It’s not often that TV shows go on the road, but that’s exactly what the new Fox drama, Red Band Society (premiering Wednesday at 9 PM) did this summer. The cast embarked on a tour that took them to Boston, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Los Angeles, and raised money for four charities (The Ryan Seacrest Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Teen Cancer America, and The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation).
The series, which I picked as one of the five new shows you can’t miss this September, follows a group of teens living in the pediatric ward of Ocean Park Hospital in Los Angeles. When the tour came to Boston, Paste got the chance to talk with stars Charlie Rowe and Astro, who play best friends Leo and Dash, respectively, on the series. Astro, perhaps best known for competing in the first season of The X-Factor in 2011, and the British born Rowe (The Golden Compass, Neverland) chatted about landing their roles, the responsibility they feel to their viewers and how important executive producer Steven Spielberg has been to the production.
Paste Magazine: How did you both get cast in Red Band Society?
Astro: I just auditioned. I originally auditioned for the character Jordi, but they called me back to read for Dash. It wasn’t an extra-long process for me. I just got the script, and I liked it, and was blessed with the opportunity. But this guy [pointing to Charlie Rowe]—his story involves Barack Obama.
Paste: Really? Do tell.
Charlie Rowe: I got sent the script. and had to self-tape and send it over here. I did that and they got back to me in a week, and I had to audition for the director on skype. And then I got the part. And then the thing with Obama—it wasn’t really with him, but they wouldn’t let me into the country. You guys wouldn’t let me in, so Steven Spielberg had to write a letter to the White House because they were like, “An American could do this part. Why do you need this guy to get a Visa?”
Paste: Do you know what Steven Spielberg said to get you the Visa?
Rowe: [laughing] My Visa says “extraordinary ability” on it.
Paste: Well, that’s not so bad.
Charlie: I know. It’s not true but it’s there.
Paste: You both portray characters who suffer from real ailments. Astro, your character has cystic fibrosis, and Charlie, your character has cancer. Did you do any research to prepare for the part?
Astro: I’m getting into it now. We went to different hospitals and met different kids. I met a kid with cystic fibrosis in Atlanta, and he gave me a little bit of information but I haven’t actually done research yet. Luckily, my character just has to have fun for the majority of the time—he doesn’t get sick until later on in the season.
Paste: Anything you’ve learned from the patients you’ve met that surprised you?
Astro: Mainly I learned that you’ve just got to enjoy yourself and appreciate every moment. He has cystic fibrosis but he isn’t down or depressed, or anything like that. He’s just living.
Paste: How about you, Charlie?
Rowe: My character is based on Alberto Espinoza. He created the Spanish series [Polseres Vermelles, Red Bracelets] and wrote a book about his experiences [El Mundo Amarillo, The Yellow Word]. He was in the hospital from age 14 to 24, and he was on set with us for the first couple of weeks. We got to chat with him, and I got in some good discussions about how he felt, and what these experiences were like. And I read his book. It’s summed up by what Alberto said. He said he was going to die of boredom, more than he was going to die of cancer.
I think all these kids we’ve met in hospitals. and the way the script works, it’s simply that these kids want to be normal teenagers. They don’t want to be bound to their beds by their illnesses, and so they aren’t—whatever their case seems to be. They seem to be out there and growing up and having fun, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
Astro: For me, so far my character only has to have fun. He’s one of the sickest kids eventually in the show, but he’s also one of the wildest. The main thing I have to bring to the Dash role is just to be wild and annoying—much like off-camera. Also, I’ve been to the hospital a lot. I went to the hospital seven times one year when I was ten years old. I used to get sick very often, and the more I went there, the more it became a normal thing for me. I wasn’t crazy. I didn’t like the hospital, but I’d be there for months at a time, and they’d have the video game room. There were kids there that were my age, and it wasn’t a depressing experience. It was like “hey let me just have fun while I’m here.” That’s exactly what I’m trying to bring to the character.
Paste: But, since you are portraying teens diagnosed with very serious illnesses, do you feel any pressure to make sure you’re portraying that experience accurately?
Rowe: The responsibility is kicking in because we go to places, and people start coming up to us after screenings and they start saying “Oh that’s really similar to how my brother felt in hospital,” or “that’s how I felt in hospital,” or “ it’s how I feel in hospital now.” Meeting all these kids who are going through some of the same things as your character—that’s quite scary. But it’s great at the same time because [executive producer] Margaret Nagle is so talented in terms of writing, that I think it is being portrayed in the correct way. I think we are doing it justice. So that’s exciting at the same time.
Paste: When I was watching the pilot, it struck me that the hospital rooms are nicer than some of the apartments I’ve lived in. In your tours of hospitals, have the rooms been that nice?
Rowe: They are. They’re really pretty—they look gorgeous. It’s based on Mattel’s Children’s Hospital at UCLA in Los Angeles. No matter how long the patients are there, they are allowed to decorate their rooms with anything.
Paste: Have you met Steven Speilberg? How involved is he in the show?
Rowe: We haven’t met him yet, but he’s involved.
Astro: He’s like a guardian angel, because you know he’s watching. He had to watch our audition tapes.
Paste: What about getting to work with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, who plays Nurse Jackson on the series?
Rowe: [laughs] I can’t seem to have a conversation with her, because the whole time she’s just imitating my accent. The whole time. She’s great. She’s funny.
Paste: I was going to ask you about the accent. How hard was it to perfect an American accent?
Rowe: I had only done it once before, so it was new. But being around you guys all the time—and because we’ve got American television showing 24 hours a day—I think everyone in the UK is quite accustomed to it. It’s quite easy. Also, because of social networking, people write in American a lot, so my friends will be reading something on Instagram, and they’ll just accidentally go into an American accent, which is strange. It’s fun. I enjoy it.
Red Band Society premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.