The actress talks playing two Astrids, working with John Noble and the line of the year
On FRINGE, now in its third season and renewed for a fourth on Fox on Friday nights, there are two parallel universes. In ours, brilliant but mentally unstable Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) long ago found a way to travel between the two, with lingering terrifying results. His son Peter (Joshua Jackson), who is really from the other universe, and FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) often enlist Walter in investigating strange phenomenon. In the other universe, another Walter Bishop (Noble again) runs the government and feels he needs to destroy our reality to protect his own, while another Olivia (Torv again) has had a baby with Peter.
Jasika Nicole plays Astrid Farnsworth in both realms. In ours, she is the protective, almost parental assistant to Walter. In the alternate world, she is an autistic FBI researcher. The Alabama-born actress (full name Jasika Nicole Pruitt) takes time out at a party thrown by Fox Television for the Television Critics Association to give ASSIGNMENT X an exclusive interview about her FRINGE existence.
ASSIGNMENT X: When did you realize that Astrid was going to get to do more than just say, “Walter, you’re really weird”?
JASIKA NICOLE: You know, it snuck up on me, because obviously, in Season One, she didn’t have a whole lot to do, so I didn’t know when it was going to happen or if it was going to happen. I tell everyone, whenever I get a script, I do a search for Astrid’s name to see if she’s gotten killed off yet. When she hasn’t, then I finish the script [laughs] in good conscience. So it was a surprise for me when they finally started to look into developing her relationships with the other characters.
AX: Would you say Astrid’s strongest relationship is with Walter?
NICOLE: Yes, absolutely and I would say that’s in real life, too. I’ve become really close to John Noble, who I adore and who has really taken me under his wing and we’ve developed this wonderful rapport and I think that the writers started to take heed of that, and they’ve started to incorporate it into the script.
AX: Even though she’s much younger, does Astrid have sort of a maternal feeling toward Walter?
NICOLE: Yeah. It’s interesting, because obviously Walter is a bit of her boss. She’s there to assist him and he’s very smart and he has a lot to teach her, but that’s why they’re such good foils for each other. He’s smart and educating her, but she has common sense, and she’s educating him, so they work really well together. I think that they feed off of each other, ideas and information and she’s definitely become a bit of a maternal figure for him, especially in Season Three, where Astrid becomes the confidante that Walter no longer has in Peter.
AX: Do you get grossed out by any of the stuff on the set?
NICOLE: Oh, God. Well, first of all, I love horror films.
AX: What are some of your favorites?
NICOLE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is my all-time favorite movie. I had to have been in kindergarten when it came out, and my dad took me to the movie theatre to watch it. It scared me, but it didn’t give me nightmares – it was a manageable scared-ness [laughs]. I watched LET THE RIGHT ONE IN a couple of years ago when it came out, and that’s one of my favorite horror films now. It’s a well-done scary movie. I loved it. I thought it was so good. I love special effects. So when I get to set and I see the stuff, I love it, I eat it up. It doesn’t gross me out – it’s gross, but in a cool way. [In one episode], I had to dissect a brain. So they had this gelatin brain and a butcher’s knife for me. They said, “All right, just cut away.” It kind of takes your breath away, because you’re thinking, “All right, I am a person that’s dissecting a brain,” and it’s a little bit overwhelming. It’s tricky. It’s cool, but it’s disgusting at the same time.
NICOLE: I think it was John Noble who had mentioned it to me. We all knew that we would eventually get to the alternate universe, but we didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what Astrid was going to be like – I thought she might be on Broadway or something, because Astrid in this universe has the degree in Voice, so I thought, “Oh, maybe she’s a performer or something, something super-farfetched.” But then I get to meet her and I find out she’s got Asperger’s, she’s autistic. Which is incredible in so many ways.
My sister is autistic, but the writers didn’t know that when they wrote Astrid that way. So I thought, “Wow, here’s this incredible personal connection I have with my character that I play.” And I really get to create this woman, because everybody knows what autism is, but not a lot of people have a direct relationship with it. So I felt like I had some insight into who this character was that maybe not everybody else did. So I was super-excited about playing her.
AX: Are you basing how you play alternate-Astrid on observations of your sister?
NICOLE: A little bit. My sister doesn’t have Asperger’s. She’s lower-functioning than someone with Asperger’s. My sister does not verbally communicate well at all. Astrid has a fine grasp of the English language, but she’s really bad in social situations. So there are a couple things that I did base on my sister, like the fact that she does not make eye contact when she tries to relay information to you. She looks away from you or she looks down. She won’t look at your eyes when she’s talking to you. Now that autism is such a big thing that people are familiar with it, it turns out that a lot of people who are just awkward or antisocial or off are really autistic [laughs]. It’s something that a lot of people are familiar with, actually.
AX: Do you have a preference between playing our world’s Astrid and alternate Astrid?
NICOLE: That’s a tough question. I would say that I really enjoy alternate Astrid, just because there’s so much more of her that we need to learn about, and we haven’t, so I get excited when I get to do scenes with her.
AX: Astrid didn’t have scenes with Leonard Nimoy’s William Bell character …
NICOLE: No. I met him once on set. I was a little bit nervous and excited. He was in the makeup trailer with me, so we didn’t really get to hang out.
AX: Has FRINGE turned out to be different than what you thought it would be like in the early stages?
NICOLE: Wow, absolutely. I never signed on to a sci-fi show and imagined that I would be singing, that I would be working with lots of animals that were painted with different dots on them, like the cow, that I would be playing different characters and different parts in the story. I never imagined that, so it’s been a blessing, because it’s been more than I thought that it would ever be. When it first started, I had no idea what this show was about. All I knew, even when I got the role, was that J.J. Abrams had [made] it. Also, because the writers are not forthcoming with us about what the trajectory of the plot and the characters is, I just say that it’s out of my hands and I just show up for work and do what I do, so I stopped trying to imagine what they were going to create, because they didn’t want to talk to us about it, but you know, it’s a little bit exciting to be a part of something like that, where you don’t have a clear idea of the end point, so what you’re doing is traveling along and getting to that point, but you don’t know what it’s going to be.
AX: Now, do the show runners ever tell you, “Do something a little more this way or that way, because eventually it’s going to turn out like X”?
NICOLE: That would be awesome, because then I’d have a rumor or something to go on, but they don’t. They will drop clues and they’ll say, “Oh, we need to make sure that we like this in reds and yellows …” And we don’t know why. They also talk amongst themselves with the actors, and all the actors have different pieces of information, so we’ll come together and we’ll say, “Oh, well, I heard that such-and-such is going to happen,” and “I heard that blah, blah, blah was going to happen,” but we never know what it’s going to look like until we get our next scripts.
AX: Were you concerned about a next-season pick-up, or were you pretty confident?
NICOLE: I felt pretty confident, because the writers didn’t try to wrap things up. If we ended, we were going to end in the middle of telling a story, as opposed to trying to create an ending real quick. And I thought, “There’s no way that people would be satisfied with this. We have to know what’s going on, we have to know that it’s part of the story – people have invested two seasons into this show already, we’ve got to know what’s going to happen next.” And that’s what they wanted.
AX: I have to ask – was your favorite line of the year repeating after John Noble …
NICOLE: “He fell into her vagenda?” [laughs] How did you know? It was so beautiful. And the really funny thing about it is, when we say those lines, we laugh, but it’s just another funny line. The ones that other people pick up on and run with, you can never determine beforehand.
AX: Do you have a favorite episode or favorite scene from this season?
NICOLE: This is weird, because it didn’t quite make it to the final cut, but it was the episode where Astrid solved the case, essentially. It’s the episode where they’re finding all these things buried and they’ve got these numbers and they can’t figure out the code, and there’s a really sweet part, it’s where she discovers the light coming through, hitting the globe and the numbers, so I enjoyed that. And [Walter] came up to her, and he said something like, “Don’t stop trying for this. Don’t give this up.” And every time we filmed it, I would get a tear in my eye, because it was finally them having a role reversal. And they had to clip the episode down, so that didn’t make the cut, but it was a lovely moment that we had, probably one of the best since the Chinatown episode. I loved playing that with John.
AX: Did you do any projects besides FRINGE during the hiatus last year?
NICOLE: I wish I could have, but because we film for ten months out of the year, there’s so little time to do anything else. I slept, I went to London Comic-Con with John Noble, which was amazing, we got to see tons of fans that were in England and around those parts. It was really awesome. And I recuperated for this season, and now I’m back again.
AX: Did you do San Diego Comic-Con last summer?
NICOLE: Yes. It was incredible. The last Comic-Con we all did together was New York, and it was before the first season ever aired, so no one knew what the show was about. People only came because it was J.J. Abrams, but now we have people there who know exactly what we’re doing and they want to be there, and that is pretty incredible. People are waiting for nine hours to get our signatures on a bag. A part of that is like, “Wow, why? We’re just doing a show, it’s just a television show,” but the other part of that says, “Obviously, we’re doing something right, because people care about the story that we’re telling, they care about the people that we’ve created.” And finding the balance between what it’s like to be on a popular television show.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about FRINGE?
NICOLE: Every single day I come to work, and even if I have to get up at four in the morning to show up for work, and even if it’s cold outside, even if it’s raining, I’m really thankful that I’m not waiting tables. I’m just super-thankful that I’m here.
I just love how close she and John are. So cute