With Season 2 of the epic TNT drama series Falling Skies continuing its extraordinary story about life and survival in the wake of an alien invasion, former history professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is trying to regain his footing after returning home from one of the alien ships while unpredictable troublemaker John Pope (Colin Cunningham) is now the leader of a ragtag group of fighters called the Berserkers. Essentially, everyone just has the same goal of just trying to survive and deal with a world at war, and discover their place in it, no matter their methods of finding it. The show also stars Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Drew Roy, Maxim Knight, Connor Jessup and Sarah Carter.
At a press day for the TV show, actor Colin Cunningham spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about who his character is now and where his loyalty lies, the fun of getting to be the antagonist, what’s most surprised him about Pope in two seasons, how different the dynamic is between Pope and Tom Mason this season, how amazing the genre fans have been, that he loves the level of imagination that comes with doing the green screen work, and what he’d like to see from Pope, if he gets to return for Season 3. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How do you feel about where Pope is now, as a character, from who he was when you first signed on to play him?
COLIN CUNNINGHAM: Season 1 was about meeting these people. The second season is not about establishing that anymore, but being in the field and fighting. The great thing about Pope was that, when I first saw just the breakdown for the audition, it didn’t really describe him. It just said, “He’s a bad guy biker.” So, it was my idea to go out and get the hair going and grow out the beard and put tattoos all over my neck and arms. I thought, “Well, I’ll get it or I won’t get it, but this is what I’m going for.” But, I never had any intention or expectation that he’d be cool or fun or funny. I just thought, “This guy is a proper son of a bitch, but he has great enthusiasm.” He’s very enthusiastic about killing these things. He’s very enthusiastic about being the renegade. He’s jaded and bitter, and yet there’s still a quality about him that’s darkly optimistic.
Do you feel that he has any loyalty to anyone, other than himself?
CUNNINGHAM: I think he despises any kind of loyalty that he has in him. Of course he does, but logically he knows it’s a pain in the ass and that the odds are it will get him killed. I don’t know. I see him as a guy who won’t allow himself to be up nights, feeling guilty for anything. He just thinks, “You know what? To hell with everyone!” But, every now and again, that little bit of light cracks through.
Is it fun, being the antagonist?
CUNNINGHAM: It’s a blast! In a way, you get to cut through all the crap and just call things out and say things the way they are. You may be a jerk in doing it, but I think Pope is one of the few characters on the show that speaks the complete and total truth. It’s an interesting package that’s delivering the message, but that’s the way he is. He’s unencumbered by any compassion or sympathy for anything but his own skin, so he looks at things very practically, very rationally and very logically. He’s the first to say, “This is total bullshit!”
Do you enjoy getting to bring some of the humor, too?
CUNNINGHAM: I’ve never meant to do anything, Pope wise, that was funny. If anything, perhaps maybe what comes off funny is just that the guy is so incredibly what he is. I just try to play him as genuine as I can. He truly has these opinions. He can just cut through all the crap. Nobody is pointing at the elephant in the room, so Pope will say, “Yeah, he’s standing there, naked. The man’s got no pants on. What the hell are you talking about? Is everybody blind? Does everybody not see what’s going on?” It’s refreshing to play a character where you can do that. It’s great!
What did you think of the interactions between Pope and Tom Mason’s youngest son, Matt (Maxim Knight)?
CUNNINGHAM: I thought that was a fascinating storyline. Just the fact that they even went there was great. It was the lion and the lamb scenario. You’ve got a guy who’s incredibly dangerous and really out for himself, but at least for that time, in that episode, you had a kid who was looking up to him. I thought that dynamic was wonderful. I hope they play with that more. It’s a really, really neat thing. He was a little sympathetic to the kid ‘cause the kid hadn’t yet grown up to be an idiot, like the rest of the 2nd Mass, or at least that’s how Pope sees it. I would love to see that dynamic explored some more.
How do you think leading the Berserkers will affect Pope? Will it show viewers different sides to the character?
CUNNINGHAM: He’s their leader now, and we spend some time with them, but we’re never necessarily out fighting with the Berserkers. Within the Falling Skies world, sometimes the Berserkers come back from a scout of a fight, but that’s all you see of that. If anything, the great thing about Season 2 is not necessarily that the characters are any different, but they just have more to explore. There are definitely a few characters that begin one way, in Episode 1, and they end Episode 10 in a completely different way. But, at least with Pope, it’s an opportunity to do what he’s best at and keep that independent spirit alive in him. He has a great hatred for Skitters. He wants to kill them, no matter where, when or how he can.
Did all of the gun work come naturally for you?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes and no. It’s very easy holding a gun, pointing a gun and firing a gun. The tricky part most certainly is loading a gun, especially in the middle of a firefight and in the middle of lines. That’s when you know you’re working with a gun person. Anybody can pull a trigger and look kinda cool, but try loading it without looking like an idiot. That’s when you’ve gotta work a little bit harder at it. But fortunately, I grew up with BB guns and little .22s in my backyard, in the hills of Southern California, back when it was legal to have a BB gun. Now, they put you away in jail for a hate crime. So, I’m familiar around them and I’m comfortable with them. It’s a lot of fun! I don’t think Pope is the kind of guy who really expects to live any more than one more day. I think he wakes up every morning thinking, “All right, this is it.” And then, every night, he goes to bed thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually still here. This is shocking.” I think Pope’s ultimate goal is to die. He just wants to go out in a glory that he creates, instead of sitting around and waiting for these things to come and get him. But, I think he knows that he eventually will die and they will get him. He’ll just take out as many as he possibly can, before that day comes.
Is there anything that you’ve learned about the character, in two seasons, that’s most surprised you?
CUNNINGHAM: It’s weird ‘cause once you put on that hat and show up and take on that character – and I’m not necessarily a method guy – you start thinking like that character. When the scripts come in, it’s not necessarily a new script to break down, but a new reality to explore. And when you explore the reality, as John Pope, you begin to be surprised at the choices that he’s making and you begin to realize why he’s making them. It’s a weird personal actor thing. But, I’ll just say that it’s been a real delight, getting to know him. He really is a fascinating character, and it’s a blast to play. I look forward to every script that comes down the pike. All of us are really hungry for the next week’s episode.
There was a bit of a shock, between the first and second season. In the first season, that light that was in his heart was getting bigger and bigger. In the second season, they snuffed it out and I was like, “What?! I don’t understand!” And then, I realized, “To hell with that! Let’s bring that edge back and stick with the edge.” He’s not a bad guy, but he’s not a good guy, so let’s not pretend that he is. Let’s let him be what he is. I’ve embraced that. I think the direction that we’re able to get from this show, as actors, helps us. When we’re unsure, we’re guided to do certain things, and behave and act in certain ways ‘cause they see the bigger picture. Sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and then you realize that they really have your back, and they’re guiding you and molding the show. They see the bigger picture, and you show up and play your part.
How will the relationship between Pope and Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) continue to develop in Season 2?
CUNNINGHAM: In the first season, there was a mutual respect. I’ve often thought that both Pope and Tom probably went to the same elementary school and the same high school, and they would have become the same guy, but Pope chose a different path. They’re both incredibly intelligent and they’re both very educated, so there was that mutual respect. I don’t think Pope liked Tom, but he respected Tom. Whereas in Season 2, it’s no longer about Tom, in a personal way. It’s about having a loose nut who could bring down the whole 2nd Mass, including Pope. He spent three months on an alien ship, and Pope was not happy to see him. He felt like somebody should either kill him or banish him because that could only be bad. He doesn’t trust Tom for crap, and nobody in the 2nd Mass should. That’s the interesting dynamic that happens over Season 2.
Are you personally a genre fan?
CUNNINGHAM: Yes and no. I never think in terms of genre like, “Oh, I want to go out and see a great sci-fi flick, or a great Western.” I just want to see a good movie. Fortunately, good movies come in all sorts of genres. I don’t think, “I don’t want to see a good detective story, a good mystery, or a good thriller.” It’s just, “That looks good. Let’s go check it out.” Falling Skies is an interesting concept because you’ve essentially got human beings trying to do the right thing and retain their humanity in a situation where it’s just really, really difficult to do that. It could be a Western, it could be underwater, it could be in outer space, or it could be the invasion of the Nazis with the French resistence fighting back. You could put this story anywhere because it’s about the people. They made a choice to make it a sci-fi story ‘cause visually supports the storylines and they can do some cool stuff with it. That’s the genre they chose, but it’s just the wrapping of the box.
How have the genre fans been to you?
CUNNINGHAM: The fans are amazing! They really, really are. The one thing that I’m personally happy with is that, for the last 10 years, I’ve gotten, “Major Davis (from Stargate: Atlantis)!” With the advent of Falling Skies, it’s nice to finally put Major Davis to bed. John Pope has eaten Major Davis. Hopefully, with the success of Falling Skies, it will pick up a fan base that is equal, if not greater than, Stargate. I’m blessed and proud and privileged to have played two wonderful characters on television.
As an actor, do you enjoy the level of imagination that comes from playing scenes out against things that aren’t there?
CUNNINGHAM: Totally! If anything, it’s great. It’s hard to be a method actor, in a green screen. It’s pure imagination. You have to imagine these things happening, and it’s pure acting, like when a kid plays cowboys and Indians, or whatever it is. You just completely and totally embrace it. You imagine it, and you live for that little moment. It’s really cool!
What was your reaction, when you first saw what the aliens would look like?
CUNNINGHAM: Oh, my god! What’s great about Falling Skies is that you show up on set and the set is a half a mile long and a half a mile wide, and there’s fires everywhere and trucks that are tipped over and there are 300 extras in soup lines. It leaves little to the imagination. It is what you’re seeing. You can literally smell the food that’s being cooked and you can see what’s going on. It’s not like you have to imagine too much. That just makes it an incredible experience because you’re there. You’re not pretending to be cold. You’re not pretending that it’s dark and that the wind is blowing and that you’re hungry. You’re not pretending that it’s four or five in the morning because it is four or five in the morning and you’re tired as hell, and you’re just trying to get through the day. It ends up how it looks on screen, which is neat. And it’s so nice to have an alien show where the aliens aren’t blonde-haired and blue-eyed with double DD’s, running around in little skimpy shorts. These things are aliens. They look ugly as crap, and they’re greasy and grimey and deadly, and they’re frightening looking. That’s a cool thing! We’re all incredibly blessed with TNT and DreamWorks. To have Steven Spielberg on a resume is certainly beyond my wildest imagination. I’m just really, really happy to be here.
As the character that was initially introduced as the villain, was there a point when you realized he’d become a fan favorite character?
CUNNINGHAM: If I thought it, I instantly stopped myself from thinking it because it’s not up to me. I have no control over that. The only thing I attempt to control is the work that I do. I work as hard as I can. The rest is about letting the chips fall where they may. I can’t control whether I ever come back on the show or not. I have no idea what will happen, or if they’ll bring me back for the third season, or what the audience reaction is going to be. I just do my best and the rest is gravy.
Is there anything you’d like to see happen with Pope, if you do get to come back for Season 3? Is there a part of him you’d like to explore further?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, I would like to see a 3rd Massachusetts that is run by Pope, and that is at complete and total odds with the 2nd Massachusetts. We’d have two completely different ways of fighting these aliens, and he’s not afraid to even fight the 2nd Mass. I think that would be very interesting to see.
Falling Skies airs on Sunday nights on TNT.