Pure Genius focuses on Bunker Hill hospital, the state of the art hospital from tech billionaire James Bell and follows employees as they navigate this brand new modern and cutting edge technology. The new series from TV powerhouse Jason Katims, aka the man behind Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, stars Dermot Mulroney (Shameless), Odette Annable (House), and Augustus Prew. Prew plays the spunky and fast-talking mogul Bell, and while his intentions may be good, he still has a bit of an awkward way about him. Bell has immense pride and confidence in his hospital, but he seems to lack vital communication skills, especially when it comes to his employees.
Prew plays the overachieving and savvy Bell with ease. He brings Bell’s smallest gestures and mannerisms to life and has turned this complicated and closed off person into someone we are dying to know more about. The TV Junkies got the chance to do just that when we recently spoke exclusively with Prew about his character and what we can expect to see in the pilot of Pure Genius, and what drew him to the show, which premieres Thursday, Oct. 27 at 10 p.m. on CBS and Friday, October 28 at 10 p.m. on Global.
The TV Junkies: What can you tell us about your character, James?
Augustus Prew: James Bell is a tech billionaire. He is trying to revolutionize healthcare by merging the best minds in medicine and the best minds in technology, and building the most revolutionary hospital in the world. He is trying to solve cases that have not been able to be solved by anyone else. This show is about the ethics of that and the human story of trying to save people’s lives in the most cutting edge way possible. He is a person who is deeply isolated, his mind works ten million miles an hour, faster than everyone else’s. Having a simple conversation with James is tough and so part of the struggle with James is to be understood, which I think everybody can kind of empathize with.
TTVJ: As you mentioned he is clearly more than just a billionaire. How important was it for you as an actor to play a character that wasn’t just a billionaire? How important to you as an actor was that?
AP: That’s the most important! The human connection is why I became an actor and that’s why people connect with other people. The human cost of the decisions we make on the show is the heart of the show and Jason Katims is the master of that. He is the master at writing these incredible human emotional stories that really pull on the heart strings. We just finished shooting a Christmas episode and I cried three times reading the script, and I love a good cry, it’s so cathartic it makes you feel great afterwards.
In terms of making James a real character, there are few people who get to experience what being a billionaire is like and that was kind of a really interesting thing for me to explore. It sounds great but it’s actually really isolating I imagine. If you have the power to do anything you want just because you can, should you? It’s lonely at the top if you’re the boss of everyone–you can’t have many friends, especially if you’re James and unable to engage with people on a normal social level. That’s what’s fascinating to play, I guess, when the stakes are high enough. It’s literally a life or death situation. Do you become more selfish? James has always been sort of a “me first” kind of guy. Or, does he learn to reach out and seek help from those around him? It’s very character driven and I think that’s why people are going to love it.
TTVJ: We learn in the pilot that he’s an orphan, will we continue to learn more about his upbringing?
AP: 100% yes. The second episode we meet James’s sort of surrogate mother, who is not who you think it would be. We see the human side to this persona James has created. James is very aware of how he’s perceived. When I was prepping for the role I was very fascinated by Steve Jobs and the way that he was able to create a persona for himself as a person that is also potentially a bit prickly in his real life and perhaps misunderstood. He created this narrative about his own life so people could understand where he was coming from. He had that really famous pose where he puts his hands in front of his face and I wanted to sort of emulate that in many ways and have James have his own iconic position. In terms of James’s background, James is looking for a family, that’s all he wants. He just wants to be understood, just like the rest of us. I think the show is about him coming to terms with his own humanity and learning what that means on a day to day basis.
TTVJ: Clearly you are so passionate about this series and your character. What drew you to the role and show?
AP: When I read the script. It’s very rare that you connect with something so instantaneously, within the first ten pages I knew how I wanted to play James. I knew how he sounded I knew how he walked. When you have such a strong reaction to a script you have to follow that, cause it’s rare. On a selfish level I wanted to work with Jason. He is a master of the form. He is responsible for Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. He is able to write these beautiful, beautiful characters, you are able to see your aunt, uncle, your sisters, brother, you see yourself in the characters he writes. I kind of wanted a slice of that pie, I wanted to work with him. I was fortunate enough that we hit it off when I met him, we were on the same page for the character and the part and where we wanted him to go. It’s a privilege for me to work with someone so talented, and that goes for the whole cast. Our casting director, Camille Patton is a fantastic reader of people. She assembled this wonderful cast that really clicked and has become a family. The journey that you see on screen is very much like the journey we had when we shot it, I think that really comes through actually.
TTVJ: What can you tell us about James and Zoe (Odette Annable)? They seem to have some sort of strange chemistry.
AP: Ohh! [laughs] There is a lot of chemistry going with those two! There is a third person who might join the party and get in the way, or not get in the way. There’s a love triangle for sure, I don’t want to give too much away but it’s a long road for those two and they have a deep connection that is explored throughout the season. James is looking for the person who understands him, he’s looking for “the James whisperer” and often that person is closer than you think. That is very much an element of the show, but I don’t want to give too much away.
TTVJ: How would you describe the show?
AP: It’s Pure Genius! (Laughs) It’s got heart, it’s smart, it’s emotional, it’ll make you laugh, make you cry. It’s a really incredible group of charters that come together to try and solve the problems that we all wish as a society could be solved. A lot of it is wish fulfillment, it’s wanting to create the best possible solution. Part of it is just because you can do something, just because you have the power to do it and the intelligence to do it, the territory we get into at Bunker Hill addresses, should you do it. We have the technology that allows us to do these incredible things, sometimes those things are not so incredible that you can do and we look at the consequences of that. It’s a great show, I’m very excited for people to see it.
TTVJ: What shows are you currently loving on TV right now?
AP: I’m loving Transparent, I’m loving Stranger Things. I just started watching a show called, Fleabag and it’s so good, it’s so good. It’s fantastic, really funny. That’s my current binge list!
Pure Genius could pass as the love child of Silicon Valley and ER. It’s got brains, wit, and it’s running on high energy. Tell us if you’ll be tuning in to Pure Genius in the comments below!
Pure Genius premieres Thursday, October 27 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and Friday, October 28 at 10 p.m. ET on Global.
Victoria loves all things TV! Whether it's binging Grey's Anatomy (for the 4th time) or talking Orphan Black plot lines with her Professors, she's fully in love with the medium. Victoria loves television so much that she is studying it at Monmouth University. If you love hearing long rants about why Luke and Lorelai are meant for each other you should follow Victoria on twitter @VictoriaNelli.