Connor Jessup, the young star of TNT’s hit Steven Spielberg executive produced sci-fi series Falling Skies, took some time to talk to us about his role in the series as well as his new film, Amy George, which he served as executive producer.
In Falling Skies, Jessup plays Ben Mason, the son of Tom Mason (Noah Wyle). Ben was abducted by the aliens and taken as one of their slaves. During the first season, Tom tries to fight off the aliens and rescue his son at the same time.
Despite being only 17, Jessup has already worked in multiple fields in the film industry. They include acting, directing, writing and executive producing. Here is a transcript of the interview.
We Got This Covered: How did you get involved with working on Falling Skies?
Connor Jessup: I first auditioned for the show in the fall of 2009 for the pilot episode, when it was still called The Untitled Steven Spielberg Alien Invasion Pilot. That’s a mouthful. As you know, my character in the pilot is only in it for one scene. It’s just a walk-by. So I auditioned for the pilot. Six months had passed and I didn’t hear anything. Then I got a call saying that the show had been picked up and my character was heavily expanded. So because of that, they wanted to re-audition me. They wanted to make sure they made the right decision with their casting choice. So I re-auditioned a couple of times, which was stressful. Then I got in and here I am. It wasn’t that complex of a process, but it was stressful.
WGTC: Were you a fan of the sci-fi genre before joining the show?
Connor Jessup: Yeah, I’m a huge sci-fi fan and I always have been. Movies like Blade Runner, 2001, Star Wars, Close Encounters, E.T., movies like that have been a very good part of my adolescence. I’m a huge fan of sci-fi movies, comics, books, anything I can get my hands on. What I love about the genre, especially the alien aspect of sci-fi, is that it kind of addresses a very fundamental question that exists in our world. That is, “Are we alone? Is there other life out there? Is it possible that it could interact with us? If it does interact with us, is it possible that it could be hostile?” There are these big question marks that exist. I think because of that, these movies, books and TV shows that try to answer these question marks have created theses and possible ideas on what could happen. I think science fiction definitely arouses a lot of interest from people.
WGTC: You mentioned that you liked some of Spielberg’s films. How was it like to work with him on the show?
Connor Jessup: I’ve always been a fan of Spielberg. I’m a huge movie buff. He’s one of the greatest moviemakers. He kind of created a new Hollywood. Movies like E.T., Close Encounters, Schindler’s List and Empire of the Sun are some of my favorite movies. Obviously, getting to work with him was a dream come true. It was something I never expected to happen. I always thought it was out of my league. He was heavily involved in the project, mostly from afar. He was filming War Horse when we were filming the series. He wasn’t on the set very often. He was heavily involved in the concept design and the script editing. He was also very involved in the style of the show. He heavily dictated the mortuary, hand-held style, which is kind of reminiscent of Children of Men. There was never a day on the set when you didn’t feel like you weren’t on a Steven Spielberg film. So yeah, it was a crazy dream come true and I still can’t believe it.
WGTC: Now the aliens in the show, are they all CGI or are they animatronics with CGI attached?
Connor Jessup: It’s a bit of a mix. The mechs, the big armored ones, are all CGI. They were just a special effects guy holding a stick with a ball on the end. The skidders are a bit of both. We had a full-sized skidder puppet/suit. So someone would wear the body and maneuver the arms around and then there would be puppeteers moving the legs around. Then it would be augmented with CGI in post. The eyes would be slightly animated and the legs would be painted and all these things. A lot of the scenes where you see a one-on-one fight with the skidder, or one-on-one interaction with a skidder, that was the suit with a little bit of animatronics and CGI. Some of the longer shots, zooms or strenuous action is all CGI.
WGTC: How was it like working with Noah Wyle?
Connor Jessup: Noah is utterly fantastic. I can’t sing his praises highly enough. Not only is he obviously a really talented actor and a really experienced actor, but he’s also a really fun guy to work with. He’s a fun, nice, intelligent man in general. He’s really kind. He’s really selfless. He really cares about the project and not just his role in the project. He’s very much a team player in that way. You’re in a scene with him and he cares about the scene, not just how he comes off. For someone like me, who is relatively new to the business or at least not very experienced, to work with someone like him who is the exact opposite, there’s an endless number of things to learn. He’s the best I could think of to learn them from.
WGTC: What’s your favorite part about working on the show?
Connor Jessup: To be honest, the people. It’s kind of a cliched response for an actor to give, but that’s because it’s true. The best part about this project and most projects is getting to interact with the crew and the cast on a daily basis. They’re such talented, creative, intelligent and kind people. So to be able to be in this big kind of group with mostly like minded people, it makes the job the most fun. Also, Falling Skies has its unique benefits. It’s a high concept action show, so there’s always something exciting happening on the set that I have never seen before like a car getting flipped over or something getting blown up. There’s always something unique to see every day and something worth watching and something worth learning from. But I would definitely have to say the people are at the top of my list.
WGTC: The show has been picked up for a second season. Is there anything that you can tell the fans of the show?
Connor Jessup: Truthfully, we don’t start shooting until later in the fall. I haven’t read any of the scripts, personally. I could speculate, but my speculation at my point would be worth just as much as anyone else’s. It’s just hearsay at this point. I assume that when I do find some things out, they’ll want to keep some things under wraps, because that’s how shows like this maintain mystery and maintain trust. I know shows like Lost and Fringe are very much that way. They don’t want anyone spoiling anything. But I can say that I am confident that the writers will come up with something better than any of us could think of and all the cast and crew will do our best to make sure it lives up to everyone’s expectations.
WGTC: I’ll switch it over to Amy George. What is this movie about?
Connor Jessup: Amy George is an independent film about a 13-year-old boy who is highly unlikable. He’s very confused. He lives in kind of a lefty, middle class family. He’s normal. He’s a very average kid and he wants to be an artist. He feels that his life is too mundane and middle class to be an artist. He’s in a bit of an angsty state with his age, his parents and his friends. He’s starting to go through puberty. It’s really a coming-of-age story about this boy who wants desperately to be an artist, but feels that he’s not up to it.
WGTC: It made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Was it well received?
Connor Jessup: It was. I’m very happy with the way it turned out. The theater was packed and all the reviews have been positive so far. We’re just hoping to find a distributor.
WGTC: What’s it like to be an executive producer of a film?
Connor Jessup: It’s a completely different job, obviously. I was 15 at the time. It was an incredibly new and interesting experience. I really got involved with the project because I loved the script and I thought it would make an amazing movie. I also just wanted to learn. I have plans to make movies myself. I thought there was no better way to learn the process of moviemaking, especially the process of independent, guerilla moviemaking, that to work on a project like that. I kind of wove myself into the fabric of the project and I learned an incredible amount from it. Being behind the camera, in general, is a much different job. It’s rewarding in a different way than being an actor.
WGTC: How is it like to have all these skills, such as actor and executive producer, at such a young age?
Connor Jessup: I feel incredibly lucky, first of all. I feel very fortunate to learn from all these different aspects in the same business. I’m a big subscriber to the belief that in the film business, every position, every job informs every other job. If you have experience acting, you’ll be a better director. If you have experience directing, you’ll be a better actor. If you have experience producing, you’ll be a better director. You can never do too much or too many jobs in this business because everything you learn applies to everything else. I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to produce, write, direct and act. I feel that I’m much better off for it as a person and an actor, director and filmmaker. I just hope that it continues to go as it has.
That concludes our interview, but we would like to thank Connor for taking the time to sit down and talk to us. Season 2 of Falling Skies premieres in June of 2012. There is no word on when Season 1 will be available on DVD/Blu-ray.