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Digging Up Dirt: Televisionary Sits Down with the Cast of "Pushing Daisies"

Day Two of Comic-Con is finally at a close and, while I am ready to collapse from the sheer breakneck pace of today's events, there's so much to recount, not the least of which was the face time I got with the cast of ABC's new fall series Pushing Daisies.

It was with great excitement that I sat down with the gorgeous cast of Pushing Daisies, which longtime readers of this site will recall I pegged as my favorite new fall series back in May when I first reviewed the pilot. Like the whimsical nature of the series, from the fertile mind of Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me), the cast proved to be absolutely charming. Joining me for a series of one-on-one interviews, following the pilot screening and panel, were series regulars Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, and Kristin Chenoweth.

First up: series lead Lee Pace (Wonderfalls). Pace plays the pie maker Ned, gifted (or cursed) with the ability to bring people back from the dead who re-discovers his childhood crush (Anna Friel) when she is murdered and resurrected.

Q: How did you get involved with Pushing Daisies?

Pace: Bryan [Fuller] created the part with me in mind. I was not looking to do TV this year but asked my manager for a copy of the script and called Bryan up, who said, "I wrote it with you in mind." I really wanted to work with Barry [Sonnenfeld, who directed the pilot]. While the pilot is great, it just keeps getting better and better with the episodes I've read already.

Q: What excites you most about the series?

Pace: Really, the character's relationship with Chuck and the psychology of the character. Getting to mine life and death in a profound way. Also, with the show's procedural element, every eight days, you dive into a new world. The episode we're shooting right now is a total caper with a Scooby-Doo feel.

Q: What are the challenges of playing a semi-comedic character?

Pace: Basic acting works. Ned doesn't think he's funny so it's about playing the reality of the character. He's not cracking jokes. It's about the pathos of the moment and the idea that it's the reality of being able to touch something and bring it back to life. There are moral obligations with Ned's condition, an appetite for life and death. Chuck makes him feel like life is good, especially because we only have one life.

Q: Do you view Ned's gift as a blessing or a curse?

Pace: It is what it is. With bringing people back to life, it's a blessing but Ned is killing people. The more people he brings back (his mother, Chuck), the more people he kills and this will take its toll on Ned as the season progresses.

Next up: British actress Anna Friel, who makes her American television acting debut with Pushing Daisies (though I fell utterly under her spell when I saw her years ago in BBC's Our Mutual Friend). Friel plays Charlotte "Chuck" Charles, the childhood sweetheart of Ned who is murdered aboard a cruise ship and brought back to life by Ned. Anna is just as beautiful is life as she is on screen and showed up wearing a very fitting dress covered with daisies ("vintage," Anna explained).

Q: Why did you decide to make the leap to American television?

Friel: I had sixteen movies under my belt, Broadway, and the West End and wanted to broaden my palette of work. I came over to LA to change agents and it happened to be pilot season. I read the pilot script and was struck by how joyful and playful Chuck was. I didn't want to play the girl on the arm of some guy and US television creates the best hooks for its characters.

Q: How similar or dissimilar to your character Chuck are you?

Friel: I'm much more anxious than Chuck. I worry about things and certainly don't wake up every day feeling that it's a fresh start and a beautiful day. (Though I should.) Unlike most of the roles I've played in the past, I wasn't able to channel that mood and anxiety into the character and had to get into a different frame of mind. As for similarities, Chuck lets me express the fun, quirky side of my personality. But there is one big thing that's not similar. Unlike Chuck, I'm not American.

Q: What's it like working with Lee Pace?

Friel: We've become great friends and he's become a part of the family. He's a wonderful, thoughtful, thinking actor.

Q: What can you tell us about Chuck's backstory?

Friel: For one thing, they are going to start each episode with a flashback to Ned and Chuck as kids so we'll see a lot of her backstory unfold that way. Chuck has lead a sheltered life without being tainted. Because of her upbringing, she's become a very learned person. For the next episode, I have to learn a page of Japanese by Thursday. I'll be speaking in Japanese, German, Swedish, and French [in that episode]. She doesn't do it to show off, it's just what she's done, learning things and reading. I want to give Chuck as many layers as possible, peeling away the layers like an orange peel, under which is this very juicy fruit.

Q: What's coming up for Chuck?

Friel: Chuck and Olive will become friends, which is so nice as most shows would have had these two women fighting each other constantly. Obviously, there's stuff going on between Ned and [Chuck] while things are not good between Chuck and Emerson, who does not like having another meddling partner. We're filming an episode with a bulimic girl that is just incredible. It's like a cartoon coming to life with these fully formed characters.

Q: How you maintain the magic of the pilot episode?

Friel: It's an incredible first episode but I am amazed by the constant imagination of the writers, [giving us] cars that run on dandelions and windmills.

Chi McBride (The Nine) plays private investigator Emerson Cod, Ned's partner in crime and the side business he runs with resurrecting murdered people, discovering their killer, and then collecting the reward money after returning them to death.

Q: You've become known for your dramatic work in such series as Boston Public and The Nine, so what is it like playing a more comedic character?

McBride: I actually started out in comedy in series like The John Larroquette Show and Married with Children and didn't get to do drama until [David E.] Kelley. In this business, you get pigeonholed and have to educate and re-educate people about what you can do. I went out for a part in Undercover Brother and had people say that Chi's not funny. What drew me to [Pushing Daisies] was a single line of Emerson's: "You couldn't have just scooted back?" The part is closer to me, he's always got a smart line. I read a lot of mindless, vacuous scripts and wanted to do a smart TV comedy like Seinfeld or Frasier. It's a no-brainer opportunity to show another side of you.

Q: What excites you most about the series?

McBride: I really love the cast; I couldn't pick a favorite. I have great chemistry with Lee [Pace] and love the chemistry we share. Emerson is a guy with questionable morals. His main goals are to make money and go home. Lee's character is more empathetic but distant due to his power to bring the dead back to life; he's damaged and looks to Emerson as a father figure. I really like the way [Bryan Fuller] juxtaposes the way Emerson looks at life with the way Ned does. I knew what this series could be when I read the script and, as soon as I saw Barry [Sonnenfeld] in the room, I knew what it would become. It turned out even better than I imagined.

Q: What's Emerson's back story?

McBride: I had lunch with Bryan [Fuller] and pitched an idea of why Emerson became a private investigator. All of the elements of Emerson's dark/sardonic nature are a cover for something. I told Bryan why I thought Emerson was the way he was and Bryan loved it. The [Pushing Daisies] comic actually deals a little bit with Emerson's story.

Finally, rounding out my Q&A with the cast of Pushing Daisies, it's the gorgeous (and pocket sized) Kristin Chenoweth (The West Wing). Chenoweth, who has a huge following from her numerous Broadway roles, plays Olive, Ned's neighbor and pie shop employee who sublimates her desire for Ned by lavishing love on his pooch, Digby.

Q: Will you be singing on Pushing Daisies?

Chenoweth: I don't want to sing just because it's gratuitous and expected. But I WILL be singing. It's a sad moment and it involves the dog. Olive just can't understand why she can't get the guy and she's a girl who always gets the guy.

Q: What's it like working with the rest of the cast?

Chenoweth: The dynamic between Anna and Lee is awesome. Usually there's a sour grape in the bunch but there just isn't here.

Q: Do you feel that ABC is behind the series?

Chenoweth: We're very nervous about being the prom queen, we all just want to do our thing. We're very excited about the show. I've been the recipient of when the network really is behind the show and when they're not and ABC is definitely behind this show. I did a show a few years ago called Kristin on NBC and they canceled it after four episodes and replaced it with Fear Factor. At the time I said that Fear Factor would never last. Shows what I know.

Q: Have the writers explained where the character of Olive, a series regular, will be going?

Chenoweth: Olive is an ex-jockey. I read a bunch of pilots this year but wasn't planning on doing television. The I read the script and thought to myself, "what is this odd, most fantastically weird, incredible thing?" I knew it was special. Bryan flew to New York City and explained what they had in store for Olive. I was getting ready to do Young Frankenstein on Broadway and the rest was good karma.

Q: So, what would you like to see happen to Olive over the course of the season?

Chenoweth: I'd like her to have a relationship with Ned. She actually could have a relationship with him while Ned and Chuck can't touch. So Olive represents this constant temptation for Ned. I also would like to get in on the crime-solving and have Olive add her own expertise. Also, as much horse-racing as possible. And for Chuck and Olive to become friends.

And there you have it: the cast of my favorite new series, Pushing Daisies. Be sure to also check out my clandestine Q&A with Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller in a rickety private room atop the Warner Bros. booth.


Anonymous said…
You got to meet and sit down with Kristin Chenoweth! I think I might faint after basking in your reflected glow. Was she as smoking in person as she is on tv?
Bill said…
I was finally able to catch the pilot, and it really is as good as you've been saying. And Anna Friel is adorable.
Anonymous said…
@Bill. I second that. I knew Jace loved the pilot but wanted to see for myself and as always he was right. It seriously rocked. And I now have a serious girl crush on Anna Friel.

@Wes. I met her once and yes she is as cute in person. :)
Anonymous said…
You were with Kristin and Anna Friel? [wipes the drool off the floor] You lucky bastard. I can't wait to see this pilot...any chance you have any spares to go around?
Matt said…
Thanks for the interviews! That was a great introduction to the series and now I'm more excited than ever to see the show.
The CineManiac said…
You lucky man. I actually made it to the pilot/panel and it was amazing.
Just one question, did Kristin open her shirt and show you her cleavage like she did for the guy who told her he loved her at the panel?
Anonymous said…
This is such a brilliant cast. And it's so nice to hear how passionate they all are about this project. It's also nice to see some new leads on TV like the lovely Anna Friel and charismatic Lee Pace. The whole thing just feels so fresh and original. I can't wait to see more!
Anonymous said…
Such great interviews. I am very excited about this show and can't wait to see it.

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