The smallest things make Jasika Nicole happy about her job.
The rookie TV actress plays rookie FBI Agent Astrid Farnsworth on “Fringe,” which airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox. Astrid spends most of her time cooped up in mad scientist Walter Bishop’s (John Noble) basement lab, never getting the chance to chase baddies like Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv).
That changes Tuesday, much to Nicole’s delight.
“She does get out of the lab one more time, but she’s not kicking any proverbial butt,” the bubbly Nicole told me Monday. “She’s being smart and tech-savvy, which is her job. But it was really exciting to get out of the lab because it’s happened only three times this season.”
That could change in the fall. Fox picked up J.J. Abrams’ freshman freak-fest on Monday for a second season, which means Nicole might get more opportunities to play Astrid as action hero.
“You’ve seen everybody step up to bat and save the day. You haven’t seen her do that before, but she has the power to do that. She’s got a gun,” Nicole said, laughing. “She has got a gun–and a badge. I know, because I saw her badge.”
The bubbly Nicole chatted more about the final two “Fringe” episodes this season, missing a Canadian cow and how unsettling the sentence “you are being observed” can be. [WARNING: We discuss the finale, but only one thing is a true-but-tiny spoiler concerning Astrid and Walter.]
Tomorrow night’s episode; give me the dirt.
It’s about spontaneously combusting. This is the episode I get to get out of the lab. I remember thinking I can’t wait to see what the set’s going to look like and how they will make it look when the spontaneous combusting takes place. And we get their and it’s just smoke on the walls, like a kitchen fire. I thought that was so funny because I thought there were going to be body parts everywhere, like a small explosion. But it’s a really good episode, which leads you into the coolest parts of the finale episode.
What’s going to happen after that in the May 12 season finale?
It is my favorite episode yet. I think that’s because I have no idea what it’s going to look like. As you can imagine, there are so many manifestations for the story from the first draft we get. I think we’ve had as many as nine or 10 script revisions within the shooting of one episode.
By the time it actually makes it to TV it’s so very, very different. Sometimes people have died that I hadn’t realized have died … This finale looks like it’s going to be pretty cool. There’s been a pretty high creepiness factor in most all of the episodes. This last episode is something that certainly everybody has considered at some point to be the basic premise of the season.
You end up getting some really interesting, bizarre answers about Peter’s past. This is touched on all the time that something’s gone on with Peter, but we don’t know exactly what it is. We know he was sick when he was little. You find out answers to it, but it ends up opening a lot of other doors and questions.
He’s not going to end up being William Bell’s (Leonard Nimoy, left) kid, is he?
[Laughs.] No, actually I end up being William Bell’s kid. Spoiler alert, please don’t tell anybody yet. I don’t want to get in trouble. [Laughs.]
I’m really interested in, as far as post-production goes, how this [finale] is going to look. I just can’t see it in my head, and every time that happens I’m always really surprised. … I don’t know how they’re going to make this work, I just know that they will. I’m super-excited to see it.
Do you watch on Tuesdays or before?
I usually see them on Tuesday nights, which is really neat. There’s something nice with being able to watch with the rest of the nation and see what all is happening.
Because you’re not in a lot of scenes, are you able to see the episodes and say, “Wow, that’s cool. This is a good show”?
Yeah, that’s exactly how it’s been. I feel a little bit removed because I’m not as immersed in all the episodes as much as the three main characters. I have whatever I make up [Astrid's] story to be, because there isn’t a lot of background for the character right now.
But it’s been all right. It’s been nice to be able to gradually start this process and see how it works. This is the first time I’ve ever been on a huge television show and there is a lot of stuff to learn. … I do think it’s a good show. It’s a show that I would watch even if I wasn’t in it.
You say you didn’t get a lot of background on Astrid. Did you make up your own?
I had a few things about her that we kind of pieced together from the first few episodes. When we had our premiere party in September, when the first episode was about to air, was the first time I met J.J. Abrams and a bunch of the other producers and writers and others out in L.A.
They had the first issue of the “Fringe” comic … That was the first time I read that my character is from Allentown, Pa. It’s the first time I read that she’d gone to Haverford [College] and I think it said she was a double major in linguistics and voice. This was the first I’d ever heard of that. And I thought, “Who in the world is an FBI agent who’s majored in voice; this is fascinating. I wish I had known this before” …
I figure that they always knew and I was the last one to find out anything important about my character.
Voice and linguistics? Is she just naturally gifted in science then?
There’s this running joke that in every episode where there’s something that the three main Fringe team members have no idea about it turns out that Astrid studied it at some point in her life … I think that’s really cool because that’s something that would be a big deal to me and any of my friends. I would brag about all the things that I like to do and want to hear about all the things that my friends can do.
None of these people know these things about her. And so obviously [her skills] are all a little bit secondary for her. “Obviously I’m smart. Obviously I know a lot about different stuff. I don’t have to tell you every little thing I know about because there’s too much.” I love that she’s totally mysterious like that.
She’s not cocky though. She’s seems to be pretty shy about all she knows.
Absolutely. I totally feel the same way and I think there’s a bit of a parallel between us because I joined this cast of veteran actors and it’s a big deal and it’s kind of scary to be in a new place and I’m learning a lot. It was a slow thing for me to be comfortable just with my work. I think it’s the same for her. She’s just graduated and she’s been thrust into this really bizarre situation with these incredibly intellectual people and she’s having to find her footing with them. She wants to make sure that she contributes but she doesn’t want to step on any toes and she wants to make sure she’s absorbing everything too.
… I think there’s definitely a reason that she’s there. Obviously she’s smart. But when you consider the magnitude of the stuff they’re dealing with and how the Fringe stuff is super, super top secret, they wouldn’t have brought just any smart person there. There’s gotta be a reason.
I think two episodes ago, when we got a lot of background on Cortexifan and Olivia, I was thinking that it was very possible that Broyles knew about Olivia and her history with Cortexifan. And that he knew that she was going to have, basically, these superpowers, and that’s why she’s on the Fringe team.
So I’m wondering if there’s that same connection with Astrid. Does she have something extra that has brought her here, too, to make these people trust her? I don’t have any of these answers yet but my imagination is always working.
Could she be a Cortexifan baby like Olivia?
Yeah, who knows? I don’t know! I don’t think she’s the same age as Olivia. And she’s obviously from Allentown, Pa., and not Jacksonville, Fla. [Olivia's hometown]. … I’m curious to know if it’s something beside her being smart that’s put her in the company of these people. But I do not know anything yet.
For the longest time I was afraid that they were going to make me like her and then kill her off.
I thought that too. When I was reading the script in the episode where Dr. Bishop stabs her in the neck with the sedative … and all [the script] says is, “Dr. Bishop grabs Astrid from behind and jams the needle into her neck.” Then it fades to black. My mouth hung open for awhile and I was like, “Oh my God, I only made it through six episodes.”
Were you a science geek growing up?
Oh my God, not even a little bit. I was the person who was doodling over all my notes in biology class. I was always drawing. Always, always, always. [You can see some of her artwork here.] I was good at English and art. I really loved art. So it’s really funny to be playing this girl whose smart in exactly every single way that I was not. …
When I am on set I’m always doodling in Astrid’s lab notebooks and leaving my mark all over the place with her. On my last day on set I went around to every single notebook and started ripping out the pages [I had drawn in] so that I could keep them.
What was the scariest or grossest thing you’ve seen in the lab?
The scariest thing we worked on was the one where the big monster that lays its eggs inside the bodies it kills. …. We are going to do this scene where there is a body bag that’s moving and we run and unzip him and all of these worms are spilling out of his chest. I’m thinking [the worms] will be done in post-production; there won’t be a lot to see. I generally really like gross, gory stuff and I like to see how they make it happen. But I’m thinking this won’t be anything.
The props people had these big buckets of earth worms, but they were thicker and meatier and longer. They had teeny little bitty faces … So the guy’s chest is cut open and he’s been in make-up for hours to make it look like he’s been torn open and he’s all bloody and stuff. So then they pour these worms and this goopy, syrupy stuff and this fake blood onto this guy’s chest.
We had to zip him up in the body bag. It takes a few minutes to get to “action” after he’s zipped up. We unzip him and we see the worms and it’s so gross–and the look on his face. The worms are crawling up and their in his armpits and starting to crawl toward his face and he can’t move at all because he’s supposed to be dead.
We had to shoot it like three or four times. We kept trying to get faster and faster but we were all laughing. [For him] It was like a “Fear Factor” episode with no chance of getting money. … It was so gross but so much fun. The guy was such a trooper.
Is it fun on the set?
It is really fun on the set. I think that’s because the lab can get really old, really fast. The days there are really long because we have to shoot all the lab scenes in one big chunk. … But this season–particularly John and Josh [Jackson, who plays Peter Bishop] and I because we work together so much in the lab–we just started really, really enjoying ourselves there. …
Generally we would just hang out and have a lot of fun. We even got to the point where we would be able to improv a little bit and fine new things to do in the scene if it wasn’t working. We would just play around with stuff and we would end up making some awesome discoveries. … We really do have a good time together.
Astrid’s become a good babysitter and translator of Walter’s weirdness.
At the beginning she was so creeped out by him and was nervous and scared about it. Then getting the shot in the neck was just, it took the cake.
He still doesn’t remember her name, does he?
He’s called her by her real name one time, and then he started going back [to calling her other names]. He called me Astrid; that was a really funny moment. [MINI SPOILER: He calls her Astrid in Tuesday's episode.]
When he does call her by her real name, it’s going to be a connection that’s super important to him. It’s just more proof he’s not crazy. Yes, he was institutionalized and he was in a bad place for many years. But he’s not a crazy person, you know, he’s completely in his right mind. And I think that that is just a little bit more proof for everybody. He’s OK, he’s going to be OK. … He’s there, it’s just a matter of having patience with him.
I think that’s a kind of nice lesson to have in general.
Do you think she’s come to appreciate him more?
Absolutely. I think that was there from the very beginning because he was so smart. There was this really neat way that Astrid became a foil to Peter. They’re both around the same age but Peter doesn’t have a good relationship with his father. And all his father wants to do is hang out with him and talk to him and learn from him and teach him things. Peter wasn’t interested in that but Astrid totally was. Part of it was her job, but at the same time she’s learning things. She started being like a surrogate kid for Walter a little bit. This is now the chance Walter had to be a good person in someone’s life and Peter wasn’t interested in having that at the time.
Is the lab an actual building or a set?
It’s a set but interestingly enough the original set in Toronto was in the basement of this old church and it was a really old church. … They took that set measure for measure and recreated it [in New York]. … It’s so cool.
And they brought the cow along?
Well, they did not bring the original cow, unfortunately. I really liked that cow. I had some good times with that cow. And now we have a new one. Someone asked me the other day if I was going to miss the cow. I was like we’re going to be on our third cow. We’ve got to understand the nature of the business; I can’t get attached to these cows. I’ve just got to let them go. They’re going to get more work.
Casting Leonard Nimoy as William Bell was a stroke of genius. Did you get to work with him?
No, not at all. He’s in the finale, but it is a very pinch of a thing. It’s just more like an introduction. It opens the door to him being involved a lot more intricately in the next season.
When I found out [he was cast] I was really excited, and really upset because I wanted to not know that. I wanted to just watch the show and go, “Holy shit! Really?” I wanted to have that element of surprise. … I thought that he was a pretty excellent choice. … I can’t wait to meet him. He was on set apparently. I was not working in the lab that day, which is amazing to me because I’m always in the lab. I hope I get to have a scene with him.
Do you see the Observer [Michael Cerveris, right] all over the place?
I get to hang out with him in real life more than I ever got to see the Observer [on set]. We have a couple of friends in common and we’ve gone to some functions together. And he is a really cool guy. He came to my birthday party. My partner and I ended up hanging out and talking with him for like an hour. He’s just really cool. And he has eyebrows in real life, which a lot of people don’t know. He doesn’t look nearly as bizarre as he does when he’s on set.
In the scripts when they mention the Observer, they never say “we will see the Observer doing this blah blah blah.” There will be one line and it says, “You will be observed.” That’s also really creepy …
That is creepy. When you see that in a script does it make you look up and all around you?
[Laughs.] I go [breaks into song], “I always feel like, somebody’s watching me.”
Do any of the actors know what’s going on with the Pattern?
No, not at all. We will come to set and talk about what the people are talking about on the blogs because we’re just as clueless about it as they are. … None of us has really any idea of what it’s going to be. I think the writers do.