Interview with actors of “La Brea” on NBC by Suzanne 9/13/21
This was another TCA Summer Press panel – this time for the NBC show “La Brea” that premieres 9/29. It was a fairly large panel, with showrunner David Appelbaum, actors Natalie Zea, Zyra Gorecki, Eoin Macken, Jack Martin, Chiké Okonkwo and Jon Seda. I saw the first episode and really loved it. I look forward to more. I think NBC is really hoping it does well, from what I can tell.
The problem with a panel this large, though, is that when there are so many people asking questions in a limited time… some actors never get asked a question. Everyone wants to talk to the stars they know, or ask the showrunner story questions. This is especially true when most of us only get to ask one question.
For instance, my question was for star Natalie Zea, whom I’ve enjoyed watching for years ever since I saw her on “Passions.” She’s gone on to many great roles in “Justified,” “Under the Dome,” “The Following” and “Detour.” This is her first dramatic starring role, I believe. I observed that her character seems very smart and asked if she could tell us what she does for a living (as they never say in the pilot episode we saw). She replied, “She’s an office manager. I do know that. I don’t know what an office manager does, but I know that she’s probably really good at it. But I think her smarts are — I think she’s got a lot of street smarts because of how she grew up, which we’re going to find out about that later. But she gets to use a lot of stuff that’s been sort of dormant in her for a little while, and it’s great to get to sort of watch that unfold throughout the season.”
Another reporter asked star Jon Seda if he was just ready for a change from cop dramas to something different, and he asked if it was difficult for him, when “chaos erupts” in the first episode, not to just go into cop mode and help everyone. I thought that was an odd question because of course, he’s just an actor. He’s going to do whatever the script tells him to do. He plays a doctor in this show, not a cop.
Seda agree that it’s a very different show but explained that he’s just glad to be part of such an exciting show that has adventure, mystery and drama. For the second part of his answer, he added that his character is “not exactly [in] cop mode, but I think Dr. Sam does tend to want to help as many people as he can.”
The next press person asked whether any of the show was filmed in La Brea (since they’re shooting most of the show in Australia). Producer Applebaum answered that they only did one shot in La Brea. The rest was shot in Melbourne.
I thought that the next question was really interesting. He told Applebaum that he “was fascinated” by the pilot episode, but he felt the same way about previous NBC scifi shows Manifest and Debris, both of which were canceled (although, to be fair, the first show did have 3 good years). He said that “commercial networks” have done that a lot. I would actually say he’s wrong about that because it’s done by almost all networks, and has been for the past 50 years, and not just commercial networks. Even HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Hulu and others cancel shows after one season. The broadcast networks get a bad rap. Anyway, he asked if he planned to give viewers the idea that they will explain things or wrap the show before the end. Which, by the way, is not a question you should be asking of a show before they even air.
Applebaum gave the best answer he could for such a ridiculous question. He said they’re just trying to make the best show they can, which should be entertaining and emotional. He doesn’t think about cancelation because it’s not his decision. He just focuses on “trying to garner an enthusiastic fan base” from fans of this genre.
Another journalist asked the actors to talk about what made the roles attractive for them. Martin observed that his character, Jack, is just finishing high school and about to go to college, which is an important point in his life, for his development and maturation. The setting we see in the show (after they fall through the tarpits into their mysterious world) is that we get to see people who they really are. The situation is raw and exposes people for who they really are, unfilted. He finds that exciting.
Mackin agrees with Martin, finding the human relationships most interesting. They’re all thrown into a difficult situation (one that is “unfathomable”) and then they have to find their family and solve their “personal issues.” His character, Jon, and his daughter, are trying to figure out if the others are alive and how they can get to them. It puts a strain on them and shows how they would cope.
Gorecki added that she really enjoyed that as well. Gorecki, like her character, Izzy, is an amputee. She liked that the show focuses less on that and more on how she goes from being “just a regular kid with regular kid issues to having to become a hero and having to work with her dad to save her whole family and save everyone.”
Zea is used to roles where she’s linked to a husband as her primary identity. In this role, even though she’s an ex-wife and mom, that’s not her main purpose in the story. Her story is about how she’s “navigating this world as opposed to what my relationship is with my significant other.” Even in this modern age, it’s a fresh role for her to be able to do that.
Okonkwo likes how the show is diverse, since it starts in L.A. They’re just people on their morning commute on Wilshire, but it’s just a real cross section. There’s obviously Americans. There’s a Brit. There’s Australians. There’s a whole cross section of society. And throwing those people together in this primeval world and seeing how they survive, how they relate to one another. Do they devolve or do they rise to the challenge and really support and help each other? That was a real core of the human journey on this show that I was really excited about and that we’re really, I think, all of us enjoyed being a part of it. Because it’s really heightened.” He added that he’s excited about how both the characters above, and the ones in “the hole” go through “this great, incredible journey through the course of this season.”
Seda loves his role because he has so many components, being a “former Navy Seal, doctor, father, husband,” plus he loves shows with action and adventure. There’s a lot of layers and things for an actor to work with.
The panel was also asked, for those who live in L.A., whether they’d “ever had a particularly alarming encounter with a sinkhole?” That was a funny question.
Okonkwo shared, “I actually have. I haven’t told this story. But there was a load of rain about two years ago, at the beginning of the year. And I used to live in Studio City. And across the street from me, a Toyota Prius (no less) sunk into the ground. It was about 6 feet, but it was still quite alarming. So, it just went. It dropped down into the ground. And they had to cordon off the street and tow… grab this Prius out of this hole.
Zea asked him if he’d used this moment as a “sense memory” for his acting. He acknowledged that he had. He had previously wanted to keep it to himself, but now he’s happy to share it. After that, some of the other actors joked around about his experience.
Applebaum was asked about how he came up with the story. He confided that he just had an image that he couldn’t get out of his head of a sinkhole opening up in L.A. He really wanted to start a show that way because he knew it hadn’t been done before and would be very dramatic. Then he had to come up with all of the rest of the story about why it opens, where it leads, and who falls into it. He used this to start creating the “world of characters in situations. And then from there, you know, a thousand other things happen, but it really just started with an image.” Macken joked that it must have been him in the Prius, so Applebaum jokingly replied that it was him.
Another writer asked those who live in L.A. what it was like doing this show, if it had scared them or whether it gave them nightmares.
Zea replied with a joke, sarcastically saying, “No. But thanks for getting that in the old craw, because now I will have nightmares.”
Macken compared it to how people there act when there’s an earthquake. There might be a small tremor, and it gives you pause, but then if nothing else happens, you go about your business. He thought perhaps next time there’s an earthquake, being on this show might give them pause.
Applebaum asked if he got the idea for show while stuck in traffic and whether he was influenced by classic fantasy writer Jules Verne. Applebaum replied thoughtfully that he’s really more influenced by various “action-adventure movies, certainly Spielberg movies,” although he does enjoy Jules Verne.
Another reporter asked Applebaum a similar question about whether they’ll see parts of L.A. in future episodes. Applebaum answered that even though they don’t shoot in L.A., it’s definitely a character in the show. Although a large part of the action does occur down in the primeval world, quite a bit is above the tarpits in the modern world.
Another member of the press asked if anyone there believed in time traveling, since this show hints that it might have that element. Applebaum isn’t sure that it could exist, but he thinks it’s a fascinating question. He loves time travel fiction, and so do his co-showrunners Bryan Wynbrandt and Steven Lilien. All of the actors agree that it’s possible. Martin joked that Applebaum was sent to them from the future, and there was more joking after that. It was a pretty silly question, so they dealt with it well.
Applebaum was also asked about what his pitch to the networks about the show was like.
He told us, “I first brought the idea to Peter Traugott and Rachel Kaplan and Asher Landay. The main selling point was there’s certainly this spectacle of people surviving in a strange and primeval land that has scope and scale. But, really, what’s at the heart of it all is this family that is torn apart by this sinkhole. And it’s that emotional connection to the show, which, I think, is what people responded to the most. A lot of shows, there can be lots of ideas that are big and noisy. But I think without that deep, emotional connection at the heart of it, people wouldn’t have responded to it. And I think that’s something that we try to keep at the heart of the all the episodes, is this emotional story we’re telling about this family but also the emotional story of all the survivors who are down in the sinkhole as they’re trying to figure out how to get home and also how to survive in this place.”
Another journalist asked whether Applebaum has a planned ending for the show, or does he take it on a more “week-by-week, season-by-season basis.” Of course, he answered that you do have to think ahead and plan, since dramas nowadays are all serialized. He maintains that what you do in the first episode sets up things you see in later episodes. Although he pitched the show to NBC over 2 years ago, they were shut down by the pandemic, so it gave them a “really long gestation and development process” which benefited the storytelling. They “opened up a writers’ room. And Steven and Bryan and all these other great writers came on board.”
A correspondent asked Okonkwo about his involvement with the Calm app because his stories on the app have been “life changing.” He also asked about working with green screens for the creatures on the show, and whether it’s harder than working with a real actor. Okonkwo was happy to hear this because he loves his work with the Calm app and that it’s helped so many, especially the past few years. He’s done a lot of voice work, so that’s why he was hired to work with the app. Others have told him the same thing, “it genuinely warms my heart, because it’s — I’ve never been a great sleeper, and it’s really nice to know that you’re helping people with my soporific voice to fall asleep during a tough time.”
Martin answered the green screen question, saying that a lot of what they do is real, not green screen. He talks about the great job they’ve done with the sets, which makes it feel very real.
Zea said that they’re all working with real people. The only non-entities are the animals, which they wouldn’t have worked with, anyway (since they’re prehistoric). They really have nothing to compare it to, she added.
Okonkwo did chime back in to say, “We did have a great moment at the end of the first episode, which I won’t give away. But because you can’t have those real animals, which are sometimes dangerous and sometimes extinct, we had a guy in a full blue outfit creeping through the sort of brush. And, so, for Jon, myself, and Natalie to keep a straight face when there’s a guy in blue Lycra pretending to be a dangerous animal was some of the best acting I’ve ever seen.”
From what Zea and Okonkwo said, they weren’t told ahead of time about the guy pretending to be an animal. It was a surprise. Macken and Gorecki jokingly complained that all they got to see were birds.
Another journalist asked them to compare their COVID-19 experiences as humans with what the characters are going through. Applebaum said that “one of the really important parts of the show is that even though it’s in the sci-fi genre and there’s an escapist element is that we are relating the themes of the show to what’s happening in the real world. A lot of the show is about this group of survivors who are down in this strange land, about how they come together, or don’t, in order to survive. So, I think the problems that they have in the real world come with them. So even though we are operating in a made-up world, we do want it to feel real and relatable to what people are going through on a daily basis.”
Macken added in his point of view that the characters are “suddenly faced with this feeling of helplessness, of not being able to help your family, and also not knowing what’s going on,” which is what a lot of us experienced with the pandemic.
Another press person asked if any of them had been to the real La Brea Tar Pits and whether they found them interesting. Martin said that he and his castmate Veronica St. Clair (who was not on the panel) visited and they were “blown away.”He added, “it is unbelievable to see, if you haven’t ever been. I mean, it’s like all of these prehistoric animals that are preserved in tar and their bones have been sitting there for thousands and thousands of years. It’s pretty amazing.” Okonkwo had the same experience when he visited. He’s glad that their show is able to take the audience on a journey through that world.
Zea had been there with her family but found it to be disappointing. Macken found it fascinating, and it reminded hime of “Jurassic Park.” Martin thinks it would be great if they were able to bring the dinosaurs back the way they did in those movies. Zea agreed with that, saying, “That would be a spectacle. That would be cool. I would get it’s then.” Martin joked that they should do that in Season 2.
Another reporter asked which part of the primeval they were in because it’s a “pretty large span of time.” That was a very good question, but of course Applebaum wouldn’t give that much detail. He explained that it’s a surprise in the show that the audience will find out when they watch. However, that will bring up “more mysteries and more questions.”
An epic adventure begins when a massive sinkhole opens in the middle of Los Angeles, pulling hundreds of people and buildings into its depths. Those who fell in find themselves in a mysterious and dangerous primeval land, where they have no choice but to band together to survive. Meanwhile, the rest of the world desperately seeks to understand what happened. In the search for answers, one family torn apart by this disaster will have to unlock the secrets of this inexplicable event to find a way back to each other.
The cast includes Natalie Zea, Eoin Macken, Jon Seda, Nicholas Gonzalez, Chiké Okonkwo, Karina Logue, Zyra Gorecki, Jack Martin, Veronica St. Clair, Rohan Mirchandaney, Lily Santiago, Josh McKenzie and Chloe De Los Santos.
Writer David Appelbaum executive produces with Avi Nir, Alon Shtruzman, Peter Traugott, Rachel Kaplan, Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt, Ken Woodruff, Arika Lisanne Mittman and Adam Davidson.
“La Brea” is produced by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, in association with Keshet Studios.
Executive Producer, “La Brea”
David Appelbaum is the creator and executive producer of the new NBC drama “La Brea.”
Appelbaum was a co-executive producer on “The Enemy Within” and previously was a co-executive producer on “Wisdom of the Crowd” as well as a co-executive producer on “NCIS: New Orleans.”
Appelbaum began his career on “The Mentalist” where he spent four seasons on staff.
Eve Harris, “La Brea”
Natalie Zea portrays Eve Harris on the new NBC drama “La Brea.”
Zea recently co-starred on the TBS hit comedy “The Detour” and in the indie film “Happily,” starring Joel McHale, Paul Scheer and Stephen Root.
Best known to television audiences for her memorable role as Winona Hawkins on FX’s original series “Justified” (which she continued to guest on for two additional seasons while starring opposite Kevin Bacon on “The Following”), Zea has also been seen in Showtime’s “White Famous,” CBS’ “Under the Dome,” Showtime’s “Californication” and HBO’s “Hung.” Other television credits include “The Shield” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”
Zea recently starred in the independent films “Too Late,” “Grey Lady” and appeared in “The Other Guys” with Will Ferrell.
Originally from Texas, Zea made her way to New York where she earned a scholarship to the prestigious American Music and Dramatic Academy. After completing the program in only two years, Zea landed a role as part of the original cast of Kimberly Peirce’s 1995 short “Boys Don’t Cry,” which later evolved into the Academy Award-winning film by the same name.
Having never lost her love of theater, Zea helped develop Los Angeles’ reputable Lone Star Ensemble, a theater company in which she serves on the Board of Directors. She has a 3-year old daughter with her husband, actor Travis Schuldt, and lives in Los Angeles.
Dr. Samuel Velez, “La Brea”
Jon Seda stars as Dr. Samuel Velez in the new NBC drama “La Brea.”
Seda completed a six-season run on NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” where he had reprised his role as Antonio Dawson, a member of the Chicago P.D. Intelligence Unit.
A New Jersey native and amateur boxer, Seda hung up his gloves in 1992 when he made his screen debut as a fighter in “Gladiator.” Throughout the ’90s, Seda’s star rose through the films “Carlito’s Way” and “Twelve Monkeys,” though it wasn’t until he appeared in NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Streets” that Hollywood took serious notice. In 1996, Seda received critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in the film “The Sunchaser,” opposite Woody Harrelson. Seda played the love interest of Jennifer Lopez in the film “Selena,” based on the true story.
His television credits include series regular roles on “Kevin Hill” and “Close to Home” and recurring roles on “Ghost Whisperer” and “Oz.” Seda has also guest-starred on many shows, including “Chicago Fire,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “The Closer,” “Burn Notice,” “House,” “NYPD Blue,” “Las Vegas” and “Law & Order: SVU,” among many others. In 2010, Seda appeared in the Emmy Award-winning HBO World War II miniseries “The Pacific,” starring as legendary U.S. Marine Jon Basilone. He later joined the cast of the acclaimed HBO series “Treme” as a series regular.
Gavin Harris, “La Brea”
Eoin Macken plays Gavin Harris on the new NBC drama “La Brea.”
Macken was recently seen starring opposite Megan Fox in the horror-thriller feature “Till Death” and wrapped shooting the lead role opposite Elisha Cuthbert in the Ireland-set-horror film, “The Cellar,” written and directed by Brendan Muldowney. He also wrote, directed and produced the independent film “Gray Elephant,” which was shot last year during COVID lockdown.
Macken’s TV credits include “Stumptown,” “The Night Shift,” “Nightflyers,” “Killing Jesus,” “Merlin” and “The Tudors.” On the film side, Macken’s credits include “Close,” “The Hole in the Ground,” “Here Are the Young Men,” “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” and “The Forest.”
a novelist, Macken has published two books: “Kingdom of Scars,” which was short listed for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards in 2014, and “Hunger and the Grape,” which is being distributed through Amazon.
Izzy Harris, “La Brea”
Zyra Gorecki stars as Izzy Harris on the new NBC drama series “La Brea.”
Gorecki is one of the first below-the-knee amputee actresses with a series regular role in a major broadcast television series. Gorecki is involved with the non-profit organization Amputee Blade Runners that helps provide free running prosthetics for amputees.
In addition to her acting career, which includes guest-starring on “Chicago Fire,” Gorecki is an avid runner and skilled athlete who is passionate about living and promoting a sustainable lifestyle.
Ty, “La Brea”
Okonkwo, best known for his role in “The Birth of a Nation,” is an award-winning actor who will be the lead and cover star of a highly anticipated global video game franchise set to be announced later this year.
He was most recently co-star of the film “Death Saved My Life” and BET’s hit series “Being Mary Jane” with Gabrielle Union. He also starred in the British indie film “Genesis.”
Hailing from London, his dream of being an actor began when he was accepted to both the National Youth Theatre and the National Youth Music Theatre. He started his professional career working at the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he performed in a number of plays, most notably “Julius Caesar,” which ended its award-winning run in New York in 2013.
His activism focuses on community banking in his role as ambassador for One United Bank, the largest Black-owned bank in the United States. Okonkwo is an advocate for the eradication of child poverty with the Children’s Defense Fund. He is also a proud member of the Master Artist Council of the Arthur Miller Foundation, alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, Scarlett Johansson and others.
Josh Harris, “La Brea”
Jack Martin stars as Josh Harris in the new NBC drama “La Brea.”
A Los Angeles-based, actor, writer, and comedian, Martin was most recently seen on CBS’ “All Rise.”
After posting his sketch comedy online during quarantine when the industry was on hold, he exploded on the Internet with his self-produced videos, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers across multiple platforms.
Fresh out of Georgetown University, Martin also studied at New York University’s Tisch Stonestreet Studios Film & TV conservatory, an intensive program focused on screen acting. He had also studied acting and the business side of entertainment through various talent management internships before realizing he was better suited in front of the camera, than behind it.
Martin’s self-referential sense of humor brings something unique to every video he makes. He knows who he is and is not afraid to poke fun at himself.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda