A Case of the…. The 4400 – Matt Basilo Interviews Jenni Baird of The 4400

On Friday June 22nd, I had the pleasure of talking with Jenni Baird, one of the newest regular characters on the hit USA series The 4400. This sci-fi program is centered around 4400 ordinary people who vanished at various times, only to be returned from a ball of light and discovering that they are suddenly not so ordinary.

Jenni Baird plays Meghan Doyle, the new head of NTAC, a division of the Department of Homeland Security that is in charge of dealing with the returning of the 4400. Jenni lets us know what to expect from the upcoming season, whether her character has any special abilities, how the popularity of Heroes may impact their show, and what characters she’d most like to work with.

Matt Basilo: How are you feeling?

Jenni Baird: Quite exhausted, actually. I just wrapped up one last night and woke up at 6.

MB: Oh geez.

JB: (Laughs)

MB: What is it, 9:00 over there?

JB: Yeah, where are you?

MB: I’m on the east coast, so it’s nice and noon over here.

JB: Oh, are you in Toronto?

MB: No, I’m in New Jersey.

JB: Oh, you’re in New Jersey. But you’re promoting the Canadian premiere?

MB: Yeah, they have theirs on Wednesdays on SPACE starting in September, correct?

JB: Right.

MB: We had our first episode last week.

JB: Yes, I was in L.A. for that.

MB: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me here. Whenever you’re ready we can start.

JB: I’m good to go.

MB: First off, tell us a bit about your character, Meghan Doyle.

JB: Meghan Doyle is the boss of NTAC. Did you watch on Sunday?

MB: Yes, I did.

JB: So she’s very unconventional. I think they made a very specific choice in creating Meghan at the age that she was, and the methods that she uses are quite unusual, and within one minute of screen time she breaks a rule. So that sets her up really nicely, I think.

MB: What can we expect from the upcoming season?

JB: The season’s really about promicin, and about the moral question of whether you should take promicin to get an ability, with the 50/50 chance of dying if you take it. It’s very interesting, with people divided about whether they’d take the shot or not. We wrestle a lot with the government’s position of taking promicin. The government believes it’s illegal and they have to deal with, throughout the whole season, regular people getting abilities.

MB: As you noted, you’re the new head of NTAC, your character mainly shares scenes with Tom Baldwin.

JB: A lot.

MB: With Alana now gone, do you see a romance developing between them?

JB: I think there might be (laughs).

MB: There are a lot of strong individual characters on The 4400. What characters in particular have you especially enjoy sharing scenes with? Obviously you share a lot of scenes with Tom

JB: Well Tom and Diana are really my main people. And Richard Kahan, who plays Marco. He’s also in NTAC. I don’t really get to see Billy (Campbell, who portrays Jordan Collier). I’ve had one scene with Billy. It’s kind of very divided in that way. As the boss of NTAC, I really stay in the office. Jackie (McKenzie, who plays Diana) and Joel (Gretsch, who plays Tom) are the ones I see the most.

MB: You’ve obviously a bit isolated in that sense. Are there any characters that you’d really like to work with that you maybe haven’t yet?

JB: I think Isabelle Tyler. I’d really love to work with that character, because she’s had such an evil, dramatic past.

MB: That actually works quite nicely into my next question, which is that the show is notorious for introducing ambiguous characters that you don’t quite know what their motives are, and you don’t know if they’re good or bad.

JB: Yeah.

MB: Based on the premiere, it appears that your character is one of the “good guys.” Do you see that becoming more questionable as the season progresses?

JB: (Laughs) You know, I wish they’d tell us, but they don’t. I think it’s kind of wise of them not to tell us as well, because one of the rules of acting is that when you play an evil character, you’re never supposed to play evil.

MB: Yeah. And I was actually reading an interview not too long back with Billy Campbell where he said that he really does not know if Jordan is a good guy or bad guy. And obviously he’s probably the most ambiguous character, but he says he plays it as if Jordan believes he’s doing the right thing.

JB: Absolutely. But I think that with a lot of evil characters and evil people in the world, they honestly do believe they’re doing the right thing. I think that’s the key to playing an evil character.

MB: As you said earlier, this season is about ordinary people developing abilities through promicin injections. Based on the premiere, there are no indications that your character has any abilities.

JB: No, she’s a regular girl.

MB: She’s a regular girl . she’s going to stay that way?

JB: (Laughs) Yeah, yes she is. She’s like Tom and Diana. Which is good, because I’m really allergic to prosthetics.

MB: (Laughs) If you could have any other character’s ability, which one would it be?

JB: I think it would probably be Richard Tyler. He can move heavy objects (with his mind). I think that would be pretty cool.

MB: Do you think that we’ll see any of Richard this season? It seems like he made himself disappear since what happened in the finale.

JB: I think that’s a very interesting question. And, um (laughs) maybe I should only say that perhaps you should keep watching and see if he shows up.

MB: (Laughs) That’s a very Lost-esque answer.

JB: (Laughs) Have you talked to the Lost guys?

MB: I personally have not, but Murtz, one of our head guys, he’s talked to quite a few of the creators and writers, and they’re obviously they can’t give too much away, or what else is the point of watching?

JB: Oh I know, it’s always a struggle, isn’t it? When I do an interview, they’re always like “don’t give away any storylines.”

MB: Were you a fan of the show before you signed on as a member of the cast?

JB: Well, since I’m Australian, when Jackie was in the pilot, it was big news in Australia. So I had actually seen the pilot way back when.

MB: Now this will be my stupid question, but is doing the American accent tough?

JB: No, not now. Not after three years, I’ve been in the states for three years. Its kind of a sink or swim scenario, you either lose it or you go forward.

MB: You watch certain TV shows and you see characters speak so fluidly and you’re so shocked to learn that they actually have an accent.

JB: Like the guy from Lost, actually. Naveen Andrews, I think. He has such a beautiful Iraqi accent and then he’s like (talks in British accent).

MB: Hugh Laurie on House, of course.

JB: Actually that’s quite amazing, because he’s in his 40’s and he can totally do a believable American accent.

MB: Most of the cast has been involved with the show since the beginning. Was it difficult integrating into a group that has been working together for the past few years?

JB: You know, people have asked me this before, and to be honest I got the role so quickly. I auditioned on Thursday and was in Canada on Friday, so I was so overwhelmed that my life was changing that I didn’t quite take that on board until I was a couple weeks in and I was like “whoa, I’m with a whole new group of people.” And Joel sometimes says to me “Jenni, sometimes it seems like you’ve been here since the beginning.” But everybody has been very easy going.

MB: A couple years back, I actually talked to Patrick (Flueger, who portrays Shawn), and he was very nice and it seems like everyone gets along very well.

JB: Well sometimes I think we get along a bit too well. There’s a lot of joking and hilarity on the set.

MB: I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Heroes on NBC. Obviously that became a huge series this past season.

JB: Yet we came before them.

MB: Yes, well many aspects of that show have already been done by The 4400.

JB: Yes, but nobody knows that. And it’s very frustrating.

MB: Yes, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. Do you think the popularity of Heroes will help bring the series some added exposure, or do you worry that, even though you guys came first, new fans will consider it an imitation?

JB: I know, actually it’s a hard question. I would hope that people would watch Heroes and watch us and know we came first, and also appreciate that. To be honest, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Heroes, but never a whole episode. Is it very, very similar?

MB: Well, it’s got a lot of similar aspects, just the premise as a whole of ordinary people discovering that

JB: They have extraordinary abilities.

MB: And how they’re going to integrate into society, and the idea that you might have two star characters that may never interact with each other.

JB: They never do?

MB: I always felt that, actually when I talked to Patrick I noted that his character, Shawn, and the Maia character were two stars that didn’t even interact until the end of the second season.

JB: Yeah, very typical. As I’ve said, I’ve never done a scene with Isabelle Tyler.

MB: And that’s funny, because of how closely your character is related to her in a sense.

JB: Well yeah, I talk about her. In my very first scene on air, I talk about her. I mean, Meghan knows about everything, being the boss. I think she knows more than I know . more than I know she knows.

MB: One of the frustrating things for me as a viewer is that I personally love the show, and it’s tough that you only get a summer’s worth of episodes. It airs on USA here. Do you ever see a possibility that they would do a schedule like with Monk, where they do like a summer, and then might come back in January and do a few episodes there?

JB: I would love that. I’m so new in the family, so I really don’t know if that’s possible. Everyone was talking yesterday about how it would be great if we could do a two-hour finale.

MB: I find that you guys do some of the best finales out there. Most shows usually just take the summer off and then September comes around

JB: And you’re back. But we get a lot of time off.

MB: And you guys manage to keep a lot of people interested.

JB: Which is amazing. I know now that you can download episodes on iTunes, is that right?

MB: I believe so, but even then, as far as I know USA doesn’t even air many repeats during off seasons.

JB: They don’t? I was hoping they did.

MB: Well when you guys are on, it’s all over the place. They’re very good about airing encore episodes.

JB: Oh they are?

MB: Yeah, but I find that if you want to find an episode come January, it’s not always that easy.

JB: Oh, I see. Well maybe they’ll stay on iTunes.

MB: Yeah, well it’s amazing that you guys manage to keep so many people interested throughout

JB: Such a long hiatus.

MB: Yeah.

JB: Well I think the sci-fi fans are an incredible bunch of people. I’ve never known dedication like that. I’ve just been to Monte Carlo and I thought to myself “Well, it’s going to be kind of relaxing because nobody will know who I am.” It was not the case (laughs).

MB: You have quite a bit of experience in television, but is this your first role as a series regular?

JB: No, I was a series regular in Australia for three years. I worked on a medical show down there. But this is my first series regular in the states, which is an absolute joy. It was a while coming and it kind of tests you.

MB: You did an episode of Justice. My dad and I were very upset that that show got canceled.

JB: Oh you were? How many episodes aired?

MB: I don’t even think they did a full season.

JB: That’s a tough gig. It had a lot of dialogue and it was really fast.

MB: It was an interesting premise.

JB: I don’t think they trusted the stories enough.

MB: You obviously said you’re enjoying your role now as a regular in the states.

JB: I love it. I love working in America because it’s such a supportive environment for artists. There’s a lot of respect for the actor on set, and especially on this set. I’m continually amazed. Maybe it’s because I’m Australian and I expect, after a few weeks people being like “yeah, whatever.”

MB: Is it much different there?

JB: We don’t have the same budgets, so the conditions are not as good because we don’t have the same money, and we have to work faster. And we don’t have craft services.

MB: Have you finished filming the season?

JB: No, we finish filming in a few weeks, in mid-July.

MB: That at least gives you guys the ability to gage how fans react to certain things, which I’m sure is very helpful.

JB: Yes, well I’m very interested. How did you like the first episode?

MB: I thought it was really good. They set the tone for what to expect as far as the whole promicin thing. And I think the whole thing with Jordan neutralizing somebody who developed a new ability.

JB: And it’s an interesting ability to have.

MB: It is. And it’s funny that they never really gave you an idea of what Jordan’s ability is.

JB: Yes, until now.

MB: I think that opens the door a whole lot for what might come later in the season.

JB: Yes, absolutely. It makes sense that he has that anti-ability in that way.

MB: And personally I was happy to hear that he would be around for much of the season.

JB: Yes, yes he is.

MB: I guess it’s a good conflict. Your character seems very determined to get your hands on him.

JB: Well, yes. I mean, the amount of times I’ve said “Jordan Collier” is extraordinary.

MB: Are you involved in any other projects that you would like to share?

JB: I’m wanting to open a café in L.A. An Australian café with my brother. So when I finish filming I’m going to head long into trying to get that off the ground.

MB: Oh, okay. I’ve actually never been to L.A. myself.

JB: Oh you have not?

MB: I was in San Diego a few months back.

JB: We’re about to go to San Diego.

MB: We had great weather. One of my close college friends lives there now, and it gave me an excuse to go.

JB: Well I have never been there.

MB: It was a lot of fun.

JB: Did you go swimming at the beach?

MB: We did not. We were thinking about it, but he warned me that, at the time, the water was a little cold.

JB: Is it cold where you are from?

MB: We’ve had some very nice weather so far. It’s hard to believe its only summer now because we’ve had many days over 90, which I’m sure doesn’t sound too hot for you.

JB: Well, let me tell you, I’ve been in Canada for a few months, so over 90 is nice. I’d be happy if it was over 90 every day.

MB: Yeah, so it’s very nice. We’ve lucked out so far with the weather.

JB: Yes. That’s an American phrase I had to learn when I came here.

MB: What’s that?

JB: “Lucked out.” To me it sounds like bad luck, like bad luck befell you. I had to be told, “no that’s actually good.”

MB: You say you’ve been here for three years now, but when you first got here were there any expressions that

JB: Oh my goodness, it’s like having to learn another language, honestly. I mean, if I’m at the grocery store and I want coriander, which is cilantro. Or if I want capsicum, which is bell pepper. And then I want tinned tomatoes, which is canned tomatoes. And it goes on and on and on. Trunk, boot, petrol gas. Pot plant is apparently marijuana, where as to me it’s just a

Simultaneously: Potted plant.

JB: (Laughs) I’ve gotten in trouble with that before. It’s endless, endless.

MB: Well, I’ve been very impressed with the season so far, I mean it’s only been one episode but I enjoyed it a great deal.

JB: Well tell everyone to watch it!

MB: Absolutely. I mean, it’s definitely one of my favorite shows. And hopefully there will be a lot of people out there who will watch.

JB: I hope so. And if you want to check in with me again at the end of the season then do.

MB: I hope so, that’d be great. And I hope your character has a long shelf life with the series.

JB: Thank you, I hope that she doesn’t die.

MB: I’ll knock on wood. But they seem to stay pretty loyal to their cast, which is a good sign.

JB: That’s true, but funny things happen in the sci-fi world. People die and come back to life.

MB: That’s what I keep saying. My sister works closely with NBC, and when certain characters die on Heroes, she’ll always be like “well this person signed on for next season, so nothing’s going to happen.” And I say, “The person can come back in a flashback, you don’t know.”

JB: Exactly. What that happens a lot. People who disappear on this show appear again. There’s a reason why Jordan Collier’s initials are J.C.

MB: Yes, and that’s always been fun interpreting also. Thanks so much for making the time to talk with me. And best of luck with everything and certainly I’d love to talk to you at the end of the season. I’ve been very interested in the character so far, and I hope everything works out.

JB: Thank you. You too, and have a great day!

MB: You too.

Stay tuned for “The 4400 Week” on Prime Time Pulse…coming up in September!!

The 4400 airs on the USA Network on Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT time all summer long.

The 4400 premieres on the SPACE network in Canada on Wednesday, September 26 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT time.

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