The CBS mystery thriller Extant, about female astronaut Molly Woods (Academy Award winner Halle Berry), is back for Season 2. Having discovered that she has unwittingly put the human race on a path to destruction, Molly and JD Richter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a roguish womanizer and mercenary/bounty hunter who has his own doubts about what’s really going on, may be the only hope for survival.
At a press day for the re-booted show’s new season, actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how he just couldn’t turn down Halle Berry and executive producer Steven Spielberg, when it came to signing on for this show, what appealed to him about this character, playing the everyman on a show with future tech, the fun dynamic between Molly and JD, the appeal of a shorter season, and how much he loves working with Halle Berry.
Collider: How did this happen?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: I still don’t understand how. I’m scratching my head. It happened because of Steven Spielberg and Halle Berry. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, so here I am.
Was there something about this story or character that appealed to you?
MORGAN: I liked the character, but that being said, it was really the two of them. I didn’t want to do a TV series, and I didn’t want to do a network TV series. But when you’re dealing with the likes of Spielberg and Halle, it’s hard to say no. I’d never seen Extant before. They had talked to me last year about being on the show, but my schedule was crazy and I was like, “No, I’m booked.” I was in Mexico last year, doing Texas Rising. So, when they came to me this year, I said, “Thank you, but no thank you.” And then, they sent me the script. I liked the character a lot, so I said, “Can you send me your favorite two or three episodes from last season, so I can see what you’re doing.” And they said, “No, we can’t. This is going to be a reboot, and we want you to think of this as doing a different, new show. You don’t need to get caught up in what we did last year.” Not that they weren’t proud of it, but it’s got a different vibe to it.
So, I had the script sitting in front of me with a character that I liked. He’s down and dirty, which I like, and he’s someone that I haven’t really played before. And I kept going back to Halle Berry and Steven Spielberg. How many opportunities in life do you have to go and do that? They enticed me with a one-year deal. That was very enticing because network television likes to do these eight-year holding deals and there was no way, in a million years. At least I knew that I could move forward, if I didn’t like the experience. Instead, it’s turned out to be a great experience. CBS has been very kind, and working with Halle, every day, I’ve never had such a fulfilling experience, certainly as an actor, but also as a guy who’s working 17-hour days away from his family. She’s the coolest chick I’ve ever met, in my whole life. She’s just cooler than shit. I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun on a set before. It’s usually just the two of us working. It’s a great crew, and we keep it as light as possible. There’s so much work involved that it’s nice to have someone who’s really a partner in crime. We’re constantly pulling shit over on the crew and each other, and trying to keep things light and the work fresh, and that all goes hand-in-hand.
This show has futuristic elements to it, but it’s not too overwhelming.
MORGAN: It doesn’t get bogged down.
Your character is the guy who uses some of the tech, but clearly doesn’t like it. Would you be the same way?
MORGAN: Yeah, that’s how I am. I still can’t set up a VCR or a DVD player. I do have a newer phone, but I’ve also had six of them because I break them. They told me never to watch any episodes, but I took the job, and then I watched a couple episodes, just so I could understand the science on this show. I needed to know what I was going to be doing and talking about. If they were going to have a conversation about Humanics, I needed to know what they were talking about. Last year, it was so serious, and there wasn’t any humor to it. It was life-or-death, and everything was hanging in the balance in such a way that there was no room for real human relationships, a sense of humor, or anything. It was so caught up in space and science and spores and robots.
This year, with my character in particular, I’m the everyman. I’m the audience. So, those “What the fuck?!” moments that they audience may have are the same ones that JD is having. He’s going to say, “What the fuck?!,” and hopefully get an answer that will make him happy, as well as the audience, and the story can move forward. We don’t have to keep driving it into the audience, what exactly these things are. I think that’s a newer aspect of the show, this year. I lighten it up quite a bit and I make it dirtier. Last year’s show was a little sterile. Maybe it had to be because it was in space and everything was clean. But now, we’re here on Earth and it’s dirtier, and my character has got a lot to do with the dirty, edgy feel that it has now. It’s a different show. It’s a total reboot, but I think it will satisfy the people that liked the show, last year. And if you’ve never watched the show, or didn’t like it last year, if you come back, I think it’s going to have something new for you. It’s still very smart, but it doesn’t take itself so seriously that you’re not going to enjoy it.
There’s a really fun dynamic between Molly and JD.
MORGAN: Well, he thinks she’s bonkers. He starts believing her, but it takes him awhile to get in line with all of this crazy stuff that she’s trying to sell him. We’re talking about aliens and robots, and JD is like, “What?!” He lives out in the middle of the woods, and he drives a pick-up truck and a motorcycle. He doesn’t believe in any of that kind of stuff. But after hanging out with this woman, he finds out that some of the stuff that she’s saying, if not all, is true. There is a very interesting dynamic between the two, and sparks are starting to fly and they’re doing this dance around each other. At the same time, he’s trying to protect her and save her. He becomes a little bit of a knight in shining armor, even if she doesn’t need it. He’s an old-fashioned guy in a new-fashioned world. They’re always going to have this friction. Whether it’s him not believing her, or her thinking he’s a jack-ass, or him trying to keep her out of harm’s way, it frustrates her. There’s always something that has the two riled up, and how they deal with it is cool. We’ve got a really nice chemistry, as actors, and our character do, as well. Playing that has been fun.
The schedule of doing TV is grueling. How does this compare to some of the other shows you’ve worked on?
MORGAN: I haven’t done a ton of TV, but I’ve done enough to where I know, but to do a lead in a network show is much different than doing a lead in a show on premium cable, like Magic City, where we would should an episode in 11 or 13 days. With Extant, we’re doing it in seven or eight days, tops. It’s much tighter. The budget is not flexible, so we’ve gotta do it in X amount of days. You find yourself working really long hours, and you’re beating the crap out of yourself and your crew. The one great aspect to this is that it’s only 13 episodes, so we can hopefully keep the quality of writing high. It’s not going to get stale. We won’t run out of ideas on Episode 17 or 18. And somehow I can justify being away from my family and doing stupid hours, if I know I’m only doing 13 episodes.
For five months, I just put my head down and work my ass off, and then I get to go home. If I was doing this for a 22-episode run, like some of these shows go, I don’t know what I’d do. And it’s grounded in science fiction, so there’s stuff that I say where I’m luck, “What?!” The only way I can memorize lines is if I can relate to it somehow, and some of the stuff I say, I’m like, “I don’t know what that is.” That’s a little bit harder sometimes. And I’m always battling my dyslexia, so trying to learn lines is hard enough. I feel like for five months, I don’t sleep. But I’m happy with the work we’re doing, I love Halle, and Spielberg has been nothing but gracious. I think 90% of the fight is being happy on set and having fun. If you can’t have fun when you’re there that long, you’re in deep shit. So, hopefully we’ll make a good show and people will watch it. The goal is for people to watch this show, and I think we’re making great entertainment.
Extant airs on Wednesday nights on CBS.