Au revoir, Chuck: Q & A with Chuck's Adam Baldwin and Chris Fedak

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Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

Adam Baldwin as Colonel John Casey in Chuck

Over the past five years, fans of NBC TV’s Monday night dramedy Chuck have enjoyed watching the show’s hero, Chuck Bartowski, make the (unlikely) leap from average computer-whiz/nerd into a fully-fledged U.S. government secret agent. This was all the result of him opening what looked like an ordinary e-mail, which downloaded the last remaining computer file of the United States’ greatest spy secrets into his brain.

Helping Chuck deal with his newfound knowledge was CIA Agent Sarah Walker and NSA’s Major (now Colonel) John Casey. Together with Chuck’s oddball group of friends, they managed to keep him alive in the midst of all sorts of danger while he honed his spy skills. Subsequent events led Chuck and his new wife Sarah to open their own freelance spy company, and they are eventually joined by John Casey.

Sadly, this entertaining TV spy caper draws to a close this Friday, January 27th @ 8:00 p.m. EST/PST with a two-episode Chuck fifth season/series finale “Chuck Versus Sarah” and “Chuck Versus the Good Bye.”

In anticipation of the show’s ending, actor Adam Baldwin, who plays John Casey, and series co-creator/executive producer Chris Fedak, spoke with journalists this week about their time working on the show. The following is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy, and farewell Chuck, you shall be missed!

 

This is such an obvious question, but what do we have to look forward to for the big finale?

Chris Fedak:  Well, I’ll jump in first even though I will for most of this call always defer to Mr. Baldwin.

Adam Baldwin: You wrote it. You should tell them.

CF:  We have essentially an epic finale for you guys, and it’s going to be different than anything we’ve ever done before on Chuck. We knew that we were building toward our final episode and really wanted to put together something special.

It’s going to be a two-hour finale, the first part of which is called “Chuck Versus Sarah” and the second part is called “Chuck Versus the Good Bye.” and everything is at stake. All of our characters are at a crossroad, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it all falls out. But, again, it’s definitely the biggest thing we’ve ever done on Chuck.

 

And what can we look forward to with Colonel Casey?

AB: Well, there’s some resolution with his relationships that come into play which I found very heart warming and dangerous at the same time. So I appreciate it, but that was the thing about Casey. The biggest challenge for Chris and the writers was to keep him dangerous while at the same time making him lovable, and I think they walked that fine line.

I kept asking, “How do I play this guy down the line yet still remain within the realm of this romantic comedy?” Basically it was this dangerous romantic comedy that Casey had to walk this line with. So it was nice to have the personal aspects of his life really highlighted in the last couple of seasons. Again, I really appreciate it and thought that was fun.

CF: Yes, and just jumping off of that. I mean, that was a real revelation for us to watch not only what Adam did with Josh Gomez (Morgan Grimes), but also with Mekenna Melvin (Alex McHugh). There’s a moment in the finale where Adam is so fantastic, and it’s a heartbreaking moment, too. That’s a real testament to what Adam has brought to the character of not just a stone cold government, but a heartwarming dad as well.

 

Obviously Chuck has been a fun show for us to watch and it looks like it’s been a lot of fun to make over the years as well. What are you both going to take away from this series?

AB:  First of all, these days a five-year run on any show is a true blessing, especially to have been able to go through it with people who are nice, creative, funny, hardworking and just lovable. We’re gypsies, really, in this business. We’re like circus players who travel from town to town, and we travel from family to family on different projects. So to land on one for five years has been a joy and it’s sad to see it go, but at least we had those five years together and we appreciated it while it was happening. So I just feel blessed and honored to have been a part of it.

CF: That’s a great point, Adam, And I think the other thing, going off your comment that this show was a lot of fun to make, it was also an incredible challenge. Chuck must be one of the most difficult shows to do especially in the amount of time we have. To do something that challenging and to work with such a great team is really fantastic. It’s something you’re going to measure against the rest of your career.

AB: I just wanted to add that I don’t and I haven’t envied the work that the writers have had to put in. They’re basically locked in a cage and have to figure out, “OK, how do we walk this tightrope?”  For them to have come through week in and week out for us is just a great reward.

 

Chris, I wanted to ask about the experience of writing this finale simply because I think more than any other show perhaps in television history, you guys have had to write season finales that were potentially series finales. Having done that many times before, how did that inform the experience of writing this one where you actually knew that this was definitively the end?

CF: Well, hopefully I’ve gotten good at it. There are a couple of things. I think with all the (season) finales we did, we were always hoping to come back. So we wrote them in such a way that they implied a big new season coming next year or in a few weeks.

This time around we knew that this was going to be our final episode, you know? When NBC picked us up again, they were very clear that this was going to be a 13-episode run and that this would be our final season. So when we started working on the finale and when we were writing it, we knew that this would be our final chapter. So we needed to resolve these stories that we’d been working on for five years. And this Chuck finale isn’t so much a finale just for Season Five, but father for five seasons of the show. So it’s definitely different.

Now, in regard to the actual writing of it, that was a panic attack on a daily basis. Knowing with the size and scope of five seasons of the show, there were many days where it was hard to even look at the (white) board in the writers’ room and then to consider the (written) page. So when we finally cracked the story, it was a big moment and there was a lot of emotion involved in a process that’s usually pretty solitary.

 

Oftentimes writers have an idea for their final image or scene years in advance. Because of the nature of the way Chuck worked, my guess is that you guys probably didn’t store stuff up that way, or did you?

CF:  Josh Schwartz (series co-creator/executive producer) and I had a couple of big moments that we wanted to get to in the show. For example, we knew we wanted to bring Morgan into the spy world. We also knew that we wanted to explore Casey’s back story along with his family. So we had these big moments that we wanted to be part of the show each season.

In regard to the very final moment of this season and the series, it was something that we came up with at the end of last year and part of our pitch to NBC for bringing us back. So we knew we were heading toward this final moment of the show, and that was a year in the making.

 

Adam, it’s been such a pleasure to watch Casey’s growth, especially the last couple of seasons. What about the character has really surprised you?

AB:  When Mekenna Melvin came on to play Alex, I think that’s when this really sparked with me. I kept bugging Chris and asking him, “Is Casey ever going to meet his mom? What’s his back story?” Chris can tell how they found Mekenna. I’m sure it was just the typical audition process, but there was a certain spark with her that rekindled my love for the Casey character.

Mekenna is a smart young woman and very inspirational to me. I have a daughter who’s not much younger than she is, so it was just a joy to play that (onscreen relationship). I also enjoyed Casey’s evolving relationship with Morgan and it was a pleasure to work with Joshua as well.

CF: Adam has had an amazing chemistry this year with Josh, Mekenna and Carrie-Ann Moss (Gertrude Verbanski), but that’s true with whoever we bring in to play opposite him. The Mekenna thing was a real discovery, though, and also kind of an accidental discovery because we built an episode where we could explore Casey’s back story. We cast Mekenna and she had one line, “Dad.”

That was it, and then later on that third season we got an order for more episodes, which we didn’t know was coming, so we wrote another one with her character being kidnapped. It was really a question of do we bring her (Mekenna) back in and give her more lines? How is this going to work? We weren’t quite certain, but then ultimately she came in and was fantastic.

There was a scene that we actually cut from that season’s finale because of length, and it was a moment where Alex growled back at her dad. We were like, “Oh, she’s fantastic.” Mekenna can not only play the emotional beats, but she’s funny, too. It’s the same with Adam when he shows Casey’s tough side, but there’s also a great comic underpinning to that.

AB:  Mekenna has the humor of Joshua Gomez, Zack Levi (Chuck) and Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah), and she just fit right in like a glove with all of us, so it was just great casting.

 

I’ve watched Chuck from the beginning and I’ve loved every second of it. I especially loved how Casey can make people laugh just by growling or grunting. So I’m curious, Adam, what does it take to play a character like that who is so tough, but at the same time can make you laugh?

AB:  I learned a while ago to play the positive and with a grunt you can get away with a lot of different nuances.  So then you can win no matter what you’re saying. I have to say, though, that it’s funny to see written on the page that Casey growls or grunts.

CF: What’s funny is there are a number of different grunts and growls that Adam does, but we would never dare make that choice for him.

AB: I like it when you actually write it down and make it director-proof, like, “He growls with animosity or grunts with…”

CF:  We try to get a little specific, but I remember there was a bridge scene in the pilot and there was no growl in the scene. We didn’t know that was a part of the character yet and Adam growled halfway through the scene. The more he did it, we were like, “Did he just growl?” Then in the (final) cut, it was a matter of, “We need the growl to be louder.” So we just worked on it and it became a part of the character. That’s all Adam.

AB: Yes, you encouraged me.

 

How was it different filming this finale knowing it was an actual finale versus other seasons where you didn’t necessarily know whether or not you were coming back?

AB: There were a lot of tears and a lot of emotion. I didn’t cry, but I watched a lot of other of the younger people cry being a cold-hearted bastard that I am (he jokes). It was uplifting and bittersweet and yet there was a sense of accomplishment. We had persevered against all odds and been lucky enough and had the good graces of the network along with the sponsors to keep us going.

Chris can tell you the back story more than I can, but that was the sense on-set every day, you know? We made it through five years when we didn’t even think we were going to make it past the first season let alone get picked up as a pilot. So while there were a lot of tears, they were tears of accomplishment and of a job well done.

CF: I agree with everything that Adam just said, and I would also say that the tears were a real disaster (he jokes). There were people crying about everything. People would type into a computer; it would be the last time they would type into a computer and they would start crying. So it was an emotional shoot. Thankfully we had the rock that is Adam Baldwin who doesn’t have emotions and we were able to film some scenes without constant crying (he jokes).

 

Chris, is there anything that you wanted to do that you didn’t get to do with the show?

CF: It’s funny, there were a number of things that I would have wanted to do had we ended at the end of Season One, but I think that we've really gotten to do a lot of those things. For example, in our final episode, we have an amazing skydiving sequence that we shot up in the air and using a real skydiver,

So that was something we always wanted to do, but 91 episodes really gave me the opportunity to write a bunch of different things. There was always a chance that we could have had more money as well as more time and therefore could have done some bigger things. However, the most important thing for me is that we were able to do a lot of the character stuff that we had planned to do, including the Chuck/Sarah relationship. If we hadn’t been able to do any of that, then it would have been really disappointing to me. So I’m excited that we were able to do all of the big emotional stuff that we wanted to do.

 

Is there any moment or are there moments in this fifth season that you guys are particularly proud of?

AB; That’s really hard to pinpoint. I’m proud of being able to keep a straight face as much as I can when Zack is working because he’s so damn funny. I’m also proud of surviving scenes being eaten alive by Carrie-Ann Moss. I think that was pretty great. She’s a tigress and I mean that in the best sense of the word. She’s a great professional.

I was really honored to work with an icon like her. When you work with someone, you want them to have their feet planted firmly on the ground and have a good sensibility. Carrie-Ann is a lot like I am in the sense that she’s got a family and is grounded as well as completely professional and a veteran (actor). I take a lot of pride in holding my own in scenes with Carrie-Ann Moss.

CF:  In some ways Chuck is a very unique show. It’s been a pleasure to do it and an honor to work with our cast and crew. That’s what I guess I’m most proud of. And now thinking back, if I could have done one thing over again I think we definitely have had to have gotten Casey into the Speedo.

AB: And I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t do that and that that didn’t happen.

 

What are you guys going to miss the most when the show wraps up?

CF: Free lunch.

AB: Being waved through at the guard gate.

CF: It’s the small things we’ll miss.

AB:  Yes. What we’re going to miss are the faces and names of the crew and the unsung heroes. The cast members get some of the glory while on TV, but we have relationships with the crew members who don’t get on camera and that you guys don’t know except from the credits that roll at the end of the episodes. They’re really loving, wonderful people. I think that’s what we’re going to miss the most, that family.

CF: Absolutely, the family.

 

Adam, how do you feel that you’ve grown as an actor in your time with the show? And then Chris, how do you feel you’ve grown as a writer on the creative team?

AB: I’ve streamlined the ability to be cranky and funny at the same time. I have a shorthand that gets me there quicker.  My patience has also increased, and I’m constantly striving to increase my patience with all things in life, and not that there’s any extraordinary strain on patience with this particular show as compared to other shows. It’s just that the patience that I have had has manifested itself within the confines of what this was, which was a marathon. I always think of series television as a marathon.

My experience previous to Chuck was less than one season or only one full season of a TV show. To be able to, again, carry that patience through for five seasons is important for any actor, so that’s how I’ve grown. And on a technical personal note, they gave me a lot of fun crap to do, so I was able to accomplish that as well.

CF: For a writer, working in television is a study in collaboration, and I think over five seasons of the show, the great collaboration of working with other writers as well as our cast and crew has been an education for me. I’ve loved the people who I’ve gotten to work with and to explore these characters and this genre. That was a lot of fun and I’ve been spoiled by that, too. The thought of writing alone now is much more daunting than it is when you work with great people.

Please note, all photos above copyright of NBC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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