Catching Up With: Alexis Denisof of the new web sci-fi series H+

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Today, Bryan Singer’s sci-fi web series, H+ made its debut, airing the first two short episodes on YouTube. The scope of the story, weaving in the tales of survivors of an apocalyptic event in the near future after humanity has become connected through optical implants, would be epic by prime-time television standards, but Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, House, M.D.) and writer/creator John Cabrera thought the time was right for an ambitious series to carve a place for itself online.

We recently talked to H+ star Alexis Denisof (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, The Avengers) about the new web series. It’s the second time the Maryland-born actor has played a character from across the Atlantic, after his role as the British demon-hunter Wesley Wyndham-Pryce on the two Joss Whedon TV shows. This time he’s an Irish luddite with a complicated relationship to the H+ technology.

Watch the seven-minute pilot at the bottom of this story. WB will release two new episodes every Wednesday, until all 48 installments have aired by January 2013.

Paste: How did you get involved with H+
Denisof: Kind of the old-fashioned way. The script arrived from my agent, and I read it and flipped out. I thought it was such a cool story. I liked the character, so I went to meet the writers and director and we clicked. When I read it, I was like, “Well, you can’t shoot this. This is unshootable,” both in the scope of the geography—San Francisco, India, Chile, Finland; it takes place in so many crazy, expensive locations—but also the big event, this cataclysmic decimation of a third of the population, I was like, “This is just unshootable for the web show. This sounds like the budget you’d need on The Avengers.” But then hearing about the locations in Chile and hearing about what their view of the show was and how it was really going to look, I was like, ‘Oh, I think I need to see how this is going to work.’ So I took a gamble; I got on a plane and flew to Chile and did my piece. And then waited while they worked like Trojans to put all these millions of threads together.

Paste: Did all your scenes happen in Chile?
Denisof: Chile was the location, but you wouldn’t know it. My actual storyline is Ireland and Mumbai, India. And believe it or not, they created locations in Chile that are completely convincing as both. Credit to Chile for being a global country. You’ve got mountains, ocean, city, country, decay, farmland, skyscrapers. It was really a stroke of genius to use that as a location. It’s just a damn long flight.

Paste: Was this your first web series?
Denisof: I did one other. It’s called Little Women, Big Cars. It could not be, in a way, more different than this. It’s not set in the future. It revolves around a group of soccer-mom friends who are struggling in their relationships. And I play the husband of the main character. So we had a lot of domestic scenes about our children and the struggles of raising a family in the modern world. It was kind of a funny, light-hearted look at the problems people have in this face of their lives. That was offered on AOL and it was a pretty big success for them. That’s the only other web series I’ve done.

Paste: How did that change how you view television online?
Denisof: I think H+ is the most ambitious thing I’ve heard of or will have seen on the web. Not only is it ambitious, but they succeed. I think previously people were shooting low because the advertising dollars are still just starting to come online. It was thought of as a sort of poor cousin to TV and film previously. But I think that these guys saw the future and brought it to the present as far as what is possible on the Web. It’s not apologizing for itself. It’s bold filmmaking. It looks beautiful. The acting is impeccable. The scenes are compelling. The script is good. It holds its own against any TV show or film, in my opinion. I’m really proud of it and I think everyone involved is really proud of it.

Paste: Tell us about your character.
Denisof: I play a lovable Irish writer, Connell Sheehan, who would be the last person interested in having an implant in his brain or being online. He’s all about being at the pub with the guys and singing songs and spouting poetry and sunset walks and growing your own vegetables—you know old world values through a romantic literary perspective. But he’s married to a woman who’s integral in the development of this device for the general population, so he’s therefore kind of forced into a relationship with H+. What interested me about this particular storyline is that their relationship is not in a good place. You kind of drop in to them, and you meet them, and they’re having interviews with surrogates to have a child because they’ve been struggling to have children. And then you watch them and see, “Wait a minute, that relationship looks like it’s struggling. Is a child a good idea?” And it looks at how this technology when it’s brought into the most intimate layers of a relationship, a husband and wife who are having problems, what are the ways it helps and what are the ways that it can hurt that relationship. It’s very approachable and immediate in the storyline that I have. Some of the storylines are much more out there. There are militia groups. There are techno geeks gone wrong. There are villagers dealing with the epic events that are going on around the world. It touches all sorts of societal elements as far as the technology and as far as this cataclysmic event. But I think the storyline that I inhabit, I really was interested in because it’s so detailed and intimate.

Paste: So, an English watcher and now an Irish writer. Have you always been gifted with accents?
Denisof: I hope I don’t get any angry letters from the great country of Ireland saying, ‘What is that noise coming out of your mouth?’ But I worked hard on it. Accents are something I can get comfortable with. I like them. I consider them both a challenge and a doorway. I can’t stand it when I watch performances where the accent is just like moving out at me. And I’m hearing an accent more than I’m seeing a character. Even if it’s a good one, sometimes it can be in the way. I hope I’m not accused of it, but maybe I’m guilty of that too. I hope that when I work with accents, I really try to find a more natural way of working it in so it just informs you a little more about the person, gives you more detail into who they are. It’s amazing how the way a person talks says so much about them without them having to tell you who they are. It’s a very subtle but powerful way to convey information about a person.

Paste: How do you see fans of your work in Joss Whedon projects (Buffy, Angel, The Avengers) responding to H+
Denisof: I think there’s a good fit for people who like Joss’ work. Bryan Singer, who’s kind of top of the pyramid on this one, is a visionary storyteller, as is Joss Whedon. And they’re not a million miles apart when you talk about genre work. I’ve been privileged to work with Joss on quite a few occasions, and I’m a huge fan of his work. I try to take the work that interests me. I hope people that have felt that I gave them something on screen in the past will take an interest in this and see why I was interested in this too. And I think they’ll be rewarded.

Paste: And do you see this as an ongoing endeavor?
Denisof: I do. If there’s any justice, this thing will have an invitation to continue. It has a very satisfying conclusions. There are a vast number of story threads that are woven together and evolve and connect more and more as you watch—seemingly disparate but becoming more connected. If it doesn’t go further than this one series, it’s a huge series that stands on its own and doesn’t have to go any further, because it’s a story well told. But it’s also a story that has some dangling hooks that can be explored in the future.

Paste: If it were to succeed well on the web, can you imagine this moving to other platforms?
Denisof: I guess the question is, “Would it need to?” I could easily see it moving to other platforms beyond the web, but it’s going to work so well on the web, so I’m excited to see how this will take the web and move it on, move it to the next level because television is evolving and changing hugely because of the internet and because of the explosion of networks. It doesn’t need help. It’s got plenty of money sloshing around in there. I think where the excitement and interest is to be found is the web. It’s like the early days of the auto industry. You look at these guys out there making these weird mechanical transportation devices. And now here we are 100 years later—try not to see a car, I challenge you. I think these web shows are at the same point, at the beginning of something that’s going to be everywhere, all the time. But we’re having the chance to shape that. I think looking back H+ will be a definitive moment in web content.

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