CCI | <i>Person Of Interest</i> Panel

Fans turned out in droves to yet another packed ballroom at Comic-Con International to see an exclusive premiere of CBS’s Person of Interest, the latest hour-long drama by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias). An action/crime series with elements of science fiction, Person of Interest is the brainchild of Jonathan Nolan, brother of director Christopher Nolan and co-writer of The Dark Knight.

As soon as the last audience members trickled in the lights dimmed and the pilot began playing on the ballroom’s large projector screen. Starring film actor Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, The Passion of the Christ) as John Reese, an ex-government agent living on the streets, through a series of flashbacks the pilot quickly establishes that Reese is despondent because he lost someone dear, a girlfriend named Jennifer. Reese still possesses his fighting edge, which brings him to the attention of Officer Carter (Taraji P. Henson of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) after he brutally and efficiently beats a gang of hoodlums trying to steal his liquor.

However, this also attracts the attention of another person: the mysterious and shadowy Finch, played by none other than Lost’s Michael Emerson. A rich man with murky motives, Finch offers Reese a second chance at life and a strange new job -- preventing crimes before they happen. As Finch explains it, he has a list of people who in some way or another are going to be involved in a violent crime. Finch doesn’t know what the crime is, nor does he know whether the person of interest is the victim or the perpetrator; all he knows is something bad will happen involving that person. As Finch tells Reese, he wants to pay Reese to follow one of the names on the list, a beautiful young district attorney Finch believes is going to be murdered.

After some debate and a truly spectacular Finch persuasion scene that I won’t ruin here, Reese takes the job and begins tracking the DA. From here on out the pilot kicks into full spy mode, Reese planting surveillance cameras, hacking phones and engaging in espionage of every sort to investigate the DA. There are some great twists and red herrings peppering his investigation, as well as a lot of hilarious kneecap-shooting scenes as Reese tries to perform his job with minimal loss of life. By the last twist the audience was audibly gasping, and applauded each time the pilot faded to the 30-second black frame indicating a commercial break. The audience was also vocally appreciative of the pilot’s unrelenting Big Brother theme, often cutting in the middle of a scene to surveillance cameras tracking the characters, hinting that someone or something is keeping as close a watch on Reese as he does on the DA.

The audience broke into wild applause as the credits began to roll, cheering even louder as Entertainment Weekly writer and panel moderator Lynette Rice came onstage to introduce the creative minds behind the pilot: Nolan, producer Greg Plageman and stars Caviezel, Emerson and Henson.

Rice began by asking Nolan where he got the idea for the pilot. Nolan explained to the audience that he and his brother spent part of their childhoods living in Britain.

“In the U.K. in the ‘70s and ‘80s they started putting up cameras everywhere, and it’s only been in the last 10 years in this country that we’ve followed suit,” he said. Touching on the importance of the surveillance cameras and constant public monitoring by the government, an integral part of the show’s plot, Nolan continued, “We used to play ‘count the cameras’ on tech scouts in New York, and apparently the number of cameras in downtown Manhattan now is officially ‘uncountable.’ So we felt like there’s some relevance in here.”

Nolan went on to say that Person of Interest will be serialized with a central mystery winding through all of Season 1, promising that more secrets will unfold as the first season goes on.

Turning to the actors, the audience cheered when Rice told Caviezel that he is the “best thing to happen to fall TV,” and laughed as an embarrassed Caviezel waved away her comment. The actor told the crowd he was drawn to the pilot because of its great script, the great cast, and the chance to work on a J.J. Abrams series. Caviezel added that portraying the dangerous and sensitive Reese was the biggest draw of all.

“Once maybe in a guy’s career you get a great opportunity like this to play a character that just hits home on a lot of levels,” he said. The actor said that for the pilot he trained with the Navy SEALs, who provided research information to help him better understand Reese.

Moving down the row, Rice asked Emerson how Finch, a mysterious good guy with shadowy motives and a list, compares to Lost’s Benjamin Linus, a mysterious bad guy with shadowy motives and a list -- or if it was too much to assume Finch was good. Instead of answering, Emerson gave his best enigmatic Benjamin Linus smile, causing the audience to go wild.

“I don’t know if we should be talking about this right now,” Emerson said, earning a second laugh from the crowd. However, he then said it was a nice change of pace to go from playing bad guy Linus to playing the seemingly more benign Finch.

“I know a whiff of duplicity may still hang about me,” added Emerson as the audience laughed again, “and it may take a few episodes for you to warm up to this character altogether, but I’m sure that’s going to happen.”

Henson then told the audience that her character’s main focus throughout the season is to track down Reese and find out who he really is, a feat hampered by his ability to move through the shadows without leaving a trail.

“I don’t know who I’m chasing, I just keep hearing about this guy in a suit,” laughed Henson. “I don’t know what kind, what color -- I have a lot to figure out!”

Nolan chimed in that while they will explore the lives and histories of all three main characters throughout the show, beyond that he would follow “J.J.’s school of thought, which is reveal nothing.” The jokes continued when Rice said the pilot’s longhaired, homeless Reese looked like Jesus Christ, and asked Emerson and Henson if they teased Caviezel about it on set.

“I just asked if I could touch the hem of his robe,” Henson answered as the audience laughed, adding with a gesture to the stage, “It looks like the Last Supper up here, doesn’t it?”

With time left for just one question, the lucky audience member asked Emerson if the similarities between Lost’s Ben Linus and Person’s Finch drew him to the role. Emerson surprised the audience by saying no, taking the time to elaborate on his character.

“[Finch] is a good man -- he’s in kind of a shadowy position and, of course, like Benjamin Linus he is a man of secret and mysterious means and a dark back story,” he said. “But I think he’s going to come out into the light of day a little bit more. I think with each passing episode you are going to feel a frailty about him.”

He paused and added, “I’ll see to that!” The audience cracked up for the last time and the moderator brought the panel to a swift close.

Person of Interest premieres Sept. 22 on CBS.

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