A chat with Blair Underwood, Blair Underwoodinterview, The Event
Blair Underwood

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NBC’s “The Event” is one of the most talked-about series on the Fall 2010 schedule, which is no doubt why it’s managed to attract a cast which includes such high-profile actors as Laura Innes (“ER”), Željko Ivanek (“Damages,” “Heroes,” “True Blood”), and Blair Underwood, who plays the President of the United States on the series. You may raise your eyebrows, however, when you learn that Underwood’s character is named…wait for it…Elias Martinez.

Underwood got a big laugh when, after being asked to admit whether or not he actually had any Cuban blood in him, he first replied, “I’m going to say ‘yes,’” then waited for the laughter to die down before admitting, “But no.”

A few minutes later, however, he got serious when asked to offer a bit of clarification as to what kind of president Elias Martinez would be.

“Elias Martinez is a newly elected President,” Underwood said. “He’s very optimistic. He’s very idealistic. He’s very politically savvy. Otherwise, he wouldn’t necessarily be in that job. And it’s interesting. You know, the question is about faith and believing. You know, this a President who embodies all of that sense of wanting to believe and have faith in the good and the noble causes. But not unlike (the producers of ‘The Event’) and the pedigree that we have assembled, he’s very smart to learn from the mistakes of the past. Laura (Innes) said we all had the same question as actors: how do we not fall into the traps that other shows have fallen into before? And you learn from the past. We know what the mistakes were. We’ve seen it as viewers. Some people have been involved in these shows, and this production, as I can see, wants to avoid all those things, and we know this President wants to release the detainees – who you see in the pilot – because it’s not the American way. It’s not the humane thing to do, but he also knows and is informed very eloquently by Željko (Ivanek’s) character that there are consequences to that.”

Later, at NBC’s all-star party, I caught up with Underwood just as he was getting ready to depart – it was the first time all night that he hadn’t been surrounded – and was able to ask him just a couple of questions before he hit the road

Bullz-Eye: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times today, but how does it feel to play the President of the United States?

Blair Underwood: It’s a lot of fun. I have to tell you. I’m having the time of my life. I’m having a ball.

BE: So what’s your sci-fi background prior to this?

On "The Event": "I was focused on my production company, but my agent said, 'They’ve inquired about you for this script, which is pretty good. You might want to check it out.' Now, if I’m focused on something creative, I just totally immerse myself, but I always tell them, 'If something great comes along, let me know.' And it was incredible."

BU: You know, the only sci-fi project I’ve done before this…and, actually, Laura Innes and I did it together…was “Deep Impact.” That was ’98, I think. And we didn’t even work together at the time. She mentioned that on the set the other day, and I was, like, “Oh, yeah, you were in that, too!” (Laughs) We never worked together. We never even saw each other!

BE: “Gattaca” would qualify as sci-fi, wouldn’t it?

BU: Damn, I forgot about “Gattaca”! Yeah, that’s funny, though, because I only worked one day. It’s one of those things where you work one day, you leave, and then the movie comes out a few months later and…I saw it when it came out, which was, what, 10 – 15 years ago? I haven’t seen it since, though. But, yeah, “Gattaca” totally qualifies!

BE: So were you actively looking for a series role?

BU: I wasn’t, actually. I was focused on my production company. We’re producing a documentary on African-American entertainers, and I was completely focused on that and hadn’t read any other scripts. But my agent said, “They’ve inquired about you for this script, which is pretty good. You might want to check it out.” Now, if I’m focused on something creative, I just totally immerse myself, but I always tell them, “If something great comes along, let me know.” And it was incredible. So I sat down and met with the producers first, and we talked about it at great length, and I left there thinking, “If it’s half as good as you say it is…?” I mean, I read it that night, and I’ve been in ever since.

BE: I’m not going to ask you to reveal what you know, but how far ahead do you know?

BU: I know the broad arc for at least the first two years.

BE: Is it good? (Laughs)

Blair UnderwoodBU: (Laughs) It is good! No, it is good, and I have to say that we’re shooting Episodes 2 and 3 now and they’re definitely on par with the pilot. Because that’s always your concern: “Great pilot, but can you follow it up?” But they’re doing it.

BE: I know you’re trying to get out of here, but just to close, how was your experience on “Dirty Sexy Money”?

BU: Incredible. Wherever we travel, all over the world, if someone starts to ask me, “Whatever happened to…?” I know what they’re going to ask me about. They’re going to ask me about Simon Elder on “Dirty Sexy Money.” Great show, great experience.

Just to close, Underwood participated in a recent conference call about “The Event,” and although he obviously didn’t offer any significant revelations about the series, he did at least indicate his ongoing enthusiasm for the series. I’m pretty sure, however, that he doesn’t know any more about what The Event is than we are.

“The Event is something very eventful,” Underwood said. “Something that can potentially change the course of mankind as we know it. There is a pre-Event. The Event is something that is to come. We will see The Event at some point, and then it’s the consequences and aftermath of The Event. What was most impressive to me was how much (the producers) have strategized the seasons. It’s important to know where you’re going, and they have expertise and clarity in that. And the specific characters and cast members, of course. It was a win-win situation. There’s a great pedigree of talent to helm the whole project. There’s a plan and they’re going to execute the plans. You have a little bit of everything: a love story, action, sci-fi, political conspiracy. We should only be so lucky to have the success of ‘Lost,’ (but) tonally it has elements of ‘24’ and ‘Lost.’ It’s a political thriller with science-fiction undertones.”

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