What do M. Night Shyamalan and Dwayne Johnson have in common at the moment? Carla Gugino, of course. The New York-based actress plays a key role in Shyamalan’s spooky new TV event series, Wayward Pines, premiering tomorrow (May 14th) on Fox, and she also stars with Johnson in the mega-disaster movie, San Andreas, later this month.

Once described as the Jeremy Lin of acting because she “makes everyone around her better,” Gugino has appeared in close to 50 movies (Spy Kids, Night at the Museum, Sin City) and a variety of TV series (Spin City, Karen Sisco, Entourage). Girl’s got range.

We caught up with the Florida native to ask about the TV show, the movie, how crises bring people together and… The Twilight Zone.

“What was always interesting about Twilight Zone was that while you were having a lot of fun, it was also reflecting what was going on in society. And our show will also have those metaphorical elements.”

The trailer for Wayward Pines ends with Matt Dillon’s secret service agent asking how he gets out of town and Terrence Howard’s sheriff suggesting, “You don’t.” How did the project happen?
I was immersed in this other world, doing A Kid Like Jake, a wonderful new play at Lincoln Centre, when Wayward Pines came my way. I’d heard that Shyamalan was attached along with Matt Dillon. I thought, ‘Wow, what a uniquely talented group of people.’ When I read the script I felt I was going into this entirely other world. I’ve always liked a good mystery, and also the paranoid elements of this particular mystery—like The Shining, which is one of my favorite movies. This was totally different from what I was doing, and there was something about exploring people who are isolated in a place they can’t get out of, and what happens to them under those circumstances…

How was working with Shyamalan?
I believe it was his maiden TV voyage, and he directed the first episode. He really is an actor’s director in the sense that he loves actors and he loves character. He gives you a lot of freedom and space to explore things, and yet he has this very acute eye. I love direction where one little nuance can be the key to everything, and I felt that he has that kind of eagle eye where he’s watching all these nuances and he’s very aware of what you’re aiming for. And then he’ll come in with this wonderful adjustment that is fun to play with. Also, we’re both fans of film and different shooting styles, so we had great conversations about movies. And then also about movie people transitioning into television and having a longer period of time to tell a story.

The basic premise is that Dillon’s Agent goes in search of two missing federal agents including your character, Kate Hewson. He soon runs into her but she, like everyone in this bucolic town, is hiding secrets.
I’m playing two aspects, and then you’ll see a third aspect to her. That was very appealing, that it’s almost like three different characters. There’s Agent Hewson, who she began as, and who had an affair with Agent Burke “12 years ago.” It’s who she had to let go of for reasons that we’ll find out later. So then there’s the married Kate Ballinger of Wayward Pines, who’s hiding this past. She’s disowned that [earlier] part of her, but Agent Burke’s appearance awakens it. All three of those aspects were very challenging to explore. And also one of the reasons I was interested [was that it’s] television, where you have 10 episodes to develop, because it’s something that would be very hard to explore in a two-hour movie.

Shyamalan says he’s going to tease us for four episodes, then “give up a secret” and then we’ll have to deal with that reveal for the rest of the event. Could you explain?
It is a very interesting way to go for a TV show. You have this puzzle, and you’re trying to figure how these pieces fit in the puzzle, and you will see a good portion of the puzzle by episode 5. And then you as a viewer will be with us, the characters, in trying to figure out how to deal with that reveal. Intriguing, right?

It almost has a Twilight Zone feel—arriving in an idyllic town, finding its underbelly, and then not being able to escape, right?
Exactly, Wayward Pines does harken back to Twilight Zone, a show I loved. What was always interesting about Twilight Zone was that while you were having a lot of fun, it was also reflecting what was going on in society. And our show will also have those metaphorical elements. Its tone is very heightened and there’s very dark humor to it. We had T-shirts made which said, “I survived Wayward Pines.” It is a puzzle that hopefully will be very fun to watch, and it really is a paranoid mystery, it’s creepy and spooky, and it pulls you in because it’s a very strange world that these people are trapped in.

When talking about the “big one,” Paul Giamatti’s character in San Andreas exclaims, “We are not prepared!” When you lived in LA, did you take a Zen-like attitude to quakes like many residents here?
I did live in LA and was there during the 1994 Northridge Quake, and it was big, obviously not the big one like in San Andreas, but I did have the same feeling as many longtime residents, which is kind of laid back. The point is we cannot control Mother Nature, we never have been able to. She’s the boss. And so you can be worried about it or you can just make sure you’re as prepared as possible. And then kind of forget about it—otherwise you’d be terrified every day in LA!

In this movie, when the big one hits, an LA helicopter pilot (Johnson) and you as his ex-wife attempt to leave LA and head to San Francisco to rescue your estranged daughter. Sounds like a whole lot of fun!
This movie is truly epic. And what really attracted me is that it has a huge amount of heart. Yes, it’s thrilling, edge-of-your-seat, it’s huge visually—but what I love about it is that it’s also about this fractured family who have to use their skill sets to survive, and ultimately this crisis brings them back together. I really do love that aspect—it’s what gives San Andreas its heart.

You went through the Northridge Quake and then you were in New York during 9/11. Tell us how this movie parallels these crises.
A crisis often makes us realize that we can’t sweat the little stuff, and the most important thing is being with the people you love, and of course, trying to help others. Having been in New York during 9/11, I understand that intimately, experiencing and going through a citywide crisis and overcoming it. This movie is entertaining, but I think people will also be really moved because of this universal story of overcoming a crisis together.

You’ve acted with Dwayne on three movies now, how is it working with him?
He’s amazing. We’ve done those three films together (Race to Witch Mountain, Faster and San Andreas) and in this one, we got to do things we’d never done before in terms of our characters. Dwayne is an extremely hard worker, very humble, super talented and funny as hell. That combination of traits make him a great actor to work with. At the film’s beginning, there’s a huge family crisis. Dwayne and I had a lot of history that needed to be conveyed in a short period of time, so it was wonderful to have that trust in each other—there was a shorthand already built up from having worked together before. Overall, our director Brad Peyton made sure that we stay connected to the characters’ humanity, and that makes the movie exponentially better. The effects are seamless, so visually, it’s just astounding. Like I said, epic!