Austin Basis from the hit show Beauty and the Beast gives the inside scoop on what it’s like to work on one of TV’s most popular shows.
Beauty and the Beast is a tale that’s been done a few times over—from animated fairy tales to movies to TV. So how do you re-purpose a story that’s been done before and appeal to a new generation? With the new CW TV show Beauty and the Beast the formula is simple: make it dark and mysterious, enlist a good-looking cast, include heart-wrenching romance, show the hero’s flaws and, of course, include the savvy sidekick who keeps it all together.
Taking a darker twist, the new story follows Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) as Catherine, who witnessed her mother’s brutal murder years ago, but was saved from harm by a mysterious being. Jump ahead a few years and we catch up to Catherine, now a tenacious homicide detective, who, through a mysterious death, meets up once again with her beastly saviour Vincent (Jay Ryan).
Vincent’s beast is kept at bay with the help of his trusty sidekick, the colorful J.T. Forbes—played by Austin Basis (Life Unexpected)—who is a brainiac biochemist scientist trying to help his friend find a cure for the government experiment that turned him into the beast. J.T. is also tries to keep his identity hidden from the government agency hot on his friend’s tail.
Taking a brief break while filming the show in Toronto, Basis took some time to talk about why the show is so popular with fans, his new nickname and why it’s sometimes hard to keep a straight face when working with co-stars Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan.
Congratulations on the show winning People’s Choice Awards for favourite new drama.
Basis: Thanks! We were surprised. We weren’t surprised at our fan following because we’ve had such a great response from fans on Twitter. We have a great, serious group of followers. The shows in that category have better ratings than us but I think we have the most devoted fans that voted for us. It paid off! We call our fans “Beasties!”
It’s amazing now that you can actually directly interact with your fans. Is that important to you?
Basis: Yes. It’s what I do in my off time. It’s a daily thing where I check in to see what’s happening. I think accessibility and interacting with your fans is important. There’s not a lot of mystery in this business, and I don’t really share too much personal information, but I think fans appreciate sharing your social life. A lot of people love this show and the least I can do is thank them by communicating with them, answering their questions and tweeting live with them. My fans call me “the King of the Beasties!” I didn’t give myself that title but I don’t mind it! [laughs]
Beauty and the Beast has been done before so a show like this can be a gamble. What did was your initial reaction?
Basis: I didn’t watch the first one because I was too young. I mostly watched reruns of the Diff’rent Strokes or the Cosby Show. Beauty and the Beast was on too late. I knew conceptually what it was. So my initial reaction was if it was anything like the old one, it wasn’t going to work. It would be too fantasy. When I went in to audition —with a previous director I had worked with on Life Unexpected—and after I read the script, I knew this character was me. The way things are constructed, J.T. and Vincent are in a life and death situation constantly and you don’t really get that much with drama. It’s always life and death with them, which keeps things on edge.
This version takes a much darker and serious tone. Do you think that kind of mystery is why the show works so well?
Basis: Yes, definitely. I would say that since Batman Begins came out, I felt like that was a turning point, at least for me, of the fantasy or supernatural comic-book type drama. With Batman, he doesn’t have superpowers. It was a choice to present the man and the flaws and the reality of that story and I think it works in the same way with Beauty and the Beast because it’s got that supernatural, superhero twist that is dark. Once you start thinking about how many people have died in the storyline because of the beast inside Vincent, it’s becomes really deep. He’s killed people. With this type of storyline, it would be hard to make it “popcorn-y.”
You’re the scientist geek sidekick who brings a bit of sarcasm and humor to the show. How fun is it to play this character?
Basis: I knew the character was the best friend and confidant and the protector of the Vincent and the secret. He has that dry, extremely sarcastic type of humor that allows me as an actor not to worry about having the pressure to crack a joke because it comes naturally for the character. I feel like I could relate to that. But for J.T. his sarcasm comes from a place of defense because he’s neurotic and always worried. It’s been like that for years for him, and I think that’s his way of dealing with the situation. Sometimes you need to deal with serious situations with laughter. J.T. deals with things by using wisecracks!
Don’t you think the superhero/or “beast” is only as good as his trusty sidekick?
Basis: It brings a certain levity and ease of tension. J.T. as the sidekick tries to juggle Vincent’s situation and all the things it brings. He’s the one that is stressed out all the time! The sidekick is also the reminder of things, or the bearer of bad news who keeps things grounded. But with J.T, ultimately, his character allows more service to the storyline.
What’s it like working with Kristin and Jay?
Basis: When we all work together we’re always laughing. The other day we did a rehearsal and before we even started we just all started laughing. Jay and Kristin work really hard. Kristin works everyday putting in like 14-15 hour days and when Jay’s not working, he’s working out or working on his accent because he’s from New Zealand so he’s got a Kiwi accent. So I think as an actor you need those light moments and we’ve become friends. The camaraderie really hits when we’re all on set together. So sometimes when you see that bubbling energy between Catherine and Vincent, it may just be them trying hard not to laugh!
Why do you think the show has such a huge following and appeal?
Basis: With Beauty and the Beast you get a group of fans that go crazy for the show. It starts with the fairytale of it and the classic telling of that but I think it’s our version that incorporates all these different elements namely the dark superhero, super tale set in a modern time and city and I think all those elements combined bring something new and different. When you think about it, a lot of stories have been told before. You just try to tell the story in a new way with new information and I think that’s why it becomes appealing again.
Beauty and the Beast airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.
Photos: Austin Basis © Vince Trupsin; Beauty and the Beast TV stills © The CW Network.