Everything sounds pretty harmonious for the upcoming TV project from J.J. Abrams, the musically minded director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
As executive producer of Showtime’s upcoming comedy-drama “Roadies,” Abrams is helping to bring to television more rock ‘n’ roll tales from writer-director Cameron Crowe, whose own experiences as a teenage journalist for “Rolling Stone” inspired his 2000 film “Almost Famous.” Starring Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino, Crowe’s television debut follows the colorful lives of the road crew for an arena-touring rock act.
“I don’t think anyone can claim to share the rock star background that Cameron has,” Abrams says. “I’ve been lucky enough to know him since before [his 1992 film] ‘Singles,’ which is quite a while and many, many years, and 20 minutes with Cameron, hearing stories that he has, rivals the best possible story in music that any of us would ever have. It’s an incredible thing to know what Cameron’s done.”
For Abrams – a musician himself who’s composed the themes for several of the TV series he’s overseen, including “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Fringe” – the heavy lifting on the project began several years before relaunching the “Star Wars” franchise overtook his professional life. Now with Crowe at last bringing the series into production, he puts his longstanding television acumen to work as a guiding hand.
After unveiling the series during the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, Abrams fielded question from a handful of reporters about the show, his personal connection to music and, of course, the revitalized phenomenon that is “Star Wars.”
How do you keep the magic happening in an individual series when you have so many different projects happening all at once?
J.J. Abrams: Well, I’ve been very lucky to not get involved with things that didn’t feel magical from the beginning on some level or another. And it’s just been about trying to serve that master. To be involved in something – you don’t want to marry someone that you can’t imagine being with many, many decades from that moment. And I feel like this project has been about eight years in the making, or nine years now, and it’s because there’s been this feeling that I’ve had that every subculture is its own universe, is its own story.
And there is no one better suited to tell the story of the campaign of putting on a tour, a rock tour, more than Cameron. There’s no one more appropriate and inspired for this. So this is one of those projects that finding the magic, keeping the magic is not a difficult thing at all.
You’re musical yourself, having written several themes for your TV shows, and collaborated on the music we hear in Maz Kanata’s castle. Talk about the role of music in your own creative life?
Like I’m sure everyone here, music is a really important part of our lives. And the amazing thing is this object right here, everything we hold in our pockets, the phones that we all carry with us, have the ability to play nearly every record ever sold, every song on every album ever sold instantly. That’s a miracle.
If you had asked me as a kid if that was ever going to be possible, I would have said, “Of course not.” And I almost feel like the danger of that is that we take it for granted that we have access to everything instantly, every song. And this show, working with Cameron, has been a great reminder that music is this incredibly powerful, important thing that is not to be taken for granted.
But I listen to music when I write. I play music all the time at home. We always play music. We’ve got three kids; there’s always music. One of our children, our daughter, is a musician who’s always writing songs and recording songs and playing. So music’s a constant presence in our lives. And I think for anyone who doesn’t have music in their life all the time, they should start.
Can you talk about your collaboration with John Williams on “The Force Awakens”?
Oh, my God. Unbelievable. Well, I mean, first of all, he’s a hero since I was a little kid — before “Star Wars” came out, listening to his albums. And he’s the most generous and gentle and sweet and thoughtful person I think I’ve met. He is like a dream human being who doesn’t quite act like he’s accomplished anything. I mean, his modesty is so true and pure. He talks just like anyone might, but he’s also had maybe the biggest imprint on impact on American film than anyone, period.
He’s so sweet and modest, and it’s so genuine on who he is, that it shows you how you can accomplish extraordinary things and not walk around like you’ve accomplished extraordinary things. And that alone is inspiring. And of course, his music is just otherworldly and kind of unnatural and impossible.
Was it weird when he asked your opinion on his music?
Oh, yeah! He would ask me my opinion, and my knee-jerk reaction was always, “Why do you care?” and “You tell me!” But it’s that kind of openness and curiosity and collaborative nature that I think allows him to be open to writing the kind of music that just touches your heart, and he makes it look so easy. And I can’t imagine it ever is.
How much do you actually know about Rey’s lineage?
I know quite a bit, but obviously, it’s not for me to talk about in this moment because this is Rian’s [Johnson] story to continue now. And the last thing I’m going to do is reveal something – he would be upset about it. I want to make sure that Rian gets the courtesy that he showed me.
Is it crazy to sit on that big of a secret?
No, not for me!
Were you surprised at the scale of the success of “The Force Awakens”?
I’m just incredibly relieved the movie’s out. It was well received, and I’m more excited when I hear that when people went to go see the movie with their parents, who took them to the original movie when they were kids, or took their own kids who maybe had never seen a “Star Wars” movie and who fell in love with Rey or found Finn to be someone that they want to be for Halloween.
I mean, those kind of stories are frankly feeling more impactful and gratifying than all the numbers which are wonderful. And I’m very grateful to everyone who went to see the film, but it’s most exciting to hear that people actually went and had that experience.
Greg Grunberg has said you regretted not directing “Episode VIII.”
Here’s the thing about Greg: You put a microphone in front of him, you never know what you’re going to get. I love my friend, Greg – he’s my best friend since kindergarten. And I think my enthusiasm for “VIII” is enormous. I think he also might have invented a couple of the quotes that he gave. [Laughs]
But I am very much excited for, and very jealous of, anyone, especially Rian, who gets to work so closely with this extraordinary cast and crew. Truly an amazing group. In that regard, for sure. But honestly, I’m also relieved to have gotten the chance to do a “Star Wars” movie.
Are you ever going to direct another TV pilot or episode? Is it too small-scale for you now?
Oh, please, no, no. I would love to. It could be amazing. Cameron and I have discussed the possibility. But this is, of course, his baby, and I wanted to support whatever he wants. But writing another pilot, directing a pilot or an episode, I’m game for anything.