The aliens are back when TNT’s Falling Skies returns for its second season on June 17. Before the next chapter, I recently caught up with Connor Jessup, who plays Ben Mason, to ask him what it’s like to be in the middle of an alien invasion.
“I was very fortunate this season,” he told me. “The storyline of Ben and what’s happening to him, and his development and interactions, is pretty much one of the ‘A’ stories of the season. Every episode, pretty much, develops that storyline in some way. But you can expect a Ben that is much more involved, much more on the front lines, and also very involved in the central mysteries of the show.”
Comparing that to where his character was during the show’s first run, “Last season was not as difficult. Last season, my character, for the first five episodes, he was a zombie pretty much. But last season, there were a lot of similarities between me and the character. He’s kind of passive, bookish, he’s not the action hero.
“But this season, with the three-month time gap in between, he’s the action hero. He’s become violent and aggressive and very physical, and that’s very different from who I am. It was a challenge,” Connor explained.
Speaking of challenges, it would seem to be a very big one to be working on a series as ambitious asFalling Skies, which has such a big story, is chock-full of special effects, and happens to be produced by Steven Spielberg. I asked Connor what it’s like to be a part of such a large project.
“Even when it’s airing and you get sent the numbers, it doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “You get these numbers but it’s hard to wrap your head around that – especially because I live in Canada and the show doesn’t air up here.
“The show, for me, is the filming experience,” he explained. “When you’re filming a season, you forget that you’re filming it for all these people to watch. And it’s such a high-concept, big-scale show. Every day there’s a car explosion or gunfire or new action sequence. There’s something new and something exciting. It really just feels like this is all like a big game. When you’re young, you play cops and robbers, you imagine that you are fighting aliens or villains. Basically the only tools you have are some toy guns and your imagination.
Now I basically get to act out those scenarios with a whole lot of gadgets. It’s the only job I can think of where so many people are so serious about playing games. And it’s a blast. When you’re on the set, it’s so many people all joining in and all working toward the same [thing] and it’s kind of surreal. Sometimes you’ll be thinking so seriously about a scene or an action sequence, you’ll have this moment where you’re like, ‘This is ridiculous. This is hilarious and exciting and childish in all the good ways.'”
Fans have latched onto Falling Skies for a variety of reasons, but its appeal to Connor lies in his costars and the show’s heart. “We have such a big cast, such an ensemble cast, and they’re all strong and interesting and nice,” he said. “There’s really no bad apples in the bunch. It’s all about interactions with the other cast members, working with them to create all these different things. No matter who I have a scene with, I never go, ‘Oh, not them.’
“I love that it takes the backdrop of a sci-fi show, but it’s really just a backdrop for a drama. The story is much more about the characters and their interactions than it is about the aliens.”
With a show like Falling Skies, where there are so many surprises, he also faces the actor’s dilemma: to know what’s ahead for Ben in advance or let it be a surprise?
“I’m of two camps on that,” he reflected. “Part of me says when I’m shooting an episode, of course I want to know. I want to know what this is leading to. But at the same time, in hindsight, getting the scripts only the week before is good for me, because it lets me focus entirely on the script I’m working on. It lets me be in Ben’s head because Ben doesn’t know what’s going to happen either. It’s kind of the same dilemma as a fan watching a TV show.”
He’s a fan of many popular cable shows, including Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead, and enjoyed a number of cult hits including Lost, Firefly and Twin Peaks. Another major interest of Connor’s is Japanese animation; he’d love to play the lead role in an American adaptation ofDeath Note.
Speaking of future ambitions, he has plans to go behind the camera later in his career. “A long-term goal of mine is to direct and write and produce,” he said. “Acting is a great way to not just take a first step but to learn so much. You spend so many hours on set that you just kind of get to observe so much.” He’s more in love with the art of making movies than he is with a specific role in that process; “Film, not acting, is the central component of my life,” he explained.
Falling Skies returns June 17 at 9pm on TNT. You can follow Connor on Twitter at @ConnorJessup.