Awake: BD Wong and Cherry Jones Try To Out Shrink Each Other [Interview]

Aside from Awake’s dual reality premise, one of the most interesting aspects of the show is that Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) spends time every episode sharing his feelings with two different psychiatrists – one for each reality.

Awake docs

BD Wong is the aggressive Dr. John Lee in the red reality, while Cherry Jones is the more empathetic Dr. Judith Evans in the green reality. Both doctors are certain their reality is Britten’s real existence and the other is an emotional construct so they spend their time in the respective offices with Mike trying to get him to see the light (or at least their light).  As if therapy wasn’t challenging enough, you try having two different docs whispering in your ear to let go of a beloved wife/son every week.  

Luckily, Wong and Jones (both Tony winners) play the doctors like extensions of the viewing audience, poking Mike with questions about things that don’t make sense or illuminate the inconsistencies that come up as he toggles back and forth between lives. Wong gets to be our vicarious naysayer, while Jones gets to be our soothing inner mom every week as we watch Britten try to pull off his precarious, metaphorical spinning-dish trick.

TVGA got the chance to talk to BD Wong and Cherry Jones about their adventures in psychotherapy on Awake. Together, they reveal some interesting secrets about their roles (and the show).

Doctor Evans was originally written for a much younger actress

Cherry Jones: I guess when they wrote the part they wrote it for a 29-year-old blonde, very inexperienced, very enthusiastic psychiatrist. At that point, you had Britten’s beautiful young wife, you had the tennis instructor for Britten’s son, who was a beautiful young woman, and then you had this young psychiatrist who was a beautiful young woman. And I think finally the producers said to Kyle, we’ll give you one, we’ll give you two, but we ain’t going to give you three. [Laughs]

Wong originally had no interest in playing a psychologist again

BD Wong: I didn’t really want to play another psychiatrist or psychologist, but I was looking for a change after being on SVU for 11 years. I just liked the Awake script, which was then called REM, so much that I kind of just jumped at the chance and I did it rather blind to the fact that the characters were in the same job, actually. I just really thought the script was great and I wanted to be on the show.

Dr Evans is the “nice” one

Jones: Dr. Evans’ approach is much softer and she understands that [Mike] is in tremendous pain and rather than trying to confront him with the absurdity of what he believes to be true, my character really does want to try to create a very safe environment, so that he can feel free to tell me everything and maybe create a blueprint for him to move back to one world.

Wong: I’m all about saying, “You are dreaming,” you know, “Fess up that you’re dreaming!”

The two actors are in the same show but rarely cross paths

Wong: We never see each other face-to-face as characters. We’re not really going head-to-head in that way, except the editor is making us go head-to-head. We are never even in the same room so we don’t have the action of playing off of each other. We definitely are robbed of that. But our sets are next to each other, Cherry’s office set and my office set are right adjacent to one another. I’ve taken to kind of leaving notes for Cherry on the set and stuff like that, that she might find randomly.

They’re both really familiar with their chairs now

Jones: It’s cool to just sit in a chair and I don’t even think of it as acting. It’s something about when it’s that small, and so intimate, it becomes something else. I don’t know, of course it’s acting, but it’s a very different experience from anything I’ve had before.

Wong: The thing that I would agree with is that definitely that its focus is taken off of your body entirely when you’re sitting on that chair and is put on your face and inside your brain more. On those very few times when I’ve actually stood up or been in a situation there have been a couple of situations in the course of the season in which I was not sitting in that chair, it was a little bit of an adjustment to make. Oh wow, this person actually walks and talks and behaves differently outside of that chair!

Jones: I have a gorgeous chair in my office that I sit in, but if I had anything to do over, I would have made it much more comfortable. Nice padded arms, I have spools, wooden spools for arms, I would have done something about that, since it’s my one little stage, that chair.

Awake is on Thursday nights at 10:00 (EST/PST) on NBC.

By Tara Bennett

About the author

is an author (The Lost Encyclopedia), a national entertainment journalist and a media studies adjunct professor at Rowan University. She's been a film, TV and pop culture junkie for as long as she can remember and she's got the old TV Guide's to prove it. Pray for her thighs as she spends far too much time at her desk writing or her couch watching what she loves.

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1 Comment
On: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
V said:

I say by all mean, give Miss Cherry a nice comfortable chair. She could end up being in it a long time if this show takes off into season 2....or 3...or. You see my point. lol 

Now, as to the duelling Psychiatrists, I think the style of each has their own merit. I certainly like Cherry's warm cuddly Dr. Evans more than Dr. Wong's abrasive but also well-thought out approach to psychiatry, but perhaps as the episodes unfold, each will add to the truth of the other. 

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