We've moved!

Check out our new site at
and be sure to update your bookmarks.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meet Astrid From the Lab

FROM ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER KIMBERLY ROOTS: For months, the TV show Fringe (now on hiatus) has been touching on subjects and ideas related to science and religion. While Olivia and Peter are off taking down “bad guys” and Walter is trying to remember what he did 20 years ago, one woman keeps the Harvard University lab running: Astrid. Though the junior FBI agent remains a mystery to fans of the sci-fi drama, her portrayer, Jasika Nicole, was happy to chat with Science & Religion Today about belief, bovines, and brain goo (hint: It is just as icky as it seems!).

SRT: When you first heard about the concept for Fringe, what were your initial thoughts? Were you on board? Wary?
JN: Well, let’s see. The first time that I heard about the show, we were not allowed to have a script. So all I knew was that J.J. Abrams’ name was attached to it. They kept saying it’s a new sci-fi show by J.J. Abrams, and that’s it. So all I had really to base everything on was his past work. So I’d seen Lost, and of course I loved it like everybody else, and I really loved Cloverfield, so I was thinking something about monsters. I was like, okay. I’m auditioning for a show about monsters that will probably have its own fan base already because it’s J.J. Abrams.
So it took a really long time to get a script. Before I did, I was totally on board because I love science fiction and I love horror films. I was hoping that there would be some kind of cross-way between those two different genres. And that’s actually what happened in the end, that it is kind of about monsters and it is really grotesque like horror films, but it’s also really rooted in science, which I think is kind of different that a lot of sci-fi shows. A lot of sci-fi shows are about aliens or something like that, and this one really bases itself in science. So I was 100 percent gung-ho before I knew what it was about. [laughs]

SRT: Let’s talk a bit about Astrid. She seems a little less messed-up than the people she works with, but that may just be because we don’t know a lot about her yet.
JN: You don’t know enough about her, I know! [laughs] People keep saying, ‘It’s so nice to have Astrid in the show because she’s kind of like the grounding between Peter and Dr. Bishop since she’s in the lab all the time.’ And that’s what people say now, but you know, I’m still finding things out about her. Every single episode when we get a script, I go, ‘Oh. So Astrid minored in computer science.’ Or ‘Astrid speaks Latin fluently. That is an excellent thing for her to do.’ Because they are really, really slow to give up information about these people. And I can’t tell if it’s because they don’t want stuff to get out or because they’re kind of building it up as they go along themselves. So it’s been a really interesting process to play a character you basically don’t know anything about.

SRT: Astrid has schooling in a lot of areas, it seems.
JN: She was a linguistics major. Well, apparently, she double-majored and minored in pretty much everything in the world. [laughs] We have this joke on set: If there’s ever a question and none of the three main characters have any idea, they look at Astrid. Like, ‘Astrid, do you know anything about this?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, you know, back in ’87, I was touring Europe and I did this and this and this. Perhaps that will help us solve this crime,’ you know? [laughs] Which is really cool because she’s a Renaissance woman. I think that’s why the team was brought together. I think that’s why they trust Astrid with all of this information. She has different things to bring to the table than everybody else does. And I like that she’s not as silent as she was in the beginning, because she’s vocalizing — each episode that happens, she’s vocalizing. She gets a little bit more involved in it.
It’s also a really nice play about where she is in relation to everybody else. She’s a junior agent, she just started doing this, she’s probably scared out of her mind. And on top of that, you have her dealing with really obscure, weird things that she never probably learned about when she was down in Quantico. So that probably has taken her a while to get used to it.

SRT: Has religion come up in any conversations with J.J. or anyone, especially regarding Astrid’s background?
JN: No, there hasn’t. And that was brought up just in my own dealings with the character and the script. I’m trying to remember exactly which episode… I think it’s the one where Olivia goes back in the tank or something like that, and Walter asks to have a Bible. So Astrid goes and she gets him this Bible, and he starts quoting all these things from the Bible. And I thought that was a really nice part of the show that had never been dealt with before. Because they don’t really talk about religion. And you have to wonder where Dr. Bishop is in that whole world.
He’s kind of become a god-like figure, just on the basis that he’s able to create these things and he has a lot of power with the knowledge that he has. But then you have to wonder, well, where did he get his power? Where did he get his knowledge? So you don’t get a clear answer from him whether or not he has any religious-based faith. So when I’m reading, we have a scene where he’s calling out, I think I start a quote and he finishes it because he knows the Bible like the back of his hand. And so I was kind of grappling with whether or not Astrid thinks that that’s weird or if she’s kind of on board with him or where she’s coming from with that, you know? Because I think that if this were a real-case scenario, if you were to be working in this kind field, something would have to give. You would have to make a compromise somewhere.
I don’t think I have enough information about Astrid actually to fully answer your question, but hopefully maybe one day I will. I don’t know yet. She’s kind of towing the line. But like everything else, I don’t know much about her!

SRT: Okay, be honest. Who’s more of a diva: John Noble [who plays Walter] or the cow?
JN: Um, the cow. [laughs] Hands down, the cow.

SRT: I did see somewhere that she refuses to go up steps.
JN: Yeah, she’s crazy. And she also uses the bathroom wherever she wants to.

SRT: Oh, gross. Speaking of… there are some truly disgusting effects that are used on your show. Are they as bad up close? I’m thinking, in particular, about the melting-brain goo.
JN: [chuckles knowingly] Yeah. That was so disgusting. You know what? They actually are really gross in person, and I was not prepared for that. Because, like I said, I grew up watching horror movies. I love them and I get that there’s a way to make it look real on film. So I was kind of ready to see the behind-the-scenes action and everything. There have been so many occasions when I’ve walked on set and I’ve have my breath taken away from me because I just didn’t think it was going to look that good. And we’re not even filming and this looks horrible! Of course, they add in a lot of stuff after, in post-production, but the people we have who are working on the effects and stuff are just incredible. I just read the script for episode 16 last night. Of course I can’t give too much away; there is some really awesome and gross stuff happening, and I can’t wait to see how they pull it off. It’s supposed to be happening in real time. Usually we have a man under the table with an air pump or something that’s making these things happen above that gets caught on camera, which is awesome. [laughs] But even when you know there’s a guy underneath there, it’s still frightening. It really is.

SRT: You’ll begin shooting season two later in the year. In the back nine of season one and beyond, what would you like to see happen to Astrid?
JN: I just want to see her out of the lab. That’s my biggest want, because she’s always in the lab. There have been, I think, two times when she was out. She was at the hospital once when some guy was getting a CAT scan and then I also think she was in the FBI office once and once she was letting the pigeons fly out in the air. Which is cool, and I get that she’s really important and that’s kind of her environment. She’s the one person out of the trio who can stay stationary and other stuff can still be happening and she can kind of call in from where she is and make sure that everything’s okay. But I think that because she’s an FBI agent, that information gets lost a little bit just because she’s always in the lab. So I think eventually, after she’s kind of paid her dues as a junior FBI agent, they can put her out in the field and she’ll be able to get some hands-on work. Maybe she’ll carry a gun? I don’t know. But that’s what I would really like to see happen.

SRT: Well you know, I don’t know if you watched Alias, but J.J. Abrams had a very unassuming, African-American female character who, in season one, was just support. In season two, she turned into a kickass assassin.
JN: An assassin! Astrid should totally be the Fringe assassin! I didn’t even know that they needed one, but I think they might just now that you’ve told me that!