Falling Skies is an upcoming sci-fi/drama on TNT about humans who must band together to survive the aftermath of an alien invasion. The series is being produced by Steven Spielberg, which has given it a certain level of instant-anticipation.
Along with the Comic-Con 2010 Falling Skies Panel, we were on hand to speak with the stars of the show, Noah Wyle (ER) and Moon Bloodgood (Terminator Salvation), along with one of the show’s co-executive producers/writers, Mark Verheiden (Heroes, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica).
Falling Skies stars Wyle as a Tom Mason, a former college professor who gets thrown into the role of resistance leader after the alien invasion deals humanity a dire blow. Moon Bloodgood plays Ann Glass, a sort of pacifist pediatrician who bonds with Tom over their shared widower/widow loss, while helping to care and look after Tom’s son and other members of their human resistance group in surrogate mother fashion.
It should be noted that shooting on the regular series has yet to begin (just a pilot so far) so details on character and/or storyline archs were actually being pondered by the interviewees as they were sitting there talking to us. We did learn that Steven Spielberg is “very hands on” and “gets involved in every single aspect” of developing the show, so that’s some good news…
The uncertainty about the shape of Falling Skies was subtly apparent as we spoke with Verheiden (and a couple of TNT execs) about what it’s like to develop a TV alien invasion drama in a landscape that’s littered with similarly themed shows, such as V and the upcoming Walking Dead. I’ll tell you upfront: much of what I’ve seen of Falling Skies or heard from Verheiden and the two lead stars makes me think that figuring out how to distinguish this project from the leagues of post-apocalyptic survival tales that have come before (or are on the air currently) is an ongoing process. Still, here’s what those involved had to say at this early juncture:
Mark Verheiden: [The show is about] how you find elements of hope and elements of even happiness and joy in this world. It’s not a real down show – it’s gonna be an adventure show, sci-fi adventure, and it’s certainly a dark place we’re at, but these people they’ve not given up – this is not about that – this is about these guys trying to persevere. In terms of Noah’s character, Tom Mason, it’s about a guy who will do anything for his son – it’s got a family element to it too.
For me it always starts with character first and telling interesting stories about these people. The sci-fi is important, it’s a fun part of it, [but] where I like to start – when we think about it – is “could you tell this story without the trappings?” Then you can add the other end. It’s important to have a strong dramatic story first, and then add all these really fun creatures and excitement of sci-fi to it. That said, sci-fi is very important.
Will this be a kind of allegorical sci-fi that deals with real-world socio/political issues, or will it stay tightly focused on the characters?
I think there are elements of allegory in anything you do in sci-fi, because you’ve created a world that’s slightly off, and within that world you’re then creating your story. One thing that we talked a lot about were [militias and resistance] and movies like The Great Escape or Saving Private Ryan and looking at how those men in those very dire circumstances pull together to fight a greater enemy – in this case an enemy that’s really overpowering and really overwhelming.
In terms of allegory, though, I think you can’t help but to do things that touch on societal issues – whether those societal issues are who runs things…to who’s valuable and who’s not valuable in a world where you’re fighting an incredibly dangerous enemy. These are decisions you have to make as members of the 2nd masses – these are the decisions you have to make as a human being. Where do you sort of draw the line on what’s right to hold onto of your humanity, and what you give up to fight this incredible enemy.
The main characters’ pre-invasion lives are kept mysterious – will the show have Lost-style flashbacks?
MV: One thing we’ve talked about a lot in the writers’ room is that we sort of enjoy the critique that you don’t know what really happened in the actual attack. We’ll have stuff that shows you some aspects of it, some different pieces, but I think the mystery of what happened is kind of interesting, because I think our guys are just as blind: they were on the ground, they didn’t know what happened exactly – the had some idea, but they have to pick it up the same way I think the audience has to sort of suss out what happened during the big attack, and certainly the ramifications of what happened when [the aliens] attacked…We’ll probably learn a lot about the characters from what they do and how we see them interact with certain other people.
Noah Wyle is questioned about his impressive “Alien Invasion beard.”
Noah Wyle: “Yeah there isn’t a lot of vanity after the alien invasion, not a lot of time to shave – Plus I’m playing the father of a seventeen-year-old kid, so I’m looking for all the help I can get.”
Moon Bloodgood: “Look at that baby face.”
NW: “I’m going to be keeping it for awhile.”
Will we see Wyle in any more of TNT’s Librarian movies?
NW: “I’m hoping that if we’re successful enough we’ll have the leverage (no pun) to apply the leverage to get TNT to make more ‘Librarian’ movies.”
Onto Falling Skies talk…
NW: “Well we start shooting [soon] and these scripts are going to be incredibly ambitious and epic in the undertaking – especially given the time frame we’ve been given to shoot them in. But I’ve never done anything like this – it’s the first time I’ve gotten to run around with a machine gun and do something that hopefully my seven year old son will look at as heroic.”
So is that your primary motivation?
NW: To impress my seven year old son? Pretty much.
NW: No, it’s sort of like I don’t like to travel the same road twice, and I certainly played a doctor for much longer than I thought I would, so I’m looking at the things I haven’t done, the genres I haven’t tapped into.
What’s some backstory on Wyle’s character?
NW: We haven’t done any of the actual episodes yet, but the backstory of the world that we’re inhabiting [is] six months ago the aliens landed and they decimated most of the population and all the major cities, they knocked out the power grid and have thrown us all back into sort of Nineteenth-Century form of existence. I play a guy named Tom Mason who’s a former tenured American History professor at Boston University, whose skill set and knowledge of battle strategy and tactics make him a sort of natural second in command for this group of resistance fighters.
We all had some weapons training – we all ran around in a big warehouse for a couple of days, learned how to quickly load and reload our weapon. There’s not a lot of food going around [in the show] so none of us have been spending a lot of time at the Kraft Services table.
How do the aliens look?
NW: They look awesome. Awesome. Terrifying. When you’re up close, right next to them, they’re damn scary…I don’t know what I’m allowed to divulge – I’ll tell you this: the only way to kill one is to get extremely close to it. If they were standing on two of their legs [laughter] they might be a man’s height.
MB: They really look great.
What sort of influences or inspiration are you bringing to these characters?
NW: I’ve been living in the American Revolution for the last four months, reading everything I can…in the pilot there’s a speech I make talking about why we should retain hope, that there are many many examples of a small force being able to repel an invading army…basically, you don’t have to kill all of the invaders, you just have to make it so much of a nuisance for them to stay that they eventually leave. And that’s all we’re trying to do: If the aliens are wolves, we’re trying to be porcupines.
Will there be other camps of survivors?
NW: There’s rumors of another pocket of resistance…but we’re totally isolated and cut off. Once the power grid goes down, until we develop an antiquated two-way system of talking to each other, we don’t know…we’re all completely in the dark and learning as we go.
Who is Moon’s character?
MB: I play Ann Glass, a doctor, and I had a child and a husband I lost during the invasion, and I think it’s really simple what drew Tom and Ann together, somehow they met – it’s never specific when that actual meeting was – and somehow they just kind of bonded on the loss. He had lost his wife and possibly one of his children and I think he saw in Ann that she was very maternal and there’s a lot of empathy, and a safe haven for him to go to. And there’s a connection there – he goes off to war and I stay back with the kid and I think I’m always the voice [that reminds him] it’s about the civilians and not himself or battle, war and becoming animals. Really I think Ann quietly has faith in Tom that he could be the next leader of the free people and they’re going to develop that more into sort of a romantic thing.
Moon, do you ask Noah advice on how to play a doctor?
MB: I’m so annoyed right now! [Laughter] Originally I wasn’t [a doctor], but they changed my character and I was like “Really? I have to do scenes with Noah and I have to be a doctor who doesn’t totally know what she’s doing?” But yeah, he says I haven’t asked because I’m too proud, but trust me it will come…
Was Spielberg’s attachment what attracted you to this project?
NW: That was a big incentive – if you’re going to do an alien show it’s nice to have him involved. I was extremely rediscent about doing any television after I left ER. Sort of shied away from it. And then Michael Wright at TNT – who I’ve got this relationship with through the Librarian movies sent me the script and along the lines of what I thought when first read the script for ER…I thought my guy’s got the longest road to travel, he’ll be the strongest arch of any of these characters.
Taking a guy who lived his entire life in Academia and having to make him a military leader and potentially a killer by the end, I thought there’s going to be some really interesting storytelling here. And I love doing nine episodes instead of twenty-two, which affords me a little more time with my actual family – plus the chance to partner up with Steven again…there is no greater storyteller on this planet than that man.
Did you need to have an endgame for the show sketched out before you did it?
NW: I’ll answer simply by saying it wasn’t important that I knew, it was important that [the showrunners] knew. As long I knew that they had a very clear idea of why these aliens were here, what they want…making sure that the fanbase that’s here won’t be disappointed and won’t find moments of implausibility. The aliens and spaceships are gonna look great, our job is to make sure that the beat to beat human moments unfold in a plausible “as is” scenario that anybody can relate to.
Do you believe in Aliens?
NW: Yeah, I believe Stephen Hawking coming out recently saying not only should we assume there’s intelligent life out there, but we should also assume they’re going to be technologically far superior. This is all happening, it’s all real.