Carter Jenkins talks ‘Surface’

Young star reveals the challenges and rewards of working on the hit NBC sci-fi series

Carter Jenkins in 'Surface'
Carter Jenkins in 'Surface'
Carter Jenkins in ‘Surface’

The 2005-2006 season was marked by the premiere of several serialized television series, following in the footsteps of ABC’s successful, Lost. Of those, some have since fallen into the realm of cancellation, while others succeeded enough to gain a full season’s worth of episodes.

One of those shows that succeeded early on was NBC’s Surface, a unique science fiction series about mysterious creatures that appear in Earth’s oceans. The government struggles to investigate these beings while keeping their existence a secret from the general public. That didn’t stop some individuals from having personal experiences with these creatures, one of them coming in the form of Miles Barnett, a 14-year-old in North Carolina. That young teenager is played by Carter Jenkins, a talented actor who in only a few short years in the business snagged a starring role in a hit prime time network series.

“It’s like, my dream,” Jenkins said in a phone interview recently. “I’m just really grateful for it.”

The role of Miles in Surface is different in that his character’s storyline is separate from the other two main characters on the show, Laura Daughtery (Lake Bell) and Richard Connelly (Jay R. Ferguson). While they are off being chased by government agents and plunging into the ocean in search of the giant creatures, Miles found a baby creature and raised it as a pet. This presents a unique challenge for Jenkins, since so many of his scenes involve interacting with a digital effect.

“That’s really tough, because you’re doing a scene with… nothing,” he said. “And acting is reacting. When you’re working with another actor, you react to that person. But I don’t have that.”

In fact, in the show’s first few outings, Jenkins didn’t have a clear idea just what he was supposed to be interacting with. “It’s actually kind of funny, because in the first couple of episodes they had a very preliminary ‘Nimrod’,” he explained with a chuckle (“Nimrod” is the name Miles gave the lizard-like animal). “For the pilot they had a picture of him. But they said it was going to change a lot. That this wasn’t going to be what it was actually going to look like. So for the first few episodes, I had to imagine what it was going to look like.”

Although his own personal image of the creature was more like a mythical dragon, Jenkins was impressed by how the creature ultimately came out. “They showed me video of it before the series aired,” he added. “It was cool.”

Working with a digital creature serves as an interesting acting experience, Jenkins said, but that is something he relishes. “It’s challenging, but I really enjoy it.” Especially with how digital effects have become a standard in Hollywood now, getting this kind of experience early in his career can work to his advantage. “The actors in something like King Kong, they have to be really good at acting and reacting to nothing. What’s good is that I have experience with it now.”

Another challenge of working on a series like Surface is that even the actors don’t always know where the story is going. “I’m always left to guess,” Jenkins said. “We shoot a couple of episodes in advance, but I don’t know what’s going to happen beyond that.” For example, when his character, Miles, had a very brief exchange with Ferguson’s Richard on the Internet in one of the early episodes, Jenkins thought that storyline would lead to them actually meeting on screen.

“It was weird, because when we were shooting that I assumed that the story was going to go in that direction, and that I was going to meet him through the Internet, or something,” he said. This, however, did not happen. But that does lead to the question: Will Miles ever appear onscreen with both Richard and Laura?

“Well, it hasn’t happened yet, I can tell you that,” Jenkins said, hesitantly, not wanting to discuss plot or story elements in any detail. “But it’ll happen soon. At least, I really hope so, because I really like Lake [Bell] and Jay [Ferguson]. I think they’re really good actors, and I’d be really bummed if I never get to work with them at all… I was talking with Jay the other day, and we were both joking that if our characters did meet it would be one scene, and then be like, one word, and that would be the end of the season.”

With Surface returning on Monday, January 2nd, at 8 p.m., Jenkins promises that the next five episodes will reveal more than most fans may expect. “A lot is going to get revealed in the next five episodes,” he said, excitedly. “It’s going to surprise people. At least, I know I didn’t know how the story was going to progress.”

Outside of Surface, Jenkins will be seen in two upcoming feature releases in 2006: Keeping Up with the Steins with Jami Gertz, Daryl Hannah and Garry Marshall, and the comedy, Think Tank. You could also catch him on DVD in the recent remake, Bad News Bears, which we reviewed here on Tuesday.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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