As J.J. Abrams preps to shoot his new mysterious, (possibly) time-traveling TV series Alcatraz, we're piecing together the trail of clues Abrams has left. What is this show about? Astral-projecting convicts, ancient magic, science? Here's what we know. Spoilers/speculation ahead...
For months, we've been hearing all sorts of hints about J.J. Abrams' next TV project Alcatraz. But what is it really about? Like all things Abrams, the production, cast announcements, and even promo information are shrouded in mystery.
Back in September, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Alcatraz was going to be a "show about mysteries, secrets and the most infamous prison of all time: Alcatraz." Months later it was announced that the show was centered around a group of missing Alcatraz guards and prisoners who vanish and mysteriously reappear in the present day, and the FBI agents assigned to track them all down and figure out the truth behind their disappearance.
The summary never specifically hints at time travel, but the distinct lack of casting announcements for prisoners has us wondering if they're keeping it all under wraps, so it won't give away the mysterious plot. If FOX was to release a bunch of casting announcements for 20-something prisoners for a present-day show, the jig would be up. What we DO have to go on, however, was the semi-recent casting announcements of the Alcatraz Wardens. In December, Deadline announced that Jonny Coyne and Jason Butler Harner had been cast in the roles of Warden Edwin James and Associate Warden E.B. Tiller, respectively. Harner is quite young, and unless they kill him off in a flashback (possible) or put him in old man make up for all present day shots (tedious), there's no reason we can't assume or guess that he may have reappeared in the modern day without aging. Potential time traveler? Sure!
In an interview with Collider, Abrams was cagey about revealing any details (naturally) but did mention something very odd that happened 50 years ago.
ABRAMS: We do. We have a few projects. We have a show for Fox called Alcatraz, that starts shooting on the 19th, which I could not be more excited about.
Is Alcatraz actually about Alcatraz?
ABRAMS: Alcatraz does involve Alcatraz.
Will it be shot in the actual prison?
ABRAMS: Some will be, yes. There are sets being built, but there will be some of the pilot shot in San Francisco at Alcatraz.
What is the series about?
ABRAMS: I don't want to give anything away because no one wants to hear that, but I will say that it's a beautifully written and surprisingly emotional script, although not surprising when you know that Liz Sarnoff wrote it. She's amazing. The show is about an incredibly odd and mysterious turn and secret about the prison of Alcatraz, and a modern-day mystery that involves something very odd that happened there 50 years ago.
Who have you cast?
ABRAMS: The cast is unbelievable. It's Sam Neill, Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia from Lost – who was the first person we cast and is just the greatest with an amazing role – and Johnny Coyne, who's an amazing English actor. We have a spectacular cast. There are a number of other actors and it is wonderful. I'm really excited about the show.
While scanning the message boards, we noticed a very interesting little fact dug up by Spoiler TV commenter DarthLocke explaining the island's early uses. Turns out, before Alcatraz was a prison, it was an utilized by the indigenous population as a place of isolation for undesirable members of the community. So it was a prison even before it was a prison. Interesting — but is it important? Not sure, but definitely worth mentioning. I'm sure Bad Robot did ample research on the location before going ahead with the series.
And finally a recent casting call for extras for the Alcatraz pilot has asked for tourists, Chinatown pedestrians, and actors ready to commit to a 2-day shoot aboard the Alcatraz ferry (also portraying tourists). There was no mention of period wear, and the casting call also mentioned a need for a few modern day cars. So at least we know that some of the pilot will take place in the here and now, even though the show's central mystery is some odd 50 years ago.
So a mysterious happening, a Lost producer and writer involved in the mix, plus a gaggle of young actors? All signs point to something out of this world — it may not be time travel exactly, but we wouldn't be surprised if this show wound up with some sort of insane Prestige-like twist in this series.
But enough speculation let's talk about what we do know, and we know that this cast is pretty excellent:
Sarah Jones: Main character Rebecca Madsen will be played by Sarah Jones, yet another unknown female actress whom Abrams has picked to be a kick-ass crime fighter. The TV Guide descried her character as smart, thoughtful, but slightly obsessive. And she's playing opposite:
Jorge Garcia Hurley! Jorge Garcia will assume the role of Dr. Diego Soto, who is the world's foremost expert on Alcatraz, but is also called "hippy geek" in the press releases. But it's important to note that odd-couple team up between the possibly obsessive straight lace cop lady, and "hippy" Dr.
Santiago Cabrera Just recently cast is ex Heroes actor Cabrera who will play fiance to the main character Rebecca. His character is also a cop.
Sam Neill The infamous Sam Neill was cast in December as Emerson Hauser, "the head of a government agency who radiates authority and piercing intelligence."
Jonny Coyne Coyne (who was on Abrams' Undercovers series) was cast in the lead role of Alcatraz Warden Edwin James.
Jason Butler Harner You may know Harner as the sicko serial killer from Changeling, but he was also in Fringe. Harner has been cast as Associate Warden E.B. Tiller who "enjoys and abuses his power."
Besides the casting, we also came across a possible poster for the Fox series (at the top of this post). Even thought is could be a fan-made photochop, it still projects that mysterious Abrams glow. It was posted at Joy Hog and discovered via Spoiler TV. Fake or real, we still like it.
So, what do you think about the new series Alcatraz so far? DVR it, or dismiss it?