“She said, ‘Do I have to wear a uniform?,’ ” says co-executive producer Michele Fazekas. “And does it have to be tan?” Tolman adds, referring to her Emmy-nominated turn as cop Molly Solverson on Season One of FX’s “Fargo.”
The uniform questions were appropriate since, in “Emergence,” Tolman plays Jo Evans, the police chief of a small Long Island town equally charmed and bewildered by a 10-year-old girl who literally crashes into their lives.
“Molly [in ‘Fargo’] was sort of discovering who she was as a law enforcement officer. She was really green,” says Tolman, 37. “She was learning how to be an investigator through that period. Jo is really seasoned. She’s a strong, capable woman. She doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody. She’s the chief. She’s already in charge.
“The difference for her is that she has all these investigative skills but they’ve never been tested,” Tolman says. “In her sleepy little town she’s never had to use them.”
What Jo encounters triggers a complicated response that’s clearly illegal. A bizarre plane crash on the beach leaves a lone survivor (Alexa Swinton) who can’t remember her name. Rather than follow protocol and turn her over to county services, Jo brings her home, a decision prompted by the arrival of fake officers from the National Safety Transportation Board — who turn up at the hospital where the girl is being examined in a bid to spirit her away.
Jo has her own family, a 14-year-old daughter (Ashley Aufderheide), a father (Clancy Brown) and an ex-husband (Donald Faison). Despite the awkwardness, they treat the new arrival like one of their own, giving her the name Piper, while Jo continues to put the pieces together.
“Her sense of duty as a police officer and as a mother makes it really hard for her to abandon this kid into the unknown,” Tolman says.
“The way we pitched [the show] was this is sort of a conspiracy-genre thriller meets a family drama,” says Fazekas.
In the course of the series, Jo meets a couple who claim to be the girl’s parents, with a passport to prove it. A nighttime visit by a stranger turns the Evans home into a haunted house with walking washing machines and tools that bounce off a basement corkboard. One big clue is supplied when Piper uses a utility knife to remove a golden tracking device from her neck, washing it down the sink.
“We learn Piper’s origin much earlier in the season than I would have expected,” Tolman says. “And that obviously poses more questions that we will spend the rest of the season answering.”
The real drama behind “Emergence” was that the show made it to air at all. It was developed by ABC Studios for NBC, which passed on the series. “During that time period where I wasn’t sure where we were going to land,” says Tolman. “I really thought, ‘I can’t believe this show wouldn’t go.’ ”
She had a feeling fortune was smiling on her when ABC booked hotel rooms for the cast and creators at the May upfronts, where networks preview their fall lineups to advertisers. Since then, “Emergence” has been filming in Secaucus, NJ.
Tolman finds that the series perfectly suits her taste. “I love thrillers,” she says. “This is my jam. It’s what I like to read. It’s what I like to watch. I’m a huge horror fan. As an actor getting to be part of a show that is what I like to consume … that is so rewarding.”
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