The Orville, cast interview – Penny Johnson Jerald (Dr Claire Finn)

The Orville, cast interview – Penny Johnson Jerald (Dr Claire Finn)

0 comments 📅08 January 2019, 16:21

Ten months and six days after the last episode of season one, Mad Idolatry, showed the crew of the USS Orville discovering a multi-phasic planet and Cmdr Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) accidentally becoming a deity, fans have been rewarded with a second season of Seth McFarlane’s sci-fi dramady, The Orville.

Among the crew is Dr Claire Finn, the Chief Medical Officer. Dr Finn is a seasoned officer who has served aboard many Planetary Union vessels. Claire transferred to the Orville shortly before September, 2419, when she learned the ship was getting a new captain, Ed Mercer (Seth McFarlane). She lives together with her two sons, Ty and Marcus Finn. There’s a full breakdown of her character over at Orville Wiki.

Dr Claire Finn is played by Penny Johnson Jerald, an incredibly talented actor who you may remember from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where she played the future Mrs Sisko, Kasidy Yates and the real time drama 24, where she played the devious Sherry Palmer.

What kind of method does a Juilliard trained actor use to prepare for a physically intimate scene with a sentient gelatinous blob?
Oh my gosh, okay that was so beautifully put. Well I’m telling you it helps to be a married woman, so I might know a little bit about intimacy. But truly, what’s really so funny about shooting with something that’s not there is finding out what looks sexy to you and what will translate as something that’s actually beautiful too, cause that’s something that I wanted to make sure got through. And to be very honest, I decided to simplify that and to go to the old figure girl route of making the figure eight with your body. That’s a sexy thing, you should try it sometime. Just look in the mirror, drop the shirt, and watch those shoulders just scream sex appeal.

It was so much fun, and it was really a learning experience for me because I had never experienced on camera shooting with something that’s not there and will be put in later. I had no idea of how it would turn out, it was a trust factor for me. I truly had to trust Seth and our director at the time. So when they scream, “More tongue!” I have to understand that that’s exactly what is needed, even if I’m questioning, “Are you kidding me?”

How do you feel as a member of Orville crew and in which way is your character important to the whole crew?
Well, first of all, it’s so exciting to be a part of a group of actors first because it truly does start with that. I had no idea who the people were in real life and so being a part of a crew that had no idea who these crew members were, as far as glory is concerned, it was really good for that to just excel together. That journey of getting to know actors as people and then that just translated on screen as truly getting to know the characters.

And as far as the importance of Dr. Claire Finn, I think that she’s vital as a crew member because…yeah, she’s not just the physical doctor, she’s a head doctor, too. And so I think that the crew members have to be mindful that if they go off I could actually write ’em up and they could actually disappear in outer space. And I also believe she’s the grounded one on the ship, and you have to have something to bounce off of.

What comes from the biggest challenge in this field for you?
Well physically I believe it’s not just a challenge for me but for everyone on The Orville because when you think of the future you’d like to believe, in this perfect world, that all of us are gonna be in tiptop shape. And I think when these things are written, Seth is believing that we are in tiptop physical shape, so he can like for us to run forever or do physical things with our bodies that other shows are not asking that of you right now because you’re just a talking head. But I think that physicality of The Orville is what adds to the difference and the identity of the show.

Is it difficult to keep a straight face while filming?
We crack up all the time because it’s something about, for any show, but this show especially because when I say you have characters in this show I’m not just talking about the characters that you guys see, I’m talking about we are real characters as people. We cut up a lot and that’s a phrase, “cut up,” meaning we act a fool. There are pranks done all the time.

I remember one time I showed up on the set because I was finished and I couldn’t find my clothes in my dressing room, and I just showed up on the set and accused everyone of stealing my clothes. And I remember the look on everybody’s faces like, “Are we gonna film after she just said that?” We do laugh because at the end of the day we do wanna turn out something fabulous that the audience is just gonna gravitate towards whatever their watching device is and stay glued to it and wanna watch more. But we want to deliver, but it’s actually difficult sometimes.

In that sense, the dynamic between Claire and Ed is very entertaining. Should we expect some more of the comedic back and forth in the new season?
I think you should expect anything that your mind can imagine. Really, the bar has been lifted for the second season and I think because the first season, the audience has allowed us to really not be in a box but to just expand beyond what your imagination can…there’s just no limit. And I think you can expect that and much, much more.

You’re certainly no stranger to science fiction, having appeared in both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation. Would you call yourself a Trekkie?
Oh, I am definitely a Trekkie. But I have to be very honest, I was not a Trekkie in the beginning. My husband is the die hard Trekkie, and I remember when I was first introduced to Star Trek, I didn’t even wanna go in. I had I think a foul week of not hitting anything and everything I thought I wanted, it was so significant and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m losing my touch.” But my husband encouraged me to go into that meeting with Avery and Renee, and I’m telling you I was hooked from then on. Because I didn’t see it the way others would see it. I said, “Wait a minute. I’m from Juilliard, I’m from the theatre, this is like, what is this?” And then I found that this is truly heightened Shakespearean language but with a naturalistic twist that happens to take place in the future. And that was really a turn on for me and so I think I’m hooked forever. I mean look at me, I’m on The Orville and I’m in outer space again.

Star Trek is a lot more dramatic. Do you enjoy applying yourself to comedy as much as you have to drama in the past?
Well I have to agree with you but I would like to add this. The second season of The Orville, I think we’ve found a groove where we were testing different textures in our first season, trying to find the right amount of humor mixed with the drama in issues and I think that second season you will find that it takes a more serious note with funny that you would naturally laugh at. Like even in Star Trek I always found that was funny too, there would be non sequitur dialogue where you go, “Oh wow, that’s funny. I can actually chuckle at that.” But it did take on more severe issues. But I think we’re not limited on The Orville with that.

Are you a fan of sci-fi movies or is there any other genre you prefer watching?
I love sci-fi movies but I love the ones that I’m in. No, that’s awful to say. Only because I know the inner workings of it, because I’m not so well schooled with the language and so the ones that I’m in I’ve at least had a sneak peek of reading the script.

But the genre that I actually adore, I am a courtroom drama queen. If you were to come to my house as a fly on my wall, you would find me posted to old school Perry Mason and courtroom dramas and Columbo or Law and Order where I am truly trying to figure it out and I think that comes from fancying myself a lawyer. So I hope that doesn’t disappoint you but I just love the intricacies of figuring out crime and suspense and things like that. And then I’m married to this wonderful guy who, not to say anything bad about men, but they can get into some B movies and that used to not be my cup of tea but sometimes I just like a good ol’ B movie. Just something that’s mindless and full of guys punching each other. I’m good with that.

In light of the series that you’re in, would you embark on an adventure in space that the opportunity presented itself?
I think space travel would be unbelievable if it was something that’s truly real and attainable. And I would go back because at this point in life there are some little fixes. I know some people say, “I never wanna go back.” It’s not that I wanna be younger or anything like that, it’s just situations when I find that maybe I had a brain fart and I made the worst decision in life and if I could just go back and tweak it I would be a happy camper.

What is it like to work with Seth? If you don’t mind telling us about it.
When people ask that I preface the answer with this. I am so saddened that the world will never know Seth MacFarlane the way people like myself know him, who get to work with him every day, who get to talk to him on the phone, who get to toast with him with a glass of wine or something. Seth MacFarlane is the bomb. He’s a true genius and if I wasn’t working with him and if I just met him on the street I’d go, “Oh he’s a young kid.” But no, this man is truly worth his weight in gold because he’s generous as a leader and he is on point with his comments. And he’s good at guiding you so that what he has created in his mind that’s now on paper that’s now becoming something tangible for you to sink your teeth in, he’s very clear on helping you get there so that you’re not all over the place, that you’re truly focused on something…to create and the finish product being just an unbelievable product. So working with him is intense in that way and then it’s just fun because the man knows how to have fun.

And this is maybe a little different to answer that cause he can throw a party. I like people who can throw a party. We need somebody who knows how to do that every now and then when we’re working so hard. You look forward to, “Oh my gosh. When is that party happening?” It’s just fabulous. I just find him wonderful, I can’t say enough about him.

Are there any tropes from science fiction in particular that you would like to see in the show or possibly avoid at all costs?
I would love it if Avery [Brooks] would come out of his hiatus and just grace the set with his presence, or at the very least his voice. I find that he is, to me, doing Deep Space Nine I just found him to be the epitome of class. And I would love it to see him come and join us, to come to the playground on The Orville and help us make magic happen.

I also have to say that we’ve had a lot of people that I’ve worked with in the past who have come aboard and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun to see people from 24, The Larry Sanders Show, even Castle. And that’s exciting to me, not just in front of the camera but behind the camera. It’s not a week, and I kid you not this is how small the world is, or it’s how old I am or how long I’ve been doing this, every week there is someone that I know from another show. And it is…it’s just heartwarming when that happens. I love seeing people, I truly don’t have any enemies in the business so it’s always a good thing for me.

Your character is the chief medical officer on board the Orville, do you think her seriousness and expertise in a way are a contrast and balance out some of the other characters on board?
Absolutely. I think that every show has a mother hen and I’m fine with that. But with Claire I think that, especially this season, I think that you’re going to find that even that steadfastness of Claire can be knocked off balance. So that’s a thing that I so enjoyed about shooting season two is that she really is not that, just that foundation of strength for people to bounce off of because we do need that from time to time. But what Seth has done with writing her for the second season is that he has now allowed her to be peeled back so that you can see vulnerabilities as well as strengths. So that’s why I’m excited for everyone to really see Dr. Claire Finn in her wholeness.

If you could switch places with one of the other characters, which one would it be and why?
Oh my gosh, that’s a great question because I often, sometimes when I’m on the set I say, “You guys we gotta one day just be another character.” I would try all of them. Truly I would try all of them. But I would probably like to, as a challenge, as an acting challenge, I would probably like to switch roles…with Mark and play Isaac because I would love, coming from the theatre and being a student of the Suzuki method of theatre, I would love to be able to use my physical skills, my mime skills, I was also a mime in the circus. And so I think that I would just love to revisit that and to be able to use the subtleties of movement to portray any kind of dialogue and so I think that would be a great challenge. And I think I’d probably be pretty good at it.

The Orville returns for a second series on Thursday 10th January at 9pm on FOX.

The first season is available to buy on DVD and a season pass can also be purchased from Amazon.

Scott Snowden is MyM’s US Editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Related stories
The Orville, cast interview – Mark Jackson (Isaac)
 The Orville, season 2, first trailer
 The Orville Season 2: “In this genre nothing should be off limits”
 The Orville – every episode reviewed
 Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville first trailers: who wins?

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