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Lost in Space Interview: Toby Stephens Talks Season 1

Lost in Space Toby Stephens Interview

After a successful debut on Netflix, Lost in Space: The Complete First Season is coming to home video on DVD and Blu-ray. To celebrate the occasion--and offer a tease of Season 2--the show's stars are looking back at just what made the rebooted Robinsons a hit with a new audience, with the future of Lost in Space now wide open.

Screen Rant had the chance to speak with 'John Robinson' himself, actor Toby Stephens, about the science fiction adventure now available to non-Netflix subscribers. And while he wouldn't spoil the surprise cooked up to follow the cliffhanger ending setting up Lost in Space season 2, he was happy to discuss the show's relevance to today's world, the kind of American "manly man" that John Robinson isn't in this version of the story, and how jumping from the pirates of Black Sails to the alien robots of Lost in Space wasn't the leap some might think.

RELATED: What Story Lost in Space Season 2 Will Tell

I'll start by asking you, now that the launch of the show is in the past, what the reception to the series has been like for you. A lot of multi-generational families didn't really know what to expect from a modern reboot of a classic 1960s TV show. Has it been received like you expected it would be?

Well I think with these kind of things, the generation that saw them initially are always going to have expectations that either you're going to meet those expectations or not, you know? Because it has to change. It has to be something new, you can't redo what's already been done. It's obviously a different time. I think what's really important is how kids are watching it. Modern audiences are seeing it. I was really heartened by the fact that people really enjoyed it, I think families really enjoyed it. And also because it hits both levels, where the parents are watching it as parents and kids are watching it as kids, and at the center of this story is this family.

It actually speaks to both those generations where you've got kids identifying with the story of the kids in it, and watching them go through all of these rites of passage that they're going through. Then you've got these parents watching it going, 'Yeah I identify with these struggles, and problems.' Even though it's in this extreme context of people in outer space. The whole thing is that it's a metaphor for the real lives we lead. And it has to speak to that. So it's like... you can't bring everyone with you, because people will have had expectations for it from the original.

Lost in Space John and Judy Robot

That's interesting that you put it that way, because I think it speaks to the authentic style of the show's writing that kids might get as much out of seeing this parent unit, too. The relationship between John and Maureen is so imperfect, but the flaws aren't what defines them. Their drive to work at it ends up defining them, which is something that you see more in real people than fictional ones. Is that as unique to find as an actor?

Yeah, both Molly [Parker] and I were really interested in that part of it, I think that's what attracted us to the roles. Of course I do love sci-fi, and it was the one genre I hadn't done and I never saw myself doing. I didn't want to do it just for the sake of doing that genre and ticking it off. The thing that really attracted me to it was the fact that he was this flawed character. The American Dad is an archetype, and what I liked about this was it was taking an archetype and not flipping it, but making it just more real. And sort of making him... it's still aspirational, so the thing is people will go, 'Oh God, it's just so depressing seeing troubled marriages, it's a kids' show.' But you go, 'Well, it's aspirational. It's good people trying to be better.' I think that's why families love watching this, because they do see themselves there. The really important message is that they're trying to be better. They're trying to be good people, and make the right decisions. I'm a parent, you know? I get it wrong sometimes. But the thing is I do it. Everything I do is trying to do the right thing. I want the best for my kids, and I want the best for my family.

That's what really attracted me to it, was it wasn't a perfect family. I think the original, they kind of were the perfect family. And there was a time for that, it was in the mid '60s, and there was still that kind of apple pie, American family kind of thing. You can't get away with that now. Because it's just... those times are gone. The world, we realize, is imperfect. But it's the trying to make it better that is the important thing. That's the message. They are trying to make it better. And I think that's why the heart of Lost in Space is a really good heart. You know? It's a really positive message. When it first aired that was one of the things I was pleased about, was... there's a lot of really depressing stuff out there at this moment. A lot of really depressing TV. Some really good stuff, but some of it is really hard, and really kind of hard to watch, and the characters are dystopian, and the world is dystopian, and they're dysfunctional. It just seems a bit "oof." Whereas this, there is something about it because they're trying to be better.

Lost in Space Toby Stephens as John

It's funny you say that about a lot of science fiction tending to be bleak, because this does seem like a bit of a double-edged sword. Lost in Space is very hopeful, but John Robinson is probably the least equipped member of the family for this mission...

Yeah.

Do you read that in the script and think, 'Oh I have to play the guy who shows he's important to space exploration by putting his body between his kids and this thing that might kill them'?

Yeah, yeah, I mean I love the irony that he is such a capable person. His whole training has been to be optimum in situations where... he's kind of in his--even though he's in outer space, he's sort of in his element, because he's about surviving. That's what his whole kind of raison d'etre has been as a soldier, is being able to deal with really stressful, difficult situations in the coolest way possible. But at the same time, he's inept at being a father. I love that dynamic, he's this kind of... [laughs] He's really good at that, but how do you deal with kids that you don't quite know how to talk to? Or they've got a beef against you because you've been away for so long, and they're angry with you. That's the thing, I mean any parent who watches this kind of goes, 'Yeah, I've done that. I've been there myself. I've got it wrong. I've been too focused on my job. I haven't been with my kids when they were going through some tough stuff. I was absent because my own ambitions were in the way,' you know.

I love the fact that it makes people... because when we see that, I think one of the things where film, books, plays, or TV series work, is that it takes the human condition and it shows it to people. And they see themselves in that, and they don't feel so alone. They recognize stuff and they go, 'I see that and I don't feel so bad anymore, because I actually see myself there, and I see somebody trying to...' So I think that's the power of drama, that's why we still watch it, and we want to follow these stories, and we want to follow these characters. Because in the end you've got to be able to see yourself somewhere in that. And at the same time this serves as escapism, it means fun, fantasy--they're in outer space. So we're balancing those things: it's fun, and it's funny, it's humorous. But at the same time you care about these people and you identify with them.

My parents are massive fans of Black Sails, as am I, but I was trying to sell them on Lost in Space, and I ended up saying that the best thing you can say about John Robinson is that he knew how formidable his wife was when they got married, and he still knows.

[Laughs]

Lost in Space John Maureen Robinson

He's not the head of the family when the show begins, and he never seems like he wants to be. Which again, feels like something I see all the time in the real world, but less in movies or TV. Was that the kind of father and husband you were drawn to playing--who is, ostensibly, also a 'man's man'?

Yeah. Look, I liked the fact that they had created this husband and wife that was again, wasn't the kind of archetypal American kind of, you know, married couple. Where the husband and the father is the kind of strongman, and the wife is sort of cowering behind his shoulder being protected, you know? She's there with him standing either alongside him or in front of him going, 'I'm going to defend my family, I'm going to fight for my family.' And also... she's kind of wearing the pants in this situation, because John is not a scientist. He's in space and he has no idea really, I mean... He's very practical, he's very pragmatic, and he's like, 'Well you know the science stuff, I don't. So you have to take the lead.' But there's this dynamic as well, where Maureen's own inquisitiveness, and thirst for knowledge and desire to discover, and her love for science is also something that is quite dangerous. Her own ambition is quite dangerous. And it's kind of fun playing that dynamic between John and her. Of him going, 'She's not always right,' and he's the one who has to say, 'You're making the wrong decision here.' Or, 'Are you making the right decision? Or are you putting us in danger?'

That's absolutely developed in the second season further, and I really like that. She knows herself, you know? They both know eachother's limitations, and they know themselves. There's a fun in that as well. The fact that he loves her because she's the person who she is, and she loves him. Because it's that kind of knowledge that they don't always see eye to eye, and it isn't always going to be easy. But they love eachother for who they are, you know? And they wouldn't want eachother to change.

Well I know I speak for our readers when I say that we can't wait for Season 2, and thank you so much for talking with us.

It's a pleasure. Thank you.

Lost in Space: The Complete First Season is now available for pre-order and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 4th from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Be sure to check out our exclusive clip as the original Will Robinson "Bill Mumy Visits The Jupiter 2," and discovers how much has changed since the show's first incarnation.

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