An exclusive chat with Bones's bones experts: Eric Millegan, T.J. Thyne, and Michaela Conlin.
September 12, 2006 - On Bones each week Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Special Agent Seely Booth (David Boreanaz) work to solve murders using Brennan's skills as a forensic anthropologist. But let's face it, would they get very far without the "Squints"? Given their nickname by Booth, the Squints are Brennan's team of specialists who all contribute in uncovering a different part of each episode's mystery, via their specific skills in analyzing human remains.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with all three of the actors who play the Squints: Eric Millegan (Zach Addy), T.J. Thyne (Dr. Jack Hodgins) and Michaela Conlin (Angela Montenegro), to discuss what it's like working with a whole lot of corpses and what's to come in the recently begun second season of Bones.
Asked how season two is going, Millegan said things were great, before joking, "I've never had a job of any kind that's lasted this long, so it's really weird to keep working!" Said Conlin, "It's been a blast. It's so nice. This is my first time doing a show that's gone to a second season, so it's so fun to sort of get comfortable in the character and get comfortable with each other and have real moments that happen organically. It's a whole different world over there. It's really lovely. We've all gotten so tight so it's nice." Thyne noted, "In terms of the rhythm of it, we're much more in synch. You start a TV show and you just have that little time where you're all trying to get the rhythm and the energy to kind of synch up and I definitely feel that we're in the grove now, you know? We're just in there and bouncing off each others energies and pushing it."
On Bones, most of the actors have some incredibly complex technical terminology they have to say, though Conlin happily noted that as the more computer and art oriented Angela, she, "gets a get out of jail free card with a lot of that stuff." Millegan said he felt he was doing better with that aspect now that they were in the second year, "because you kind of get used to the rhythm of it. You know, they write my character in a certain rhythm, and I get used to that. I say the word 'suggests' a lot. Like, 'blah blah blah, suggests Caucasian male…' It's tricky learning the lines, but I wouldn't say it's hard, because they pay me a lot to do it, you know what I mean?" Laughing, Millegan added, "It would be way harder if I was doing this for no money! When they're paying you a lot to do it, you just do it. No complaints."
When I told Thyne that Millegan said he was having an easier time with the terminology, Thyne joked, "Really? Can he teach me what he's doing?" Thyne then said that he's used the big, imposing words as a stepping stone for his own personal research, saying the dialogue can be, "intense, but I actually have gotten to the point where I'm excited to learn about what I'm doing. At first last season, you get [these words] and you're like, 'What am I talking about!?' But this season, it's very much that I got into figuring out what I'm discussing; using the internet and research books to really put this stuff together. I'm a little obsessed with it now. I'm reading books more and more that have to do with the science of forensics, and it's great. It's a fascinating science. It's a young science too; it's not all that old for us, in terms of how many decades it's been around. It's really neat."
The show often features extremely detailed human remains, and Millegan remarked, "Some of them are really, really gross. The grossest one last year was the girl they dug up in the death row episode, that was like an old corpse, like seven years old, and they dug her up. That was like, 'I have to throw up.'" Conlin also pointed out that, "The bodies keep getting more and more realistic. They freak me out sometimes, man! They're so real looking." Both Millegan and Conlin said it can be a bit disturbing and sad when storylines call for the remains to look like they came from a child. Conlin said that sometimes when it comes to scenes with the corpses, "It's intense. There's some days when you're shooting for 8 hours and you look down and you're like, 'I'm really looking at this." Millegan also noted that thanks to the addition of the character Cam (Tamara Taylor) this season, who performs autopsies, "Now, as opposed to just skeletons, we have actors playing corpses with makeup. We had this one actor who had makeup that made it look like his body had been torn open. And I was like, 'Oh my god…'"
On the series, Angela has created the "Angelator," which presents holographic recreations of what a person looked like, based off of analysis of their remains. In real life, there are no holograms when the actors are performing their scenes, which Conlin noted was an interesting dynamic. "It's hard. We've all gotten used to committing to something that isn't there. If I ever do a movie with green screen, I feel like I'll be really prepared," the actress remarked. She also praised the creators for their help with the Angelator scenes, explaining, "They're really wonderful about showing us what it's going to look like, so we have an idea, but they've very challenging [scenes]."
Last season, there were increasing signs of a possible romantic interest between Angela and Hodgins, which both actors seemed greatly amused to discuss. "Something's going ooooon! A little magic happening," said a smiling Thyne. "I don't know how much I can really give away, but all I can say is Hodgins is definitely enamored by Angela and would absolutely want there to be something to happen between the two of them, so we'll see what episode seven brings…" Referencing the oft discussed sexual tension between Booth and Brennan, Conlin said, "If Booth and Brennan can't do it, I think they're trying to send us [Hodgins and Angela] out there into the field." She added that Thyne is, "such a dear friend of mine, so it's going to be really interesting to see how it works. But we're really excited about it. It's fun to build a romance when the characters are written to initially not like each other, so it's really fun to find the steps every week as to how we can end up on a date, and who knows, maybe end up in bed."
The first season offered up hints about all of the characters' personal lives, but there is still plenty more we don't know. The actors said that would slowly change in season two, with Millegan revealing, "In the sixth episode, we do find a little bit of what happens to [Zach] when he goes home, or who are his friends outside of [work]. We haven't had a whole episode where he goes home and we find everything about him. It comes out in little pieces while working. A little thing here, a little thing there. And we learn more in the sixth episode." Millegan also revealed that there were several scenes regarding his med student character's long delayed thesis that were filmed for the finale, that hinted that Zach would be moving on and in addition, "There were other things that got cut in that episode that we're now re-exploring in the new season. They said - again, they can change their minds - but they've said that they think I'm going to become a doctor this season. So hopefully somehow, I'll become a doctor, but not leave [the series]."
One revelation in season one was that Hodgins is in fact from a very rich family, and Thyne said his character too would slowly reveal more, saying, "There's some stuff that gets mentioned in terms of how connected he really is, and you get little pieces. I don't know how much we're really going to give away, but now Zach of course knows that my character is this kind of billionaire, and now Angela and Booth found out, and they've kind of agreed to keep it quiet from Dr. Brennan and the rest of the team. We'll find out some more about that and Hodgins supposed conspiracy theories, which I don't think are really conspiracy theories for him as much as they are like actual events going on that he's hyper aware of."
Angela and the emotionally guarded Brennan are portrayed as good friends on Bones,, in a nice portrayal of opposites attracting. Conlin said she greatly enjoyed playing the compassionate, heartfelt Angela, and that when it comes to Angela's relationship with Brennan, "I think we both need each other really badly. I think that Angela always says the truth and just blurts it out, and I think she's in some ways the audience that way. She sees things through this lens of truth that I don't think the other characters… I'm allowed permission to say things out loud, where I think Brennan thinks them and sort of needs me to say them. But I also need her to sort of say, listen, you can't always solve everything by being ballsy and irreverent. You have to take your time and be careful with certain things. They're sort of like opposites of each other. I like that about the characters. There's a lot of her in me and vice versa."
Most episodes of Bones function as murder mysteries and I asked if the cast members read it from that perspective when they're first given the latest script. Thyne said he did, noting, "I always kind of turn page to page and it does kind of feel like an old whodunit mystery novel that you're reading. It is really fun to get [that] chance, because probably the only time you as an actor get an innocent look at something, is the first time reading it, because [afterwards] your mind just starts pumping away at, 'Alright, how am I doing this? How am I playing this? What do I want? What am I doing?' So I love that first read."
Conlin said she also reads the scripts from the mystery viewpoint, adding, "It's interesting because a lot of times David and Emily go out and work in the field with the procedural end of it, and we in the lab are trying to solve the crime. So we get sort of the facts part of it, and they sort of deal with the people. Reading the script the first time, I'm usually [thinking], 'Yeah. This is the red herring.' But then I'm sometimes wrong; that's what's nice about it. [Executive Producer Hart Hanson] and our writers really manage to, in 42 minutes of TV, have a procedural storyline and then also delve into who we want to sleep with and who we hate and who we love. It's hard to do and I think they really manage to pull it off. It's a really unusual combination of things and I think they've really done a great job with it."
The cast clearly gets along very well, and Millegan said, "The mood on the set is always light. It always has been. Sometimes maybe a little too much! Last year we sang on the set a lot, Emily and I, and we're kind of not allowed to any more." When I told Millegan that Deschanel had mentioned that to me when I spoke to her and Boreanaz on the set recently, he elaborated on the story, explaining, "That was a day last year, and it was the beginning of camera rehearsal and we just started somehow singing 'Maybe' from Annie. We were like, 'Maybe far awaaaaaay!' And then they pulled us aside and they were like, 'No… No.' And one of the assistant directors would sing along with us, so she took us aside and she was like, 'You know, I love singing with you guys, and it's great…' She kind of wouldn't tell us she wanted us to stop. She was trying to be nice to us and tell us that we couldn't." Millegan, who previously had done musical theater in New York, said he had become "kind of the ringleader of the singing" and as a result, was the quickest to get in trouble on set when singing broke out. "Other people will sing, and then I'll want to join in, but I've learned to resist it," he said. "I tell everybody, 'You guys sing, I get in trouble and the show goes downhill!' So now when anybody sings, I can't get involved. It's like, 'No, don't sing, don't sing!'"
Millegan then revealed that his real life talent could potentially make it onto Bones, relating how, "They talked last season about me singing [on the show], but we just never did it. I don't think they ever came up with the right situation. When I first got the part, Hart didn't know that I sang, and I mentioned it to him and he was like, 'What? Really? Well, I'll have to have you sing on the show.' And I was initially resistant to it. I was like, 'No, no, no. I'm here in California to not do that, and the character doesn't sing!' And he was like, 'No, we'll come up with some really funny way that he does!' So then I was all excited about it, and we haven't done it. It definitely would have to be done the right way. I don't want us to jump the shark with Zach singing and be like , 'Well, that character's lost all credibility!'"
Greatly amused by the tales of the Bones cast singing, I had to ask the other cast members about it. Thyne nodded when I brought it up, saying, "We all kind of would bust out into song and we were told not to do that anymore, because we're not working as much as we should be and we're playing much more. It's hard. You get around a cast like this and the writers and the producers and the crew; everyone has such a good time, that you have to kind of remember we're all here doing a job and we've got to get it done, because you kind of get sidetracked." When I asked Conlin if she was part of the on set singing, she replied, "Not really. Eric's a big musical theater fan, and Emily. All of us are [fans] really, but no…" Smiling, she added, "Well, sometimes.... If it was late enough at night I would."