Shirley Mason, Brian Austin Green and Josh Friedman Interview on the Set of TERMINATOR The Sarah Conner Chronicles

     September 23, 2008

As I said a day ago when I posted my exclusive interview with show runner/executive producer Josh Friedman of “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles,” I recently visited the set of the TV show and had a pretty great experience.

Since I don’t want to bore you with a recap of the same events, I strongly suggest starting here and at least reading the intro. Now that you’ve caught up…here’s what you need to know about the interview below.

It was done during the breakfast where all the online journalists and the cast/crew were taking turns talking to each other. It was a loud setting where everyone was talking and having fun, and the conversations went all over the place – from talking about working on the show to having Brian Austin Green reminisce about “90210” and would he be into appearing on the new version.

But the thing I really took away from our time talking was how much fun they all seemed to be having together. When you work the long hours that are involved with making a 1 hour action/drama, the last thing you want to be doing is hanging out on set if you’re not into the show and the people that surround you. I’ve spoken to friends who’ve worked on shows where people hated each other…and as soon as they wrapped they’d be gone. This was clearly not that environment.

Anyway, while I usually make the audio of every interview available as a download, due to how loud it was, it’d be almost worthless to listen to. One of the reasons why this took a bit of extra time to get done is the difficulty in transcribing these people.

Finally, in the next day or two I’ll have my write-up of the hours I spent on set with a lot of photos from not only the breakfast…but of me blowing up a car. Yeah…they let us blow up a fracking car! I’ve been to a lot of sets now…and this was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

And with that, here’s Shirley Mason, Brian Austin Green and creator/show runner Josh Friedman.

Warning: spoilers are discussed from the season premiere. Do not read if you have not watched the premiere

When they talked to you about taking on this role, then, they knew that you were going to be one of these robots from the future then basically?

Shirley Mason: I believe so.

So how did that conversation go, and what attracted you to taking on that kind of a thing?

Shirley Mason: I was having lunch with Josh’s wife, and she said to me, Josh is interested in having you on the show, would you be interested? And I laughed and said oh, yeah, sure. I had no idea at this point what he wanted me for so I was just like yeah, okay, I’ll be on a TV show, why not? And then the writers’ strike happened, but over the course of the writers’ strike his wife kept saying to me you know, Josh is serious about this, are you serious about auditioning? And I was like yeah, yeah, thinking you know, it’ll never come to anything. And then I was in Scotland and I got an email from Josh saying are you interested in auditioning? I said yeah okay, and he went well, I need you to be here on Friday to audition, and this was like two days before. And I was like oh my god. So I came home, I auditioned the next day, and then they liked my audition so I had to go through another series of I think tree auditions, and I got the part, much to my surprise.

How much of the character–did you know from the beginning what it was?

Shirley Mason: No, they were pretty secretive about the whole thing. I mean I knew, to be honest, that it was a terminator, but I didn’t know the extent of the role. I didn’t know if it was a wee role or a big role.

And how did that inform the performance, your decisions as an actor, knowing it was a robot. Were you playing it as a person or a robot?

Shirley Mason: Um, as a robot. Yeah. I felt like she shouldn’t be particularly natural, so yeah, there was a deliberate choice to make her very stiff, because I knew that she was, she’s at the top of the league in terms of robot series, so I knew she had to be quite sophisticated. She couldn’t be like Cameron and she couldn’t be like Cromartie, she had to be, you know, more sophisticated than that. But at the same time, I didn’t want her to be complete 100% human either. So I deliberately tried to make her as stiff as possible, within reason. And then as we discovered, as we talked over the shooting her steps between the first and second, you also wanted to be compelling on screen, so you have to give and take to a certain degree, because that would be very dull otherwise.

You’re diving right in with this. What do you think about hour long dramas?

Shirley Mason: well, Josh had a conversation with me after I got the role, when I was standing on set, right here in this very spot, and he said I don’t know if you truly understand the commitment that you have given us, and he sort of laid it out for me then. I was a little shocked.

Josh Friedman: Actually, there’s a certain kind of contract which is, well, a season regular, but it’s 7 out of 13, which means that you guarantee somebody 7 episodes out of 13 episodes. That doesn’t mean that they can only be in 7 episodes, it just means that contractually that’s what you’re guaranteeing them, and that’s what we have given Shirley, 7 out of 13, so she was like, so at the end of 7 episodes, do I have a good death? And I was like what are you talking about? She’s like, well at the end of the 7 episodes, who kills me? I was like sweetie, you’re not going anywhere right now. She was like oh.

So then it dawned on you, you could be in for the long haul.

Shirley Mason: that I could be in for the long haul. But I love it. It’s exciting and fun and challenging.

Also, I think it was surprising for everyone to learn that you actually sang in the episode. I mean, there’s some music there. Is that going to happen again?

Shirley Mason: Well, I did it as a favor to Josh. He practically pleaded on bended knee and it, obviously–you got me drunk and then you asked if I would do it. and um, I decided I would do it, even though it was really not where I was at. I just sort of wanted to be doing this from an actor’s standpoint. Because I thought I would be setting myself up. Because when people look at musicians who are acting, they just really don’t like it very much. So I knew I was setting myself up for a little bit of trouble, but–

Like it’s a hobby or something?

Shirley Mason: well they don’t take you, like when you switch the TV on, 99% of the time you just accept what you’re seeing. When a musician comes to the scene, they don’t accept that you are who you’re saying you are because they know you’re something else. Which is totally fair. So I was a little reluctant to do it, but because Josh asked me so nicely, I felt I ought, and I trusted him that we could take that gamble.

Brian, did you give Shirley any advice about jumping into a series like this?

Brian Austin Green: No

Shirley Mason: that’s not true

Brian Austin Green: Shirley and I kind of met in the beginning but we haven’t worked together yet, so we haven’t really had too much of an opportunity to talk. We did a little bit at Comic-Con at the panel, but no. I haven’t helped her at all. I’ve given her nothing.

Shirley Mason: Well, first of all, Brian was very, very kind and welcoming and friendly, which makes, which actually does help. And then also I was telling him how nervous I was and he shared some of his own feelings about acting and–

You can share them, you’re allowed to–

Shirley Mason: No, but he was, he was really, it actually meant a lot to me that he took time to explain to me that some of the things I was going to were normal and I shouldn’t get too freaked out by feeling freaked out. And that is helpful when you’re hearing it from someone who’s seasoned. I’m coming at this completely as a novice. So–

How are you working through the process, how are you doing this?

Shirley Mason: I have no fucking clue. I mean obviously it helps, you get more comfortable with the other actors, you become more comfortable with the process, you start to learn. I mean, I’m learning a lot as I go, that I think people like Brian would just take for granted. i.e., you know, you come on set and you do a scene, and what I didn’t realize day one was that you have to remember exactly what you’ve done, physically. Because I was just coming and doing something, and then they’d say okay, you have to do it again, and I would think fuck, where do I put the phone, where did I set the computer down. So there’s physical memory that’s involved in it, just a random example.

Brian Austin Green: It’s the preparation that you just have to get used to, yeah.

Shirley Mason: And I was unaware of all that.

As a singer, are you formally trained or–

Shirley Mason: No.

Okay, so you don’t have any formal training for that, either.

Shirley Mason: No. Which I think is actually beneficial. Because a lot of people said to me, when I got this opportunity, was you’re insane. You’ve got to go to acting class, you need to, what are you thinking of, you’re arrogant, you’re crazy–and I thought, that’s what everyone said to me when I started out as a singer, so I don’t believe I need to listen to that.

In a way it’s performing, right, you’ve been performing your whole life.

Shirley Mason: Right, of course. Also I think as a singer you are channeling human emotions, to a certain degree. Yes, there’s the technical aspect of writing music and bringing it to the stage, but it’s also about emotion and it’s also about thought and experience.

How did you–I don’t know if you watched the episode last night or–

Shirley Mason: No, I couldn’t bring myself. I was busy doing other things, I didn’t watch it–of course I watched it!

How do you like how you look, or I mean maybe that’s not a fair question to ask an actor.

Shirley Mason: Um–

Brian Austin Green: it’s an odd question.

Shirley Mason: It’s an odd question.

That’s my job.

Shirley Mason: you mean as a woman or an actress or as a character?

Or as a urinal.

Shirley Mason: I thought I looked delicious as a urinal. I’ve never seen a better looking urinal in my life. That’s fair, right?

What about the different collaborative processes of performing with a cast versus working with a band. The team work aspect of it.

Shirley Mason: it’s very similar in some ways. I mean in this I keep joking to friends that I’m the bass player in this band. My new fun band.

Josh Friedman: She’s transferred burden–from Garbage, it was queen, she’s taken the crown off and she’s given it to me. So she calls me Queenie all the time, I’m like why do you call me Queenie? She’s like it’s your band, man. So now I’m Queenie.

Shirley Mason: I’ve relinquished all control, which actually feels really good.

Have you guys known each other for a while?

Josh Friedman: Yeah, I mean, not very well, not intimately.

Shirley Mason: not intimately.

continued on page 2 ——>


Brian, can I ask you a question?

Brian Austin Green: Nah, I’m just here for breakfast. I wasn’t told I was asking any questions.

Last year you sort of had the challenge of overcoming–well maybe it wasn’t so much of a challenge–maybe it was just us–but overcoming–

Brian Austin Green: it was more of a challenge for you, yeah.

But this year people can accept you for the character that you played already. So what do you see this character going forward?

Brian Austin Green: Well that’s up to Josh, you know.

Josh Friedman: before this breakfast I had big plans for him.

Brian Austin Green: Yeah

Josh Friedman: but he’s been such a dick to me this whole breakfast–

Brian Austin Green: I’m down to a 3 out of 10 contract unfortunately–after this breakfast.

Josh Friedman: it’s been very painful, because Brian and I actually do know each other biblically. It’s been very painful.

Brian Austin Green: surprisingly gentle, Josh.

That’s a picture I don’t need in my head.

Brian Austin Green: no, he’s a sweetheart.

Josh Friedman: I was very gentle with him. He’s also played the urinal a couple of times.

Shirley Mason: Okay, time out everybody.

Brian Austin Green: Holy shit. Golly. Alright, I play a urinal sometimes, yes. I’ll pick up with that one, thanks. Um, I really don’t know what’s coming up. I’m kind of, I’m surprised from episode to episode what’s going on. I don’t know too far in advance what’s happening, I know the next episode.

You feel more comfortable in this guy’s skin now, obviously.

Brian Austin Green: Um, yes and now. I mean, I don’t know if I ever could completely feel comfortable, acting. It’s a strange process. Like Shirley was talking about a little bit, it’s really different from other things. In the sense of you do what you do but that’s all you really have control over. The rest of it is up to everybody else. It’s up to the director and the editors and you know. So you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out until you see it. Which is, luckily I really enjoy watching the show because I’m always happy with how it turns out.

Do you enjoy that, the not knowing where the character is going in the whole arc?

Brian Austin Green: it’s interesting.

If you do a movie you obviously know where the character is going

Brian Austin Green: yeah. It’s interesting. Um, it’s fun. It can be a bit confusing at times, I have to ask a lot of questions. We shoot out of order here which is even more confusing, so the front page of our script is usually a description of what’s happened before this script that we haven’t read and don’t know anything about. So it’ll say okay, this is episode 6 but in episodes 4 and 5 this is what happened, you know, so you’re kind of reading this short run down and synopsis of what’s going on. But Josh is always on set, James Middleton’s always on set, so they’re really good at giving us whatever information we need.

Do you find yourself making decisions about things that might be undone in later episodes in plot-forward episodes?

Brian Austin Green: If you ask the right questions, no, and that’s all I can do. I can ask as many questions as I feel I need in a scene to make sense of what I’m doing and why, and then that’s it.

And Josh will give you the answers?

Brian Austin Green: Josh will give me the answers, always.

How about you Shirley, on the sort of not knowing and playing the character in the moment of the episode but not knowing what the future is?

Shirley Mason: I’m good with it simply because I’ve known nothing else. I’ve not had another acting job where I’ve had the full arc of the character described to me before hand, so it is what it is, and I feel like, as Brian says, if you ask the right questions then you know, like any human being or robot or any life experience, there are certain decisions you can make that aren’t going to interfere with the timeline, if that makes any sense. There’s always the core–

Brian Austin Green: I mean, television is a much, has a much more drawn out long life than films do. They’re just a completely different monster that way. A lot of film scripts are almost direct time, they’re within the timeline, so they’ll be an hour and a half of time in this person’s life, or a week of life. We’re playing a year’s worth of time, so I don’t necessarily need to know how it ends or where it’s going as long as I know how I’m getting there. Then they can throw whatever they want at me and its just the natural progression. You make it the natural progression.

What episode are you guys on right now?

Brian Austin Green: eight.

Shirley Mason: nine I think. ten.

Josh Friedman: nine.

Brian Austin Green: it’s the ninth one–no after this one–doesn’t matter. Ninth episode.

Are there going to be more–at what point do you and the writers say to yourselves no more people from future?

Josh Friedman: not for a while. I don’t know, there are some people who are ‘why do people keep coming back?’ well first of all I think, well, there’s not a lot of people that come back from the future. We’ve had really only one person, one group of–well, four people came back but only one of them have survived. That was only one event. I know that originally in the mythology it was all like it’s very difficult for people to come back and we don’t want to see you know, I would never want to try to come back–

One of the most interesting episodes last year was when you had the flash forward to the future.

Josh Friedman: yeah.

Are you going to do that again you think?

Josh Friedman: yeah. we’ve done it.

So we’re going to see more of the future?

Josh Friedman: yes, yes.

Is Shirley going to sing anymore?

Josh Friedman: no, no, she’s done, she’s not required to sing anymore.

Did you watch 90210?

Brian Austin Green: No, I missed it. I’m going to watch it tonight, though.

So you’re not avoiding it, that’s a chapter of my life that’s passed–

Brian Austin Green: no.

Were you aware of everyone that’s back and Silver being a character and–

Brian Austin Green: yeah, yeah.

Shirley Mason: it’s his mythology. Well no, I mean it is.

Do you feel sort of a proprietary aspect to it? Like if they might screw up your back story and–?

Brian Austin Green: I don’t know if you could possibly screw up my back story any more than it was screwed with over ten years. Um, no, it’s a new start, it’s a new show, and the audience that’s watching is new. A lot of them were too young to watch ours. So it’s a new cast and it’s a new take on it. I can’t, sort of a new cast? Well, you’ve got the two that came back, you know. Shannon and Jennie.

She said some very nice things about you.

Brian Austin Green: she did. I know, I actually sent her a text message yesterday.

Given that the character is still sort of in the background of the story, is there any chance under which you’d drop in for five minutes?

Brian Austin Green: I don’t know.

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