Behind the Scenes of ‘Forever’ with Ioan Gruffudd, Judd Hirsch and Alana De La Garza

Forever Cast and Executive Producer Interview
Ioan Gruffudd stars in ‘Forever’ (Photo: ABC/Patrick Harbron)

Creator/executive producer Matt Miller joined his Forever stars Ioan Gruffudd, Judd Hirsch, and Alana De La Garza at the 2014 summer Television Critics Association’s press event in Los Angeles to talk about the upcoming ABC series. Gruffudd stars as New York City Medical Examiner Dr. Henry Morgan, a good-looking guy who hides an incredible secret beneath his handsome exterior. It seems Morgan doesn’t have to worry about life insurance or picking out a cemetery plot because he just so happens to be immortal. He can appear to die, but it’s only temporary as he’ll wind up naked and very much alive in the East River shortly thereafter. Alana De La Garza co-stars as Detective Jo Martinez who becomes curious about Dr. Morgan’s past. TV veteran Judd Hirsch plays Abe, a good friend and father figure to the ageless Morgan.

Forever will have a special sneak preview on Monday, September 22, 2014 at 10:00pm ET/PT before moving to its regular time slot of Tuesdays at 10pm on September 23rd.

Where did the idea came from?

Matt Miller: “So I guess the real story, the way that this idea came about was it was pilot season and I was putting my five-year-old son to bed and he asked me, ‘Daddy, are you ever going to die?’ as kids do. And so I said, ‘No, of course I’ll never die,’ because I didn’t want to upset him. And then I realized you’re supposed to build trust through honesty and all that with children so I said, ‘Okay. I will die someday, but it won’t be for a very long time, and by then you’ll probably want me to be dead.’ At which point he burst into tears, and my wife ran into the room. I was kicked out of the room, and she continued raising my child, and I went off to write television, which is the right dynamic for our particular relationship.

That was sort of the impetus for the idea, and then from that I kind of extrapolated that night. I was thinking about it and I said, ‘Well, okay. So what if a character wouldn’t or couldn’t die, and all the great things you could do with immortality.’ And then I started to think but, ‘Well, what if my son wasn’t immortal? Would watching him grow old and die be too painful? Would, over time, sort of the curse of immortality, the affliction be more than I could bear?’

So, anyway, in the end of it I decided it was probably better to die someday. But from that came this idea of a character who had the thing that all of us want sort of more than anything is immortality, and he didn’t want it anymore. So what would that look like? What would that guy do for a living? And from that came this sort of medical examiner idea, which is if he was initially a doctor that he would work as a medical examiner purely for research to be able to, you know, examine bodies and study the science and try and figure out some way to kind of end his curse.”

Matt, the pilot plants the seed of the idea of somebody knowing Henry’s secret potentially and stalking him. How prevalent will that be as you go through the season? Will it be every week or here and there?

Matt Miller: “Yeah, so I think the idea with the mythology first off, the show is a procedural. You know, there’s that franchise element where every week we’ll find a body and try and resolve the case by the end of the episode. And then there is somebody out there that knows Henry’s secret. In the pilot, we sort of allude to the idea that he may, in fact, have a similar kind of affliction, which is an interesting idea for a guy who’s been alive for 200 and however many years to find out that there may be someone else out there like him. So it’s a device and a storytelling and mythology element of the show that we’ll use sporadically, meaning not every episode is going to be driven by it. We’ll probably touch upon it in the second episode, and it probably may not come up for four or five or six episodes. So it will be related to the mythology and the arc of our season, and ultimately, we’ll learn some interesting surprises about that character and his relationship to Henry, but it’s not the thing that drives every episode.”

It must be fun to kill him in different ways each episode, but are you obligated to have at least one death per episode? Could you go an entire episode where he gets a break?

Matt Miller: “I think, first, just the character does experience the pain of the death. So if he falls off of a bridge or he gets shot or gets stabbed, he experiences that pain every time. So, yeah, we don’t want to kill him every episode. We want to give the guy a week off. But he dies, I think, including flashbacks, like four times in the pilot. So that was a bit much. And just because it’s the device of our show, we’ll do it in the first couple of episodes and then we’ll have more special occasion deaths where you don’t know in that particular episode how or why or if he may die. So it won’t be every episode, but it will certainly occasionally come up.”

You’ve played characters who, while not immortal, have had some unusual physical properties. Did playing Mr. Fantastic for two movies give you any sort of insight into playing the physical peculiarities of this character?

Ioan Gruffudd: “It certainly made me appreciate the fact that I had a muscle suit on in Mr. Fantastic, and Matt has me stark naked coming out of the East River in this one. So that becomes a reality, you know, where I’m not getting any younger. There’s a commitment to the cause that has to take place, so diet and working out and looking after oneself. But, I mean, the beauty of it is that I, for some reason, I lend myself to playing these very bright, smart, intellectual, intelligent characters, quick-witted, and I don’t know where that has come from because I don’t have those traits personally. And, again, the element of fantasy or the element of another world or the past has come into play often in my career, and maybe it’s the way I look or the way I look in period costumes has certainly lent itself to this project in particular. It’s an aspect of it that I absolutely love and adore, and it certainly was a big draw for me when I first read the script.”

Alana, how does your background in procedural series help you transition into this series? Or is it kind of a clean slate for you from your perspective?

Alana De La Garza: “You know, I think it helps in the fact of the interrogations and dealing with the perps, but this is written…it’s so much fun and so different than Law & Order because she’s a full person and she’s got a history and a backstory and feelings and, you know, it’s written on the page. I just have to open my mouth and make it come alive, so it’s really fun. It’s a different experience, but procedurally, yeah, I think it definitely helps in that aspect.”

Is the fantasy element something you’ve yearned for for a while because you have played people who are so grounded in real world situations?

Alana De La Garza: “Yeah, it’s funny. It’s like what Ioan was saying. I always play a very serious, strong woman, and I’m a goober. I’m a total dork. So doing something that is more fantastical and adventurous in that way, yeah, definitely it appeals to me. And it’s fun. I mean, I know working with these guys literally from day one, I was like I have known them my whole life. And it’s lovely. It’s beautiful when that comes together.”

Judd Hirsch: “She got lucky.”

Can you explain how he becomes immortal? Is there any form of death that will eventually kill him off for good?

Matt Miller: “Cancellation.”

That’s a good answer.

Matt Miller: “A quick one. Let’s hope that that doesn’t happen for a little while. So in terms of the pilot, we tried to give the audience enough that you kind of explain it so that you have at least a context for where it started, and if it’s not clear in the pilot, then I should say that it did begin for him on the slave ship that night so that when he was risking his life, he genuinely was risking his life and not being like, ‘Well, I risked my life but I know I’m going to come up in water in 20 minutes.’

But in terms of the mythology surrounding that and the circumstances, that’s something that we’re going to build out and unfold over a very long term plan. You know, we don’t want to sort of reveal too much in the first order of 13 or even the first season. We want to allude to it, and we want to give the audience little tidbits so that they feel like we’re not ignoring that issue, that we’re discussing it and we’re fleshing it out and we’re investigating it. And each thing leads to new and exciting other clues.

So whether it be we’re actually getting into the specific science of how that happens or just the mythology from his character’s point of view, which is to say we get to flashback in the show and we can talk more about that. But, you can flashback to the 1940s or the 1970s, or you can flashback to 24 hours after that act, after he was shot on the slave ship and he wakes up alone on an island, and he’s naked, and he’s got this scar on his chest. Well, his first thought isn’t going to be, ‘Oh, god, I’m immortal. That was incredible.’ You know, his first thought is going to be, ‘Wow, I guess I survived that shipwreck somehow.’ And slowly watch how that character starts to realize what it is that he actually can do. But this is stuff that like, you know, we’re thinking about and we’re planning, but not for the immediate future. It will be something kind of long term.”

To assume this type of British character, did you study the accents and carriage and so forth of how an upperclass, overly educated Englishman behaves and sounds?

Ioan Gruffudd: “I certainly had the benefit of going to drama college for three years, and we studied these accents – all the accents of the British Isles and the rest of the world to a certain extent. But certainly the British accent lends itself to Shakespeare sort of in the theatrical training, all those vowel sounds in Shakespeare are in the received pronunciation, the language comes across in a much more rounded and better way. It’s something I suppose with experience of living outside of Wales and living in London that you sort of pick up. Now living here in Los Angeles, you know, it’s probably a little bit more watered down the way that I speak. But certainly for the character, it’s definitely a decision that I made that the accent certainly lends itself to Matt’s writing.”

The pilot never actually shows the aftermath of him dying and the location where he dies. What actually happens there? Is there a pile of clothes? Are there multiple corpses of him?

Matt Miller: “That’s a great question and in the pilot we kind of tiptoe around it. We will continue that tiptoe-shimmy-slide in the series as well. We’re going to see, probably in the second episode, that he dies and probably try and put a little bit of a finer point for the audience in understanding what happens. But just sort of in the logic of the show, what happens is when he dies – and we never want to kind of live in this moment of him actually disappearing, it’s a very small bull’s-eye to execute something like that well – so we choose to go into that what we call the death spiral where we go into Henry’s eye and then that takes us into a collage of images and a white light and all that. 

Logistically what happens is that he actually disappears and everything on him disappears. So if the pocket watch, for example, had been on him during the pilot, it would have been lost. So in the pilot he lands on the roof of the taxicab by the end, and there’s an indentation on the roof of the taxi. That indentation stays even if he leaves, so the evidence of what happened stays. So if someone wanted to be very curious about it, they would see that there’s this mark on the side of the taxi. 

Now, we have the benefit of another body in the pilot, which is to say if forensically it could have been that the other character landed on the hood of the car and then rolled off or something like that. So we gotta dance around that a little bit, but that’s sort of the rules of the game.”

But if everything disappears, does he have an unlimited supply of wallets with driver’s licenses and credit cards? Or does he have to replace that stuff every single time?

Matt Miller: “Yeah. It’s a logistical nightmare. The spin-off will be Henry Morgan at the DMV. And it’s great, by the way. It’s in development right now. There are those sort of things that some of them we’ll skate over and some of them… It’s like the fun of when Abe picks him up every time and he’s got the bag of clothes that he’s got to give him. We’ll play into it sometimes when it’s fun.”

You’re playing a cabbie in Sharknado 2 and you’re in Forever. What are your motivations in taking each of these parts? They couldn’t be more different, obviously. Did it take much coaxing to do Sharknado 2 or did you just jump right in?

Judd Hirsch: “I don’t know. I always think I never grow up enough not to do that. Every once in a while the intelligence of a show just grabs me. Like Numb3rs was an extremely intelligent show. You had to have really good writers, and the fact it was about somebody who was in that particular business, I graduated that way in my own life. I was a physicist. To go back into something like math, to me, was an invitation. I loved the idea. I would never have said no, but hopefully they would write for it. 

In this one, totally different. It’s just that to play someone special, because you don’t really know him yet, and to be able to develop a character, that’s a gift in television, let me tell you, and to be able to be associated with an experience which is unusual, which is a life which never seems to end. [That’s] always something to think about. I was thinking about these things myself. We’ve known each other for a long time, and I’m thinking about what happened with us for the length of time that we know each other. I’m thinking there’s 7,000 stories in there, and not only what he went through, but what I went through, because I was at different ages. It’s almost like introducing you to stories that you don’t even know about that will happen based on the guy that you are now. You know what I mean?”

And Sharknado?

Judd Hirsch: “They told me I was going to be eaten by a shark. I said, ‘I’m in.’ I didn’t know how, but yeah.”

Matt, can Ioan’s character reproduce and are we going to be meeting any of his offspring, if that’s the case?

Matt Miller: “Yes and yes. So he can reproduce.”

Alana De La Garza: “Nice.”

Ioan Gruffudd: “Yeah. Great.”

Matt Miller: “Yeah. It goes well for this relationship. He can reproduce. And he has over the past, as I was talking about coming up with the idea and watching your own children sort of grow old, I think that the idea of the characters’ chronology through these couple hundred years is that he did have children and he did watch them pass away by virtue of age or any affliction that could happen. The pain of that is what made it very, very difficult for him to ever do that again. 

And so in the pilot, towards the end of the pilot we meet Abigail, and I think at the time that Henry met Abigail in his life, he was kind of sworn off to those kind of messy entanglements. He had to kind of shield himself from getting too emotionally involved with any person because the pain of how that would end was too much for him. We explore that a little bit in subsequent episodes. But then he met her and he decided to take on a bit with her, and then we also allude to this idea that when Abigail left, how that relationship deteriorated. He then sort of said, ‘I’m done with any more of that for the rest of my life,’ which is kind of where we find him in the pilot. He’s at that place where as Abe says to him, ‘You may not be able to die, but you haven’t lived for a long time,’ and that’s where we kind of catch him in the pilot. We start to watch him slowly kind of come out that shell, and through his relationship with Joe, we watch both Joe and Abe kind of yank him out of the abyss.”

Judd Hirsch: “It’s funny, I came up with a quote from some lady who wrote a book. I wrote it down; I’ve got to read you this. It’s absolutely this value of the show. It’s a woman by the name of Hilary Zunin. She wrote a book, The Art of Condolence, and she said, ‘The risk is love is loss. The price of loss is grief. But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.’ I thought that’s part of this guy. If you want to know a reason why he can’t die, why this is a problem of his, it sounds like something as deep as that. You know what I mean? Try to explain love in anybody’s way and you’ll find out that’s what their life was all about. That’s what their fears were, and that’s what their value of the life was. That’s the word: love. You know? So I think it was a great thing. This woman still exists, by the way. She’s used in disasters to make people feel better.”

Alana and Ioan, can you talk about the chemistry between the two of you? Did you feel it in the first table read? Was there that chemistry immediately?

Alana De La Garza: “I think when we met each other, it kind of felt right. You ever meet somebody and it’s like, ‘I’ve known you forever?’ And that’s how I felt about him. I don’t know how he felt about me.”

Ioan Gruffudd: “There’s a natural ease that we have with one another. We’re both parents. Our children are…”

Alana De La Garza: “…very similar in age.”

Ioan Gruffudd: “So we’re at a juncture in our lives where an opportunity to work together on a potential series is such a treasure sort of opportunity, and we just hit it off.”

Alana De La Garza: “On a personal level, when somebody is open and vulnerable and easy to access, I guess.”

Would either of you like to live forever?

Ioan Gruffudd: “Well, no, because we’re touching on the subject, clearly, in the show. I mean, it just feels too painful.”

Alana De La Garza: “Yeah. Outliving your children, I think, would just be… No.”

Ioan Gruffudd: “Too much.”

Do you like the solving crimes part of the show? When you get to say some of this medical terminology, do you stop and ask what it means? Are you surprised by the things you get to say medically?

Ioan Gruffudd: “I think that’s one of the fun elements of the show and what attracted me to the show, how bright this character is and how you can approach it from a totally different angle. He’s using his experience and his wealth of knowledge over time to unravel the case. All the technical jargon and everything, that we have a medical examiner by our side that can help us through the physicality of a certain moment, but we don’t want to rely too heavily on that because of the magical fantastical element that we have. I mean, for example, cutting open the body. We won’t necessarily be able to show all of the fine details of doing that.”

Alana De La Garza: “Bound to learn something, right?”

Ioan Gruffudd: “Yes. I certainly want to look as if I’ve done it for centuries.”

Judd Hirsch: “Except that the scene comes after lunch. You’re not going to like that.”