Malcolm-Jamal Warner is not Theo Huxtable. Though the accomplished actor has come a long way from his break-out role on The Cosby Show, many who grew up with his likeable antics may find it hard to erase that image from their mind. But Warner takes it in stride - typecasting is "always a challenge, but it's a problem many actors would love to have, so it's hard to get mad," Warner said when he spoke to Comics2Film recently. He justdoesn't want preconceived notions to get in the way of some good TV, notably Jeremiah - the sci-fi Showtime series adapted from an obscure German comicbook.
In the tradition of Outer Limits and Stargate SG-1, Showtime hasscored yet another programming victory with it's latest sci-fi series Jeremiah, and Warner thinks he knows why. "It's a 'back to the basics' show - society has fallen, money is of no value, there's only a barter system," Warnersaid, "there is little to no technology, and people are scrounging aroundto survive. I find that intrigues people."
Indeed it does, as reported first by C2F in September, Showtime has renewed the series for a second season, with production currently underway. However, Warner is the first to admit that the above description doesn't even scratch the surface. "Usually when I tell people about the show, I have to go on for a few minutes about the back story," Malcolm said. Yet it is the back story that separates the show from any Robinson Caruso or Survivor knock-offs.
Jeremiah is set in a post-apocalyptic future, which is certainly nothing new - but how they got there is a different story. It all starts in 2006, when a mysterious plague called the Big Death sweeps across the country, killing every human who has reached the age of puberty - leaving the children to inherit the Earth! What starts out as an adolescent fantasy - kids running the show, free of parent's "oppression," "free" shopping sprees, etc - eventually falls way as the leftover supplies begin to run out. And that is where the concept really begins to take off.
The show takes place in 2021 - about 15 years after the Big Death, and mankind is facing a turning point. After years of exploiting what was left ofsociety, people are running out of food, clothes, and medicine. Though the kids have aged into adulthood, most haven't "grown up" - and it becomes clear that a new society must be built, lest humankind fade out in anarchyand chaos, which is the current situation. Enter Jeremiah.
The backbone of the show is Jeremiah's unshakable moral center. TheBig Death left a young Jeremiah responsible for his younger brother. Initially,he resents the parental responsibility thrust upon him, but when his brotheris slain by a thief, Jeremiah is wracked with guilt. Instead of embitteringJeremiah, he deals with his guilt by strengthening his resolve to help people. This provides the core conflict of the show, when Jeremiah is pairedup with the wary Kurdy.
"Jeremiah's all about helping, but Kurdy has a more worldly view," Warnersays of the pair's differences. "Kurdy doesn't like to get involvedin peoples problems, because he's had experiences where he did in the pastand got screwed."
Yet, Jeremiah provides a catalyst to bring that aspectof Kurdy's character to the fore once again. "There's a trade offthere, and they kind of reach common ground." Yet, the underlying tensionscontinued throughout the first season. "The tension builds during theseason," culminating in a decision Jeremiah makes which drives the two apart,Warner continued. The season ends on a troubling note, in which thetwo lead characters "end up going their separate ways."
Clearly the show isn't afraid of darker themes that most network televisionstays away from. Warner credits the challenging storylines to seriescreator J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). Straczynski is well-knownin comic circles, having created multiple acclaimed comic series like RisingStars and Midnight Nation, as well as currently writing a much lauded runon Spider-Man. "He's awesome. He's one of the only cats I know[in Hollywood] that shoots straight from the hip," Warner says in praiseof the producer.
Surprisingly, Warner knew little about Straczynski before he joined the series. "I wasn't aware of the magnitude of Joe's reputation until I was talkingto a friend, and I finally mentioned Joe's name. He said 'you didn'ttell me JMS created your show! That guy's a god!'" Know that Warner is familiarwith Straczynski, he's quite thankful the producer is running the show. Joe "digs the collaboration process; he invites that team effort."
Another interesting aspect of the show is that it brings Warner togetherwith another TV veteran that is strongly identified with a previous role- Luke Perry, formerly of Beverly Hills 90210. Since 90210, Perry hasshown depth with an acclaimed role on the gritty HBO series Oz, and alsoprovided the voice of Rick Jones during UPN's Incredible Hulk cartoon (1996). "We have a really good time together," Warner says of his work withPerry. "We've both been in TV a long time, and had been sick of theB.S. you deal with in network TV. When we started the show, we bothagreed 'let's make it about the work,' to throw out egos and do whatever'sbest for the show."
Perry also serves as a producer on the show, but Warner says you'll neversense any ego from him. "We each have a voice in the development ofour characters, and JMS is a big factor in establishing that creative environment,but Luke is great in that way also."
Though most fans will remember Warner from his days as a Cosby kid, fansmight require a double take to recognize him now. Aside from being older,Warner now sports a striking set of shoulder length dreadlocks. Wasthat a hindrance? "Well, if I was playing a beat cop in Iowa, it wouldn'twork. But it's never been a problem yet. When I was reading forthe part of Kurdy, the casting director asked if the locks came out. Isaid, 'no, I've been growing them for four years!' Then JMS said 'Ilove them - I wouldn't make you cut them.' So it worked out. Ithink they fit what I brought to the character."
Warner added that his dreadlocks are a symbol of his spiritual commitment, and would not sacrifice them fora part. Though, Warner also noted his look is quite a contrast withthe show's source material. "In the original Jeremiah graphic novel,Kurdy is a white guy with curly blonde hair!" Warner said with a chuckle.
As Warner gets ready to return to production, he is genuinely excited aboutthe coming season. "Now that we've got the story down [and have established this 'world'], we can start to push the envelope," Warner said. "Theseason ending cliffhanger is indicative of episodes that we'll see in seasontwo. It'll be a rougher, edgier show," Warner said. "We'll definitelybe seeing Kurdy in more of a leadership role."
For any comic book fans wondering if acting in a C2F adaptation madeWarner a fanboy, he explained "well, I never read comics really. Buta few years ago, I did an off-Broadway play, in which I played a characterwho was a Wolverine fanatic. So, for research, I read tons of my friends' X-Men collection, and I loved them. I haven't gotten around to seeingthe X-Men film yet, but want to really bad, because I loved the comics."
Look for season two of Jeremiah on Showtime next Spring.