Exclusive: Mark-Paul Gosselaar Talks The Passage, Premiering Tonight on FOX

Mark-Paul GosselaarTonight, FOX premieres its new series, The Passage, based on the best-selling book trilogy by Justin Cronin. The series focuses on events surrounding Project NOAH, a secret facility where scientists are running experiments with a dangerous virus that they think could potentially be the cure to every disease. However, it also has the ability to wipe out mankind.

As problems arise, the scientists look to using someone much younger as a test subject, and task Federal Agent Brad Wolgast, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved by the Bell, NYPD Blue, Franklin & Bash), to bring in orphan Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney). However, after meeting Amy, his loyalties are tested, and he decides he must protect her no matter what the cost.

Star Gosselaar recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about his work on the show, why the show is appealing, and more, including his ideas for a Saved by the Bell revival.

SCIFI VISION: Were you familiar with the books at all? Did you read them before you took on the role?

Mark-Paul GosselaarMARK-PAUL GOSSELAAR: Well, I knew the script was out there, because of my relationship with 20th [Century Fox]. They were the studio behind Pitch.

We were waiting to see the outcome for Pitch, and that script was going to be a midseason shoot anyway, so, I was able to read it. I had to wait for the fate of Pitch, but while that was going on, I did start the books. So, when I met with them to start the process, I had knowledge of the first book.

Did you read the rest of them after?

Yes, I definitely did. They’re hard to put down.

There obviously have been a lot of genre, supernatural shows, even vampire shows, recently. Can you talk about how this show is different from others, and what people can expect?

It’s my opinion, but when I read pilot script, I thought at first it was a character driven drama. I knew of the concept obviously, because I had read the book, but reading the script, I thought, well this is more about the characters and focuses on the characters, wrapped around a shroud of genre, of the vampire sort of genre, or the myth of the vampires. So, for me, that’s what attracted me to the role.

I don’t know, I mean, if Ridley Scott wanted this to be, you know, straight up vampires genre, I’d probably sign on regardless, but I’m very happy that it has more of a character driven core to it, and you know, is wrapped around the genre. But that’s my opinion, and why I think people will watch it.

I haven’t read the books, from what I was able to find out when I researched them, they seem to more focus on after the vampire breakout, sort of post-apocalypse. Do you know if the show is headed that way, or if it just for now will focus on before that happens? Because it seems like there is so much interesting story to tell before any of that happens.

Part of that question probably is better served for the show runner Liz [Heldens], but what I can tell you from what we’ve shot so far, is that we have taken the first quarter of the first book, and we have taken pieces from books two and three to bring in the backstory sooner, because Justin Cronin Actually in book three goes into a huge backstory into how the two scientists went to go searching for this basic cure-all virus in the Bolivian jungle. So, she has brought story from three and two into our story in season one.

But we are kind of tracking along a linear fashion, where we really focus the first ten episodes on the creation of Project NOAH and the experiments and the outcome, to basically where we’re sort of in the middle of book one. They are out in the open as an apocalyptic world that needs to be rebuilt.

Other than the books and the script, was there anyone or anywhere else you took inspiration from while developing the character?

You know, such an easy part of my job, was Justin wrote such descriptive characters and was so clear with the adjectives that he used to describe them, that really I just focused on the books. And Liz’s writing was very clear.

I had played a character similar - I mean, on Pitch, I felt like I was this guy. So, when I read the script, I said, “There’re a lot of similarities to the character I just played and possibly the character I’m going to play.” So, no, I didn’t really have to pull from outside sources. It remained from sort of what was on the page and what was on the page of the book.

Can you talk about working with Saniyya? The chemistry between the two of you is really great and believable.

Thanks. I think I broke my rule of never working with animals or children. [laughs] But I think I made a great exception, because she’s unbelievable. She’s such a talent.

Mark-Paul GosselaarAnd I mean, what you see on screen a lot of the time is our true relationship. I have a daughter who’s her age, and I sort of treat her like I would my own daughter. And her father is roughly my age, so she’s very comfortable with that sort of relationship.

We had the luxury during the pilot to film that in a linear fashion, so that when you see us for the first time in the foster home, that was pretty close to her meeting me for the first time; so she was very skeptical and uncomfortable and weary. And then with the latter scenes, for instance the one by the river, we had spent about two weeks together by then and were able to pull emotions from each other, which I think is a great scene. I’m so proud of that scene the way it turned out.

Can you talk about how her character changes yours? I mean, obviously, we find out about Brad’s backstory and what happened, but being around her opens him up a lot. Can you talk about that journey?

It’s definitely a journey that will sort of travel through the entire season. I think in episode seven we really expose the backstory. We actually go back and flash back to Brad and Lila (Emmanuelle Chriqui)’s time with their daughter. So, there’s something to look forward to, in terms of like more detail of what Brad did, and how Brad has found himself working for Project NOAH, and why he stopped being an FBI agent, and how his relationship with Richards (Vincent Piazza) has progressed.

But yeah, the sort of running story that we have throughout the season is that she is filling a void in Brad. And at times it’s unhealthy, but having Lila there more, I think you’ll start to see it going in the right direction.

I’m trying not to give too much away, but we remain pretty close to what the books do, where with Brad, she’s basically filling a void in him. And he doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice. He feels like he could have saved his biological daughter, and he’s not going to let her have the same fate.

I only received screeners from the first few episodes, but so far, it seems like there is a going to be a decent amount of action. Was there any training you had for the more physical stuff?

So, with the fighting stuff, I’ve been a fan of a form of fighting from back in my days of doing NYPD Blue. My character on NYPD Blue was a boxer, so I boxed for four years. I got really into the sport, and then I kind of got tired of the sport with all the drama that was incorporated in major boxing.

And then I got into Brazilian jujutsu back in 2009, and on and off I did that for a while.

Mark-Paul GosselaarAnd then when again, this role was talked about, and we were awaiting the fate of Pitch, I had for a year dedicated my life to baseball, and was sort of in a baseball shape. Then I decided, well, if I’m going to play this role, then I’m going to go back to Brazilian jujitsu, because my character was in Special Forces, and I thought it would be a trait that he would have.

So, for the past two years, I’ve just been as a form of exercise and mentally keeping my head clear, doing jujitsu.

And then for the gun training, I felt it was really important to make sure I had traits of Special Forces as well, so I trained with Taran Butler, who trained Keanu Reeves for John Wick. He trains a lot of other actors for roles, and he’s here in Los Angeles, so I had production call him up and did a few sessions with him, and then continued that training while I was in Atlanta with some other professional shooters.

And it was cool, because it’s the first time in my career that a lot of the things that I have trained for, I’ve actually used. Because a lot of times you go through training, and then you just never use it. It’s just sort of there in the background, or you don’t really notice it. But there’re real moments where I’m like, “Oh, there’s the training that has paid off.”

Are there any action scenes or stunts in particular that you can talk about without giving away spoilers?

There’re a few fight scenes, and I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the time it was me. There’s like one point in the fight in the pilot where it wasn’t me, and that was when I get thrown up against the bookcase, but in every other fight that we’ve done it was pretty much all me. Actually, I’m going to say it’s all me.

But there’s one particular fight on a cliff that I’m very proud of, because the stunt coordinator and I are both practitioners of jujitsu, and we really incorporated a lot of jujitsu into the fight. It turned out really cool, I thought, because it’s something you don’t generally see. There wasn’t a punch thrown in that fight sequence.

For the last question, if I could divert for a minute, I’m sure people have asked your opinion on the possibility of a Saved by the Bell remake, but I wanted to try to ask something different about it. If there was a remake or a reimagining of the series, who do see playing Zack Morris now?

Well, wait a minute, if we did a remake - because all the remakes, they’re playing themselves again, so if you did like Cobra Kai, it’s Ralph Macchio, and then if you did like Fuller House, it’s Candice Cameron Bure playing herself, so I would kind of have to play myself, I guess.

A continuation, rather. Okay. I’d much rather see a continuation.

That’s how I have envision it. If we did a reboot, if we did something, I’d have to play my character.

I just don’t know. I mean, here’s the thing. People ask, “Would you be interested?” - Of course. I think we’re all at a point in our careers where we are comfortable and can make choices that possibly work or don’t work. I think we’re in that place in our careers, but nobody has come forward with an idea for us to even look at, let alone let us make a choice whether it’s good or bad.

Mark-Paul GosselaarThe only person who has ever decided to do anything with us is [Jimmy] Fallon, which I think I started back in 2009. That was when I was promoting something, and I wanted to figure out how to make something viral. I was going to go on his show, and I said to his writers, “What if I went in as Zach Morris and just did a whole interview as Zack Morris?” They thought it was pretty cool. And they said, “You’re going to throw away an interview like that?” I’m like, “Throw away, are you kidding? I’d rather be a character than be myself.”

And so we went on and did that, and that sort of snowballed into bringing the cast on years later.

So, those things are fun. I think we’re open to that; it’s just that no one’s come up with a good version.

I think that too is what was interesting about the show. We got the original series, and then later, the college years, and we got to follow them more than most shows. That would be really cool.

Yeah it would be. We’ll see.

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