Connor Jessup On 'Falling Sky,' Working With Steven Spielberg
Connor Jessup, the young star of Steven Spielberg's new cult hit TV show, Falling Skies, a sci-fi drama on TNT about a world six months post-alien invasion, still has a hard time believing his luck. “I still remember one of the best moments of my life up until then was an email I got that said, ‘Steven loved your audition and wanted you in the pilot’,” Conner Jessup told Uinterview exclusively. “And that was like the holy grail.”
Jessup, who was born and raised in Toronto, landed his first real acting role on the Discovery Kids Channel TV series The Saddle Club. While Jessup was not present for most of the early filming of the first season of Falling Skies, he didn’t miss out on all the fun. Jessup admits that he's a lot like his character, Ben Mason, “bookish” and “heady,” and thankful for his experience working with his on-screen father, Noah Wyle of ER.
Well, it was like any other audition. It was the fall of 2009 and the audition came across my computer. At that time, it was called "The Untitled Steven Spielberg Alien Invasion Pilot," which is very long-winded, but all the other words were gibberish to me. All I saw was Steven Spielberg. It's rare to get an audition with someone who has that pedigree attached to them, especially in TV. I am a big fan of Spielberg and have been for a long time so that immediately raised the importance of the audition in my eyes. That was fall of 2009 and I did the audition and got cast in the pilot. I still remember one of the best moments of my life up until then was an email I got that said, "Steven loved your audition and wants you in the pilot" and that was like the holy grail. Anyways, I got the pilot, waited six months, and I found out the show got picked up.
I wasn't so heavily in the first episodes. I was away the first week of shooting, so I came a quarter of the way in, which was interesting. By the time I got there, people had already formed relationships and the set had got running at a nice pace, which was nice because it allowed me to come in at a good time that wasn't crazy. What's interesting and cool about playing my character is that I didn't have to go through the exposition of who my character is — how he gets there, what his back story is, because pretty much for the first four episodes of the show everyone else is talking about that and through their conversations they kind of establish my character and what happened to him. So when I come into the show, a lot of my job is already done for me, people already know who I am, what my relationships are, what happened to me and my back story. So I kind of got to come in as a character that was already developed which was really cool because it gave me a lot of ground work.
I think that the scripts are developing as it goes along. I'm sure there are parts of my back story that I don't know about yet. When you're playing a character that has been through so much you kind of create fictional histories for yourself or histories that motivate different actions or different lines. So I definitely have ideas of where my character came from, what he was like beforehand and how that changes. But I probably wouldn't want to say anything because for all I know they could have flash backs from the future. I think that it's interesting because the things that have been mentioned, like my brother Hal and I were at each other's throats a lot and arguing, and the fact that out of all of Tom Mason's kids I'm probably the most like him, kind of bookish and heady and just things like that I think are really interesting. They give a really good launching point for the rest of my character and hopefully provide potential for interesting development later in the series.
I am. What I think is interesting about Ben is that I'm naturally a bookish person, I'm introverted, very heady, pretty much like Ben was before the invasion. I'm uncoordinated and not very athletic, but what I think is interesting about Ben, how I got into him and approached him, was to say, "How would I be if right now I was kidnapped for six months by aliens and brainwashed and all these things?" So I kind of look at Ben as me plus six months of absolute torment, which is kind of an interesting way to look at it. As an actor, you want to get into your character, whatever that might be, and I found the elements in him that were like me. Then I look at myself and how I would respond to what Ben went through. I think the fact that I am similar to what Ben was like before helped me.
When I went into shooting, I was expecting endless green screens, classic digital effects, but I was surprised and impressed actually at how much was real. They built a full animatronic alien a guy would wear as a suit and they could control the eyes and the mandibles and that alien is actually the one you see in a lot of the sequences that are one-on-one. So like when Hal fights the aliens, the alien that was in the cage at the school was pretty much a practical effect which made it much easier for the actors to act and react to this creature because they actually had something to act to rather than just like a tennis ball at the end of a stick. But at the same time what really impressed me was how they integrated practical effects like that with CGI. So a lot of the stuff you see like the upper body will be the puppet or animatronic skidder and the legs will be animated. I was definitely impressed with how much easier it was to act with special effects than I thought it would be. I've never really done anything with this level of visual effects before. It's definitely a learning experience. It also makes me look at things like the new Harry Potter movie and other special effects in new ways because it's impressive how much man power goes into all of that. Seemingly simple effects, it's pretty crazy.
He is the executive producer of the show and he was very involved in the pilot and getting the series off the ground, heavily involved in editing scripts and creature design, heavily involved in the casting process, special effects design process. He gave notes on every script. I've heard that he even cut a few of the trailers together himself. So it really was a big project of his but when we were actually filming the bulk of the series he was filming his own directorial effort War Horse, so he was preoccupied. But there was never a day that you didn't feel like this was a Steven Spielberg production. I think it's part of the reason why he's so successful, if people could do as much stuff as he does, like it's crazy how much stuff he does. He manages to make every production he's involved with unique and provides a guiding hand to everything. It's a very nice thing to know you have this sci-fi cinematic guru on your side throughout the entire process.
I think that I do believe there are aliens. With the number of stars in our galaxy and the number of galaxies in our universe, I think its kind of inconceivable if there isn't some form of life out there. Who knows what form it would take — if it would be intelligent or not, or would it be recognizable, but I'm sure there is life out there. The chance that we'll ever run into them or encounter other intelligent life is probably really slim, so I'm not holding my breath for this encounter.
I just started filming an indie film called Bye Bye Blackbird that is about a troubled, confused teenaged boy who gets falsely accused of planning a school massacre and how his life changes after that and how this one false accusation changes everything for him. It's realistic and kind of gritty. It was really fun. It's the first thing I've ever done where I was the main lead, so I now have new respect for people like Noah Wyle who carry an entire series for months. It's hard work and it wasn't even an action movie, so I can't imagine how tiring and difficult it was for people like Noah who have to do action scenes day after day. I definitely have a new-found respect.