Set on the titular U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the 25thCentury’s Planetary Union, The Orville is a sci-fi adventure that reveals the lighter side of the darkness of space. Airing on Fox and developed by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy), the series follows a crew of lovable misfits as they discover new worlds while trying to hold themselves together as well. When offered the role as the ship’sartificial intelligence science officer, Isaac, star Mark Jackson couldn’t resist the opportunity to be a part of such a unique series.
“The Orville is set for 100 years in the future and we are in the world of the Union, which is a conglomeration of planets and the alien races that have gotten together,” he explains. “The action takes place on the USS Orville, a Union ship, which is set with the task of exploring the universe, greeting new races, and often doing boring things like dropping off cargo. But generally they do have fun times… [When the opportunity came,] I jumped at the chance, to be honest with you.”
One of the most attractive elements to the role for Jackson was the opportunity to work with comedian Seth Macfarlane. Filled with his unique blend of comedy and charm, Macfarlane is not only The Orville’s lead character, he’s also involved in every aspect of the show.
“Seth is everything on this show,” clarifies Jackson. “He’s written it. He obviously stars in it. He produces it, he show-runs. It’s entirely his baby and it’s incredible to work on a project where someone is the entire genesis of the project. That’s quite unusual. Usually, there’s so many different factors involved, which there are, but he sort leads on all of them. It’s amazing to see him work like that.”
With MacFarlane at the helm, one might expect that much of the comedy stems from improvised moments onset. However, Jackson insists that every scene is carefully constructed and relies heavily on the show’s tightly written comedic scripts.
“We haven’t improvised and I think that’s testament to just how precisely cleverly thought out the script is when it comes to us performing it on the day,” he states. “It changes and we will often have rewrites but that’s very common in TV and film. It’s part of the fun actually. Once you’ve got the script and you’re standing on set, [those lines are] what you’re going to say. That might sound quite draconian, but it isn’t at all. It’s pretty liberating, actually. When you’re standing on set in front of a camera, you need to have some sort of solidity in your life. So, a script that you can actually rely on is a very welcoming thing.
Much of MacFarlane’s unique brand of humor stems from his ability to highlight the awkward but human nature of his characters. According to Jackson, it’s this lovable messiness that gives the show its charm and relatability.
“In terms of the characters being awkward, it’s a closer reality to what we’re used to in most sci-fi shows,” he believes. “I think that’s where the charm of it lies. I mean, Star Trek is wonderful and I’ve always loved it but it’s a big glossy. You don’t see the ins and outs of daily routines and the kind of mundane things that we all have to deal with in our own lives…. it’s a great source of comedy in The Orville. People don’t really think about, but it takes a long time to get anywhere in space. There are several moments across the two seasons of The Orville where they have to go to a different part of the universe and it takes about seven days. So, they feel like, until the very exciting moment happens with lots of action will take place, we’re on the ship and we’ve just got to kind of got to get along with each other. So, you have people just going for a drink at the bar. You have people just passing each other in the corridor and trying to make chit chat in the elevator. It’s beautifully observed everyday life in a very unusual situation.“
Although it’s been referred to as a ‘throwback’ to other classic sci-fi series, he maintains that the show is also passionate about wrestling with current issues that matter to today’s contemporary culture..
“I think the show builds on all the giants of science fiction past and stands on the shoulders,” he asserts. “So, I think in terms of ‘throwing back’, I suppose The Orville takes all the best elements of those shows and combines them with something actually quite forward-thinking. This idea of looking to the future and trying to solve the problems of today, I think the show does really well. One of the great things about sci-fi is that you can take modern day issues and transport them to a place where it’s quite a safe environment to deal with them. We take the episodic nature of Star Trek: The Next Generationand the innocence and hope that you have with that show and we then bring that forward and deal with issues of today. If you think of that as a throwback in any way, it can only be a good thing”
“Sci-Fi allows us the opportunity to take issues which are a bit too painful or too complex to explore in the current socioeconomic environment and throw them onto a planet on the fringes of the galaxy 7,000 years in the future… It immediately throws a new light on the subject, but also potentially provides us with a way to tackle it in ways that we haven’t thought of yet. Distancing yourself from things can be very productive in a way.”
Playing science officer Isaac, Jackson has thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the show’s incredibly talented cast. Asked what he finds most appealing about his character, he says that he can’t help but enjoy playing a character who is so wildly different than himself.
“It’s interesting when you play someone who’s considered a bit of a psychopath, when people ask you [how you connect to him] because you [wonder] how revealing should I be?,” Jackson jokes. “What kind of bizarre, disturbing facets of my own personality can I lay on the table here? [laughs] Quite frankly, the appeal of playing him is that he is so weird and different and is so unhuman. You get to go to places that you wouldn’t necessarily get to go to a normal, human character.”
As the premiere of Season Two fast approaches, Jackson asserts that he’s thrilled with the show’s ability to step up and deliver scripts that continue to develop and expand the world that it has created.
“Everything you loved from Season One is going to go into overdrive in Season Two,” he declares. “We just step it up again so much. Every time we got the new scripts, they just read like movies [in] each and every episode. There’s so much more action. There are new characters. The relationships develop in very unexpected and thrilling ways, and I can say that for Isaac as well. We get more aliens. The alien production workshop has been in overdrive this year, which has been great in the effects. And the music! I don’t know if you know, but the music is recorded with a huge orchestra for every episode. It’s absolutely beautiful and so rare to have that on a TV show. So, just expect super quality, great stories and a hell of a lot of adventure.”
Season Two of The Orville begins on Sunday, December 30th, 2018 on FOX.
For full audio of our conversation with Mark Jackson, click here.