John Benjamin Hickey on his ‘wild west’ role in ‘Manhattan’ (exclusive video)

“Television is a lot like the wild west these days,” says John Benjamin Hickey about his new drama series “Manhattan” on WGN. As he explained during our webcam chat (watch below): “If you see a piece of land in that territory, and it looks like the land is fertile, to extend the metaphor, you go for it. I try my best if I’m fortunate enough to go where the great work is.”

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Hickey plays the mysterious and secretive genius Frank Winter, lead scientist in the 1940s on the Manhattan Project, which was the driving force behind the first atom bomb. Of the character, he says a challenge was “trying to understand Frank and why is is driven and so uncompromising, willing to compartmentalize as much as he does. It was fascinating to be able to try and pry that guy’s heart and mind open.”

He adds, “Frank sees himself in a position of having to take control and run things. I don’t necessarily think he wants to be a leader. He just wants to get the job done and sometimes has to take positions of authority with people.”

The first season was shot in the original location of Los Alamos, New Mexico. The actors and crew felt like the sets brought a new character to life and allowed them to experience the same sort of isolation the original people probably felt at the time. The show also stars Daniel Stern, Olivia Williams, Mark Moses, and Richard Schiff. Nine-time Emmy winner Thomas Schlamme (“The West Wing”) is one of the executive producers and directed the first two episodes.

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Hickey is a Tony Award winner for his 2011 featured role in “The Normal Heart.” He was nominated at the Emmy Awards last year as a supporting actor in “The Big C: Hereafter,” which earned an Emmy for star Laura Linney.

This busy actor will return to his recurring role of Neil Gross on “The Good Wife” in the near future. And he just finished shooting the film “Truth” with Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Elisabeth Moss, and Dennis Quaid.

“Manhattan” is an important new contender for Golden Globes and SAG Awards because it marks the first foray into Hollywood awards by WGN, which provides original programing to the Tribune company’s national network of TV channels. 

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