WGN America will debut its second original scripted series, “Manhattan,” on July 27. In preparation for the 1940s period drama, which surrounds the scientists tasked with developing the atomic bomb in New Mexico — and their in-the-dark families — Zap2it caught up with the cast for a Q&A about their new show.
Up next is Eddie Shin, who plays brilliant scientist Sid Liao, who is working on the team led by John Benjamin Hickey’s Frank Winter to develop the first atomic bomb.
Zap2it: Which is more challenging: ’40s fashion or nuclear physics?
Shin: The only challenging thing about forties fashion was tying my tie, which averaged about three desperate attempts to get it right. Also, whether it’s accurate or not, the forties fashion felt much more dapper to me, overall. From the more everyday looks and certainly to the glamorous ones, forties fashion struck me as very put-together, which would be challenging to a more casual guy like me.
The nuclear physics, not shockingly, was much more challenging than dressing myself, although once the on-set advisors boiled concepts down to broad stroke questions that the physicists were trying to address, the science become surprisingly simple at its core. Anything more than the most superficial approach, however, was completely impenetrable and made my head spin.
What did you actually know about The Manhattan Project before you auditioned for the role?
I knew what the Manhattan Project was. I attended the University of Chicago, where a sculpture by Henry Moore, called Nuclear Energy, sits on campus and commemorates Fermi’s work. So I knew that Enrico Fermi and his colleagues performed various experiments there that made the development of the atomic bomb possible. I was also familiar with several of the more famous scientists like Einstein, Niels Bohr and, of course, Oppenheimer. I also knew about the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which is all to say, I knew pretty broad, bare-bones stuff.
If you could hang out with a real Manhattan Project scientist, who would you pick?
Dr. Richard Feynman. I listened to several of his lectures and stories about his time in Los Alamos, and I was surprised to hear how funny they were. Especially because our show focuses on a darker aspect of the Los Alamos experience, I was drawn to the lighter counterpoint of Dr. Feynman’s experiences.
Marry/kiss/kick to the curb: Einstein, Oppenheimer, Fermi.
Marry Einstein. Kiss Fermi. Kick Oppenheimer to the curb.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about working on a period piece?
The favorite thing is definitely the research. I was never a great student of history. Knowing that I was researching history because I had to act in a period piece allowed for a much more direct and deeper way to absorb material, as opposed to a more academic approach of textbooks and essays.
What’s one thing about this time in history — or The Manhattan Project, specifically — that you didn’t know before you started working on the show?
I never knew how expansive or controversial the Manhattan Project was. Expansive: it really was the rallying effort of an entire country, determined to end world war. The breadth of the common effort is unbelievable and very inspiring. Controversial: the unsettling secrecy and oversight of the project, the unnerving discovery of atomic energy’s potential, and the ultimate development and use of atomic weapons. All these topics still resonate today. Also, I’m surprised, given the magnitude of the Manhattan Project, that it feels, to this day, very obscure and unexposed. Maybe that’s a direct result of its controversial nature as well. We’re still figuring out what to make of it, and the Project’s ripples are still being felt and interpreted.