Interview with Medium Allison Dubois
I loved the award winning TV Show “Medium” which ran from 2005 to 2011. What really interested me about it was that it was based upon the life of Allison Dubois, famous psychic and medium, and portrayed so excellently and feelingly by actress Patricia Arquette.
I am lucky enough to have a transcript of an interview with both ladies (Dubois and Arquette) together, conducted by interviewer Kathie Huddleston.
Patricia Arquette channels real-life psychic Allison Dubois—and the dead—in NBC’s Medium
Allison Dubois can talk to the dead and tap into the living’s thoughts. She knows what verdict a jury will come in with, and she’s never been wrong. She often has to travel into the dark places of the criminal mind to find a missing person or solve an unsolvable case. Dubois is considered special even among the special.
Actress Patricia Arquette portrays this special lady in the NBC series inspired by Dubois’ life, Medium, which premiered on Jan 3 2005.
Dubois had her first afterlife experience when she got a visit from her deceased great-grandfather at the age of 6. After marrying and having children, she decided to go to law school with hopes of one day being a prosecutor. But her plans changed when she realized she could do more good by embracing her special gifts. Today, Dubois is a psychic research medium, law enforcement profiler and jury consultant. She specializes in “traumatic” readings by communicating with those who have died suddenly or violently. She is the youngest member of the “Dream Team,” an elite group of mediums who are being studied by Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She also continues to work with law enforcement to find missing persons.
Arquette is the granddaughter of comedian Cliff Arquette and comes from a family of actors. Her acclaimed acting career has included Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, Rupert Wainwright’s Stigmata and David O. Russell’s Flirting With Disaster.
Arquette and Dubois chatted with Science Fiction Weekly about seeing dead people, about turning a real-life person into a fictional television character and about the scary parts of their jobs.
Allison, how did you live with the skepticism from those around you while growing up and maintain your sanity?
Dubois: It did help, being a child, even though other people didn’t understand me necessarily. I was very certain of myself and I knew what I was seeing and what I was hearing. And so it really did help to be a child that felt comfortable with herself. I never questioned it myself. I questioned how other people couldn’t understand it. And sometimes I still do, but I’m learning to understand that. But I dealt with it just from having a strong belief in knowing who I was as a person, even from a small age.
Patricia, in doing this character, how much of a belief system do you have to have in the character that you’re playing?
Arquette: Between “rolling” and “cut” I have to believe 100 percent. I do believe in this 100 percent. I do believe certain people have this capacity to do this. But I also 100 percent believe there’re a lot of charlatans out there.
Dubois: I agree.
Arquette: And the way, I play Allison, which is a little different from who the real Allison is. I’m more self-doubting and skeptical of myself. So there’s some of that mixed in with my interpretation of the character, too.
Patricia, this is your first starring role in a series, and you haven’t done much TV. Why did you choose to do a series now?
Arquette: I was reading a lot movies and thought they were written so terribly. My agent said, “Well, there’s this TV thing, and it sounds like an interesting premise.” He told me the premise and I said, “That really does sound interesting.” He said, “I didn’t think you’d want to do TV.” I said, “Let me read it.” And I was fascinated by it. It’s always been material that’s driven my choices anyway.
How are you adapting to the pace of shooting the series?
Arquette: To be frank, it’s pretty similar to working on a low-budget movie. But I do have the man’s job. Usually the female, you have a few more days off [laughs]. In this position I seem to be always on call.
Can viewers be skeptical and still enjoy the show?
Dubois: I actually encourage people to be skeptical, and I think you can be a skeptic and watch it. I just hope people who are skeptical and watch it can keep somewhat of an open mind, even if they’re not a firm believer in it, that they can entertain the idea that it’s possible. I think anybody can watch it and appreciate the content, though.
Allison, what does your husband think of his onscreen counterpart?
Dubois: [Laughs.] Do you mean whether or not Jake Weber plays an accurate Joe? We’ll, I’m happy with how he looks [laughs]. But my husband is actually very happy. He really liked Jake when he met him, and Jake does a very accurate portrayal of my husband. My husband is a very intelligent man. He’s also a very gentle man, and people underestimate his strengths because he is a kind man. But he definitely lets me know when I’m out of line, and he’s one of the few people who can get me back in line. So he has a great strength.
You said you have always been very confident in your abilities. So is the confusion that her character feels in the pilot dramatic license on the part of the show?
Dubois: Yes. They’ve done a very good job showing what probably anybody else would have felt with the confusion. And actually, at one time, when I was interning at homicide, I was confused by it, because I didn’t really know I could fill in the blanks of crime. I was skeptical of myself then.
Patricia, did you confer with anyone other than Allison in preparing for the role?
Arquette: I had conferred before with other people. Sort of over the years I had researched, a little bit, this phenomena. But not really. I mostly just spoke with Allison.
Patricia, has she done a reading from you? Does she know how the show’s going to go?
Dubois: That’s a private thing, and I don’t want to overstep my bounds on that. Whether or not the show is going to go. Yes, it is [laughs].
I wanted to go back to your always being confident in yourself. The material we got on you said your parents and your friends were skeptical, and so you suppressed it for a long time. Is that true?
Dubois: That’s very true. When I was a child I had instances where I gave my stuffed animals names. I remember I had Lou and I had Eddie. They were people that were in the room. So I’d give my stuffed animals the names of the deceased people that I talked to, because it made me more comfortable to have something solid that I could touch with a name. I did things throughout my childhood to make me OK with it, because other people didn’t seem OK with it. So I didn’t suppress it so much. I just didn’t share it with people, because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents again.
How did your parents react when you’d talk about it?
Dubois: My father’s exact words were, “Tell no one.”
Did you tell your close friends?
Dubois: I did tell my close friends. I did tell my mom when I was 6. I had an occasion where my great-grandfather, I went to his funeral. Came home. He was at the foot of my bed and said, “Tell your mom I’m OK. I’m not in pain, and I’m still with her.” And so I knocked on her door and I said, “Hey mom. Grandpa says he’s OK and he’s not in pain, and he’s still here.” And I was completely confused. I thought it meant that he had gotten better since I saw him in the casket. Like maybe he was sleeping. And so I thought it meant he was back. And my mom just looked at me, very confused, and shut her door. And so I went back into my room to talk to my grandpa, and he was gone. So I was very confused as to if he was here or if he wasn’t or if he decided to leave again.
But I shared it, actually, with quite a few people around me. And so it’s easy to validate now, because I talk a lot, and I did share it.
How early in the relationship did you mention it to your husband?
Dubois: I felt so bad. I said to him, “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t the direction we had expected.” But I had always said things throughout our relationship, and when he was proposing we were in San Francisco. We went to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and they have this little psychic test where you stand on each side of the panel and each person pushes a shape. And the person on the other side has to hit the right shape or it goes ehhhh. He did it six times, and it kept going ding, ding, ding. And he [looked] around the side and said, “Tell me what shapes you just pushed in the order you just pushed them.” So I did, and he was like, “I don’t know how you got that.” But he ran the statistics on it, ’cause he’s an aerospace engineer, to see what the probability of that was. And it was 3,000-some-odd number, that one in that amount that I would actually be able to do that. He was like, “I don’t know how you’re doing these things, but I know you’re special.” So he just accepted me that way.
Is it only dead people you can communicate with, or do you also get messages from a live person’s subconscious?
Dubois: I’ve pulled people’s thoughts out of their head. I can profile people that are living. I can tap in their heads. I can kind of know what they know, or what they’re made of, so to speak.
Patricia, when you’re playing a real person whom you have gotten to know, are there concerns what the real Allison might think when you take dramatic license in ways that are small or large?
Arquette: There is, although before we even shot the pilot I went out to meet her and said, “Are you really ready for this? This is going to be very weird. Pretty quickly things are going to have to separate off from you, and I don’t want you to have your feelings be hurt or have you upset if you call and say, ‘Me and Joe didn’t have that fight. I’m not having that problem,’ because at a certain point they’re going to have to go with dramatic license.”
You can tell me if I’m wrong, Allison, the way the whole legal system works, but you have to show up with this show every week. And sometimes it will take four years to go through court with one of these cases. So they have to come up with other material. Right away I said, “Here’s some aspects of your personality that I know right off the bat I’m going to change, just because for TV it will be clearer in some kind of way, or these are things that I want to experiment with.” Yeah, there’s a fierce responsibility, but we had that conversation early on, and we knew what we were getting into here, I hope.
Dubois: I’m very comfortable with them exercising their creativity. I realize the person on the screen is based on me and not necessarily every day of my life. So I’m not offended by it at all.
Allison, how did your life become material for the television show to begin with?
Dubois: It was a strange chain of events. I went to the University of Arizona to be tested by the scientists there to prove that I wasn’t talking to dead people, basically. And the University of Arizona was contacted by, I believe it was Paramount. They were doing a pilot that Kelsey Grammer was co-producing, called The Oracle, and they were auditioning people in different areas of my genre to be one of the five oracles. And so I was brought out to compete against the other ones, I guess. I ended up being one of the five. And I think almost a year and a half passed, and I got a call from Paramount, and [they thought] I might make an interesting subject for a television series. “Kelsey agrees. Would you be interested?” Well, I was willing to hear what they had to say. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go. I couldn’t say no to that, so that’s how it came about.
Patricia, are there any unexplained experiences in your life, that you’d be willing to share, even remotely like what you explore in this television show?
Arquette: Hummm. I guess not. Luckily, no. I let Allison do the real heavy lifting, and I do it happily [laughs].
Allison, could you talk a little bit about where your week-to-week involvement in the show is as a consultant?
Dubois: My phone rings from them. I just answer it. Maybe they’ll call and say, “What does it look like when you look through the killer’s eyes?” or “What do children who have passed look like?” or “How do they feel?” Things like that. Cases I’ve worked that I share with them that they spin into a story. That’s how I consult. I get to see the scripts, and there are certain differences in how the character is than how I am. But I wouldn’t expect it to be exactly the same. I get to see the scripts, but I have really no say and no power over what he puts in and what he doesn’t.
If I really hated something and I told [executive producer] Glenn [Gordon Caron] that, he would definitely alter it or take that into consideration, at the least. We had that talk before the show was ever picked up for pilot, and he said, “If something really bothers you about what I’m doing, please tell me, and if something that you’re doing bothers me, can I feel free to tell you?” So we already made a pact a long time ago, to be very up-front with each other.
When you sign on to work with a police department, do you sign any confidentiality agreements? Are there details you leave out when you tell the stories to the producers?
Dubois: I’m smart enough, having worked in the district attorney’s office, to change certain details so that it doesn’t look exactly like the case. Also, I don’t want to injure the families that are connected to the victim. So I feel like I have a moral obligation and an ethical obligation to do that. But no, I don’t sign confidentiality agreements with them.
Arquette: You’re not even supposed to be working for them, right? [Laughs.]
Dubois: [Laughs.] I know. I want to make it clear. When I’m a jury consultant or when I profile somebody, I have never accepted payment for it, because that’s how I give back, in that aspect of what I do. So I just want to put that out there, that I’m not financially gaining or getting any publicity from it, nor do I want it. I do it because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m comfortable with that.
Are you doing the same thing, Patricia, not taking payment for the show?
Arquette: [Laughs.] Right. Never, never.
Patricia, can you talk a little bit about balancing the family elements of the show versus the procedural aspects?
Arquette: Well, that’s sort of what I was really attracted to. I liked the premise of this material. I love the marriage relationship. They kind of keep each other honest, and they enjoy each other’s sense of humor. Kind of a sexy but boring relationship. It’s a good formula to watch to figure out how to have a successful marriage, because they really are partners. They want to be good parents, the way that they feel about their kids. That’s an important dynamic to me. I didn’t want to do a procedural show.
Do you have a sense how hard Glenn Gordon Caron is working to keep that balance?
Arquette: Not hard enough. [Laughs.] He’s working very hard. He lets me know it all the time. “I’m working!” I call him. “What are you doing?” They’re writing all the time, but if I see them down talking outside or smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, I go, “What are you doing outside of your cubbyhole? Go back to your cubbyhole and keep working.” [Laughs.]
How about the importance of humor to balance off the darker aspects of the show?
Arquette: I don’t think Glenn needed me to tell him that. He’s kind of the master of that. I think it is important. My character is balancing wanting to be a soccer mom and having a happy family in this relationship and having that macabre, bizarre, dark, gory, other life that’s always butting its head in here. So I think humor is a great survival mechanism for everything that human beings have to deal with. But Glenn was great with that, and he presented that already to me, so that was nice.
Allison, which is weirder, talking to dead people or seeing your life on TV?
Dubois: Seeing my life on TV. It was very profound for me when I watched the pilot for the first time, because I felt that I had this whole world inside of me that other people didn’t understand, and to see it laid out in front of my eyes, I’ve never had to look at who I am before. In that respect, it was very moving to finally feel understood on many levels.
What was it like for your family?
Dubois: My kids are just excited that they have these friends, the actresses playing them [laughs]. They took [the kids] out there to meet them, and they had a whole lot of fun together raiding the craft truck. So they don’t really understand. I think Patricia can relate to this. I’ve always been on TV or doing something locally, so they’re used to seeing me on TV. So they think everybody’s mom does something like that. They don’t really think of you differently. You’re just mom. My oldest daughter came in last week and said, “Annie saw you on Access Hollywood and wants to know exactly what you do.” And I’m like, so much for trying to keep it under wraps. But I guess I’m not going to be able to do that anyway. It’s been interesting, but the kids deal with it very well, and my husband deals with it very well, because a really good-looking guy is playing him and pulls off a rocket scientist pretty well. So Joe’s happy about that.
How much of Medium is real?
Dubois: The pilot episode was very accurate to my life. It was the moment where I went from being in school to be a prosecutor to having to make a choice between doing that or doing what I could do with law enforcement or to help other people. I had to make a choice. It was very pivotal. The Texas Rangers was the first case that I worked. So that was very accurate, and there was a child that disappeared. They did change some things. The officer that had the heart problem, that happened. And Hurricane Allison, that happened. Things like that. The things you would think couldn’t be true happened.
Do your children have any of your abilities, as we saw in the second episode?
Dubois: Actually, I was hoping they would not. I have three daughters. They have different aspects of it, each of them. I think Glenn pegged it pretty right on each ability that he showed each child having. And when I met Glenn, my youngest was still very, very young. And I said, “I still don’t know if she does, though. She’s still very young.” But since that point I’ve gotten to see her develop. She talks to my father, who passed, quite a lot, and told me things she just couldn’t have known. And so I just sit back with my hands on my head, almost apologizing for passing it on to them. But all I can do is try and make it better for them so maybe they’ll be accepted if they choose to do it. But it’s their choice. I’ve been approached to put them in the lab so they can test my kids, and I said, “Absolutely not.” When they’re grown, if they want to be known for this, if they want to do this, that’s their choice. But while they’re children, no. They’re going to be kids.
Are all the cases on the show ones you worked on, or have some of them been made up?
Dubois: I’ve worked a lot of murder cases, and it really doesn’t matter how the murder occurred and what steps I go to to try and bring balance to the loss of the life. So the first episode is very accurate on that case. The second episode, “Night of the Wolf,” that was not similar to a case that I worked, but I thought it was very fascinating. And it’s not that I haven’t seen those cases before. There’s not a lot you can’t do, that hasn’t been done or seen. Although Glenn is a bit of an intelligent writer, so he does things that I even sit back and go, “Wow, I never thought of that. That’s amazing. That’s pretty macabre.” That’s not even important, necessarily, to the story. Who killed who with a candlestick in the dining room doesn’t matter. It’s my journey to try and bring balance to the loss, as I see it, anyway. But there will be some creative differences, creative license, sure.
What form do your visions take?
Dubois: I did see them like movies, playing front to back, which can be very disturbing, because you can be in a grocery story and start seeing a mother die. I have no control over what I’m seeing, and sometimes I really wish I did. And impressions of people, you know, I’ll feel like a drum set around them, so I know they play drums. Or just things like that.
Arquette: Also, I know that Glenn made a decision, because film is such a different medium, where he decided he didn’t want to commit to seeing things in one way. That leaves us a lot of space for exploration.
Dubois: He really did a good job capturing the different ways that it can be done.
Arquette: One of the things Allison had said that was interesting to me, when we met, was: Whose perspective do you go through to see these things? And she said, “The perpetrator, because the child is too little. They’re crying. They will miss their mom. They can’t read the street signs outside. They can’t see above the window. So I thought it was pretty fascinating, which I haven’t explored yet on the show, feeling it in your own body, because you’re like a conduit.
Why would the perpetrator want to give you his perspective?
Dubois: Oh, he wouldn’t want to give me anything. I’m taking it. That’s part of how I feel OK about not being a prosecutor, because that’s what I always had wanted to do. That’s why I went to school. But I’m helping to still put bad guys on death row. I’m still helping to do what I would have done as a prosecutor anyway, just in a different way. They have no control over whether or not I get in their head.
Allison, have you ever been scared?
Dubois: Not for me. I’m scared for other people if I don’t get the guy, or if I can’t point the people to the right guy. Then I feel personally responsible, and I’m afraid for the other people that will come into contact with them. So, I guess, in that respect. I have been in courtrooms with people who have tortured and killed their victims, and I’m a jury consultant. Of course, they’re going to know who I am now. So I’m a little frightened now, because they didn’t know at the time I was there to make sure they were put to death. And I can see the murder while I’m sitting in the courtroom. I can see the victim. They sit through their trials. And I see the murderer sitting like six feet from me, and I can feel how much hate they have in them, and I can feel how much anger, and I can see the blood on their hands. So that’s frightening. So when I’m just tapping into heads it doesn’t scare me, but when I’m in their presence that’s a little more frightening.
Patricia, now that you know that these things exist, how has this affected the way you see the world?
Arquette: I have to, on this project more than any else, make clear distinctions of, “I’m going home. I’m leaving all this here.” I don’t want to [be] listening to any instincts more than ever before, sort of more suspicious. And I’m a little concerned that people will think it’s real, because if you’re on TV or in movies, [they] think they know you and think you are what you’re playing, if you’re playing it effectively.
What’s the difference between playing a real person and playing a fictional character?
Arquette: You obviously have total freedom with a fictional character. Nobody can go back and say, “They don’t talk like that. They don’t walk like that. They don’t wear their hair like that.” But the positive aspect is that I don’t know how it is to have this ability. I could call Allison and say, “How does this work or that work? Or how do you see that? Or what do you smell in what circumstances? Or how do you feel?” So I have unlimited resources to help me. But then, on the other hand, with this particular one I had to say, “For TV there are certain weaknesses and flaws for my character I might want to explore that Allison herself doesn’t have, but for dramatic purposes I might want to explore.” So I might have to go to her and say, “I’m going to need to break away from who you really are in this regard, because I think it will work more for television, and I think it might work more on the storytelling, and I think it makes the character more complicated. It could be interesting.”
Allison, do you always know it’s a vision, or have you ever confused reality with your visions?
Dubois: Well, that’s something that I have learned to be very careful about. I have to be very clear on if it’s something I just want, or if it’s a prediction. … I can’t always tell the difference when it’s about me. When it’s about other people, I’ve never had that happen. So just with myself, because I can’t step away from myself.
Allison, have you ever been wrong on a case you were working on?
Arquette: Part of what’s interesting about the writing, and you can tell me if it’s similar to your experiences, that sometimes she’ll dream things that are complicated, and just snippets of things. You might see a closeup of a guy shooting another guy in the head. You see that. Say, if you wake up you’re going to assume he’s the bad guy. He shot the other guy in the head. As you go through the course of investigating and finding out the story and having other images, you might see the same thing, but now you’re seeing it wider. Now you’re seeing that the other guy is holding a woman with a knife to her throat. So the guy’s an undercover cop shooting the guy in the head because he’s holding the knife to the lady. So the way that we tell our story is you can’t just jump on every image and say, “Oh, here’s the good guy, the bad guy, and here’s how it worked.” Because it’s beguiling, the way it reveals itself to you. It takes time to figure it out, and if you’re just going to guesstimate, you could be easily wrong.
Dubois: Right. And let me just say, I’ve never been wrong about the killer, and I’ve never been wrong about predicting the ruling in a courtroom, like what would be handed down as a sentence, etc. But I have misread objects. Sometimes when you give a pool of information, you don’t know which piece is going to be more important than the other. You’re just giving the information. You need the investigator to run with all of your information and put it together and find that place that all those pieces fit. And you also can’t let other people influence what you’re getting. Like: “Don’t you think they might be here?” I’ve had cops do that. “We think they might be here.” It’s like, “Don’t tell me what you think. Just let me do what I do.” You have to very careful when doing it not to be polluted by other things.
Arquette: Also, that’s one of the areas we branched off from the real Allison. We wanted me to make my character have the possibility of being wrong. Then she could explore her own self-doubt in feeling human and feeling trusted. I have this ability that could really help people, if I don’t get in my own way. And sometimes I’m not sure when I’m in my own way. Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s not that I just want to find out who killed this kid so bad. We’ve decided to put that into our interpretation of this character.
Dubois: And I’ve been told I was wrong before. And I’m looking at this going, “I’m not wrong. I know what this is.” And then it pans out later, but I still have to sit there and grapple with the fact that I know what I know, but I’m being told that I’m wrong. And so I really had to get to a place where I know what I know, and you can look at me and say I’m wrong, but I know in the end you’re going to realize that’s the way it is. You just haven’t seen it.
Arquette: I think the way that we’re playing with it on the show is more like, if you believe in God you say, “Why would this happen?” or “Why would that happen?” Even though my character has this ability to see things and find things out, there’re still things you never know. There’re still things you’re never going to understand in life, and no one’s going to walk up and say, “Here’s the A, B, C, D, F.” You’re going to be confused. You’re not going to know why some things happen, and tough luck. That’s life. Move on. Keep going. So that kind of human heart is part of the way we’re telling the story too.
Allison, you see these horrible things, and Patricia, you’re playing a person who sees horrible things. How do you go from that and then go back to being a mom?
Arquette: That’s part of what I thought was such a strong survival mechanism with them, in the way that the relationship was built for Allison and her family in the show. Because without her children and her husband in this life, it would all be dark and grisly. That’s like her survival mechanism, these kids and this light that comes from these kids. And for me, I am a sort of believer in the more years you go on acting, you kind of go along with the story, and you start getting caught up in it and believe it. But I’ve learned to leave all that right there. I need to go to the light when I go home and leave everything there.
Dubois: Yeah, for me, my kids and my home and my husband are what keep me going. It gives me a reason to keep doing what I do, even in the darkness that I do it in, because when I look at parents who have lost children I understand why they could never move on. And when I deal with a case where a child has been murdered, that’s my child. So my children have enabled me to love in a way that makes me care about everybody else around me. And without my family I don’t think I would have achieved that level of understanding and love. So what I do, although it seems very dark and intense, it’s driven by the love I have for my family and loving other people and understanding how it is to lose part of theirs.
This article was originally published at Scifi. All rights reserved by Syfy.