The Future Becomes the Present – PJ Byrne previews INTELLIGENCE from CBS
CBS’ new series, Intelligence, offers a look at the world through the eyes – or brain – of cyber hero Gabriel Vaughn (Lost’s Josh Holloway). Vaughn is implanted with a computer chip designed by the super intelligent Dr. Shenendoah Cassidy (John Billingsley). Though super smart himself, Cassidy’s son, Nelson (P.J. Byrne), cannot compete with this new superhuman government hero and watches jealously from the sidelines as Vaughn and his father become closer and closer.
I recently spoke with Byrne to get the scoop on this highly-anticipated series.
Setting the Stage
Byrne describes Nelson as “sort of a complicated character in the sense that he’s probably one of the smartest people in the world. He comes from good stock, the best of the best. Both Nelson’s father and Nelson himself consider Gabriel sort of a brother to Nelson. The problem is, not only does the chip in Gabriel’s brain allow him to do everything Nelson can do, it allows him to do it a zillion times faster than Nelson. Gabriel is also handsome, so all that’s gonna eat at Nelson during the course of the series.
“And, he’s gotta overcome that. That’s the thing with family, siblings, you’ve gotta work through everything and accept each other with love and unconditional approval. I think you’ll see that storyline throughout the series.”
A World Apart
Since Intelligence holds high expectations for the network, I then ask Byrne what he thinks sets this series above the rest – what makes it stand out? He tells me, “For one thing, we all went into this thing, not looking it as a TV show, but as a movie. A lot of incredible things are happening in TV right now. In TV, you can take a lot of risks and do a lot of things. I’d say Intelligence is a cross between Bourne Identity and Homeland. It’s got a lot going on.
“The second thing is, there’s a nice symbiotic relationship with the cast, and everyone gets along. Everyone is a pro. Everyone’s already done a lot of stuff. We can get down to the business of acting and really mix it up with each other, and that is a process.
“Then, the writing is so good. From my perspective, the easier the material is to memorize, the more you know something cool and special is gonna happen. I’m faced with technical jargon, and that’s just sort of speed bumps. That makes for good television. I think there are a lot of elements there that a lot of people are gonna be excited about.
“And, I guess the final thing is we’re dealing with the world’s biggest problems. Intelligence mimics what’s going on in the world today. This is not that far away. I have to ask myself sometimes, ‘is this something real I’ve seen on the news, or is it a fictional segment of the show?’ That’s how real this series is. What’s happening in Gabriel’s head is all five minutes away. The rest of it is top of the line technology. When the FBI can’t cover it, and the CIA can’t cover it, they call us.
“Another thing that sets the series apart is that ongoing jealousy angle between the two “brothers.” Even though Vaughn is this super intelligent secret government weapon, if you will, Byrne reminds me that “he’s just a guy. He still has to deal with stuff. He can see things and figure out what happens at a crime scene and take all that information and piece everything together like in a dream. It’s an element you’ve not seen on TV before. But, in the end, it’s still regular people dealing with life. I go home after a long day at work and tell my wife, ‘I saved the world today.’ It’s pretty cool.”
Close to Home
“I think the cool thing about my character is I get to be very close to myself. I’ve played mean people and jerks and experts at things, characters like that. But, in this series, my character is sort of like that person at home. He’s thrown into things that are happening because of his knowledge and computer skills, so he has value, but he’s not like this ‘cool’ dude.
The Voice of Nelson
“I remember the first time I did a gun scene. We literally rehearsed it an hour before we did it. In that hour, I also picked up a machine gun and shot it. It was so wild. My character is like transported into this crazy show. P.J. now is this computer guy who saves the world. It’s wild.
“I think the most challenging part of playing Nelson is that I wonder when I will start to feel like what he’s doing is all second nature to me. There’s always that time in a show when the writers start to hear your voice as an actor. And that’s tough to do on TV.
“I do a lot of improvisation. It’s been my natural inclination on everything I’ve ever done. My advice to new actors who want to improvise is, ‘Never pitch a joke.’ Try it. But, it’d better be the best you’ve got, and you’d better be confident doing it. But just do it. Never try to explain it beforehand. Just do it.” Byrne says sometimes his improvisation works, sometimes not.
Imagination and Reality
When I ask about the pilot, he says, “I’ve seen it, and I love it. I’m so happy about it, so proud of it. I love the cast and crew and all the work everyone put into it. There’s a lot of energy in this show. There’s a lot of twists and turns. Nothing is as it seems. And I get to be the person at home that takes people through this world. I love that.”
Intelligence premieres following NCIS on January 7 on CBS. It moves to its regular Monday time period (10:00-11:00 pm) beginning January 13. The series also stars Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).
Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at suite101.com, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover.