TV Squad Interview: Jay R. Ferguson from Surface
I'll be blunt: Surface is not only the best of the new sci-fi/horror series, it's the best new show, period. I spoke with Jay R. Ferguson the other day. He plays Rich, who is haunted by the death of his brother and trying to help Laura (Lake Bell) find the monsters causing havoc around the globe. You might know Ferguson from his teen years, when he starred in the TV series The Outsiders, or when he played Burt Reynolds son on Evening Shade. Ferguson talks about what it's like to film in North Carolina, why Surface is the best set he's ever worked on, and why you should be careful about what pictures you have taken when you're young.
Bob Sassone: Are you calling from North Carolina?
Jay Ferguson: Yes.
BS: Ah, OK, I was worried about waking you up really early at 7am on the west coast!
JF: Oh no, don't worry about it, been up for a while.
BS: By the way, do I sound OK?
JF: Yeah, you sound fine, why, you a little under the weather?
BS: No, not that, I'm trying a new recording system here...my cassette recorder broke and I'm trying a new speaker/digital recorder. I just wanted to make sure you could hear me OK.
JF: Oh yeah, you're fine.
BS: Good. So are you filming right now this morning?
JF: No, thank goodness, today I have off, a much well-needed day off.
BS: Well, it's hard battling monsters.
JF: Yes. Exhausting.
BS: Congrats on the show.
JF: Thank you very much.
BS: I've been saying this on the web site alot, that it's by far the best new show.
JF: Yeah, we appreciate all your kind words man, we've really enjoyed reading them when there really haven't been that many of them around, if you know what I mean.
BS: Just this morning I was reading Entertainment Weekly, and they give a comparison of Invasion and Threshold, without mentioning Surface.
JF: Yeah. It's really strange, it's like there's been some media coup, a press coup over our show. Where everybody has gotten together and agreed that no matter what happens they're not going to support it (laughs).
BS: (laughs) It's weird, I don't know if it's not flashy enough or it's the night that it's on...
JF: You know what I think it is? It's that they all predicted that we were going to fail miserably, and we didn't. In fact, we did the opposite. And we're one of the first new dramas to be picked up for a full season.
BS: That's great.
JF: You know, versus all the other shows, our ratings have been better, our numbers have been better, we've had more people watching our shows, and it's just a little hard for them to admit they're wrong and that people like something they never thought they would like. I don't know what it is.
BS: It's so screwed up. As a reviewer I have to watch all the shows even if they suck beyond belief...
BS: ...and, you know, I kinda enjoy Threshold, it's kinda goofy...Invasion I stopped watching because it just got so boring I couldn't stick with it...but Surface is a rare show that continues to get better and better as the season goes on.
JF: That's how we feel about it as well. Every week when each new episode comes on, we're all waiting in anticipation to see how each episode's gonna turn out. There are so many great unknowns on the show that nobody knows the outcome or what the final "look" is going to be, and we don't know until it comes on TV, like special effects and what have you.
JF: We're all anxiously awaiting each episode when it comes on, and we all keep saying every week that it just keeps getting better and better.
BS: It's very cool that NBC gave you the pickup for the full season.
JF: Yeah, we're very excited about that.
BS: So last night was episode 8...what episode are you filming right now?
JF: Right now we're filming episode 11...they're starting to catch up. I think that, and this is unfortunate for momentum, but I think we're pre-empted in a couple of weeks and don't have another episode for another two weeks, and they have to do that a couple of times evidently to allow these shows to catch up.
BS: Plus this is a weird time of year, with holidays and sweeps and all that.
JF: Right. It's kind of a bummer because if you haven't really established your base yet by the time it comes around again you lose momentum, but we're really confident that we got a pretty strong base thus far and I'm anxiously awaiting what the numbers were for last night's episode.
BS: You know what was great about last night was the little recap they did at the beginning. That was great! It really laid out everything in almost a suspenseful way, if you haven't watched the show or only caught an episode or two...
JF: I'm trying to remember...did they show a "previously on Surface" type of deal?
BS: Yeah, but it wasn't just from the last episode, it was sort of like a "up to this point" thing.
BS: And it didn't leave out anything. It was kind of compact, about five minutes.
JF: Yeah, they feel compelled to do that constantly (laughs). I think they have to do that just to cover their asses.
BS: You have to nowadays, there are so many stations, so many shows on.
JF: Also the network's taking chances on serialized shows. They're still kinda new, so they're not so confident in the ambiguity of it all that they're just willing to let it fall where it may and not be willing to catch people who havne't been privy to every episode.
BS: One of the things fans have been asking, they're wondering how Miles eventually hooks up with Rich and Laura, because you know he has to at some point, and they've been separated, which shows really good restraint on the part of the writers, not to squeeze everybody together. Have you reached that point in filming yet, where you guys meet up? Or is that down the line?
JF: It's down the line. Hopefully not too far down the line. I really don't know, which is so great. I'm sure that you have been told this or read it or maybe not, but they pretty much keep us in the dark as to when things are gonna happen and what those things specifically are, which I'm a fan of. I like how it keeps the growth of the characters real and natural. It leaves no room for speculating about what's coming up, or rather I should say worrying about what's coming up and how we're gonna pull that off.
BS: There was sort of a hint last night, when Miles went to work at the aquarium as punishment for what he did, so I can see where they might be going with that with him working at an aquarium and making it easier for him to hook up with you.
JF: Yeah, I'm anxious to get hooked up with him because we're such good friends outside of the show, I'm so anxious to work with the guy because he's my buddy.
BS: It's funny (laughs). I needed a picture to go along with this interview online, so I did a search, and came across a lot of, you know, teen heartthrob pictures of you...
JF: (laughs) Oh boy...
BS: (laughs) And I was wondering, have you given Carter Jenkins (Miles) any advice about how to handle being a teen star?
JF: The only advice I can give him is try to take as few cheesy pictures as you can...
JF: ...because they will come back to haunt you later in life.
BS: Well, especially with the internet, they're there for everyone to see.
JF: Yeah, people have alerted me to it, and believe me I'm not too thrilled about it, but what are you going to do. I was a young guy and that's what young guys do, especially in the 80s!
BS: What was it like working with Burt Reynolds on Evening Shade?
JF: It was awesome. That whole cast was incredible.
BS: You were what, around 15, 16?
JF: I was 15 to 19, I think. Yeah, it was very profound experience for me as a young actor.
BS: I can imagine.
JF: To kind of grow up with all these talented veterans...
BS: Yeah, they were all legends that worked on that show.
JF: Yeah, it was something you don't ordinarily see...I was upset when it ended. I wish it could have gone a little bit longer. I feel like I was so young at that point I couldn't really appreciate my situation and had I been given a couple more years maybe I would have been able to absorb more from them.
BS: Did it last about four or five years?
JF: Four years, yeah, four seasons.
BS: Now I notice you don't have a southern accent!
JF: No, it's something that comes back when I go home or when I'm working doing this guy.
BS: Now did you decide to do the accent or was it written that way.
JF: He was just written to be from around the same part of the country that my family lived, so I was pretty familiar with the character, and as far as the accent goes I just try to keep it a little subtle.
BS: Oh yeah, it's not overdone.
JF: I'm not trying to do a carictature. I do what happens to me naturally when I go home and that's certain words, certain inflections, certain phrases, certain catch phrases, things like that, that I hear a lot when I'm back home.
BS: Where are you from originally?
JF: I'm from Dallas. My whole family is based in Texas and Mississippi and Arkansas, spread throughout most of the south. So, pretty much every member of my family I was able to take from and apply to this character, because they are all pretty much Rich in some fashion or another. So, it was not a character I had to do a lot of research for.
BS: How did you get involved in acting originally? What was your first gig?
JF: My first gig was The Outsiders. I was 14 there. And probably one of the more jading experiences in my whole life.
BS: Really? And for your first thing too.
JF: Right. Which, by the way, is what spawned all of those evil pictures you saw.
BS: (laughs) Don't worry, I won't be using one of those pictures.
JF: Yeah, I know there's going to come a point when I'm going to have to face it, on a public platform, and when that day comes, I'll be ready.
BS: You can just tell them it's Craig Ferguson...they got the wrong Ferguson.
JF: (laughs) Right.
BS: Are you working on anything else besides Surface, any movies or anything, or is the show taking up all your time?
JF: It's definitely impossible to do anything else while I'm doing Surface, but when it's finished shooting for the season, I certainly am going to try to procure something to keep me busy. I've got several stories that I want to tell, if I could ever get motivated enought to put them all down on paper, just one of them. Which I am, there are a couple that I'm focusing on. I'd love to try to maybe do a short or maybe a full-length independent feature during the hiatus. If I can't get my act together on that end than certainly try to get an acting gig in a movie. That's always what you try to do during that time.
BS: Well hopefully Surface will come back for another season.
JF: Yes, that's what we're all depending on and hoping for.
BS: Tell us a little about how it is working with Lake Bell.
JF: Fantastic. She's my girl. We've spent so much time together when we're in close quarters where it's just the two of us...
BS: And now you're trapped in a diving bell.
JF: Right. A tiny little set, forced to be around each other and it's tough (laughs), when you're spending 12 to 14 hours a day inside a space that's no bigger than a closet, with one other person. And you gotta make sure, those two personalities have to be able to work together. Not just work together but go through downtime together, which is the tough part. And we were both so great with that as far as keeping the mood up, trying to keep each other smiling. It's good, she's a wonderful actor to work with and she's always very prepared and knows her lines. Which you'd expect everyone to do but you would be surprised how many people show up and don't even know their lines.
BS: I can imagine.
JF: It's really quite a relief because there have been times in my past where that hasn't been the case, where the opposite is true. It's not fun. It's wonderful, she's a delight.
BS: Yeah, it would make it tougher not only on the other actor but the set, if you get someone who's not prepared.
JF: Oh, and the crew on this show is incredible. It's by far the happiest set I've ever been on, and it just keeps up eveybody's mood, everyone's laughing. Nothing is compromised. Everybody's the best at what they do. They're able to do it and have a good time at the same time, so it makes it that much more fun for us to come to work and be around that as opposed to other crews that I've worked with that are stuffy, everybody's yelling at everybody and everybody's pissed off at somebody. You know, it's not like that with us.
BS: Is there any reason why you film in North Carolina and not California?
JF: Money, Bob, money.
BS: (laughs) I know that there are some other shows that filmed in North Carolina. Dawson's Creek I think?
JF: Yeah, they used to shoot here, a show called One Tree Hill shoots here, and there's a studio that Dino De Laurentis built in the 80s that is used for movies and several different TV shows, so that's where we shoot. In and around Wilmington.
BS: It's a nice area. It gives a realistic vibe to the show, the way it looks.
JF: Oh, yeah, it's a beautiful city. I love being here.