J.J. Abrams on The End of ‘Fringe,’ ‘Revolution’ & Star Trek Into Darkness
J.J. Abrams was at two different network events for the Television Critics Association this week. For NBC he was on a panel for “Revolution” and for Fox he attended the party to talk about the series finale of “Fringe.”
We got him both after the panel and at the party, so this is a combination of both interviews. And of course both times we ended up talking about Star Trek Into Darkness as well.
CraveOnline: The last season of “Fringe’ felt like a wrap up, so this feels like a postscript. What is the feeling or tone of the conclusion?
J.J. Abrams: What I love about what Joel has done. He’s directed the finale as well. There’s a wild and wonderful and I think very emotional inevitability to it. At the same time, the ambition of the show was always to be freaky and twisted and weird and also deeply emotional.
While of course not every episode hits all those buttons, enough of them did that makes it something that I’m insanely proud to be a part of. I think the finale does that and is also exciting and bittersweet.
CraveOnline: Did you come back to get a little more hands on for the finale?
J.J. Abrams: No, I didn’t really but I didn’t need to because Joel is such an accomplished show runner that for me, the script was so emotional, the story’s so good and he’s directing it himself.
CraveOnline: Are you sorry to say goodbye to it or do you feel it’s ending in a good place, and you’re tired of fighting for it?
J.J. Abrams: Both. I feel like it’s a show that got to play out as it should have I think which is a very rare thing, especially for a show that had sort of middling ratings. I think for the network to keep the show on is a testament to their wonderful commitment to a show that they actually love, not that was showing the numbers that made sense and I will never forget that. It’s a very rare thing.
CraveOnline: You’ve said if you pitched it as time travel science fiction, they wouldn’t have bought it. What’s the art of pitching science fiction?
J.J. Abrams: I don’t know. Pitching is always a weird, difficult thing. I think the key is at the very beginning you just need to make sure that you have a handle on the characters and the potential of those characters. If you know that you want to do some really, really weird stuff, keep it to yourself.
CraveOnline: Have you seen the series finale?
J.J. Abrams: I have not seen it. But, the cut has just come in, apparently. I could go watch it right now. Joel is also furiously working on his pilot and splitting his time between that and the new show, which I also can’t wait to talk to you about. But, it will be great. The script was unbelievable. I think it’s going to be incredibly emotional.
CraveOnline: Is it satisfying?
J.J. Abrams: If it’s not satisfying, I don’t know what satisfying is. Yes, I think it will be satisfying.
CraveOnline: With different shows shooting in different cities, how do you keep control over the day to day?
J.J. Abrams: In terms of also how you keep things going, any show that you see, every show starts off with the best intentions of doing what it does, and over the course of usually the first half of the first season, if a show is lucky, it finds its balance and its rhythm. And that’s true on screen, what the audience is seeing, and certainly true behind the scenes with the crew.
We have been blessed with an extraordinary crew that really looks out for and anticipates what might be coming down the pike. So we are really lucky, not only to have a great cast, but also to have an amazing crew, you know, locally for this show, and we are grateful that that rhythm was found so early.
CraveOnline: “Revolution” deals with a lack of technology and your other current show, “Person of Interest,” deals with a very advanced piece of technology. Do you see these two shows as sort of opposite ends of the same thematic story you’re telling?
J.J. Abrams: I do now. You so brilliantly gave me that idea. We’ve obviously talked about the idea of what technology means in opposite ways. I don’t necessarily look at them as sort of in a symmetrical way, but it is very true that one show couldn’t exist without technology. The other show couldn’t exist with it. So I think to that end it is similar, but they’re obviously both saying very different things about technology.
CraveOnline: How does technology inform your creative process, with the writing software you may use and the technology that winds up in your shows and movies?
J.J. Abrams: Obviously, while I love what technology allows in terms of visual effects, in terms of previs, just efficiency, whether it’s getting something quickly, reading something, looking at artwork, composition. I know doing visual effects right now on Star Trek, it doesn’t matter where I am, I can look at the latest version of a visual effects shot and give notes.
While that’s all true, what it all comes down to, what matters more and most of all is the idea and the writing and the execution of that. For that, I usually write longhand at first. There’s something about it, the tactile, tangible nature of it, that just feels like I’m feeling the stuff more than I am. You know, when there’s a deadline and it’s crazy, of course, the MacBook Pro is the key. But it’s something that I think ultimately just comes down to what is that idea you’re scribbling with that pencil.
CraveOnline: We know you can’t talk about the plot of Star Trek Into Darkness, but can you talk about themes?
J.J. Abrams: Not really yet because I just would rather people [discover them]. There’s nothing worse for me than reading what the theme of a book is or a movie and then reading it and being like: that’s the theme. The theme is you feel it.
I do think that by default this a deeper movie. It’s certainly a bigger movie because the first one was kind of the origin story which is great because it’s so easy. You just introduce people and yet now they know each other so it has to go deeper.
CraveOnline: The image of the hands touching with a pane of glass in between, was that an intentional callback to Wrath of Khan?
J.J. Abrams: Well, I would say that you’ve got to see the movie to see. I don’t want to give away what that is, but we’ve all seen Wrath of Khan. With one or two exceptions, we’re not idiots. We are aware of the movie. I love Wrath of Khan.
CraveOnline: With so many characters, was it easier to figure out what everyone would do in the new story?
J.J. Abrams: Yes and no. Honestly, it’s never easier the next time, ever, for anything. You always think, “Oh, I’ve done that, it’ll be easier the next time.” No, it’s harder the next time. But it’s important that every character need to be in the story, otherwise they shouldn’t be. But I wouldn’t say it was easier.
CraveOnline: You didn’t have to bring Bruce Greenwood back. Was that a fun character to have the mentor figure?
J.J. Abrams: Yeah, I think he’s a very important character and I think we sort of did have to bring him back. He’s a critical character in the first film and he again is an amazing guy, great actor. The character is an important component for the film so we were thrilled to bring him back.
CraveOnline: Star Trek appealed to the original fan base but also broadened the appeal. Do you feel the next one will continue to?
J.J. Abrams: Well, everyone when they see the movie will figure out what it is that appeals to them or not. I won’t give anything away. The idea is to make a movie not for Star Trek fans but for movie fans, and if you’re a Star Trek fan, hopefully you’ll love it, the story works.
And if you don’t care about Star Trek at all, it doesn’t matter, I don’t want to do a movie that you have to have studied the last film or anything before it to understand. But if you do know Star Trek there are references that’ll make you either nod or smile or connect with you. We definitely made it for a broader audience, but simultaneously aware and grateful for those people who really allowed this movie to get made at all, the fans of the first one.
CraveOnline: I remember they wanted you to come out in 2012 and they announced a release date before you had anything. How hard was it to convince the studio to give you another year?
J.J. Abrams: It was easy in that no one wants a movie that’s not ready or shouldn’t get made, and it’s up to the audience to decide if this qualifies. We just didn’t have the script in a place that made anyone comfortable.
CraveOnline: So how does a release date get out if it’s that premature?
J.J. Abrams: You’d have to ask the studio.
CraveOnline: What can you say about the experience of showing the Star Trek sequel to the dying fan? Was it hard to arrange that with the studio?
J.J. Abrams: I’d rather not comment on that, if that’s okay. I’d rather not talk about it because it feel insensitive, but for that to have been a request was unbelievably touching.
CraveOnline: Fans originally thought Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing Khan. Now that we know he’s playing John Harrison, were you thinking at the time, “Don’t worry, guys, I’ve got this. We’re not going to do what you think?”
J.J. Abrams: I just can’t wait for people to see the movie. Benedict is unbelievable. It’s a tall order, coming into that movie, because the crew of the Enterprise, that cast is so damn good and they’re wonderful to work with and they’re all good hearts.
So, to come into that group, as he did, as Alice Eve did and as Peter Weller did, and be one of the family was something that I was doubtful could happen. And he completely did it. I not only love him in the movie, but I love him, as a human being. He’s an amazing guy. I can’t wait for people to see the movie and experience what he’s done.
CraveOnline: You were even self-deprecating about the amount of lens flares in Star Trek. How did you handle the visual style the second time?
J.J. Abrams: It’s a far bigger movie. What I’m still grappling with and learning how to do is to be looking and thinking cinematically, having come from television. A lot of that is about keeping all that stuff in frame and understanding composition.
There were things I wish I had done on the first movie, that I got a chance to do this time. There were shots I wished I’d gotten, that I never got a chance to get, so it was fun to get that chance this time. But, there are no gimmicky things that I’m aware of, that I’m imposing or forcing down an audience’s throat.
CraveOnline: Have you given any thought to Star Trek III?
J.J. Abrams: No, sir, not yet. I’m sure that the studio would love that to be a possibility but it’s up to the audience to decide if there needs to be one.
CraveOnline: Are there stories out there?
J.J. Abrams: Oh yeah, there are things we’ve talked about but there’s no script or anything, it’s just ideas.
CraveOnline: Do you have any casting news for the Alfonso Cuaron project for NBC?
J.J. Abrams: We’re definitely working on it. NBC has been incredibly supportive about getting going early on that, which is obviously key for a show. You never want to have that ticking clock and know that you had all this time and didn’t use it. So, they’ve been great at letting us get going?
CraveOnline: Any other TV development updates?
J.J. Abrams: Nothing I can talk about right now, but there’s some stuff that we’re playing with that I’m very excited about and can’t wait to talk about.
CraveOnline: What’s going on with Mission: Impossible 5?
J.J. Abrams: We’re working right now on getting a writer. We’re a minute away from being able to discuss that. We have a pretty cool general idea for where this thing is going to go. Tom [Cruise] and Bryan Burk and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
CraveOnline: Any unusual characters in the mix?
J.J. Abrams: It’s too early to talk specifically about that. I will say that there are some ideas that feel like, “Ooh, I want to see that!” That’s all we ever go for.
CraveOnline: Are you any closer to casting his robot cops pilot?
J.J. Abrams: No, but that’s a show I’m crazy about. Hopefully, soon. Joel Wyman is doing a spectacular job. I’m like an idiot, giddy about that show. I can’t wait to see it come together.
CraveOnline: You played the grocery boy who left the door open for Henry in Regarding Henry. Do you ever think about doing more acting?
J.J. Abrams: I don’t think that the people deserve having me in front of the camera.
CraveOnline: Why did you give yourself that cameo?
J.J. Abrams: It was actually Mike Nichols, while we were shooting the film, asked me if I wanted to play the part. He said the game will be find the screenwriter in the movie, so he let me be in that scene. I do mean it when I say that there isn’t a human being that deserves to see Harrison Ford in a scene with me. It makes no sense.
CraveOnline: Do you have anything that you wrote ages ago, that you think is viable and would love to still do something with, at some point?
J.J. Abrams: I have so many bad jokes I want to make right now, about bad crap that I’ve written, much of which people might have seen. There have been a couple of ideas that have haunted me, that have never quite materialized.
But, usually the ones that don’t materialize don’t because they shouldn’t. I try to push ideas away, and the ones that will not leave me alone are the ones that ultimately end up happening. There are a lot of them that are in the back of my mind, but none that I’m working on presently.