NEW YORK — Tattoos are not exactly hard to come by in Brooklyn these days, but they've reached a whole new level of ubiquity on the set of the NBC drama Blindspot at Steiner Studios.
On a soundstage transformed into a sterile FBI laboratory, Sullivan Stapleton, in character as Agent Kurt Weller, and his costar Jaimie Alexander, who plays the mysterious, tattoo-covered amnesiac known only as Jane Doe, gazed at a digital screen that flashed with dozens of images of tattoos. The display paused on a side-by-side shot of two Navy SEAL tattoos — one belonging to Jane, the other to the culprit in a jewelry heist.
"There's our break," he says.
NBC too is hoping to catch a break when Blindspot premieres tonight, in the plum time slot following the hit competition show The Voice. The initial premise of the series sounds like it could be the aftermath of a particularly debauched bachelorette party: A woman is discovered in Times Square, her naked body covered in freshly inked tattoos. She has no memory of how she got there, or even her own name.
The action-thriller follows Jane's quest to unlock the mystery of her own identity using the clues etched onto her skin as a kind of treasure map. The most conspicuous piece of body art is Kurt Weller's name, inked between her shoulder blades. As the series progresses, it becomes evident that there's some sort of connection between the two and that both characters are part of a much broader conspiracy.
Blindspot was created by Martin Gero, a self-professed puzzle and logic fiend. He immediately brought it to Greg Berlanti, the prolific executive producer behind the CW's The Flash and Arrow and CBS' upcoming Supergirl because, he said, "Greg does pop TV better probably than anybody."
Gero, Berlanti and executive producer Sarah Schechter began devising the tattoos, and in the process mapping out the blueprint for the series. They enlisted the help of mapmakers, graphic designers and well-known puzzle maker David Kwong.
The intricately designed tattoos are applied using a method pioneered by makeup artist Christien Tinsley that can take anywhere from one to seven hours, depending on the amount of skin Alexander's character is showing. And there are other complications: The tattoos can't stay wet for too long, or be exposed to heat — a problem when you're wearing next to nothing, filming in Times Square in single-digit temperatures and using a heating pad to keep warm, as Alexander was during production of the Blindspot pilot.
Alexander, best known for her portrayal of Sif in the Thor movies, is relieved when her character is clad in long sleeves, but even the seven-hour-prep days are worth it, at least for the time being.
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"I really love how juicy this role is for a female," she said as a makeup artist touched up the fake bruises on her cheek. "I'm playing this really tough character but there are so many vulnerable moments. That's really rare."
The basic components — an action thriller featuring an FBI agent with obscure ties to a shadowy character — may remind viewers of The Blacklist, the last series NBC successfully launched in the time slot after The Voice. The James Spader drama was a hit when it debuted two years ago, but has softened in ratings since a move to Thursday nights.
The show that Gero and his collaborators say they're emulating is actually the ink-and-amnesia-free The Good Wife, which blends a legal procedural with a heavily serialized character drama. For Blindspot, this means each tattoo will function as a close-ended case of the week that will also help unravel the larger mystery of Jane's identity.