A Millennial Addition
Klea Scott's been having some pretty spooky evenings since she started working on Millennium. Her husband is in Los Angeles for work most nights when she's in Vancouver shooting the Fox series, on which she plays F.B.I. agent Emma Hollis. "Sometimes I'm alone, reading books, research about case studies, things that have happened to real people...and it creeps into your psyche," she says uneasily. "Even dealing with fake blood, or bodies that get up when they say 'cut' - situations that you know aren't real - the fact that you believe in them as an actor for a time makes them upsetting. I need to do things to get completely away from it on the weekends."
Millennium - the story of of Agent Frank Black, who has the ability to get inside the minds of serial killers, an invaluable tool for the F.B.I. as the forces of evil gather - is one of the darkest shows on television, but that doesn't bother Scott at work. "There amount of humor on the set maintains your sanity, really. The danger is in letting yourself go to a place of not giving respect to the tragedies around you - making it glib. So you find balances." A veteran of the Steven Bochco series Brooklyn South, on which she also played a law enforcement officer, Scott is a big X-Files fan and was thrilled to be invited to appear on a Chris Carter show.
"I had watched Millennium the first season, but I didn't have a TV for a couple of years - I was at school," she admits, adding that when she auditioned to play Emma, her interest was more in the production than the series itself because the character had barely been conceived. "She's developed differently than they imagined, I think, because of who they cast - all the other women at the audition were blonde," says the African-American actress, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone but grew up in Canada. "I don't think I was what they thought they were going to cast."
Moreover, Scott auditioned not with a script about Emma, but with another character's lines from a previous season. "I knew about Emma mainly through discussions with the producers as to who they wanted her to be. They have always cast terrific actors on their shows, where people really get to push themselves - things like Lili Taylor got to play a blind woman last season [on The X-Files]. Actors really like people to see them as something other than what everybody else casts them as constantly, so I was attracted to working with this group of people; usually you get a great character, supported by a terrific story."
Emma Hollis' backstory, about which we got some detail during the fourth episode this season, was created after Scott was cast. We now know that her sister was murdered by an aimless drifter when Emma was very young; discovering what motivates murderers to kill has become her purpose in life. "I knew that there was a tragedy in her past that drove her - it was something that was there as source point, but her family had the werewithal to survive it intact. Some of it could change, because they change as they need to for the stories, rather than saying, 'This is who this person is and we're going to write around it'; as they write the stories, facts about characters come to light."
Originally conceived as the daughter of a retired military man - but not a high-ranking officer like Dana Scully's - and a schoolteacher mother, Emma's character was constructed as well-educated "rather than a sort of Jodie Foster Silence of the Lambs bettering yourself through the FBI, I wasn't coming from poverty where that was the only means to improve myself, joining the FBI." Hollis is educated, though we don't know whether her background is in law or social work or something else. She's also not a rookie: "I have several years experience in the field."
Unlike Lance Henriksen's Frank Black, Emma has no supernatural powers which help her solve crimes, just good instincts. Scott observes, "What Emma does have is a pursuit of excellence and the truth that supersedes her personal ambition for herself - that's what allows her to single out Frank as someone she wants to learn from." Laughing, she adds, "It's almost like The Karate Kid, showing a master from whom to learn, and she is going to pursue him until he accepts that this chick is going to keep showing up on his doorstep so he might as well start inviting her along." The metaphor Scott uses is that "Frank's a sniper while Emma's still buckshot - she'll try anything and everything and exhaust herself to get to the truth, while Frank moves much more quickly and efficiently directly to the source of a problem. That's what she can learn from him: how to trust her own instincts and how to eliminate all the excess time spent in trial and error narrowing down the possibilities, instead of just moving where her gut instinct takes her."
Emma is also much more open than the rest of the people in in the department to Frank's unconventional ways of working: often he comes up not with fact- or evidence-driven hypotheses, but theories which require blind faith in his own visions. "Emma will take that chance," says Scott. "She needs proof - she's got to go get the proof." In that respect, the relationship has a bit in common with that of Mulder and Scully, though their relationship is far less balanced, since Emma is so much younger than Frank and sees herself as his protege. The actress likes that dimension to their relationship and is not bothered that her character is not yet treated as an equal.
"I'm really pleased they haven't made this a pat partnership between the two of us - they haven't just started off the season and said, 'These two people are partners now, and you just have to accept that.' It's been a dance for us to trust one another. I really hope that they maintain this mentor-student relationship - there seems to be so far no danger of me becoming a damsel in distress and getting rescued. But with Lance, there's a respect for the actor that reflects as the character in terms of him being an older, more experienced male agent. He's revered, but he doesn't condescend to me, ever. He wants to see Emma get more confident."
This balance is particularly important to Scott because it wasn't just her character who came into an established unit: she, too, arrived on the set of an established show as a new regular, which she likens to "going to a new high school in your junior year, when everybody's been together for three years and you don't know anyone. That first day airing was like the first day of school - will they like me? It wasn't hard because anyone gave me a hard time, it was just that the fan base is so loyal and vocal, I wasn't sure I'd be accepted." Scott tends not to read new online reviews because they make her feel self-conscious, but she is catching up on watching the older episodes and trying to get a sense of where her character will fit in.
"Were women looking for a female character to be doing what he was doing, rather than being a supportive wife or daughter?" she wonders. "Ours is an interesting partnership, even visually, onscreen - to see a woman of color and a caucasian man with this age difference - we look really odd, and I like it, it's not a pairing that we've seen before, so you're not going to say, oh, it's Felix and Oscar. What are these two people to each other and how are they going to relate? I think there is a lot of potential there." The ratings have been somewhat inconsistent this season, suffering from initial competition from the baseball playoffs and rotating lead-in series (the most recent, Brimstone, seems to work much better than the previous comedies). The Halloween episode, featuring the band K.I.S.S., generated a lot of attention. Scott credits the producers with not compromising to ratings gimmicks - which often include the addition of a more stereotypical "babe" in flamboyant clothing, especially for a science fiction target demographic.
Scott - who says she didn't have a role model in law enforcement for Emma in part because she didn't have time to fly out to Quantico or visit the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington - noted that while the F.B.I. advertises itself to potential recruits as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, gender-balanced organization, the public perception of it still seems to include a lot of guys in suits. She did research the physical requirements and the skills, and read a lot of the books of John Douglas - the profiler whom a lot of people compare with Frank Black's experiences. "He does all the case studies and goes into the personal effects on your life when you're doing jobs like this, so he's a great resource for this kind of work. I wanted to be convincing."
Though the problem-solving aspects of Emma's work appeal to her, as well as her character's frustrations with the way people abuse one another and her desire to stop it, Scott says she wouldn't want to be a real agent. "The reason I love acting is you get to do all these other things you'd never get to do, a really wide variety." Though she performed as a child and appeared on Canadian television in her early teens, she decided after a year of college and several years acting onstage in New York to attend thes North Carolina School for the Arts. "I was doing a lot of classical theater, working often with people from Juilliard and Yale, and felt like I was the street element in the midst of these people - there was a lack of confidence because I didn't have the training they did. So I said, I'm going to commit, I'm going to get training. I was back and forth - while I was in my senior year I got Brooklyn South, so I moved to L.A. when I graduated. Then the series got cancelled, and then I mercifully was cast in Millennium!
The actress feels "very blessed" to have worked with Bochko and Carter, calling Brooklyn South an important learning experience. She was saddened by the show's cancellation, but took the opportunity to work with her husband, writer/director John Langs. "I was playing a prostitute and a Southern preacher in a very strange play in a black box in L.A., so it was like, had anything changed? I was on a TV show for a year and then doing theater for free!" she laughs. "It's nice having someone who's really grounded and based in my first love, theater. I would love to do Lady Macbeth in terms of classical theater, and we just did a series of plays based on two Tennessee Williams short stories that were adapted into one-acts. There are seven actors in each piece, and you all play men and women, very movement-oriented and abstract."
Her husband's Los Angeles-based company, Golden Mean, is moving into film production, so Scott is interested in working with him in that medium as well. "We're going to do a lot of things. He's a fearless leader, and he'll kind of go into any area - he's writing right now although he never thought he could, so he encourages me to write." Scott has clear priorities when looking for roles: "I like good stories, and I like when a medium uses everything in its ability to make it necessary to tell it that way. I like theater that could only be theater and film that could only be film."
Although the separation has been difficult, it's worth it for Scott to live in Vancouver to play Emma, whom she admires for "her capacity to take a chance on something that other people might laugh off, in terms of belief systems - I don't get it, but it could be true." She describes herself as "pretty open to possibilities that, just because they're not tangible and you can't touch them, doesn't mean they can't be so - there's probably a lot more than I'm aware of on the sensual plane, the sixth sense. I'd say we share that."
And she's learning from Emma as well. "She's more perseverent than I am and less daunted by being told no by authority...kind of like the dolls where you give them a whack and they go down and they come back up, and they're still going!" It sounds like after all those years of hard work, Emma Hollis is bringing Klea Scott into her own.