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ROSWELL: The Behr Necessities
An interview with TV's alienated teen Jason Behr.
By Edward Gross
April 10, 2000
In the midst of all the press generated by a shift to Monday nights (beginning tonight) from Wednesday, plus the tobasco-mailing campaign to save the show, actor Jason Behr, who plays alien high school student Max Evans on the WB's ROSWELL, admits he is stunned by the sheer number of websites devoted to the show in general and to him in particular. 'I think it's a reflection of the hard work and dedication that everybody puts into the show,' he says. 'The Internet reaction is very flattering. It's not something you expect going into it, but the thing you have to remember is that the fans don't have
to do it; they don't have to invest their time and energy to create these websites. But they do it because they're passionate about the show. It's very flattering and something that's very appreciated.'
As is probably well known at this point, Behr's character, along with his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and friend Michael (Brendan Fehr), is a descendent of the Roswell aliens that crashed on earth in 1947. For some time they've lived unobtrusively as humans, until Max uses his powers to heal Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) after she's shot. Afterwards, suspicions are raised, and Sheriff Valenti (William Sadler) is determined to expose them for what they are. Also dramatically driving the series is the unrequited love between Max and Liz, and Michael's determination to learn where the aliens come from and how he can get back home.
'Executive producer Jason Katims is incredibly gifted,' says Behr, 'and he has a wonderful way of allowing characters to grow and evolve and change. All of these characters that we knew at the beginning of the season, without exception, have all changed and evolved in some way.'
Behr considers this one of the capabilities of television when it's working the way it's supposed to. 'I think television is a wonderful medium,' he enthuses. 'It allows you to do certain things that you could never do in a movie. And you have twenty-two episodes per year to tell the best story that you can. You have that same chance to let people learn something about the characters or about the show itself. Television is a constant moving force; there's no stopping it. But if you can stay on top of it, you can pretty much do anything.'
Most enjoyable to him is the fact that Max has undergone a true evolution throughout the show's first season. 'I think he's evolved in several ways,' says Behr. 'In the beginning, he was the conscience of the groupthe thinker, the one who, before taking any action, thought of the different consequences of what they decided to do. Given their situation, every move they make is imperative to their survival and secret. So he was like the rockthe conscience, the one who tried to get everyone to do the right thing. I think he learned over the course of this year that he can't always take positions and always tell people what the right or wrong thing to do is. He has learned not to be as controlling as he was before, and allow people to make mistakes on their own and learn from them. The only problem with that is he's still kind of struggling with that attitude, because some of the mistakes other people might make could have serious consequences for everyone. Michael, for instance, wants so badly to find a way home, but to the other characters Roswell is home. He'll do whatever it takes and whatever it costs to do this. It's very hard for Max to get through to him and make Michael understand what he's doing could be dangerous for everyone involved. Yet everyone on the show has choices they have to make, but at what cost? So it's a real delicate thing where Max is still learning.'
ROSWELL itself seems to be going through something of an evolution, particularly during the season's last six episodes as teen angst takes a back seat to a much heavier dose of sci-fi storytelling. 'The change seems very natural to me,' says Behr. 'The truth is, they always throw curve balls at us; we never know what happening from one script to the next. Of course, I'm not sure if they don't know themselves or if they're keeping it a tight-bound secretone of these FBI type 'Level Three, Need-to-Know' type things. Whatever the case, we learn what's happening to the characters on a weekly basis. Some things are a surprise, but some things are a natural evolution of the characters. That was up until the last part of the season. We're ending the year on such a high note. Everything that they've known to be true comes tumbling down around them. Their whole world is turned upside down. From that point on, nothing is as it seems. It's very exciting. These last six episodes really change the whole gamut of everybody's lives.'
Like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ROSWELL seems to be a 'living' thing, constantly moving in different directions, and the shift from teen angst to sci-fi is fine with Behr. 'I think the show has already made that move,' he says. 'I don't think it's just about that anymore, although it will always be there as far as I know. I'm sure that that relationship [between Max and Liz] will solidify and evolve into something else. So I think it will always be a part of it, but I don't think it will be the central focus of every episode. We've learned so much about these characters and how they feel about each other. Now we can take them and put them into new situations and gain new insight into them. In the last few episodes, everything they've been searching for and running from has been dealt with in one way or another, and they gain information that changes everything and keeps the show unique.'
Behr, a native of Minnesota, discovered his love for acting at age five, when he appeared on local stages. He honed his skills during his school years, and upon high school graduation moved to Los Angeles to see if he could make his mark. He did so, appearing in a variety of series, including DAWSON'S CREEK and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. It was the latter (in season two's 'Lie to Me') that prepared him for a high-quality creative television production that he would later find on ROSWELL. In that episode, Behr played an old friend of Buffy's who came visiting her at Sunnydale, trying to renew their friendship. In truth, he wants to hand her over to the vampires so that, in exchange, they'll make him a member of the undead and he will live foreverneatly avoiding the brain tumor that's growing in his head.
'BUFFY was great,' he proclaims. 'Joss Whedon is incredible, to say the least. It was my first foray into that genre, and it was such a collective effort with him. He was very open to suggestions, and working on what felt right or wrong about the character. And the character had a strong arc. He came is as an affable, non-threatening friend from another school, and ended up having ulterior motives that were not necessarily of the nicest kind. You didn't really understand what his motives were until the end when he let on that he had terminal brain cancer.'
Which, it's pointed out, magically transformed the audience's feelings about the character. 'Absolutely,' he concurs. 'Although you might not agree with what he's doing, or the choices he's made. But faced with that kind of problem, I don't know what anybody would do in that situation. You understood why
he was doing what he was doing. He wasn't making a right choice, but you knew where he was coming from. That was a great character to play, and an interesting arc. I think the collective creative experience with Joss prepared me for what I am doing on ROSWELL. If an actor has a good script and a good director, he can do the best work that he's capable of doing.'
According to numerous press reports, one of the reasons that ROSWELL appeals to the actor is that he's a true fan of science fiction films dealing with alien encounters. 'I think the idea of aliens living among us is very appealing,' he says. 'If it was true, would they be accepted? Would they be ostracized? Would they be welcome or feared? I guess those kinds of questions would be asked of anyone we don't know. People are afraid of what they don't know and have to face that fear in order to deal with them and the situation.'
But does he believe in extraterrestrial life? 'I try and remain open-minded about it,' Behr replies. 'If people thought one way only and didn't allow themselves to expand their views and be open-minded about the possibility of things, we'd be having this conversation with two tin cups and a really long string. We would be stuck in the Dark Ages. We would not evolve. There are people out there who will tell you that there is no way there will ever be contact with alien life. Maybe they're right, but maybe they're wrong
. There were people for many years who said there would be no way we could recreate human tissue, and now they can grow a new ear. If you told my grandfather that some day we would be able to walk on the moon, he would have laughed at you and probably called you crazy. There are certain schools of thought that only believe one thing. And if they don't remain open-minded about possibilities beyond what they know, then they're going to be lost. If anything, the show has done that for me. I always was open-minded, but dealing with this material has opened my mind up even more to the possibilities.'
ROSWELL's future will probably be determined over the next six weeks, depending on how the show fares ratings-wise in its new timeslot. Behr and the rest of the show's creative staff feel confident about a second season pick-up. 'I think we're all positive about it,' he admits. 'I think we all have a very good feeling with the way the season is ending. Everything in the last few shows is bigger, faster and stronger. Plus, we're all very positive about the move to Monday nights. I think the people that are loyal to the show on Wednesdays will watch the show on Monday, and we should get some new viewers as well. If we do come back, I think the way things have been going would be a fine way to continueas long as there's a balance between a science fiction thriller and keeping it as human as possible. There are many possibilities of where the show can go, and I'm just excited to see what the next season brings.'
Behr's enthusiasm is slightly surprising, compared to the sullenness that his character Max often carries with him. 'I love the show,' the actor proclaims. 'As an actor you go out there and you try to get on a film or TV show. It's only every now and then that you become involved with something that you're so positive about. This show is just such a good thing, creatively and emotionally. You sometimes hear people talk about how a cast and crew are like an extended family, but until ROSWELL I never really understood what that meant. I enjoy going to work every single day. It's not really work in the conventional sense, because you're having a good time doing what you're doing. Yet we still feel that we're doing the best work we've ever done.'