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Dermot Mulroney talks hostages and high-adrenaline drama in 'Crisis'

Dermot Mulroney
Dermot Mulroney
NBC

In the NBC drama series “Crisis,” Dermot Mulroney plays Francis Gibson, a man caught up in a hostage situation involving the children of some of the nation’s most powerful people. It's field trip day for the students of Ballard High, a school that educates the children of Washington, D.C.'s elite, top-of-their-industry CEOs, international diplomats, political power players, even the President's son. But when their bus is ambushed on a secluded rural road, the teenagers and their chaperones are taken, igniting a national crisis.

Dermot Mulroney
Dermot Mulroney
Getty Images

Now, with some of the country's most powerful parents at the mercy of one vengeful mastermind, the question arises: How far would you go and what would you become to ensure your child's safe return? With so many parents and dignitaries put into play with nowhere to turn and no one to trust, the unthinkable grows from the select families at risk to an entire nation at stake. Here is Mulroney said about “Crisis” during a recent telephone conference-call interview with journalists.

When we first see you in “Crisis,” it looks as if Francis Gibson is among the taken. But then it turns out that you may not be who you first appear to be. Can you talk about the hidden elements of your character?

I can talk about them sure. There are more hidden elements of the character of Gibson then the current view has any idea about. There's an incredible plot twist, several of them in fact, in this opening episode. But what you need to know is that this keeps happening week after week, it's what makes this show so fun as it evolved in its story I just kept being so pleased by the twists and turn of the plot. So what I say is there's more to come if you like that.

As a real-life father, how do you relate to these characters in “Crisis”? And do you think the lengths these people go through is realistic at all?

I love the world that [“Crisis” executive producers] Far [Shariat and Rand [Ravich] created for “Crisis,” it has just about one DNA strand off of reality, so come with us and you won't hardly notice. That's what I say about whether it's believable is it is in the world that we've created. Now I can't personally imagine where I would draw the line if I were coerced or forced to do something to protect my child, so I can't imagine what I wouldn't do. I think is what one of the parts of the character that I can most relate to on a personal level.

Francis Gibson is a part of the scheme and the kidnapping, but he also has his own daughter involved. Can you talk about how we're going to see that affect him at all? Are we going to see him torn and what he has to do with him?

Yes, the story gets really crazy but what stays the same is how much he loves his daughter and how important it is for him to repair his relationship with her and put his family back together.

Now, his intentions are good, and you will see that his methods are questionable at times but then you'll learn how effective it is.

And so the story makes you really question motives versus results. It's very smart in that way. Another thing I love about it is there is a lot of story coming at you really fast, but I'm more surprised to how clear it is. In other words its complex, but the show is complex but it's not confusing. You'll see what I mean. It's really great the way they were able to do that.

One of your first TV appearances was in “Fame” as a dancer, and you told s really funny story in an interview about how it was kind of like trick photography how they made you a dancer. They brought some other people out in front of you and you kind of hid behind the camera. Is that right?

Yes, I ducked out of the frame so the real ballet dancer double could …. it's what you call an Oklahoma switch where the cowboy goes over the hill and the stuntman falls off the horse and the cowboy jumps up that's how that was.

Since that first appearance that you made on “Fame,” a lot has happened to you, obviously, and television has changed a lot. Television is now a hot place for creativity and for actors to really sink their teeth into roles and projects. Do you agree with that and how you feel about being on television when suddenly it's the hot place for creativity?

I'm so happy to be doing a show like “Crisis,” and especially for NBC at this time because it is different than it was even a few years ago in terms of the stories that a major network is willing to tell. And for me, to be honest with you, for a long time I thought it would be kind of a grind to play the same character over and over again, so that was one of the things that kept me doing films only. But I was wrong.

All I had to do was find a character like this because I was thrilled to work as this character for such a long time. I didn't expect to be gratified in the way that I was to create a character and develop it over a longer period of time. So it's a lot different from film, and it's really fun.

And NBC's been great, so there's that. But also the makers of the show really were smart and responsible and did a great job, so it wasn't a chaotic thing like I'd also heard a lot of television shows. Or it wasn't 18-hour days. It was really well managed, so that we cool too.

You talked about how there's a lot of twists and turns in the “Crisis” story. Did you get to know a lot of that ahead of time or are you kind of learning it as the story unfolds and how does that affect you playing the part?

Yes, it is true that I had very little knowledge of what was coming moments later. We'd get the scripts about four or five days in advance. The thing is, we did the whole season as planned: 13 episodes, so now I know everything and it's awesome. There's some really good semi side-by twists in our story too … and it's not alien mother ships or anything, but there are some touches. It's really enjoyable in terms of those types of stories.

Is there a clear-cut answer on whether your Francis Gibson character is good or bad? And if there is an answer, do you have it? Do you have a preference as to whether he's good or bad?

No, I have no preference, I prefer that people wonder. But yes, I do know for myself and quite clearly is that he is good. There's not other choice as the person hired to portray this person than that but … people will wonder that for themselves. Again, maybe I said something to that effect before, but his intentions are good.

You talked about the fact obviously that you didn't necessarily have all the answers coming in for a show like “Crisis,” that you go sort of from script to script. And the fact that you have obviously done lot of movies over the years where you would have a lot of the answers and the plot points ahead of time. Did you like not having the information? Was this something that was more of a challenge for you? Was it exciting for you sort of coming in and not having all those answers?

Yes, it took me about two or three episodes before I really embraced it and then I loved not knowing. And I enjoyed that reading of next week's script became so enjoyable and me wanting to know what was happening next wasn't going to make the scripts be written any faster. I should be clear: There were very specific story points that I was aware of and needed to be in order to play the character who knows the whole plan. But I didn't know how the other characters were going to develop or how their storylines end up crossing, things like that.

The intrigue of the story was the reveal for me each week. And so to answer your question, I loved it. But not at first, I had to adjust to that way of working. As you said, a [movie] screenplay ends on a page number and then you close it and you know everything that happens, so it was very different for me.

Was as there anything about this Francis Gibson character that you added to him that wasn't originally scripted for you?

That's interesting. Very little, I didn't improvise dialog at all but the directors that we worked with were really collaborative and well-chosen. They were really sort of 12 or 13 different people came in to work on these scripts to shoot the thing, so that's where my contribution would be just in how the scene plays.

But no, I didn't change anything in the script. I said every word as it was written. You know, there's probably not an extra word in that character at all.

And what are some of your most memorable moments you've had from filing “Crisis”?

Well, you'll come to see that a relationship and a dynamic develops within kitchen, so I worked very close with Max Marteie — he plays Cause — he's in the first episode. He's got a mask on for some of it, but he's the one that amputates my left pinky. And our other partner in crime was Jessica Dean Turner, who was a Chicago actress who was also particularly great in the part. And so we felt like we had our little team there while the “Crisis” crew was off shooting all these other storylines. So it was sort of like you could color code the storylines, but then of course they all come to cross at the end of the season in a very gratifying way, so stay tuned.

You were saying you stick to the script, but how much input are you actually allowed? Can you develop a back story for this guy or is it all what they tell you?

No, it's all what they tell you, this was that. I would have approached this anyway but I think that television's sort of more typically works like that. You've always heard it's a writer's medium and so forth, so I came in knowing that I would just be doing the job that I was asked to do. But that's how it's done, really.

I'm not sure this web of plot was so intricate that there wasn't anything … I could add. I mean, that wasn't my job either, so this for me was fun because I was reading the scripts like a spy novel and then just doing what they said. But I didn't know in Episode 4 necessarily how something I was doing was going to affect something we would shoot for Episode 8. That's a confusing example. What I mean is … yes, I just followed the steps as they laid them out in front of me, yes.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

No. Nothing comes to mind. I'm not sure what your question is.

Because you don't know everything that's going on you know a little bit but you don't know everything, so looking back over like Episode 1 and now knowing at Episode 8 what you know, would you have played anything a little bit differently giving something less away or more away?

No, the writers were giving away the right amount at the right time throughout this story. I think now I understand your question, and I think your answer will be best understood around Episode 8 or 10.

What you admire most about Gibson?

Oh yes, well there are two things: his heart and his mind. I very much admire the reasons that he goes to the lengths that he does and makes the decisions he does, which is an intense and profound love for his daughter and his family. But the thing that most impresses me about Gibson is how truly genus he is. Its fun to play a character that is vastly more intelligent than I am to, be frank. It made me feel really smart.

What you think the most challenging aspect of playing Francis Gibson?

I found it difficult sometimes to contain my evil glee as other stuff takes place later on. I'll be hones with you it's really fun to play that character, my challenge was to play it in a contained and controlled way. Yes, there are other aspects to the character that are challenging too, but that was one of them for sure, just to be real cool I guess, you know.

Once Francis Gibson’s pinky had been severed, and you're in the room with a couple of other people you kept looking at that notebook and it seems really important. What can you tell us about that?

The notebook is as much a character in this series as well, so it's its own storyline in a way and it's one of the best props I've ever worked with. And I wish I had in my mind the name of the woman who worked on this prop — page after page of intricate diagram — drawings, all of which dealt directly with the story.

And if you can imagine this: There were things in that book when we were shooting the pilot that I didn't know about until about seven months later when we were shooting the series. And that's when the picture that had been in the notebook the whole time came into play — really fascinating for me, thanks for asking about that.

And for me, the double whammy plot where you cut the finger off and then right away it's revealed that he had planned even that... I think is what makes this first episode so great. In other words, a lot of other writers would have had the one and then a little while later would have had the other. Rand and Far gave you that bing-bang, back-to-back plot twist I think that's just irresistible. It's great the way they structured the reveals in this first episode and we do that throughout the series.

If you can take a page out of the “Crisis” script and implement it in your life, what page would it be?

Francis Gibson's really good on the phone. You know people like that? You'll see what I mean later. If I had that same facility on to do business on the telephone, who knows what I could have accomplished. He's just one of those people that's got that skill. I'll say that it would be a nice skill to have.

You have had such a long career, but when you look back now, how do you see as a movie like “Young Guns”? Would you say you are good friends with any of the other actors that play in the film?

Even when I was shooting “Young Guns” — I think I was 23 or 24 — even when I was shooting it, I knew it was going to be one of the best experiences of my life. And all these years later, I can't even think, is it past 20 years later, 25 years later, I was right it's still one of the most amazing things I went through.

And the movie's really stood the test of time, it stands on its own still. It doesn't feel dated or anything. It's a great movie. Thanks for asking about that, I'm really proud of it.

Oh and I have one more thing to say about whether I see any of the guys. Yes, we stayed friends for some years and the way things go, yes we're all still friendly. I saw Charlie [Sheen] not too long ago, and it was like seeing someone you went to college with. Really fantastic. Those are all really good guys who I still admire for what they've done since.

And have you shown “Young Guns” to your son? Does he ask you how to hold a gun?

No, no guns around here, that's all just acting. But I did show my son and we enjoyed watching that movie together almost more than any other. That was a couple years ago, so we should probably watch it again. Thanks for reminding me.

We’ve seen Gibson in the first episode of “Crisis” as being a pretty surprisingly strong and in-control kind of guy. Are we going to see weaknesses at some point soon?

I'll answer it this way: Not everything in Gibson's master plan is going to go as he conceived. So some of the fun parts of the series are to see Gibson think on his feet and have to adapt to the changing situation. So there's that tension between knowing that he has a great plan and learning that it's not going according to that plan and what's the character going to do next becomes part of the series.

It is a good question for that reason because, yes, he's always close to having everything under control but it's not as simple as that. As I said, it's a very complex story so he has to adapt as it evolves.

So what kind of reaction is he likely to have if things don't go according to plan then?

I try to answer everything, but I'm not about to tell you that. Not a chance, yes you'll have to just wait and see.

If you could change anything in your script what would it be?

Oh I wouldn't change it, but I will say that by the sixth month of sort of tying my pinky down to my hand I was wishing that that self-amputation hadn't happened. I'll be honest with you it made me a little cranky there at the end. But I wouldn't change it, it was well worth it.

It's slightly uncomfortable as you'd imagine but it also because very inconvenient everyday to have the makeup man strap your finger down. But to be honest, I wouldn't change it for sure. And you'll see that the amputated pinky comes into play. You saw the kid put it in the cup of ice, right. So stay tuned for that too.

For more info: "Crisis" website