Steve Harris has had memorable turns on The Practice, Fright Night Lights, and Harry’s Law. But portraying the role of Detective Bird in NBC’s new duel reality drama Awake is somewhat of a horse of a different color. “I think we’re one of the best shows – if not the best drama on television, personally,” Harris says enthusiastically, his confidence immediately setting a relaxed tone for the duration of our interview. “We’re one of those shows that critics dig, and people who watch it are so invested in it that they’re not going anywhere, and I have to believe in that.”
He should believe in it. Awake, from the mind of Lone Star creator Kyle Killen, has been heralded across the board as one of the smartest new dramas of the season and not just because of its cast which, in addition to Harris and rising star Dylan Minnette, boasts names such as Jason Isaacs and Laura Allen. It’s a show that weaves procedural stories with complex human emotions in an incredibly smart way – and Harris knows it. “If you want to go network, I don’t think there’s anything better being done. I’m a very competitive human being…if you haven’t gathered,” he laughs. “I don’t think there’s a show out there like this. With shows like [AMC’s] The Walking Dead and [HBO’s] Game Of Thrones, you have to suspend a bit of belief – but once you’re invested, you go along for the ride and it doesn’t matter. If you’re a fan of high quality TV that allows you to think and allows you to get invested, then Awake is going to make you think. We cover gender, colors…it’s all over the place. You’ve got someone that represents everyone, doing their thing, under the foundation of very good producers.”
Affable, articulate and lively, Harris is a reporter’s dream. He speaks passionately about how much he loves working on the series and makes sure to note how highly he thinks of his co-stars (despite some playful ragging on Jason Isaacs’ musical taste.) “Everyone on Awake, you already know – they have a pedigree….and Jason, he’s a very collaborative actor. He’s invested in so many things, he has a feverish energy for them, he loves acting and it makes it a lot easier.”
When I mentioned how the nature of the series sometimes causes its show runners to withhold information rather than inform its leads of directions and reveals, Harris was surprisingly candid. “I think it also depends what kind of actor you are, because they have a through line,” he explains. “I think if you wanted to know, you could ask them. I want to live what we’re doing, I want to experience it. My through line is pretty simple.” He’s also quick to point out that he doesn’t necessarily have as much of a problem as people might think differentiating between his two characters. “The guy who has the real issue with that is Jason, because Jason to hold true to when his wife is around and when his son is alive,” he explains. “For me, in the world where I’m his partner, that’s the world where his son is alive so I know what’s going on. In both instances, I’ve been his friend as well as his partner for years; they just replaced me to bring in Wilmer [Valderrama.] He’s a handsome little fella.” Harris’ good-natured tone reappears when he mentions his cast mate, before he continues.
“Bird is fun to play. There aren’t really challenges because I understand my being and where I am…I think the challenge is going to be when and if the reality of these worlds come out and where I stand in them.” And would he prefer to be real? “Of course I would prefer my life to be real,” he laughs. “There’s not an actor in the world that doesn’t want ‘their’ life to be the ‘real’ life. People are so eager to get answers but I think questions spawn better answers.”
Awake is certainly doing its job in making people think. But aside from the criminal cases, the biggest question everyone’s mind may be that with almost half the season done and only a handful of episodes to go, how will the series wrap up and ease into a (hopeful) second year while still keeping its momentum and mystery? “I know where this season ends up – and no, I won’t tell you!” Harris teases with a grin. “But that’s why I feel firm. I feel strongly in telling you that if you watch, you will be pleasantly surprised by the end. I think you’ll say ‘that was a nice ride.’”
And if given the choice, would Harris want to know if he was awake or asleep? “No,” the actor answers firmly. “I would choose not to know. We all have a finite existence; we know that much to be true. And if someone told me my finite existence, I wouldn’t want that.”
Check out the video below for much more with Harris as he discusses what drew him to the role and his thoughts on the show’s success, and don’t miss an all new episode of Awake airing tonight at 10pm on NBC.