. If you can’t do it that way, then we welcome you to watch it on your phone. But I know I’ll miss something if I look down at my phone.
Sullivan, is there a difference between working for NBC and working for Cinemax?
Stapleton: The only change, really, is that I can’t fucking swear. (all laugh)
That’s what Philip [Winchester, who played Stapleton’s Section 20 partner Sgt. Michael Stonebridge on Strike Back] said when I asked him about working on The Player.
Stapleton: You can’t swear, and you can’t fuck! (chuckles) When we’re fighting, I might go, “Fuck! Oh shit!” Right? I meant to say, “Oww!” (laughs heartily)
What other shows do you like to watch?
Jean-Baptiste: I love the pace of shows like House of Cards. There’s a place for drama, and for where you just leave stuff up to the imagination.
Johnson: What I like to watch is so all over the board. The Newsroom was so fast-paced in terms of its crazy dialog.
Tell me about Jane Doe’s tattoos.
Gero: The ideas for the tattoos came organically. When I thought of the opening, I thought of a woman being in a bag, and I thought it would be great to have a connective thing, where she was connected to someone else in the world. Maybe she has a tattoo of some person’s name on her back. And then I went, “What if it’s not just a name — what if it’s a whole treasure map on her body?” Then you realize there’s Memento (2000), and there’s The Illustrated Man (1969). We’re standing on the shoulders of giants as we’re trying to do something on our own.
I’ve been trying to do a show about treasures and puzzle maps for years. I lived in Times Square when the attempted Viacom bombing happened, and they cleared it out. It was a visceral image for me, seeing a place that’s known for being full all of the time. I just thought, “Instead of there being a bomb, what if there’s a person in there?” That was really the start of the show for me. It all took off from there.
How many seasons do you think Blindspot could run?
Esparza: Martin Gero claims there are 10 years’ worth of tattoos on Jaimie Alexander’s body. Hello, job security! (all laugh)
The only change is I can’t swear on network TV.
Brown: I trust our creator. He’s given us enough tools in the box to do what he wants. And it’s good to know we have a full season now as a cushion for knowing that our characters are going to have some room to grow.
Johnson: If it does … Well, the things I’ve looked up for this show — I know I’m on some watch list somewhere!
Gero: Ideally? 100! (all laugh) I don’t know… What’s Gunsmoke at, 26 or 27? [Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons, 1955-75, with 635 episodes in all!]
Well, 100 episodes is the magic number, which is like five seasons. We definitely have enough story for that, and then we’ll go from there. We know where it’s going.
We know all the tentpole episodes for Season 1, and we know where Season 2 is going, and what it’s about. The important thing is that every season feels like a novel and like a series of books you love, as opposed to one giant story. Every season is satisfying on its own, but if you watch them all, it’ll be a much richer experience.