Wilmer Valderrama “Awake” at NBC/Universal

Premieres Thursday, March 1 (10p) on NBC

At the recently concluded semi annual meeting of the Television Critics Association (TCA) in Pasadena, CA, sitcom vet Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show) is enjoying his opportunity to discuss his participation in an actual drama program, NBC’s Awake, a fantasy crime drama series that is scheduled to debut Thursday, March 1 (10p), created by Kyle Killen, exec produced by Killen and Howard Gordon. Valderama chuckles, “You know, after doing eight years and 200 episodes of easily the silliest character anybody could ever create, I was very excited to explore the rest of my skills.

“I was able to do it with certain films, like Fast Food Nation, The Dry Land and Larry Crowne; but returning to television is something that is exciting for me, especially being able to be a part of something that is so unique, different and mysterious. I didn’t want to do another comedy, especially with the type of character I had played. I feel like closing that chapter and show the world and my fans a different side of me. I was very blessed that Howard and Kyle were able to see me as this character.”

Awake may be one of the more complex police drama on television. The central character, Police detective Michael Britten, played by Jason Isaacs, is involved in a car accident, along with his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) and son Rex (Dylan Minnette).   Michael moves back and forth between two realities: In one, Rex survived while Hannah is dead; in the other, Hannah survived but Rex did not. Trying to keep both his loved ones alive, Michael starts living a “double life,” moving back and forth between the two realities, dealing with different personal conflicts and police partners.

“I actually play a character that exists in both aspects of his life,” says Valderama.  “I play an LAPD officer in one reality, and I play his partner in the other. The fun part about this show is that it’s so unpredictable.”

Thirty-two-year-old Valderama, who was born in Florida but lived his early years in Venezuela, moved to Los Angeles when he was thirteen, eventually graduating from Taft High School. He was a junior in school when he landed the role of exchange student Fez on FOX’s That 70s Show.  He was also able to segue his Latino persona into animation, voicing the character of Manny in the PBS children’s series, Handy Manny.  And it seems he is not leaving his comedy roots too far behind, since he is scheduled to guest on the new sitcom, Are You There, Chelsea?, also on NBC, starring former cast mate Laura Prepon and produced by Tom Werner, both from That ‘70s Show.

“Yeah, Laura and Tom gave me a little call, and they said, ‘There’s something really funny for you to do there.’ And I thought it would be fun to be on the same network and stay in the same family. I’ve been very proud of everything everyone in the ’70s Show cast has done since the series ended. But I’m even more excited about this new chapter, specifically being mentored by such an incredible cast and being able to have the opportunity to play with a brand new family.