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We Meet Robert Patrick and the Super Geniuses Behind CBS’ “Fun-Cedural” SCORPION

Following in the footsteps of brainy CBS thrillers like Person of Interest is the network’s latest drama, Scorpion. Based on the story of real-life genius problem-solver Walter O’Brien (said to possess, at 197, the fourth highest IQ ever measured), the show premieres on September 22nd. Scorpion is produced by the ubiquitous Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, along with Fast and the Furious helmer Justin Lin and Nick Santora, and it stars Robert Patrick, Katherine McPhee, Game of Thones‘ Elyes Gabel, American Pie‘s Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jadyn Wong, and Ari Stidham. The cast and crew appeared at last week’s TCA 2014 Summer Press Tour to speak with us journos about the show’s tale of a computer-hacker team looking to right the world’s wrongs.

On the show’s portrayal of genius hackers…

Nick Santora: Being mentally enabled ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s hard to connect with your own family. It’s hard to connect with others. It’s hard to connect sometimes with other geniuses. The show has an amazing amount of fun, kickass action, but also has a huge amount of heart, a huge amount of the emotion that comes from a misfit family coming together, this group of geniuses that better learn how to get along because they only have each other. Then, on top of that, [there’s] a lot of humor. The show is funny. It has a procedural engine, but we don’t call it a procedural. This show is a “fun-cedural.”

On the accuracy of the show’s portrayal of Walter O’Brien…

Walter O’Brien: When they were casting this, I thought it was going to be a challenge because you’re going to have to find a very intelligent actor. I am very left-brain-dominant. Most actors are right-brain-dominant, and they’re going to be put in an impossible situation, which is you’re not supposed to have emotions, but you need to emotionally connect with the audience. You have to be nerdy, but you have to be strong because you’re the leader… The show is where I was maybe fifteen years ago, not where I am today. We needed someone who could play me back then, but grow into playing me now. Elyes spent a lot of extra hours with me, asking good questions, trying to understand. I think Elyes did an amazing job.

On the amount of input O’Brien has in the scripts…

WO: I’ve been doing this for real for twenty-five years through my company Scorpion. We went through those stories, those backgrounds, and started working with the writers on it. I think we’ve gotten into a good rhythm where I present the initial stories; the writers go away and figure out, “How can we get all the characters to use all their superpowers on these stories?” and then they have little “AW”s in the script, which is “Ask Walter” – “What’s a cool way to break into a building? How do you steal a Ferrari? How do you get off a rooftop?” I give them those nuggets, and then those end up back in the show.

On the show’s abundant use of technical jargon…

Alex Kurtzman: What comes to mind is The West Wing. On The West Wing I think most of us understood maybe ten percent of what was going on when they were marching down the hallways and talking about the stakes of the world. We didn’t quite understand all the language, but we got the gist of it. We got the gist of it because we understood emotionally what was happening and what was at stake. That’s a universal language.

On the cast’s preparation…

Elyes Gabel: Having the real-life version of myself here, one-on-ones are the best way to go as far as looking at somebody and deciphering the emotional activity, but also the way in which people really relate to different surroundings. Having Walter around was a blessing.

Ari Stidham: My character was based on a computer. There’s a lot of OCD with my guy. So R2-D2, when he does, like, “Wheeee,” that’s in the back of my head.

On Robert Patrick’s role…

Robert Patrick: I’m a federal agent that hears about Walter, discovers Walter, and basically just takes him and brings him back to America as a young boy. And the relationship is very paternal. That’s actually what brought me to the project to begin with, this relationship and how this will grow over time. I’ve seen what he can do, and I believe in him. I want to try to create some room and give him the space he needs to do what he does, and be creative. I’ve kind of jokingly referred to it as Colonel Tom Parker with Elvis Presley. He’s such an amazing talent, how do I allow him to exist and be sort of a buffer between him and the government? We want him in the government, we want him to work for us. And when I find him he’s got this incredible team of geniuses that are all quirky and eccentric, and I have to tolerate each and every one of them. I start to realize what their value will be to this team. And if he believes in them, then I’m going to believe in them. I’m a curmudgeon. I’m definitely not the smartest guy in the room when I’m with them, and yet I am the smartest guy in the room.

Make sure you catch Scorpion at Comic-Con before it premieres on CBS Monday, September 22 at 9:00 PM.

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