After watching the first episode of NBC’s summer thriller, “Persons Unknown,” we were thoroughly creeped out. “It’s definitely a creepy show,” star Jason Wiles tells Zap2it. “It’s about seven people, strangers, who get abducted out of their lives and put in a strange place where they’re being watched. They don’t know why they’re there or how they’re going to get out.”
Daisy Betts plays Janet, a young single mother who is abducted from a playground, and Alan Ruck is Charlie, a wealthy businessman who demands answers. Wiles, perhaps best known for his six seasons as Officer Maurice Boscorelli on “Third Watch,” plays Joe, who is still a mystery to us after the first episode.
“He doesn’t trust anyone. His first goal is getting out of the ghost town. He’s not interested in making friends,” Wiles says.
If that phrase makes you think of a reality show, you’re not alone. “Persons Unknown” has the same voyeuristic quality we’ve come to expect from reality TV… though, of course, there’s a lot more at stake for these characters. “They’re more or less trapped in a human video game,” Wiles says. “It’s literally my worst nightmare.”
Wiles’ character emerges as the leader of the pack quickly. Wiles tells us, “They say he’s a natural leader, but I like to think he’s a leader mostly in the sense that he’s active.” Unlike the other characters, Joe isn’t as concerned with why they’re there or who put them there. He just wants to get out and get back to his life, whatever that may entail.
“Going into it, I knew a bit more about the character than what’s revealed in the first episode. I can’t tell you any of that, of course,” Wiles teases. “The characters are the reason the show works. They’re all very drawn out and nuanced. They become suspicious of each other, and alliances form. It’s a real f***ing rollercoaster.”
Part of what appealed to Wiles about the show was the opportunity to film in Mexico. Traditionally, when a new television show is presented to a network, a pilot episode is filmed and the network chooses whether or not to buy more. In the case of “Persons Unknown,” like “Mental” and “Defying Gravity,” Fox TV Studios funded 13 episodes without having sold it to a network.
“We knew we were going down there to Mexico for six months. We were staying in sort of the Beverly Hills of Mexico City, but we were really the fish out of water,” Wiles says. He means that in a positive way. “The food was amazing, the people were amazing. From ‘action’ to ‘cut’ it was all in Spanish. It was the dream, honestly. It sounds so cliche, but we all liked and respected each other, but we were all so different. We had a blast.”
It’s been nearly a year since they wrapped filming. “We had no idea when or where it was going to air. It was a risk for NBC to buy the series. They’re like, ‘What do you mean, it’s already finished?’ It’s kind of a funny buy, because they weren’t controlling it. They couldn’t give notes during production. It was like, ‘Here’s our show.'”
“Persons Unknown” premieres Monday, June 7, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the series will extend beyond the thirteen episodes. “Personally, I think there’s potential to turn it into a bigger series. I don’t know how the last episode plays out, but yeah, I think it could be longer than 13 episodes,” Wiles says. “People have compared it to ‘Lost,’ but I haven’t watched a lot of ‘Lost.’ I think it’s got sort of a ‘Twilight Zone’ or ‘Prisoner’ feel to it.”
Wiles would certainly be happy to revisit Mexico City, and his character, Joe. “As an actor, you want to play the most f***ed up character, in the most dire situation,” he laughs. “Plus, it was nice not to wear a cop uniform for a while.”
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