Brennan Brown is a man living in multiple fictional realities -- and one of them is a little too close for comfort.
Principally, Brown stars in Amazon's cautionary-minded original series "The Man in the High Castle," set in a totalitarian alternate timeline where the Axis powers won the second World War, as dreamed up in the 1962 novel by revered sci-fi author Philip K. Dick and -- as fans of the series became acutely aware in the second season -- thematically all too relevant given the political divisions exposed during America's latest presidential election.
Playing Robert Childan, the unassuming antiquities dealer who's gradually and quite reluctantly become embroiled in a rebellion plot against Japanese control of the United States' Pacific coast, Brown may have landed the series' juiciest role: at first a seemingly minor character who has suddenly become both a lynchpin in the overall story but also representing of an evolving mindset that may ultimately mirror the show's social shift from complacency to active resistance.
The actor, who also enjoys a recurring on NBC's "Chicago Med" as Dr. Sam Abrams, joined Moviefone to discuss his abundant employment and the effects of real-world politics on the show's speculative fiction.
Moviefone: It must be interesting to be in a show like this, at a time like this, which all of you on the show could not have really predicted. With all the attention that the show's gotten, particularly when the second season dropped in the midst of this social and political climate, what's it been like for you to be in the center of it all?
Brennan Brown: I think we were all curious to see how people would react to the show, given what's going on. I've been really gratified that people like it. I've had a few people say to me it provides a sense of comfort to watch, which I think was interesting.
Actually, a director I worked with a couple of weeks ago on another show I'm doing called "Chicago Med" on NBC, she had said that she binged the whole two seasons of "High Castle" after the election, and she found it to be really comforting. Many people have said the same thing, and that's great.
I think the best we could hope for is that it provides comfort to people, and solace, and some sense that they're not alone in looking at the world and saying, "this is insane."
When did you get the sense that what you were doing was going to have some appreciation beyond the entertainment value? Did you get it during the production process, or was it really as things kind of came down to November?
No, we stopped shooting in, what was it, late September, early October? So we were concentrating at that point on shooting the show. We obviously were looking at the political situation here in the States and we were shooting in Canada. We were watching with interest about what was happening here, obviously.
As the election started looming larger, and when the writing started to be on the wall about Comey and that sort of thing, we were reacting to that as human beings, not as people who had made a television show. The book was written in 1962. It's about transcendent themes, themes that move far beyond any specific commentary on a specific set of circumstances about what it means to be a person, and what is reality, and what is identity, and how do we know what's real and what isn't. Is our past real?
Those are all themes that Philip K. Dick explored in all of his work. So that's what the show is about. The fact that it would have added resonance because of the political climate, that all started dawning on us as the election happened. We were watching that along with you guys. We just reacted to that as people as opposed to actors working on a show.
It's also interesting, given Dick's intentions, that this whole "fake news" moment we're having applies.
Yeah, it is. Isn't it? I know. It sure is. I know. It's really funny how that keeps coming back around. What's real and what is not. If you can claim authorship of authenticity, then you claim the mouthpiece to what is real and what is not. These are all things that Philip K. Dick was writing about throughout his career.
It's disheartening that the same problems are still happening now. The abuse of power and madmen trying to take control of the world, that'll continue, unfortunately, for as long as there are people on the Earth. Yeah, authoritarian regime and abuse of power is nothing new. But, unfortunately, we have to deal with it now in a very real way, and it's something that the show does address. I think we're proud to be on a show that is able to address those issues that are particularly acute right now.
What do you like about where Childan is, as we left him at the end of the second season? What fascinates you about that particular point in his evolution?
The relationship with Ed is interesting. The relationship with Frank is interesting. I think he's beginning to have his worldview really expanded, seeing someone who's trying to make contact. Childan is so venal and so always looking out for No. 1, constantly looking for ways to further himself in the colonized society in which he finds himself. But then, to initially go from looking down on both Ed and Frank, to realizing, "Oh, there might be a connection here that's more significant than I realized" -- that's what's most interesting for me, is seeing him begin to recognize the importance of others is a really interesting fulcrum.
What was the turning point for you in understanding how you wanted to portray Childan? Was there some kind of eureka moment as you prepped for the role that you said, "Aha, this is my way into this guy"?
Reading the novel. I hadn't read it before getting the role of Childan was in the works. So when I read the book, that was the eureka moment. I'm like, "My God, every page, there are chapters that are told completely from Childan's point of view," which we read as inner monologue. That, to me, was the most exciting thing to realize. Like, "Wait a minute, the richness of the character is evident right there."
Reading the novel was the eureka moment for me. Then, realizing Philip K. Dick's daughter is one of our executive producers, and David Zucker, Dan Percival, Frank Spotnitz, everybody bringing the show to fruition wanted to honor that book. Not only is the character so amazing in the book, but all of the creators of the show want to see that complex, contradictory, wild character brought to life.
We actually used an entire sequence from the novel in the first episode, the dinner with Paul and Betty, the Japanese couple, when Childan goes to their house. The fact that the dialogue is directly from the book, that was the eureka moment for me, realizing how wonderful the character is, and not only that, but the creatives wanted to show that character, warts and all, in the show. I was like, "Wow, count me in. This is awesome."
You got the good news that there will be a Season 3. You're going to have a new executive producer joining you. What are you looking forward to as far as a third season?
I think all of us want to just deepen it and enrich the characters. I think it's the characters that people are drawn towards, as well as the crazy alternate reality of it. What's interesting, that alternate reality isn't particularly effective unless it's peopled with characters that the audience cares about, and I think with this cast, everyone is so incredible.
Not only talented professionals, but also really, truly great people that have been on the same page about wanting to deepen the show and particularly the relationships of the characters. So that's what I'm looking forward to doing. I can't wait to see what everybody's going to bring. I'm actually truly excited about it.
And it's nice that you don't have a typical broadcast television number of episodes, and you're able to get away to do "Chicago Med." Tell me what was fun about coming back to that role again this time around.
It's great. Honestly, the show, everybody on "Chicago Med" is really awesome to work with. Oliver Platt -- the first show I did out of drama school was a show that had him on it. I'm just a huge fan of his. All of the cast of that show is really amazing.
I think I first worked on that show, on "Chicago Med," right as they were starting up in Chicago. I think they brought me in, I think it was in the first few episodes that I first appeared. I got to watch that show really take off and develop, and come in and out and just do a few scenes, and be a grumpy neurosurgeon. It's a joy. It's really fun. It's really fun to do.
What do people recognize you from that show? What do they want to talk to you about?Do they have a whole different kind of set of questions that they fire off at you?
They do, completely. It's funny. We were over at dinner at a friend's house, and their in-laws were there. The mother was a huge "Chicago Med" fan. I didn't realize it until I got there. She didn't know who I was as we were talking, and then suddenly it dawned on her. She's like, "Wait, you're an actor? You know what my favorite show is? 'Chicago Med.'"
And as she was talking to me, she was like, "Wait! You're Dr. Abrams, the neurosurgeon." I was like, "Yes." She started telling me all of the things that she thinks my character should do this season. I was like, "Well, okay ..." She was like, "What you need is a girlfriend. Your character, he's so all business." Just started telling me, letting me know all the plot points she thought we should include with Dr. Abrams, which I thought was very funny. Adorable.