The Observer has been one of Fringe's most compelling enigmas since he started appearing week to week in hidden, or sometimes obvious, cameos in the hit Fox sci-fi series. Michael Cerveris plays the mysterious bald man in a suit who likes spicy food. Now that he's a regular fixture on Fringe, there's going to be a whole episode that delves into his world.
We spoke to Cerveris exclusively by phone last week from New York. Fringe airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Here's what we learned:
The Observer is not alone.
The Observer-centric episode coming up will feature not only Cerveris as the Observer we know, but will also introduce a bigger society of observers. "We're going to learn about just how many there are and a lot more about what we're supposed to do and what we're not supposed to do," Cerveris said.
They've got rules.
As Cerveris hinted above, there's more to being an Observer than just watching and taking notes. You'll have to wait and see what those rules are, but they define his interactions with Fringe's main characters, FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), mad scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) and Bishop's wayward son, Peter (Joshua Jackson). "It involves what the instructions for the observers are and how we're supposed to interact with those we observe," he said.
If you've seen one Observer, you've seen 'em all.
The expanded group of observers all bear a striking resemblance to one another. Imagine the casting call that went out for additional observers: That's not a diverse audition room. "Well, they're not vastly different from each other," Cerveris joked. "They all go to the same tailor." Was there even a child version of an observer in the season-one episode "Inner Child," above?
This year has more Observer quality, less Observer quantity.
Because Cerveris is on Broadway, he is less available to visit Vancouver, Canada, where Fringe shoots. But this could be good for Observer fans, because now when they get him, they'll give him more lines and make him more integral to the plot. "It's not as easy for me to just pop up in the 'Where's Waldo' things anymore," Cerveris said. "So when I do get used, I get used more now, which is nice."
There are no female observers. But there are probably no males, really, either.
We may be wrong to assume the Observer is a male, just because a man is playing him. "That's assuming that the observers are male in the first place or even have a sexual orientation," Cerveris said cryptically.
You've seen the Observer in the real world.
If you think you've seen him, you're not crazy: The character has popped up at real-life sporting events or live awards shows and other TV events. Cerveris participated in these tie-ins to create a reality for Fringe. "I have attended some athletic things, the NFC championships, a NASCAR race, some Yankees games and American Idol," above, Cerveris said. "I don't do parties."
But wait, didn't we see him at a Fox party for TV critics?
An Observer-like character was seen standing on a balcony at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., during a Fox press party in August. "That wasn't me," Cerveris said. "That was someone else. Well, you know, there's a lot of bald guys out there."
The Observer is a work in progress.
The role started as a one-shot deal for Cerveris, but quickly became a running gag. Then the show runners decided to make him a full-fledged character, beginning with the season-one episode "The Arrival." Along the way, Cerveris has made it up as he goes. "I wasn't told, because I don't think they knew at the time, whether I was a good guy, a bad guy, human, alien, other-dimensional," Cerveris said. "I just kind of felt my way through it with the first directors and input, obviously, from the writers in the scripts that we had. Even things like wardrobe, they weren't given extremely big instructions, so we kind of worked things out together and just found something we all thought was interesting and iconic and went with that."
Michael Cerveris DOES have eyebrows.
The removal of the Observer's eyebrows was a last-minute decision, made an hour before he first appeared. That stressed out the makeup department, because Cerveris couldn't afford to shave his brows for real. "I've got a little too much else going on, and who knows if they would ever grow back," he said. "I have little enough hair as it is."
It'll be a while before the Observer talks with Walter again.
In the season-one episode "There Is More Than One of Everything," the Observer led Walter to his summer house, but that may be the last contact they have for a while. "I think that's going to linger for a while," Cerveris said. "That's going to be kind of the subtext of a lot of this season, just what's going on with those things. Interestingly enough, this kind of sense that there's a war brewing in the heavens in the Fringe universe as well."
You can have a suit just like the Observer's.
Maybe the Observer can inspire a fashion trend, if you have a grand or two to spend. The Observer's suit is designed by Ermenegildo Zegna. "Nice suits, and if you're going to wear one thing for an entire series, it should be a nice suit," Cerveris said. "It's cool, because it's got the kind of retro '60s kind of vibe, but it's also sleek and modern, too."