The temperature is in the mid-90s when I step out of the wardrobe trailer wearing multiple layers of wizard robes. I’ve been invited onto the set of CBS’s Scorpion — as an extra — to spend the day with the team as they visit a Renaissance fair. As Scorpion sets go, this one for the Nov. 13 episode is pretty tame, but there are still dozens of extras, animals, and enormous camera cranes swooping around that remind you that, even at its tamest, this show is bonkers.
“It always sounds like a great idea until you’re outside in 90-degree weather,” says Katharine McPhee with a laugh about her full-bodice dress. She enjoys the episodes where they go undercover or otherwise get to be someone other than who they usually are and do things they don’t normally do. “When I read this script, I got excited. I wrote the showrunner and said, ‘Can I do something with horses?’ Because Robert [Patrick] always gets to ride horses,” she says. She didn’t get to this time. “We fell short on the horse budget,” she says ruefully. But maybe next time.
It’s just as well; Paige’s plate is already full this episode. This is a world that Sylvester (Ari Stidham) feels comfortable in, but it’s up to Paige to wrangle the rest of the team. “Walter [Elyes Gabel] is the least excited about the whole thing,” McPhee says. “He goes along with it, but she wants everybody to be as excited about it as Sly is.”
Meanwhile, Eddie Kaye Thomas says Toby is trying to be useful in other ways. “Toby is helping Paige out by showing her how relationships take time,” he says. “You have to figure out how to make different personalities blend together.”
Toby probably wouldn’t be your first choice to go to for relationship advice, but he’s managed to make his marriage to Happy (Jadyn Wong) work, so he’s got undeniable real-world experience backing him up. “It’s cool that they’re still finding very Scorpion-like problems — geniuses not being able to function in the world, not able to figure out relationships,” Thomas says. “And now the relationships are getting more intense: Walter and Paige, Happy and Toby. And everyone now is becoming more and more human, but they still have these very antisocial inabilities to function as normal people.”
The life of an extra is not an easy one. Even though they take it easy on me, we’re still run through our paces by assistant directors — responding as a crowd to explosions (that they’ll add later in postproduction), walking back and forth in the background (not too fast, not too slow, don’t stop there!), and repeating the same thing over and over again so things match up when they edit it together.
It’s a tough gig — and I don’t even have lines to memorize on top of it — but Patrick offers sage advice from a veteran of 30-plus years: “Ninety percent of acting is wardrobe and makeup!” The actor is full of this kind of boisterous good cheer. Between takes, he wanders around talking to extras and crew, keeping up morale under the blazing sun.
If he sounds a bit like a father trying to corral a set full of children, that’s not far off; it’s how he describes his character’s relationship with the team: “Cabe loves these kids like they’re his kids. He adores every one of them.” When I ask about his interests outside of the team, he says, “Cabe doesn’t have a lot of hobbies. Cabe is raising these kids. Cabe is focused on them.”
It’s also how he justifies a grizzled military man (ex-FBI, ex-NSA, ex-Marine) being comfortable doing the many silly things Scorpion often requires of him. “Cabe is not above embarrassing himself for the benefit of his children. That’s how I look at it,” he says. He brings up last season’s episode at the Warlock’s Chest — this episode’s costume is almost formal compared to the helmet and gold lamé robe he wore in that — to explain. “At first, he didn’t want to do it. ‘This is stupid. I don’t want to do it.’ Like every parent would do,” he says. “Then you think about your kids and go, ‘You know what? I gotta do it for them. I know it’s silly, but I’m gonna jump in there and do what I can to support them.'”
Patrick is one of those actors who practically radiates gratitude for his good fortune and takes nothing for granted. While some might be content to kick back and relax once they’ve scored that sweet network gig, it just pushes him to work harder. He notes that the ranch we’re shooting on is a short distance from where he shot the recently released film Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison — just one of a number of plates he keeps spinning along with Scorpion. “See what this job affords me to do on my hiatus,” he says with a grin.
Visiting a Renaissance festival is a fun way to explore Sylvester’s interests outside of work, but don’t expect similar episodes for the rest of the team. “Toby’s birthday would be at the horse racing track. By himself, so he wouldn’t get caught,” says Thomas. When I tell him that’s sad, he counters with a wry smile, “Alone time is good. It’s time with somebody he loves.”
Gabel says Walter’s happy place is also a place that wouldn’t be much fun for the rest of the team: “We talk about the importance of Paige within Walter’s life, allowing him to focus on nothing.” Being able to drown out the noise of all his thoughts is where he’s happiest. “He’s tried silly music, meditation, prayer,” Gabel says. “[In earlier seasons], he liked getting in cars and driving really fast because driving really fast allowed him to block out all the other noise.” Which is a penetrating insight into his character but also sounds like the actor just wanting to drive expensive cars. “This is in no way a ploy for CBS to get me in a Ferrari!” Gabel insists.
An odd coincidence: Ari Stidham actually went to Medieval Times for his birthday this year. And while he says he’s nothing like Sylvester (“I do have anxieties, but as the years go by, there’s a pretty big gap between the two of us”), he does have a tremendous amount of love and respect for him. “I don’t think I’d enjoy the world that Sly lives in, but he certainly seems to have a good time,” he says. “And he’s always able to put his own personal wants away for the good of his friends and the world. So, that’s sort of the rub here on Scorpion.”
Scorpion airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS.