The Future is Now (And It's Scary)
Premiering on November 30th, Syfy’s new series Incorporated, from notable executive producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, imagines a futuristic world – the year is 2074 – where corporations have completely taken control over a severely fractured and damaged planet. Here, the more well off live in the “Green Zone” (in a life of relative, business-oriented, comfort), while the “Red Zone” is a testament environment that has been separated off, as sources of food rapidly deplete.
The series focuses on Ben Larson (Sean Teale), a young employee at Spiga Biotech, who is hiding some big, dangerous secrets from his employers – including his intimidating mother-in-law, Elizabeth (Julia Ormond), his boss at Spiga.
On a visit to the Toronto set of Incorporated, I spoke to Teale, Ormond and Dennis Haysbert – who plays Julian, the man at Spiga you do not want to be called in to see – to discuss the series, the characters, its contemporary themes and more.
An Impossible Situation
Teale (Reign, Skins) said he does not envy the plight his character goes through to protect himself, as he is forced to make some very uncomfortable decisions.
Sean Teale: It’s an absolute battle. I don’t know how any one man can go through this – thank God it’s ten episodes of television! No one man can go through what Ben has to go through. The wonderful thing about this that I think everyone gets from the pilot is it’s not as clean cut as it could be. And although whatever he’s doing might be considered noble or somewhat heroic, there’s some dark horrible things he has to do along the way and that will very much divide people. Some things will be too much and some people will go “No, for the sake of what you need to do to save someone, that’s what you need to do.” The show is so amazingly written and so plot heavy. I always say “plot heavy” and I always then say that plot heavy can’t be a negative connotation, it’s a positive one. Those moral issues never leave and they only amplify. It gets to breaking point and some even darker stuff happens and those things can’t not take their toll on someone.
Elizabeth is a fearsome presence when we meet her, but Ormond (Mad Men) explained there is more to her than meets the eye, and she has her own concerns influencing her actions.
Julia Ormond: I think she has to be intimidating in order to have the leadership piece in place, but also, it’s a little bit less people savvy and a little bit more that it doesn’t really matter what people below her think of her and it matters greatly what the people above her think of her. There’s not so much accountability in this world where profit has taken over, so I think that colors it. The corporate structure has sovereignty, so they can use torture as a device and surveillance as a device to monitor people’s behavior. So it’s a bit creepier, and it should feel a little bit more sinister.
What I’m trying to do is to not feel that I have to play those things - that kind of is played by the world that we’re in. If you see her as psychotic or a sociopath, then it just makes it one dimensional, and it makes it not a path that we’re all on. It’s important that you see the human behavior that comes out when somebody has either made a pact with the devil and found a world within the Green Zone, or is a realist about there’s only so much left. So what do you choose?
Don't Mess With Julian
We only see a bit of Haysbert (24, The Unit) in the Incorporated pilot, but his role expands greatly as the series continues. As for what Spigot, thinks of Julian...
Dennis Haysbert: They fear me because if you’re in school, I’m the principal and nobody wants to see the principal. And you don’t want to say the wrong thing, even if you happen to pass him in the hall. That’s kind of what it is to meet Julian. But I can only say without giving away spoilers, keep watching. You’ll find something new about him every episode.
Sci-Fi of the Now
Incorporated is airing on Syfy and takes place in the future, but the cast agreed the show is not going to have a heavy science fiction feel as much as a slight tweak or look ahead at a world that’s, in many ways, already here.
Ormond: I think we’re there now. It’s just that this has geographically pulled it together. We have slums in the megacities, we have this. And I do a lot of work on supply chains outside of this, and have an NGO that looks at forced labor in supply chains and spreading decent work around the world, and so when you look at it, we’re doing precisely that. We are buying stuff that’s tainted with slavery and forced labor. Pretty much in every single industry, there’s forced labor. There was a lot of research that I did. I called Will Sarni at Deloitte, who’s a strategist, one of the sort of top voices on water strategy and the nexus between food energy and water, and to me what’s really scary is this looming disaster that’s already going on. If we just made the right choices now, we could avoid it to a certain degree, but the solutions aren’t really getting traction because we’re all so scared about the, you know, it’s kind of a vicious circle.
Haysbert: It’s kind of a science-fact show. It’s very grounded in its technology and sci-finess. It’s really down to earth sci-fi. It’s the kind of sci-fi you can sink your teeth into and the world is more real than not. It’s just the technology is more advanced than we have right now but not that much. We’re slipping into cars now that can drive themselves. Here in this age, they definitely drive themselves unless you choose to drive yourself… which I will always do!
Teale: I think we’ve all been made aware by countless sci-fi shows that sci-fi shows shove a massive mirror on our own society and there’s a reason for that and a reason the genre is so popular. It allows you to do that and make believe what could happen but make it believable enough that it affects us. Otherwise shows that would do that that aren’t science fiction go into fairytales and what ifs. But because this is realistic enough and grounded enough in the science fiction world, it really resonates. I think the world can go this way. Allison [Miller, who plays Ben's wife, Laura] and I talk because we end up finding articles on things like certain devices that Ben has built or certain devices that staff members use and certain geographical situations that might occur in fifty years that do happen in our show. We keep finding these articles popping up and we’re like, “Guys you’re premeditating these things by five decades. It’s terrifying.”
We were at the TCAs (Television Critics Association press tour] and everyone was talking about the opening scene where they’re talking about Canada having built a wall to stop [people from the United States] – which is naturally what you’d expect because sea levels rise and north of Canada becomes habitable and people head north to keep cooler. We talked about building a wall. We filmed that a year and a bit ago and nobody could possible imagine that Trump would say the things he did [since] but he did. Whether that’s chance or just the realism with which these guys write this story, a lot of those things are starting to happen and a lot of these coincidences are starting to correlate. That just goes to show how realistic our show is trying to be. All the technology, cars that drive themselves, we already have those. It’s all coming. None of this is as far fetched as it seems. It’s grounded sci-fi. So yes, this world very much could occur. The disparity is bigger than it has ever been and it only seems to be getting bigger and with the addition of horrifying geographical changes, what more can we expect?
Matt and Ben
All of the cast agreed that having Damon and Affleck as executive producers not only was reassuring, it helped them want to do the series.
Ormond: Actually, it was really key. I’m a big fan of both of their work as actors. But it’s not just that, it’s also the stuff that they’re out there doing in the world that’s super smart. I mean incredibly smart. Will Sarni, who I mentioned earlier, works with Water.org - that’s Matt’s organization of water that’s doing really savvy stuff. And in the supply chain front, Ben has this long history of Eastern Congo Initiative, ECI. So for me, the creation of the world and the authenticity of the world is very much what makes it work. So having them attached I think gave me a comfort zone in terms of, well, I believe that would be important to them. So that’s really great. And then I think they have a legacy of audience who will be drawn to the show, in the same way that I would be drawn to, “Oh, it’s Matt Damon!”
Haysbert: They were definitely a big factor for me and for Ted [Humphrey, Incorporated’s showrunner]. Ted has worked with them on three different projects and then this one, this is the fourth. They’re definitely putting their energy behind this and there’s something to the story. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t take a role if that’s all you saw in the pilot. But they said “Bear with us. Roll with us.” So I took them at their word and it’s been good so far.
Teale: It’s great and it’s terrifying. It’s a wonderful thing that they’re involved and I couldn’t believe when I started the show that these guys were our heads, these were our leaders. It’s a wonderful thing and it does help. These guys are really invested, from what I know. I can’t speak for them above more than a professional relationship but from what I know they put their heart and soul into everything they do and they trusted people like Jennifer [Todd] and Ted [Humphrey], to really do the show justice. But they were involved in casting in the beginning and Ben watched the pilot and gave notes on editing and some great feedback. It’s really lovely to have them on board. While I’m acutely aware that certain executive producers involved in some shows are in place to pull in numbers, they have been involved which is unlike where you have 15 shows and one executive producer on all of them and you’re like, “It’s amazing that you’ve had enough time to be involved with this many TV shows this year!” But these guys, considering they’re the world’s biggest actors in some of the biggest franchises as well, it’s great that they’re a part of this.
Incorporated premieres November 30th on Syfy.