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June 13, 2018
Online Originals

Life Is But a Dream

Dreams, reality, artificial and real intelligence are all part of Sendhil Ramamurthy’s new show, Reverie.

Melissa Byers

Have you ever watched your child or your significant other while they sleep and wondered what they're dreaming?

Or have you had a wonderful dream and wanted the next night to return to that dream world? Imagine if modern technology could provide those experiences. That is the basis for the new NBC series Reverie.

In the series, a new technology allows people to immerse themselves in their own dream worlds. The program, called Reverie, gives users a virtual reality experience like no other. The only problem is, some of the users are becoming addicted, and as they stay under, their bodies start to deteriorate and the users are near death.

Enter Mara Kent (Sarah Shahi), a former hostage negotiator, who is recruited to enter these people's dreams and get them out. Working with her is Dr. Paul Hammond, the chief oneirologist (someone who studies the biology of dreams) at the Onira-Tech company which has created Reverie. Hammond is played by Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes, Beauty and the Beast).

Ramamurthy was drawn to the character and the show immediately.

He says, "Well, first of all it was the subject matter of the script itself, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, it's been out there recently. Every magazine you open, every newspaper you read about something to do with virtual reality or AI, or anything to do with that. It was kind of in my mind, and I thought, 'Okay, well this could be really cool.' It's timely, and it's good to be a part of something that's timely. That was the first thing, was just the subject matter of the show.

"Then, when I read the pilot and read Paul, I just kind of connected with Paul in a weird way. There was something about him that I felt that I'd never played before, but also a side of me that I'd never really shown fully on screen. He kind of had like a very deep empathy in him that I recognized even from the pilot, and I kind of talked about it in the meeting with [creator] Micky Fisher and with the folks at Amblin.

"I really liked that, I felt like it was what was happening in the world at the time, and now we just seem to be so chaotic. I felt that playing this empathetic character would be kind of nice for me, and hopefully nice for people watching. To just see people being empathetic."

While he recognizes the ubiquity of AI and technology, and although he plays with it expertly on screen, Ramamurthy himself is not entirely comfortable with it.

He says, "I struggle. It's a constant struggle for me, because I have this kind of fear about this stuff. A program like Reverie scares the heck out of me. I think that it's scary. I mean, honestly I'm scared by self-driving cars. That whole concept scares me.

"Something like Reverie, because it's like with anything, any of these new technologies that come out with, whether it's Facebook and being used to possibly influence elections, they're always created with the best of intentions. Or, most of the time created with the best of intentions, but there's always going to be a yin-yang there.

"There's always going to be something that's a downside. Those downsides really freak me out.

"The downsides of Reverie and one of the possible downsides that we explore during the series, that's a big downside, these things, they affect your brain. That scares me. I'm scared of that, but then you know, then I can't live without my iPhone. It's one of those things where I have kids now, and I worry about how much time they're spending on a screen on their iPad or whatever. It's this love-hate. It's a love hate relationship for sure that I have with technology.

"The possibilities are so fascinating to me. That's the thing with Paul, it's the thing that Paul recognizes, is that he's suffered from panic attacks and depression. He has this like outside very happy-go-lucky smiley guy, but it kind of masks this stuff. The way he dealt with it was Reverie helped him address some of these issues.

"That's why he thinks it's such a great thing, but then, and he's always willing to push the boundaries of it, but then he also sees the downside and the risks. Why are we putting Mara Kent, Sarah Shahi's character, into this program when we don't know what will happen when you put a second person into the program? We've only designed it and only experimented on it with one person in the program. One person in Reverie. Like how is this ethical, how can we do this?"

Like Ramamurthy, his character, Paul, has a love-hate relationship with technology. Ramamurthy says, "He's got that push and pull too, and I really recognized that. Even in the pilot, it's very clear that he's torn. He's absolutely fascinated with this and he wants people to be able to benefit from it like he benefited from it, but then there's the other side of it, too. I definitely could relate with that."

The love side of that relationship with technology is evident in the cast's interactions with fans. "The entire cast live tweeted the viewing of the pilot. The feedback that we got was, people weren't expecting it to be what it was. They didn't expect it to be so emotional. I think a lot of people [expected] a straight up kind of sci-fi show, and there are absolutely sci-fi elements to the show, for sure, but at its heart I think it's a very grounded, hopefully emotionally involving story.

"A lot of people were pleasantly surprised by that. I was really happy to see that. I've been answering, I've been trying to answer tweets, because so many people tweeted. I just couldn't answer them all.

"I've been spending the last two days trying to spend half an hour or 40 minutes a day just replying to tweets, because so many people have [tweeted]. I just got a tweet from a woman whose daughter was having surgery and she'd been looking forward to Reverie because she'd been following me, and how it brought a smile to her face just to watch a show like Reverie.

"That was awesome. That was really cool to see. Obviously, if we can provide some kind of distraction from what's going on in people's lives, things they need distraction from, then that's what the program's about. That's what one of our goals is as actors and people involved in the television shows, to take people out of themselves for an hour.

"It's been really nice. I have to say, it's been really nice to read the feedback. That people have been really positive and really emotionally moved. I got emotionally moved reading their tweets and their stories. It's been great."

Ramamurthy is no stranger to fan attention. Having been part of several shows with fervent fan followings, Heroes, Covert Affairs, and Beauty and the Beast among them, he has fans from all parts of his career who have followed him from project to project.

"A lot of people tweeted at me since the pilot has aired, and even the run up to the show when they were seeing promos and stuff. A lot of Heroes people, and quite a few Beauty and the Beast people. A lot of the Beasties. A lot of the Beasties came out in support of the show; it was great to see. The fans of Beauty and the Beast call themselves the Beasties, and I actually tweeted at them because they were such a loyal group of fans.

"They used to make Beauty and the Beast trend every single episode that it aired, they'd make it trend on twitter and all over the place. I asked them, I said, 'You guys are like the world experts at making things trend. We can use your help, you know, can you bring your expertise to the table, please.' They did, and we did. We trended.

"So thank you to the Beasties for helping out a new show and for following me.

"Yeah, and even Covert Affairs people tweeted at me too, which was awesome. British people tweeted at me from Lucky Man [a British series in which Ramamurthy has recently been working]. I really appreciate the Lucky Man fans supporting as well. It was very cool. I've been lucky enough to do work that attracts a very passionate following.

"I think the sci-fi fandom in general is a very passionate group of people. They follow the actors that they like, and that they get treated well by. I've been really lucky to be on these shows that people have responded to."

One element of his latest character is that Paul has an English accent. Ramamurthy explains it this way, "You know, this is the God's honest truth. When I was reading the pilot, whenever I read any script I start to read it out loud, just so I can try and hear the voice of the character, and of the other characters as well. I act them all out. I take on everybody's role.

"When I was reading it, I'd read everybody else's and I'd get to Paul and I heard myself reading it and this is, I shouldn't admit it, but I just didn't think I sounded smart enough to play Paul.

"It just didn't sound like ... you know, actors are always trying to find the voice of their character. Not just the actual physical voice, but just who he is. I was reading it and I just didn't believe myself as Paul. I just, I don't know, I can't explain it. It was just a feeling, like a gut feeling. Then, I started reading it out in a British accent just because I'd been doing Lucky Man and I was British in that.

"I just thought, 'Well, let me give it a shot since I've been working in England for the past few years.'

"I did, and I really liked the way it sounded. I thought I sounded, I would believe me, you know, with a British accent saying this stuff that Paul was saying. When I went in to meet the producers, I went in and I did the entire meeting in a British accent, so they weren't quite aware that I wasn't.

"Then, after I talked to them I told them, 'Listen, this is how I feel. I feel like this guy should be British, it's what sounds right to me. I feel like I can do a good job for you guys on this role, but can he be British?' They were like, 'Absolutely.' That was, that's how he became British. Paul became British because Sendhil didn't sound smart enough. That's what it comes down to."

Now that he has the role, he is thoroughly enjoying being part of the cast, as he has with the casts of his past projects. "I love this cast. I've been just really fortunate in general in my career to work with great casts. We all got along. My Heroes castmates I'm still in touch with so many of them. I still am in contact with Milo, with Adrian, with Leonard Roberts, with Santiago Cabrera, Jack Coleman, Ali Larter and I text.

"We all are still in touch with each other all these years on. Heroes has been off the air what, for now, eight years now it's been off the air. Well, not counting Reborn. Masi Oka sends me a happy birthday text every single year, he sends me a happy birthday text. We keep in touch. It's a great group.

"Then, Covert Affairs. I was just texting with Piper the other day, she's working on something really great, which will probably be announced soon. Chris Gorham I keep in touch with.

"The Beauty and the Beast cast as well. Nina Lisandrello, Kristen Kreuk, and Austin Basis. I'm still in touch with all those guys. Now I've got this new family also to add to the mix. I've known Sarah for years before, you know, we were both at USA together. I was on Covert Affairs and she was doing Fairly Legal and we'd do all the upfront and press together.

"There's actually red carpet pictures of me and Sarah from like eight years ago, if you look them up. I've known her for a while and I've been a fan of what she does. I was a big fan of Life that she did with Damien Lewis."

In fact, Ramamurthy is a member of the Television Academy because of one of his former cast members. "I have been a member of the Academy since you guys had us over, when we did the emmy magazine shoot in season one. One of your representatives came around to every table and gave us the forms and everything. I was like, 'What is this Academy business, like I don't even know what it is?' You know, 'How much money is it? Blah, blah, blah.'

"Adrian Pasdar said, 'This is something you've got to be a part of. Sendhil, buddy, listen, you've got to be a part of this. You've got to be a part of this. I tell you what, I'm going to pay your first years dues.' He wrote the check, I was like, 'No, Adrian, you don't have to, seriously.' He's like, 'No, buddy, I'm gonna do it.' So, Adrian Pasdar actually got me into the Academy because he insisted on paying for my first year, like my initiation and first years dues.

"That's the kind of guy that he is. That's how so many of my castmates have been on all these different jobs."

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