ABC Throws a 'Stone' Into Primetime
Lucky, then, if he's a lawyer whose brother is a neurologist.
That's the case in "Eli Stone," the latest drama from "Everwood" and "Brothers & Sisters" executive producer Greg Berlanti (with co-creator Marc Guggenheim), premiering Thursday, Jan. 31, on ABC.
British actor Jonny Lee Miller ("Trainspotting") stars as Eli, a promising senior associate in a San Francisco law firm who's engaged to the senior partner's (Victor Garber) daughter (Natasha Henstridge).
In the first scene of the pilot, Eli is sitting in a remote Himalayan village, wearing a suit and saying via voice-over that he may be a prophet. Eli begins wondering if something is wrong when he hears music no one else can. But when he gets a full-blown vision of George Michael singing "Faith" on his coffee table, his suspicions are confirmed.
Eli's first visit is to his doctor brother (Matt Letscher), and later his assistant, Patti (Loretta Devine), sends him to her acupuncturist, Dr. Chen (James Saito). As Eli discovers during another conversation with his brother, just because you're hearing voices doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with you. Then, Dr. Chen offers an alternate explanation, one more metaphysical than physical.
"I thought it was like nothing I'd really ever read," Miller says. "The part was just so great, so many opportunities, I thought. I loved it. I was a bit wary of getting involved with television again, to be honest.
"[American television] is brutal. You can do good work, and it can come off the air."
Miller is referring to "Smith," his CBS series from last season, which was axed after three episodes.
"I was wary of doing all that hard work again," Miller says, "but this was just too good an opportunity. It really was."
While Miller hadn't worked before with any of his new co-stars, he was very familiar with Michael's work.
"He's a music legend over here," says Miller, calling in from his native land. "It was very exciting. My sister was a big Wham! fan. But I love his solo music, when he went further. I can dig that."
According to Miller, he, Berlanti, a producer and director flew from Los Angeles -- where "Eli Stone" is filmed on the Walt Disney Studios lot -- to London for, as he says, "one day's shooting on a green screen there. It was pretty extravagant, but it was good fun."
If live performances by George Michael aren't enough, Eli's auditory and visual hallucinations include full-on production numbers and more, with music usually drawn from Michael's catalog.
"There is more music involved that points Eli one way or another," Miller says. "There are some funny ones. They're very fleeting. They're very brief, and they usually have something to say.
"There's also an earthquake that follows me around at one point. We have dragons. We have knights on horseback; there's airplanes. All sorts of things happen."
As a bonus, those who loved Garber as a CIA spymaster on "Alias" will get to see his skills as a song-and-dance man, which are available on DVD in the 1973 movie version of "Godspell," in which Garber played a hippie version of Jesus.
As to whether he might pull out the overalls or the large blond Afro he wore for that role, Garber says, "There was one musical scene in a park where I thought about it," but adds, "Maybe next year."
"I've never seen ['Godspell']," Miller says. "I've seen a photo. I think I will now."
The audience is left to wonder about the source of Eli's visions, and that's fine with Miller.
"I had to play it from Eli's perspective," he says, "which is, right there and then, he's seeing these things, and right there and then, they're happening to him, so he treats them [seriously].
"When he starts off, they're very real to him, which is quite alarming. They're so real that it's scaring him. I think that he's very, very reluctant to think that it might be something with a higher power. He tends to think his head is messed up.
"It's very ambiguous as to why these things are happening to him. The Dr. Chen character starts to point out to him that it's how you look at what's happening to you. It's how you perceive it is all that really matters."
Luckily for viewers, "Eli Stone" was able to complete its 13-episode order despite the strike by the Writers Guild of America, which began in early November. That meant that Miller got to spend a good long time at Disney.
"It's fantastic," he says. "Pulling out of Walt Disney Studios every night is really, really not bad at all, especially for a European, someone like me. It's fantastic.
"There's little plaques on all the soundstages which tell you, '"Mary Poppins" shot here,' all that kind of stuff. It's fantastic."
It also gave Miller a chance to work on his American accent.
"The O sound is the hardest, actually," he says. "I can say that with great authority. That O, people don't think they're hard, but they will let you down. That's the thing with an accent, it's the smallest thing, the smallest sound, the smallest letter, that will make or break an accent."
If, for any reason, "Eli Stone" isn't picked up for a second season, Miller has a backup plan. He's in training in Norway for a footrace to the South Pole. As to whether his good friend and "Trainspotting" co-star Ewan McGregor might come along, Miller laughs and says, "I don't know if you can ride a motorcycle at the South Pole."