“I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for all of this.”
So says the zoologist and African tour guide played by James Wolk (“Mad Men,” “The Crazy Ones”) early in “Zoo,” but you just know the explanation won’t be simple as animals begin launching unprovoked attacks on humans around the globe. The novel by best-selling author James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge gets a CBS series adaptation starting at 9 p.m. Tuesday with Kristen Connolly (“The Whispers,” “House of Cards”) and Billy Burke (“Revolution,” “Twilight”) also starring as a reporter and a veterinary pathologist who team to probe the deadly phenomenon.
In Patterson’s view, “Zoo” translates to TV nicely. “I don’t write for film,” he maintains, “but I think the way I write can adapt pretty well because I write ‘scene, scene, scene.’ I think that makes it a little easier, but you never know what’s going to happen out in Hollywood. I just go, ‘If it happens, that’d be wonderful.’ ”
Patterson allows the nature-on-the-rampage theme is a switch from his norm, but notes he’s “particularly happy” about “Zoo” crossing mediums. “I created Alex Cross and I created ‘Women’s Murder Club,’ but this is different and unique. A lot of people who have read it have said, ‘I’ve never read anything like that,’ which is cool. Now I think people are going to go, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that.’ ”
Also featuring Nonso Anozie as Wolk’s colleague and Nora Arnezeder as an attack survivor, “Zoo” is “a real honor” for Wolk to be part of, the amiable actor says. “People love James Patterson’s books, and this one has a huge audience. To step into the role of someone they’ve imagined in their minds is a responsibility, and you just want to do a great job and bring some life to it – and bring your own take on it. You have to have confidence in the fact you were hired for a reason.”
It surely helps a “Zoo” star to be fond of and comfortable with animals, and Wolk is a dog owner. “I have a Shepherd-Rottweiler mix, and she’s beautiful,” he reports, “but I never spent a lot of time with lions and bears, which is what we’ve done on this show. It’s been very eye-opening.
“I would say the craziest day we had was being within inches of a Kodiak brown bear,” Wolk adds. “There are trainers and it’s super-safe, but at the same time, it’s a bear. And you can’t reason with a bear. They wouldn’t put us in a situation where we felt threatened, but you definitely feel the power and the wild nature of the animals.”
Along with Patterson, filmmakers James Mangold and Cathy Konrad (“Walk the Line,” “Girl, Interrupted”) are among the executive producers of “Zoo.” Patterson likes the show’s summer scheduling, since he believes it has “a blockbuster quality to it. I think it’ll be one of those ‘Bet you can’t eat just one’ things, where people just keep watching.
“You hear all the time that old saw that the book is better than the movie,” notes Patterson, “and the screenwriters say, ‘Well, we only had two hours.’ Well, in this case, they have 13 hours … so there’s no excuse. And it might well be better than the book.”