‘Lost in Space': Mina Sundwall and Max Jenkins on Family Dynamics and Working with a Robot

     May 12, 2018

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The Netflix family adventure series Lost in Space, set 30 years in the future, follows the Robinson family – John (Toby Stephens), Maureen (Molly Parker), Judy (Taylor Russell), Penny (Mina Sundwall) and Will (Maxwell Jenkins) – as they try to make a life for themselves in a new and different world, after they must leave Earth behind. But when they find themselves off course, they must quickly learn to adapt, work together and form new alliances, if they’re going to survive in an environment with dangers around every corner.

At a recent Netflix press day held at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, co-stars Mina Sundwall (who plays the quick-witted and sarcastic middle child) and Max Jenkins (who plays the empathetic and curious youngest child) sat down with Collider to chat about what they like about the original series, what they love about Penny and Will Robinson, getting to explore the family dynamic, working with so many visual effects, the robot, the overwhelming reaction they’ve gotten to the show, what they’d still like to see for their characters, and how they’d fare on a strange new planet.

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Image via Netflix

Collider: How exciting has it been for you guys, as younger actors, to get to play such complex, complicated characters?

MINA SUNDWALL: It’s so exciting!

MAX JENKINS: It’s been incredibly fun! I had never done this much green screen before, so getting to do that was incredible. It was a huge learning process. Getting to play Will Robinson not only was fun, but it taught me a lot. Will’s incredibly smart. He suffers from anxiety, but he sees the best in people, like the robot and Dr. Smith. Because he saw the best in Dr. Smith, that made her better and willing to save John. I definitely learned from Will Robinson. 

SUNDWALL: It’s so much fun to be able to step into this. We have some very big shoes to fill, but to be able to step into the shoes of this show that was legendary, beforehand, and get to re-imagine these characters, but at the same time, have enough freedom to play around and make them our own, was so much fun, every single day. Getting to develop this character and grow with her was such an experience.

When you guys watched episodes of the original series, what did you think of it?

SUNDWALL: Some of it is very, very out there, but I think it’s so sweet. I’ll never, ever forget the episode with the human-sized carrots. That was one of the first episodes that I watched because I went out of order, and I was a little nervous, at first. Each time the story has been told, whether it was the original Swiss Family Robinson or the original series or the movie or ours, it very much represents the time that it’s in.

JENKINS: I’m actually was a huge fan of the original series. I watched it and I was like, “This is so cool!” When my friends saw it, they were like, “Huh?” I honestly thought it was really cool. I grew up loving the original Star Trek series, and that’s pretty out there, too, so it wasn’t a huge leap for me to watch that. One of my favorite episodes is the space circus one. That one was really fun because I’m in a circus. Getting to watch that, I was like, “Cool!”

What have you loved about your characters, from the beginning?

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Image via Netflix

JENKINS: Will’s ability to see past that scary outside is a very admirable quality that we should all try and work to have. Will Robinson gained so much from that quality. He gained a best friend, he gained courage, and he survived, through having that quality. That’s what I admire most about Will Robinson.

SUNDWALL: With Penny, something that drew me from the beginning and that I continue to admire about her is that life is very complicated and sometimes you feel like you want to hold yourself back, but she’s a reminder, at least for me, that it’s important to be authentic and true to yourself, no matter what situation you’re in. If you’re uncomfortable and you feel awkward or out of place, that’s fine. Sit in it. As long as you’re true to yourself and you don’t put up a fake face or a mask for anybody else, that’s something that’s very important. It’s a value that she holds.

Because you guys had to form a family, were you worried about that dynamic, before you got to meet each other and see how that worked out?

SUNDWALL: I was excited! I’m an only child and I’ve always wanted to have brothers and sisters, and now I get one of each. Something that drew me to the show, as a whole, was the idea of being a big family and having that dynamic. That was something that I was very excited to explore because it’s a little bit different from what I’m used to, being in a very small family.

JENKINS: I have a younger sister at home, and she’s the best. I don’t know what I would do without her. But I had never had an older sibling, so getting to be the youngest and prove to my sister that it’s harder being the oldest really made me question my thinking because I learned that it’s actually hard to be younger, too. Once we were on set, we bonded, in an instant. Me and Mina would be in school together on set, and Taylor [Russell] would come by and crash everything and start a party and eat lunch in there. She was so desperate to be back in school. We sign our names, “Your space bro,” and “Your space sis,” when we text. I wasn’t as nervous going into it, as I was excited. From the moment we met, we were a family. 

What was it like to have actors like Toby Stephens and Molly Parker playing your parents?

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Image via Netflix

SUNDWALL: Through the whole season, there have been things that have been more challenging and they’re definitely people that you can look up to and ask questions. They’re there to support you, and they’ve helped us so much. I’ve learned so many things from each of the experienced actors that I will hold with me, for the rest of my life, and I’m so grateful for it.

JENKINS: Yeah. 

You mentioned working with all of the effects on this show. Was there anything that was particularly challenging for you to have to imagine or deal with?

JENKINS: Yeah. There was always a ton of visual effects and stuff like that, but something that was really challenging for me was, in the first week of filming, we had the most green screen that we had, outside of Episode 10. I was really overwhelmed with that and I called Parker Posey, who plays Dr. Smith, and she said, “Max, just pretend and play and imagine what’s not there.” That really triggered something for me because I play with my sister back at home, all the time. We pretend to be space captains and wizards, and stuff like that. That advice really changed how I looked at the green screen. 

SUNDWALL: Yeah. I think it was very much a learning process, through the whole season. It’s something that, at the beginning, was very challenging to learn how to work with, on different levels. On one level, you have to be emotionally there and invested in the character and in the moment, and then, on another level, you have to deal with something that you can’t see or touch or feel. That’s something that I was learning how to balance, throughout the whole season. I’ll never forget shooting Episode 10 because, for that entire robot sequence, there were no robots there. We had sheets of green screen in the garage set and X points on windows for where to look, and then they would say, “This is your mom, who’s getting thrown against a wall and near death, and this is where giant robots are fighting one another and you don’t know what’s going to happen. React!” At the same time, when you let your imagination go wild, it feels like playing pretend.

People have really been enjoying, having fun with, and loving this show. What’s it been like to hear the reaction to it?

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Image via Netflix

SUNDWALL: Amazing! We’ve heard from all ages and all ends of the spectrum. Seeing how many different people can relate to different parts of the show, and having little girls DM me and say they look up to Penny, for a certain reason, or they look up to another character, for a certain reason, and having little boys DM me and say, “I look up to Penny because she does this,” or “I can relate to this,” means something. We’ve put so much love into this family and into this story, that seeing other people react well to it with their family, and hearing about families that binge-watch it together, or sisters that have talked about the relationship between Penny and Judy, or multiple siblings that talk about that dynamic, means the world.

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