Well, Falling Skies has launched, and the debut ratings were impressive. If you’re like me, you took a shine to the character John Pope, and there is a lot of him coming up in the show, and with some interesting spins. Pope is played by Colin Cunningham, and I got a chance to talk to him recently about the show, shows generally, and his character. It was a great conversation, and I hope that translates (it usually doesn’t quite work). For my money, a lot of the best hope of the continued success of the show comes down to how Pope figures into things, and I think Colin gives a fun, interesting, and layered performance that is worth watching.
Just because the show is so new, I’m going to include the official rundown on both the character and Cunningham before jumping right into the interview. Have fun.
John Pope, the leader of a band of marauders, introduces himself to the 2nd Mass by taking a group of hostages and offering to exchange their freedom for weapons. For reasons known only to him, this smart, resourceful and charismatic ex-con takes great pleasure in killing skitters, even hunting them like wild game. A shameless opportunist, Pope considers the invasion the best thing that ever happened to him. He also happens to be an excellent chef.
California native Colin Cunningham has played everything from the straight-up Major Davis on Stargate SG-1 to crooked cop Brian Curtis on DaVinci’s Inquest. In addition to FALLING SKIES, Cunningham is currently starring as Neil Styles on HBO Canada’s Living in Your Car. Cunningham also plays a recurring role on the series Flashpoint.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Cunningham has played roles that have had him pursued by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Sixth Day and putting his life on the line for Jennifer Garner in Elektra. Indie favorites include Best in Show and Breakfast with Scot.
In 2009, Cunningham made a name for himself as a director when he and actor/producer Madison Graie made the short list for an Academy Award (R) nomination for their film Centrigrade, which took more than two dozen “Best Of” awards and nominations. Centrigrade became the first short film in iTunes history to break the Top 10 in feature downloads. Centrigrade is currently being developed into a project for television.
So Colin, kind of a different show here, and kind of a different character. Did you find this character a complete change from anything you’d done before?
Yeah, definitely. I found it a very refreshing change. I mean, I’ve played bad guys before, but what I thought was unique about this is that he’s a very intelligent bad guy. He’s a smart, intellectual kind of guy, and I think that’s where he and the character played by Noah Wyle, Tom Mason, sort of have something in common. They’re both bright, articulate kind of guys, and even though they’re on opposite sides of the law, there’s a sort of kinship there.
And yet, you can’t make him too unlikable, either. Is that interesting? He may be pretty horrible at times, but you can’t go too far.
Yeah, there were some discussions as to how to walk that line, because there has to be a certain charm about him. Something that you like about him, but he’s not the nicest guy in the world either. We’ll see what the audience thinks, but hopefully I’ve struck a nice balance between the two.
This is obviously something of a strange television production. Was it very strange going to work, or is it not as different as it seems?
Oh, yes, you know you would show up, and all the crew, and today it would be two-miles of freeway shut down, and you have buses and semi-trucks that have been flipped over, and 300 extras, and you would look around and think, “This is not a TV show.” It’s just epic. Absolutely gigantic. And, all of that for a scene that might only have six or seven lines. You’ve got to have all those people, because that’s the world. And, we shot all of this stuff on location, so the set decorating, and the people who were involved with creating this world were just absolutely superb.
It’s funny, thinking about all that goes into it, because I’ve been able to see a lot more episodes than normal. Has this all been a long time ago by now, with the number of episodes that are put together already?
Well, for some of these actors, it’s been two years since they first started. Some of the production guys, it’s three years.
Wow, that’s an incredible commitment for everyone, including the network. You don’t see that often.
It really is, and I hope TNT gets to enjoy their time in the sun, because I think they’ve done a phenomenal job.
Given the nature of the beast here, what was the most challenging thing about the production for you?
You know, it’s still television, so even though they had all these amazing things going on with the locations and the special effects, it’s still a TV show, and it’s still shot like a TV show, which means you get one take, maybe two if you’re lucky. It was all go, go, go. So, the pacing was incredibly challenging. Just to keep the caliber high. Sometimes it would take so long to light this stuff, to make it look so good, and the actors might get one try at it, and then we have to go. That’s it.
So, that was very challenging. The actors were… very, very prepared, I would say. So, there was no mucking about. They really took everything very seriously, because you may only have the one shot.
Does anybody stand out as a favorite person that you worked with on the show?
I think… Noah Wyle. I mean, honestly, he set the tone. He really did. I mean, he’s a leader in the character of Tom Mason, but he led by example, and he’s not only a superb actor, but he’s a consummate professional. To see some of things that he had to do in one take to pull it off really blew me away. I was amazed. I think he’s a great guy.
So, this is a huge show with a big push, and it’s coming around Emmy time now. So, biggest and best is on everyone’s mind. I think fans of the show might want to know what you watch. What are your favorites?
You know, I’ve spent so much time making the stuff, I can’t even think of a favorite show right now. If anything, I’m watching old episodes of Damages, because I missed it. That’s one of my favorite shows. Quick, help me think of another TNT show.
Honestly, I don’t watch a whole lot of television. I get my DVDs, and watch them on my Blu-Ray.
I’ve been watching a lot of old Rod Serling stuff, even before Twilight Zone. Playhouse 90. Requiem for Heavyweights. The Comedian with Mickey Rooney. You know old, live, Golden Age of television stuff. All my favorite writers all wrote for TV. Rod Serling. Paddy Chayefsky. Dennis Potter. Charles Beaumont.
It’s funny, because it’s come full circle. Right now, television is where the good stuff is.
I think if the show takes off, and people become fans of your character (which I think they will), I think fans are going to find that a surprising answer to what you watch. It doesn’t seem like that’s what you would watch from watching the show… I hope that doesn’t sound bad… I mean, your character doesn’t watch those shows.
I don’t think… well, you know, I think John Pope… you know, he’s in a strip club one minute, then in a bar fight the next, and then later on in the day, he’s in the library reading Herman Melville.
Yeah, I can see that. He’s actually one of my favorite things about the show.
I really like the show, but it’s kind of strange… like I said, there are so many episodes that I’ve seen already. The last two makes for a two-parter, and I don’t want to give anything away, but I thought those last two of the ones I’ve seen were something of a sudden, strange turn. Does that make sense at all?
You’d have to let me know what happens in those episodes.
(secret conversation ensues)
Ahh… now, when you say a strange turn, what does that mean?
I don’t know. I think that watching through them all, those episodes seemed to slow everything down… I thought it was very obvious where it was going…
and the show was suddenly very focused on one thing. As opposed to, through the first episodes, there are so many people, and so many things going on, and now, this was sort of like, this is the one story.
Like an episode of television.
I get what you’re saying… but, you’ve seen more than I have. I’ve seen five of them, and they’ve all been rough-cut. That’s interesting. I don’t really know about how they play out. I’ll be interested to see that myself.
So, what else do you have in the works? Or, what else is going on now?
Right now, I’m really crossing my fingers of Falling Skies. that it comes back. I also do a show for HBO Canada, Living in Your Car. I’m one of the series leads on that. And, there’s another TNT show, I did the pilot on that one. It’s called Perception. And, in 2009 I made the short list for an Academy Award with a film that I directed, Centigrade…
Yeah, we’ve been developing into a television series, as well as a feature film.
Yeah, that kind of took over the web for a while.
Yeah, it did. So, looking forward to good things happening with that. But, right now, we have the premiere coming up, and just had the premiere party last night. So, we’re just crossing our fingers.
I have a feeling that it’s going to do pretty well. At least, I think it’s going to get renewed. Now, is that going to be… are there plans in the works already for that? What happens if…
Yeah, well, they are working on that right now. In fact, I met with some of the new writers last night. There’s a new showrunner, and a new team of writers. They are writing scripts as we speak. So, we’re just waiting on a formal pick-up from TNT. We just have to air the show, you know, see what the reaction of the people is to the show, before they can officially green light anything.
Well, it was picked for an award at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Most Exciting New Series… so… well, it’s got that already.
Yeah, you know, as an actor, you’re just riding the wave, and you’re up and you’re down, and you try not to take either one too seriously. You just… you know, be grateful that you have a chance to put someone like Steven Spielberg on your resume. I mean, I’ve already won, you know?
- TNT’s FALLING SKIES has best cable launch of the year, with more than 5.9 million viewers (geektyrant.com)
- ‘Falling Skies’ Series Premiere (Review) (popmatters.com)