From executive producer Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel, The Strain) and show creator Ryan Condal, the USA Network drama series Colony is set in the very near future and is centered on one family’s struggle to survive and bring liberty back to the people of an occupied Los Angeles. Former FBI agent Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) and his wife, Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), live in a dangerous world of divided ideologies, where some choose to collaborate with the occupation and benefit from the new order, and others rebel and suffer the consequences, and where every one of those choices can lead to life-and-death decisions.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Peter Jacobson (House, Ray Donovan) talked about playing an oftentimes questionable character like Proxy Snyder, who is the leader of the Transitional Authority in Los Angeles, not needing all of the answers, why Snyder jumped at the opportunity he was given by the Occupation, who he is without that power, what he really thinks of Will and Katie, and that he’ll happily go in whatever direction they continue to take his character in. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: This show has been very interesting, in that it’s really focused more on the colonization itself and not shown much of who or what the Occupiers actually are. Because those questions are still largely unanswered, did you ask those questions, or did you not want to know?
PETER JACOBSON: Every actor wants to know in different ways. Some like to know everything. Some don’t want to know anything. I think I land somewhere in the middle. If it’s character related or relationship related, than I tend to ask more questions. I want to know more about why I would be doing something here and now and what it means, in terms of why my character is doing it, where he’s going to be going in the next episode or two, and emotionally what the arc is going to be. But in terms of what’s going to actually happen to me in the story, down towards the end of the season, I’m dying to know, but I just don’t ask. If it’s something that I think will really affect how I play it and it’s information I need to know, than I’ll ask, for sure. Ryan [Condal] and Carlton [Cuse] are awesome. They tell us whatever we need to know. They’re great writers and artists, and they understand that we’re all working as a team. But, I was surprised at my lack of drive to pick their brains about what’s coming.
You’ve played a lot of different types of characters on a lot of different kinds of shows. What was the appeal of this character and this show, for you?
JACOBSON: First, it was such a good script. I don’t usually get to play somebody who is, at least, nominally in charge. I’m usually playing somebody’s lawyer or a doctor. I certainly have played a lot of strong characters, and I love playing a strong character, but this was unique for me. This guy is actually the governor of Los Angeles, and that’s new. Exactly the fact that I was surprised by it is what’s interesting about the character. I, personally, am not somebody who I think comes off as the guy in charge. You wouldn’t look at me and think, “This guy is running a government and he’s in charge of the city or a colony.” That’s not what I give off, and that’s what’s interesting about the character. I’m assuming that they were looking for somebody who did not naturally give that off, and my non-powerful energy is what makes it interesting. It’s not a typical governor or leader or bad guy, and that’s what drew me to it. I don’t think of Snyder just as a bad guy. I think he’s really complex. He thinks he’s a great guy, but clearly he does some really bad things and it’s a very icky situation that he’s in. He wields his power pretty mercilessly, at times. That, of course, is a blast to play. I never get to do that.
Proxy Snyder really seems like the type of guy who is the hero of his own story because he really believes he’s doing things to help people.
JACOBSON: And it’s a valid argument. It’s funny, I’m newly on Twitter and we live-chat the episodes and there’s a lot of back-and-forth. People really take sides. There are people who feel that his philosophy is absolutely the right one, and that it’s the best way to lift society and survive and help everybody through. And there are others who are vehemently opposed and who think that what Snyder is doing is terrible.
Snyder can be slimy at times, but he’s also somebody who’s not necessarily hard to feel some sympathy for.
JACOBSON: That’s what I ultimately love about him. Ryan and Carlton have given me somebody who is really human. We get to see those moments and, as an actor, that’s your bread and butter. You want to really be able to play that stuff.
Do you think some of that comes from the fact that Snyder knows what everybody is really up against, better than a lot of people do?
JACOBSON: I think so. He’s very, very adamant about that. From the beginning of the first episode, all the way through, he says, “I know what it’s going to be like, if you don’t do it my way.” He has more information than most, and he was wily enough to stay where he is and to get things done.
After the attempt on Snyder’s life, and then his position being threatened, you really start to realize that maybe this guy is not the worst option available.
JACOBSON: You’re right. That’s one of my favorite moments, with Katie in the Yonk, when he says, “I acknowledge that I’m not your pal, here, but I’m the best that you’ve got.” And he believes that’s true, to the marrow of his bones.
Because this guy has wrapped up so much of who he is in his title, without that, who is he? Does he even know who he is, if he’s not Proxy?
JACOBSON: I think he knows it, all too well. It hasn’t been too long that he’s been in the position that he’s in. Knowing so well who he is without it, and how close he could be to being without the title, that’s part of what drives him. I wouldn’t call him manic, but there’s a very intense energy that picks up for Snyder, after the Yonk and after that close call. He’s really scrambling to stay in charge, and that energy and intensity comes from knowing just how close he is to going right back to who he was, and maybe a lot worse. He’s put all of his eggs in his basket, by his own choice or not, so if he fails, it’s not going to be pretty for him.
In that moment in the Yonk, when Snyder is reminding Will and Katie that he can help them get their son, do you think he’s surprised that it’s Katie that snaps on him?
JACOBSON: From the very first time he met Katie in the first episode, he knew that she was the wild card. He knew that Will was the one he needed, and that Katie was probably going to be a problem. Obviously, he doesn’t suspect that she actually works for the other side, but he knows how tough she is and how smart she is. So, it’s not surprising to him that Katie is going to fight, in that moment, but the intensity with which she comes after him there, I think is pretty surprising.
Snyder is somebody who really uses other people’s vulnerabilities to get them to do what he wants, but can he really do what he leads them to believe that he can?
JACOBSON: That’s one of those things where I could have probably asked the writers, “How much power do I have here, and how much am I manipulating here?” I don’t think it would have affected the way I played it. There are so many conversations that I could have with Ryan about it because Snyder is somebody who seems to ride both sides of the fence, so often. As an actor, having that knowledge didn’t really matter because Snyder is committed, in the moment. It’s clear that he can make some difference and it’s clear that he has some restraint, and I just had to play that honestly. None of the writers came up and said, “You know what, Peter? We need to see that you’re hiding the fact that you actually do have more power.”
How do you think Snyder feels about the fact that the only loyalty he can get is when he offers people bribes that they can’t refuse? Is he okay with not actually being liked?
JACOBSON: In the intoxication of who he is, what he’s doing, what he’s up against and where he is, all of a sudden, it doesn’t bother him on the surface because he’s basically just doing what he’s doing and driving forward. But I think ultimately, it sucks. He’s got a family, and there’s pain around that. He’s a human being, and I think it hurts him deeply to know that he’s in this position.
After getting to know them a bit, how do you think he really feels about Will and Katie?
JACOBSON: It’s such a love-hate relationship. I think with Katie, he knows that emotions run even higher and deeper with her. He doesn’t know that she’s in the Resistance and has a motive for hating Snyder, but it’s a little cleaner with Katie. With Will, what I love playing is that they really need each other and they really do hate each other, in some ways, and yet there’s also this family thing that develops. They develop a shorthand with each other, and they bitch and moan to each other, and I really love that. They’re forced together and it’s an unlikely couple, but Snyder begins to feel family-ish with Will.
What do you think he thinks about the Occupiers that he has to answer to? Is he okay with the position he’s in because it’s benefitting him, or do you think, if he had enough guts, he would have secretly preferred to join up with the Resistance?
JACOBSON: I think that Snyder was not a resister. He was obviously flattered that they came to him. God knows what that situation must have been like. Everybody’s world was turned totally upside down. But I don’t imagine that they put a gun to his head and against his will, he was like, “Okay, I’ll take charge.” He’s a weak man, in a lot of ways. Given the opportunity he found himself shockingly given, he dove for it. I often get the question, “What would you do, if it was you?” I’d like to say that I’d be a hero and resist, like Katie, but I don’t know. I think I would do like Snyder did, which is probably do anything to stay alive and save his family. Is there weakness in that? I guess maybe there is. For Snyder, I think what makes him interesting is that, for a man with such power, you can sense that there’s a lot of weakness in there, and I like that about him. They grey zone is where most people would live. The show has the Resisters and the Collaborators, and it’s black and white because that’s where the drama lives. But really, most people would just get by. You’d probably hang your head low, stay quiet, and make sure you’ve got food on the table and that your kids are waking up the next day. Even for the heroes on the show, that’s still functioning for them.
Because there are still a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the season and there’s already a Season 2 pick-up, do you have a list of your own questions that you want answers for?
JACOBSON: There are a lot of things I want to know about, but they just started back in the writers’ room for Season 2, so the last thing they need is a phone call from me going, “What happens to me?” I’m going to keep quiet and see what unfolds for Season 2, and happily go in that direction.
Colony airs on Thursday nights on the USA Network.