Exclusive: Connor Jessup Talks "Falling Skies"

Exclusive Interview with Connor Jessup of Falling Skies
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Connor JessupFalling Skies, which recently entered its second season on TNT, focuses on the lives of the survivors of an alien invasion, the Second Mass resistance group, made up of both soldiers and civilians. They are led by Captain Weaver (Will Patton) and unlikely leader Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), former college professor and father of three.

Last season the aliens kidnapped many of the children and "harnessed" them, putting them under their control. Some of the children who were harnessed, including Mason's middle son, Ben, were rescued. The harness, however, could not be completely removed from Ben's spine.

The actor who plays Ben Mason, Connor Jessup, recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision about season two in an exclusive interview.

Connor JessupSeason two of Falling Skies brought with it a lot of changes. Tom left on the spaceship at the beginning of the season, which caused his two eldest sons to take on more responsibilities and more of a role as soldiers, which has caused growth in the characters. "In the first season Ben was a very different character; he was young and naïve and a civilian, and very much the child character. He was young and struggling to deal with the beginning of what was happening to him.

"And in the second season after these three months have passed – Tom is gone, presumed dead, a lot of the Second Mass has been wiped out in various unfortunate battles. So it's really been a tough time for the Second Mass, and for me particularly, because on top of that the changes that are happening to my body because of the harness are becoming more distinct and they're speeding up. And I've started fighting; I've taken up a gun, I've joined the front ranks, so I've now seen a lot of battles myself. So I've become hardened and colder and more distant and more violent.

"Mostly there's a lot of fear and that fear is manifesting itself as anger and rage and violence. So that's in a nutshell where you see Ben at the beginning of the second season. And he's having a lot of tension with his older brother. That's the setup for the second season."

It appears that with the glowing spikes that were left from Ben's harness, that it could be possible that he could come under control of the aliens once again, but Jessup could not reveal anything. "I can comment that it's going to become an increasingly more pronounced problem in terms if it's going to be something that he's going to have to deal with, and it's going to be more and more in the forefront of his mind as the episodes go on. Because he knows that it's not a problem that he can just ignore obviously as the back develops and as these things develop and become more and more pressing.  And these interactions he's had with the red-eyed skitter are going to become a recurring theme."

Connor JessupBecause of this, it's hard to tell if Ben will stay on the side of Second Mass. "There's a whole bunch of things that come up and one of the things with Ben initially, right now, he's walking down the middle; you don't know whether he's going to fall on the side of the Second Mass or fall on the side of the aliens. So he could very much become not a villain as a character but certainly more of an antihero. Or he could see the light and fall onto the side of the Second Mass.

"So there's lots of options with Ben and right now I guess he's just trying to walk that tightrope. That will be a theme until the end of the season."

A lot goes into putting the spikes onto Jessup's back. "There's several different ones. We have the standard ones - every scene I'm in, I have to get the spikes, the top three, put on my neck. And the rest of them are just a costume piece that I wear under my outfit. And the top three are just the most basic prosthetics. It's just latex and it's glued on; they glue it on and then they paint it on. It's really quite simple. So they glue it on these three things that are like little bumps, that are like extensions of my skin, and then they stick fake spikes into those. Those are the most basic ones.

"Then there are certain scenes, in episodes three and four, where they light up. And that's not CG; they actually light up. So those are more difficult; there's wires running under the prosthetic piece and that takes an hour.

"And the most extensive ones are the ones where you see my entire back, which I think you see in the premiere. And that takes three hours, 3 ½ hours. It's quite an extensive process to turn my back into that."

Besides his own personal makeup, Falling Skies uses a lot of special effects in other ways – both practical effects as well as computer generated ones. "I'd say it's about half and half. When you're working with the skitters, any scene where the actors are interacting one-on-one with the skitters...we use our animatronic suit where we have an actor inside a suit, and the suit itself is animatronic, so there are puppeteers off camera controlling the mandibles and the eyes, all the different parts. So we use that a lot.

"Any stuff where it's further away or there's lots of aliens or there's complex movement, like running up walls, or there's mechs – that's all CG. So that's not green screen but it's [still added].

Connor Jessup"And then we do use some green screen stuff. When we're working with a completely alien environment, like the inside of space ships or destroyed cities, stuff like that, then that is green screen."

One scene that uses props and special effects that might stand out to fans this season is in the episode "Young Bloods," where there is a tank full of harness slugs. "Our production team actually built that tank, so the tank is all there and the little things, we do have rubbery – we call them "harnecks," I guess, or harnesses, the little rubbery harnesses, we have lots of those. I think we added in a few more in CGI, I can't say that for sure. But basically what they are is some kind of rubber, I guess, I don't know the exact material. There's some that are more detailed than others, so there are some that can actually be remote controlled to move or to wiggle, not to move but to wiggle around. And there are some that are just dead, I guess you could say. I think when there's close up shots of specific ones, like sliding down the ramps, I think they're augmented a bit by CG."

The actor enjoys filming both the dramatic and action scenes, but finds the latter to be more challenging. "At the beginning of the season I would have definitely said [I liked] the more dramatic scenes, because that's a bit more what I'm comfortable with. I'm not a very physical person, so the action scenes, for example - a thirty second action scene can mean two nights of shooting in the dark and the cold, lots of running, lots of jumping, lots of shouting. Most action scenes really just consist of shouting stuff like "Get down, get down!"

"But at the same time, the challenge of that is nice. The challenge of doing really physical acting while also staying in character I think is nice, and I think it's made me better and I think it's a completely fresh experience. So I don't know, I think I would probably still hedge towards the dramatic."

Connor JessupJessup did, however, enjoy getting to use weapons this season. "Last season I didn't get to do [anything with weapons]; I was phenomenally jealous. This season I saw the script and I saw that I was going to be doing a lot of it. And if you have a gun in the show, before you start shooting you have to do combat training and weapons training.

"So basically what it is, is it's just a day where everyone shows up at this big warehouse and they have all these tables spread out with hundreds of guns, like assault rifles and pistols and holsters, and you get to pick your weapon.

"...The weapons very much reflect the characters. It's interesting to look at what weapons different actors picked. Because Noah has this old, run-down wooden AK-47; Drew [Roy] has this compact [gun], and I have my more plastic-y, more modern German-made gun. It's interesting.

"Basically that day we have our armorers. They run us through how to take apart the guns and how to shoot them. We fire some blanks; we learn safety. Whenever you see the guns fired in the show it is us firing.

"And then we also have stunt training.  So we do a day of how to throw punches, how to take punches, and how to use weapons to do all these different things to prepare for any eventuality."

You can catch Connor Jessup weekly on Falling Skies on TNT.

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