What follows is the third in a series of one-on-one interviews conducted during the 2009 FOX Midseason Press Junket. We'll post each as they relate to that week's premieres.
Brian Ford Sullivan: What about the science of deception detection made you want to make it a television series?
Samuel Baum: For this concept in particular I feel like lying is so much a part of everyone's everyday experience - facing decisions about when to tell the truth and when to lie - that I wanted to reach a broad audience with it. And I also wanted to explore all of the different kinds of stories that kind of revolve around lying. The premise of exploring one or two lies that are part of a mystery every week allows you to travel a wide range of cases, a wide range of worlds every week. It's like presenting a little movie every week, a very different movie every week, which is to say if you're a law show you're in the courtroom every week with a law case. If you are a medical show you're in a hospital every week.
With "Lie to Me," one week we're dealing with a building collapse where there's a trapped worker who's trapped under 200 tons of concrete and steel and when he's told he's going to be rescued, he shows anxiety. So the mystery begins, why is a man who's trapped under 200 tons of concrete and steel more scared when he's told help is on the way than when he thought he was going to die alone? So everything from a building collapse episode to an assassination attempt to a homicide to a family story to a political thriller, hopefully a very different movie every week.
Brian Ford Sullivan: Is Lightman naturally adept at deception detection? And if so, how did that factor into building him as a character?
Samuel Baum: You'll see in the eighth episode after the pilot, you will see the beginnings of the unpacking of how Lightman became Lightman and what his origin story is of how he first became interested in the field and he has a very personal connection to the science. But he is not a natural like the Torres character, [the naturals] have a very different relationship to the science. Lightman has come to it through study and has discovered microexpressions, which are these flash expressions as you know from Dr. [Paul] Ekman. Torres is a natural. She doesn't have any knowledge of the science when she's first hired by the Lightman group. She is one of these people - and this is a based on a group of real people... Dr. Ekman and his colleagues have interviewed hundreds of thousands of people, testing them, showing them 50 people who are lying, 50 people who are telling the truth, and the average person scores no better than chance on that test.
But there's a minute, miniscule of the percentage of the population that tests nearly 100% perfect at identifying liars 100% of the time... There was a customs agent in Australia who when they started keeping track after 9/11 of how much contraband was recovered by each agent and how many arrests, she was like seven orders of magnitude off the charts, seven orders of magnitude in terms of her contraband recovered and number of arrests than the average agent. She was doing the work of seven people and she turned out to be one of these naturals who can just see plain as day when someone is hiding an emotion and if they're lying.
Brian Ford Sullivan: When you hired Tim [Roth], did that change your plans for the character at all?
Samuel Baum: He was our first choice from the very beginning. He initially had said no because he wasn't going to do television. But he was our first choice from the beginning because I feel like he just brings such a fierce intelligence to everything he does and is a natural skeptic and the skepticism of this character is very important. And it's not that he assumes the worst about everyone, it's simply that he assumes there's always more to the story. Dr. Lightman doesn't feel that there's anything inherently wrong with lying, there's no moral judgment. It's all about why are you lying. Because you may be lying to protect someone else, you may be lying because you fear you won't be believed... or you're lying because you killed your wife. [Laughs.]
Brian Ford Sullivan: What's been different about this experience as compared to [ABC's short-lived drama] "The Evidence?"
Samuel Baum: I think the most exciting difference is the reality function of this show which is to say that I was already really interested in the themes of the show and then said, "Well, maybe I should do my homework, not just write out my imagination, but learn something, look at some facts and statistics and science." And that's what lead me to Dr. Ekman's work. And so the ability to show something that's so relevant to everyone's everyday life that's in fact true and based in science and faithful to the science is really exciting.
And that connects to something that I may be most excited about the show, which is the real faces of famous liars or famous people hiding emotion... every week you'll see recognizable people and you'll get to see Dr. Lightman and his team break down what are the signs these people are showing that the layman would miss... So you'll see for example, what's called a masking smile and to the average person it looks just like the person is smiling. But when he breaks it down and blows up certain parts of the face, you see, wow, that person is actually furious, that person isn't happy at all! That smile is masking anger or that smile is masking disgust. And you can see it plain as day in debate footage, from say certain presidential debates where there is a deeper emotion the candidate is trying to hide.
Brian Ford Sullivan: Can you talk a little about Gillian Foster [Kelli Williams's character] - is she by design supposed to counterbalance Lightman's worldview?
Samuel Baum: She is the EQ, she is the one who's very valuable at determining why someone is lying. If there's a secret at the heart of your life - is the behavior you're showing the behavior of someone who's hiding that he's an alcoholic or is your behavior the behavior of someone who's hiding the fact that they're gay? - she is the behavioral psychologist who will look and say, well, what's typical of that group of people. The other big difference is that she has a really profound ability to connect with people so she often will get someone to tell her the truth.
Her tactic is to form a connection with people. She would say to Lightman, "You know, sometimes people will just tell you the truth if you show them compassion." [Laughs.] Whereas he will probe and prod and look and do bizarre things to get them to leak some involuntary gesture that will betray the truth. So she's about finding the truth through words and he's about finding the truth through people's body and people's face and through their voice.
Brian Ford Sullivan: Has doing the show and immersing yourself into the world of deception detection affected your life in any way?
Samuel Baum: Yeah, absolutely, because I feel like I open the newspaper every morning and it's like I'm reading a pitch for a "Lie to Me" episode. [Laughs.] It's like literally the amount of B.S. that is being exposed on a daily basis - whether it's in government or in business - every day there's some sort of story that I read and I think, my God, if I had written that for "Lie to Me," people would be like, "That could never happen! Nobody could lose $50 billion! This show is so unrealistic!" So one of the nice things about how egregious the lies in public life are right now is that it means anything is plausible for the show... everything is so much worse than what you see on the show. [Laughs.] And so much more implausible often that whatever we can cook up goes.
Brian Ford Sullivan: You mentioned to keep an eye out for the eighth episode after the pilot, but will there be any recurring subplots from week to week? For instance the pilot makes a brief allusion to something going wrong while Lightman worked for the government.
Samuel Baum: Yeah, you'll slowly over the course of the first 13 episodes of this short season - and hopefully next - see that backstory illuminated and get to see the lies that exist in Lightman's personal life. Because, again, Lightman's motto could be summed up as, "Lying - it's not just for liars." He has a number of lies at the heart of his personal life and so once we get to know him professionally, we'll also get to know him personally and see when are the times in his own life that he's made the choice to lie to the people he loves most in the world.
"Lie to Me" premieres tonight at 9:00/8:00c after "American Idol" on FOX.