Fox’s new hit series ‘The Orville‘ is going where no one has gone before… sort of. The show is actually fairly reminiscent of a number of science fiction dramas from throughout the history of the genre (most notably ‘Star Trek’), but with the added twist of some comedic gold buried in the heart of it. From acclaimed creator Seth McFarlane (‘Family Guy’, ‘Ted’) we’ve got an action packed sci-fi drama series with some light hearted comedic chops that are winning over both fans and critics alike in an almost unprecedented manner. The show takes place about four-hundred years into our future, aboard the exploratory vessel ‘The Orville’, and features the adventures and mishaps of Captain Ed Mercer (Seth McFarlane) and his ragtag crew as they explore deep space.
This week at New York Comic Con 2017, we were lucky enough to sit down with series star Penny Johnson Jerald, who plays The Orville’s Medical Officer Dr. Claire Finn, to discuss how her journey aboard ‘The Orville’ has been so far! Check out our full interview below!
As an alumni of ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’, how does ‘The Orville’ stack up as a space drama for you?
Penny Johnson Jerald: I think that ‘The Orville’ is different, but it’s definitely a science fiction dramedy, and I think it stands alone by itself in that it’s innovative in being able to extract the real life issues and journey and action, and sprinkle it with funny! And sprinkled with not necessarily “I’m gonna laugh my butt off” funny, but funny that’s kind of like when you’re thinking something and I’m talking and you’re listening to what I’m talking about but you’re really thinking “I wonder what she ate for breakfast”. Which could be a funny little quirk thing, but we’re saying it for you. I think that we’re being a voice to be able to bring to the table an opportunity for conversations to begin.
You have this storied career of getting on these TV shows with ensemble casts, and they’re amazing TV shows, what’s your secret?
PJJ: I’ll tell you this, they didn’t believe me! “They” being ‘The Orville’. When we were talking about this and we were first doing it, and I saw the pilot, I looked at everybody and I said “okay, great. This is my ‘Swan Song'”. And they looked at me and said “what do you mean? This is over?” and I said “No, this is the show I’m going to keep doing until I don’t want to do this anymore”! They asked how I know that, and I can say I haven’t been on any show that is not a show that has a certain caliber of awesome, and a willingness of a group of people to give it all that they can. And I think that’s the secret. The secret is to be willing to not just decide that you’re hired as an actor, but to decide that you’re hired as a team player. Seth said something at the very first meeting that we had, and he said “this is a show with an ensemble. I may be the captain, but I am not the star of the show. You may find some episodes where you are actually the star of the show, but you may also find some episodes where I’m probably giving you free money”, and he has held true to that! I have to say I am not disappointed.
What’s it like to do a scene where a blob is pretty much hitting on you?
PJJ: Oh my god… It’s gooey! Someone tweeted “let the glob do the do”! It’s funny, it’s like… this microphone could be there, and you’re going to make it into some big hairy monster, but I’m talking to it like it’s a hairy monster right now! So he’s not there physically, but he is there vocally. Norm comes in the room, and he’s in the corner, and he is speaking. And if you’ve heard Norm’s voice… I mean the voice alone is slimy! And that’s a credit to him! He does slime like nobody else! Sleezy slime! And it’s great because I alwys love being able to be in a show where you have a love/hate relationship with a character. In ‘Castle’ it was with Castle and I loved it! In ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ it was with Hank, in ’24’ it was the man I was married to, so it’s kind of wonderful to have that because it gives you something to work with.
Historically throughout this type of show, the ship’s medical officer usually has a very important role to play. Whether it’s the voice passion like McCoy or the more serious type like Beverly Crusher. How do you approach your character in terms of what kind of medical officer you want to be?
PJJ: I think that what she is evolving as the sage of the ship, with sass! The sage with sass! And what I’m loving about it, is that she’s not just stuck in sickbay. She gets to go out and do things, as a person who has been dying to shoot a gun or fight, I’m loving it! And also what Seth has done with this character, is that she’s not just the doctor who stays in her hub, but I’m an actual full-on woman. And in episodes to come you’ll get to see that! I’m a mother, and I have two wonderful sons on the ship, and that part of me brings her to a more human, down to earth place. And she’s funny! She gets to be funny. And sometimes downright scary too. So I think I’ve been able to branch out a bit, which is going to be the difference between the typical science fiction doctor. I’m glad I get to do that because I like the aspect of healing, and if nothing else I feel that science fiction gives people hope! Hope that things we haven’t created today may be in existence tomorrow. So with my character, that’s healing people with these wonderful props that I get.
She’s also rather unflappable, isn’t she? Everyone else will be freaking out but she’s the most level-headed one.
PJJ: You need an adult in every bunch! If you don’t, all hell will break loose! And I like that! It’s so funny, I was saying to my husband “well I always get these characters” and he says “well that’s because that’s who you are” and I go “oh really?” and he says “yes, you can take a bunch of garbage that’s circulating and make sense of it as a person”. So that’s a characteristic of Penny that’s been picked up and you can just do it with your eyes closed!
The allegorical nature of a lot of the episodes isn’t just the fun of where it’s going, but sort of the message of things that are going on in the world now. Is that something that really appeals to you as an actor?
PJJ: I am very happy and satisfied with that. What satisfies me even more is that it’s presenting it, but we don’t try to answer it for you. We just try to make you aware of it so you can think it through. I think it’s a great show about thinking and about imagining, and about being able to have a smile on your face at the end of the day. We didn’t kill ourselves off as humans in the future, so we do exist as humans. But we do have a ways to go in terms of diversity, we have a ways to go in terms of trying to impose our feelings on a group of people because we think our thing is right and doesn’t stink, and so we’ve been presenting that. Because I think that, if nothing else, the atmosphere of today? Especially here in America? It’s time for us to keep a dialog going and to just be aware of peoples differences enough to embrace them.
Seth McFarlane’s ‘The Orville’ stars Adrianne Palicki, Scott, Grimes, Penny Johnson Jerald, Halston Stage, Peter Macon, J. Lee, Mark Jackson, and of course, Seth McFarlane himself. The show airs on Thursday Night’s on Fox! Be sure to stay tuned to ScienceFiction.com for more updates on ‘The Orville’!