The cast of ABC’s new 2019-2020 primetime drama Emergence had a bit of difficulty describing the series during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con. Series stars Allison Tolman and Alexa Swinton had to be particularly careful when choosing their words, given the mysterious nature of a key central character.
In a nutshell, Emergence focuses on Police Chief Jo Evans (Tolman) who finds a young girl (Swinton) at the scene of a mysterious accident. Where did the girl come from and how is she involved in the accident? Neither of those questions were answered during our roundtable interviews at Comic-Con. However, Tolman and Swinton did seem to have already developed quite a bond offscreen and had fun being cagey with their answers.
Allison Tolman and Alexa Swinton teased that anyone who wants to learn the answers will just have to tune in to the series and find out for themselves. “Tuesdays at 10 starting on September 24th at 10pm because the second you tune in, you will watch with commercial breaks,” said Swinton, laughing.
“All your questions will be answered…eventually. We can’t foresee what your questions might be,” joked Tolman. “I mean, there really is so little we can truly tell you. There are so many surprises and so many twists on where things are going.”
“This is a thriller so you know it’s going to have special effects and most likely guns, which it does,” replied Swinton when asked what it was that got her excited about Emergence. “I also think that it was probably the fact that the writing was so amazing and the fact that this character was so new to me. I’m in other dramas but this one was more like, honestly, she can be innocent. She’s sort of is innocent while also being a little…”
Tolman helped out her young co-star in her attempt to describe her character. “It’s fun to play a character that has a lot of mystery to them,” said Tolman.
“It is because you sort of feel like you’re holding a string in front of everyone’s heads. Sort of like, ‘I know things that you don’t, each and every one of you!’” teased Swinton.
Allison Tolman said part of the appeal was the fact she truly loves this genre. “I love sci-fi thrillers. I love a little bit of mystery. I like a spooky, spooky mood. I love a lighthouse and a cloudy night,” said Tolman, referencing the season one poster.
Tolman and Swinton’s co-stars had a less difficult time descripting their Emergence characters.
“I play Officer Chris. I’m a young officer on Chief Jo’s force at the police department,” said Robert Bailey Jr. “And I happen to be on the crash site when we find Piper and thus get dragged into the big conspiracy around who this little girl is. He’s just a young cop, very earnest, wants to be like Jo. He’s known her since he was young and she’s a big part of why he became a cop. I think this is going to change his whole mindset on what he thinks of her, what he thinks about being a cop, and who he is in the larger world around him as everything kind of gets out of whack.”
Owain Yeoman joked that he fancies his character, Benny Gallagher, is named after the Gallagher brothers from Oasis.
“He’s an investigative reporter who appears at the crash site and seems to have…it’s kind of hard to know where his allegiances are lying at this point,” explained Yeoman. “It’s definitely a little bit of a grey area. He uses a lot of humor to divert. He’s very cheeky and charming, which is totally unlike me. But I think underneath all of that there is a genuine desire to get to the bottom of this mystery.
I feel as if there’s a banter and a kinship that’s developing with Allison’s character. Who knows where that might go, whether it becomes a romantic thing or whether it’s just one of those things where they are just in something together.”
Zabryna Guevara believes the show’s young star is so endearing that everyone will quickly fall in love with her character. “We all quickly start to find that we are concerned about her safety. And that’s part of what becomes us going deeper is it’s important for us to find out what her origin is to make her safer,” said Guevara, describing her character Abby Fraiser’s relationship to the mysterious young girl.
Donald Faison and Ashley Aufderheide play father and daughter in the series and were teamed up for roundtable interviews. Asked if they instantly bonded, they confirmed it wasn’t difficult to capture the family vibe as they’re both easy to like.
Donald Faison explained his connection to the series’ central mystery. “I’m kind of thrust into it by accident. I think we all are but my character mostly because all he wants to do mostly is spend time with his daughter and this new girl comes in and is taking that time away from him,” said Faison. “So, he’s trying to find ways to be around (his daughter) and things happen, you know what I mean? And crazy things happen. And then he realizes he has to stay close to his family again even though Jo and Alex are divorced. His daughter means so much to him and Jo means so much to him. It’s a different type of divorce. They’re still really good friends; they’re just not in love anymore. That happens sometimes. I don’t think we see that on television often.
Anyway, he’s thrust into it when he sees what this girl can do. He’s like, ‘I’ve got to protect my daughter. I’ve got to protect my ex-wife. I’ve got to protect her dad, and I’ve got to protect this little girl, too, because there’s something special about her.'”
Faison came the closest to spilling the beans about the mystery but wouldn’t clarify what the girl can do. He did confirm she has “abilities.”
Series creators Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, who were also paired up for interviews, shed a little more light on the show’s premise and what they’re hoping will appeal to viewers.
“There’s a large scale emergency event that happens that basically sucks our lead character, Jo, into the story,” said Butters. “I think it kind of pulls her into the mystery right away, and so I think that people will be drawn in. It’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, and it’s a family show. I think that the relationships that you see develop even within the pilot is something that draws you in as much as the sort of thriller/mystery.”
Fazekas added, “I think you don’t have to be a family show fan only to appreciate it. And you don’t have to be a sci-fi fan. It hits a lot of different genres and there’s something for a lot of different people.”
“Something we’ve always loved doing is mixing genres,” said Butters.
Fazekas says tonally the show is inspired by the Spielberg films they watched while they were growing up. Films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.. “If you’ve seen Close Encounters recently, there’s legitimately scary moments in that but it’s also about wonder. And then just the story of finding a kid.[Emergence] is somewhat based on a true story of somebody that my husband worked with where there was a cop in the ’60s or ’70s who found a little kid at a crime scene and basically just took the kid home and adopted her and raised her. Which seems like, ‘Oh, 1970s, I guess you could do that then.’ You hear a story like that and you’re immediately like, ‘Oh I really like this person.’ What I love about someone who does that is there’s no sort of thinking about should I do this. She just instantly is like, ‘This is the right thing to do so let’s just do that.’ I love that as a character. I love that it’s a real person. But I thought that was a nice way to hook into Allison’s character right away.”
(Additional reporting by Kevin Finnerty.)