Like any young actor fresh off a spectacular first season of a hit television series and about to debut his first independent film at the Toronto International Film Festival, Connor Jessup is a live-wire of energy and enthusiasm. In an exclusive interview with theTVaddict.com, Connor shared what it was like to portray Ben, Tom Mason’s son rescued from the Skitters, on FALLING SKIES and a bit about his passion project, the independent film “Amy George.”
Now that the first season of FALLING SKIES has concluded, maybe you could comment on what it was like to portray a character torn between two allegiances – Ben’s love for his family and the genetic emotional-pull instilled by the Skitters?
CONNOR: It was great! Really, really great. When a character has a conflict like that–a sort of emotional tug of war–it means that that character comes pre-stocked with depth and dimension, which makes my job a lot of fun (and a lot easier)! The hardest part of playing conflict like that is to try to avoid it coming off too angst-ridden, because that quickly becomes stupendously boring to watch.
Was there ever any doubt in your mind portraying Ben where his loyalties lie?
CONNOR: Most definitely. There is so much mystery surrounding Ben’s circumstances, it’s hard not to doubt him. Ben knows that too, he doubts himself more than anyone else, I think. I don’t think Ben is a conscious double agent, but the effects of the harness are still very mysterious…
At what point did you find out that your character could possibly be transforming into a Skitter?
CONNOR: When we were shooting episode 7 (“Sanctuary pt. 2”), we got the script for the following episode, which is when Anne discovers the harness inside the skitter. That was really how I found out. I didn’t have a clue for more than half the series.
How did that make you feel about it?
CONNOR: It made me phenomenally excited! A plot twist like that is what you always hope for, because it means that your character is anything but static. When I found out about that twist, my first thought was: it’s only going to get more interesting from here on out.
Do you think Ben has any idea of his pending transformation? If and when he does, how do you think he will react to it?
CONNOR: I think he has a vague idea. He definitely feels different and isolated, and recognizes that those feelings are growing. The transformation is part of him, so I’m sure he has an inkling. It’s hard to guess how anyone would react to news like that, it’ll be interesting though.
Is it kind of exciting to possibly portray something other than human? A hybrid of sorts on a sci-fi show? Or does that kind of freak you out?
CONNOR: It’s super exciting. Anytime an actor gets lucky enough to be able to do something unique, it’s truly amazing. The prospect of all the makeup I might have to do is a bit unappealing, but other than that, I can’t wait! There are so many potential routes this character can take, I’m anxious to explore them.
What would you describe as being the most fun thing you go to do while working on the first season of FALLING SKIES?
CONNOR: Well, I did get to dramatically save the day (or at least part of it) in the season finale, which was pretty awesome, to say the least.
What was your favorite surprise or reveal during the first season?
CONNOR: Although the reveal that the skitters were harnessed was definitely fascinating, my personal favorite reveal was that Weaver’s daughter had died when he tried to remove the harness from her. I love reveals like that: ones that add a whole new layer of emotional complexity to a character, and that make you look at everything that that character has done up until that point in a new light.
What would you describe as Ben’s strongest strength? What makes him special or useful?
CONNOR: Ben certainly has his share of newfound and slightly superhuman physical strengths, but personally I think his greatest strength is his optimism. I know it sounds trite, but the ability to smile and maintain a level of cheer after what he’s been through is one of my favorite parts of the character. It shows tremendous strength of will.
If you could use one word to describe Ben, what would it be?
What was it like working with Noah Wyle, Drew Roy and Maxim Knight as your television family on the show?
CONNOR: Noah, Drew and Max are great; both on and off screen. Not only are they all talented actors, but they are also kind, passionate and interesting. We had a running series of chess games between shots. The scene where the four of us are all together (there aren’t that many of them) were among my favorites to film.
What do you think you learned first and foremost about working on FALLING SKIES during its first season?
CONNOR: That every single day of filming offers something definitively different: new experiences, new lessons, new people, etc.
Is there anything you would be excited to see come to fruition for Ben and the other characters in the second season?
CONNOR: For purely selfish reasons, I would love to see Ben’s newly acquired powers explored in depth (cough–fighting aliens–cough). I was always jealous of my fellow cast members who got to run around with guns and generally act badass.
How did you first hear about the film “Amy George” and how did you become involved with it?
CONNOR: The writers/directors of “Amy George” happened to teach a session on filmmaking at an arts camp I went to for several years, so that’s where I met them and first heard about the project. About 6 months later, I heard about the project again and thought it sounded compelling. I got in contact with them, read the script and the rest, as they say, is history. I was very interested to learn the ins and outs of guerilla filmmaking, and producing and working on “Amy George” provided the perfect opportunity.
What did you find to be the most difficult and/or intriguing part of working on the film?
CONNOR: The most difficult part also happens to be the most intriguing part. Due to the limitations of our budget, we had to be extremely creative in how we approached every element of the film. As you can imagine, this made some things incredibly difficult but it also made it interesting, and provided a unique creative and logistical challenge.
What would you say was the most valuable thing you learned from working on “Amy George”?
CONNOR: I learned that with a little creativity, passion and dedication a good film can be made at any budget.
What was the most fun thing you got to do while working on this project?
CONNOR: There’s a scene where a police car is supposed to drive by a house at night. We didn’t have a real police car, so instead, to create the illusion of the car passing, we taped red and blue police lights to a wooden board. During the scene, me and one other crewmember would sprint down the sidewalk with this makeshift lighting rig above our heads. We couldn’t stop laughing all night.
Did you participate in casting and if so, what did you look for when selecting co-stars?
CONNOR: I was pretty heavily involved in the casting process. I sat in on most of the casting sessions and was actually the one who brought in the star of the film, Gabriel del Castillo. Casting can be fun, but it is also extremely stressful. It’s difficult, to say the least, to find actors who match the filmmaker’s vision.
Did you find that there is a key ingredient that is essential in seeking out actors for a film?
CONNOR: It’s a mixture of things really. Ability to take direction, charisma, and an innate understanding of the script are obviously critical, but so is look. Sometimes an actor feels right immediately, and other times it is more of an ordeal to arrive at that conclusion.
How is a micro-budget film different than other independent films?
CONNOR: Independent films, although removed from Hollywood’s studio system, can have drastically varying budgets. Some indies have millions upon millions of dollars, whereas some (like “Amy George”) only several thousand. The difference between the two is, understandably, enormous. Micro-budget films typically have a crew of less than a dozen, with scattered shooting schedules and non-union cast and crew. This makes filming considerably more difficult. However, it also provides for an unrivalled degree of creative freedom.
You seem to be drawn to some of the toughest and darkest roles, such as an alien-abductee survivor on FALLING SKIES, a rebellious teenage artist exploring the darkest sides of life in “Amy George” and a very troubled teen in a detention center in “Bye Bye Blackbird.” What compels you or draws you to these intense roles?
CONNOR: I feel very lucky that I have gotten the opportunity to play several interesting characters over the course of my relatively fledgling career, and I am most certainly intrigued by that type of character. Dark and traumatized characters are, almost ironically, much more fun to play than light and innocent ones. However, it is a mistake to say that I have been actively pursuing these types of characters. I’m young and new to the business, so I don’t exactly have offers pilling up on my desk. Like I said, I’ve just been lucky that the roles I’ve happened to get were on the darker and more complex end of the spectrum.
Do you find yourself seeking out more light-weight roles after a stream of dark roles, or are you thrilled to be immersed in such adult roles?
CONNOR: I love it! I’ll take any role that comes my way of course, but dark roles do tend to be more fun. I’d take the tortured Byronic antihero over the moral and emotional stagnancy of your typical modern protagonist any day.
What would be your dream role in the future?
CONNOR: I’m probably too old for it now, but I’ve always wanted to play Simon from ‘Lord of the Flies’ (who also happens to be one of the inspirations for the character of Ben). Holden from ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and John the Savage from ‘Brave New World’ would also be incredibly exciting.
Finally, what would you like your fans to know about you and your work? What should they keep an eye out for as your career expands and grows?
CONNOR: I don’t really know where my career is going to lead me, but the one thing I can say with a fairly high degree of certainty is that I will always do what I do out of a sincere passion for this business. I know it’s an overly romantic and exhausted expression, but I really can’t think of any other way to put it: to me, a future in film truly is a dream come true.
Having already won the Spirit Award at the Brooklyn International Film Festival for “Amy George,” the spotlight will be on the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, which begins this week. Both “Amy George” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” should be available in limited release either later this year or early next year; and FALLING SKIES will return for its second season on TNT in the summer 2012. In the meantime, Connor continues to stay busy and is pursuing his dreams as an actor and film-maker. Life is not just good for Connor, it is his dreams coming true!
Catch up on past episodes of FALLING SKIES you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv
Photo Credits: Josh Madson
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).