Jason Isaacs' strange cult following
On May 24, Awake fans will say goodbye to Jason Isaacs’ parallel universes-dwelling cop Michael Britten in the season finale of the fantasy-inclined police procedural. And that farewell looks to be a permanent one following yesterday’s news that the admired but audience-impoverished show did not earn a pickup. However, there is a group of Jason Isaacs fans who never want to say “Goodbye” to the British actor — in fact, they’re only interested in saying “Hello.”
Thanks to the puckish efforts of an award-winning BBC film review radio show hosted by DJ Simon Mayo and movie expert Mark Kermode — as well as its attendant podcast — the phrase “Hello to Jason Isaacs” has, over the past year or so, started to permeate pop culture around the world. Eagle-eyed viewers of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno will have noticed its appearance in some of the chatfest’s visual “bits”; one attendee at 2011’s Jon Stewart-organized March for Sanity carried a banner bearing the slogan; and since February of this year, anyone using the U.K. version of Google to search the actor’s name has been met with the message “Hello to Jason Isaacs” at the top of the webpage. And that’s not counting the number of times Isaacs himself has been accosted by strangers who wish to say “Hello” him. “People walk up all the time and say, ‘Can I just say ‘Hello to Jason Isaacs?”” reveals the actor. “I was walking along a canyon in Los Angeles and from the next mountain I heard, ‘HELLO… TO… JASON ISAAAAAAACS!’ People who don’t know [about the phrase] look at these people as if they’re insane. Then when I try and explain the phenomenon, I trip myself up, because it sounds so nuts. It makes no sense.”
The origins of “Hello to Jason Isaacs” date back to the mid-’70s when future film reviewer Kermode and future Harry Potter franchise regular Isaacs were classmates at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in London. Although the pair were not friends, Isaacs made a big impression on Kermode. “I thought he was incredibly cool and aloof,” Kermode wrote in his 2010 autobiography, It’s Only A Movie: Reel Life Adventures of a Film Obsessive. “If truth be told I think I had a sort of schoolboy crush on Jason Isaacs, and I’ve never really got over it.”
That crush evidenced itself a few of years ago when Kermode and his co-broadcaster Mayo fell into the habit during their show of saying “Hello to…” to a fairly idiosyncratic list of famous folks including actors David Morrissey and David Tennant, awesome Brit folk-rockers Fairport Convention, and Isaacs, who is both a fan of the show and a regular guest. In time, listeners picked up the “Hello to Jason Isaacs” baton and ran with it, much to the bemusement of the actor himself. “It is an extraordinary phenomenon that long ago separated from me and is rolling down a hill, gathering momentum,” says Isaacs. “It’s like I’m a fictional creation in [Kermode and Mayo’s] life. But I love their show. I think Mark’s a fantastic reviewer. I mean, this started because I’m literally a fanboy of their show. And I always say ‘Hello’ back.”
Earlier this year, Kermode and Mayo teasingly suggested Isaacs prove his devotion to their radio show by having his character in Awake say the word “ukulele” onscreen. For Isaacs, who is also a producer on the NBC show, it was a case of “Challenge accepted!” — and swiftly achieved. Which is why, on March 22, Awake viewers heard Isaacs’ Detective Britten utter the line “He’s not going to be playing the ukulele in heaven,” while examining a corpse whose fingers had been badly mangled. “When I did that I got a note from the editing room going, ‘What the f— are you talking about?'” says the actor. “I said, ‘You have to keep the line in. If I can ever wield my big stick as a producer, I’m telling you I want the ukulele line left in!'”
Whether the cult of “Hello to Jason Isaacs” has reached a high watermark or is only just getting started remains to be seen. But the Awake star confesses that he is more than happy for it to go on and on. “It is perfectly possible that at any time in my life people might come up and go, ‘You’re a s— actor,'” says Isaacs. “So any time anyone says anything positive and doesn’t throw rotten vegetables is a victory as far as I’m concerned.”
All of which only leaves me to say a big EW “Hello” to Jason Isaacs.
And Fairport Convention.