Isaiah Washington Talks About ‘The 100’ and the Sci-fi Genre

Isaiah Washington The 100 Interview
Isaiah Washington at the 2014 WonderCon (Photo © Richard Chavez)

By Rebecca Murray

Isaiah Washington is no stranger to series television however The 100 marks his first major role in a sci-fi series. Playing Chancellor Jaha on The CW series, Washington has now developed a strong feel for the sci-fi audience and what it is they expect from a science fiction series. And while at the 2014 WonderCon with his fellow The 100 cast members and executive producer Jason Rothenberg, Washington discussed the audience as well as the bigger themes behind the series.

Isaiah Washington Interview

How is this experience different from other series you’ve worked on?

Isaiah Washington: “It’s a totally different show. It’s sci-fi, which I’m completely new to. I don’t like the term ‘nerds’ and all that, I think it’s pejorative. I like the idea that the very critical thinkers that watch these types of shows are very detailed oriented, I like to say, so I try to measure my performances as subtly as possible. I try and add layers and as much detail to the puzzle, so you can figure out what that eyebrow lift was about or what that nostril flare was about. All those little nuances tend to build this Rubik’s Cube there. That’s the difference for me because from what I’m getting is that science fiction supporters are serious about their science fiction, but this is a little different. This is a drama, a serious drama, and it’s set in science fiction. There’s a lot of fiction in our science fiction.

It’s just exciting. Like I told Jason [Rothenberg], I said, ‘I think we have an opportunity to create a culture thing here,’ and it’s happening already. I hear kids on Twitter go, ‘Man, I will float someone to get to WonderCon.’ There it is! It’s taking hold. That’s the exciting part is that we have an opportunity to like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, those kind of shows, to create a culture that becomes hopefully cool.”

A lot of dramas deal with personal morality and the scope of that. Is the expansive morality on this show different than playing from a smaller scope?

Isaiah Washington: “I have to simply go back to something that my boss Mark Pedowitz, the president of the network, said to me. ‘You’ve got a nice show, kid, get ready.’ And in that lunch meeting he said, paraphrasing, that someone said to him that what you have here and what we need is that society has been suffering some extremely coarse times around the world – very coarse times – and that our art should reflect that coarseness. And if it’s reflecting that coarseness, you should be repulsed by it. And if you’re repulsed by it, then now we can have an authentic and holistic conversation about how we can change it. We’re showing this coarseness 97 years in the future and we already know how coarse it is right now in 2014, and we’re supposed to be better for it in the 21st century. We really start needing to look at the women and the men in the mirror.”

You were talking about the nuances of your facial expressions, how much do you actually think about that?

Isaiah Washington: “I don’t because it’s not authentic if it’s manufactured. When I look at it later, I go, ‘I have to be so internal with this character.’ He has to maintain his mask. He has to be this leader under some extraordinary circumstances, but he’s crumbling. He’s crumbling. He’s crumbling inside. He’s mortified. He never thought that all this would be put on his watch. He says it. ‘This was not supposed to happen. We’re just supposed to be a transitional phase. I thought we had another 100 years. What is this?’

I’m enjoying that fact of what it looks like to internalize all these themes and these things, but still have to lead. It’s beyond being a war-time president.”

Somehow humanity was destroyed and we have to be in this ark, and he floated his best friend. But yet when they ran the video and people volunteered to die, it seems like it shows there really is hope. Do you feel the show is hopeful?

Isaiah Washington: “I see it the way Jaha saw it, the way you saw it. It could be looked upon as a mistake. There are no easy answers in those circumstances. That’s what I enjoy about the show. There are no soundbites that you can give when you are dealing with actual raw feelings at that level. That was his best friend; we showed that. He was a part of the power structure. We showed that. He did the right thing. We showed that. Jaha felt he did the right thing. He showed that.”

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