June 19, 2011 5:50pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Falling Skies' Star Noah Wyle on Steven Spielberg's Crafting of Series
With a résumé that includes E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “If a man knows aliens, it’s Steven Spielberg.”
This is how Mark Verheiden describes his fellow executive producer on TNT’s new alien drama Falling Skies. With two types of aliens -- spider-like “skitters” and heavily armed robot-like bipeds dubbed “mechs” – to contend with, the Noah Wyle starrer certainly has the proper pedigree for success.
“Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over this,” Wyle told The Hollywood Reporter at last week’s West Hollywood premiere. “He shaped the script, cast the pilot, watched all the dailies, made the editing suggestions, worked on the post and on the aliens and spaceships.”
Wyle (ER) stars in the series as Tom Mason, a Boston history professor who will stop at nothing to reunite his family and free his middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup, The Saddle Club), after he’s abducted by aliens and fitted with a mysterious organic being that lives on his back.
Equal parts family story and alien invasion, the series may seem familiar compared with the likes of its sci-fi predecessors V and Battlestar Galactica, with traces of The Walking Dead, having Spielberg’s name among the credits is one thing that will help it stand apart.
“Anytime he gives an anointment to a project, it steps up the pedigree,” Wyle said.
With high production values and an epic story line, cast members would arrive on the set and immediately see Spielberg’s influence.
Collin Cunningham, who plays rebel John Pope in the series, noted that he’d arrive at work to find 200 to 300 extras dressed in military attire, outfitted with guns and done up in full makeup and blood scattered around cars, busses and semi-trucks, often on fire, and know Falling Skies’ was unlike any other television show.
“You’d show up and think, ‘This is not a TV show; this is something else that we’re doing,’ ” he said, noting that Spielberg was very hands-on for the pilot. “Its scope is massive. Anytime you hear the word Spielberg, you know it’s not going to be crap; you know it’ll be quality and there will be some money behind it.”
For the cast, working with Spielberg meant getting over nerves and being able to take direction.
“I can remember every time I’ve been in his presence,” Wyle said. “You kind of pinch yourself because you’re standing next to the preeminent storyteller of our generation and the anecdotes that he tells you are like film school educations.”
For Jessup, meanwhile, having “the master of sci-fi and the master of cinema” on the set was calming. “It’s like knowing there’s this kind benevolent hand controlling everything,” he said.
Said Verheiden: “It’s great to know you have a world-class filmmaker backing up what you’re trying to do who is supportive and helping design the great stuff.”
Falling Skies unfolds over eight weeks and premieres Sunday on TNT with a two-hour premiere starting at 9 p.m.
Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit
Falling Skies: TV Review