ByFred Topel, writer at
Fred Topel

As I begin to write more for Moviepilot’s TV section, you’re going to start hearing a lot about TCAs. I'm a member of the Television Critics Association and it is one of my favorite events of the year to cover, certainly the most productive. Twice a year, every network, including cable, takes a day to introduce panels of their new shows and offer further interviews with the stars and creators of those shows. TCAs happen in January and July. Right now it’s still May.

But CBS got an early start and had a press day for their summer programming on Monday. They used the same format as TCA with panels on each show, and an evening party with even more talent to speak about their various shows. The first panel was for Season 2 of their hit series [Under the Dome](series:767984).

After the panel, I went up to talk to Dean Norris, who plays Big Jim Rennie in the TV version of Stephen King’s book. I didn’t get a one on one with Norris, as all the journalists swarmed around him, but I was able to ask him a lot more questions up close than during the press conference. Norris gave us a lot of clues to how Big Jim is going to run things as Under the Dome continues into season two on CBS.

Since you’ve gotten pretty far away from the book, does Big Jim still have any of his old tricks from the book or is it all different?

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No, no, you can’t change an old dog that quickly, but we do have a moment where he believes that he’s seen the light to a certain extent and that something about that is going to change him. Something about that say maybe I should look at things a different way. Ultimately, you can’t change a narcissist completely, but it does add a flavor to what he’s doing. He thinks he’s going to try a different way and maybe it doesn’t work by the end of it and he decides to revert back to the old Big Jim.

Until that happens, do you think your Big Jim is more dangerous than the Big Jim in the book?

I think that he’s always kind of dangerous because he’s Big Jim, but I think at the beginning part of this season, he’s willing to try a lighter hand in dealing with the town.

At this point another journalist asked what we were all thinking: Has Norris talked to Vince Gilligan about appearing on the [Breaking Bad](series:200567) prequel, [Better Call Saul](series:1028213)?

I talk to Vince a lot just because I’m a friend of his and we chit chat but I’m pretty much not allowed to do other shows when you’re on another show like this . So I don’t think that’s in the cards because I’m working on this. There’s exclusivity in the contracts.

I chimed in with a follow-up.

Some shows allow you to do guest spots. Is that even precluded?

Yeah, it might be. I don’t know, we haven’t really gotten into the details of that. We’ll see because they’re shooting right now and we’re shooting right now.

Then I brought things back to [Under the Dome](series:767984).

Will Big Jim ever be proud of his son Junior?

He always loves Junior. He’s trying to be proud of him and I don’t know if he ever will. That’ll be up to the writers but he wants to be. He wants to guide him in the right direction and he certainly loves him. I don’t know if he’s proud of him yet.

Does Junior talking about visions and the Dome talking to him only make it harder for Big Jim to love him?

You know what, that’s a really interesting point because Big Jim has to deal with his own visions. This is one of the themes I talked about last year that I wanted the writers to explore. I’m glad they have, to explore the insanity or not of Big Jim because we know that his wife apparently had some insanity issues. Whether Big Jim can become closer to his son by exploring his own sanity, whether his visions that Big Jim sees, which he sees in the first episode so I’m not giving too much away, what are those? Does that allow him to understand Junior better? And I think it does.

An Australian journalist asked Norris how he noticed things change since he’s been on Breaking Bad and Under the Dome.

Any time you do either one of those shows that are big in their various demographics, it’s been great,” Norris said. “It’s allowed me to do a lot of good, interesting stuff, be able to choose what I want to do in the off season which has been really something that’s different.

A Chinese journalist (this was an international event) suggested that no one is safe in season two of Under the Dome. She asked how much danger Big Jim is in.

Norris answered with a laugh:

Big Jim’s pretty safe. He’s a powerful, controlling force under the dome. However he decides to go about that, there are some detours here and there, he’s all about power at the end of the day. Whether it’s for benign purposes or mean purposes, he’s about power and keeping it, figuring out how to use it. I think he really does truly believe he’s using it to help the town, but at the end of the day, all politicians, I’ll say all, I think all, unless there’s an exception, their first goal is to maintain power.

Another journalist asked if Big Jim is still out to get Dale Barbara (Mike Vogel). The clip CBS showed still had “Barbie” standing at the gallows.

Yeah, there again it’s a more interesting progression because I think he realizes that maybe he wasn’t the guy he needed to sacrifice to make things better. He’s always needed him and used him as a right hand man in terms of doing the things that need to be done, so he realizes that he can be an important resource. They become, I don’t want to say friends, but they’re on the same side.

The journalist suggested Barbie and Big Jim would be frenemies.

Frenemies, yeah, somebody he realizes he needs to work with in order to get things done.

Another reporter asked how Big Jim would handle food running out under the dome. Could they resort to chewing on human flesh?

'Oh, I could only wish,' Norris laughed again. 'Soylent Green, no. We’ll see. I can’t really tell how that resolves itself but yeah, it becomes an issue of how we’re going to continue to get food under the dome. If anything’s going to make someone panic, that does. Starving.'

During the panel, Norris said some interesting things about Big Jim also. He sees some positive things in Big Jim’s future.

I think part of the transformation, the kind of theme we are talking about this year includes some redemption for Big Jim. I think that it's actually in the first episode he has kind of a come to God or come to Dome moment where he believes that maybe his purpose in life shouldn't be to be so nasty. And that's kind of a story arc that continues throughout the season, whether he has a higher purpose, a greater purpose other than just killing people and being mean to his son. So I think we explore that and I think that's one of the themes of the season.

The clips CBS showed also included the Dome emitting a sound that knocks half the town out, and magnetizing the border of the dome. Someone asked if there were any rules to the Dome, and Norris seemed to have all the answers.

The Dome is a harsh master. I think we are discovering what the Dome can and can't do. I think that's part of the season arc. I think we are all struggling to find out what it means, what its powers are, whether it's good or whether it's bad, whose side it's on. So all of those are questions that we attempt to answer and that we struggle with throughout the season, basically getting to know that exact thing, what is it about, what could it do?

Author Stephen King himself wrote and directed the season premiere of Under the Dome, and Norris only had praise for the master.

“Can I say something about Stephen King?” Norris declared to the room full of journalists. And then he continued:

The first episode is so Stephen Kingian and part of it is that almost in the midst of the kind of most horrifying and tragic elements there are these little lines that are almost kind of humorous, you know. It was so cool to see that because it's in his books and it was so cool to kind of see it in the script. I think you will see that first episode there are moments where Big Jim maybe sees ghosts or they may be ghosts or they may be whatever they are. And while it's a kind of a terrifying or horrifying situation, it's also funny to see Big Jim have to squirm with these kind of ghosts of Christmas past and the future and have to deal with them. And it's such a Stephen Kingian thing and it's all present there in the first episode that he wrote.

Under the Dome returns June 30 on CBS.


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