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Interview: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Tveit Talk BrainDead

Young adults often feel that they need to venture out on their own in order to truly discover their true personalities and fulfill their life-long dreams. But it often isn’t until they return home and reunite with their families, despite their initial hesitance, that they completely realize their rightful destinies. That all-to-important message is one of the main intriguing driving forces in CBS’s new comedy-drama series, ‘BrainDead.’

The new thriller show was created and executive produced by Robert and Michelle King, who previously collaborated with the network when they created the hit Emmy Award-winning legal drama series, The Good Wife.’ The pilot episode of ‘BrainDead,’ the Kings’ latest television effort, is set to air tonight at 10pm.

Set in the world of Washington, D.C. politics, ‘BrainDead’ follows Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young Constituent Case Worker who discovers two things: the government has stopped working, and bugs are eating the brains of congress members and Hill staffers. Laurel is the daughter of a Democratic political dynasty who left the nation’s capital to become a documentary filmmaker. However, she’s pulled back into the family business when her brother, Luke (Danny Pino), the Democratic Whip Senator from Maryland, needs her help running his senate office.

Once she begins the Hill, Laurel becomes unlikely friends with Gareth (Aaron Tveit), the smart, hardworking Legislative Director to a top Republican, Senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub). Her other allies include Gustav (Johnny Ray Gill), an eccentric genius who is the first in D.C. to recognize that something sinister is attacking the Capitol, and Rochelle (Nikki M. James_, a medical student who teams up with Laurel and Gustav to protect and defend the citizens of D.C. from an untimely fate. As the tiny bugs continue to multiply, Laurel and her allies must work quickly to identify the otherworldly creatures, stop their infiltration and ultimately save the world.

Winstead and Tveit generously took the time recently to participate in a roundtable interview during CBS Television Studios’ New York summer press junket at The London NYC Hotel to talk about starring in ‘BrainDead.’ Among other things, the actors discussed that they were drawn to star in the thriller series in part because they were not only stunned by the experimental nature that the Kings and CBS took with the storyline, but also how well-developed they have made the characters. The performers also noted that even though the series is meant to serve as a satire on modern politics to some degree, they’ve been embracing how close to reality the series’ plot is to the current U.S. presidential election.

When initially asked what they thought of the premise of ‘BrainDead’ when they first heard about the premise of the series, Winstead admitted that she “was pretty stunned by it, just in terms of how much of a shift it was for the Kings and CBS. I thought it was such an adventurous idea for everyone involved, and risky in a really exciting way.”

The Daytime Emmy Award-winning actress laughed when she then added, “It also seemed like it would be a lot of fun. I had no idea if it would entirely work, because it seemed so experimental in so many ways. It’s a mix of genres I had never seen before. But I think that unknown aspect was the most exciting thing for me.”

Tveit then noted that he agreed with his co-star, and added that he “thought the series is so relevant. What’s interesting about satire is that you can go a lot further and make a lot of statements.” The SAG Award-nominated actor also added that “as the Kings’ follow-up to ‘The Good Wife,’ I thought ‘BrainDead’ was a spectacularly different thing. I was also happy that CBS is taking such a chance on something like this show.”

When then asked if they’re now more mindful of following politics in the news, in order to find inspiration for their characters, Winstead responded that that process has been interesting. “I have been working so much that the news is slipping away from me; I’m not paying as much attention as I may have wanted to overall. But there are moments when I watch the news while I’m getting ready for work, and I realize the scenes we’re filming are so current that they’re actually also happening in real life at the same time,” she revealed.

“Obviously, the stories on the show and the news parallel, but we take the show’s plot in a slightly different direction. But I realize, in this scene we’re talking about what’s happening today! It amazes me how current the stories are on the show. Sometimes I think we’re almost ahead of the news, and that’s incredible to me,” Winstead also noted. “That aspect gives the show an energy that I’ve never had before on a project. We know we’re going to show something that people are going to have an instant connection with when they watch it.”

Tveit then added that he thinks the U.S. “has an awareness this year. People obviously have whatever politics they believe in, but this year everyone seems to have an opinion, because the election is constant…It feels like this year is one of the tentpole election years, like when Obama was first elected in 2008, and the Bush-Gore election in 2000. So the fact that we get to make this show amid that political climate, when everyone is aware of it, is a lucky thing for us.”

**SPOILER ALERT FROM THE PILOT EPISODE** The actor then spoke about the transformation his boss, Senator Red Wheatus, goes through after he was infected by the bugs during ‘BrainDead’s series premiere. “Red was drunk and passed out on the couch most of the time before he was infected,” Tveit explained. “So maybe Gareth would slip something in front of Red that he knew he would sign, which reflected more of Gareth’s political views than Red’s opinions. I have the sense that Gareth maybe had free run of the office.”

But now that Red has changed as a result of being infected, “that’s almost a double-edged sword for Gareth. My character can’t do all of the things he used to do anymore. What’s interesting about these bugs is that they have totally cleaned Red up. He’s now taking care of himself, and is focused and driven. There are some aspects about that that Gareth admires, as Red is now the guy he thought he was going to work for,” Tveit revealed. **END SPOILER ALERT FROM THE PILOT EPISODE**

In addition to the bond between Gareth and Red, Tveit also discussed that his character may form a romantic connection with Laurel throughout the season. “Typically, you’d see characters in the pilot and say say, ‘They hate each other, so they’re going to end up together. But I think the Kings have done a fantastic job of telling these characters’ stories, and making sure that this relationship is based in reality,” Tveit noted.

“There’s obviously an attraction and repulsion at the same time. As the rest of the story develops, their relationship falls into a tough spot, due to what’s happening politically,” the actor added. “But it’s also nice that we get to be the real people in the story, as we get to show the normal elements of life.”

“I’m also excited to see what direction they’re ultimately going to take our characters’ relationship in,” Winstead revealed. “Not to give anything away, but in the episodes we filmed so far, they have taken the relationship in one direction, and then they pull it back during the next episode. Laurel and Gareth do have this personal chemistry, but they also have to work together, even though they tend to disagree in a lot of cases. I think that push-and-pull is really interesting.”

The actress also discussed how well all of the cast members on ‘BrainDead’ get along and immediately formed natural working relationships, despite how their characters get along. “I think the Kings did such a great job of casting each role,” the performer divulged. “So it’s one of those instances where everyone connected and fell into the relationships so quickly. The dynamics started working so well right away. We didn’t have to spend a lot of time working together on what they dynamics were going to be; they just happened naturally.”

Winstead then explained some of Laurel’s motivations and backstory, noting that “I think when she was younger, she was maybe more in line to follow along her father’s footsteps and go into politics. But somewhere along the line, her father had an affair, and then there was a fracture in the family,” she disclosed.

Laurel “then went into another direction and became a rebel. She moved to L.A. to become a documentary filmmaker and find herself and what she felt was authentic in the world. But she still hasn’t really found that.” After trying to make a life on her own, Winstead explained that Laurel has now been “dragged back into politics by her family. But she may ultimately find her truth there somewhere down the line, but she’ll be kicking and screaming along the way.”

Besides searching for Laurel’s true purpose in life, Winstead added that another fun aspect of filming ‘BrainDead’ is that “I never know what to expect. Every time we get a new script, I get so excited, because I have no idea what we’re going to be doing,” she revealed. “There are elements that are completely absurd, but there are also aspects are completely realistic.”

While the actors are intrigued to discover the new situations that Laurel and Gareth find themselves each time they receive a new script, Winstead revealed that the Kings “are really open to having conversations about the characters and their development. But things move so fast, and there’s so much to be done, that there’s often not much time to sit down and discuss ideas with them.”

The actress also divulged that she and her co-stars “often don’t want to contribute our own ideas, because the Kings are so specific about what they’re doing and have so much to say. So with each new episode, I’m in awe of what it is they are doing with the show. They’ve been working on this for so long that they know exactly where the story’s going.”

Tveit also noted that the Kings “are so open and collaborative to any ideas that we have. That process is so fascinating to me, because I worked on another show before this one, where every day was also planned. That was a collaborative situation, too, but it was a much more active process for me to leave my personal stamp,” the actor revealed.

“But with ‘BrainDead,’ my trust is completely in the Kings’ hands,” Tveit also emphasized. “But there have been instances where I thought the story was going in one direction. Then when I received a new script, it went in a completely different direction. So I think, they’ve got this, and we have complete confidence in them.”

As the actors receive each new script, Winstead has begun to realize that “Laurel is like me in a lot of ways. I’m very passionate about the issues that are important to me, but I have a bit of disdain for politics. I don’t really follow the ins and outs of politics, because I find it to be a bit overwhelming. So I really relate to her in that aspect.”

But Laurel eventually realizes that politics is something that she wants to be a part of, because she has grown up with it, and her ideals are important to her. “But she doesn’t want anything to do with those people who represent all that is wrong with government. I think a lot of people from both sides can relate to that right now,” Winstead emphasized.

“On the flip side, I think Gareth represents the idea that government can work,” Tveit then added about his character. “I think he does still believe in the system, and there are people out there who also think that way. They still want to have hope in our country. So I think the show has done a great job of being very fair.”

Watch the latest trailer for ‘BrainDead,’ featuring Winstead and Tveit, below.

Interview: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Tveit Talk BrainDead

Written by: Karen Benardello

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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