'Colony's' Carlton Cuse on 'Lost' Easter Eggs, WWII Inspiration and What's Next

COLONY - Pilot Episode 101 - H 2016
Paul Drinkwater/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode two of USA's Colony.]

Midway into the second episode of USA's Colony, called "Brave New World," Josh Holloway's fugitive hunter Will Bowman cracks open a Pepsi and takes a sip. "Wow, that's good," he whispers, basking in a brief and all-too-rare moment of pleasure in an otherwise pleasure-free world.

Those scarce creature comforts are bound to become more frequent as Bowman pushes forward in his new job as a member of Homeland Security, the task force working on behalf of the enigmatic overlords occupying Los Angeles and, potentially, the world beyond. As much as Bowman enjoys the sip of soda, he's having trouble adjusting to the taste of working as a collaborator with the occupation — and yet, his choices are few and far between, given the power of the people he works for, and their promise to reunite Will with his long lost son Charlie once he tracks down resistance leader Geronimo.

There's just one problem standing between Will and his goal: Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies), his wife. She works for the resistance, selling Will's secrets in an attempt to cripple the occupation. By the end of "Brave New World," Will knows that someone in Homeland is leaking information to the "enemy"… but little does he know, he's the leak.

Will and Katie's cross purposes are the main source of tension on Colony, even as there's much more than their marriage on the line. Take Will's friend Carlos (Jacob Vargas), for example; he's picked up by the veritable storm troopers of the occupation, called Red Hats, and sent to The Factory, an enigmatic labor camp that strikes fear into the hearts of civilians, and keeps them in line. Near the end of this week's episode, viewers and Carlos alike get a firsthand look at The Factory, but what they see right now doesn't add up to much just yet.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Colony EP Carlton Cuse to drill down into the mystery of The Factory and the tension in the Bowman household. But first, we spoke about the inspirations behind Cuse and co-creator Ryan J. Condal's chilling new science-fiction series, from World War II all the way through Lost.

Coming out of the series premiere, and even after episode two, the biggest question about Colony feels fairly obvious: How big of a problem is bicycle theft in this world?

Oh, it's big! [Laughs.] The thing that's great about a totalitarian regime, though, is that if you steal a bike, you basically get sentenced to a work camp for life.

So the juice is not worth the squeeze.

Right. The stakes of bike theft are just huge. In fact, I think all of season three should be about bike theft. That's the bike theft season.

Kidding aside, the substitution of bicycles for cars in the world of Colony speaks to the way you're unveiling the rules of this show. If viewers pay close attention, they'll notice that the only people driving cars are collaborators.

Right. And on the bike front, that was influenced for Ryan and I by images of places like Myanmar or Beijing or North Korea, where you see that they've built these monumental roads, but there's no traffic on them. There's this idea that in totalitarian states, the regulation leads to scary and beautiful images of negative space. That's something we wanted to achieve visually in our show. We looked at a lot of pictures of Los Angeles, and one of the things that struck us about the most vivid images was the use of negative space. Part of the show is that we didn't want to do a traditional, Blade Runner-esque dystopic world. We wanted to milk the irony that even though Los Angeles is surrounded by 300-foot-tall metallic walls and there's been some sort of an alien invasion, you can drive a bus across the city in six minutes. There's no street crime. Your bicycle is pretty safe. There are still blue skies and palm trees. As the season unfolds, we start to realize that Proxy Snyder (Peter Jacobson), who is running the provisional government that's been put in charge, has a philosophy. He thinks that by providing people with most of the necessities of life, they're less likely to rebel. At least, that's his belief. Whether that turns out to be a good strategy or not will be seen as the season unfolds.

You mention the "alien invasion," which is talked about as "the arrival" in the series. What drove the decision to withhold the arrival, and the appearance of the invaders, from the audience?

Ryan and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do an alien invasion show without … well, without the aliens and without the invasion. [Laughs.] That was really just the set-up. That's what we were interested in exploring, this idea of colonization and occupation, and what are the compromises that people are willing to make to survive in that kind of an environment. So we assiduously steered away from a few scenes in other shows in this genre. We didn't want to show the invasion. We didn't want to show the aliens. We didn't want the show to be about our characters battling the aliens. We wanted this show to be an espionage thriller set against this intense science fiction backdrop.

Do you feel that the arrival will have to be featured on the show eventually?

I think over time, there are aspects of the arrival that are worth seeing — but again, we want to be sure that we present it in a nontraditional way. It's highly unlikely that you'll see a traditional version of the arrival, which is, again, like a lot of other alien invasion shows, where people are looking up at the sky and spaceships are coming down. Again, that story feels like it's been pretty well told.

The central story of Colony involves Will and Katie Bowman, a married couple on opposite ends of a war, even if only one of them — Katie — knows the truth about their respective roles.

With that, we're trying to construct really viable arguments for characters to justify the positions that they take. For Will, he's caught trying to get out of the block and go find his kid. He's basically forced to collaborate with the occupation government to hunt down the resistance. If he doesn't do that, he and his family will get sent to a labor camp. He's got strong motivation to do what he does. Plus, he sees this as an incredible opportunity in a world where people don't know a lot. It's an opportunity to be on the inside and really learn a lot more about the occupation and what's going on and how things work. He thinks this will be an enormous asset in the long con for him, in terms of his family's survival.

Katie, for her part, is just the type of person who can't sit idle in this type of situation. Ryan and I talked a lot about Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, and it's interesting that you would have collaborators, a resistance movement, and a wide swathe of people in the middle who went about their lives. You look at pictures of Paris at the time and you'll see people sitting at cafes drinking espressos while Nazi storm troopers go by in the street. Katie is not one of the people who can sit in the middle. She's not comfortable doing nothing. So she gets involved with the resistance because she feels compelled to try to do something about this oppressive regime that's suddenly overtaken their lives. She also feels this other level of justification; that if she's in the resistance, she's in a better position to help Will, since she'll know what [the resistance] is up to.

So each character feels fully justified in what they're doing, and that makes for a great conflict. You have these two people who love each other very much, and we really were blessed by having Josh and Sarah in these roles. They did a movie together ten years ago [called Whisper] and knew each other and had great chemistry, so we were able to shorthand their marriage. I think it's very believable to understand why these two people are married and why they love each other. They're just at a place where they're approaching this situation with very different strategies, which is leading to an inevitable collision. I think that's pretty interesting dramatically.

At the end of "Brave New World," Will turns to Beau and declares: "We've got a leak." He's put two and two together, and determines the only way the resistance can be one step ahead is if they have a mole. What he doesn't realize is the mole is his wife. How long can you keep Will from learning Katie's secret, given Will's reputation as an exceptional federal agent and fugitive hunter?

Here's what's interesting to me. You can be extremely good at your job, but when you trust someone, and they're intimate and close, it's easy to overlook… I come from a family where there are a lot of doctors, and the running joke is the disdain for medical care in my family. [Laughs] In a doctor family, you get the home remedy. You get a pair of scissors heated over the kitchen stove.

So, in the same way, I think for Will, this is outside the realm of contemplation, to think that Katie's involved in this. And it takes a while for it to permeate. Ryan and I are really trying to ratchet up the tension of this and add some twists and turns. I think we're pretty happy with how it plays out, and once Will does find out, it's going to be really interesting to see what he does about it and how it affects his relationship — and, of course, the consequences on a larger level of the occupation versus the resistance.

You've mentioned the idea of labor camps a few times now, and the threat of The Factory certainly looms large over these characters. How much are you prepared to say about what's happening when Carlos enters The Factory?

I think about North Korea, where there are many stories of people who, when they commit transgressions, get sent to reeducation work farms, along with their family members. That's a big part of the inspiration for this. A lot of those places are places where you go there, and you don't ever come back. So it's a mystery about what's going on in The Factory. It's connected to the larger mystery of what are "our hosts," as we refer to them, doing here? We'll definitely learn more about The Factory this year, and it has a lot of ongoing story importance. I don't want to say too much, because it will spoil our plans.

Will begins his new job at Homeland Security in this episode, and as a result, we meet some new characters in the form of his new boss Phyllis and new partner Beau, played by Kathy Baker and Carl Weathers respectively. What kind of impact will Homeland and these new players have on the show moving forward?

One of the things that was really fantastic about the show is that the scripts attracted all these wonderful actors to come and play these supporting roles. Kathy Baker is one — and the one and only Apollo Creed, Carl Weathers, is another, which just kind of wonderfully coincidentally occurred as Creed was blowing up. We had a really fantastic guest cast. But what we wanted was to take Will into the world of the occupation, and to take Katie into the world of the resistance, and we wanted to show that those worlds are not black and white. Not everybody in the occupation is like-minded, nor is everyone in the resistance. I think there's a tendency in stories to paint these groups with a homogenous brush. Neither side is all good or all bad.

It's a fun combination with Holloway and Weathers. A lot of Lost fans still dream about a Sawyer and Miles cop show, but the Sawyer and Apollo Creed cop show is not a bad consolation prize.

Plus, if you watch Star Wars, you get the Miles show. [Laughs] We loved the idea that Carl Weathers just got kind of stuck [in his job] by a bad coincidence, and he's trying to do as absolutely little as humanly possible in order to survive. But he finds himself with Will, and Will hasn't been an FBI agent for a year. I think he misses the adrenaline of it. He misses the work. So for him, he only has one speed: Go. That immediately puts him into conflict with Carl Weathers, who is like, "Will, we could take two or three weeks to find this guy. We don't have to do this in a day!"

Sawyer was one of your favorite characters from your time on Lost. When the show ended, how eager were you to work with Holloway again?

Pretty damn eager. Josh and I hang out all the time, and we would talk about it. It's super hard to do on television, especially if you're an actor. When you make a commitment to a show, that can be maybe five years of your life. When Josh went on Intelligence, I thought that closed the door for any opportunity for a long time. It was my good fortune that Josh became available again, at just about the time that Ryan and I were finishing the scripts. Truth be told, Ryan and I spent a lot of time working on the pilot referring to the character as Josh as often as we referred to him as Will. He was completely our prototype for the guy. We accepted the fact that if we didn't get Josh, we would have to go through a painful realignment. But we were blessed, you know? The timing worked out. Sometimes, in TV, you just have to get lucky. We got lucky in terms of the timing, and Josh really responded to the material.

For Josh, I think there was also the comfort of knowing and trusting me. When you're choosing to work with somebody as an actor, you have to think about what your relationship with your show runner is going to be like. We already had a relationship, and a great one, so I think that made it easier for Josh to say yes to this, among many, many other choices he had.

How much Sawyer do you see in Will, if any?

I think all great actors bring a big chunk of themselves to every role that they play. There are iconic actors like Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne and Harrison Ford, where you get certain things that are the same about them in every movie that they do. I think there's this acerbic humor that was part of Sawyer that's here in Will Bowman. But this character is much more mature and integrated. Sawyer was a loner who was out for himself. Will is a guy who worked within the establishment before the occupation. He held serious, important government jobs. He was an army ranger. He was an FBI agent. He has a family. He has kids. He's driven by his obligations. His main motivation when the series opens is, "How do I put my family back together? How do I get my kid?" He's willing to pay almost any price to make it happen.

Which speaks to what Carlos says to Will at one point in this past episode: "Everything's fine, as long as your kids still have their father."

Yeah. He doesn't feel complete right now. He feels responsible for what happened. He was supposed to pick up his kid at a music lesson in Santa Monica, and he didn't make it. In any situation where you have a tragedy befall a child, there can be immense consequences on the marriage. There are all these subliminal [thoughts] about who's to blame — and even if one party isn't blaming the other, they might think they're being blamed. I think there's a lot of sublimated tension between Will and Katie over [their son] Charlie's disappearance, and Will's goal is to make that right and fix that problem… and by trying to fix it, he upends their lives and starts down a new path that puts him in a collision with his wife.

You talked about Josh Holloway and "the long con" in the same sentence a few minutes ago, you mentioned Will's son's name is Charlie just now, and in the premiere, Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" plays during a Katie scene — music specifically used on Lost in many Kate Austen scenes. Are these intentional Lost Easter eggs, or are fans of the show looking too hard?

Well, it's two things. For one, there are certain influences that writers bring to the table, no matter what they do. You can watch an Aaron Sorkin movie, and there are certain elements of every Aaron Sorkin script that are the same. There are some inherent qualities you can identify in his scripts that are based on his influences. For me, the very first project I ever worked on in depth in Hollywood was Sweet Dreams, the Patsy Cline story. I worked for the producer of that movie, and I spent five months in West Virginia and Nashville with director Karel Reisz on that movie. So Patsy Cline is very infused in my brain. So I'm sure there is Lost crossover here in Colony, and some of it's just unintentional — but then there are intentional crossovers. There is a very intentional Lost Easter egg in the final episode of the season, which I am sure you will appreciate.

Colony airs Thursdays on USA Network. Share your thoughts on the series in the comments section, below.