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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Henry Thomas finds acting balance

HENRY THOMASHenry Thomas knew he didn’t have a lot of time to find the right way to play his character of T.J. Karsten on the ABC drama “Betrayal.” Only 13 episodes of the series were ordered and the finale is scheduled for Jan. 19. Ratings have been so low, the chances of a second season are slim.

That didn’t stop Thomas — best known for being an alien’s best buddy in “E.T.” — from giving his all to the role. And, it was a role that offered a particular challenge because Karsten has some brain damage. Such roles are tricky because an actor has to get across the limitations of the character while not going to such an extreme that the part becomes a caricature.

Thomas says finding the right way to play the role started with conversations with executive producers David Zabel and Patty Jenkins.

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Ron Livingston’s military work hot topic

OFFICE SPACEActors often get closely associated with certain roles. Tom Hanks always gets asked about “Forrest Gump” while Christopher Reeve was best known for playing Superman to his dying day.

I had a chance to talk with Ron Livingston for his upcoming movie, “The Conjuring.” It’s such a creepy film that it could be the movie most people will want to talk to him about in the future. But, it’s a past work for Livingston that always keeps coming up and it’s not the one I expected.

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My 7-year-old nephew, the Lincoln fan

I had fun in my Sunday Spotlight column bragging about my seriously smart 7-year-old nephew, Matthew, who has been fascinated with Abraham Lincoln since age 3. He demanded to see the movie “Lincoln,” and it didn’t faze him at all when I told him the film is definitely a “grown-up” affair that consists in large part of men with funny looking facial hair arguing with each other. He and his 10-year-old brother, Connor, were the only kids in the packed theater — and they didn’t squirm. I write:

The best part: Matthew took along one of his favorite toys, a foot-tall Abraham Lincoln doll complete with top hat. Abe sat with him throughout the movie. Occasionally, Matthew lifted him up so Mr. Lincoln could see better.

I loved the movie, by the way. I’m a big fan of biographical films that make an effort to narrow the scope of a person’s life, that immerse us in a pivotal time that really says something about that person, rather than trying to cram an entire existence into a couple of hours. I loved the shadows and texture of the film, the dramatic lighting and stirring speeches, the wry dialogue and storm-cloud somberness as the Union limps through some of its most trying times.

Above, Matthew — wearing one of his favorite shirts — “meets” Mr. Lincoln at a Civil War reenactment last summer. (I tell the story in the last part of my column.) After the jump, I’ve posted a pic of  Matthew with his Lincoln doll posing with the movie poster.

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On Tv tonight: ‘The River’

Thumbnail image for river.JPG “The River,” 9 p.m. KFSN (Channel 30.1): Steven Spielberg’s week is off to a good start. As one of the executive producers of “Smash,” he scored a hit when the new NBC musical/drama was the top-rated show in its Monday night time slot.

Now, Spielberg needs “The River” to have the same success. “The River” originally was planned as a movie but changed when the producers met with Steven Spielberg. He suggested they make a TV show together, and the film idea became the series.

The new ABC thriller follows a film crew as they travel down the Amazon, deep into the jungles of South America, to find a reality show TV host (Bruce Greenwood) who has been missing for six months. Because the series comes from Orin Peli, the writer and director of “Paranormal Activity,” it is shot in a very different style. The series is put together as if from the footage shot by the reality show crew. If you have seen any of Peli’s work, you know the filming style.

That unique look is just the gimmick to get your attention. “The River” is so smartly written and well acted that it will hold your attention long after the gimmick gets old. It’s the scariest and creepiest TV show to come along in a decade. The test will be whether the scares can hold through the eight episodes that have been ordered.

On TV tonight: ‘Terra Nova’

TN_P4_Badge_Family_v4.JPG “Terra Nova,” 8 p.m. KMPH (Channel 26.1): The highly anticipated FOX sci-fi series ends its 13-episode run with a two-hour special tonight.

Whether the expensive drama will be coming back for a second year has not been announced but unless this finale is a blockbuster, the dinosaurs may be sent to pasture.

“Terra Nova” has never had the ratings it needed to justify the cost of making the time travel series. Muddled story lines and big plot holes made this a series come across like a Kardashian: fun to look at but not that smart.

The biggest thing it has going for it isn’t the dinosaurs. It’s executive producer Steven Spielberg. If the show goes on, it will be because of him.