Pop Culture

'Resurrection' star not alone in seeing dead people all over TV

If you've ever seen one of those Kill Your Television bumper stickers, now might be a good time to slap one on the front of your set. Because the dead are definitely taking over TV.

They're not just coming back to life as scary zombies on "The Walking Dead." On ABC's new "Resurrection" and on Sundance TV's "The Returned," death is merely a formality for folks who return precisely as who they were when they passed.

Bob Mahoney / Today
Omar Epps, Landon Gimenez, and Kurtwood Smith star in ABC's new drama "Resurrection."

"Resurrection" premieres Sunday and stars Kurtwood Smith, Frances Fisher and Omar Epps. Its genesis may prove a bit confusing as it's based on Jason Mott’s book, "The Returned." But that book has nothing to do with Sundance TV’s French show of the same name. That show is based on a French movie, "Les Revenants," and it's also being adapted for A&E by Carlton Cuse ("Lost" and "Bates Motel").

There is no apocalypse and no explanation to the phenomenon that occurs in the premiere of "Resurrection." Created by Aaron Zelman (“The Killing”), the show focuses more on themes of love, grief, and family through the prism of what happens to the Langston family when an 8-year-old boy named Jacob (Landon Gimenez), who died 30 years earlier, inexplicably returns to his childhood home.

Smith ("That 70s Show") and Fisher ("Titanic") play Jacob’s parents, Henry and Lucille. After grieving for three decades, they are now in their 60s and have very different reactions to their son's shocking return. Lucille immediately recognizes and embraces him; Henry is reluctant to accept him. Epps plays an immigration agent who comes across Jacob and takes him home. As the series progresses, more dead people will return to their families but the Langstons will remain the heart of the show.

Smith, a veteran TV and film actor best known for his role as the memorable Red Forman on “That 70s Show," was interviewed by TODAY in Los Angeles. The following is an edited transcript of that interview.

Henry Langton's reaction is understandably complex. How do you view where he's coming from, his rejection of the boy?
"I think Henry is seeing that Jacob is still a little boy and he's questioning: what does that do to the 30 years I’ve spent mourning him and going through the changes I’ve gone through in my life? How do I justify all of that? It forces him to think about his memory of his child and to re-examine what he's done with his own life for 30 years. What an interesting, complex character ... maybe only in “Deads Poet Society” ... I haven’t really played characters that are coming from an emotional place as much. Not that they don’t all in their own way, even Red Forman. All of Red’s stuff was coming out of love for his son. It’s just the way he was illustrating it."

Being a parent to a young boy when you're in your 60s is very different.
"Because of the character, I haven’t been playing ball with the kid. But it always looks like I’m chasing somebody and looking miserable doing it. I have a bad back and stuff so I don’t run much. But on this show, it’s like they’re always having me run. I have to look like it’s killing me. I just look pathetic! Running through the woods, and slipping and falling! Luckily, I don't work every day, like I would on "70s." But, on the other hand, when you do work, it’s brutal kind of hours. Tearing yourself up emotionally all the time isn’t easy, at least, it isn’t easy for me." 

Why did you want to do this role?
"I like doing television. I had a great experience working on "70s." We did it for 8 years, sitcom in front of an audience. It’s a completely different animal in terms of the way it works and it’s done. But, still, I like working. I really wanted it. I don’t particularly know but I felt a strong identification and something I really wanted to do. I didn’t know how much I wanted to do it until I started rehearsing it for my audition. Something in me almost physically reacted to it. This is in me, I can do this. Sometimes that carries through in your audition — people get the same feeling."

This show is very thought-provoking, especially if you've experienced loss. Has it made you wonder what you'd do in Henry's shoes?
"Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, I don’t think about that when I’m doing it. There is the child and the child calls you 'Daddy' and it hits you. It’s an emotional thing. That’s not something you prepare for. But there are other things you think about in preparation for it. There might be other things I might think about in terms of what’s happening to him and what he’s done with his life — things that I regret in my life. I try to use that sort of feeling for some of the regret that Henry is concerned about with his life.

"But in thinking about that the thing that comes up is that my father was killed in the second World War. He never saw me. I was a year and a half old. He was a 24-year-old warrior, distinguished service and all that. So he’d be 24 years old if he came back. To have your father come back at 24, what would you talk to him about? What would that be? My mom and my stepdad — they both passed away. While we were shooting this, my mom passed away. My stepdad, he’s the guy who raised me, about 12 to 15 years ago. So, initially, I thought of them, of course. But I haven’t thought about it too much because there’s not much I can do with that. Speaking about my father, there’s not an emotional thing there. There's great interest and curiosity but he’s not somebody that I knew."