Mark Valley has one of the more interesting roles on Fringe. His character, agent John Scott, is blown up in the first episode, lives on in the memories of agent Olivia Dunham (thanks to that crazy "experimental science"), and is sustained as a crispy critter in a hyperbolic tent by the evil MassiveDynamic corporation. With a character like this, it's no wonder that fans are salivating for answers. We squeeze a few questions out of the elusive actor.
What has your contractual status been this season?
Contractually, I can't really say too much. Basically, it's one of those situations where they can keep you as long as they want, but it doesn't necessarily mean you can leave whenever you want. That's all I can really say about that. I was never signed up to be in every episode regularly.
Is this sort of uncertainty fun for you?
It's fun when you're getting the job, but it's not quite as enjoyable when you're wondering what the next one is going to be.
Do you think your character is really a traitor, or that he's more of a misunderstood hero on the show?
I think he's just a real believer. I think he's really serious about what he does, and whoever it is that he is working for, he's extremely loyal to them. Aside from that, I don't really want to judge, to be honest with you.
Will we ever see John in the flesh again instead of just in Olivia's mind?
I can't really say. I think you'll probably see both, but I can't really confirm, nor what condition he's going to be in in either of those situations.
When you signed on to the show, did anyone assure that, even though you "died" in the first episode, you would come back for more episodes?
To start out with, sometimes I need assurance as to what to wear when I leave the house. [Laughs.] That having been said, I think you can make an assumption on that. I always felt that, for a guy whose character dies in the pilot, I've gotten an awful lot of work on this show.
What is it like working with Anna Torv [Agent Olivia Dunham]?
I think she's just a fantastic actor, and I really like working with her. She has such a solid idea of what's going on in a scene and what her objective is and what she's going to do. Yes, I've enjoyed working with her, and as a person, she's just delightful.
Since you still don't really know if John is a good guy or a bad guy, does that affect the way you play him?
I think that whether he's good or bad, there's a degree of guilt that he carries around with him. Actually, now that I think of it, I actually forget to play that, but it makes a lot of sense though, doesn't it? [Laughs.] I think that when you watch it, you'll have to make up your own mind about that. I just look at him as a regular person. He's done some things because he believed in them and there is sort of a tragic situation that comes out of it.
Do you play him differently whether you know he's alive or dead?
I think when you're talking about John Scott being inside Olivia's brain, then you're dealing with a consciousness, or the way someone remembers someone, as well as his own particular memories and his own conscious. I like to think that his consciousness is actually in her head, so it's actually as if he were alive. I think when somebody is dead, your job is a lot easier. I just kind of lie there. You don't really have to do anything, so that's probably the big difference. Work's a lot easier when John is dead. [Laughs.]
Executive producer J.J. Abrams and other writers promised some closure with your storyline. Do you feel like these upcoming episodes give some closure?
They do answer some questions that have been lingering in my mind, like who my character has been working for exactly, and he sort of confirms the truth of his feelings toward Olivia.
Some of the recent episodes have been a little more stand-alone. Is Tuesday's episode more a mythology episode?
I would have to see the final cut. Sometimes it depends on what parts of the story they choose to accentuate and edit, but I would say this is, as they all are, a stand-alone episode. If you have been watching the whole season, it will sort of enhance the experience of watching it.
It sounds like, for the people who have been following it since the beginning, it definitely addresses earlier things.
Yes, it does.
Do you have a theory as to what is really going on with John?
Yes. My theory is that he is working for the government -- for the Postal Service, and he's not very happy about it, and he is a disgruntled postal worker. [Laughs.] I'm just joking. I don't have any theories, to be honest with you, because every time I've gone down that road and come up with something, it seems to take a turn in a different direction, so I try to keep an open mind about all of that.
How far ahead do they let you know what's coming up for you?
I only know when I get the script, basically. But I generally know, as with all of the actors, probably four or five days before the episode starts, sometimes less.
Do you believe cases that Fringe investigates could be happening right now?
When you look at some things like the spread of the Ebola virus, or some of these other super viruses and strains that just act so quickly, that can get your imagination running. I think that there are aspects of science fiction and technology that can hint toward what this show portrays, but to answer your question, no. I don't think so, but then again, I don't believe in ghosts, and some people say there are ghosts. I just would have to see it myself.
For people that have not gotten on-board yet with Fringe and are definitely interested, it might be hard to step in. What would you tell people who wanted to join with this next episode?
I think anytime is a good time to jump in, and then they can just buy the first-season DVD to catch up. [Laughs.] It's probably the best way to do it. It's exciting to watch the shows when the episode comes out, because that's when everybody is finding out about it, and it's somewhat of an event, as opposed to just a discrete television show. So I would say start watching as soon as possible and catch up when it comes out on DVD, or download them. Get on board.
I noticed you majored in math and engineering at West Point. Has that background helped you get your head around some of the extreme scientific concepts in the show?
It's definitely pretty interesting. I used to watch Numbers just to see what the heck they were talking about, but usually, it's pretty advanced stuff. A lot of the stuff that comes up on the show, like repeating series and things like that, I'm a little embarrassed because I've forgotten what it all is. I need to be reminded, so it's really pretty humbling in some ways. But I guess having been a math major, I am sort of fascinated with numbers and series and formulas and models and simulations and things like that, but there hasn't been a lot of really heavy math on the show. Most of it's been biology and chemistry.
Has sci-fi influenced you at all? Were there any TV shows or films that impacted you?
I would have to say it was Star Trek, because whenever they beamed someone down, we never knew what there was going to be. There were always repeats on after school. My sisters wanted to watch Brady Bunch, and I always wanted to watch Star Trek, so we would have to negotiate.
Who was your favorite character on Star Trek?
It was Captain Kirk - William Shatner.
Of all the characters you work with, who do you enjoy working with most and seeing as an actor? Who makes you laugh, or who do you just get a real kick out of watching?
I would say I enjoy working with everybody in the cast. Most of my scenes have been with Anna. She's delightful. She's my favorite on the show, to be honest with you. But as far as the others go, Kirk [Acevedo, who plays Charlie Francis] is a really good actor and I always wanted to work with him. I never met Josh Jackson [Peter Bishop] before, and I never met John Noble [Walter Bishop] before, and I haven't had any scenes with them either. Blair Brown [Nina Sharp], she's a wonderful experienced actor, and Jasika Nicole [Astrid Farnsworth], they're all just really nice people. There's no drama on the show at all, but I would say Anna and Kirk are probably my favorites.
What about your role do you find challenging?
What I think is challenging is playing a character that is in Olivia's memory, or in her consciousness. It is challenging trying to think of where he comes from, where he's going, what he's aware of, what is he not aware of, and what does he remember, and what does he not. That is a little bit challenging. It is sort of taking the character out of the ether and placing him somewhere and trying to figure out how he would react. That I find challenging.
What has been the most memorable moment you've had from filming Fringe?
The most memorable moment was probably in the pilot when I was covered in an inch of goo with prosthetic muscle and veins running all over me. I think it was once I was walking down the hallway and somebody saw me and freaked out, and I realized just how grotesque I looked.
What has your experience been like with the writers and producers on the show?
They're a great bunch. I really haven't had a lot of contact with them, to be honest with you, but in terms of where the show is going, I can really appreciate that they're working as hard as they can to make a good television show. I'm really impressed with the way they are able to adapt to conditions, such as what's working with the show's storyline and what's not working, what they need to bring in, and what they need to show more of. It's amazing that they can keep an overall show going and still be able to adapt on the fly like that. To me, that means they all know each other, they all work well together, they all trust each other, they all respect each other. It's a pleasure to work with that.
We know that John's current arc on the show is about to be resolved, but is there room for him to come back next season or later on the show?
I think there's room for even you to be shot with a tranquilizer gun and dragged onto the set of Fringe for a couple of seasons. [Laughs.] I think it could happen to anybody, so I'm not going to rule it out.
Does your military background help with your portrayal of John?
Yes, it did. I remember cutting my hair really short [for the role] and I assumed that he had some military background. What I find with guys that have military backgrounds is sometimes, they go to great lengths to hide it. They were previous military and they are kind of down on it. I think John was one of the ones that didn't.
How do you think the writers are doing with the government or the bureaucratic side of the show versus the sci-fi side?
I'm not really familiar with the way Homeland Security works with the FBI right now. I think that Michael Gaston [Sanford Harris], who has come on, is really fantastic, and I think that character is really believable. I think Lance Reddick [Phillip Broyles] always lends a very authentic sense of authority to any character that he plays. Kirk is really believable as an FBI agent, and I think the FBI would probably take Anna on right now if she applied.
As far as the overall bureaucracy goes, I'm not really familiar with it, and I don't really know how accurate it would be. But in terms of the accuracy in characters that are portrayed, I think I believe it.
What's the coolest thing you've learned about fringe science since starting the show?
Probably that LSD can actually be used for practical purposes [laughs], and maybe the idea that a virus could actually be grown into some sort of parallel organism. That cold virus [that manifests itself as a giant slug] is still kind of creeping me out, especially because I have a cold right now. Every time I cough I hope it's not like one of those things.