By Cynthia Boris
“It’s a very dark, very sad piece,” says Desperate Housewives’ star, James Denton, talking about his new TV role. “It’s about a group of people who have been put on a satellite and shot into outer space because they were ‘defective’. Sort of the satellite of misfit toys.”
It’s “The Discarded”, the fourth and last installment of the ABC mini “Masters of Science Fiction” and it airs next Saturday, August 25 at 10:00 PST/EST.
It would seem that ABC saved the best for last as this particular episode comes with quite the Sci Fi pedigree. The episode was based on the short story by Hugo and Nebula Award winner, Harlan Ellison. Ellison also co-wrote the episode and makes a cameo appearance. Star Trek’s Jonathan Frakes directed and Brian Dennehy, John Hurt and James Denton star.
It was the opportunity to work with powerhouses Dennehy and Hurt that made Denton jump at the chance to play the emissary from Earth sent to make a deal with the very people Earth abandoned years earlier.
“It’s a weird little role. On the surface he seems to be a bad guy, presents himself in a certain way and then double crosses these people, but Jon Frakes and I, with Harlan’s consent, decided it would be better if my character was a victim of circumstances, too. It was fun to play him a little more sensitive and not fall into the trap of him being the stereotypical bad guy. A real departure from being a Wisteria Lane plumber,” Denton says with a laugh.
Working on a science fiction series was something new for the actor who is used to handling hot housewives rather than deformed misfits in space and he gained a whole new appreciation of the genre.
This [story] has so much humanity and is so heartbreaking. It’s futuristic, obviously, and has to do with space travel, but I’ve learned that science fiction is so much more than that. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, especially if I had a chance to work with Jonathan Frakes or Harlan.”
Though writers don’t usually hang around the set, Denton was got a real treat when the Ellison showed up one day during the shoot.
“It was pretty crazy working with Harlan, I don’t know if he’s famous or infamous, but he’s a very talented and prolific writer and has quite a reputation for being a character. He was actually in the [episode], and he was in the make-up trailer the day I showed up to be one of the discards. I’m not really familiar with the genre. I don’t know the writers well like many fans do, but I knew who Harlan Ellison was and to be in the trailer with him, and listen to him tell stories, it was a real bonus.”
Denton was also blown away by his experience working with Dennehy whom he described as “bigger than life” and British film star John Hurt.
“Hurt had never done American television and he may not do many more because I don’t think he was too crazy about it. A wonderful guy, very sweet and very serious about acting, but in television you don’t get rehearsals and instead of shooting 3 or 4 pages a day like you would on a feature, we were shooting 7 to 10 pages. He was surprised by the amount of work we did in a day and I don’t think he was real crazy about it. Of course, he’s brilliant and just standing in the same scene with these two guys. . .there were times when I would just have to pinch myself. ‘I’m in a scene with Brian Dennehy and John Hurt!’ It was fascinating.”
As much as Denton enjoyed working on the project and is proud of the finished product, he admits he was disappointed by ABC’s handling of the series. The show was shelved for more than a year and then summarily cut from six episodes to four before being dumped in a poor time slot.
“Yeah, it’s been a little bit frustrating. Saturday in August is not where you’re going to put your most prized programming,” says Denton with a sigh. But still, he says he has to trust the judgment of ABC chief Stephen McPherson.
“Steve’s quote during the upfronts was that the work was uneven. That the six installments didn’t fit together the way they had hoped. I’m guessing that means there weren’t pleased with two and that’s no comment on the people who made them. I haven’t seen the others. I’ve only seen ours and I’m very proud of it. It’s very entertaining and a very touching story.”
In the end, James Denton was glad for the opportunity to “stretch his legs” and do something a little different but on reflection, he wonders if his statement about having rarely done Sci Fi still stands.
“I always thought [science fiction] was something unbelievable and outrageous and unrealistic and then I realized that’s Wisteria Lane!”
Catch James Denton, along with Brian Dennehy and John Hurt in the “Masters of Science Fiction” episode “The Discarded”, premiering next Saturday, August 25 at 10:00 on ABC.
All photos courtesy of ABC