SFX Issue 190

January 2010

Profile:

Joshua Jackson

The actor behind Peter Bishop on what happens next in Fringe

Being Fringe ’s Peter Bishop isn’t easy. Once a lone-wolf black market opportunist, he’s since been roped into working for the good guys by FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham; a job that includes babysitting his clearly batty, but brilliant father, Dr Walter Bishop. It’s certainly not what Bishop envisioned for his life, but for actor Joshua Jackson, there’s no position in which he’d rather be.

After taking the television world by storm back in the late ‘90s with his portrayal of smartass Pacey Witter on teen soap Dawson’s Creek , Jackson’s blip on the radar cooled as he subsequently bounced around the indie and horror film scene. But it wasn’t until uber-producer JJ Abrams’ camp drafted him onto Fringe that the ephemeral union of the perfect talent to the perfect project struck again for the actor.

An avowed science fiction geek, Jackson enthuses to SFX , “It is a ton of fun for a guy who loves science fiction to be working on a science fiction show. None of the concepts that are raised on this show are entirely foreign to me or seem that far out there, but I’ve never worked on a show before where we get to actually explore those ideas.”

And explore them they do, as every episode of Fringe is an opportunity for Dunham and the oil and water Bishop boys to get their hands dirty (or more aptly, gory) with the latest scientific-based mystery of the week. Season one had some growing pains, as audiences took
their time warming up to the stingy amount of mythology-revealing versus ample one-shot storytelling. Jackson agrees with the criticisms. “I think that what we were trying to figure out was the alchemy, what proportion was going to be a serialised show, what proportion was going to be one-off,” he explains. “I think it was much more about the storytelling than it was about the look of the show in the first season, like every show, frankly, has to figure out. Now each week it’s a little bit of a science lesson for the class, it’s a little bit of a vocabulary lesson for the class and it always presents you with some other kooky thing. As a fan, the things that I like most about our show is the bigger story rather than the individual creepy, gooey stuff. What we’ve done pretty well is to make each one of the creepy, gooey things add up into a much bigger story. That’s the thing that I geek out on and that I think is so cool.”

But what is Peter’s part in the whole story? Even after 20 episodes, he still remains mostly an enigma. Jackson admits getting answers to
that question has taken some patience. “It’s not called Peter’s Fringe ,” he laughs. “It’s difficult to put these characters’ outside lives into the show. Now that we’ve brought him in, this season we’ve gone a lot deeper into actually showing rather than just talking about this prior life that he had. It’s the thing that drew me into the character in the very beginning: the idea that he has not even a grey, but a very black past that he was in a way running from and in another way wants to run back to. Oddly, being an arms dealer and being generally not a very good person is probably simpler for him emotionally than having to deal with his father and to confront all these things from his childhood.”

Such as the major revelation at the end of the first season which had Walter standing over the gravestone for a long dead Peter. In what might have been a very bad moment for an actor looking to stick around for another season, Jackson laughs and admits he knew that moment was coming. “They thankfully gave me a heads-up a couple of months before that happened so that I didn’t read it and think that I had been fired. It sounds a little bit like a tag line, but it is the truth that the great thing about our show is that if we can dream it we can do it. I don’t think anybody really saw that twist coming. I was only told about it four or five months in advance, but I think that’s amazing. And what I love so much about that beyond the ‘ain’t-it-cool factor’ is now the audience knows something crucial about Peter that he doesn’t know about himself.”

It also sets the stage for the father-son relationship (if they are that) to produce some pretty lively fireworks. “The entire first season for Peter and Walter was about this father and son reconnecting through the craziness of their circumstances and actually becoming something of a family, a very dysfunctional family, but something of a family nevertheless. Now we come to find out that a large part of the guilt that Walter carries around is that he baby-snatched Peter as a young boy. Eventually he’s going to find out that this horrible thing happened to him as a child and that’s going to blow up his relationship with Walter and probably with Olivia, I would mention. To me, that’s the great thing hanging over Peter the entire season and it gives me something to move toward as they go forward.”