The CW drama series The Tomorrow People follows a generation of humans born with paranormal abilities, who are the next evolutionary leap of mankind. Up until a year ago, Stephen (Robbie Amell) was a “normal” teenager, but then he learned that he is part of a genetically advanced race with the abilities of telekinesis, teleportation and telepathic communication, and that this race is being hunted down by a paramilitary group of scientists known as Ultra. In Episode 8, “Thanatos,” Stephen is determined to uncover what he hopes is the key to finding his father and turns to someone named Dr. Aldus Crick, who helped establish Ultra with both Jedikiah and Roger Price for answers.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Nicholas Young (who played John in the original 1970’s British series) talked about his reaction when he first heard that the show was being re-imagined for American television, what it’s like to see the show brought back to life so many years later, his memories of the 68 episodes he did, how he came to be a part of the U.S. version, what it was like to see someone else playing his original character, what it was like to work with this cast, how Aldus Crick fits into the story, and what it’s like to see the fan loyalty for the show. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
NICHOLAS YOUNG: I think I wondered how they were going to do it, I have to say. There’s always the fear that perhaps they wouldn’t be faithful to the original. I got a response from quite a few fans of the original series saying, “Is it going to be what’s happened with so many British shows when they’re made in America and they don’t quite work?” And I said, “No, give it a chance! From what I’ve read and from what I hear, I think it’s going to be done very well.” Indeed, I certainly wasn’t disappointed. When I saw the first one, I was very impressed. I thought it was beautiful done. It’s paced well, it’s exciting, the CGI is brilliant, the acting is very good, it’s beautifully photographed and it’s well written. I was very impressed with it.
How do the effects now compare to what you did on the original series?
YOUNG: It’s everything that our show was not, I’m afraid. First of all, CGI hadn’t been invented. We spent a lot of time in space, in the original series, which is not done in the original series. It was a bit like Gravity, but Gravity was beautifully made in 3D and totally believable. We were hanging out on wires, in very uncomfortable spacesuits, trying to look like we were floating through the air. It was hard work, and I’m not sure how genuine it looked.
Could you ever have imagined, when you did the show originally, that it would be brought back to life, all these years later?
YOUNG: No, not at all. It’s like an actor’s nightmare. You’re suddenly told, “You’re on!,” and you’ve gotta do something that you did 40 years ago. I think all actors have dreams like that. You’re like, “But, I haven’t looked at the script for 40 years! I don’t know what’s happening!” I expected to wake up and find out that the whole thing has been a gigantic nightmare, or a dream, anyway. But, I’m glad it hasn’t been a dream. I pinch myself and it appears to be real.
Having spent so much time on the original series, what are your memories of your time on the show? Was it something that had always stuck with you as a positive experience?
YOUNG: First of all, we had a great laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun, all the way through. I’d done a lot of good stuff, beforehand. I’d done a lot of serious acting, and this was ultimately a show that was aimed at teenagers. In some of the stories, I was a bit disappointed in the quality of the special effects and some of the scripts, but it was quite different from what I’d been doing, up until that point. But looking back on it, out of the 68 episodes we did, I was pretty proud of at least half of them. Some of them were really, really good.
YOUNG: I theorize that it’s telepathy. When I had heard that they were going to do it, I dropped a line to Greg [Berlanti], just to wish him well and say that I hoped it worked well for him. I said, “You might think it’s a laugh. I certainly would think it’s fun to have the original John do a Hitchcock-ian appearance, just walking by the window or something, for the keen-eyed.” And he came back to me and asked me to test for TIM, the voice that Dan Stevens is doing, but I wasn’t given any idea as to how they wanted to play it. I didn’t know whether they wanted him American or British, or whether they wanted him pompous or serious, or however. So, I did what I thought was right, but then I didn’t hear another word. I thought, “Oh, well, that’s gone away.” And then, I got a call in September saying that Phil [Klemmer] and Greg and Julie Plec had come up with this idea for a character called Aldus Crick, who was an English eccentric, and would I like to play that. Looking at the script, I thought it would be fun. It’s unusual for me to play a character of that sort, so I was very much up for it.
What was it like to work with these actors and see someone else essentially playing your original character?
YOUNG: It’s bizarre! My first disappointment was that he’s considerably better looking than I was. Also, every time I saw the script and saw the name John on it, I would twitch thinking, “Oh, that’s my line.” Of course, it wasn’t, but old habits die hard. And every time somebody called, “John,” I would react. But, that faded away after a day or two. I got used to that. They were such a lovely crowd of people. They made me feel so welcome. They were kind and welcoming. I couldn’t have wanted for a better team to work with.
Did you see any similarities in John now, compared to the one you played, or is it very different?
YOUNG: It’s similar as much as he is the leader of the Tomorrow People. But, the John that I played was a much more serious, scientific character who was a little condescending, perhaps, a little older than all the others, and took on a slight father role. In that respect, I think it’s quite different, the way Luke [Mitchell] is playing it. But, I like the way Luke is playing it. I like the way they’re all playing it. They’re giving very naturalistic and believable performances. They’ve got a real edge to them. I think they’ve all done a tremendous job on it.
How did the actors react to you being there? Did they have questions about the original series and your experience on it?
YOUNG: Oh, yeah, they had questions about the original series. I kept getting greeted with what an honor and privilege it was to work with me, which I found a bit embarrassing. The honor and privilege was quite the other way around, really, working with such a professional team. It was all very complimentary and they made me very welcome. I felt very comfortable, from day one.
What can you say about your character and how he fits into the story that’s being told?
YOUNG: He studied at Princeton University, about 20 years ago, with Jedikiah, who was also a lecturer at the university. Jedikiah introduces me to Roger Price and swears me to secrecy, and Roger and I start experimenting for a way to find a safe haven for Tomorrow People as they appear, and to protect them from those that would like to destroy them. Because we didn’t trust anybody, including Jedikiah, we kept our work a secret. We went through hundreds of experiments to try to find this safe haven, which is a place somewhere between life and death. That is the reason for the title “Thanatos,” which is Greek for the personification of death. We did some very dangerous experiments, which would have been brilliant, if they had worked, or could have been fatal for everybody.
Why was Aldus Crick immediately more drawn to Stephen’s father than his uncle?
YOUNG: There is a flashback and you see us working together on these experiments. But, Roger Price has got these hidden powers and, for whatever reason, his brother doesn’t, and that makes his brother resentful. When we exclude his brother from the experiments, perhaps not deliberately, but we don’t tell him very much, that is his resent for the resentment that turns into bitter dislike for the Tomorrow People, in later years. The problem was that Roger Price had the powers and Jedikiah doesn’t. That’s a cause for conflict.
What type of a man is Aldus Crick? Is he as nice as he seems, or should we be suspicious of him, at all?
YOUNG: What a very interesting question. As I’ve played him so far, he’s a slightly bumbling, slightly eccentric, rather likeable Englishman. But, who knows what’s going on. I will say that he’s obviously left Princeton under a dark cloud, for whatever reason. It may just be these experiments that went wrong. And he now lives in a cabin, as far away from civilization as possible. There are things we don’t know about Aldus Crick, and it might be interesting to find out, in later episodes. There might be more to all of our characters than meets the eye. I think you’ll just have to watch future episodes to see how it goes, on that.
How much fun was it to play a character who is so integral to the story of Ultra, how it started and how it’s become what it is now?
YOUNG: Yeah, it was tremendous fun. That wasn’t what I had in mind when I dropped Greg a line. I just thought it would be fun to do the Hitchcock thing. So, in many respects, I do feel honored to do what is, in many respects, quite a key role. I just hope I do it justice. I didn’t really know how to play it. I was very encouraged by Robbie, who said, “You made him a really endearing character,” which I found very helpful. Normally, I tend to play nasty, malicious, unlikeable characters. As an actor, that’s what I’ve tended to play, in the past. Finding myself a nice and likeable character is a complete change.
What was it like to show up on set, the first day? Does this feel anything like an extension of the original show, or does it feel like its own show entirely?
YOUNG: I think both. In many respects, it felt like I walked off the old set yesterday. Because I was given such a warm welcome by the crew on the new series, it felt, in some respects, like this was a new phase. But, it was a mixture of the two, I have to say. It was a very strange feeling. Weird is the one word I would use to describe it.
What’s it like to see the fan reaction and see just how quickly the fans have become very loyal to the show and cast?
YOUNG: Well, I think that’s very similar to what we had with the original show. It’s a mixture of a program that science fiction fans will watch, at one level, and presumably a lot of young girls will watch because they like the look of Robbie [Amell] or Luke [Mitchell], and some guys will like the look of Madeleine [Mantock] or Peyton [List]. It captures an audience on all sorts of different levels. It’s also a very good drama. Even if you don’t particularly like science fiction, you can watch the show and thoroughly enjoy it. It scores on a number of different levels and, in that respect, it’s really clever.
The Tomorrow People airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.