Joshua Jackson “Fringe” Interview
By Abbie Bernstein
Joshua Jackson describes his visit to 2012 Comic-Con and his subsequent meeting with the press at the 2012 summer Television Critics Association tour as his “victory lap.” Jackson has spent five seasons playing Peter Bishop on FRINGE, the Fox series created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. In that time, Peter has reconciled with his mad scientist father Walter Bishop, played by John Noble. Then Peter learned that he’s actually from an alternate universe, the son of an alternate Walter (also played by Noble), but kidnapped as a child by this universe’s Walter when his own Peter had died. Then Peter fell for Fringe Division FBI agent Olivia Dunham, played by Anna Torv, and her alternate universe self. In order to save both universes, Peter put himself in a machine that caused him to never have existed – but he fought himself back into existence. Now he, Olivia and Walter are in 2036, fighting to save the world from the Observers.
It’s not every role that let’s an actor do all that (in fact, no other role comes immediately to mind). Jackson, a native of Vancouver, B.C., who originally rose to fame as Pacey on six seasons of DAWSON’S CREEK and in the big-screen MIGHTY DUCKS franchise, is well aware of this. He’s also well aware that, due to the Nielsen ratings, a fifth season of FRINGE was in doubt, and that the Fox network took the passion of the show’s fans into consideration when deciding to order a final thirteen episodes to wrap up the storyline.
“It’s not lost on me what a gift that is,” Jackson says. “Say what you will about DAWSON’S CREEK, but the way that we were able to finish up that show or even MIGHTY DUCKS – the people who loved it loved it, and the people who want to tear it down will tear it down. And you know what? Frankly, FRINGE is the exact same way. For the people who love science fiction, it’s a great show; for the people who just can’t get into science fiction, they just don’t understand at all. But the opportunity for us, for me as an actor and as a man and as a guy who’s been doing this for more than twenty years now, not everything resonates. You have a career, and a life is long and you tell stories because you want people to enjoy them. And this story has resonated with people and I know how rare that is, so I want to enjoy the process of honoring people’s commitment to the show, honoring my own commitment to the show and just finishing up in a way that, when I look back on this in six years, I don’t go, ‘Ah, I missed that opportunity.’”
It’s clear that Joshua Jackson loves his entire FRINGE working family, but there is one professional relationship on the show that stands out for him. “Because I’m a selfish actor, it’s always about me,” Jackson laughs, then gets serious. “For me, the thing that I think will probably stick with me most, when this show is put to bed and I’m looking back on it, is the working relationship that I’ve had with John [Noble]. I mean, just being around John. But it’s a rare thing, and a lot of that father/son dynamic was really just the two of us playing around and trying to inform stories that were written to go in different directions with what we thought was a real dynamic between these two guys. And so that – I know it’s a long arc – but the fullness of that storyline is the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most and will probably stick with me.”
This season, Jackson’s Peter woke up from being encased in amber for twenty-one years to find that his and Olivia’s daughter Henrietta, played by Georgina Haig, was now an adult in her twenties. How was it playing the father of someone who’s actually way too old to be Jackson’s daughter?
“On the one hand,” Jackson muses, “it adds a really awkward sort of – all of those fatherly-type moments kind of take on a really uncomfortable, kind of sexual tone, because she’s a beautiful twenty-six-year-old woman and it feels weird, and then also we were doing a [scene] where as a dad, I’m supposed to be concerned, so I grabbed her, and I looked at her and the director came over and was like, ‘The concern is good, but how about hand on shoulder, because hands on face looks like kiss,’” he laughs. “I was like, ‘Auggh, yeah, that’s no good,’ right? So it definitely adds a wrinkle. And then – I mean, I’m not that old, but the first time I’m playing a dad on camera, my daughter is a full-grown adult. I may have a few gray hairs here and there, but I think I’m holding up all right.
“Obviously, the dynamic – only on FRINGE,” Jackson points out with another laugh. “The dynamic is bizarre. What I’m excited about is that, even the father/son thing that John and I have spent so, so much time hashing out, it adds a really interesting wrinkle into this last year, where the prodigal son because the dutiful son and came to deeply care about his father and his wife, now, as a father, takes on a lot of the anxieties and neuroses of his father, in a way that kids don’t ever understand why Mom and Dad are always on their ass about, wear a helmet when you ride a bike and buckling up and brushing your teeth. But when you’re the dad, all of a sudden, those things make sense. And so I’m excited to get into that dynamic of how Peter is changed again now by being a dad and how that changes his relationship with Walter.”
Peter has strong emotions about having missed so much of his daughter’s life, Joshua Jackson notes. “I guess the only real-world corollary would be a kidnapped child returned to parents after all those years. I do think that that parallel tracks idea is really valid, which is that they’ve all had a really concise idea of where they want the characters emotionally to end, regardless of whether that’s around the split universes or around turning a machine on. You can transpose the emotional ending onto whatever thematic situation the characters find themselves in, and so I think that’s what this year is, is putting fully that endgame into action, so that we get the characters with the emotional reunions of the family – like I said, how the dynamics change between the father and the son, Peter and Olivia are now parents together. They’ve decided on being in love and being a unit and fighting for something other than themselves.”
As far as how he feels about Peter’s 2036 reunion with Olivia, Jackson relates, “I think we’re past the will they or won’t they part of the relationship now and so I think the first episode informs quite a bit of how they got into the place that they got to in four-nineteen [Season Four, Episode Nineteen, ‘Letters of Transit’]. Once we put to bed the Romeo and Juliet, I think there’s something equally interesting about a mother and a father trying to, in this dystopian future, learn how to be parents with an adult child, but learn how to be parents while being lovers, while Peter is being a son – I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff for them that doesn’t have to be based on the sort of star-crossed romance.”
How long has Jackson been working as an actor? “Oh, forever.” Well, not literally, but it’s been a long time, he acknowledges. “That’s one of the things – at thirty-four and having been doing this for almost twenty-five years now, I’ve had good experiences, I’ve had bad experiences, I’ve had successful shows, I’ve had TV that didn’t work, knock on wood, but I’ve had been movies that have been less successful, I’ve worked in studio films, I’ve worked in art-house films. So I know the rareness of the experience that we are all about to go through right now and how precious that is, and so I really want to make sure that, more than thinking about what’s next or anything else, I just want to enjoy this moment, because it’s something that you don’t get very often and it’s something you certainly can’t plan for. But to be on a show at this end of it, where we’re taking a victory lap and able to say thank you, that’s something I want to make sure that I suck the marrow out of that bone.”
Is there any single scene or episode of FRINGE that makes him particularly proud of his own work? Jackson laughs. “Sadly, and this probably lets you too deep into my psyche, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a scene of mine and been satisfied with the end result. And it’s part of the actor’s neuroses – there are always opportunities that I feel like were missed and I might be wrong, but there’s no complete thing that I’ve ever watched – there are certainly scenes where I feel like I’ve done a good job, but even in them, I always feel like there were different avenues to try and different things to do. So sadly, no, not really.”
Jackson is taking a little time off when FRINGE wraps in December. Indeed, he and Torv have both announced they are sitting out the upcoming pilot season. “I will certainly take a break,” Jackson says. “The immediate plan – because we finish right before Christmas – is to take full benefit of vacation. Truthfully, there will be a mourning period, there will be a rest and relax period and I’m not terribly concerned about what’s next. Like I said, I really want to enjoy this and put this show to bed, and then I’ll let next year be the worries about next year.
“I did work on a film during the last season that hopefully will be [on the] film festival [circuit], but as far as future work, the focus right now is just to make sure that all the things we were paying lip service to we actually believe. We really want to have the opportunity to kick ass this last year, so that we can honor the dedication and the commitment that people have put into it, and also our own commitment to the show. It’s four years of our lives, and since we were given this pretty rare opportunity to finish up on our own terms, we want to make sure those terms are good.”
None of this means, Jackson assures us, that he’s done with series television. “Never say never. I just mean that between DAWSON’S and FRINGE, there was five or six years [of doing other things]. Who knows what direction your life takes you, so since we’re being given a bit of a victory tour here, I want to just take this in – I want to enjoy this. Comic-Con was a wonderful experience and I want to work my ass off while we’re on set, but also take in and enjoy my fellow cast members and enjoy working with Joel [Wyman] and just drink this in, because it is a pretty rare thing to get any show up to five years, but to get a show that people care about passionately out to five years, and to be able to end it on your own terms, I want to make sure that I don’t skip over any of the good of that.”
By Abbie Bernstein
Abbie Bernstein is an entertainment journalist, fiction author and filmmaker.