Arts and Entertainment Editor
In the CW’s new drama “Beauty and The Beast,” Austin Basis plays J.T. Forbes, the childhood friend of Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan, “Terra Nova”), who when enraged, becomes a terrifying beast. Catherine “Cat” Chandler (Kristin Kreuk, “Smallville,” “Chuck”) is a homicide detective who would have been killed if the beast hadn’t saved her. While investigating a new case, Cat and Tess Vargas (Nina Lisandrello, “Nurse Jackie”), her partner, discover fingerprints that lead to Vincent, who was reportedly killed but still alive.
Basis has had starring roles in The CW’s “Supernatural” and “Life Unexpected” and guest appearances on shows including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Life on Mars.” The Pioneer had a chance to speak with Austin via telephone. The series airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on the CW Network. You can follow Austin on Twitter @AustinBasis.
The Pioneer (TP): How did you become involved with “Beauty and the Beast?”
Austin Basis (AB): Every pilot season you are met with auditions for all the new shows each network is going to be producing. In my experience, you get good scripts if you have good agents. I have been lucky with a couple of them in the past. For “Beauty and The Beast,” I had a reading with my agent and said from my previous experience I had some goals I wanted this pilot season. The audition came because Gary Fleder, who directed the pilot, had previously directed me in two projects, “Life on Mars” and my last TV show on The CW, “Life Unexpected.” He felt like I was the best person for this role J.T. and he brought me in to meet the executive producers and (creators) Jennifer (Levin) and Sherri Cooper. I did the audition and it was a great meeting, very relaxed, very warm, we were laughing. When I left the room, I felt really good about it but I didn’t know exactly how well I had done until basically later on that evening or the next day. Gary emailed me and said that they were working out a deal to test me for the pilot and within a week I didn’t even have to test. It was probably the fastest audition that I have ever had because I didn’t have to go through rounds and rounds of auditions in front of 10 to 20 people and against three or four other guys that look or sound exactly like me.
TP: Tell us about your role as J.T. Forbes and how you have made it your own.
AB: J.T. is Vincent’s best friend, confidant, a biochemistry professor and former medical researcher, so you can say way smarter then I actually am. That was a challenging aspect coming into it. The way I feel I tried approach the character is to make the choice that’s most dramatic for each scene and each moment. I feel J.T. is driving me to save Vince and cure Vince. The direction I would like is real, truthful, have a sense of humor, and be approachable for an audience so the audience would say I think I would react the same way. I would like to give the character heart and really bring the better aspect of my own personality to the character, namely a sense of humor and the sense of loyalty to his friends and that love, that bromance between two guy friends.
TP: The show was recently picked up for a full 22-episode season. What can you tell us about the show’s future plans and what is going to be explored?
AB: I probably only know just past mid season so I wouldn’t know. We had some interesting twists and turns during the last episode that aired Thursday. It ends with Vincent kind of passing out and waking up on the top of the Brooklyn Bridge so this pattern continues. J.T. and Vincent along with Catherine, namely J.T. and Vincent, start trying to figure out what’s happening, what’s going on. J.T., a scientist chemistry genus, goes into full of effect and he’s doing all these tests on Vincent and he’s trying to do controlled experiments and figure out what’s actually happening. We have this full series of experiments. Vincent’s condition is not a permanent fixture, it keeps changing and evolving and he could be getting worse, he could be getting more animal, more super human. He also could be adversely affected in the same way Parkinson’s or certain diseases degrade your system. It’s going to be interesting to see that. J.T. starts to be inspired by Vincent and Catherine’s relationship to seek his own relationship. In the last episode, you saw he kind of took the risk and leap of faith to ask this girl at school, this other professor, out for the first time and pursue that and see where that leads. I think that throughout the next several episodes you are going to see that coming in and out, where J.T.’s worlds is kind of expanding and he’s venturing out and getting a life of his own which he has neglected for the past 10 years to take care of Vincent. The other thing I could really say is that J.T. starts to encounter other people within the cast a variety of ways at the police station. That’s all I can say. It’s interesting as actors, we are all a cast and having been hanging out in Toronto, we don’t know many other people here. We occasionally go out to dinner or a movie. The only other people I have actually worked with for the most part are Jay and Kristin. Everyone else is at the police station and I really don’t do any of those scenes. The prospect of having the potential to do scenes with those other actors is always fun.
TP: I found this very interesting, when the pilot was in development ABC was also making a “Beauty and the Beast” pilot. What was said about this alternate pilot early on during production?
AB: Yes. The only worry or concern was that they both got picked up. The other pilot was an ABC Disney pilot that probably had more of a right to the name and we might have to change our name. Luckily, Gary Fleder’s company, Mojo Films, was the producer of that other pilot so he had all his eggs in both baskets so we had the inside scoop for most of that. That was more of a traditional telling of the “Beauty and The Beast” tale. I don’t know if it was a period piece. We are a modern adaptation set in a post 9/11 New York, a detective procedural/superhero drama with elements of romance and action and comedy.
TP: In regards to the 1987 “Beauty and the Beast” series, do you consider this show a reboot like ABCs recent “Charlie’s Angels” or reimagination like NBCs “Mockingbird Lane” of “the Munsters?”
AB: This is definitely a reimagination. I would say a more reimaging of the classic fairy tale with references and homage to the ’87 series on CBS. The Catherine and Vincent characters are similar but I believe in the 80’s version, Catherine was a lawyer and in this pilot she was going to be a lawyer but because of her mom’s murder became a detective.
TP: Did this worry you when you auditioned for the role?
AB: Yeah. I think you are always worried as an actor. Everything starts out when you audition for something as a job and you become a part of it. Approaching it, I just happened to get cast in this pilot. If I had the luxury of being able to choose things I could do, if I was at that point in my career, maybe I would have had a little trepidation coming into a reboot or a reimaging that has a former versions of it. Once I came on board, I saw that this was totally different. My character doesn’t exist in the original. That was a big relief to me so I didn’t have to live up to a certain expectation that people had. That would be a small portion of our audience because a lot of our audience is too young to have even watched the earlier series. The only people that really have the pressure are Jay and Kristin to live up to and overcome those expectations that people had of what Linda Hamilton did with the role and what Ron Perlman did. They have been relieved of that because the show is so modern and you can never redo that show. They didn’t even try to do it. They have really just created a new show within the same parameters of this fairytale.