Exclusive: Owain Yeoman on Emergence: What is Benny Hiding?

Owain YeomanTonight, an all-new episode of Emergence airs on ABC. The series follows Police Chief Jo Evans (Allison Toman), who while investigating, finds a young girl, Piper (Alexa Swinton), who mysteriously survived an air plane crash, and takes her in. What she doesn’t expect is all the trouble that ends up following her. It was recently revealed that Piper is not a human girl, but 100% AI, created by Richard Kindred (Terry O’Quinn)’s company.

Over the course of trying to find the truth about Piper and how to protect her, Jo meets journalist Benny Gallagher (Owain Yeoman), who investigated Kindred before.

In the most recent episode, with the help of a hacker (Ashlie Atkinson), Benny tries to decrypt a hard drive that may help them understand more about Kindred and Piper.

While sitting in a car outside an office building to use the computer power to help them, a man walks up and opens fire on the car. Benny tries to drive away but is hit by a truck.

Yeoman recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on Emergence, having a scene partner like Allison Tolman, whether his character is hiding secrets, and more.

SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about how you first got involved in the show? Was it a normal audition?

Owain Yeoman
OWAIN YEOMAN: I got sent a script in pilot season, and I was actually shooting a sequel to a movie called The Boy, Brahms: The Boy II, up in Victoria in Canada, and I just read the script, and I thought it was such a wonderful kind of reinvention of a lot of different genres. I couldn't think of anything that was on TV right now that was like this, certainly not on network TV. It had such a wonderful blend of sci-fi on one hand, action adventure, the sort of mystery genre, but at the heart of it, it had all these wonderful kind of familial and familiar characters. And there’s a balance that we've sort of tried to strike between making something that feels suspenseful and mystery driven, but also returning to ordinary people who you care about and who care about each other. I think that makes the show pretty unique, and that’s sort of what really drew me to it.

You know, first question I ask always is, can I play this character British? [laughs] So, when I read it, and I saw Benny, I’d auditioned for it with an American accent as well. And I said, “He's an investigative reporter. I see no reason why he couldn't potentially be a Brit.” So, there was some conversation about that.

And they responded to the tape, and then I got involved, and I was thrilled to be involved with such a wonderful group. Tara [Butters] and Michele [Fazekas], I'm big fan of their work, and Allison is wonderful. Then we just assembled this fabulous cast around her, and it's just really, really been a joy for me. I feel very proud and very happy to be part of this Emergence family.

About the accent, I originally knew you from The Mentalist. So, yeah, you definitely sound a lot different in this. [laughs]

Yeah, it throws a lot of people. A lot of people don't realize I'm British, so they often wonder why I'm doing a strange British accent. But no, the strange British accent is the real one.

Yeah, I had figured it out.

So, when you got the script, is there anywhere else you took inspiration from when you were creating the character?

Yeah, I mean, my cousin is a journalist. I wanted to talk to him about the day to day sort of process of investigating and pulling together a story and also just the sort of the life of being freelance. It was interesting, because it's sort of very similar to life as an actor, I think. You go where the work is; you go where the stories are. So, I can relate to that kind of slightly, you know, free spirited search for work.

And there's so much that's now been developed with Benny's character, and there's so many more twists and turns that are coming up in the season, that he’s becoming so much more than that, but I wanted to get those little details right in the same way as when you're, you know, playing a cop.

Owain YeomanFor example, in The Mentalist, you want to do your due diligence and hold the gun right and get the protocol right and, you know, you're honoring those things that make you believable as that character.

So, that was the sort of baseline of my research, just sort of wanting to take what I found on a purely sort of job level and infuse that with a little bit of charm. He's a little bit of a rogue; he’s clearly somebody who doesn't mind sticking his nose in where it's not wanted. And I think that sort of all feeds from the need to get a story. He's someone who will do anything and put himself slightly in harm's way, if it means at the end of the day he gets good copy. And I'm sure that's something that all good journalists can relate to.

Right.

That kind of leads me into my next question. I think it's in the second episode, he talks about how he's obviously known Kindred in the past, and he has investigated him. On our podcast, Fandom Access, we discussed on of the recent episodes, and the one thing that we kind of feel is that he's hiding something, that there’s something he’s still not telling Jo. Is there anything you can say to that? Are we just completely off base?

No, I don't think you’re off base, and I think what's interesting about this show, especially, is that I think everyone has both their personal and professional agendas at play. It's interesting. I've had quite a few people say to me, “I'm not sure if we can trust Benny; there’s a slight gray area there. What is it that he’s after?” And I think as the series develops, you’ll begin to certainly better understand his previous relationship with Richard Kindred. You'll certainly begin to see a development of the friendship and the relationship with Jo and how the two of them are now embroiled in this mystery and trying to find things out.

And along the way, I think, as they are unveiling the central mystery of who Piper is and how that affects all these other characters, it begins to sort of unpeel mysterious layers about each one of us. So, there are definitely secrets there, not just for Benny, for all of us.

And I think what Piper is a wonderful catalyst at the heart of this mystery to unfold an awful lot of mysteries and secrets about all the characters around her. So, it's very twisty; it's very turn-y. I'm trying my best to not spoil anything, but I will say you're not off base at all. There's a lot of information coming and a lot of hopefully very surprising things coming. So, as the season develops, I think you'll understand a lot more of what I’m talking about.

I don’t know if you can tell me this, but is Jo ever going to let him interact with Piper?

Yeah. I mean that is something that is definitely in the first few episodes. Obviously Jo’s playing the protective parent role. She has a child who she's taking in now, and in the most recent episodes, we've unveiled who and what Piper is, and, I think, that has now folded in an extra layer of concern of like, “Well, I took in what I thought was an innocent child. Now I have a potentially dangerous and destructive AI on my hands.” That's a whole different prospect. I think as she begins to want to understand exactly who and what it is she has in her house, that sort of throws her more into the wind of being, you know, “I need more help. I need a bigger group of people around me; I need access to a bigger infrastructure.” And I think Benny is one of the people who can give her that.

Owain YeomanSo yeah, at some point, you definitely do begin to see that interaction, and you begin to see it as desecrated by Jo's fear, I think, for her own family. It's something that the most recent episode has just touched on. It's that thing of like, Okay, well, now that I understand a little bit of who she is, should I be afraid of her? And where can I get the answers to that?

So, I think, as the season goes on, we're going to understand that Jo is trying to pull as far and wide as she can to get help and understanding of who exactly she is and exactly what kind of threat Piper might pose to her and everyone around her.

Hopefully he's going to, I guess, warm to her a little bit. Right now he's kind of like, stay away from her, but you're saying he's going to help her. So that kind answers my next question.

Can you talk a little bit though about just that, but also how so far Jo's affected him, because this last episode he talked to the hacker, April, and she made a point of saying, you know, he never does anything for somebody else. So, I mean, at least it seems to me, that he's partially doing it for her benefit. Maybe I'm off base, I don't know, but can you kind of talk that

I think there's a genuine connection there with Jo. I think initially this was something where they have a chance encounter on the beach in the pilot, and they both clearly have some investment in this mystery. It becomes one of those kind of uncomfortable but necessary marriages, almost, where he's trying to get the information he wants; she's trying to get the information that she wants. And I think together, they manage to work, but as they are thrown together and they work together closely, I think there is a genuine kind of warmth and affection and friendship that grows.

And this last episode just ended with a very big cliffhanger for Benny and for April. And I think definitely into episode five we're going to really see a furthering of the relationship with Jo and understand that they are hopefully, firmly in each other's worlds and that they are there for each other. This is something that I think is a genuine connection and a genuine emotional investment, and he considers her, and she considers him, to be to be a trusted friend.

Can you talk about working with Allison?

Yes, of course. She's quite literally the most down to earth, easy going, exactly how you want your number one to be. I think it's a trickle down thing. If you work on a project and the number one on the call sheet is cool and down to earth - She's just such a wonderfully relatable human being. She cares about everyone. She's almost like a bit of a kind of on set big sister or on set mom, because she really is invested in every single one of our cast. She pulls us together; we have cast dinners. She's genuinely invested in not just making it a great show but making it feel like a family.

And I think, when you have that kind of personal chemistry together - we love hanging out, like all of us, Donald [Faison] and Robert [Bailey Jr.] and Clancy [Brown], and the kids and Zabryna [Guevara]. We are so fortunate to have a cast where we genuinely enjoy each other's company, and after working together for sort of 15 hours a day, sometimes we still go out and have a drink or go and have dinner on the weekend. So, that's a testament to the fact that we really enjoy each other's company.

Owain YeomanAllison is so full of just very refreshing and interesting choices. And I think she's such a fabulous person to lead this show, because it's not just a show about female empowerment. It's a show about how a woman can balance all of these things. She can be a fantastic mother, and not just be a great police chief, but sort of represent in roles that are typically dominated by men. And Allison’s talked about wanting to get to a place where these kinds of things are no longer a conversation. And I think when you just see this capable, intelligent, and wonderful woman, you know, the character that she's created in Jo, you begin to look a little bit beyond gender, and you go, this is just a fantastic human being that has been created here.

I mean, in large part that's been informed by wonderful, emotional, and real choices that Allison makes. She's a very generous and very surprising scene partner. You'll be doing stuff with her and she'll go, “Oh, I think this could be interesting.” Or “I think we could rework this line.” She's so passionately invested in making the show better, and I love that, because I feel like that's infectious. When a cast like our cast cares so much, hopefully we end up delivering the best possible product. So, we love making the show; we love making the show with each other, and hopefully that then sort of gives a product that people love watching.

Yeah, I definitely am enjoying it.

Is there anything that you can say about the next episode coming up?

The episode that’s coming up is episode five. I think we've already begun to see how Richard Kindred’s network, a sort of secret underground network, is very powerful. I think we're going to begin to see the more sinister side of that. It's already been alluded to at the end of episode four.

And I don't want to spoil it, because obviously we ended episode four on quite a big cliffhanger with the car crash, but this is a very soul searching and difficult time, I think, for Benny coming up in this episode. There's an awful lot going on, and I think we really do begin to understand a little bit more about who he is and what's at stake for him.

And we get a little deeper into the mystery of Terry O’Quinn’s character, Richard Kindred, and how much he has at stake and exactly his role behind all of this type of business is. That's going to be something that we see a lot more of as the show goes on.

I think people were surprised at how early we revealed the AI element with Piper, but I think people should consider that as just sort of phase one of the mystery. I think people these days are impatient for information. I think they are owed that, knowing the sort of TV landscape where people can binge things, and they can stream things and use On Demand. It's a pressure to be able to make a show that people have to wait for.

So, I think the mystery level is not going to be teased at too long for us. You know, we’re getting answers quickly. The episodes are paced aggressively, and I think week over week there’s going to be a lot more mysteries. I think the AI thing with Piper, that's just the first sort of layer of the onion, and it begins to lead us into a lot of other things as the episodes go further into the season. It gets pretty crazy. [laughs]

Owain Yeoman
Great. We were actually talking about that the other day on my podcast, how it's nice that you at least get part of it now, and you don't have to wait forever and know what's going on. Not knowing can be really frustrating.

Yeah, I think it’s frustrating as a viewer. I think people these days have shorter attention spans, and there’s so many choices available. I think there are a pressure and a desire for us to want to fulfill that and reward the viewer.

I know that when I watch shows, I don’t want to be teased over months and months and months. And I think we're very aware of that. Michelle and Tara are really wonderful writers and producers who understand the current sort of landscape of TV, and I think they feel very passionately invested and sensitive to the need to reward people quickly with information. So, believe me this is just the first stage of many twists and turns.

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