INTERVIEW: Mark Jackson, Co-Star Of The Orville

With The Orville returning for its second season, we sat down for a chat with the show's own latter-day Data, Mark Jackson.

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Think how challenging it would be to command an intergalactic spaceship as you traverse the universe on diplomatic missions, exploring far-off worlds and establishing vital connections with alien races. Now imagine how difficult it would be doing that while working alongside the woman you just divorced. Well the good news is you do not have to, as the ever-entertaining Seth MacFarlane has done just that in his latest science fiction comedy-drama, The Orville.

Achieving lift-off at the start of the 2017-18 television broadcast season, The Orville has been somewhat of a slow-burner with critics, yet has quickly gained a dedicated and vocal fanbase. Viewers come from a range of backgrounds, encompassing both diehard Trekkies and MacFarlane enthusiasts who have followed him through his jump from animation to space exploration. And the figures do not lie, with The Orville being the most-viewed drama debut since that of Fox’s powerhouse familial music drama Empire in 2015.

The show primarily focuses on officer Ed Mercer, perfectly portrayed by MacFarlane, as he is promoted to Captain of the eponymous space vessel, and how he manages to command a diverse and eccentric crew. While Mercer’s ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson, played by Adrianne Palicki, presents an interesting foil and catalyst for his development over the first season, the rest of the Orville’s crew also provide plenty of character highlights. With the ship’s team encompassing a range of colourful personalities and exotic alien species, their ability to ultimately work together and solve various problems across multiple episodes perfectly encapsulates the spirit of what made the show’s biggest influence, Star Trek, so magical.

However, one character that has proven to be a fan favourite is the crew’s artificial life science officer Isaac, brought to life by Mark Jackson. A robot who has little understanding of human behaviour but is keen to learn more about it by studying his fellow crew members, all the while failing to hide his contempt for them, Isaac is not dissimilar to Star Wars’ C-3PO, only far more berating and condescending.

Before the upcoming premiere of the show’s long-awaited second season, I had a chance to chat with Mark about his time on board the Orville and some of his other varied projects.

Many know you best for your role as the robotic science officer Isaac in Seth MacFarlane’s/FOX’s hit TV show “The Orville”. What drew you to starring in this unique project?
Once in a while an audition comes along, and you think ‘this isn’t going to happen again anytime soon’. My agent said the words ‘sci-fi, LA, and Seth MacFarlane’, and I was instantly on board. I’ve always been a bit of a Trekkie, and after speaking to Seth on the phone, it became clear that ‘The Orville’ was very much going to be standing on the shoulders of that great series so I got even more excited. Growing up, I’d watch Wil Wheaton in ‘Star Trek: Next Generation’ and dream of walking in his shoes. You add the chance to work with the genius MacFarlane to those aspirations and it’s a no-brainer.

How do you get into character when portraying Isaac?
Learn the lines, get in the suit, and try to remember how I did it last time.

Given your ongoing work on “The Orville”, what do you think the future of space travel will look like for humanity?
What I like about the show is that quite often, an episode will start with the crew embarking on a fairly boring and routine mission. They’ll be dropping off some cargo, etc. Of course, it tends to get interesting after that, but what it points out is that once we’ve populated the galaxy (and probably long before we have), most space travel will be perfunctory. Much like everyday journeys around a city, a large proportion of journeys around habitable space will be as practical as going to the dentist, visiting the in-laws or dropping off a cheque at the bank. Though please, please let us not have cheques in the future! What a ridiculously archaic hangover we still have.

You have performed many roles across different media: TV, stage, and even voiceover work. Is there a medium which you enjoy working in the most?
It’s like ice cream. When you get three flavours in one cup? You start on the strawberry but then after the fourth spoon of that it just starts to taste of cold and sweet. Then you move on to chocolate and your taste buds are suddenly awake again. Then after that, pistachio comes to the rescue. After that, tasting strawberry is a whole new experience.

Some say that performing on stage can be even more demanding and exhausting than acting in front of the camera. Is there a play you have starred in that you felt pushed you to your limits?
I agree whole-heartedly with that. The hours on set can be unbelievably long, but theatre demands a certain kind of resilience. Vocally, ‘War Horse’ gave me a run for my money. I’d close the first act screaming on horse-top as I led the cavalry into battle. For this reason, I used to joke that my character Captain Stewart was like Elphaba in ‘Wicked’, who finishes the first half belting Defying Gravity, but I still maintain you could argue the similarity. Physically, I once played Timothy in ‘Salad Days’, which is almost three hours of dancing. But that was nearly a decade ago, so…

During your time in theatre, you have worked alongside a number of renowned actors. Who have you found the most inspiring to work alongside?
Celia Imrie is an incredibly generous person and would kindly invite me into her dressing room post-show for bubbles and twiglets. Robert Powell would spin us great yarns in the pub over pints and the cast of ‘The Orville’, who are pretty renowned I suppose, are all gorgeous and dedicated to the show. I suppose that’s what’s most inspiring: kindness, hard work and a love of communal story telling.

Tell us a little bit about anything else you have coming up.
Well I’m getting married, so I should probably mention that. Projects-wise, I’m shooting a beautiful film in the new year, and I’m working on scripts for my friends and I to muck around with. Other than that, I’m enjoying my time back in the UK.

And finally, a fun question: if you could be an animal, which would you be and why?
A squirrel. It’s autumn so they’re having a right old time.

Season 2 of The Orville premieres 30th December.

Credits for banner photograph: Photographer – Benny Haddad, Groomer – Emily Zempel, Stylist – Evan Simonitsch