The idea of immortality has been explored in a number of ways on screens both big and small. But for Dr. Henry Morgan in ABC’s new series Forever, immortality has a few twists. For one, Henry views it as a curse, something he’s spent more than 200 years trying to cure. And then there’s the idea that Henry does technically die. He just doesn’t stay dead for long.
As a medical examiner in New York, Henry (Ioan Gruffudd) spends his days examining dead bodies and trying to find a solution for his inability to stay dead. And as viewers will see in the pilot, his years of practicing medicine and genius-like knowledge quickly get him pulled into helping a detective (Alana De La Garza) on a number of cases.
We caught up with Forever‘s creator, Matt Miller, to talk about the idea behind the show, what viewers can expect, and more.
EW: Where did the idea for Forever come from?
MATT MILLER: I was putting my five-year-old son to bed one night and he asked me, “Daddy, are you ever gonna die someday?” as five-year-olds will do occasionally, and I said,”No, of course not, I’ll never die.” I didn’t want to upset him or anything, and then I realized, you know, you’re supposed to kind of build trust through honesty, and all that sort of stuff. So I said to him, “Okay, wait. I wasn’t completely truthful. I will die someday, but it won’t be for a very long time, and by then you’ll probably want me to be dead.” At which point he burst into tears, my wife came running into the room, I was banished from the room, and she continued sort of raising our child, and I went off to try to come up with a TV show.
So I started playing around with that idea: What if a character, through some weird set of circumstances, wouldn’t or couldn’t die. And I started to think of like all the amazing things that you could do and how much fun it would be. And then I started to think but what would happen if my son wasn’t immortal too? Would the pain of watching your family and friends, children and everything like that grow old and die, would that be too much? Would it ultimately prove to be more of a curse than a blessing? And that was sort of the initial impetus of the idea is to play with a character that was stuck with that unusual affliction, which is the thing that we all want on some level more than anything, and that he has it but sees it as more of a curse. And then the rest of it kind of extrapolated from there. I said, “Well what kind of guy would he be and what would he do for a living?” I sort of came upon the medical examiner thing [because] I thought it would be interesting if he was a doctor for all of these years and the medical examiner would give him access to the bodies. So he’s a guy who couldn’t die but was surrounded by death.
What about the idea of him being naked every time he comes back to life?
We got lucky with the casting on that one. Not everyone you want to see come out of the water naked, but sort of the idea was, okay, well, if he dies every time, I was like, Can you just chop his head off? Does the ax break? How does that work? So I decided he should really die. He just keeps coming back, and if he kept coming back, like, in water, I thought it would just be an interesting kind of rebirth idea. And then the being naked part, it would have to be like a full rebirth. And to me, I sort of just thought it was funny. It would be a funny predicament of his affliction would be coming back in water, but he’s always naked, and so it would lend itself to weird, awkward situations.
In general, would you say this series will have a procedural feel?
Yeah, there was certainly a procedural element in the pilot but a lot of it was kind of unraveling who Henry is and then how Henry and Detective Jo Martinez, played by Alana De La Garza, were going to come into contact. And now that we’ve set that structure up in the pilot, we move forward with a more traditional procedural in the sense that every week there’s a body, Henry is the M.E., she is the detective, we unravel and solve a crime every week, but then there’s also some very non-traditional elements of our show. He can’t die, your protagonist, or he does die every week but ends up coming back. It’s not every week, but he does die a few times. He dies, like, four times in the pilot so that was a little excessive, and we start to pull back on that. He’ll die, like, in the second episode, and then we’ll take a few off, and we’ll have special-occasion kind of deaths that will come up throughout the series. But we also get to utilize the flashback structure, which is that we get to see his life over the last 235 or so years.
Will there be flashbacks in every episode?
Yeah, so every episode we’re going to tell our A story and then we’ll tell a flashback story that will relate.
Is there any time period in particular that you’re looking forward to exploring?
In terms of time periods for the show, you know, the great love of [Henry’s] life is a character named Abigail that we meet in the pilot. They met at the end of World War II around 1945, so we get to explore that relationship in the 1940’s and as it continues into the 1950’s, but we also have stories that take us back to like the tenements on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s or the 1890s and that’s fun. We’re talking about an episode right now that has like 1880s London because it’s a little bit of a Jack the Ripper episode, so that will be fun for us. Also, we want to tell stories about the Depression and the Roaring 20’s and all of that. It’s all really fun, interesting stuff that we get to dive into every week.
At the center of this show, Henry is trying to die. In your mind, does the series end when he figures that out?
For me, the series ends when ABC tells us it’s over. [Laughs] But assuming that we get to play this out for a while, he wants to be looking for a way to end his affliction, but if he does come up with that way at some point, does he want to use it still? Has he found enough to live for where he doesn’t actually want to be out? And that’s something that we’ll certainly explore throughout the course of the series. So losing that character from the show gives us very little to play, so hopefully he won’t actually die. But we will certainly play around with what happens if he does figure out a way scientifically out of this.
In the pilot, fans get a glimpse of Jo’s personal life, but is that something you want to explore moving forward?
Yeah, we do. We learn about her personal life. The idea for the show was, in some way, every character was facing mortality. For Henry, it’s rather obvious in that he’s immortal. For Jo, it was that she’s dealing with the loss of her husband at a very young age, and then for Abe, Judd Hirsch’s character, he’s in the twilight of his years. So he’s looking at how he’s going to sort of ride off into the sunset.
Forever premieres Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 10 p.m., following a special sneak peek on Monday, Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. on ABC.