Interview with Under the Dome's Neal Baer
Neal Baer, executive producer of the new show Under the Dome, spills details on the upcoming season and why the show is more realistic than you'd think.
Neal Baer definitely hasn't been stuck under a dome. In fact, he's been all over the TV map. He was the executive producer for shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and ER. If anyone can take on the great Stephen King, it's him. And that's just what he's doing with the television adaptation of Under the Dome, coming to CBS on June 24.
The show centers around the town of Chester's Mill that's trapped when an invisible force field lands over their small community. The story is character-driven as it follows how the people in the town respond when they are suddenly cut off from the society they've always been a part of.
SheKnows talked with Baer to get all of the exciting details about what we can expect when the show airs and to clear up some recent gossip.
SheKnows: One of the big themes in Under the Dome is isolation and also how people react in dire circumstances. Do you think there are lessons to be learned from Under the Dome?
Neal Baer: Sure. I think our show is definitely comparable to our times. These are often extreme times and extreme actions occur under a lot of psychological duress, but we're dealing with dwindling resources, global climate change, things like that. How can we deal with that and how do we tell a story about these things? This was an ideal way, I think, because these people of the town of Chester's Mill are trapped under a dome, and so they have to face pretty quickly what they're going to do when their cars run out of gas. There's no place to get gas because they're completely cut off from the rest of the world. Even though it doesn't appear that way because the dome is invisible. How are they going to get food? We're so reliant on packaged foods and things like that so how do we deal without the most basic needs we take for granted?
SK: The book is pretty violent. Will the show be holding out at all or is it viewer discretion advised?
NB: Well, it's broadcast network so we're not going to see blood spurting out of people or anything that is really graphically violent in the sense of violence for the sake of violence. We might see things that are violent because it illustrates how people are behaving in dire situations — out of an intense fear. How they're acting when they're fighting over food and who's going to get the last of it, things like that. You can imagine there will be violence in that sense, but not gratuitous violence.
SK: The show is quite a switch from the other things you've done. What drew you to the project?
NB: It's not really that different from ER, in a way, because ER was a serialized show that each week solved various problems. Different characters would come in with medical emergencies, and our doctor characters would try to save these patients, and we'd learn what the doctors were made of by the way they interacted with the patients and with each other. So, in this show, we see people in their own kind of extreme environment. In that sense, it's like ER, and it has continuing stories as we continue to unfold what these people are like, and we reveal their secrets. It has mystery, it has suspense, and it has a diving pace to it, but it is also very character-based.
SK: We know you're a strong advocate for truth and getting things right in your shows, and we know, in many cases, you've used shows to help catapult issues that are important to you. How will you be doing this in Under the Dome?
NB: Well, for instance, when resources are dwindling, who takes precedence? Who gets the insulin when we're running out of insulin, and there are diabetics in the town? How do we divvy up resources? How do we manage a democracy in an extreme situation where we're cut off from the rest of society? Can we live in the same way we've been living or do we have to change who's in charge? So we ask a lot of questions that we can ask about our own society now, which is facing dwindling resources or problems like that. I think, in that sense, it's a parable for our times.
SK: Aside from writing the book, how did Stephen King contribute to the show?
NB: Stephen has been with us the whole time in the sense that he lives and writes from Maine, but he came to the shooting for the first episode. He was on the set in North Carolina, which was great to meet the actors and the cast and the director, and he watches every cut and he reads every script and gives us his thoughts, which is really helpful. So he's always there to help us out if we have questions. He is certainly one of the expert storytellers of our time.
SK: There are so many characters in the book and throughout the town that King touches on. Will we see a lot of story lines popping up in the show?
NB: Many of them, not all of them. You won't see all of the characters. We've composited some of them. You'll certainly see Julia, Barbie, Big Jim, and Junior. Angie is in the book only in the first few pages, and she's in our show now. We think it's kind of cool that there are many things that are similar, but there are things that are different. Even if you're a die-hard fan of the books, you won't know everything that's going to happen.
SK: The show has quite a few rising stars. Can you tell us about the casting process?
NB: We worked with Sherry Thomas and Sharon Bialy who cast The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad so they brought us Dean Norris whom they had worked with on Breaking Bad. He's playing Big Jim. And Rachelle Lefevre, I worked with last year on A Gifted Man, and Mike Vogel did Bates Motel recently. And then Britt Robertson and Aisha Hinds are on the show, and I worked with them on SVU. They had done guest star roles so I knew them. And then Natalie Martinez did Detroit 1-8-7, and a lot of movies as well. I was a big fan of hers. Then we have a young actor named Alexander Koch, and he came to audition. It was his first audition ever. Sharon and Sherry brought him in because they had seen his work in theater. He had just graduated from college. We saw him audition for the role of Junior and just thought immediately he was perfect. That almost never happens, but he came in, first audition, got the part, now one of the stars of our show. That's really cool, and we think he's going to be a fantastic breakout star because he's so compelling.
SK: Which character on the show is the most fascinating to you?
NB: To me? Well, it depends on which episode and which week. I like them all. I find them all really interesting. They all have secrets, which is great. And we uncoil and reveal those secrets slowly in an, I hope, interesting way to the audience. I wouldn't say there's any one who's most interesting. I'd say it depends on which episode. Everybody has their own day in the sun certainly on our show.
SK: We hear actress Natalie Zea (from The Following) will be making a sudden appearance in the show. Can you tell us about her character?
NB: Her name is Maxine, and she's trapped under the dome and has connections to at least one of our characters in a way that's pretty surprising. We're very excited to have her on the show and see the kind of trouble she makes.
SK: Is it true she's a character not in the books?
NB: That's true.
SK: The first thing I would do if a giant glass dome fell on my town, is try to dig under it. Will this be our characters' first escape attempt? How will they try to get out?
NB: Yes. We'll definitely see that happening in Episodes 2 and 3.
SK: We know you have your medical degree. Did you use this knowledge in the show at all?
NB: I use it some, ya, because Samantha Mathis plays a psychiatrist on the show, and we do have an episode, in Episode 4, where there's a terrible outbreak of infectious disease in the town. She's called on to deal with it. I certainly have drawn on my medical knowledge a lot for this show as well.
SK: What do you hope viewers get from the show?
NB: I hope they really have a blast watching it. That it raises questions, it gives them mystery, it involves them, they think about their own lives in certain ways. For example, we have an episode where our characters put together a playlist of the last songs they'd want to hear if they knew they were going to die shortly, but it's kind of weird and interesting to think about. What would the last song be you'd want to hear if you knew it was the last song? So we get to do kind of weird, interesting stuff like that.