Exclusive: FALLING SKIES’ Colin Cunningham Interview

Collin Cunningham

As fascinated as most of us are with aliens and alien invasions, shows revolving around them have had a bumpy history, something TNT is hoping to change with its highly anticipated epic summer series FALLING SKIES. Premiering June 19, the action-packed character drama follows a group of alien Armageddon survivors in Massachusetts who band together to fight back against the alien invaders.

Professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is the de facto leader with two of his sons backing him up and the third in the clutches of the aliens. Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) is Tom’s confidant while John Pope (Colin Cunningham) is the leader of gang of marauders who likes killing aliens as much as he likes seizing any opportunities to profit from the chaos.

Daemon’s TV talked to Colin Cunningham about playing John Pope, what we can expect from Falling Skies and its aliens, and why we’re all going to love the show.

It’s interesting that ‘Falling Skies’ is not so much about aliens invading as it is about the war since it begins six months after the initial attack.

Colin Cunningham: It really is. It’s nice. I mean, hopefully audiences will respond to that very thing, but it’s not typical in that. The nice thing, bringing it back around to [Steven] Spielberg is that his projects are always about people and circumstances that are tough. Within this genre just happens to be an alien thing, but it’s not like it’s all visual FX or that there’s no heart or story. It’s real people and families trying to make the right decisions and do the right thing, and yet, you’re in the middle of war and it’s tough. It’s six months after, I guess, the end of the world. Ninety odd percent of humanity is gone and the survivors have begun to pull themselves out of the rubble and begin to come together and form a small militia and begin fighting back.

This is taking place in Massachusetts. Will the rest of the world be addressed or is this locale cut off from everyone else?

Colin Cunningham: There’s no communication. You’re literally back to passing notes, having runners run from one encampment to another. Literally starting all over again. Nobody knows anything about anything, really, other than what they knew beforehand. Again, it doesn’t get into it, but actually when the aliens are first discovered or when they first come down, they wonder, ‘Are they peaceful? Are they not? What’s the deal?’

Of course that’s when the TV’s are all working and everyone is talking about it and you realize that maybe these things are a bit hostile. Then wars start breaking out and of course there’s no TV, no radio, no telephones, no nothing. It’s done. There’s the big bang, the big flash, and like I said, this is six months after all of that. I think there’s an assumption that it is planetary, but for where they are right now they’re just trying to pick of the pieces, literally, in their hometown. Like, if there’s someone else, ‘Oh, my God, lets help them,’ and you start banding together again.

Your character, John Pope, used to be a leader of a motorcycle gang. Is that right?

Colin Cunningham: It’s funny because TNT actually said motorcycle gang, and it almost makes you think of [Marlon] Brando in ‘The Wild Bunch’. It really isn’t because gasoline and everything is at an incredible premium. So it’s not like you’re out doing the Peter Fonda cruising down the highway on a motorcycle gang type of thing. It’s not even a ‘Mad Max’ kind of thing.

I see the character as an opportunist. Just imagine if all of a sudden there’s no police force. You’re going to have roving bands of outlaws. You’re not going to know who to trust. You’re going to have bad guys start congregating because wolves start traveling in packs. That’s just kind of what happens. Human nature starts taking over and the strong hurt the weak and then the weak start banding together to fight back and all that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a good guy.

I think the one thing that John Pope and the Tom Mason character, or lets say what the good guys have in common is that they both have a great love for killing these aliens. I think if anything the John Pope character is intrigued by the Tom Mason character because Pope, although he’s a bit of a bad guy, his band of merry men are idiots. They’re petty criminals. They’re very boring, uninteresting, unintelligent kind of guys, whereas Pope is actually a very intelligent man and I think that he sees something in Tom Mason. He can actually have a conversation with him. There’s a line in there that goes, ‘The last book they read had a dog named Spot in it.’ Whereas Mason is obviously a history professor, military history and stuff like that. I think there’s an appreciation for each other, but their bond, and I don’t want to call it a friendship necessarily…the reason that they do work together is that they both share a common goal in killings these things. What is it that they say, war or whatever creates strange bedfellows, like, ‘You’re enemy is my enemy. So we’re allies.’

What kind of arc does John Pope have through the first season?

Colin Cunningham: Basically, he goes from being an outlaw to helping out the quote unquote second Massachusetts which is this militia. He ends up helping because he has knowledge of where to find certain things that will help in the fight. He ends up becoming a sort of reluctant ally.

He sounds a little like Spike from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, one of my all-time favorite characters.

Colin Cunningham: Well, I love the part. I really do because he’s unapologetic. He’s just shameless and that’s who he is. And yet he is helping out the good guys which is a good thing, but there’s also just a very selfish streak in him where if he could get the hell out of there, take the money and the food and run and be on his own, then he’d be happy to do that. But there is an arc and that’s what makes it neat. I think by the end of the series you definitely see a little bit more into this guy’s heart than his selfish motives, lets say.

TNT has released creepy photos of the aliens, the Skidders. Then there are soldier aliens called the Mechs, right?

Colin Cunningham: Right, yeah. Again, what’s really neat about it is that it’s nice to get back to the good old fashioned monsters again. The aliens are not humanoid. They’re not gorgeous, blonde haired, blue eyed women with boobs and spandex pants. They’re actually incredibly alien, insecty, funky looking – ugly things. There’s even dialogue when you’re trying to understand what’s going on; here the aliens have six legs, and yet, the Mechs are bipedal. Well, why? If you’re going to make a robot usually you’ll make something that’s similar to how the inventor looks. So, why even have these things? There’s a lot of really interesting stuff as to what these things are and why do they have these sentinels that are obviously robots, incredibly dangerous things. It’s cool. I get caught up in it all because I’ve seen a good portion of the stuff. It’s really good.

I like it when actors genuinely enjoy what they’ve done –

Colin Cunningham: I really do. Obviously, I’m really close to it, but it is cool. It’s different. It’s not your same old, generic, run of the mill, cookie cutter kind of TV show. So often we’d show up on set and they’ve literally locked down two miles of freeway and there are buses that have been flipped over and there are semis on fire and there’s cars smashed into each other and there’s rubble as far as the eye can see. You’re thinking, ‘This is no TV show.’ This is not a TV show that anyone is used to working on where you walk onto the set and it’s the cop headquarters and there’s the chief of police office, like, ‘You guys aren’t doing it by the book and if you do it one more time I’m going to suspend you,’ and all the typical things or procedural at the hospital, whatever the hell the show is.

There really was no set. We were on location constantly and the set deck. You show up and there’s a hundred extras and they’re all in military outfits and they’ve all got weapons and then you’ve got another fifty, sixty extras that are in civilian clothes that are cooking by campfires and tents and everybody is dirty. It’s just like, ‘Wow. This is not two people sitting on a couch.’

I was sold when I heard Spielberg. It sounds amazing.

Colin Cunningham: It really is. I don’t want to oversell it or anything. There’s nothing worse than that, but it’s really nice to show up and see stuff. I think they really put the money up on the screen.

What was the most challenging part of the shoot?

Colin Cunningham: Well, logistically, you’d show up and you’d have a scene, again, with a hundred and fifty people and you’ve got motorcycles and you’ve got military transport vehicles and you’ve got jeeps and you’ve got fifty caliber weapons, all this coordinating with side arms and wardrobe and makeup and burning trash cans. Then you’re like, ‘Well, here’s the scene, the shot.’ You have to coordinate all of that stuff. The scene that you and I have, ‘What time are we moving out?’ ‘We’re moving out at six o’clock,’ and that’s the end of the scene. That’s the dialogue that you and I have, but there’s a hundred fifty people in the background that all have to coordinate and move and go at the same time and look like there’s a war going on.

Those two lines of dialogue take twelve hours because you’ve got to coordinate all the trucks. ‘You moved at the wrong time. You blocked the guy.’ It’s just like, ‘Holy moley.’ It’s incredibly challenging, I think, more so for the crew than the actors, but then again, for actors as well, by the time that you’ve worked it all out you’ve got one shot at it. Everybody else got all day to work on that and now it’s time for you to say your lines and you get one pop and then we have to go to lunch because we’re in penalty.

Was there a John Pope moment or scene that made you think he was a really special or different kind of character?

Colin Cunningham: I’m kind of blanking out. I’m thinking that a number of times. Number one is when you first read it and you’re like, ‘No way it’s this cool. They’re going to cut this to pieces. There’s no way this can be this much fun. No way.’ But again I think that was the intelligence of the show because of Noah [Wyle], who’s a brilliant actor and he’s an amazing key to have on set since he’s such a pro, but the nice thing is that it’s very ensemble. It definitely centers around the Tom Mason character, but it’s not your typical show as in it’s going to be Noah as the only guy in it. They really do break it up and they make it about the show. Again, yeah, here’s the actors, here’s the leads of the show, but the overall is also the star of the show, just the story and the where we are and that stuff. That’s boring to listen to. It wasn’t so much, ‘Wow, this character is cool,’ as much as it was, ‘Boy, am I grateful that I get the chance to do it.’

I’m assuming the end of the season is left open ended?

Colin Cunningham: Yeah, absolutely.

What do you want audiences to be thinking at the end of the season, the end of the last episode?

Colin Cunningham: It’s weird. Not to draw any crazy metaphors, but the world is a dark place and it’s becoming all the darker everyday and because of the media everything comes immediately. Just the news today is more visceral than it’s ever been. You’re not reading about something weeks or days or even hours after it’s happened. It’s happening instantly. So, the world is a dark place.

If anything, as a metaphor, ‘Falling Skies’ is also a very dark place. It’s after the worst possible, and yet, there’s still moments and there’s still hope and there’s still these little glimmers of humanity. As ugly as humanity can get and as ugly as your circumstance can get there’s always a spark. There’s always an act of kindness. There’s always someone to just say, ‘Things can’t possibly get worse and we may only have seconds to live, but lets hold hands.’ At the same time, you’ve got two hands holding, but you’re firing weapons with each other and we’re not giving up either. What it does at the end of the day, I think, is to reinforce what’s important and that’s those that love and the people that you love.

Falling Skies has a special two-hour premiere on TNT Sunday, June 19 at 9pm eastern/8 central before moving into its regular Sunday 10pm eastern/9 central timeslot on June 26.

You can read all our Falling Skies coverage here.