I’m such a fan of [EPs] Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and Simon Kinberg. TVLINE | What was it like working on this revival then? It wasn’t just the cast who were fans, but the directors, the creators, the producers and the crew were all fans. TVLINE | What initially drew you to the script for “Meet in the Middle?”
I love stories about ESP. It can completely swirl around in this self-pity whirlpool of, “No one’s good enough for me.” I think we can all certainly relate to having bouts with that. He’s holding other people to standards that maybe he doesn’t meet. Emily [Chang] and Sarah [Amini] are the two writers and I thought they knocked it out of the park. I love stories about broaching that boundary we all know to be true, and all of a sudden there’s a whole world of connection with another person, with yourself and with reality. TVLINE | Phil’s a lonely guy who’s desperate to connect, but he also seems entitled and a bit snooty. That’s his major flaw. TVLINE | So, were you a fan of the original Twilight Zone? I think that’s exactly Phil’s issue. They’re the perfect group to bring this series back to life. The whole team of The Twilight Zone… it was like one of the greatest movies I’d ever worked on. I was a huge fan. How would you describe him? Yes, of course once in a while you’re like, “F–k, maybe he’s nuts!” but they tell the story perfectly. Growing up in rural Jersey, I think WPIX-11 was the station that would play the original Twilight Zone all the time, and they would have a 24-hour roundup on New Year’s Eve. When the ’80s one came around, I fell hard for those, too. Sometimes that gets out of hand, and you start defining everybody by the standards you have, standards you don’t hold yourself to. In most ESP situations you’re begging the question, “Is this a whole other level of reality or is this person nuts?” and I think the show does a beautiful job of really flushing out that other reality. There were so many people working together to keep The Twilight Zone wonderful. He’s petty and he wants exactly what he wants, like a lot of us do. I feel like The Twilight Zone is in my DNA. I think some of those are amazing stories.
We all want to be defined as having a special connection. I think she was abused, she was taken advantage of and she was twisted into having to do whatever she could to save herself. I think Phil and Annie are a perfect example of that. When something happens in the beginning of a relationship we’re like, “Oh, that’s different!” We cling to it. TVLINE | After we find out that Annie set him up to help kill her husband, Phil’s arrested. For others, it was helpful for me to just memorize the entire scene, and then play Annie’s lines in my head. She’s broken through without asking permission. I don’t think that one act of trying to free herself deems Annie “evil.” I think she had to do something pretty Twilight Zone-y to get out of her situation, and I think Phil was a decent little whipping boy. What was it like working solo like that? I think it’s that meet-cute. We had a wonderful woman who read Annie’s lines, and that was helpful for some scenes. Thanks for saying that, man. Do you think Phil always had that darkness in him or is Annie the sole villain here? But we all grab onto that thing that seems to make us more special than any other couple. We fall immediately and passionately in love, and probably only one out of 10 of those things is actually an indicator of long-term love. He starts to believe for a split-second that he’s actually crazy. TVLINE | For a lot of this episode, you’re acting and reacting to a voice inside your character’s head. I don’t think everything is quite so bifurcated like, “Annie’s evil, Phil’s a victim.” Phil casually victimizes people’s time, people’s investment in him, and he’s so careless with other people’s feelings. The director and I, Mathias Herndl — I think he’s legendary already, he’s so good — we talked about it a lot and how do we best achieve the drama that is happening in a scene when it’s literally just me. So I was approximating and creating her in my brain, and then responding to what my brain created. If you can just imagine a whole lifetime of discarding people like that… I’m not saying that justifies him being tossed into jail, but nothing is black and white. It was a lot like the show! Every couple wants their connection to be special and magical. I think those ones were especially effective because there’s nothing but me in my brain. That was our goal, to make this a notch above other ESP TV shows you might see. I don’t think Annie was an evil human being. Phil’s got walls upon walls, so he’s not even listening when most real humans are speaking, but he can’t ignore Annie. TVLINE | So many of your scenes felt full, just like a real conversation. TVLINE | What is it about Phil’s connection to Annie that’s so different from the other women he meets? So we tried a bunch of different things and they all worked for different reasons.
The Twilight Zone Season 2 Premiere Recap: Hearing Is Believing
Twilight Zone Video: Chris Meloni and Jenna Elfman Have a Close Encounter
One would think that sharing the gift of telepathy would be a surefire way to solidify a true connection, but then again, nothing is as it seems inside… The Twilight Zone. (This is The Twilight Zone, after all.)
Here, Simpson talks to TVLine about his character’s high standards, the challenge of acting against a voice inside his head and what it was like stepping into Rod Serling’s legendary sci-fi world. In the Season 2 premiere, titled “Meet in the Middle,” (read our recap here) Phil (Jimmi Simpson), a lonely, fish-out-of-water in the dating world, meets what could be the woman of his dreams (Gillian Jacob’s Annie), but it turns out she’s all in his head, literally. (Spoilers ahead!) As the two form a telepathic bond, romance sparks until a plan to meet in the real world goes horribly awry.