Sci-fi stars no tech wizards

NO TECH-WIZARD: Intelligence star Josh Holloway.
NO TECH-WIZARD: Intelligence star Josh Holloway.

Tweeting confuses them and neither has a Facebook account, but that hasn't stopped Marg Helgenberger and Josh Holloway from starring in new cutting edge sci-fi action series Intelligence, writes James Croot.

"I am absolutely horrible with technology," admits Josh Holloway. "My brothers and wife all make fun of me."

It's an ironic admission from the 44-year-old former Lost star, especially given that on his new show Intelligence he plays a man with a super microchip embedded in his brain. Gabriel Vaughn is a high-tech intelligence operative who tries to protect the US from various threats with the help of US Cyber Command director Lillian Strand (CSI's Marg Helgenberger) and her team.

"I actually learned what a 'like' was recently," he beams before explaining that his technological naivety actually works for the character. "He's a top-tier Delta operative, so he's used to surviving without this technology. He's more instinctual, and he makes emotional decisions sometimes, yet still he's a soldier. And on this show I've always got girls to tell me what to do."

One of those "girls", 55-year-old Helgenberger, says Intelligence's focus on government surveillance, security and our dependence on technology definitely drew her to the project.

"I'm not a technological wizard either...I answer my own emails though. But prior to me reading the script there was a 60 Minutes segment I saw about this quadriplegic woman who had this microchip attached to her brain that read her thoughts, and, you know, this robotic arm would do as she thought, which was mind-blowing to me. And then, lo and behold, a month or so later I read this and I just thought 'this is just insane'.

"And then after we shot the pilot and got picked up, I'm making a trip to Washington to meet with the NSA. Well, a week prior we'd had Edward Snowden leaking all those classified documents. It just seemed like everything we do, everywhere we turn - everything's current about this show."

Holloway agrees, confessing that at first he thought Intelligence was a bit "too sci-fi" until he started doing a bit of research. "I was, like, wow, it's not like 10 minutes in the future, it's happening now."

Intelligence marks Holloway's return to series television four years after finishing a seven-year stint on Lost. So why the break and why sign up again now?

"I wanted to stay home and raise my daughter and try movies for a while. So I did four movies and realised hardly anything shoots in this country. So once I felt ready to get back onto a schedule, that's when I started looking at TV again. This was perfect because I'd just finished a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger (Sabotage, now screening in New Zealand cinemas)where I'd done some tactical training."

And while in some ways Vaughn and Lost's Sawyer couldn't be more different (one was cut-off from civilisation, the other is physically connected to the Internet), Holloway admits they both essentially extensions of him.

"I don't know how to do anything else. Within my character work I'll find an aspect of that character and blow it up and let the rest kind of drip in the background. So, yes there's some Sawyer in Gabriel and Gabriel in Sawyer. They have different skill sets but they are both survivors."

Which is also a good word to describe Helgenberger. After 12 years on CSI, she left in 2012, in order to make a "creative switch". "It wasn't that I intended to retire or anything like that. Intelligence came around about a year or so after I left, and it was just such a smartly written script, and I loved the role of Lillian, I loved the use of technology, I thought the show was very, very current, and I thought that it was basically just a good romp, you know."

She says the most exciting thing about episodic television is how creative it is. "If you didn't nail it on the last episode you have an opportunity to get it right or to improve week after week after week."

However, she does say that she enjoyed only having to make 13 episodes for this first season of Intelligence, rather than almost double that on a typical season of CGI.

"We did as many as 25 one year. It becomes your life, really. You have a couple of months off, but it's very consuming. The writers have it really hard too, having to come up with a new idea, a new premise, a new plot, a twist and turn, like every seven or eight days. So knowing they have just 13 episodes must be very freeing and a relief and then that just trickles down to everybody else - the actors and the cinematography, all the production people, you know, design and so on. You don't have to work your brains off for a long period of time and so the quality can maintain a higher level."

Intelligence 9.25pm, Monday, TV One