10 p.m. Thursday
You might call the path that led actor Jay Seals to "Awake" – the NBC drama that premieres on Thursday – Three Degrees of "Mad Men."
After the Hasbrouck Heights native landed a role as an ad client in the AMC hit's fourth-season finale, that show's casting directors hired him to be a "reader" on "Metro," an NBC pilot from Oscar-winning writer Stephen Gaghan ("Traffic"). Seals was just supposed to run lines with actors who were screen-testing, but Gaghan was so impressed with Seals, he gave him a role in "Metro."
And even though that pilot did not get picked up, when "Awake" was casting, word got around the NBC family that somebody should take a look at this Seals guy.
"It's just amazing how one job leads to another which leads to another," says Seals.
On this day, he is on a visit home from California and sitting in a booth in Hackensack's Chit Chat Diner, where he used to hang out as a high-schooler, back when it was called the Tri Boro Diner.
"The gestalt is pretty much the same," Seals says, looking around the place as he settles in to talk about "Awake."
The series centers on an L.A. police detective named Michael Britten. "In the pilot episode, he gets in a car accident, and when he wakes, he lives in two separate realities, one where the wife is alive and the son is dead, and one where the son is alive and the wife is dead," Seals explains. "And we as the audience are left wondering: Are they both dead? Is one of them real and one of them not? Is he dead?"
In each reality, Britten, played by Jason Isaacs, has a different therapist (B.D. Wong, Cherry Jones) and a different police partner (Steve Harris, Wilmer Valderrama), though his cases intersect in mysterious ways.
Seals plays Nat, a smart, tech-savvy cop on Britten's team. "I exist in both realities. I'm one of the few characters that does," he says.
Born and raised in Hasbrouck Heights, where his family still lives, Seals, as a kid, wanted to be either an actor or a shortstop for the Mets. "If you've ever seen me try to hit a curveball, you'll know why I'm an actor," he jokes.
A graduate of Ramapo College, he booked his first big job – a one-shot gig on "Saturday Night Live" – in 2000. Three years later, at a career crossroads, he applied to law school, before realizing that he didn't want to "get $200 grand in debt and spend another three years on education to do something I don't want to do."
That's when Seals decided to "go for it" and started to study acting. With limited acting jobs in New York, Seals, 35, packed up his car and drove 3,000 miles to Los Angeles in 2007. And on the four-year anniversary of the day he arrived in L.A., he got "Awake."
By that point, the pilot had already been shot, but the producers were doing re-shoots and decided to write him into it. He's in the first two episodes and has been told Nat will be a recurring character if the show does well.
And it all started with "Mad Men," in which Seals played Marvin Woodman of Topaz Pantyhose, one of the ad agency's key clients in October 1965.
"The reason that 'Mad Men' is such an amazing gig is that, industry-wise, everybody watches it," Seals says. "Producers watch it, directors watch it, casting directors watch it. …
" 'Mad Men' was a groundbreaking job for me."