08:02:49 on June 04 2002
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: TrekWeb Features
Written by Steve Krutzler
After years of ensemble STAR TREK television, executive producer Michael Piller had no problem identifying the actor to build his new hero-based series around.
”It was really [Piller’s] gift to me that he had seen PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY and decided that I was the only guy that he wanted for this,” says Anthony Michael Hall from the set of THE DEAD ZONE in Vancouver. “So that was a thrill.”
The actor who once played Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates and performed sketch comedy on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE stars in Piller’s Stephen King adaptation, a project the producer says aims to be the best television version of any King property yet.
”We’re really inventing things and telling good stories each week, and each episode thus far has really been a departure from the last,” Hall says enthusiastically about his first starring role in a television series. “It’s very humbling because this, much like a major theatrical production, incorporates so many talents and the convergence of so many talents. We have a brilliant writing staff and Michael Piller, the show-runner, is an amazing and really gifted writer.”
But filling the shoes once filled on the silver screen by actor Christopher Walken is no small task. “On a professional level, it’s much more demanding than I had anticipated,” the actor admits. “You’re talking seven to sometimes ten pages a day. In terms of the workload there are very long days; I get here when the crew gets here and we wrap at the same time and I’m pretty much in 90% of all the scenes in all the episodes – it’s very challenging.”
While Hall exhibits a similar on-screen presence to Walken, he says he’s trying not to reproduce the famous actor’s performance and draws more from King’s original novel than the film by David Cronenberg.
”The main thing that I took from Walken was sort of the silhouette of him in the peacoat with a cane, that’s sort of a fabric of the character. In his rehabilitative state, he’s learning to walk again as he’s learning to live his life again. It’s a great performance by Walken but I didn’t want to replicate anything that he’s done. So I literally took the costume from the film and as I’m sitting here I’m sitting in a peacoat and a cane,” he exclaims with laughter, assuring us he’s the real deal.
Walking into a franchise like Stephen King's is new to Hall and he says that the THE DEAD ZONE is working every week to break new ground and push the limits of the original material while still maintaining its integrity. As co-producer, Hall offers input into the guest cast for each episode and adds whatever expertise he may find useful on the set. But filling the summer television void with something truly innovative and intriguing is an enormous challenge for any new series.
”We’re trying to do some cutting edge stuff that’s really breakthrough,” Hall says, referring to the CGI company Stargate that produces some of the impressive vision sequences for the series. “We’re still in the process of refining all the elements in terms of our techniques but we’re really inventing some things in terms of the use of different frame rates and CGI backgrounds and entire locations morphing into other locations. So there’s a lot of talent that comes onboard for this and makes it happen.”
Hall’s character in the series, Johnny Smith, suffers a series of accidents that render him psychologically attuned to the past and future of his surroundings. “It’s sort of a blend of the Stephen King macabre and what his fan base has come to expect and some science fiction,” Hall describes the show. “There are ways to build this character from a physical, mental, and ultimately a spiritual standpoint. The fact is he tries to put his ability to good use. It’s almost like each episode takes us into his mind because we have all these diff forays into visions and premonitions and flashes that the audience has to piece together.”
The new series takes a slightly more scientific approach than the film fans may remember, presenting an interesting hybrid of STAR TREK’s intellectuality and the eeriness of THE X-FILES.
”It’s a hybrid of everything, we’re trying to tell really good stories. We’re basically traveling these core characters that Stephen King has created in his great mind and we’re taking these characters into very different situations each week,” Hall says. “I can tell you one thing that’s evident, for all of us on the prod team including Rob Lieberman, who directed the pilot and two episodes since, it’s very much in our fabric to weave stories that are inspired in part by other scenes that we’ve seen in either classic films or more modern day films; if we don’t pay homage to [them] we sort of glean the best elements from [them]. So there’s a lot of inspiration here, it’s not just the story that was set in Maine, the story really goes a lot of different places even as we’ve just wrapped our eighth episode.”
The star says all the STAR TREK experience going into THE DEAD ZONE has resulted in a wealth of knowledge guiding each episode tremendously.
”Michael Piller is really intent upon getting the writers up here for the filming of each episode so we can tap into them and utilize their talents and the discussions with them as a resource for the stories each week,” he reveals.
Although Johnny Smith isn’t warping around the galaxy each week, Hall says the concept for THE DEAD ZONE is just as versatile and STAR TREK fans are sure to enjoy the ride.
”Piller brings a lot of that to the table, the ability to write very compelling, intelligent dramas. Johnny Smith’s ability is a portal of sorts just like the Enterprise was. It’s a way to get into his mind as well as an opportunity to explore different story avenues for each episode and they continue to very varied and very compelling and very interesting.”
THE DEAD ZONE premieres on USA Network June 16th at 10 PM EDT. Stay tuned to TrekWeb for an interview with former DS9 co-star Nicole de Boer about her new role alongside Anthony Michael Hall!
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