The ambitious new sci-fi series Terra Nova (premiering on Fox on September 26th) is an epic family adventure 85 million years in the making. Following an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth, the Shannon family joins the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to the first colony established in this beautiful yet treacherous land. With the planet overdeveloped and overcrowded, and the majority of plant and animal life extinct, the future of mankind is in doubt, so Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) takes his wife and three kids in search of new opportunities and fresh beginnings. Once there, the Shannons come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind and, along with the very real danger of man-eating dinosaurs, they realize that there are forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.
During a recent interview to promote the Steven Spielberg-produced series, actor Jason O’Mara talked about this scary vision of the future, the challenges of working with so much green screen, how the show will answer many of the questions it poses, and how much fun he has doing action scenes. He also talked about his role opposite Katherine Heigl in One for the Money, due out in 2012. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What do you think people will take away from the message aspect of this show?
JASON O’MARA: This is a scary, scary vision of the future. This future is what happens, if we don’t do anything about it now. It’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s not impossible. This show points it out and says that this is a possible future for us, unless we do something now.
Were you excited to get back into the time-travel business?
O’MARA: Well, I called my family, saying, “Guess what? I got a new show. It’s about a cop who travels in time.” And they said, “I think we’ve seen that one.” I was aware of the similarities when I read the script, but the differences are so overwhelming that I can’t really compare the two. Even from a character point of view, Sam Tyler was lost and desperate to get back home, whereas Jim Shannon is hungry to get he and his family here and then take care of them. Sam Tyler’s challenges were internal, and Jim’s are external. His challenges are to do with getting on with the day-to-day in Terra Nova and trying to get past some of this wildlife. It can be a little tricky, from time to time, just trying to stay alive.
How often are you working with a green screen and how often are you reacting to nothing at all?
O’MARA: People don’t understand that green screen is only for when there’s something behind me, that’s approaching me, or if I’m turning around. But, if a dinosaur comes around and starts sniffing my leg, there’s no green screen. It’s all in my imagination. Each shot is different.
H ow difficult is that for you?
O’MARA: Well, it’s not easy. It requires a very specific concentration, and you have to get your imagination firing on all cylinders to see that thing in front of you, breathing on you and know that it has a very distinct smell. I’ve seen concept art of our dinosaurs and some of the raptors are like wild coyotes. They’re mangy and a little crazed, almost like they’re really, really hungry, or they’re methadone-addicts. Our dinosaurs have a lot of personality, and they’re extra vicious.
How much modern stuff do you take with you and how much is going to be primitive?
O’MARA: We take quite a lot of modern stuff with us, but everything that we don’t bring, we have to make, so that stuff is primitive. The good news is that we have naturally occurring products again, like leather, wood and cotton, that we don’t have in the future.
Can the people in the past communicate with the people in the future?
O’MARA: That’s an intrinsic part of our mythology. You’ll have to see the series. There’s no question we ask that is not dealt with directly in the story, either in an episode or an arc of episodes.
What’s it like to work with Steven Lang? What kind of dynamic does he bring?
O’MARA: He’s very intense and very focused, and he’s extremely committed to every scene he plays. I try to keep up with him, and try to be as committed and dedicated as he is. He’s extremely professional. He’s been in the business a long time, and he is highly committed to this project, as I am. It’s our responsibility to give this series some weight and make it feel real to people, and we both take it very seriously. We both stay very physically fit. We want to be the kind of people who could undertake surviving in this hostile environment. He’s a lot of fun to be with.
What do you think about the comparisons to Lost?
O’MARA: Well, we don’t have any polar bears on tropical islands, and all of our questions are answered. We never leave a question hanging.
How involved is Steven Spielberg with this series?
O’MARA: There have been a couple of occasions, where we were playing a scene and Jon Cassar said, “Actually, we are going to do it this way,” and I stupidly asked, “Why?,” and he said, “Well, that’s what Mr. Spielberg wants.” So, his presence is felt, both on the set and in the finished product, too.
Is it fun to do all the action in this?
O’MARA: It’s a lot of fun. I love doing it. I’ve spent three hours hanging upside down while fighting off dinosaur attacks. That was a lot of fun.
Was it hard to move to Australia?
O’MARA: It was very hard, yeah. It’s been two months, and it’s been hard.
Is it frustrating for you, as an actor, to film something that takes so long to come out?
O’MARA: Oh, it doesn’t take long, compared to a movie. I made a movie with Katherine Heigl last August, called One for the Money, and that’s not coming out until January, so this is nothing. That kind of gestation is quite normal for a movie, and this kind of gestation is quite normal for a very ambitious TV project.
Who do you play in that film?
O’MARA: Joe Morelli. He’s a cop. I shot that before the Terra Nova pilot.
Do you capture the humor of the book?
O’MARA: I hope so! You’ll have to wait and see. It’s coming out on January 27th.