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 Michael Chernus, who plays the brilliant scientist with the epic mustache, Louis “Fritz” Fedowitz, on the drama.
Zap2it: Which is more challenging: ’40s fashion or nuclear physics?
Chernus: Nuclear Physics is a cake walk compared to wearing your pants all the way up to your nipples. How did dudes do it back then? 1940s high-waisted pants fashion is way more challenging.
What did you actually know about The Manhattan Project before you auditioned for the role?
I’m a bit of an American History nerd. Especially military history (I’m a huge Civil War buff). So I knew a bit about the Manhattan Project. But, truthfully, it was only a cursory understanding. It’s such a fascinating subject and such an important time in our history. You could study it forever and never really scratch the surface.
If you could hang out with a real Manhattan Project scientist, who would you pick?
Robert Serber seems to have been a fascinating guy. Check out the documentary “The Day After Trinity.” Serber’s interviews are amazing. I’d hang out with him. Or Richard Feynman. I bet he was fun. Read “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.” That’s a good one. Yeah, I would go drinking with Serber and Feynman at La Fonda in Santa Fe.
Marry/kiss/kick to the curb: Einstein, Oppenheimer, Fermi.
First of all, you can’t kick any of these guys to the curb. C’mon. That’s sacrilege. Don’t even. But, obviously you marry Einstein and make out with Oppenheimer. And then you like, have a nice dinner with Enrico Fermi.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about working on a period piece?
My favorite thing about working on a period piece is my mustache. My least favorite thing about working on a period piece is my mustache. I love the mustache so much when we are shooting a scene. It’s perfect for my character “Fritz.” But then on my days off I have to like order a coffee at the coffee shop with this stupid mustache on my face. It’s not so perfect for my real life.
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?
The pant waists were high…but the scientists were even higher! Everyone was partying at Los Alamos. The scientists would literally use lab alcohol to spike the punch at Manhattan Project parties. They were getting loose when they weren’t creating weapons of mass destruction! And there were lottttttts of babies born during those war years at Los Alamos. If ya know what I’m saying.