“Wayward Pines” is the kind of show that doesn’t benefit from too much explanation before you dive into it. It’s about a man, Ethan Burke, who, after a car accident, finds himself trapped in a strange town (the titular piney paradise), and can’t figure out how to escape the town, or why everyone in it is acting so darn weird. Meanwhile, his family, still outside the town, struggles to figure out where he’s gone to. And the rest will have to be revealed once you start watching. The series was created by “Sixth Sense” director M. Night Shyamalan, and Matt Dillon stars as Burke, alongside a pretty talented cast of co-stars, including Juliette Lewis, Carla Gugino, Terence Howard and Melissa Leo. We chatted with Dillon about just what is going on with Burke.
The show seems to work in multiple genres. What would you say it is at the beginning of the season?
The beginning of the show? Very much the atmosphere of thriller. But then it really goes into the genre of sci-fi.
How would you describe Burke?
He’s a veteran in the Secret Service, he’s very dedicated to his job and to his family. And when we find him in the story, he’s been struggling with his own post-traumatic stress, which has sort of caused him to have threatened his marriage. He’s somebody I would describe as someone who’s been reckless in his life. You know, that might be one of the things that I would say is consistent with who Ethan is, he’s been reckless at times.
Does that reckless quality serve him well once he’s in Wayward Pines?
I do think there’s an element—like people who are manic or have had these sort of episodes make bad decisions a lot. These particular circumstances are so absurd, where he is in this town that appears to be fake, not a real place, he has to do things differently. He has to because he’s being stonewalled.
What is it about small towns that seem to invite these stories about strange events happening under the surface?
I think it has to do with subtext. There’s the difference between the undercurrent and what’s really happening. So you can dive in somebody’s water and it can seem really calm and then underneath there’s currents that are really flowing. And I think that’s what’s going on and I think that’s why there’s always been a sort of fascination with these small towns. Also in our society, we hear all this dark stuff in the news and the media, so that for me, when I’m on a quiet street at night, something bad must be lurking behind the bushes like in an alleyway. And I think it’s a little bit where we are in society. I think Night probably has a little bit to do with that because he creates that world.
Had you seen some of Shyamalan's earlier work before you signed on?
Not most of it, but a lot of it. I was a fan.
He’s very good at building up the anticipation that a thriller likes this needs.
Yeah, he is. The thing that I liked about his films, is there’s a verisimilitude to the characters, there’s a truthfulness to those people. They seem real, and honest to who they are. That was my big thing on the show. I wanted to make sure there were times I would say, “Well, would Ethan really do that?” Any time I would mark that in the script saying, “Really? Why? Why? Why? How Come? Really?” And those are good things to do. You don’t have to have the answers, but the questions are important. And that’s what the show does, is it sets up good questions. How they get answered has to do with character.