A day on the set of the season's most successful rookie drama, about a mysterious tattooed amnesiac
Jaimie Alexander is tired. Because while playing an ass-kicking heroine sounds kind of awesome, it’s also not easy — at least according to the 31-year-old star of NBC’s Blindspot. As Jane Doe, the tattooed amnesiac who has to decipher her identity via her body ink, Alexander appears in nearly every scene. She also has to learn complex fight choreography, train like a Navy SEAL, and sit for up to seven hours in a makeup chair to get fully tattooed at least once per episode. “It does get tough,” she admits a few days after wrapping the midseason finale. “It’s a crazy schedule. But it’s a crazy show.”
It’s also a crazy hit. Since Jane first emerged naked from a duffel bag in the middle of Times Square on Sept. 21, the drama has become fall’s biggest freshman success story. The debut alone drew 10.6 million viewers, and subsequent episodes have averaged 12.7 million viewers, convincing NBC to make it the first new series to be renewed for a second season.
Creator Martin Gero, the EP behind Stargate: Atlantis, credits the show’s mix of genres for its wide appeal. He had been looking to build a procedural with a rich mythology and mystery when the idea popped into his head. “That image of a woman covered in tattoos just presented itself to me one morning as I was lying in bed,” he says. Add some insane stunt work to the mix — Jane recently piloted a helicopter (which Alexander did on her own) — to the central mystery of Jane’s identity, and the series ends up satisfying a massive audience. “It’s a television show for people who love television,” Gero explains. “There’s comedy, there’s crime, there’s mythology, there’s cases of the week, and there’s puzzles.”
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Oh, and there’s nonstop action. On a brisk November afternoon in New York City, where the show shoots, crews have set up half a dozen sleek motorcycles outside the Queens Museum to film a chase scene for the 10th episode. In the sequence, Jane and her FBI-agent colleague Kurt Weller, played by Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton, must run all over the museum’s interior, dash out of the lobby, hop onto the bikes, and race to catch up with a silver sedan. The scene proves tricky: During two takes, Kurt’s and Jane’s motorcycles fail to get up to speed. During another, Jane’s motorcycle doesn’t start at all. Alexander, who’s feeling sick, decides to let her stunt double, Ky Furneaux, handle this one while she rests.
With each take, Furneaux’s ink on the back of her hands — which requires the same application process as Alexander’s — begins to rub off. “I’m rough on mine,” Furneaux observes after finishing the shot. “They get worn out with the sweating and the fighting. When it’s not so violent, we can leave them on. Jaimie and I will be out, and people are like, ‘Matching tattoos? Really?’ “
The temporary tats that decorate Jane’s body are a common occupational hazard for both women. Each episode focuses on a few tattoos that lead the FBI to a new case — and a clue about Jane’s identity. But Gero makes sure that some of the other 200-plus designs also get flashed on the screen, giving eagle-eyed viewers — who tweet theories and fill Reddit boards with their guesses about what they saw — the chance to play at home. Which is just what the producers had been hoping for.
“People aren’t watching the show passively,” Gero says. “If anything, this show is just a giant proof of concept that crowdsourcing works. When you have 15 million people looking at something, someone’s going to get it.” (Fans don’t need to worry about running out of tattoos to solve. Gero says they can be inverted, layered, and interpreted in countless ways.)
Still, Blindspot isn’t just about the ink. The show’s success may have begun with that memorable opening shot in Times Square, but its continued appeal is the deepening mystery of who Jane is. Is she Taylor Shaw, the girl who went missing from Kurt’s life when they were children? Gero promises that question will be answered soon. “You’re going to find out her identity by the end of the first season,” he says, “or at least a big piece of it.” Upcoming episodes will also spotlight the stories of supporting characters like FBI agents Reade (Rob Brown) and Zapata (Audrey Esparza). “As the season goes on, you’re going to get to know all of them really well,” he adds. While the show has hinted at a future romance between Jane and Kurt, Stapleton is quick to refute the theory. “We’re just teasing people,” he says, smiling. “They haven’t lined us up together.” He pauses. “Yet.” As for the long-term outcome of the show? “The plan from the beginning has been to make each of these seasons feel self-contained,” Gero says. “Who Jane is, is insanely complicated, and there’s a lot to do … [but] we know what the end goal is. We spent more time in the first weeks talking about the finale than talking about the first two episodes.”
For now, Alexander’s not thinking about Jane’s future; she’s settling into her new life. She and Furneaux, longtime friends from their days working together on Kyle XY and Thor, share an apartment in Manhattan. And she says she’s learned to enjoy the lengthy tattoo process, using the time to run her lines and listen to music while in the makeup chair. “We’ve gotten it down to a science,” Alexander says, pointing out that on some days, they have to apply tattoos only to her exposed skin. “I know a lot of people are like, ‘Man, how can you sit there that long?’ But the time flies.” She’s even gotten used to being spotted during her rare downtime on the streets of New York. “I get recognized pretty often,” she says of how life has changed since Blindspot. “I’ve had people tell me that Jane makes them cry, and they want to hug her.” She pauses and laughs. “I get a lot of people who want to hug me,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it. I could use a hug.’ “
Blindspot airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.