Jessup spent 2 1/2 months of his spring backpacking through Europe with a friend before heading, alone, to Korea and Japan. That's quite the solo trip for an 18-year-old who finished high school just a year ago as his series was beginning its second season.
"I hadn't really had the sort of wonderful chemistry of free time plus no school. So I decided to take advantage of it," said the Canadian, who turned 19 on June 23. "Japan is my favorite country in the world. I came here for a while a couple of years ago and fell in love. So this country's the best. I'm so happy to be back."
Having been on the road so long, Jessup has had to view reactions to the show's third season from afar. But they've been positive for the show and for his character, Ben Mason, the middle son of Noah Wyle's Tom Mason, who leads the human resistance against alien invaders known as the Espheni, whose foot soldiers are called skitters.
Ben, like the actor who plays him, has grown since the first season. A former harnessed captive of the aliens whose ordeal has given him physical advantages over humans and the ability to communicate with the aliens, Ben has become a translator for a group of rebel skitters and, on the family side, a supportive older brother to young Matt (Maxim Knight).
"He still wears a lot of black, but he's not so much of a tortured soul anymore," Jessup said of Ben, who has befriended other former captives like himself. "I don't feel as alone, as ostracized or as isolated, which was a big part of my negative feelings in Season 2. We've become extremely helpful. We do jobs and missions and elements of missions that other people physically can't do. So we're kind of an invaluable asset to the Second Mass."
As for Ben's relationship with Matt, Jessup believes Ben can help his little brother because they face similar issues: They both want to be assets as fighters for the resistance. Many in the Second Mass. remain suspicious of Ben and his harness spikes, while Matt's age often keeps him from battle.
"I've always found [Matt's] story, or at least the story of the child soldiers, to be particularly fascinating since the very beginning of the show because it begs the question: Where do we draw the line?" Jessup said. "How young is too young to fight and how young is too young to sacrifice? Because he wants to fight but he's still a kid. So at the same time we're short on manpower. It's a hard world to live in … and Matt just sort of provides an immediate, intimate example of that."
Jessup, who chatted by phone last month from an airport in Osaka, Japan, talked more about Ben's relationship with Matt, guest stars and just how long he's willing to play Ben Mason. (He filmed the pilot when he was 15 years old.)
You must be in heaven. I know that you like manga a lot, and Japan is home to manga.
Yes, I do. I love everything about Japan. It kind of does it for me. I really dig this country. Yeah, I could talk about this for a while.
You missed the big "Falling Skies" premiere.
Yes. It happened while I was sleeping and I woke up to all the people talking about it.
So is it weird to be away while this is happening or not really that much.
It is. Usually I've been in L.A. actually ... for the premiere with my other cast mates. So it definitely felt more immediate and it felt more like an event, you know? For the most part nobody in Japan or Korea knows about the show, so you're sort of distanced from it both literally and mentally. So it felt different than previous seasons but it is fun to kind of see everything stream in from afar.
While you were on your trip did you get recognized?
A couple times actually. Surprisingly, apparently the show's quite popular in Korea which ... which surprised me. A couple other times along the way but in a lot of these countries the show has only aired the first season or maybe a little bit into the second season. And I look quite a bit different than I did in the first season. So that's my excuse at least. That's how my ego deals with it.
Well, you have grown a lot, that's true, since the first season.
Yeah, I started it when I was 15 I want to say or, yeah, 15 when I did the pilot for the show. It's been a significant portion of my formative years spent on the show.
But you're still loving it, right?
Oh yeah. You know and every season's different. Both for my character and in general. It's great; I hope we run for many, many, many seasons. I'm not ready to be done quite yet.
Good. You're ready to grow all the way up on the show.
Exactly, yeah. I'm not gonna be happy until that happens.
All right, good. Well last year we talked about how Ben was afraid of what he was turning into. And this year he kind of fears having those alien traits taken away when the spike removal surgery becomes a possibility.
Yeah, it's an interesting dilemma because so much of Season 2 was about this kind of fear and disgust and all these unfortunate words toward the spikes and the phenomenon that they were causing. But in the meantime, we saw him sort of start becoming useful in that he was interpreting for the rebel Skitters—it wasn't just a curse. There was a fine silver lining. And in the seven months in between Season 2 and 3 that has kind of grown quite a bit--that feeling of usefulness …
And it raises an interesting question. I still hate hate what they're doing to me. There's a possibility that they could be having physically detrimental effects on me in terms of my lifespan and stuff like that. So it's still a heavy negative on one side. But on the other side there's the politics of ... how much are we willing to sacrifice to win this war, because everyone has to sacrifice something. So even if I hate it, is it worth keeping if it provides some sort of benefit to the masses? It's that sort of classic for the greater good situation of which side's gonna come out heavier--the benefit it provides or the harm it causes me personally.
I'm not the only one going through that. You know, Matt wants to fight. Young little Matt and we all have to deal with the question of what's more important--protecting his childhood innocence or having more manpower? What's more important--trying to recreate society or winning the war? That's sort of the main theme of the season. We started to recreate a little mirage of what things were before and what's better to maintain and build that or to forget about that for the moment, win the war and then worry about that after? And these storylines all kind of play into that kind of central theme.
Do you think there's just been fear that he won't be able to help?
Before the spikes, before the kind of abilities that they bestowed on him, Ben was not exactly the most gifted fighter. In Season 1 he was a civilian entirely. … I see my little brother fighting now. I've seen my older brother fighting. I've seen my dad fighting. I see everyone I care about fighting. And there's the fear that if I give up this one asset that I have that I will suddenly lose all kind of worth in the group. And it's not just that. It's also worth in the group in a military sense and also translates into worth in a general sense. And my dad is so focused on running this little country, this micro nation, as the president. He doesn't really have as much time for his kids anymore. If I give up the thing that binds me to his job in a way, which is my prowess, will I lose my connection with him as well? It goes a hundred different ways but that's the general idea is that he's afraid of becoming useless.
As you mentioned, he's befriended Denny, who is in the same situation he is in with the spikes.
Now there are people, one person in particular who quite literally has gone through what I'm going through and knows what it's like to walk in those spikey shoes. It essentially drains some of the angst out of the character.
Ben and Matt have some great moments together. It's almost like Ben has become to Matt what Hal was to Ben in earlier seasons.
There's a weird thing going on where, last season Ben was sort of the rebellious one that people tried to understand and couldn't really and tried to deal with. And I had my whole thing with Hal and my dad. And now we've all kind of shifted positions again in that Hal has his own shit going on. He has enough to think about without Matt. Tom, same thing. He's running a country.
Ben has grown in a sense in the time since the second season in that he went through a lot and he's a little bit more understanding. He understands Matt's desire to contribute because it's his own dilemma as we were talking about before. He understands Matt's desire not to be useless. He understands his desire to get his dad's attention. Like all these things are things that Ben has dealt with before so it kind of puts him in an optimal place to be there for Matt in a way that maybe no one was quite there for me last season. So yeah, Ben and Matt kind of have a natural kind of connection over the course of the season. And it happens in little moments. There's no one big isolated plot, but it's little beats across all the episodes like you were saying. And it was fun to shoot. Maxim is also growing up. It's not just me.
Matt is really affected by the kidnapping of Anne and Alexis.
Yes, he is. … He really cares about her and he really cares about our baby sister. And when they go missing, it breaks his heart more than any of ours because we're all hurt by it but we're all old enough to sort of understand that these things happen. But Matt, despite all his kind of pretended or put on maturity and cynicism, he's still a little kid and he's still naïve and innocent where it counts. So this sort of shattering thing has a very negative effect on him.
How will Ben channel his worries about his sister and stepmom into trying to find them? Does he just take more action?
He needs to find them, too. But obviously not just for Matt's sake but for his own sake. For Tom's sake. But Matt certainly provides the most human reason to look for them because with Alexis and Anne and the Mason boys there's sort of this semblance of a family, of a real sort of nuclear family which mirrors the construction of Charleston and this kind of semblance of a real human society. So as long as we were all together, there was hope that something as normal and as simple as a family or as normal and as simple as a country could rise and persist even in these situations. And their loss is a direct attack to that hope.
So us wanting to find them is as personal as well as a deeply, deeply necessary thing for everybody, not just the Masons. There is something symbolic about Alexis especially and Anne, about new life and rebirth and the possibility of future generations living in a world better than the one that we see around us. So all those elements are there not just for Ben but for Matt and Hal and Weaver and everyone who goes looking for him.
Have you found that storyline to be one of the most interesting?
I don't want to spoil anything and there's a lot at the end of the season that's still unanswered. So I'm very interested to see where it all goes. But it's intriguing to me, like I said because Alexis comes into the world as such a kind of a clear symbol of hope and there's obviously something slightly iffy about her right from the get-go. ... And that theme is really intriguing to me. The idea of hope sort of battling it out like one-on-one with unhope. I'm interested to see how they continue it if we're lucky enough to get another season or two. [Note from Curt: Since our chat, TNT has renewed the series for a fourth season.]
Let's talk about Evil Hal.
Evil Hal is another interesting storyline. And even just the term Evil Hal provided a great amount of amusement for me on set. In the script they would write Evil Hal, which I don't know, it rubbed my funny bone in the right way. It's like in "Lost" when they had flashbacks and then they had flash sideways and flash forwards and all that; I sort of imagine future variations of Hal where you have Evil Hal, you have Snarky Hal, you have Somewhat Douchey Hal. You know, there are lots of Hals waiting for future seasons that I can't wait to see Drew play.
Remember last year we talked about how it was kind of a running joke about how they made you do all this physical stuff? You have a lot more hand-to-hand combat this season. So I was wondering how that's come along for you.
Yeah, how about that, huh? Well, I didn't suddenly grow athletic ability overnight so I'm pretty much in the same position. I think it ended up looking OK mostly because of persistence on the part of our directors and editors and a little bit of movie magic here and there. It's not really hand-to-hand combat. ... I don't want to completely ruin our secrets but I'll say it's like 80 percent them and 20 percent me. But I'm OK with that. As long as we don't have to do like the live taping of "Falling Skies" one day I think I'll be OK.
I wanted to ask you about Doug Jones, the new addition.
Oh I love Doug Jones. I'll [bleeping] talk about Doug Jones for a while if you want.
He's a nice guy.
Doug's awesome. Because we had a big time skip [in time] and we're in a new location, inevitably we're gonna have new guest stars or new stars. And this year we had Robert Sean Leonard. We had Gloria Reuben. We have Doug Jones. And they're all in it quite a bit and they're all fantastic, fantastic actors and people. And Doug is just like, the crème de la crème.
A, he has the hardest job of any actor on our show. Before he shows up to set he's already been working for five hours getting his stuff on. And then he, you know, he has to get fed air and it's like really hot. It's like the most uncomfortable, most difficult thing. And on top of that he gets the hardest dialogue. Everything he says, he speaks in like monologues talking about like alien made-up words. He gets all the hard stuff, the stuff that when we get it we're like, "Oh, at least we only get it just this one episode." But that's all of his stuff. And then he has to work with like eight different departments.
He has, bar none, without a doubt, the hardest job and he does it with such grace and ability. It's impressive and you can see in the show. It's not CGI, it's Doug. And even though he wears that mask you can feel his performance and can feel the character he created. Even in the very first table read that we did when he was just Doug Jones in normal civilian wear, he felt like Cochise and we were all very impressed and believed. And he's done so many amazing parts in so many amazing movies. We're very, very lucky to have him on board and I hope he continues to stay with us because I love Doug very dearly. And he's also, as you know, he's just the coolest person in the world and super kind and funny. Yeah, Doug was a fun addition this year.
So how is Ben's interaction and relationship with Cochise? Will we see them connected?
Not very much. You know, Ben still is mostly the Skitter boy. Whenever there are Skitters around, Ben's there. … I've done scenes with him, but usually they're bigger group scenes and if we interact it's sparse. But it's weird. We have so many characters in our show. I remember we were like halfway through filming Season 2 and I was doing a scene with Colin, who plays Pope. And we looked at each other and we're like, "This is the first time we've ever been in a scene together, isn't it?" And it was true. So, you know, there are a lot of characters on our show.
Does Ben still miss Redeye?
Of course Ben misses Redeye. Redeye was awesome. Redeye was like the Braveheart of Skitters. He was cool. It's also rare to find a Skitter who has a unique identifying trait. ... Redeye was also very integral in Ben's development because Ben decided halfway through Season 2 to go off and join the rebel Skitters and that would be the way he was most productive. And Redeye at the end, like basically his last act, was to kind of free Ben from that obligation that he put on himself and allow him to go back and live with his family which he's like he is now. So Redeye's very important to Ben, at least to Ben's development as well as, you know, personally.
I was wondering if you had any fun, crazy story, behind-the-scenes stuff to tell me.
Maybe I shouldn't be telling you but Robert Sean Leonard who plays Kadar, he's one of our main guest stars this season. He's another person that I love. He's awesome. And he's also hilarious. And he has the best sense of humor of anyone I've ever met. We're shooting these big group scenes that we were both in toward the end of the season. And there's like 25,000 characters in the scene or something. So we don't say anything. Like there's a whole handful of characters who are just kind of standing there. And then we all walk off and leave the scene and leave Noah and Will or something to do their little scene.
The scenes with a lot of people take forever and they're sort of boring when you're not actively involved. So we're just sort of hanging out. And Robert gets this idea. The way the scene works he leaves before I do and I follow him like 10 seconds later. So he decides about halfway through when we're shooting the scene that as soon as he gets off camera he's gonna run and hid behind a wall where he's collected pebbles and stones. And he's gonna start throwing them at me while I'm still on camera.
So as I'm walking away in the background of the shot I feel these like stings on the side of my chest, like the side of my head. He's like just like throwing little pebbles at me and of course I can't react because I'm still on camera. So I have to grit my teeth and walk straight through the frame until I'm out of it. But that was the way he amused himself in his downtime.
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