'Invasion's' Sheriff Is in the Eye of the Storm


William Fichtner, who plays the mysterious Florida Sheriff Tom Underlay on ABC's science-fiction drama "Invasion," sounds a bit tired and congested when he gets on the phone, and there are good reasons for both.

"It's the episode that never ends," he says. "It's near the end of the season. The last two episodes have a new hurricane -- in the dark. It's night shoots. I'm sick. I'm already on my cycle of antibiotics for a really bad sinus infection. We're staying up late, with rain machines and wind. It's gonna look great, but it's killing us.

"Last night, we were actually working inside, which was a rare treat. We finished about three o'clock in the morning. We're actually wearing wetsuits under our costumes, to keep a sense of warmth. So all of a sudden, if you notice, at the end, Underlay's put on a few pounds. The buttons are pulling a little bit."

After a broadcast hiatus to make room for the midseason police procedural "The Evidence," "Invasion" returns to its post-"Lost" slot on Wednesday, April 19, at 10:01 p.m. ET, to finish out its freshman season. Production has continued on the show's little patch of the Everglades, situated in the middle of the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif.

"Invasion" launched with Hurricane Eve hitting the small town of Homestead, Fla. (real-life hometown of the wife of the show's creator, Shaun Cassidy), leaving much more than just destruction in its wake. Strange creatures in the water have appeared, along with a new breed of humans that seems to be some sort of alien-human hybrid, with super-oxygenated blood (like whales), an affinity for water and bizarre reproductive processes.

That breed includes Fichtner's character, Sheriff Tom Underlay -- who became a hybrid after a plane crash in the Everglades years before -- his wife, Dr. Mariel Underlay (Kari Matchett), and other locals, some of whom have turned violent.

Trying to figure the whole thing out is Mariel's ex-husband, park ranger Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian), his TV-reporter wife, Larkin Groves (Lisa Sheridan), and her brother, blogger Dave (Tyler Labine).

While Underlay has often appeared as an enigmatic, threatening figure, Fichtner believes he's just misunderstood.

"I think I'm the only one that believes he's not a villain," he says. "I've never seen this guy as dark or the bad guy or anything. If you watch the ending of this season, I think you're going to get what I've always thought since the beginning.

"You've got to remember, Underlay was the first one. He went through all this, not knowing if other people had gone through it, not having anybody to talk to, not sharing it with anybody, just thinking, 'Wow, what's wrong with me? Why am I so different?'

"Everybody else in Homestead has their little support group at the church, talking about it. But that's not Underlay. I care about everybody, but I definitely care about the people who are changed. There's nobody looking out for them. Mariel's one of them. They think I'm the bad guy, but I'm like, 'I'm looking out for you guys.'

"It surprises me sometimes that people actually think that Underlay has motives that are bad in intention. I've yet to see that moment come up for me as I've played it."

A lot of the mixed feelings about Underlay have come from the slow way in which the show's plotline was revealed. This gradual approach may, in part, account for failure of "Invasion" to grab and hold onto all of the "Lost" lead-in, which has left it "on the bubble" in terms of renewal for season two. But according to Fichtner, things heat up on the way to the May 17 finale.

"We'll see what happens," he says. "Network television -- I wouldn't place any bets, if you know what I mean. You never know. I just know what we're making and how good it is."

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