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First look: 'Awake' gets some unlikely guest stars

April 3, 2012 |  9:56 am

Jason Isaacs discusses Thursday's episode of Awake

On NBC's "Awake," there are some unlikely guest stars: penguins.

Thursday's episode, entitled "That's Not My Penguin," introduces a new way of making Michael Britten unconscious and, in the process flocks, of the flightless birds get some screen time.

In the episode, Britten finds himself collaborating with one of his psychiatrist's, Dr. Lee (BD Wong), in an effort to calm a patient who has threatened to blow up a mental hospital. 

"I think it's the first episode where the writer's were like, 'OK, the story is bedded in. Now we can start letting loose,' " said Jason Isaacs, who stars as Britten, a man who moves between two realities.  "When they first told me the outline for the episode, [executive producer] Howard Gordon told me I was going to see a bunch of penguins. I go, 'Where are they?' He said, 'Everywhere!" I said, 'What do you mean?' He said they're in the psychiatrist's office, in the house ... I thought, 'Penguins have escaped?' And he said, 'No, you're seeing penguins.' I said, 'Why?' He said, 'You'll see.' "

(Here's a first look at the episode)

Turns out that little guy (and all his friends) were computer-generated penguins.

"We tried real penguins, we tried animated penguins, Then we tried CGI penguins," Isaacs said. "I was bummed out. But we had an experience with a coyote -- the episode where my son got kidnapped. We had a trained coyote on set; it could do yoga and speak five languages, the way they made it seem. All it had to do was walk from one side of the frame to the other and it couldn't do it. So when they said these penguins, we thought, 'Let's go digital.' And they're great. They're unbelievable."

"What's weird is I was in the ocean with my kids. We're in the water and a guy shouts -- I thought it was a seal -- he goes, 'Hey, dude, are you in "Awake?" ' I said, 'Yes,' And he was like, 'I just animated your penguins!' "

Isaacs has his own sordid history with the water birds. He recalled attending the premiere of "March of the Penguins" and trying to pick up a penguin on the red carpet. But it wasn't so simple. The penguin bit him, and Isaacs punted him. But during a recent local news appearance, an employee from the San Diego Zoo was a guest -- with a penguin in tow. 

"I was glad I could make up with the species," Isaacs said. "I asked it to pass the word around."


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'Smash' will return, but creator Theresa Rebeck departs

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten in a gallery shot from "Awake." Credit: NBC.

Video credit: NBC