By Curt Wagner
9:43 PM CDT, June 14, 2012
As Connor Jessup explains it, he didn't see much action in the first season of TNT's alien invasion drama "Falling Skies." Not that the 17-year-old is complaining.
"I was more than happy last season," said Jessup, whose character Ben Mason spent half of the season in a "zombie haze" after being captured by alien "skitters." "I know it kind of sounds trite, but I was really just happy to be in the company of my coworkers ... And I was more than exhilarated just to go back and do the exact same thing this season."
Jessup was given a whole lot more to do in the new season, which launches at 8 p.m. Sunday with a two-hour premiere. Season 2 picks up three months after the cliffhanger ending that saw Ben's father, resistance leader Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), enter an alien spaceship to learn more about the creatures that have attacked Earth and are enslaving humanity's children.
Tom hasn’t been heard from since he went aboard the vessel, and 15-year-old Ben has joined his older brother, Hal (Drew Roy), as a resistance fighter. Ben still feels the affects of the control harness that the aliens attached to his back. It was removed, but the freaky spikes that fused it to his spine remain and are changing him—which makes him angry, resentful, and too much for Hal to handle alone.
“He’s afraid of what he’s turning into,” Jessup said. “He’s afraid of what it’ll mean for him and the people he loves. He’s just afraid, and that fear is manifesting into kind of an excessive anger toward the aliens—kind of an all-consuming rage.”
That rage triggers a more dramatic and action-packed journey for Ben than in the freshman season. New show runner Remi Aubuchon said he liked Jessup’s take on Ben, and had several discussions with the relatively inexperienced actor about beefing up his role.
“He’s a smart kid. We felt pretty confident that he could handle what we’re going to give him,” Aubuchon said in a separate interview. “Ben is a very different character than we left him in the first season ... Connor, I think, just does a tremendous job.”
Jessup, who chatted from his hometown of Toronto during a study break—he's catching up so he can graduate from high school June 22, the day before his 18th birthday—is grateful for the chance to break out of his acting comfort zone.
The self-professed nerd when it comes to Japanese anime had to deliver a much more physical performance this season. With Ben's harness-induced, seemingly super-human new abilities, he leaps from buildings, takes down skitters and pummels his big brother. Jessup enjoyed the character's new physicality, with a caveat.
"I enjoyed it," he said, laughing. "But was I good at it? Anyone who knows me even slightly well will tell you that I'm kind of graceless. When I play soccer in gym class I tend to kick the ground and not the ball."
"Last year it was kind of a running joke that every episode they would give me something more to do," he continued. "First it was sprinting, then it was pushups, then it was skipping. They kept adding these physical elements. This year they took the joke to a whole other level. ... Physical acting is very different from like talking to someone across the table because you have to focus on what you're doing with your body while also maintaining your character, which is amazingly hard I found.
"I've learned a newfound respect for Noah and Will [Patton] and Colin [Cunningham] and Drew and all these people who do it constantly."
Jessup talked more about Ben, the new season, his favorite anime and how at 15, he became a movie producer. Read the Q&A after this clip of the first 3 minutes of "The Falling Skies" Season 2 premiere.
I’m loving Ben’s story for Season 2. Tell me about his journey since the first season.
Ben wasn’t rescued until halfway through Season 1. So most of the first season he was gone or he was just trying to kind of reacclimatize himself to life with his family and trying to understand how to come to grips in a very surface way with what had happened to him. He’s trying to understand the initial impact of being harnessed.
There's a three-month time gap between the first and second season and a lot has gone down in those three months. His dad’s been missing; he’s presumed dead. There have been some pretty hard battles. A lot of people we know have died. The 2nd Mass. has really been thinned out. And I think that changes people, especially young people, which I think is one of the more interesting [parts of the series].
I think it really does have a sort of traumatic effect on Ben, especially. Because throughout this entire process of losing people, and thinking your father’s gone and your only family being your brothers, you also have the problem of these kind of accelerating changes that are happening to him. His spikes are getting worse. He’s kind of developed, I wouldn’t call them superpowers, but they are definitely super-human powers. He gets like increased strength, he can jump out of windows, he can run faster...
He’s now using these skills to fight aliens, which is the main change over Season 1. ... This single-mindedness has put him at odds with Hal. He’s being stubborn, not following orders and that makes it tough for everyone.
What I like about Ben this season is he’s never static and a lot happens to him. He has to deal with a lot and it actually changes him, which as an actor is always fun to do.
I talked to Remi the other day. He said his favorite part of the new season was the evolution of Ben’s character. Did you guys work a lot together and discuss a lot of nuances for Ben?
I think Remi’s great; I love Remi. I think I got really lucky with the new season because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. My character in a way became a focal point of the primary plot of the season, of the A story. And obviously, it’s an amazing experience because you get a lot of character development. You can put a lot of nuance, like you said, into the character. I’m kind of obsessed with the nuances of the character.
So to have Remi there, who is also interested and always willing to talk, is great. Because I wanted to make sure this character didn’t come across as too angsty, or too aggressive, or too one-sided, or too one-note. ... Now I’m as big a fan of angsty characters as anyone. I’m an anime fan; you can’t be an anime fan and not like angst. But the important thing is to try and regulate it and make it nuanced.
And Remi was really great at that. Actually, everyone was really great, all the other actors, Greg Beeman, who is one of our executive producers, and Remi, who’s our show runner. They were all great at kind of giving ideas and at incorporating my ideas, at answering some questions I might have had about the character or intentions or where we were going. They were really good at giving me stuff to work off of. They were really responsive, which is always super appreciated as an actor.
Were you surprised by the scripts for Season 2 seeing that you were suddenly front and center?
Yeah, it really was more surprising than last season. ... I wasn’t on last season nearly as much as I am this season, but I learned a lot. Last season, like I said, I was at the school mostly; I was a civilian and I was held back and all my scenes really were dialogue scenes with my family members.
That was really what my part consisted of last year. So to be able to be given the opportunity this year to participate in action sequences, to interact with actors like Colin Cunningham and Will Patton and a whole bunch of other people that I never really worked with last year in situations that I never experienced, was an amazing learning experience. And everyone was really great at kind of helping me. I’m a young member of the cast and I’m relatively inexperienced. I think even Maxim Knight, who’s much younger than me, has more experience than I do.
Everyone was really helpful at kind of guiding me and giving me advice and pointing me in the right direction when I faltered. So I never felt overwhelmed by it, but I definitely felt thankful for it. Who knows if we’ll continue into next season, but I’m just happy that I got this chance because it was a lot of fun working on the thing.
And Ben has a, you know, I don’t want to do a spoiler here, but…
Spoilers are the hardest thing!
We got little hints in the first season about the spikes and that they are still linking Ben to the aliens. Is that going to play big later in the season?
Yeah, yeah. Not just the spikes—the spikes are obviously the most outward example of it—but all the changes are the results of what the aliens have done to me—and they will be a major element of my story as the season goes on. And it will have major impacts on the story and it will continue to develop. ... There are unexpected twists and turns and things that I never imagined would happen.
Do you mean like last season, when we found out more about the skitters?
That was one of the biggest surprises for me when I read the scripts for Episode 7 or 8, I think it was, they open the skitter and they find the harness for the skitter. That kind of element is going to be explored more as well, both independent of my character and in relation to my character. And other characters come in which kind of augment that storyline and it’s interesting.
You talked about the clashes between Ben and Hal. What was it like changing that dynamic opposite Drew Roy now that the brothers aren’t getting along?
Drew and I hate each other! No, Drew is amazing. I’d done a little bit with Drew last season; not a lot. And this season one of the main elements of his character and my character is this kind of newfound tension, which results from Tom going missing and Hal kind of stepping up to the plate as kind of the parental character in the family.
We kind of joke that everyone took a step up because Tom went away and Hal kind of took over Tom’s role and I kind of took over Hal’s role. Hal last season was the bull-headed, stubborn one who would ignore orders and who just wanted to kill those aliens. And now that’s me and he’s become the responsible one. And so that’s kind of where the tension comes from.
I really love playing scenes with Drew. Some of my favorite scenes in the entire season were the ones I had with Drew because he’s such a nice guy and good actor. And he’s really, really giving as an actor in terms of like he’s up for anything. He has great ideas and he’s not much older than me—he’s like 25 and I’m almost 18—so he really has this sort of half-friend, half-older brother kind of relationship going with me in that he’s very relaxed but also very helpful.
So it’s really fun working with Drew. If you know him at all, you know that he’s like—he’s a southern guy. He’s laid back, he’s easy to work with. There’s no tension in scenes with Drew. It’s just easy work, and by easy work I don’t mean like the scenes are easy, I mean he’s easy to work with, which is always super-appreciated.
Were you surprised by things in this season’s scripts?
Yeah, in almost every episode pretty much. There are some mysteries surrounding me in terms of like where I’m going. There are mysteries surrounding various other characters who pop up along the way. There are mysteries about origins of aliens that I really can’t talk about freely. ... And there’s a whole new element, I can’t talk about it freely, but there’s a whole new element that’s added this season in terms of the aliens that I just totally didn’t see coming. ... You find out about it I think about Episode 5 or 6. Again, I can’t talk about it at all, but it’s really interesting and adds a whole new dimension to everything.
You’re 17, almost 18, and getting ready to graduate high school. How is it you’ve also already executive produced a movie?
[Laughs.] Over the last two years I produced a new movie called “Amy George” which played at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Rome Film Festival, among others. It was kind of a micro-budget, like a $15,000 movie, and I kind of met these filmmakers through acquaintances and they were really cool, young inventive people with like fresh ideas, very artistic people. And I read a script of theirs that they were trying to give me and it was just phenomenal.
It’s this character-driven piece about this 13-year-old boy from like a comfortable, sort of liberal family. And he feels like he wants to be an artist, but he feels like there’s not enough conflict in his life for him to be an artist. He reads all these books by like these Spanish painters and feels you need suffering to make a true artist. So he kind of sets off on this journey to find suffering, to find women; he sets off on this like romantic journey. Anyone who’s kind of raised in a middle-class family and who kind of has artistic inspirations I think will appreciate it.
It was a fun experience. I produced it when I was 15 and learned so much during it. I produced it and I was also the camera assistant and, you know, I set up stands for the lights. I did like 10 jobs in one, and it was intensive and it was amazing. ... It’s going to be on iTunes soon. It was a very fun experience.
So how does a 15-year-old kid get involved with that? You just meet these people and say, “Hey, how can I help?”
Pretty much. It was totally selfish on my part in that I wanted—I’ve always loved movies, but I really started getting into movies when I was about 13, like I really started to appreciate movies. And I watched a lot of them, way too many movies. Obviously I didn’t act then but I was interested in making movies. And I knew these guys through a camp I had gone to and they were kind of distant friends of mine. And I read this script of theirs and I just was overcome with this sudden urge to help in any way I could.
And I was fortunate; not everyone could have done what I did. It was just that I was fortunate enough, because of my acting, to have a little bit of money floating around so I helped fund the movie, which is why I’m executive producer. But yeah, I wanted to get involved in any way I could and I said so, and I contributed, and that was it pretty much. And now they’ve just finished shooting their second feature film, which is really great. This was kind of my introduction to behind-the-camera life that I’ve been so fascinated by.
You’ve also written some things and you’ve done a few shows. You’re building a pretty impressive resume for somebody who claims to be inexperienced.
Well, acting-wise I’m not as experienced as most people in the show. My love of acting is primarily inspired by my love of film rather than the other way around. And so I’m just fascinated by movies. And I’m fascinated by writing as well and I enjoy it immensely and so I’ve done a few short films. I’ve done a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But, you know, that’s ultimately what I want to do and that’s ultimately what I want is my aspiration is to make movies.
Did you get started acting in local Toronto theater or did you just say, “Hey mom, this would be cool. Take me to auditions.”
A bit of both. Like I started acting like in the most loose sense of the term when I was 3 or 4. I was always very theatrical. I would watch like the “Wizard of Oz” a hundred times over and over, and then I’d put on little like plays for my family and little shows. And surprisingly, I had the witch’s cackle from the “Wizard of Oz” down like solid, so that was kind of probably my first achievement as an actor. [Laughs.]
So my parents put me in a few youth theater groups. Youth theater groups when you’re 5 are like running around shouting, so it didn’t really appeal to me that much. When I was about 10 or 11, I started joining these film camps and film groups, and there were some people there who had agents and were auditioning for commercials. They really thought they were cool. They were like, “I’m going up for the KFC commercial, isn’t that cool?”
So I was like, “Yeah, that’s really neat.” So I convinced my parents to help me look for an agent. And so when I was 11, I got an agent and I’ve been doing it since.
Do you want to tell me about your film, “Blackbird?”
Sure. “Blackbird” is a Canadian indie movie that we started last May and it’s just kind of gearing up now in terms of its release. It’s about this boy who has been confused—I seem to be attracted to confused, vulnerable characters—his identity is kind of up in the air. He’s kind of Goth and basically, he’s a teenager who’s kind of lost but he’s generally a good kid. Because of his physical persona, he kind of gets accused of planning this Columbine-esk crime. He gets sent to a youth penitentiary. And basically, the movie is about dealing with his experiences with that and how he changes; and how he comes to understand himself, the people around him, his father, his mother, the people he meets in juvie. And it’s really kind of a Goth coming-of-age story but in the context of this kind of wayward youth who gets sent to prison.
What’s your favorite anime right now?
My favorite anime right now? Of all time, my favorite anime is “Death Note” because that show just rocks my socks every time I watch it. Although you kind of opened up Pandora’s Box, but I’m an unabashed nerd in terms of I like everything. I’m really into like comics and sci-fi and I really couldn’t be on a better TV show than where I am. But I’m into animation and comics, like going to Comic Con for this show would be my dream, so who knows? So “Death Note.” I really like “Code Geass.” I really like “Naruto.” There’s a whole bunch of things I like.
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