If you look at Colin Cunningham's resume, you will see the American actor has been in just about every TV show that filmed in
He's done guest spots or recurring roles on "Flashpoint," "Sanctuary,"
But soon viewers will know him for his latest role as John Pope, an opportunistic survivor of an alien invasion in
In "Grace," airing at 8 p.m. July 3 on TNT, Pope continues to run afoul of the Mason and the 2nd Mass resistance group. He just can't stay out of trouble, but Cunningham thinks that he's more than just a bad guy.
"There is a real intellectual behind all the leather," he said, "and I think that's where he and Tom Mason … understand each other in a way. So that's why I found him fascinating and a little bit different than your cookie-cutter bad guy.
"I had an absolute blast playing him."
Cunningham, who had to park on the side of a
I was looking over your resume and I noticed something that made me wonder if, when you met Steven Spielberg, you said, “Hey, I’m an award-winning director too.”
[Laughs.] You know what? I wish I could say I’ve had that privilege but not yet, because I haven’t actually met the man. He was very hadns-on for the pilot, on the set every day. But when it came time for the series he was on set in Australia. He was still hands-on, but a lot of the stuff he did was at arms-length.
But I know, totally, how cool is that? I actually have a screen cap from iTunes of a Top 10 list of features that shows the film I did, “Centigrade,” that was actually a short film, is up their with “
Congratulations on that. I hear you’re developing it into a TV show.
Yes. We did some great stuff with it and I think it would make a fantastic TV show. We’re jumping through all the hoops to make that happen. It’s all a matter of funding and the logistics. Scheduling is a big part of it because we’re waiting to see what happens with “Falling Skies.”
How did you get to “Falling Skies?”
Well I wish I could say that I’m such an incredibly popular actor that they mailed me the script and I said “no” 50 times and then I finally relented. But there wasn’t anything to interesting about the process. I know they were having trouble casting the part originally. Then I was called to do it.
I never ask what I'm reading for, because if it's a little thing then I don't want to get lazy. I want to take it dead seriously. Or if it is a big deal, I don't psyche myself out or get to nervous and freak out. I never ask what it is or who's involved so that way I can just concentrate on the work and just do the work.
Yeah. If it's a little thing you get lazy, and if it's a big thing you freak out, right? So instead, just work on the scenes and do the best you can without any of that other stuff getting involved. And then, of course, it was later on that I found out that Spielberg was attached and I flipped out. But I'm really glad I didn't know, really glad, because it would be somebody else playing the part, not me.
Did you have to do a lot of auditions?
I think because we were under a bit of a rush I did one read for tape. It was my friend, Madison Graie, and myself in the room. She's like my acting coach and a brilliant actor in her own right, and she helped me through the audition. And then they gave me some notes for a callback. I went back and the next thing I know I got it. And it was then that my agent said [I got it]. And I'm like, "All right, what did I get?" I asked him before what it was and he said, "Oh, it's an alien thing."
OK, well, there are a lot of alien things, but cool. And then he said "Dreamworks," and I was like, "You mean Steven Spielberg Dreamworks?" And he said, "Yeah. And it would actually be Steven making the call as to whether you get the part or not."
I've been joking for 20 years in this business and it's like, "I'm busy, unless of course Steven Spielberg calls." And I've got to say, it was actually Steven Spielberg calling. It's one of those things, man, you just can't—I mean truthfully, how many actors in a lifetime will be able to put that man's name on their resume. So it's pretty cool.
You pretty much nail the part.
Thanks, but that's more than me. With a bit of luck [we stick around]; cross our fingers. It's like any series; it took a little while to find its legs. But it's just so ambitious man. It's huge. … Sometimes you'd show up on set and the set had—it was like a Walmart parking lot—and you've got buses flipped over, on fire. There are 300 extras; 200 of them are military and they've got military outfits, and they've got weapons. And everybody is made up with blood and dirt and grime. And the civilians are cooking food over fires in trash bins. And there's all this hardware. And that's just for a scene that might be three or four lines of dialogue.
You just walk on the scene and you think it's just not a TV show. This was not a frigging TV show; this was epic. We knew immediately it was big. This is not your normal show, you know?
Give me your take on John Pope.
John Pope, he's an ex-con. I guess you'd call him a bit of a bad guy, but not entirely; he's too smart to be a bad guy. I think John would normally be a loner and an opportunist. But I think he gets together with a bunch of bad guys because once all the stuff hits the fan, it kind of becomes every man for himself. Yet 98 percent of humanity may have been eradicated, but there's still two percent of humanity left. Now even within that two percent there are going to be good guys and there are going to be bad guys. I think John would be a bit of a bad guy. But he's also an incredibly intelligent bad guy and I think that's what makes him different.
How would you, Colin, react to an alien invasion?
Oooh, yeah. Well I don't know; God forbid the time ever comes. But I will say that the neat thing about the show is, as much as we love to focus on peace, love and all that kind of stuff and that we're all the same; and, you know, there's an assumption that being from outer space, should they exist, would be not a whole lot different from us. Well, if that's the case, then there are probably some bad aliens out there as well. It's not kind of a '60s hippie-dippy love, everybody-is-wonderful kind of stuff. Sometimes there are entities out there that want you dead; they want to take over and you've got to fight back.
So that was another interesting thing about the show, it doesn't really pull too many punches. I mean you've got child soldiers, you've got kids with guns, because you need them; you're fighting for your very survival. So as much as it would be nice to all sit down and talk to the aliens, you've got to pick up a gun, man, and you've got to fight back, otherwise you're dead and everything you care about is gone.
Well John realize he doesn't need to be a baddie?
I think it's in his core to be who he is. I don't think he's entirely bad, but I think John Pope will always be John Pope. I think the change, or the arc—if I can use such a term—for John would be not to become a good guy but just to show a bit of light on the parts of him that are good. Maybe there is a little redemption in all of us. Because I think he does make decisions throughout the show that even though he is who he is, it's a small change I think that happens to John over the course of the season. But it's a significant change and that's what's important.
Redemption through cooking.
[Laughs.] Yeah, there you go.
In that first episode you're in, there's the scene where you get into the car with the big gun and it almost gets blasted. Did you get to do some of those stunts?
I was able to do as much as I possibly could. I love giving credit where credit is due, but I can't remember the guy's name who's essentially my stunt double. This guy was amazing. So everything that I did stunt-wise, like motorcycles and stuff like that, I will say he was able to do better. But I'd say it was about 50/50. I was able to do about half of my own stunts.
Do you find that a good time?
Oh yeah man, it's an absolute blast. In fact, I had one stunt cut from the final episode. It was basically a 50-calibre gun mounted on the back of the GTO, the convertible, and I was all strapped in and firing that thing at full blast, and the car was doing big old slides. I mean we were moving 60-70 miles an hour. And I think we'll save it for another episode because it didn't make the final episode, but that was pretty wicked man, it was really great.
So how was it working with the skitters?
It was very cool, man. It’s weird. I’m trying to remember, it took either six or eight guys to control one skitter. Very cool. I remember the first time because we shot for a number of weeks just doing different scenes before, at least me, before I finally got to see one. And when you do see one, it’s like, “Holy crap, man, that’s awesome.”
That's another great thing about the show is that they're not humanoid, you know what I mean? The aliens aren't gorgeous blondes with big boobs—you know what I mean—and in spandex pants. These aliens, they're pretty gross-looking man, and they're really wicked, the way they move and the six legs. It's pretty cool man.
Tell me how it is working with Noah and Will?
Fantastic, man. I'll tell you, Most people know Noah from "ER" and he did a brilliant job in "ER;" the guy's definitely got chops. With "Falling Skies," yes, it was epic; yes, it's gigantic. We were lucky to get one take sometimes. We'd get one take and he blew me away with some of the stuff that he did. Not only were the performances absolutely bang-on, but he was able to do them in the most chaotic circumstances, I mean ridiculous stuff. We were getting behind and people are like, "We gotta to go, we gotta go, we gotta get this." … Everybody's screaming but it's OK, "Noah, go, action!"
And he's got to do a scene with regards to his son who's missing, or almost is about to get killed, and he just nailed it. Nailing something like that can be difficult, but to be able to do it in one take because we're all rushing … There were many days I stood there just absolutely blown away by what he can do and how fast he can do it. And and to still give it the integrity, the depth and the weight of what it should be. He impressed me immensely.
And then, of course,
You’ve directed porjects, so how is it to just act in this show?
I will say for a show like “Falling Skies,” it’s no problem, bro. When I directed it was on a much smaller level and as difficult as it can be, it’s certainly rewarding. Well, you show up and you’ve got to wrangle 200 or 300 people, and weapons, and explosions, and all this kind of stuff.
These guys, they know what they're doing, they really do. And Greg Beeman, I've just got to tip my hat off to all these guys. To even try and wrestle something like this and put it in a way that's logical and to get through a day, it's amazing. There wasn't a single director there that had ever done anything on this scope before, not in terms of a TV show. TV shows just don't do this, so I'm amazed that Spielberg and all these guys even had the nads to think that they could make a TV show like this. It's huge. So it's only the best of the best, I think, who are only able to pull it off.
It's almost unfortunate the actors are going to be the face of this thing and take a lot of credit if at face value when the people behind the camera are, oh my God, some of the best I've ever worked with.
This is one of many, many, many, many post-apocalyptic stories and they're big, popular, and they seem to come back all the time in different forms. Why do you think that is?
I don't know, but I can tell you what makes this one different. What makes this one different is the people. It's about the characters. It's not about the visual effects; it's not about the explosions. It's about the people.
And what's neat for "Falling Skies" is we literally have kids carrying weapons because they have to; they've got to grow up. There's little time for innocence or anything like that. They grow up really, really fast. So, you know, birthdays and celebrating and that kind of stuff is not on the priority list. What's high on the priority list is finding your next meal, duck and cover, and it's really rough. Again, it's about making the good choices in a tough world.
CUNNINGHAM ON HIS EARLY CAREER AND OTHER CURRENT PROJECTS
I heard that you started acting on a dare?
Yeah, that’s the truth. A buddy of mine, Mark Rickerby in Burbank, he was going to Los Angeles Valley College, which
So we both auditioned; we both got parts. And I was bit, man; I was bit in a way I've never been bit by anything before. If anything, it scared the crap out of me because I realized either you're going to bury this thing way down deep inside you and you'll never bring it up again, or you're going to spend the rest of your life trying to do it; trying to make a living at it, trying to do it, whatever you've got to do.
And I decided well, I can't bury this, I've got to go for it. It's one of the hardest things to do in terms of money and success. And if you do get any kind of success it doesn't last any more than a couple of weeks if you're lucky.