Anyone who gets to go to Comic-Con is lucky. Anyone who gets to go and rub elbows with the cast of Battlestar Galactica, Eureka and Stargate Atlantis is pretty damned lucky.
In July, I attended my 12th Comic-Con. Not only did I get into the aforementioned small panels for press only, I got to go to several others including a roundtable-style panel with three actors and two executives from USA Networks' The 4400. The 4400 is a show about the lives of a group of people who have all be taken from Earth at various times over the years and returned to the present day in a ball of light. None have aged a day and none remember where they were taken to or why. Many are brought back with a little something extra — telekinesis, precognition, the ability to heal others' ills, and many other talents that may one day shape the future. The show is currently in its fourth season and is a fun ride; much better than your average summer show.
At Comic-Con, actors Jeffrey Combs (who plays "Kevin Burkhoff"), Magalyn Echikunwoke ("Isabelle Tyler"), and Conchita Campbell ("Maia Rutledge"), were on hand for the press panel as well as show executives Ira Steven Behr (Executive Producer) and Craig Sweeny (Producer). Also at our roundtable was Roxanne Toser (NSU Publisher), Marlin Toser (NSU Managing Editor), and two members of the press from another news outlet. Each of the actors and executives graciously answered five to ten minutes worth of our questions, then moved along to the next table (there were just three tables in total plus a camera crew in an adjacent area).
To get started, we sat with Jeffrey Combs, who has been in everything from Re-Animator to Enterprise and about 70 or so other things in between. I had a little trouble remembering which part Combs played in Enterprise and as soon as he spoke his trademark line "Pink skin…," I immediately remembered him as Shran, the blue skinned Andorian with those curious, moving antennae.
NON-SPORT UPDATE: Are you going to be at the Inkworks booth today?
JEFFREY COMBS: Yes.
NSU: Have you done many of these kinds of fan shows?
JC: I've done conventions. Of course if you're in Star Trek you do conventions. So yes, and in fact in the middle of August I'm going to the big one in Vegas.
NSU: Have you been here [before]?
JC: I came here 12 years ago, for a movie I did called The Frighteners.
NSU: The Frighteners! They've got a card set on that too.
JC: There is a card set?
NSU: But you didn't autograph for it. That was sort of before the autograph thing caught on.
JC: But I've signed some. I'll go to a convention and people will bring those to me, and I'll go, well, where'd you get that?
NSU: It was put out by a company in Canada , Dart Flipcards.
JC: Yes, I have some of those. I have a little collection of things that I've been in; I've got some of those stashed away in my little card binder.
NSU: Do you collect anything else?
JC: I try to hold onto posters of movies that I've done. One of my prized possessions is an original poster from France of the Re-Animator, which is a kind of a cult horror movie that I did, and The Frighteners, signed by Peter Jackson; I have that one; before he was "PETER JACKSON!!!" But he was still great then.
NSU: What are you expecting for today down there [on the convention floor]?
JC: I have no idea.
NSU: It'll be madness. They've had several signings throughout the weekend, and lines wrapped around their booth.
JC: What, Inkworks?
NSU: Yeah. They had Jennifer Love Hewitt yesterday.
JC: I said hi to her in the greenroom ‘cuz we did a movie together about five or six years ago: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
NSU: You signed for the Inkworks 4400 trading card series, is that right?
JC: Yes I did.
NSU: How was that?
JC: My wrist seems to be okay.
NSU: How many did you sign?
JC: Uh, that's a good question; I think 900? And then they just dispersed them randomly.
NSU: What's it like to have little pieces of you [distributed in collector's 9-pocket pages]?
JC: [chuckles]. That's so weird! You know, what I really appreciated about Inkworks? They said, "This is the image that we're thinking of, and then this is an alternative; which one do you like?"
NSU: That was nice.
JC: So, I actually liked the alternative better than the first option, and they changed it, which I thought was really a primo thing to do. Because in the past I've done some cards and its like, "well, there are better pictures than that…."
NSU: What did you think when Enterprise was cancelled early?
JC: I thought it was very sad, because I loved Scott Bakula; and that cast were like a family; and once that was gone, that was sort of the end of TV life of Star Trek for the moment, so that was hurtful. It was sad, I think it could have been avoided, but that's another topic down the line... especially since the last year was really good.
That was the thing—the last year kicked! All of a sudden it found its voice that it should have had from the beginning. But it was too little too late.
NSU: Tell us what's up with your character on The 4400.
JC: Well, you know if you've been watching this season, I showed up on the first episode, and I'm in the last five. So I'm in sort of a bookend of the season.
NSU: Are you gonna be with Summer [Glau]?
NSU: Because you always seem to be on the shows with Summer.
JC: Well, not all of them; I would have been, I think, but her schedule didn't allow her to be.
NSU: Isn't she on something else in the fall?
JC: Yeah, she's doing the Sarah Connor, Terminator TV series...
NSU: The Sarah Chronicles
JC: So her schedule was like, getting into that mode, so she was available for a couple of episodes.
NSU: What else do you have in the pipeline?
JC: Well, I'm very proud of a little episode of Masters of Horror that I just did called "The Black Cat"; just came out on DVD last week; it's all about Edgar Allan Poe. They took his story of "The Black Cat" and made him the main character of the story, and it really came out well. Came out last week, so the Black Cat's out of the bag! It was really challenging and rewarding to play Poe.
The other members of the press at our table asked Combs about the recent announcement of a new Re-Animator movie, to which Combs replied "maybe." It was pointed out to him that it's listed on IMBC to which he said, "I know, well IMDB announces a lot of things that aren't really ‘announce-able.' I've had more questions about that than any other theoretical...I mean, it's a movie that doesn't even have a script yet. It's the ‘Roger Corman World of Filmmaking.' So, we're just waiting on that one." We asked who would be in the sequel and Combs said "Uh, me, Bruce Adams from the original movie. William H. Macy said he'd really like to be in it." Finally, Combs was asked if this would have a bigger budget, to which he said "In theory. Maybe that's one of the reasons why no one will jump at that. We're kind of running out of time, there's something a bit topical about it—the house of Re-Animator is the White House, the Vice President had a heart attack, and he can't be dead, ‘cause he runs the country, but [sarcastically] there's no basis in reality."
Next up was Ira Steven Behr and Craig Sweeny, executives of The 4400. Behr also has direct ties to Star Trek, having been a producer and executive producer for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
NSU: So how's the show been going?
IRA STEVEN BEHR: We enjoyed the season quite a bit, we're pretty satisfied, and the 2nd half is looming up; this is Episode 7 tonight, so we're at the halfway point basically, and every episode from here on in has a huge blast of energy and information and moves the mythology forward and has some good character stuff; so it's gonna be cool.
NSU: Have you been picked up for next season?
ISB: We never know! Nothing ever changes; they tell us by either the end of September, beginning of October; so basically we do each season not knowing.
NSU: But you have a new cliffhanger...
ISB: Well, every year we do a show that kind of changes the playing field, and prepares the audience for what's coming next, and yet at the same time, if need be, it raises a lot of questions that, if we did not come back, it's still cool, and then the fans could be saying, what did that mean, and what would have happened, and it's a very kind of narrow...
CRAIG SWEENY: We didn't know at the end of last season if we were coming back, so the cliffhanger ending was designed to be either a, ‘Would you take the shot?' special series-ender.
NSU: Do you think that coming here [the Con] does a lot to keep the show going? I'm thinking, there's a lot of interest, a lot of publicity and a lot of advertising...?
ISB: Well, I think I've been semi-vocal recently in that I haven't been that happy about the way the publicity of the show has been handled, and the way the network has handled the show particularly. So coming here I think is really important. It's always good to connect with the fans, and it just also helps even though we're done with the season. But it's a great boost to just see the interest. I walked on the floor for the first time, this is my third year here, I never really walked the floor, I never had the opportunity, and I did yesterday, and having people come up and just tell you how much they liked the show is great. It's really cool. What I was saying on the [TV Guide] panel yesterday is that on the Internet, people tend to be rude and aggressive and somewhat obnoxious and it just brings out sometimes the worst in people. And it's so funny, there's such a dichotomy between meeting fans and then reading fans' [posts]. Star Trek was involved with the Internet before almost any other show on television, so I've lived with this for a long time, and it's always been the same—you meet fans, they're intelligent, they talk about the show, they're appreciative of the show. Just like, I'm a fan of things. I met Neil Marshall last night, the director of "The Descent," and I had to hold myself back when telling him how much I like his movie. And that's what it's all about. Whatever side of the fence you're on.
NSU: Does the fan reaction that you hear at these shows have any bearing on the stories and the way you move things along?
ISB: Well, you don't get a lot of opinion; one of the things I wish we could do more of when we do the panels; I wish they'd have more time to let the fans ask their questions. We get three questions asked, and then it's cut off.
Cut to the next scene. This time, we get to speak with Conchita Campbell, the 11-year old actress who plays Maia Skouris, daughter of Diana Skouris, one of the lead NTAC agents assigned to monitoring The 4400. Maia receives visions of the future and records them in her diary.
NSU: Where do you film the show?
CONCHITA CAMPBELL: In Vancouver
NSU: You're done filming for the season, right?
CC: Yes, it's so sad! It's like everybody is such a big family, and it's just like you're saying goodbye to them again, and it's like, Nooo! Come back! But at least Megalyn's here and some other people [are too].
NSU: What are you working on now?
CC: Well, I think a week or so, I'm actually flying out to Europe for a month, so that's going to be fun.
NSU: For a movie?
CC: No, just to go see my grandparents.
NSU: What's it like being 11 and knowing the future?
CC: Well, I don't personally know the future, but if I did, I think it would actually be kinda cool; I mean, if you could turn it on and off.
NSU: Is your character in many of the rest of the episodes of the season?
CC: Yes, I think Maya's in almost in every episode.
NSU: Can you tell us about what's coming up?
CC: I can't tell you THAT much, but I think that the 4th season's the best…Maia's learning how to cope with her parent's being dead and stuff, and having her living in this century and all, like being like old-fashioned and stuff.
NSU: How did you get started in the business?
CC: When I was younger, I used to dance, and when I had my dance recitals, I'd always go up to the front and do my own little dance at my grandparents house, I was always like, ‘Hey look at me, look at me, I'll do you a little dance or something....' And my uncle's a professional photographer, and so he's taking pictures of me around the house, and he told my mom that I loved the camera and that I should try out for acting. And I did, and then I just fell in love with it.
Our last interview was with Magalyn Echikunwoke, who plays Isabelle Tyler on The 4400. While not one of "The 4400," Isabelle had unique and powerful abilities of her own last season until they were taken away from her. She mysteriously went from a baby to full-grown woman within one episode and has since gone from bad girl, to nearly-good girl, to infant girl, to who knows what she'll be at the end of this season.
Megalyn was asked about her unique name by the other press members at our table and explained it translates to "Leader of Men" in Nigerian (Magalyn's father is Nigerian). She was asked if it's a fitting name and if she is the dominant type, to which she responded "The name sort of inspires me a bit. Why not?" She was also asked about her rearing on a Navajo Indian reservation and if she now has an affinity for the Indian way of life, to which she said "Yeah, sort of in a way, I've always thought of that way as something I could always go back to, sort of like a sanctuary, because it's got a really beautiful culture, that I got to really learn a lot about."
NSU: We missed you on some of the earlier shows this year; glad that you're back....
MEGALYN ECHIKUNWOKE: Thanks.
NSU: The big question is will you get your powers back?
ME: [coyly] Maayyybe I will; maayybe I won't...!
NSU: You just HAVE to.
ME: Well, it would be pretty boring if I didn't. And I said that, I said, "You wouldn't dream of not letting me have my powers back, right?" And they were like, "don't worry." So yeah; I do get them back.
ME: Uh, yeah...where are we?
NSU: Episode seven.
ME: The seventh episode? Yeah, real soon.
NSU: What else is coming up this season for you on the show that you can tell us about?
ME: Well, if you've already seen up to Episode Six, then you know it's been a hard road, it's been a dark time for Isabelle, but um...I can't tell you, what happens! There's an interesting romance, which you can imagine...I won't say who...!
NSU: Last year you signed with the Inkworks booth, and you're back there again this year signing, right?
ME: That was really exhausting, ‘cuz we would just sit, signing [gasping, as if overwhelmed].
NSU: A production-line kinda thing?
ME: Yeah! But it was also cool, because there you are really interacting with the fans, and people really like it. Cool, to see that.
NSU: Did you sign some of the trading cards as well for Inkworks? What was that like?
ME: That was cool, because I didn't know there was a trading card [laughs]; it's kinda cool to be on a trading card! Your own card! I wonder if people actually TRADE them...! [at this point, we explain how trading cards are "trading" cards pretty much in name only].
NSU: You were on Supernatural. What did you do?
ME: I played Jensen Ackles' long-lost love; it was a good little role (with no powers!). But ah...cute boys!
NSU: Any other projects in the works?
ME: Right now I'm just starting an independent feature that's shooting through August.
NSU: What's that all about?
ME: It's sort of like a "road movie," it's all shot over the course of one day, a day in the life of these two brothers, one being a heroin addict, he's got to get to the rehab clinic by the end of the day, and it's their adventures, their action-packed day. It's quite cool, and it's gonna be shot documentary-style, and it should look really amazing.
NSU: Who else is in it?
ME: There's Olivia Wilde, Sean Andrews...and that's it, there's not that many people in it, actually.
NSU: Where are they shooting that?
ME: All over L.A. , lots of different locations. It's like a road movie, there's a lot of action basically, and some of it's in a car...if you ever saw that movie, Spun, it's sort of like that and nothing like that, as far as storyline goes; but the same sort of genre, if you will.
NSU: How many seasons do you think The 4400 will go?
ME: I have no idea. I'm always amazed at how the writers seem to have a well of new stories. Wow! Who'd have thought?
And then the funniest thing happened to our panelists. They were all swept up in a ball of light and we never saw them again. Well, not really, but that would have made for a cool ending, huh?
Interview by Harris Toser for Non-Sport Update; (c) 2007 Non-Sport Update; Posting of this article on other websites is prohibited.