In NBC’s new action thriller, Blindspot, an abandoned duffle bag sparks alarm and leads to a shut down of Times Square. The authorities are baffled when a naked woman, covered in tattoos emerges from it. At NBC’s Television Critics Association summer presentation, the producers joined stars Jaimie Alexander (Thor), Rob Brown, Audrey Esparza, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ashley Johnson, and Sullivan Stapleton on stage. OHSOGRAY was on hand for the discussion.
Blindspot premieres Monday, September 21 at 10/9c on NBC.
[For Jaimie] Your character has some real martial arts skills, even though she doesn’t know it yet. Are any of those skills the same ones you were able to use as Lady Sif?
Jaimie Alexander: You know, I have a huge fight background, so my own skill set, aside from my character’s, definitely influence my performance, and makes it possible. I was a wrestler growing up. Lady Sif, her moves are very fancy, graceful, big, and glittery, in a way. And this character’s hand to hand combat, brutal efficient, quick and realistic.
I read from your background that you grew up in Texas with all brothers who were on a wrestling team. Can you tell us a little about that and how that prepared you for this?
Jaimie Alexander: Yes. Yeah. I started the female team at my school to create an opportunity to learn self defense for the young women in my grade and the grade below mine, and it just kind of started as a thing. I’ve always been sort of an activist in pro equality, and it was a skill set that I knew that I could advance in, so I wanted to start the team. As for my brothers and growing up in Texas, they definitely helped build the backbone I have today that definitely makes it possible for me to play characters like this.
How surprised are you that those things you were doing in high school somehow come up and now you’re beating up people in real life now?
Jaimie Alexander: Well, I definitely think well, you know yeah.
Sullivan Stapleton: It’s kind of scary at work.
Martin Gero: Just to be clear, she is not beating up people in real life, though. We hire trained performers.
Sullivan Stapleton: Unless they forget their lines.
Jaimie Alexander: It’s funny because I used to think, well, everything that I was doing when I was young was absolutely normal. And then I came to Hollywood and people were like, “Wow, that’s so abnormal.” But, again, my childhood, like I said, definitely shaped me, who I am today. And everything that I went through makes it possible for me to play these characters. And I take influence from my past, for sure.
[For Jaimie] Have they modified [the makeup] as the episodes are being shot?
Jaimie Alexander: I do wear the full body often. It takes about seven-and-a-half hours to apply. It can last a few days, but then again, you’ll see, as you did in this clip here, that sometimes I’m in short sleeves or a hoodie, and I will just put on the tattoos that are showing, mostly to save time.
Did you know there would be a lot of time in the [makeup] chair?
Jaimie Alexander: I think reading the script, I definitely realized it was going to be quite the task. But I think, if you come from a place of acceptance, you just go for the flow. We have a great time. We have a great crew that helped supply these tattoos, and we listen to Beatles on Pandora. We have good coffee, good conversation and the hours fly by.
It’s a pretty ambitious pilot. Is it more like a procedural with the art of who she is, going over the season? Is she solving a case each week?
Martin Gero: It’s a character drama, first and foremost. It’s a procedural for people who don’t like procedurals, and it’s a character drama for maybe people who don’t like character dramas.
Sullivan Stapleton: But it’s also filled with great action sequences.
Martin Gero: Yeah.
Sullivan Stapleton: I think that’s the defense of this show. It’s not just a normal procedural. We’re not solving the cases in the office and then going out for criminals and arresting them. We’re actually chasing them through the streets of New York, and winding up in great sequences. There is a bit of everything in this show for everyone.
Martin Gero: But, yeah, there is an over arcing mythology to the show, week to week. And the great thing about this is even of the cases that do come out of the tattoos, there is like incredible personal stakes for the main characters, unlike a regular procedural, which they care about getting the bad guy and stuff like that. But everything they investigate has to do directly with, why is Kurt Weller’s name on her back, and who is Jane, and who did this to her?
Does she have like seven, eight years’ worth of tattoos on her body?
Martin Gero: Yes. She has nine or 10 years’ worth of tattoos on her body. And the legs are just for the spinoff. So we’re saving those for much later. No. I mean, one of the hard things about developing this show is that in the pilot we set an extraordinary amount of story from the opening frame of the show. And so Greg and the writers and I have done a tremendous amount of work to make sure that those tattoos on her body are going to keep us hopefully in business for a long time.
[For Martin Gero] [Is the show] different enough from ‘Blacklist’ to be its own show?
Martin Gero: I love mysteries, I love puzzles, I love treasure maps and stuff like that. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to do a show like this that kind of has an audience engagement, where that they feel like they can solve along with the show. And so for years, I just didn’t have a great idea, and I was just like, “What if Jaimie Alexander got out of a bag in the middle of Times Square naked?” And I was like this is something I should work on. And yeah, we brought it to NBC, and they were — certainly, it does have some similarities with “Blacklist,” but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily.
Was it always Jaimie Alexander? Did you create the role for her?
Martin Gero: I didn’t create the role for her, but the second Jaimie walked into the room, we were all done. We had to play it cool because you have to negotiate after that.
Jaimie Alexander: You had to play it cool? I had to play it really cool. I was like no. I think I actually like tripped when I was leaving the office. And I was like, “Great. I just messed it up.”
One more question about the tattoos. Are we going to get some resolution by the end of Season 1?
Martin Gero: Well, I think for us, for me as a television viewer, it’s important for TV shows not to be all middles, right? And so what’s great about what we’re doing on this show and, as a fan, I like seasons of television to feel like books in a series of novels that I like. And so there is a very clear beginning, middle, and end to this season. And the backstory that Greg and I and the writers have come up with is so incredibly dense that we can turn a lot of cards very quickly. For instance in Episode 2, you’re going to get a pretty good indication of why it’s Kurt Weller’s name on her back. So we don’t lay breadcrumbs. We lay whole loaves every episode of story. So, yeah no you’re going to get some great resolution by the end of the year. You’re going to get great resolution by Episode 2, by Episode 7, by Episode 10.
Why make her a Navy SEAL, rather than picking something where there actually are actually women now?
Sarah Schechter: How do you know that there aren’t?
Martin Gero: Well, I think for us, you know, Navy SEALs are the elite of the elite, and it only makes sense that there are we never find out about this stuff until decades later, and it just made a certain sense to me that there probably are female Navy SEALs for a myriad of reasons. And if you’re going we’re trying to have one of the most bad ass female characters on television, so why not start there? Also, it’s a mysterious show. She might not be a Navy SEAL. I am not saying she isn’t, but she might not be, but maybe she is.
[For Jaimie] Do you have any actual personal tattoos?
Jaimie Alexander: I do. I have nine of my own that are strategically covered by Jane’s tattoos.
Anyone else on the panel care to admit it?
Sullivan Stapleton: Yeah. I’ve got one. It’s on my arm. It says “Animal Kingdom,” from a job I did a long time ago.
Martin Gero: Ashley has a great one.
Ashley Johnson: I can’t show you mine, but I have one. It’s a butterfly. Really original.
Jaimie, you didn’t say what your tattoos were.
Jaimie Alexander: Well, how long is this panel? Okay.
Martin Gero: What’s your favorite?
Jaimie Alexander: Well, okay. One of my most favorites, I have four brothers, and I have their initials on my right arm. Yes. Mom was okay with that one.
[For the producers] Can you talk about the shows weekly “hooks”?
Martin Gero: Yes, absolutely. I’m a big believer in like the end of the episode should be the teaser for the next episode. And so, yeah, we have some we rarely end a show where it’s just like, “the end.” We like to throw the hook in for the next one. Absolutely. So, yeah, I think at the end of second episode, it’s something like really exciting. And then, as we burn kind of come through the mythology, there is a lot of twists and turns, and many of those are starting at the ends of episodes.
[For the producers] When are we going to know why they wiped her memory and tattooed all of this stuff on her?
Greg Berlanti: The season, well, as Martin alluded to, will still play very much like a contained season, similar to some of the other shows that I’m fortunate enough to work on where there’s very much a season but still, hopefully, a series that’s built into it. But the audience will be, I think, quite satisfied at the end of the ride. The pilot is a good example of that. There’s big questions asked, but there’s still sort of a satisfying journey, and we try to do that for the show itself.
Sarah Schechter: Each episode is sort of a puzzle piece. So, as we have more and more episodes, you start to get a bigger puzzle and more answers. And we have such an incredible cast that there’s just so many stories to tell as we expand the universe.
[For Jaimie] What was your wrestling record? Did you win any championships or anything?
Jaimie Alexander: I only lost two matches over two years.
Who did the tattoos? And are you guys, the producers, Greg, anybody big fans of “The Illustrated Man” or, like, famous movies and TV shows?
Martin Gero: I mean, I’m sure there has been. I haven’t been able to find it. I think a body, a full body as a treasure map was one of those moments where I was, “Someone did this right,” and then couldn’t find anything. I was, “Oh, gosh. I’ve got to do it,” but yeah. I mean, the company that does it is called Tinsley Transfers. They’ve been doing it forever. If you see a really cool tattoo on movies and television, it’s probably them. They have this proprietary process that’s pretty extraordinary. The simple version is it’s like a Cracker Jack tattoo but the most expensive, complicated version of that, and yeah. I mean we talk to puzzle David Kwong, who is this “New York Times” puzzle expert and magician, has worked with us a lot on the tattoos and some of the riddles on her body. We talked to mapmakers and tattoo artists, obviously, graphic designers. So it’s been a real team effort over the course of we started pitching the show, actually, a year ago today, and the second we started pitching it, we started working on the tattoos.
[For Sullivan Stapleton] What were your thoughts about playing an FBI agent before playing an FBI agent?
Sullivan Stapleton: No, I didn’t have any thoughts other than it was work, but it’s no. It is a different world to which we’ve got in Australia because we don’t have the FBI, but we have special force police and stuff like that. So to come from where I come from, it’s kind of it’s been an enjoyable ride. And to be an FBI agent in New York, chasing criminals through that city, it’s kind of a it’s a good job.
Had you played any Special Forces people before this?
Sullivan Stapleton: Yeah, I did. Special Forces, Delta Special Forces on “Strike Back,” and then I finished a film playing a U.S. Navy SEAL just before this. Pretty much all of the U.S. armed forces. I’m kind of familiar with each one.
Did you have to learn anything specific to play an FBI agent?
Sullivan Stapleton: No. I mean to draw a weapon and hold a weapon, it’s pretty much the same across the board. Playing a U.S. Navy SEAL, they’ve got a different style of holding their weapons. So that was kind of fun to learn, and also, learning how to hold my breath for a long time underwater, that was fun to learn.
[Can] you adjust the [tattoos] at all, or are you worried about people microscopically checking things?
Martin Gero: We are certainly very conscious that people are going to pause the show and try to figure out some of the tattoos. So we are being very careful to not mess with them. And, no, we haven’t been painted into a corner yet. I hope not to be. We have a group of very smart, creative people, and, hopefully, if we do paint ourselves into a corner, you’ll never notice, but so far so good.
[For the cast] What can you say about how your characters’ relationships are evolving with [Jane Doe] beyond that first episode?
Rob Brown: Well, it’s a disruption when she arrives, for myself, for Edgar Reed, because Edgar, I guess, is the most objective of the team, and I guess he suppresses emotion unapologetically to focus on the task at hand. So, when she arrives, it’s very important to him that everybody has a level head about things, but some people don’t always do that.
Sullivan Stapleton: Don’t tell them that.
Audrey Esparza: I feel like we set up a very clear FBI family, and when Jane comes in, it does change things. And I think the idea behind “Blindspot” is that there are people and things and circumstances that can push a human being forward or hold them back, and I think, as a team, we are trying to figure out how she affects us individually and then as a family.
Tell us about filming that opening scene. Are you actually filming in Times Square, the opening scene?
Jaimie Alexander: Yes, yes.
Was it cold that night?
Jaimie Alexander: It was a little chilly.
Audrey Esparza: Nippy.
Jaimie Alexander: It was about 66 degrees or something Fahrenheit.
Martin Gero: It was very cold.
So when she came out of the bag?
Martin Gero: Yeah. It was one of the coldest nights in New York. Yes.
Jaimie Alexander: Yes. The shaking was real. I didn’t have to try too hard for that. Yes. That was one of the most epic things I’ve ever shot. Just to look around and see such an iconic space completely vacant was almost apocalyptic.
Martin Gero: There is not a single visual effect in that entire opening sequence. We really closed down Times Square.
How long did you close it down for?
Martin Gero: We could do it you can’t do it, like, all at once. You can do it for, like, 10 minutes at a time before New York just, like, spills over. At a certain point, they are, like, “Forget it,” and they just walk through. But we had 50 amazing production assistants, and the NYPD is amazing to work with. That’s why so many people work in New York. And everyone got really excited about the challenge of it. So we’d get Jaimie loaded up into the bag, and we’d call “all clear.” And it takes five or 10 minutes to clear out, and then we’d get two or three minutes of just perfectly empty Times Square before yeah, before again, before a taxicab or somebody was just trying to get across town would be, like, “Forget it. We are going.”
Jaimie, you were glad they had to work fast because you had less time to be cold?
Jaimie Alexander: Right. Yeah. There were moments I didn’t want to come out of the bag. It was like a little cocoon. Yeah, it was definitely a shock to my system but so worth it.
[For Marianne Jean-Baptiste] Can you talk about being the boss of all of these guys?
Marianne Jean-Baptiste: Oh, yes, being the boss of all of these guys, it’s fun to try and keep this lot under control. I’d say it’s an enjoyable experience. We all sort of pitch in, and we get on terribly well, which is always a good thing. Bethany Mayfair, I don’t know how much I can say about her, Martin. She’s got a secret. That’s all I’m going to say, you know. Yeah, that’s it. I want to tell everything. That’s the problem.
Martin Gero: I know. It’s really hard.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste: I just want to say, “This happens and then this, and it’s really cool.”
Are you a big fan of mysteries? And did you move to L.A.?
Marianne Jean-Baptiste: I’ve lived in L.A. for almost 14 years. So we are actually shooting in New York. So I’m there at the moment. What did you ask me? Sorry.
Are you a fan of mysteries?
Marianne Jean-Baptiste: I love mysteries and thrillers and conundrums and puzzles and all that sort of stuff. So this really appealed to me, trying to figure it out.
Martin Gero: Marianne loves true crime, I think, more than we do. She had never seen “The Staircase,” and she sent me one of the greatest the first text I ever got from Marianne was “They have found the blow poke.” (Laughter.) It was the best first text I have ever had from anybody.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste: It was.
[For Sullivan Stapleton] There are probably a number of reasons this show could not do a crossover with “The Player,” but to be reunited with someone, do you secretly hope for that?
Sullivan Stapleton: Yeah, I do. Yeah, that would be a great day to somehow, I think they can do it.
Have you run into each other a lot along this process of getting the shows ready?
Sullivan Stapleton: Yeah, so for the upfronts. And I hoped to see him last night, but Phil grew up, and he’s at a bubba. So he wasn’t at the party last night, the NBC party, which is a shame. But, yeah, that crossover thing could work. So Tim goes to Vegas, helps him out.
[For Greg Berlanti] Could you realistically tell us how much are you involved with this show? Is it mainly before with casting and putting the team together, or could you, on a daily basis, at least know what’s happening on set?
Greg Berlanti: Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s, sort of, the job of someone in this position. The way I divide it up, just because it’s what works for me, is and Sarah, who produces with me, is sort of by my side for most of it. So I divide it up by working with people that are incredibly passionate and have a clear vision when I’m not creating the show myself or co creating the show. And Martin came in with such an incredible vision for the show. What you guys see when you watch the pilot, so much of that was in the room that he told us in the first meeting. And we just kind of kept asking, “What happens next? What happens next?” And, then, it’s my job, I think, to sort of help that person execute the best vision of that, and the best version of that with casting, as you mentioned, and with production. And day-to-day, it can change. Some days I can end up spending a lot of my day there because that’s where I tend to be most needed, and other days I can just check in, and Martin is, like, “No. I’ve got it. Everything is good.” So that’s sort of how I divide it up.
Could you give us one example? Do you tend to mix up your superhero with heroes, or are you good?
Greg Berlanti: No. I guess that it’s the amount of volume of names, probably, of everyone who works on the shows and then the characters in the shows and then the actors who play the characters in the shows. So you are really learning two names for every person that joins the show. So that can all be challenging and stretch your brain. But, honestly, when you are dividing it by people’s passion, I just go into a room, and it, sort of, just becomes working with Martin. And, suddenly, everything else falls away. And, then, when I’m on set I went to set recently, and you are there with these actors. Everything else goes away because you are there with you are very in the present and in the moment with those individuals.
Martin Gero: This is great. Do you mind if I share this? There are actually three Greg Berlantis. It’s kind of like the movie “The Prestige.” There’s just many of them. I don’t truly understand how he does it. He’s never taken more than 15 minutes to call me back. He gives spectacular notes on every script and cut. I mean, it’s he’s I don’t understand how he’s doing this on six other shows. It’s been amazing to have him.
(Photos Courtesy NBC)