Exclusive Interview: Falling Skies’ Connor Jessup

falling_skies110413_Connor_S01_096 - small Photo by Josh Madson

SciFiChick.com was recently able to interview multi-talented teen actor Connor Jessup. Jessup stars as Ben Mason, an alien abductee, in TNT and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Falling Skies. Falling Skies premieres Sunday, June 19th at 9pm (ET/PT) on TNT.

Can you tell us a bit about Falling Skies in your own words?

Falling Skies is a sci-fi/drama series that takes place during an alien occupation of Earth, six months after the initial invasion wiped out the vast majority of our population and infrastructure. It follows a group of characters––both civilian and military––who are trying to fight back, in the face of inconceivably overwhelming odds.

How involved has Steven Spielberg been with Falling Skies?

From what I’ve heard, Falling Skies is something of a pet project of Spielberg’s. He was heavily involved in the casting process, the conceptual design of the aliens and their technologies. He gave notes on every script and even cut a few of the trailers together himself. It’s an incredibly nice feeling, knowing there is a benevolent hand out there, guiding everything in the right direction.

Your character Ben Mason has been abducted by the aliens. Can you tell us about that experience for Ben?

The aliens are abducting teenagers––and only teenagers––for reasons unbeknownst to both the characters and the viewer. At the start of the series, my character, Ben, is missing. When the aliens kidnap a teenager, they put these strange, organic “harnesses” on their backs. The harnesses kind of zombify them, making them submit to the alien’s will. All these experiences––including being separated from his family––deeply affect Ben. The extent to which Ben is affected is one of the series’ mysteries.

What can you tell us about the Mason family dynamics? Were they a close family before the invasion?

One of the interesting things about the Mason family is that they had a relatively normal family dynamic pre-invasion. They had their tensions and differences, but what family doesn’t? When the invasion happened though, everything changed. Our mother died, and Ben was abducted, soon after. Ben’s dad Tom (played by Noah Wyle) and older brother Hal (played by Drew Roy) start to fight, and his younger brother Matt (played by Maxim Knight) desperately misses his old life. There’s nothing like an alien invasion to mess up family dynamics!

How did you have to prepare for your role?

I did some research into post-traumatic stress disorder, Stockholm syndrome and a few other relevant psychological concepts. I did some research on the effects of war on civilians as well. Anything to try to understand how Ben would change if he went through these terrible traumas. Pre-invasion Ben is very different from post-invasion Ben. I also did some reading into the history of the American revolution, the French resistance during WW2 and other historical conflicts which are similar to the one depicted in the series.

Are you a fan of the science fiction genre?

I love science fiction! There’s something wondrous and dreamlike about sci-fi, making it really the perfect form of escapism. At the same time, sci-fi can also be used as a tool to illuminate the human condition and fuel our imagination. Movies like Alien (I prefer the first), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner are among my favorites. I’m also a big fan of series like Lost, Firefly and Fringe and books like Ender’s Game and Dune.

Post-apocalyptic stories are extremely popular right now. What do you think sets Falling Skies apart from others?

Most post-apocalyptic stories paint a very grim picture of the future, usually suggesting that humanity would revert to a state of total barbarism. While Falling Skies has elements of that, it also suggests that maybe people would be able to work together, to live and survive together. The main characters in the series are part of a group of hundreds of other survivors, all living together in a communal environment. In other words, Falling Skies imagines a slightly more hopeful, human post-apocalyptic world. To borrow a Lost mantra: live together, or die alone. The characters inFalling Skies have chosen the former.

Do you think the show will appeal to those that aren’t necessarily science fiction fans?

One of the best things about Falling Skies is that, although it does involve a lot of sci-fi concepts, there’s a lot more to it than that. The heart of the series is its characters, and its drama. The show is really about how people cope in exceptionally difficult circumstances, how they change and interact with others, whether they maintain their humanity or not. It is, more than anything, a very human show.

Can you talk a bit about what these aliens are like?

Off the top of the show, we are introduced right away to two types of aliens: skitters, which are big, six-legged, bug-like creatures and mechs, which are large, mechanical robots. They are not ET, to say the least. They aren’t friendly, they don’t try to communicate, we don’t know what they want. Except for the fact that they are trying to kill us and that they are kidnapping teenagers, we know next to nothing about them. They are brutal, merciless and utterly foreign.

How many episodes have been filmed so far? How many have been ordered by the network?

The first season of the show has 10 hour-long episodes (including the pilot), which we’ve already shot. There hasn’t been any official word yet on a second season. I can only cross my fingers and wait!

The show seems to have a dark and ominous tone, because of the subject matter. Do you try to lighten the mood in between takes?

It’s strange, even when we were filming the darker parts of the series, there was always an incredible levity on set. People were always cracking jokes and laughing, even at 4am! We did have a chess board on set though, so there were always games happening between shots. No matter what we’re filming, it’s a great environment.

What else are you currently working on?

I just finished shooting an indie feature called Bye Bye Blackbird, about a young man who is accused of planning a school massacre, and how is life is affected by it. It’s an amazing project. Very real and gritty, kind of in the vein of “Fish Tank” or “A Prophet”. As an actor, I couldn’t ask for a better (or more challenging) part. Keep an eye out for it!

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Photo by Josh Madson