Utopia is Amazon’s bold and mysterious upcoming conspiracy thriller that quite frankly is flying way too close to the realities we are experiencing today. A remake and reimagining from the mind of Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Utopia hooked me from its first moments and I was dying to know more with each episode. With each mystery, it’s clear that Dr. Kevin Christie (John Cusack, Say Anything…) knows more than he’s letting on. Ahead of its premiere, The Beat spoke to industry veteran John Cusack to get the full scope of Dr. Christie, what he and his son, Thomas (Cory Michael Smith, Gotham) are really up to and why Utopia was the perfect first television project for him.
On his character Dr. Christie, Cusack shared: “It is hard to talk too much about the show of Utopia because everything you think you know about the characters in the first episode gets changed in the second and that keeps going. By the seventh episode, you think you have it all figured out, and then by the eighth episode you find yourself down a different rabbit hole talking to a different Cheshire cat (laughs).”
“Dr. Christie is a biotech visionary and a philanthropist. He has his hand in green energy, patents for viruses, and alternative food sources. He wakes up every day trying to use science and technology to solve some of the world’s existential problems and he’s very sort of Stalinist about it. He’s kind of like Willy Wonka meets a TED talk during the apocalypse, and that’s why he was so appealing to me.”
On the appeal of Utopia as his first television show, Cusack told us: “To me, it was the appeal of doing something I’d never done before. Usually, I’m working in two-hour narratives compressed into a film. Utopia was spread out over eight hours so, it was fun to see that. With a lot of the best TV, each episode is needed to tell the story and that’s how I feel about Utopia.”
“This show is everything, it is just a diamond, iron clad, and everything seamlessly weaves together. There isn’t an unnecessary character or a throwaway plot. It is really a fierce, rigorous piece of work. So, I thought to myself that I was never going to get better than this if I was going to do a TV show because this is something really special.”
On Dr. Christie’s relationship with his son, Thomas, particularly in the workplace, Cusack said: “Within the structure of Christie Corp. there are a lot of players and a lot of people doing different things. I think Thomas feels the weight of being his sole biological heir, even though he’s adopted a bunch of kids, some we’ve seen and maybe some we haven’t yet. But either way, Dr. Christie has created this world and soldiers for the utopian future. And I think his son, is also in a Machiavellian way, trying to clear the path for other competitors within Christie Corp. Thomas is trying to remove anyone who might be a threat, which we see in a lot of government cults and organizations and big corporations. So, there’s that kind of intrigue and espionage elements even within Christie Corp.”
On the timing of Utopia’s release while amid our own pandemic, Cusack shared: “Well, you know, it’s very surreal. When you read the whole thing in its entirety and you know Gillian’s work and her point of view, even as a drama, a dark comic thriller, fantasy thriller, and even sci-fi thriller, Utopia is running sort of straight at the problems that humanity faces. I mean, that’s what it’s about, that’s the theme of the show. So, it doesn’t do any good to sugarcoat that in any way.”
“And you want to get into as much trouble as you can and get into the most dangerous situations you can in a drama, that’s kind of the point. But I think even when the show’s coming out to see the West Coast on fire and have a pandemic here, the only thing you can say about it is it’s a surreal experience and tragic.”
On what he looks for in new characters when considering roles, Cusack told us: “A pulse. I’m looking for something that feels good or newer. And with this show, it was an easy decision because I got a call from Gillian Flynn saying she’s going to remake the British show Utopia, but she’s not just redoing it, she’s adding this whole new element to it. So, I already had very high expectations.”
“Then I got the script and I read it all on one sitting, it was a real page-turner. And usually, if you’re reading and can’t figure out what’s going to happen next, and you continue to be shocked, that means you should be a part of it. For me, this show had everything: excellent writing, a wild world, and great characters. It was equal parts frightening, dystopic, fantastic, absurd, and weird. It just has all these sorts of delicious contradictions.”
On what other characters he found himself rooting for when he read the scripts, Cusack said: “All of them. But the first one I will say is Dr. Michael Stearns (Rainn Wilson, The Office) because I never could figure out his role in the overall larger picture, and really who was using who. Then, Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane, American Honey) is just a wonderful creation, a wonderful character and Lane is a great actress. It’s a great mix of a great part, great actress, and great production.”
“You don’t see characters like Jessica Hyde as the protagonist. When I was younger, they would get a good-looking guy and he’s your hero. But Jessica is a feral, complex, really dark, interesting, and twisted character, that Lane makes really human, even though she exists in multiple realities as fiction, as a symbol, as a vessel and a host. And she’s the character that quite literally has the answers within her being. She is propelling the story and bringing all of these strands together by surviving and her relentless pursuit of the truth. So, she’s a great character and I haven’t seen anything like her in a TV show or a movie. So, I’m just really excited for everyone to see Utopia.”
Utopia hits Amazon this Friday, September 25th!