'Fringe' Star Tackles The Tonys!
With his piercing eyes and insanely powerful presence, it's hard to imagine Michael Cerveris blending into the background -- but that's exactly what his biggest TV gig to date required him to do after Michael was cast as Fringe's mysterious Observer in the pilot episode.
Spotting him became an exciting small screen game of Where's Waldo, but that paled in comparison to the energizing effect Michael had on the show when his Observer, named September, stepped out of the shadows. Since The Arrival, a season one episode that delved deeper into Observer mythology, Michael has become a fan favorite -- and clearly a favorite with the writers as well since September has proven himself to be invincible!
I caught up with Cerveris to find out how September plays into the Fringe season finale, why this has been such an exciting ride and what a fifth Tony nomination (for Best Actor in a Musical for Evita) means to him!
Insider.com: When you first signed on to Fringe, did you have any idea The Observers would become such important players?
Michael Cerveris: No. Not at all. When I first auditioned I was under the impression that this was a one episode guest star thing – and that's what they told me. Pretty quickly afterwards I got a call saying they had this idea to put me into every episode of the first season – I would just be in the background and they would reveal me around episode 13. I thought that was so cool. Then somebody at the network decided they liked the character so much they moved the reveal up to the fourth episode.
Insider: At that point, how much did they tell you?
Michael: I had a conversation with Jeff Pinker who said that this character is going to have crucial parts to play in the meta-story of the whole show. So as long as Fringe is on, I was told I'd be part of it – at the time, who knew what that meant! [laughs] It's worked out better than any of us could have dreamed. It's so fantastic to be part of a show that is so over-achieving in all the best ways.
Insider: It's true. And unlike so many other shows that promise big things, Fringe is actually able to accomplish the daring things it sets out to.
Michael: Yeah. That's true. And so few do it with as much heart. As complex as the storylines are and the science behind it all, Fringe is also a story about really beautiful human relationships. A lot of that has to do with the cast too because they're all such incredible actors.
Insider: I was thrilled when last week's promo revealed September would be back in the finale. What can you tease about the episode?
Michael: Yes! I was relieved to hear they'd let that much slip so I can confess to having been there. He does show up in Friday's episode with some key bits of the puzzle to explain. But even he is caught off guard by some things that happen in the episode, which is nice because he's normally a few universes ahead of everyone else. Some things happen that surprise even September – and will surprise the viewers for sure!
Insider: How would you categorize the finale in terms of what's come before?
Michael: On a 10 scale, it's 12 [laughs]. Jeff and J.J. Abrams described to me early on, in broad terms, what they were going to attempt with this show: battles between universes and heaven and earth and gods and men and I was sort of like, "Um ... OK. We'll see how that turns out." [laughs] But they are really coming through with it. The questions and the stakes that get raised in the finale are nothing short of the survival of reality and the survival of humanity as we know it. Satisfying in a sci-fi way, but also really satisfying in a philosophical way. And as always, with Fringe, able to be reduced down to something as simple as the relationship between a father, a son and the woman he loves. It opens the door to the future and this dystopian Observer-land. Which one would hope has room for little old September somehow.
Insider: Well it seems like he can't be killed, so I'm sure that reality will come to pass.
Michael: Yeah, well thank God there are enough universes for him to hide in. And what happened to him after he disappeared from Walter's lab is specifically addressed in the finale.
Insider: In equally exciting news, you were just nominated for a Tony -- is the fifth as exciting as the first?
Michael: It's always exciting because the circumstances are always different – this year is especially exciting because sometimes everything is written out for you in a part and sometimes it's a lot more about what you discover. I was filling in the blanks and coloring outside the lines a lot more with this part, so being recognized for Evita means something more because of that.
Insider: What did you discover while researching the role of Juan Peron?
Michael: In the past, the relationship between he and Eva wasn't as much in the foreground as it is in our production. It's incredibly complex and fascinating. I spent some time in Buenos Aires, soaking in the culture, and I stood on that balcony so I know what the sun feels like when you're up there. But most importantly, I spent 5 hours with a man from the Peron institute who gave me the entire history of the country, Peron's life and the beliefs of his political party. I could flesh out a lot of details that aren't in the script, but are very much a part of their relationship.
Insider: What is it that attracts you to a role?
Michael: I ask myself: Is it scary? Is it something I haven't done before? It is it a new challenge? If it's something I think I know how to do, I'm not interested. If I may fall on my face doing it, but that's what is interesting to me. I try not to repeat myself and look for new challenges and new things to learn every time I do something.
Insider: What was your most terrifying role to date?
Michael: There are two. Sweeney Todd was terrifying because I had seen the original production so many times. It was just indelibly etched on my memory. It was really frightening for me to try and do something I so admired other actors for having done. The other was Hedwig and The Angry Inch. John Cameron Mitchell is a good friend of mine and I thought he was extraordinary in the role. If I had the smarts to create something myself, it would have been like that. Never in a million years did I think anyone but John could do it, but he called me some time later and asked me to take over. I said yes immediately but then the waves of nausea came over me [laughs]. I thought this was finally the one where I'd bitten off more than I could chew. It turned out that there really was a very solid script to build on and in the end it became one of the parts I'm the proudest of. In an odd way, as extreme as it was, I think there was more of me in that performance than anything else I've gotten to do.
Fringe airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox and you can click here for more information on Evita.