With a pedigree including executive producers J.J. Abrams (Revolution, Lost) and Alfonso Cuarón (Oscar-winning director of Gravity), you might expect something mysterious and technically thrilling from NBC‘s new series Believe, and you’d be right.
Believe reminds me a little of Stephen King’s Firestarter, and follows young Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a girl with gifts such as levitation, telekinesis and the ability to control nature, among other things. When sinister forces (led by a mysterious character played by Kyle MacLachlan) seek to control her and her abilities, Bo’s protectors (played by Delroy Lindo and Jamie Chung) turn to an unlikely source to keep her safe — Tate (Jake McLaughlin), a wrongfully imprisoned death-row inmate who’s lost his will.
On the run, Bo and the very reluctant Tate embark on a father/daughter, brother/sister type relationship, complete with the squabbling and bickering that provides some of the comic elements of the show. Talking with McLaughlin and Sequoyah recently about the series — and with the two charmingly bantering back and forth — it was clear that their off-camera relationship mirrors what we see from them onscreen.
“Like, when we’re not shooting, he’ll sneak me Cokes,” said the 11-year-old Sequoyah. “It’s like he just feels like one of my friends. He has like a 2-year-old personality.”
“I have a daughter who’s her age,” said McLaughlin. “It’s kind of like [being] a grandparent — we don’t have to be with you, we don’t have to take home that [parental] responsibility, but we’ll just do fun stuff with you. Yeah, your mom can yell at me for letting you have a Coke, but I’ll take it as it comes.”
When asked if the arguing we see between the characters onscreen was ad-libbed, Sequoyah said, “It kind of depends on the director. Sometimes the writers are on set and they won’t like you improvising, but sometimes the directors are like, ‘Oh, you got that down; let’s take a couple shots just improvising before you say your lines.’”
“That’s great,” agreed McLaughlin. “That’s been a huge thing in being able to make a scene your own.”
Many of those scenes in Believe are pretty action-filled and intense, with fighting and running common throughout the pilot, which was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. When it came to doing the stunts in these scenes, Sequoyah and McLaughlin had different experiences.
“I don’t do any of [my stunts], really,” Sequoyah said. “I’m kind of afraid of them. [Laughs] … In the pilot, with the whole car-crash thing, I wanted to do that because it looked fun. … The stuff where the car was hitting, that was fun because it felt like a Disney ride. So I was into that.”
On the other hand, McLaughlin — who spent time in Iraq as part of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division — does pretty much all of his own stunt work.
“I’m on what they call a self-check,” he told us. “If I feel like I can’t do something or don’t want to do it, then I’ll tell them that. That won’t happen.”
One element of the show on which the two actors are on the same page is their pleasure with not knowing too much of where Believe is going ahead of time.
“We kind of find out as it goes along,” said McLaughlin. “It keeps it fresh for us and also helps us not project where it’s going to be going.”
Sequoyah agreed. “If I knew where it was going I’d probably get bored, eventually. … Not knowing where it’s going is kind of like an adventure.”
Believe premieres March 10 at 10pm ET on NBC, following The Voice. The series airs regularly Sundays at 9pm ET starting March 16.