FlashForward - Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes in his characters FBI office during a set visit © Judy Sloane

On September 14th, I went to the Disney Studios in Burbank, California, to visit the set of ABC’s new drama FlashForward.

Sitting in his ‘office’ at the FBI, I spoke with British star Joseph Fiennes, about his character, Mark Benford, who, along with the entire human race, blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds, and saw his future – one that he doesn’t want to come true, all culminating on April 29, 2010. It’s easy to understand why this unique and fascinating concept would inspire the actor to star in his first American TV series.

When you were approached about doing this, were you hesitant about doing a television series?

Episode 1.04 Black Swan - Joseph Fiennese © ABC

I was in L.A. at the time, for a film meeting. I can’t even remember what the film was. And, on the way back out, my agent said, “You’ve got to read this pilot. It’s great. And, David Goyer wants to meet you, straight away.” I said, “Well, I’m flying out in a couple of hours, but I’ll read it before I do the meeting.”

I read it just before the meeting, and I was totally hooked. I loved and knew David’s work, took the meeting and was completely inspired by his take, the whole architecture behind the piece, and the sense of where, a few episodes in, we could begin to make these characters more intriguing as, suddenly, their lives are ripped apart. From an acting point of view, that was really exciting.

I hadn’t really thought about television, but I’d seen Nip/Tuck, The Wire, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. There has been a whole host of stuff, over the last several years, that I’ve really been blown away by, with the writing and production value. So, it wasn’t a big leap for me. For actors, it’s all about holding hands with great writing and, through that, the development of characters.

Would you want to know your future?

Great question. I fluctuate on that. Some days I do, some days I don’t. If it was going to be good news, I’d love to know. Ultimately, I don’t think so. This is the journey we’re on, and you make your decisions and choices, and the experience of life is living by them, for good or for bad, and therein lies the lesson. To not have that lesson is to not tackle life.

If you had to explain your characters journey in this and set up what they need to know about this character, in order to watch the show, what would you say?

Episode 1.02 White to Play - Joseph Fiennes and John Cho © ABC

He’s a man who is intent on not having to live in the hell that he sees. He’s a recovering alcoholic, which is a painful back story for him. His life is now back on track. He’s got a wonderful family. He lives for his child and his wife, and to see that taken away is going to devastate him.

So, we’re going to see a man taken to the brink and taken to the extreme. I think he’s got his life in order. Maybe he’s a bit OCD. He likes his pens the right way. It’s all good. Life is good. In that opening shot, everything is beautiful and it’s great, and then, suddenly, the world comes crashing down.

For me, as an actor, that’s a great character. We’re going to see him being ripped apart and tested. And, it’s really about the moral boundaries that you’re prepared to cross or that you have to confront, in order to change the future and change the outcome of what you see.

My character is being confronted by, “Do I take the future into my own hands? Do I change it irrevocably? How do I do that? Who’s behind all of this?” He’s got his personal quest and his professional quest. The professional quest is that great roller coaster ride of all this information and how it locks into place. He’s put himself right at the front of this investigation.

He’s seen it in his flash forward, so he gets the whole FBI office behind him on this. Yet, we know that, in his flash forward, he’s been drinking, so suddenly it’s a whole investigation on a guy who’s got very splintered, fractured visions because he’s under the influence. There are great conflicts. It’s just great character drama, and I can’t wait to keep finding out all the facets of this character.

Unlike with a film, where you can chart it indefinitely, work backwards from the end to the beginning, and really get inside it, with a television show, you get a script every couple of weeks and I’m not told and don’t particularly want to know anything because that lends excitement.

Episode - 1.02 White to Play - John Cho and Joseph Fiennes © ABC

Have you been told why there was a flash forward?

I have no idea.

Do you try to guess?

Constantly. I’m knocking on the door of the writer’s room. My journalistic antennae is very subversive in trying to get information, but the door is very firm. It’s difficult to get it.

Isn’t it better for you not to know, since your character doesn’t know?

I think so. There’s a certain level of energy that all the actors have, which I hope will infect the filming and playing, and ultimately the audience, who are collaborators. Like with anything creative, the audience is the final equation in the collaboration.

We do it only for them. It’s such a big equation in this show because there are so many clues, and we have to have them participate. But, the level of energy between us, because of not knowing, lends to the characters and their conflicts. You’ll get all that chemistry and electricity going on, which will hopefully come through in the filming.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane