Fringe’s Mark Valley On His Role as a Walking Engima

Tonight’s episode of Fringe, entitled “The Transformation,” is rumored to contain a number of revelations about the show’s mythology in general, and about Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv)’s duplicitous and not-exactly-dead-or-maybe-he-is ex-boyfriend, Agent John Scott, in particular. All of this is of course provided against a backdrop of yet another flight gone spectacularly awry. (Where’s Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg when you need him? Then again, if Captain Sully ever began peddling his wares within the fictional realm, J.J. Abrams might be out of a job………..)

Mark Valley, who portrays Agent Scott on the show, recently addressed questions from a panel of journalists regarding tonight’s episode, and all things Fringe. Valley was coy about directly tackling THE question pertaining to his character (namely: WTF is John Scott? Alive? Dead? Good? Bad?) – and, given that news of his recent top-secret wedding to co-star Torv just came to light, his admission that Torv is his “favorite on the show” takes the art of understatement to a whole new level. Regardless, Valley was able to shed some light – at least as much as may be humanly possible – on what it’s like to be swept up in the unpredictable mind-warp of an Abrams-spawned universe. Following are the Q&A highlights from that discussion:

Will we ever see “John” in the flesh again instead of just in “Olivia’s” mind, or……?

Mark: I can’t really say. I think you’ll probably see both, but I can’t really confirm, nor what condition he’s going to be in, in either of those situations.

When you signed on, or before you signed on, [did you need] anyone to assure you, yes, “John” dies in the first episode, but he has some really cool stuff coming, don’t worry – he’s not really most sincerely dead! Did you need that kind of assurance so that it wouldn’t be just one great episode?

Mark: To start out with, sometimes I need assurance as to what to wear when I leave the house. [Laughs] That having been said, I think you can make an assumption on that. But I just always felt, for a guy whose character dies in the pilot, I’ve gotten an awful lot of work on this show.

You work most with Anna. What do you think of her as an actor and as a person?

Mark: I think she’s just a fantastic actor, and I really like working with her, because she has such a solid idea of what’s going on in a scene and what her objective is and what she’s going to do. Yes, I’ve enjoyed working with her, and as a person, she’s just delightful.

Since a lot of “John” is still quite a mystery, does that affect the way you play him, since maybe you don’t know if he is a good guy or a bad guy? Is that hard to convey that then, with your performance?

Mark: I think that whether he’s good or bad, there’s a degree of guilt that he carries around with him. Actually, now that I think of it, I actually forget to play that, but it makes a lot of sense though, doesn’t it? [Laughs] I think that when you watch it, you’ll have to make up your own mind about that. I just look at him as a regular person. He’s done some things, and he did them because he believed in them, and there is sort of a tragic situation that comes out of it.

J.J. [Abrams] and other writers promised some closure with your storyline. Do you feel like these upcoming episodes give some closure?

Mark: They do answer some questions that have been lingering in my mind, like who he’s been working for exactly, and he sort of confirms the verity or the truth of his feelings toward “Olivia.”

Some of the recent episodes have been a little more standalone. Is this much more a mythology episode?

Mark: I would have to see the final cut the way it comes out. Sometimes it depends on what parts of the story they choose to accentuate and edit, but I would say this is, as they all are, standalone episodes. If you have been watching it, it will sort of enhance the experience of watching it.

It sounds like, for the people who have been following it since the beginning, it definitely addresses earlier things.

Mark: Yes, it does.

How far ahead do they let you know what’s coming up for you?

Mark: I only know when I get the script, basically. They don’t have an episode for any other scripts. But I generally just know, as with all of the actors, probably four or five days before the episode starts, sometimes less time.

Speaking again about whether you play the character differently if you know whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy: do you play him differently whether you know whether he’s alive or dead?

Mark: That’s really a good question. I think when you’re talking about “John Scott” being inside “Olivia’s” brain, then you’re dealing with a consciousness, or the way someone remembers someone, as well as his own particular memories and his own conscious. I like to think that his consciousness is actually in her head, so it’s actually as if he were definitely alive.

No, I think when somebody is dead, your job is a lot easier. I just kind of lie there. You don’t really have to do anything, so that’s probably the big difference. Work’s a lot easier when he’s dead. [Laughs]

For people who have been debating whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy, I think your character is a bad guy. I just wanted to know: what’s the best part about playing a bad guy?

Mark: The best part about playing a bad guy is that you get to do bad things. What I think is interesting is how you can justify doing just about anything if you really think about it, and convince yourself. That’s fun, and there’s also a certain liberty you have in your behavior and so forth, not only in the acts or things that you do that are wrong, but just in the way you behave moment-to-moment. It can affect that as well, and I think that’s sort of fascinating for me.

The action on the next episodes centers around an airplane again. I was curious, how is that different from the pilot?

Mark: It’s a completely different airline. [Laughs] The first one was a Boeing 727. This was an Airbus 380. Oh, 627, sorry. [Laughs] No, I have no idea, to be honest with you. They were both big airplanes and they had a lot of people on them, but in terms of how it was different, yes. A lot of airplane crashes on [executive producer] J.J. Abrams’ shows.

It seems that way.

Mark: Can you imagine being on an airplane with J.J. Abrams, just kind of sitting there, what’s going through his head? He’s probably thinking about people screaming and luggage flying everywhere. [Laughs]

Do you believe something like this could be happening right now?

Mark: Something like what – the stuff on Fringe? When you look at some things like the spread of an Ebola virus, or some of these other super viruses and strains that just act so quickly, that can get your imagination running. I think that there are aspects of science fiction and technology that can hint toward what this show portrays, but to answer your question, no. I don’t think so, but then again, I don’t believe in ghosts, and some people say there are ghosts. I just would have to see it myself.

For people that have not gotten on-board yet with Fringe and are definitely interested, but they know the J.J. [Abrams] philosophy with Lost and everything, it might be hard to step in. What would you tell people who wanted to join with this next episode?

Mark: I think anytime is a good place to jump in, and then they can just buy the DVD edition for the first season to catch up on it in their own free time. [Laughs] It’s probably the best way to do it. It’s exciting to watch the shows when the episode comes out, because that’s when everybody is finding out about it, and it’s somewhat of an event, as opposed to just a discrete television show. So I would say start watching as soon as possible and catch up when it comes out on DVD, or you can probably download the episodes too. Get on board.

I noticed you majored in math and engineering at West Point, so I’m going to go ahead and call you a geek like the rest of us.

Mark: Oh, my God, I’ve just been outed.

I’m wondering if your math and engineering background helps you get your head around some of the extreme scientific concepts in the show.

Mark: It’s definitely pretty interesting. I used to watch Numbers just to see what the heck they were talking about, but usually, it’s pretty advanced stuff. A lot of the stuff that comes up on the show, like repeating series and things like that, I’m a little embarrassed because I’ve forgotten what it all is. I need to be reminded, so it’s really pretty humbling in some ways. But I guess having been a math major, I am sort of fascinated with numbers and series and formulas and models and simulations and things like that, but there hasn’t been a lot of really heavy math on the show. Most of it’s been biology and chemistry I think at this point, but yes, I love that stuff.

You’ve outed me. That’s my secret.

You’ve been acting an awfully long time, and I wanted to know what science fiction affected you or impacted you growing up, and what you love, if you do……… if you have a particular small screen show or film that particularly impacted you as an actor?

Mark: I would have to say it was Star Trek, because whenever they beamed him down, he never knew what there was going to be. There were always repeats on after school, so my sisters always wanted to watch Brady Bunch, and I always wanted to watch Star Trek, so we would have to negotiate.

Who was your favorite character on Star Trek, and why?

Mark: It was Captain Kirk, William Shatner. Captain Kirk means William Shatner.

I was also curious to know of all the characters you work with, John Noble’s “Walter Bishop” and Anna Torv’s “Olivia,” who do you enjoy working with and seeing as an actor? Whose work do you admire? Who makes you laugh, or just you get a real kick out of watching?

Mark: I would say I just enjoy working with everybody on the cast. Most of my scenes have been with Anna. She’s delightful. She’s my favorite on the show, to be honest with you, but as far as the others go, Kirk [Acevedo who plays “Charlie Francis”] is a really good actor, and I always wanted to work with him.

That’s “Charlie Francis”?

Mark: Yes. He’s a really wonderful actor, Kirk is. I never met Josh [Jackson who plays “Peter Bishop”] before and I never met John Noble before, and I haven’t had any scenes with them either. Blair Brown [who plays “Nina Sharp”], she’s a wonderful experienced actor, and Jasika [Nicole who plays “Astrid Farnsworth”], they’re all just really nice people. There’s no drama on the show at all, but I would say Anna and Kirk are probably my favorites.

What has been your most memorable moment you’ve had from filming Fringe?

Mark: The most memorable moment was probably in the pilot when I was covered in an inch of goo and prosthetic muscle and veins running all over me. It was probably one moment where I was just lying there. I can’t think of just one specific moment. I think it was once I was walking down the hallway and somebody saw me and freaked out, and I realized just how grotesque I looked.

I was just wondering what your experience has been like with – we’ve already talked about the actors – but what about the writers and producers on the show?

Mark: They’re a great bunch, really. I really haven’t had a lot of contact with them, to be honest with you, but in terms of where the show is going, I can really appreciate that they’re working as hard as they can to make a good television show. I’m really impressed with the facility they have of being able to adapt to conditions, such as what’s working on the show’s storyline and what’s not working, what they need to bring in, and what they need to show more of. It’s amazing that they can keep an overall show going and still be able to adapt on the fly like that. To me, that means they all know each other, they all work well together, they all trust each other, they all respect each other. That’s what it shows me, and it’s a pleasure to work with that.

We know that “John Scott’s” current arc on the show is about to be resolved, but is there room for him to come back next season or later on the show?

Mark: I think there’s room for even you to be shot with a tranquilizer gun and dragged onto the set of Fringe for a couple of seasons. [Laughs] I think it could happen to anybody, so I’m not going to rule it out.

You have a strong military background as well. Do you draw on that as you play “Agent Scott”? Does that help you with that portrayal?

Mark: Yes, it did, because I remember cutting my hair really short and I assumed that he had some military background. What I find with guys that have military backgrounds is sometimes, they go to great lengths to hide it. There are ones that try to hide it. They were previous military and they kind of down it, and I think “John Scott” was one of the ones that didn’t. But they use different weapons and everything than I’ve been accustomed to.

Having gone through – I assume – boot camp, how do you think the creators and the writers are doing with the government or the bureaucratic side of the show versus the sci-fi side?

Mark: I’m not really familiar with the way Homeland Security works with the FBI right now. There were some friends that have worked in it. Everybody knows that it’s a television show, but I think that Michael Gaston [who plays “Sanford Harris”], who has come on, is really fantastic, and I think that character is really believable. I think Lance [Reddick who plays “Phillip Broyles”] always lends a very authentic sense of authority to any character that he plays, and “Charlie Francis” [actor Kirk Acevedo] is really believable as an FBI agent, and I think Anna [Torv who plays “Olivia Dunham”], the FBI would probably take her on right now if she applied.

As far as the overall bureaucracy goes, I’m not really familiar with it, and I don’t really know how accurate it would be. But in terms of the accuracy in characters that are betrayed, I think I believe it.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned about Fringe science since starting the show?

Mark: The coolest thing I’ve learned is a couple of things. Probably that LSD can actually be used for practical purposes [laughs], and maybe the idea that a virus could actually be grown into some sort of parallel organism, like that cold virus is still kind of creeping me out, especially because I have a cold right now. Every time I cough I think, it’s not like one of those things. There are probably going to be classes taught with big Fringe Science biology textbooks.

You never know.

Mark: You never know – like at the local Learning Annex, you know. Learn “Fringe Science.”

Catch tonight’s episode, “The Transformation,” at 9:01 p.m. (ET/PT) on Fox. And get up to speed with any Fringe episodes you might have missed right here on Fancast!

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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