Exclusive: Jason Isaacs Talks DIG and Other Projects, Part 1

DIG star Jason Isaacs talked exclusively the other day with Donna Cohrs and Erin Conrad of threeifbyspace. In Part 1 of our interview, Jason discusses DIG and his new film, Stockholm, Pennsylvania.

For DIG, about the social media aspect – we have really enjoyed tweeting with you during the first run of the show. We’re surprised that more cast members haven’t been doing that with the show.

There are two writers, Gideon Raff and Tim Kring. Tim is working on Heroes and is working about 45 hours a day, and Gideon is slightly averse to social media. Basically he hates it and has no interest in it. Ori (Pfeffer, Golan Cohen) does it a lot, and I don’t know if he live tweets, but he’s in different time zones, and he actually sleeps, whereas I’ve been all over the world and I don’t sleep. I’ve watched the show streamed on a variety of devices, hidden under the covers or sitting up. At one point we went on a family holiday, we were in Sri Lanka, and I was sitting outdoors getting bitten to shit streaming on some kind of dial-up device. So i think it’s.. I was asked to do it, and I always like to do whatever I’m asked to do by my bosses. I went down to Telemundo in Miami, I danced with a chicken and wrestled a lady, and I think promoting the show is part of making the show, bringing it to people’s attention. And also, I don’t take myself too seriously, and I rather enjoy making fun of myself while I’m on screen, so that nobody thinks that I actually think I can save the world.

Tomorrow night, I’m going to have dinner at Gideon’s house, with Ori, and I will certainly be doing it, and hopefully I’l be able to drag Ori into it.

We’d love to chat with Ori, he’s definitely an interesting character. And we want to know if Udi (Golan’s boyfriend) is involved in the plot somehow.

I’m sorry, you ladies think I’m going to give you plot spoilers? Come on ladies! One of the great joys of making this show, and I think of watching it, is that you have no idea what’s coming next. Believe me, there’s at least one gigantic surprise and one shock coming up, if I can… Probably, there’s more, but I’ve only seen the scenes that I was in. There are different story strands, and I wasn’t there for some of them, and I’ve tried, toward the end I tried not to read the other bits because  I didn’t want to know the things my character didn’t know.

DIG -- "Jehoshaphat" Episode 109 -- Pictured: Ori Pfeffer as Detective Golan Cohen -- (Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/USA Network)

DIG — “Jehoshaphat” Episode 109 — Pictured: Ori Pfeffer as Detective Golan Cohen — (Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/USA Network)

Have you seen the episodes yet? Or are you waiting to watch them as they air?

No, I’m watching it live with you. I have no idea. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I tweeted that there was a very freaky place to make out coming up, and apparently it was so freaky that everyone who saw it went EWW and they cut that scene. And I felt a little silly that I’d said it. But it was odd that they shot it, I remember thinking.

Have you put anything of yourself into Peter’s character?

Ummm, my buttocks, most of my youth, and my shinbone, I think, it had to be reshaped after mashing it into a ladder. Nothing of myself, actually, there’s nothing of me in anyone  I’ve ever played, as my wife will happily tell you, not in the heroes and maybe the villains, I’m not sure.

How difficult is it to switch on that American accent? You do it so flawlessly.

That’s very kind of you.

Do you have a dialect coach or a voice coach?

I did have a fantastic dialect coach, called Joy Ellison, who is a  kind of top Hollywood coach, who did me a huge favor and slummed it by coming on a TV series. She does giant movies all the time,  And also, I do it all day, I do it every day. Actually it’s not difficult, speaking in an American accent. What’s difficult is remembering my English accent when my wife and kids phone up, so that I don’t freak them out.

It’s not an American accent, it’s a Chicago accent, I build something specific every time. There’s no such thing as AN American accent. If you have a tuned ear, you can always hear where someone comes from, where they’ve been educated and even what influence they’ve had. If I just tried to do an American accent, when I DO try to do the American accent, I sound like an idiot. But when I know where the guy’s from, and I know where he’s been in his life, I try to build something specific.

That’s probably why we don’t recognize it (as being Chicago), because we’re both from the Chicago area.

I did it boldly, actually, at the read through, and there was some horror at how much he sounded like he was from Chicago, so I dialed it back a bit.

The sites you filmed in – were you in Jerusalem and Croatia?

We were in Jerusalem, we were under Jerusalem, we were over Jerusalem, we were all over Israel, and then we were, unfortunately because that tragic conflict broke out in Gaza, we moved to Croatia. Because luckily for us, the Romans had conquered half the world, and they built very similar looking cities everywhere. So  we could go somewhere that looked exactly like Jerusalem, but we could control the environment. In a way that frankly probably made it better to film, because we could shut whole streets down, and you don’t have quite that license in Jerusalem.

Did you enjoy that, the realistic settings?

Well, the thing is, it’s an adventure, it’s kind of a fantasy kind of mystery adventure, but it’s based on a very real thing, and there are very real groups, and there really are people trying to bring about the end of days. And when you’re in a place that has been the most congested real estate in the history of mankind, and you can see the evidence of it all around you, it makes your job as an actor much easier. It’s a kind of overwhelming experience, whether you’re a believer or not, you can’t ignore the fact that every civilization we’ve known has conquered this place. And so, you really get a keen sense that it’s a tinderbox and if anybody lights a spark there the flames will burn all over the planet. And given that acting is just pretending and imagining, that’s done 90% of the job for you.

DIG -- "Catch You Later" Episode 102 -- Pictured: Jason Isaacs as Peter Connelly  -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/USA Network)

DIG — “Catch You Later” Episode 102 — Pictured: Jason Isaacs as Peter Connelly — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/USA Network)

Have you ever read any of Daniel Silva’s books?

Well, funnily enough, one of the books is being made into a film, I hope, that I’m very much hoping to be in.

Are you going to be in one of the Gabriel Allon books?

I don’t know if it’s going to happen, and I don’t know if I’m going to be in it, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

The last couple of books have actually been focused on some of the same areas that DIG has looked at, and so that was very exciting to me as we started on this project. So I was interested to see if you had read that series, but maybe we’ll have good news at some point!

Who knows! I don’t like to say much about things that are coming up, because they almost never do come up!

How difficult was the filming schedule for the series?

It’s multi-stranded, so we all got lots of days off. What was difficult for me was that it was very very physical, I did all my own stunts in the show, so there were a lot of nights where I was just running all night, or climbing the walls all night, or fighting all night. The Israeli actors who came in, they might not be very well known in the West, but they’re incredibly famous and successful in Israel, and so they all came in to make their mark. On almost the last day, I got punched in the face and rammed into a wall and a hook pushed into my back. so it was difficult physically. It wasn’t really difficult any other way, except that there were a lot of night shoots, which means that you go to work at 6:00 at night and you finish at 6:00 in the morning, and you have to look alive on screen. There were an awful lot of very sugary drinks, it seems.

DIG -- "The Well of Souls" Episode 106 -- Pictured: Jason Isaacs as Peter Connelly -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/USA Network)

DIG — “The Well of Souls” Episode 106 — Pictured: Jason Isaacs as Peter Connelly — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/USA Network)

I heard that you did some photography while shooting DIG? Is there any chance that we might get to see some of those photos?

I’m taking over Zap2It tomorrow, so there’s a bunch of photos coming through on Instagram (note: this was last Thursday, April 30). Nowadays, everybody’s a photographer, so I took a bunch of pictures, but I think the rest of the cast would sue me. The other thing I like to do is I play music so nobody takes it too seriously. I have a boombox on set, and I play very bad disco music most of the time, so in between shots… Particularly when you’re in a night shoot, everyone’s tired, you start playing BeeGees, or classic karaoke songs, and suddenly the crew are all joining in, and it makes the night go a lot quicker.

Another new project of Jason’s is the film Stockholm, Pennsylvania, which will air on the Lifetime channel this Saturday, May 9. The film, starring Saoirse Ronan and Cynthia Nixon, is the story of a woman kidnapped at age 4 by a stranger (Isaacs) who is reunited with her family after 17 years and then tries to adjust to normality. Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith, the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. 

Since you played the part of the kidnapper, you didn’t have a lot of on-screen presence, but I felt you throughout the whole movie.

I think Saoirse Ronan is a genius, frankly, as an actress, and she managed to convey with just a twitch of an eyebrow what most people do in 10 pages of dialog. And what you get from her, is you’re never not aware that she spent 20 years in a basement with a man she kind of loved, and also was horrified by. And my presence is a tribute to her brilliance. And the writer, Nikole Beckwith, is an extraordinary young woman. The script is from a play, and she wrote the play, it hadn’t been produced as a play, and she made it and the script was instantly invited to the Super Lab, a very prestigious thing, then catapulted to the top of the Blacklist, which is the list of unproduced films, and it won her a Nicholl Fellowship, which is another very prestigious thing. So that’s her pedigree, and I think we’ll see an awful lot more of this writer/director. She absolutely marches to her own tune. I was just very lucky to be in it, I think.

Who takes as  a starting point a woman released from a basement after 20 years, and does something so surprising with it, that it doesn’t go anywhere you think it’s going to go.

Oh no, it didn’t. Do you think Ben (Jason’s character) was a bad man? Or was it just the loneliness and the wanting to feel needed that drove him to do that?

I think that… I’ve got two little girls, and it goes without saying, that anyone who locks a child in a basement for 20 years is not going to win any humanitarian awards. But on the other hand, I think that he absolutely loved and worshipped this girl that he had, and I know what it’s like to want to be everything to someone. And actually, my eldest is just turning into a teenager, and I’ve gone from king of the world to king moron of the world, and I think that his desire to be everything to someone is just an exaggeration, a slightly damaged version, of what we all have. We all need to mean something to someone. And have someone who’s completely ours.

Her mother attempted to, in my opinion, brainwash her, back to being the daughter. Do you think that, after all this, when Leia left, she now feels the need to go do the same thing that Ben did to her?

Well, who knows? I think that one of the greatest things you can do when you tell stories, above and beyond completely engaging peoples’ imaginations, is give people something to think about and talk about when they leave the cinema. And it’s less about what she did afterwards, then about what does that do to you and what does that say about all of us. In a way, the film is less about this very unique set of circumstances, and more about all of us in relationships, and what is a relationship – who are we? Do we have an intrinsic self or are we products of the things that happen to us and the people that influence us? And that’s for everyone individually, what they think is going to happen to Leia afterwards.

All of us always do in life what we think is right. It’s just that we don’t always agree on what we think is right. The mother is trying to be a mother again, and she is desperate to have the child back that she lost, and she doesn’t do it very successfully. But she tries her best, and she loses her mind doing it.

Read Part 2 of our conversation with Jason here

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And watch the Series Finale of DIG on Thursday, May 7 at 10 pm Eastern/9 pm Central!

Erin Conrad