J.J. Abrams Talks ‘11.22.63.’, ‘Star Wars’ Box Office, and the End of ‘Person of Interest’

Sarah Gadon James Franco in 11 22 63
Sarah Gadon and James Franco in ‘11.22.63.’ (Photo © 2015 Hulu, LLC)

Filmmaker J.J. Abrams was on hand at the Television Critics Association’s winter event promoting HULU’s new event series 11.22.63. from Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions. The series stars James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Daniel Webber, and Chris Cooper, and was executive produced by Abrams, Stephen King, writer Bridget Carpenter, and director Kevin Macdonald. Based on Stephen King’s novel, the nine episode series will premiere on Presidents Day, February 15, 2016.

In addition to discussing 11.22.63., Abrams graciously answered a few questions on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Person of Interest during an interview with a few members of the press at the TCAs.

J.J. Abrams Interview:

Showing the first two hours at Sundance, is that a validation of 11.22.63. even before most people have seen it?

J.J. Abrams: “Honestly, I’m not even sure how that came about except it’s a fun way to get this out into the world. I know that everyone here is excited we’re doing it. But I’m just grateful that they would do it.”

How much were you actually able to be involved with 11.22.63. given your involvement with Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the same time?

J.J. Abrams: “My involvement in this was mostly about when Stephen King reached out and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I loved the book so much and he knew that, and he’d already sent me a copy of the book – signed copies – because I’d already told him how much I loved it. This is about a year or so later he sent me an email and asked if we should do this together. I was so excited about it and part of it was my responsibility, as the prep on Star Wars was heating up, was figuring out who was the right person to do this with. We’d wanted to work with Bridget [Carpenter] for a long time; we were very lucky to get to do it on this. And then as it went along it was mostly about reading scripts and giving notes. Obviously I had a day job when I was shooting the movie, it was a little bit easier in editorial, in post, to get to look at the dailies or cuts. But Bridget, luckily, doesn’t need to be babysat or handheld. She was a wonderful partner to work with.”

How do you wrap your head around a billion-dollar domestic take for Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

J.J. Abrams: “I’m grateful to anyone who’s gone to see the movie and when I hear anecdotally people have gone seven, eight times, I just want to apologize to, I’m guessing, their parents. [Laughing] No, honestly, I’m just very grateful and I can’t believe that it’s done. It was three years of very intense work by a lot of people so I’m just so happy that all the work that everyone did, even the people who you don’t even see in the movie – the puppeteers who were painted out – I watched them in 125-degree heat in Abu Dhabi and then we mercifully painted them out of the movie. I’m just so glad that people get to see all the work that this amazing crew and cast did. And so whatever the numbers are, I’m just so grateful the movie’s out there and has been well received.”

What would you say to someone who saw it for the ninth time last night?

J.J. Abrams: “I would say you’ve seen it more than I have.”

Will Westworld be ready for this summer and does the series have the opportunity to explore other worlds in that robotic theme?

J.J. Abrams: “I was such a fan of the original Westworld and I can’t wait for you to see what Jonah [Nolan] and Lisa [Joy] are doing on this one. But, it’s still being worked on so it’s one thing at a time. It’s something that’s worth waiting for. It’s going to be great.”

How are you finding the experience of working with streaming and cable networks?

J.J. Abrams: “I feel lucky that every partner is different and we’ve been incredibly lucky to get to work with the right partners for the right projects. I feel like we’re in that situation with HULU on this one.”

Are you hoping for Oscar nominations on Thursday? Do you think about that?

J.J. Abrams: “I’m only hoping that there are certain people that I know deserve it desperately and it would be wonderful if they got it. The gift of working on that film is such that I don’t need any further validation than the movie being out there and people liking the movie. But there are people that I will be disappointed if they don’t get nominated because I think that the work that they did was so really exemplary.”

Is there anyone in particular you can say you’d like to see nominated?

J.J. Abrams: “No, because if I mention eight people, the ninth person would be like, ‘Thanks!’ But honestly, it feels sort of obvious to me who deserves that kind of recognition. They might not even care. This may be something where they’re like, ‘Oh, please.’ But I feel like I saw how hard some of these artists’ work and I feel like they’re deserving. But they’re probably don’t.”

Like BB-8?

J.J. Abrams: [Laughing] “I’m hoping for a new category.”

In an era where so many shows are being rebooted, do you ever consider bringing back any of your old shows in new formats or as continuations?

J.J. Abrams: “I haven’t and I don’t. I do feel like I’ve been working on a number of reboots or sequels enough so that I really feel like I’ve had my share of those and I really look forward to telling new stories and producing new characters. I’m sort of hungry for that.”

So no Felicity follow-up then?

J.J. Abrams: “Not yet. But I’ve got to tell you I did love doing that show so much and I loved working with those people. I know it was a different time and everyone was just starting in that way, but that was such a special time working with that cast and that crew. I do miss that feeling of doing a show that is a romantic and smaller drama/comedy. I would love to do that. So, not necessarily a Felicity reboot but yeah.”

What are you hearing about Person of Interest and when it might be back? There’s a lot of speculation this is the final season.

J.J. Abrams: “My guess is it is the final season. The only heartbreak there is how much and how good the story is, how much good story there was to come if it continued. But Jonah and Greg Plageman have done such an amazing job on that show and I know what these episodes are that they’ve done wrapping it up. We don’t yet have a schedule but I know they will see the light of day. People will get to see these episodes. I know the power of that story. Again, to have a show that goes on as many as that has, it’s very hard to complain. It’s a miracle to get a show on the air and to have it last that long is something that you should be grateful for. But, I do love that show and I would love to have seen it continue.”

Will there be a series finale? Are you planning for that episode?

J.J. Abrams: “Yes, that’s sort of the goal. But obviously things can be valuable and adjust based on I suppose a miraculous performance of this thing. But I think the idea is essentially that this would be the finale.”

Do you pay attention to any of the social media memes?

J.J. Abrams: “I think like anyone you’re either forwarded things or you discover things yourself. I know that there are probably a vast majority that I’m unaware of, but there are some that sometimes you stumble upon and some are funnier than others. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.”