In TNT’s “Falling Skies,” a post-alien-invasion drama whose premiere episode was a ratings hit — it scored 5.9 million viewers – Colin Cunningham is the rogue and opportunist John Pope. Though he takes Noah Wyle’s Tom Mason hostage when they first meet, we come to find out that there’s a lot more to Pope. Despite his character’s nonchalance, Cunningham knows that Pope, like the show itself, has another side. Hero Complex’s Jevon Phillips caught up with the actor to talk “Falling Skies,” which is executive-produced by Steven Spielberg.
JP: What was your impression of the show when you first read the script?
CC: I first read it and thought, “Whoa, this is dark.” Children are being abducted. Whatever adults they can find, they’re rounding them up and putting them into camps and nuking them…. It was really, really dark material, and when we showed up on the set, they were true to the script. That was cool. You’d show up and they had locked down two miles of freeway. Buses would be flipped over and semi trucks on fire and there’s rubble everywhere and cars smashed into each other. There’s 300 extras, and 100 of them would be in military uniforms with weapons, and 200 would be civilians and there’s burning trash cans and you’re thinking, “Good God! This is not ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ ” This is unlike any TV show that any of us had ever worked on.
JP: For your character, I guess the best word to describe John Pope is “opportunist.”
CC: You nailed it, man. “Opportunist.” I don’t know exactly how dark the character is. When I was first read it and I was still trying to get a gauge on how dark the series was, I was thinking, “Wow. This almost sounds like a guy who would say, ‘Oh, if we kill kids, we can eat? OK,’ or ‘Oh, if we save the kids, we can eat? OK, great. Let’s save ‘em.’ ” He’s certainly not a good guy, but I think we’ll find a glimpse of that in there somewhere along the way.
JP: I was fooled. I thought he’d be something like a Robin Hood type. But his band wasn’t very merry. How do you think he fell in with that lot?
CC: Basically, the way I see it … the armageddon or alien invasion has come down and the 2% of humanity that’s left is going to start coming out of the rubble and they’re going to organize. Humanity being what it is, you’re going to have good guys organizing and you’re going to have bad guys organizing, ’cause it really is every man for himself. And the wolves begin to ride in packs. So, although he may have been a biker and a renegade before the invasion, now I think he’s become a little bit more hardcore, because it is about survival. I don’t see him as having been stimulated by any of the bad-guy company that he keeps. If anything, he’s bored with them. That’s why there’s such a connection between him and the Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) character.
JP: It’s also brought home that it’s a pleasurable experience for him to kill the skitters [multi-legged aliens who initially attack Earth]. Have you gone into “that place” to figure out why it is so gratifying for him to kill them off?
CC: How I ended up seeing it is that I believe that John Pope sincerely believes that there’s no way of coming back from this. Therefore, you literally have absolutely nothing to lose. Every day will probably be the last day of your life. So in his own pessimistic way, he’s like, “What’s the … point? You might as well laugh because we’re all dead anyway.” So I think there’s a certain dark philosophy that comes with this character. I also think that he’s come very close to dying so many times that he doesn’t fear it at all. He’s come so close to these things and still lived to fight another day that I think he looks forward to it. He toys with fate and goes as hard as he can.
JP: And he’s a chef …
CC: Well, at first it surprised me. But then it made sense. Even though he’s shown in this particular lifestyle, he’s not a dumb guy — he’s extremely intelligent. He’s the kind of guy I can see riding his Harley to the local bar and getting in a fight, then going back to the library to read Herman Melville. So at first I was like, “Oh my God. He’s a culinary-certified chef!?” But then I thought, “Well, of course he is.”
JP: Without being too spoilerific, can you name something that we’d be surprised to hear?
CC: Well, hmm, in terms of him being a chef, let’s just say he’s good with ingredients. All kinds of ingredients.
JP: Cryptic. Nice. OK, then … Margaret, or Maggie [Sarah Carter] , who was in the group in the beginning, mentioned some unpleasantries at the hands of members of the gang. How do you think Pope reacted to that?
CC: I know that Pope had no part of any of that stuff that happened. I bet he may have been aware that it had happened. I think Pope may have been the type of guy who would have stopped it, but as dark as it is, we’re post-apocalyptic. War is hell. He sees it in a way that Maggie sees it. Why would they hang around after and during such a horrible situation? It’s survival.
JP: How is the actual acting atmosphere on the show? Noah Wyle?
CC: Noah Wyle is fantastic. He definitely sets the tone on the show in terms of being the professional that he is and the caliber of work that he does. As much as we all have a good time on the set, no one’s there throwing paper balls in the air. We all take it incredibly seriously.
The tough thing is that even though they’ve got all of this incredible production value and the scope of the show is massive, you’re still lucky sometimes to get two takes. It’s still television, and you’ve got to move, move, move, and that can be very difficult. There’s not a lot of exploring. All the work that you do for your character, you do it beforehand, at the lunch counter — you do it everywhere you can because you won’t have the luxury of time to do it on the set. That’s the thing with Noah. Because of his experience, he can tap into moments and emotions so fast. He’s so economical in what he does that it’s inspiring to watch someone of that caliber.
JP: So, now that we’ve seen the premiere, what excites you about what’s to come?
CC: I was looking at things in the promos that I’ve never seen before. We’ve all been very grateful to be a part of this. What are the odds of being able to put Steven Spielberg on your resume as an actor? It’s a holy grail, if not the Holy Grail. So, the cool thing for me now … after seeing the promos, I’ve gone from being grateful to being so pumped up and excited!
– Jevon Phillips
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