Parenthood and Friday Night Lights producer Jason Katims is back with a new series this fall. Pure Genius centers on a young Silicon Valley tech billionaire who builds the ultimate cutting-edge hospital that treats only the most rare and insurmountable medical mysteries at no-cost.
The series stars Dermot Mulroney, Brenda Song, Odette Annable as well as Augustus Prew as the tech billionaire James Bell. The British actor is best known for his roles in Kick-Ass 2 and The Borgias. We chat with Prew about his eccentric character on Pure Genius, working with Jason Katims as well as his role in the upcoming Prison Break revival.
Tell us more about the character, James Bell.
He’s a billionaire. He had this app called “Bunker,” which was huge success. He then decides to take all his money and influence and bring together the best minds in medicine and combine that with technology to try to revolutionize health care. It attracts the hardest medical cases that no one else has yet cracked. But the big twist is that James has a horrible disease and will die in five years unless he finds a cure. That’s his big secret… For the first episode, at least! This will become a recurring theme in the first season. The audience will follow James and his journey.
What’s it like playing James?
He’s a weird guy and full of contradictions. He’s unbelievably wealthy, which gives him influence and power, but he can’t really engage with people on a social level. He’s definitely eccentric. It’s interesting playing a guy like that. Now with this medical research, do you become more selfish in your bid to do something right or do you learn to lean on people and grow? The answer would be a bit of both and that’s what we’ll explore in the first season.
Will there be a romantic interest?
There’s definitely a love triangle. I don’t want to give too much away but things will get complicated. James and love is also a very weird relationship because he’s a very hard guy to understand. There needs to be that special someone to understand him and be that “James whisperer,” so to speak. [Laughs]
He’s also got that big secret of only being around for the next five years.
Which totally isolates him. [The reveal] is going to be a big betrayal at some point.
Him making it also depends on that season six renewal.
Always! [Laughs] You’ve got to tune in to make that one happen.
Was it difficult getting into this role? Did you look at some real billionaires or tech gurus?
I kind of wanted James to be unique. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook just set up something called “Biohub.” He announced it about a month ago but we had already started shooting [the show] by then! I’d like to say that we started this first! We couldn’t be timelier now.
In terms of James being like other billionaires, not many get to do what he does or know what it feels like. So, in that sense, they’d be similar. James is very aware of his persona and how he brands himself. He’s very controlling about how he’s perceived by people as much as he can be. I quite like the idea of him creating his own iconic look – it’s sort of modeled after Steve Jobs, someone who understood branding and mythologizing yourself. I think that James borrows from that, which is very interesting to play. But it’s not necessarily an homage to anyone… He’s James.
What has it been like working with Jason Katims? Were you a fan of his previous shows?
Yes, of course. He’s an iconic talent in TV and he’s just a lovely man. We clicked from the moment we met. He’s someone who guards his privacy very much. I think that there’s an element of James in him. So that’s kind of interesting to play. He’s sort of a genius, really. A Pure Genius, some may say.
So Jason Katim’s the Pure Genius.
He kind of is! We instantly hit it off and he knew from that moment that I was going to play James.
That’s pretty awesome.
It is. It’s also very rare to have that instant rapport. I guess it’s because I knew that he was trying to say with James and the show. The character just jumped out at me. It was a very intuitive reaction to the role. I sort of knew what to do. I knew how James sounded and we just kind of clicked instantly.
Jason creates this vibe on set where we’re this big family. It’s very loving. Everyone is very warm. We only shoot 10 hour days, which seems like a lot but most shows shoot 15 or 16 hour days.
Will the show touch upon tech and privacy concerns?
Absolutely. There’s an episode that we’re about to start shooting which is about the anonymity of a patient and who knows what about whom. It has a lot to do with organ donors and how if you know who is donating the organ, it can bring out people’s prejudices.
There will also be another story regarding privacy and viral videos. James doesn’t want a certain video about him to go viral. He guards his privacy heavily, so obviously that becomes a problem.
You’re also going to be in the Prison Break revival series! Were you a fan of the original series?
I was! I got to hang out with Wentworth Miller… Michael Scofield himself! That was a dream. We shot in Morocco. They were all so welcoming. But it was also all new for them as they hadn’t seen each other in about six years and I was the new kid on the block that they all welcomed. It was a fun experience. Now, that was 16 hour days. A lot of stunts! Things blowing up! Assume when you’re watching that whatever we’re on or in, by the end of the episode, it will probably blow up.
Pure Genius premieres on Thursday, October 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and Friday, October 28 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Global.