Love can blossom anywhere, Containment star Chris Wood admits, even inside an Atlanta quarantine zone designed to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.
Wood portrays police officer Jake Riley in The CW series, which airs new episodes at 9/8c Tuesdays.
Jake is trapped inside the cordon sanitaire, where angry and panicked Atlanta citizens outnumber police officers 400-to-1. The CDC has blocked off the area to keep people from entering or leaving the outbreak zone. Jake has rounded up the original carrier of the virus and delivered him to a hospital in the zone. At the behest of the doctor in charge, he’s burned the dead bodies at the hospital.
He’s also found time to flirt with a school teacher, Katie (Kristen Gutoskie), who has hunkered down at the hospital with her young son. In the May 10 episode, titled “With Silence and Tears,” their attraction grows when Jake helps her with a personal issue.
“The intensity of the situation strips away the ability to sort of diffuse feelings like that,” Wood said. “Anything that feels good and warm in the moments of tension, you’re going to gravitate toward as a human being.”
But what are they supposed to do when everyone in the zone has been warned to stay four to six feet apart to prevent infection?
“That’s the whole beauty of that relationship, I think,” he said. “These two people sort of fall for each other, at least we see the beginnings of that, and they can’t physically interact.”
Wood, who grew up in Dublin, Ohio, also talked about the differences between playing the insular Jake and Kai, the over-the-top bloodsucker he protrayed in “The Vampire Diaries.”
Wood and I chatted in January at the TV Critics Association winter tour in Pasadena, Calif. Here’s an edited Q&A.
Related: My Containment review
Jake and Katie. Are we going to see love in a time of crisis?
Yeah, it’s interesting how that happens. Sometimes in the worst possible logistical moment, some spark happens … They sort of find each other quickly in that way because they don’t have any of the safety blankets. They become each other’s safe place to go to very quickly.
How is that romance going to live four-to-six feet apart?
It’s not safe for either one of them. He doesn’t want to infect her at the risk that he has been exposed because he’s out there running into all kinds of chaos and she’s got all these kids and got all these responsibilities so she’s exposed. They don’t want to infect each other so they have to keep their distance and they have to find other ways to express their affection.
So no rule breaking?
Not on their part. No.
I love when Jake freaked out in the hospital she slapped him around a bit and told him to get his crap together.
He freaked, and rightly so, I say. By calling him on his shit she starts to pull out the truth of this situation and remove this resistance to him. The truth is that his buddy [Lex] didn’t try to screw him over. It sucks that he’s in [the cordon] and he also is the only one there who can really do anything to sort of maintain control and get things done. And the only way to get out of the mess is to all work together and to help each other because ultimately if everyone fends for themselves it’s going to completely dissolve into total chaos and everyone will be dead.
Kai was so theatrical in “The Vampire Diaries.” Jake is kind of reserved.
Yeah, he suppresses a lot. He doesn’t show very much.
Is that boring for you? I guess I should say, is it harder to play a repressed character who doesn’t show as much emotion than it is to be …
Sort of larger than life? I think that’s partly what drew me into the role and the project. It’s very exciting to sink my teeth into something that’s different than what I’ve just done.
It’s exciting to play a character that has a different sort of thing that makes him tick or a different style of speaking or manner or just their décor being different from previous characters that I’ve done. It’s nice to feel like you have the full array of things that you play and people that you sort of embody.
It’s not boring at all. [Laughs.] It’s a completely different form of enjoyment. Getting to sort of play somebody who is real, you know? His reactions are human and he doesn’t say how he feels and he doesn’t show how he feels most of the time. Sometimes he gets pissed and he shows you that. Other times he just kind of bottles everything up. And that’s interesting because of what’s bubbling underneath.
Kai just said everything that he thought and did anything he wanted; “Maybe I’ll kill this person,” and he would just do it. Whereas this is a guy who stops himself when he has an instinct to say something or do something. He can’t say it or he chooses to not say it. Or he says something different. He’s got all these layers of protective shield; that’s really exciting to get to build that from his core.
Is it also interesting to jump from fantasy to like big time reality? A deadly virus no longer seems farfetched.
It’s very real. Yeah, it’s a trip down real life. We see images of the Ebola outbreaks and you think of what happened this year around the world and this is not that fictitious. The common phrase we use is it’s not science fiction, it’s science fact.
It’s not that our story is real, but the concepts behind everything that happened are pulled from real life. The way the CDC and the government respond to the outbreak was all taken from real-life stories and from sources inside the LAPD, Atlanta PD, the CDC. People who do this as a living shared with us—this is the protocol, this is the language. It makes it real and it makes it very quotable.
The fascinating thing about “Containment” is how poorly some Atlanta citizens react to the cordon sanitaire. Hello, stay put or you could die; that seems like a good reason to chill and wait it out.
The class structure and law enforcement break down. The number of cops inside [the cordon] compared to civilians is well under what is needed to even remotely enforce any sense of control. The people start to learn that and then they take over. Ultimately the chaos prevails because there’s no one to contain it.
Did you talk to real officers or doctors who might have been in similar situations?
It’s hard to find somebody who has been put in that position. But the main component of this character’s reaction comes from the fact that he’s a police officer. There’s a different headspace that law enforcement officials have and it’s a heightened state of vigilance that they assume all day in their work.
There’s an interesting pendulum swing that happens where because they’re hyper vigilant at work, when they go home it almost swings the other way. In talking to some cops and talking to their families I learned that there’s something of almost a high when you’re in a life-or-death situation. There’s an excitement, an addiction almost, to constantly taking in your surroundings, evaluating the dangers and the threats. When you do a routine traffic stop you never know, that could be the one where the guy pulls a gun. So they’re constantly engaging that part of the brain. When they go home the opposite happens.
Exploring that helped me to lay out his actions in those places … where the stakes are so high, like when he’s out on the streets, and how he changes when he gets to a place that feels safe. You see him close off even further.
This pendulum begins to swing bigger and bigger. I think that was my biggest tool, because I couldn’t find someone who had been a cop in a quarantine. So I found the closest thing to it which was just what would a trained officer’s reaction be … That’s the most important component of how this character reacts: What’s his police brain? Then you layer on top of that the fact that he also has these walls up and the fact that he’s got baggage and the fact that he’s a bit of a womanizer. And you throw in all this stuff and then you sort of just allow yourself to react and you hope that it is natural.
You throw all that stuff in your head and then try to forget it?
Yeah, I do all the research and get all these tools that I could use and I throw them inside. And then I take the scenes and I try not to think about any of that. And it’s amazing what your natural retention level is.
Police in the U.S. right now are very much under siege for excessive force, racial profiling—a number of issues. Has that played into any of your character’s reactions to things?
All these new stories are sort of taken in by the show’s writers and they make a story. … It becomes this amazing use of reality to shape the story. It’s all connected to things that are happening in the world right now which makes it all the more terrifying. It’s grounded in reality and it could all realistically occur.
Has the premise of the show, or even filming those gross scenes, freaked you out?
Yeah, of course. Definitely you carry that sort of awareness from work where you’re constantly thinking as the character. Where are my hands? What have I touched? If someone sneezes on the show it causes a massive reaction. Or at night you’re at dinner and someone sneezes and this subconscious panic switch goes off. Then you realize, “It’s OK, I’m not going to die.”
On screen it all looks so real and nasty. How do those special effects affect your performance?
As an actor there are moments like that where you don’t really have to pretend. Our makeup artists and John Bayless, who designed and did all the disease makeup, are fantastic. They have hour-by-hour diagrams and photos and descriptions of the symptoms, the visual signs, the physical feelings, the hallucinations. So everyone who gets sick in the show gets to look at this and figure out where they are. That kind of consistency for an actor walking is priceless. You don’t have to pretend when someone is in there and they look like that. We’re just so lucky to get the actors that we got for a lot of those roles because that’s not easy to do that sort of death stuff.
Yes, to go in and be face to face with that and deal with it—it really affects you. It’s scary. And it’s upsetting when you start seeing characters who pop up for an episode and then they get sick and they’re gone. It makes it so real.
As an audience member, your heart breaks for like the teenage couple who you barely know when they get sick. They’re both brought in to die in these isolated rooms. It’s heartbreaking and that part’s real. You connect to that as a human and so that’s probably the easy and not super comfortable part is the heart behind it. We don’t have to work for that. It just does it for you.
Is Jake going to make it?