Actors spend their lives playing an assortment of characters. If they are lucky enough to land a role on a popular TV series, they will get the opportunity to play various sides of that character.
James Wolk is starting out ahead of the norm as he will be playing three characters in the new NBC drama, “Ordinary Joe.” It is scheduled to debut at 10 p.m. Sept. 20 on NBC.
To be clear, Wolk is playing three characters – a rock star, police officer and member of the medical profession – who are all the same person. “Ordinary Joe” is based on the idea that there are points in a person’s life where a different decision can change their entire life.
In Joe Kimbreau’s case, he has three choices he can make after his college graduation. A typical television drama would follow only one of those options to show the character’s life direction. This series weaves together what would have happened with all three choices.
Wolk says, “It’s incredibly challenging. The amazing thing about this show for all of our characters is that, up until they’re about 21, it is one linear path of their life. The choice that Joe makes takes him, for the next 10 years, in drastically different directions, and those given circumstances are what shape who he becomes in each of those worlds.”
He points to the relationships Kimbreau and Amy Kindelan (Natalie Martinez) have in the show. In one world, they are married and in another world they are dating. On a day of filming the actors could spend the morning in a fight having to do with their marriage and in the evening filming a scene where they are on a perfect date.
There are variations to each of the paths for Kinbreau but – at least at the start of the series – there are merits to each one. Wolk sees the show as a way to look at some big philosophical questions.
“It plays with the idea of, like, what is success? What is happiness? Because you see all these characters find success and happiness in their lives, or lack thereof, and, sometimes, it has nothing to do with what we would deem successful, which is the external things, like money and cars and music,” Wolk says. “[musician] Joe has money, and cars, and everything you could want, from a materialistic standpoint, but he feels robbed emotionally at certain things.
“I think what’s cool about this is that there is no right choice. We make the best with what we have. And, sometimes, what we think of as success is not what is actually the things that make us happy.”
The fact “Ordinary Joe” doesn’t take a stand as to what are the right or wrong choices is one reason Martinez loves being part of the program. She also sees one of the major strengths is that “Ordinary Joe” shows that it is never too late to change course in life.
Facing the tangled world of “Ordinary Joe” is presenting Wolk with one of his biggest acting tests. The Michigan native has played a character with a single life trajectory in “Watchman,” “Tell Me a Story,” Goliath” and “Zoo.”
Wolk nabbed the lead role in the short-lived Fox series, “Lone Star” and appeared in “Political Animals,” Mad Men,” “The Crazy One” and “Billions.”
This new job for Wolk means he has to remember how to play all of the variations on this one man’s life themes. The writers and producers create each of the three storylines separately and then blend them together. The key is to make sure the flow feels smooth between each of the different versions of the character.
Executive producer Garrett Lerner jokes that there are not enough whiteboards in the world to keep track of everything that takes place on the show.
Lerner adds, “It’s a giant puzzle.”
Wolk is able to handle all of the different duties because of the support he gets from everyone involved with the show.
“I truly believe that, like, our producers and our writers have our best interest at heart when they’re writing this, when they’re scheduling this,” Wolk says. “Truth of the matter is, is that, due to production constraints, it’s really hard to be able to just shoot straight through all Music Joes, all Cop Joes, all Nurse Joes, for the simple matter you have an amazing location that can double as a therapy session in the Nurse Joe world but it could also double as the lobby in the Music Joe world.
“Inevitably, you’re going to start having days where you’re doubling up on characters. And, it’s just kind of par for the course. When you do a show about three worlds you’re going to be putting on some fake beards and spending some time in a chair in hair and makeup.”