From show creator Carina Adly MacKenzie, the new CW series Roswell, New Mexico tells the story of what happens when Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) returns to the town she grew up in, 10 years after the death of her beloved older sister, only to find that her teenage crush, Max Evans (Nathan Parsons), is now a police officer with secrets of his own. When Liz finds herself in a situation where Max reveals to her that he, his sister Isobel (Lily Cowles) and their friend Michael (Michael Vlamis) are actually aliens with otherworldly abilities that they’ve had to keep hidden, the ever-present threat of a government conspiracy could endanger all of their lives.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Nathan Parsons talked about why he was drawn to this series, initially being considered for a different role than the one he was cast in, the advantage of aging the characters up 10 years, what he likes about Max Evans, how scary it is for his character to not fully understand why he’s even on Earth, the dynamic between Max and Liz, shooting one of the series’ most iconic moments, how much the mystery element of the story affects the characters, his reaction to learning where things would end up this season (they’ve already finished filming), and his desire to learn the plan for a possible Season 2.
Collider: I’ve seen the original series, and anytime there’s a reboot, remake or reimagining of a TV series, the initial response is always, “Why? What are they gonna do with it?” I particularly really appreciate the fact that the characters are all a bit older because, from the beginning, it makes the show feel very different.
NATHAN PARSONS: I agree, and I initially had that same sort of reaction. I was like, “They already did this show. Why are they doing it again?” And then, I read the script and, by moving the characters 10 years ahead, suddenly we’re dealing with work, bills and other issues, on top of the whole alien thing. It adds a lot more depth and a lot more dynamics between all of the characters. We really have had life experience, at this point, and that gives us so much more to play with.
When the possibility of this series came your way and you hadn’t read it yet, what was your initial reaction? Did you want to wait until you read the script, before making any judgment on it?
PARSONS: Yeah, I always go to the script first because, ultimately, that’s gonna be the backbone of the world that you’re creating. No matter what the project is and no matter what the property is, it goes back to the script, with everything. I actually read a very, very early draft, and was initially reading for Michael, so I read it from that perspective. And then, as we moved into the casting process, they were having trouble finding Max, and they came to me when I was about to test for Michael and said, “Would you be willing to test for Max, too? Just come in and do both.” I was like, “Okay, hold on, let me go back to the script and re-read it and go through this thing again, from Max’s perspective.” By that point, the script had changed, dramatically. In my initial reads, reading it from Michael’s perspective, Max was always a little vanilla. So, as I re-read it from his perspective and built a background for myself as Max, suddenly the character developed so much for me, and I was able to see myself in that role, so clearly.
At the same time, The CW is a network that keeps their shows on the air for a long time sometimes. Did you need to take a minute before deciding to sign on to play a character that you could be playing for a number of years, or is the stability of knowing what you’re going to be doing, as an actor, part of the appeal?
PARSONS: That’s one of the funny things about being an actor. I remember being on a set where, on one of my first days, the AD comes up to me, and I didn’t really know the guy, but he said, “Hey, you know how to piss an actor off?” And I was like, “How?” And he said, “Give him a job.” It’s funny because we always have this idea of, wouldn’t it be nice, if we had this steady income. But at the same time, as a creative person and an artist, you want different things to play with. So, it’s definitely important, when you’re looking at a script and a show, and you’re thinking of it in the long term, you really have to be willing to give yourself over to that. One thing that I liked about this is that it’s sci-fi, and I’m a huge sci-fi fan. With sci-fi, you can really do anything, like bring in space, discover aliens, and go to different planets. The potential is a little bit more limited when you’re thinking about a story on a galactic scale, instead of this little small town of Roswell, where it all begins.
You’ve done quite a bit of TV in your career, but this time, you’re playing the male lead. Do you feel an extra sense of responsibility with that, when you’re at the top of the call sheet and helping to set the tone on set?
PARSONS: Going back to my years on soap operas, I worked with strong male leads, with Tony Geary and Maurice Bernard, back on General Hospital. And then, I worked on True Blood with Stephen Moyer, and saw what he brought and the way that he took control of the set. My first episode of True Blood, he was directing and also acting in it, and I learned so much from just watching him work and seeing the way that he took command. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I was able to do it on a pilot for Amazon, three or four years back, and that was really the first chance I had at that. I thoroughly enjoyed it because I could make it so much more my property, and I could take care of my cast and crew. That’s very, very important to me. I love that aspect of it.
What did you really like about this character, him from day one, and what have you grown to appreciate about him, especially now that you’ve finished the season?
PARSONS: There’s so much going on beneath the surface with Max, and that’s been really fun to build and develop, in this 10-year and 20-year history with these characters. That’s been something really fun to explore, not only with Jeanine [Mason], who’s a phenomenal scene partner and a wonderful partner in crime, but also with Michael Vlamis and Lily Cowles, who play Michael and Isobel, respectively. Developing the family dynamic that we have happened organically with this cast, which was really, really lovely.
How scary is it for Max to know that he’s an alien, but not really know how he got here or why he’s here?
PARSONS: Yeah, that’s something that’s buried so deep in his psyche, on this show. Always in the back of your head are these lingering questions, and as they start to come up throughout the season, and Michael and Isobel keep pushing, as we get further into the season, we start learning more and more. There’s a part of Max that really wants to know, and has always wanted to know, and is desperate to know, but at the same time, there’s this massive fear of what he’ll discover. What if we do find out the truth, and it’s not something we wanna know, and it’s not something positive, but it’s something terrifying? Is that worse than not knowing? That’s the battle that he has, throughout the season. He’s trying to come to terms with knowledge, and what power knowledge brings.
Does the fact that he shares this huge secret with Liz create tension between Max, Isobel and Michael that wasn’t there before, or will they also start to see her as an ally?
PARSONS: There’s always been tension between Max and Michael, for sure, but it definitely puts them more at odds because Max is breaking his own rules in talking to Liz and telling her the truth. She just got back into town. They haven’t seen this girl or heard from her in 10 years, and suddenly she knows everything? How wrong is that? He’s letting love blind him to the dangers of what could happen, and the fact that they can’t trust her. That’s a huge wrench driven in between them, and it takes a little while to find their way back to each other.
Max has spent a lot more time thinking about his feelings for Liz than she has because she has been away for a long time. What can you say about the relationship between them, especially with that really being at the heart of the show, and how will that evolve, over the season?
PARSONS: Well, this is ultimately a love story between these two. One of the advantages of being 10 years removed from high school is that we’re not dealing with puppy love anymore. It’s not a bright-eyed, bushy tailed crush. This is a deep, resounding love. Because of where they are in life, Max has duties to the community, as a cop, and to the county and the sheriff’s department. Liz is a scientist, and she has this dedication to knowledge and truth, and the pursuit of that. They’re at odds with each other. Max is all about protecting the secret, and Liz is all about uncovering the secret. But at the end of the day, they have to find their way to each other. I really love how we came to that, throughout the season. Jeanine and I will always try, even in episodes where we barely see each other, to find the moments when just a look or just a graze of the hands can say, “At the end of the day, I’m here for you, and I want to be with you.” That’s something that we really put a lot of effort into doing because the situation is trying to tear them apart. The circumstances are trying desperately to keep them apart, and they have to conquer all of those things to see each other.
As much as I loved the love story in the original series, it was a brand new first love. When you add history on top of that, and then 10 years apart, it’s such an interesting dynamic because Max is in love with an idea of Liz, since he doesn’t really know her now.
PARSONS: I absolutely agree, and that’s fun. Later in the season, we talk about that. One of the reasons she’s been so afraid to express her feelings is because she thinks that he’s in love with this idea and not her, and not what she’s been through, and not her life and where she is. But at the end of the day, that’s just ultimately not true. We dive into the first time they ever saw each other, when they were seven or eight years old, and he’s always seen her clearly. She just didn’t quite see him. He knows her, knows her life, and knows what she’s been through, and he’s been there for her, the whole time. She just has to turn around and see him. That’s been a really fun dynamic to play with.
One of the most iconic moments in this story, which was also in the original series, is the moment in the diner when Max makes the decision to save Liz and, as a result, turns their worlds upside down and leaves a handprint on her. What was that scene like to shoot, especially knowing that it’s such an important part of their story?
PARSONS: It’s the iconic moment. It’s what starts the ball rolling, and starts this avalanche that ends up cascading over them. In that moment, there’s almost a sense of it not even being a decision. There’s no decision to make. It has to be done. It’s almost instinctual. And working on that scene was very, very fun. We were in this little diner, with 20 people around us, hovering over her and screaming my head off, and there was ketchup everywhere. It was a mess, but something that you can never forget.
There’s also the mystery element of the series, with her sister and what happened to her sister. How challenging is that for them to deal with, especially as she learns about Max’s connection to all of that?
PARSONS: It affects them immensely. Obviously, she’s been operating under false pretenses for 10 years, thinking she knew what happened and had come to a version of peace with it. As more and more truth starts to spill out, she’s flashing back to 17 again, and all the grief and rage and confusion that comes with losing a loved one, specifically a sibling, just boils up. When you lose a sibling, there are little things that trigger you, throughout your day and throughout your year, that you don’t even think of. You’ll hear a song, and then you’re brought right back to it. Throughout the season, if you look at every episode, there’s some information, but there gets to be more and more. It’s ultimately cruel to string her along, but it comes from a desire to protect her, as well. It ultimately has to backfire, but he’s doing it to protect her, emotionally, from having to deal with the truth, which is so horrific. The desire to do that really comes from love, just very misguided in its execution.
You’ve finished shooting the season now, so you know the answers to the questions that we’ll learn, by the end of the season. What was your reaction when you found out where things would ultimately end up this season, and how do you think fans will react to learning those answers?
PARSONS: I think it’s wonderful, the way that they lead you along, but ultimately, I don’t know if the answers are really satisfying. At the end of the season, there’s still so much left to be discovered, in terms of where we come from and why we’re here and what we’re doing. It seems like the more we dig, the more questions we get instead of answers. We do wrap things up, in a really beautiful and heartbreaking way, but there’s still so much more to cover. Hopefully, once we get into Season 2, we’ll be able to dive into that.
Your showrunner, Carina Adly MacKenzie, told me that, having been a journalist and covering shows where she could see that the showrunner didn’t necessarily have a long-term plan, she thought it was necessary to come up with a five-year plan, so that she knows where the show is going. Have you been clued into any of that? Do you feel like you have a sense of what Season 2 would be, or are you anxiously waiting to find out where things are headed next?
PARSONS: I don’t know as much as I’d like to. I’m the kind of person who very much loves information. To me, it just informs how to craft the story. I came from theater and from film, and you have your beginning, middle and end. Good actors are able to go through and add in little hints, here and there, with a little foreshadowing, here and there, without giving anything away. That’s just how I was trained. And one of the frustrating things about television is that writers don’t seem to have faith in actors because they think we’ll give it away. Jeanine and I knew the course of Season 1, quite early on, which was very helpful for us, moving forward because both Jeanine and I have theater backgrounds. But beyond Season 1, we don’t really have much information and it’s frustrating. Obviously, we wanna know, and we’re not gonna tell anybody. It would be nice to know where we go from here, just to build it in. But that’s just the nature of television. Truthfully, our writers have been very open with us, relative to some other shows. Jeanine was on Grey’s Anatomy, and they were very, very secretive. When I was working on Once Upon a Time, they were incredibly close-lipped, and then they’d throw you a plot twist and you’d be like, “What?! I could’ve done so much with that, if I’d known!” Hopefully, if we do end up getting a Season 2, we’ll be able to sit down with the writers and producers and say, “All right, let’s talk through some details. Let’s talk about what the plan is, at least for the first half of the season, just so we have an idea of where to start and what we can build towards, going forward.”
Roswell, New Mexico airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.