'Falling Skies' Colin Cunningham on reign as Pope

Cunningham as Pope, courtesy Turner

John Pope is not Han Solo. The character on Falling Skies is indeed a scruffy-looking scoundrel who - when he’s not killing aliens with a rebel force - spends his time cracking one-liners and acting cool. But Han Solo was just waiting to join a resistance group so he could be a good guy and get the girl. Meanwhile, there’s a distinct feeling in TNT’s alien invasion series, premiering its second season on Jan. 17 at 9 p.m., that Pope isn’t a crook with a heart of gold, but is actually only acting good until he doesn’t have to.

And that’s just the way Colin Cunningham likes it.

An experienced actor who became a sci-fi mainstay with his role of Major Paul Davis in the Stargate franchise, Cunningham’s street cred within the genre was also helped by work on The 4400 and Sanctuary and several other projects. But it’s his portrayal of breakout character Pope that has Cunningham chewing up scenery and spitting out some of the series’ best lines (not unlike fellow rascal, Norman Reedus’ Daryl on The Walking Dead).

Arriving in the second episode of Season One, Pope could have easily been a throwaway bad guy of the week. But the Cunningham’s character quickly gained traction as the guy that the 2nd Massachusetts resistance force didn’t particularly like, but did value in their battle against invading aliens. Throughout the season, Pope performed cowardly, brave, clever, stupid and hilarious acts that all seemed to make sense to him alone. And that kind of across-the-spectrum behavior makes him a thrill to watch.

But if you think Pope’s reign as the resident scoundrel on Falling Skies is over just because he acted heroically in the Season One finale, you’ve got another thing coming. Colin Cunningham joined us to speak about the upcoming season of the show, and how his character might develop. And Cunningham even offers an opinion about his own chances against aliens (after the jump)...

Q: Just to start off with, what is a thing that you just can’t wait to have the fans see with the second season?

A: To tell you the truth, it’s the first episode … The premiere, the first two episodes, is absolutely off the chart. And I will say I’ve been doing a lot of ADR (additional dialogue recording) looping at different voice studios and stuff lately, and so I’ve been able to see a lot of the show. It’s absolutely superb. So the hardest part for me right now is to be so excited about something that no one else can see. Even in terms of the press, no one’s really seen it yet. So, I guess it’s tough to hang onto all this excitement without having a place to really express it.

Q: Since it has been a couple months since you wrapped, do you ever interact with the other cast members and say, ‘Man, I was just doing the ADR and this thing that you do, I forgot about it, and it really works. You really nailed it.’ Do you ever reach out and circle back on what you’re seeing as it comes together?

A: Yeah, absolutely, because there’s also a lot of scenes that you don’t see. You’ll maybe read the script but you’re not necessarily in those scenes. Not that he didn’t do a fantastic job in Season One, but a lot I’ve had to compliment Noah Wyle on his work this season because it is absolutely superb. Another exciting thing about seeing some of the footage or going to see the stuff in the studio is that you finally get to see the contributions of everyone else behind the camera. I mean, we kind of knew what we did on the day, but it is so rewarding and so exciting to see what these incredible, incredibly talented people - whether it be the effects, or how the shows all come together with the score, the editing everything -you really get to see everyone else’s contribution to the process and that’s incredibly fulfilling.

Q: We all want to see additional growth with characters, to see them grow in this new world. With that, are you afraid that Pope is going to lose some of that edge, and he’s going to become too loveable?

A: Absolutely, positively not. I know what you’re saying. It’s like he always had this little spark of light in him and you think it would grow and his heart would get bigger. No. We did not go that direction in Season Two. If anything, it becomes a little darker, a little edgier and a little bit more self-serving. He’s still quite the mystery. His motives are still entirely selfish. I think they’ve definitely done a ‘right’ thing in continuing down that road as opposed to veering away from it.

Q: Do you feel like you have a real sense of his voice, at this point, that you might interject and say what’s written in the script doesn’t feel like Pope?

Pope takes aim with Noah Wyle. Courtesy Turner
A: No, if anything … Well, first off, you’re absolutely correct. I do feel, you’re feel confident going in that you’ve got a voice for this particular character. But I will say now, after two seasons, I really know who he is, and the voice is just a lot closer. I understand it more now - not that I didn’t know it before, but I’ve got a real sense of who this guy is. That said, the writers are so fantastic on this show. The voice really starts with them. My job can be challenging at first in putting the character together, but we’re all sort of on the same page and I think we all understand a little bit more. They understand what I’m bringing to the table, which I make them all the more confident in terms of what they’re going to write.

Q: Your character is definitely a fan favorite. People like to see him show up and do some scenery, and you get a lot of really good one-liners. But when you think about it, the origin, he is a bad guy. When we’re first introduced - when we really think about the things that potentially took place at the high school - he’s a really bad guy. So do you think there’s some sort of cognitive dissonance with fans that they like the bad guy so much?

A: When I was putting my own thoughts together, especially as you mentioned at the high school, I never thought that Pope was a part of any of that kind of stuff. But, at the same token, he certainly knew about it and turned a blind eye to it. But I think the circumstance of trying to stay alive, your value system becomes a little more tweaked. It’s literally about eating and surviving from day to day as opposed to, let’s say, lesser crimes. War certainly creates strange bedfellows. And here you’ve got the 2nd Mass literally embrace a guy like John Pope because he does serve a purpose. Whereas, if we were in regular nine-to-five civilian peace time, there’s no way the two would ever meet. They would be at odds.

So yeah, I don’t’ want to say he’s a bad guy but he’s certainly not a good guy. I think the neat thing about the character which, maybe perhaps resonates with audiences, is that he does what he says. He’s very simple in terms of his outlook. He has a very, very simple, defined sense of right and wrong - and it’s kill or be killed. There is no grey area with John Pope. You either do it or you don’t. It’s either right or it’s wrong. You don’t sit and cry about it. You don’t ponder about it too much. This is this. I think he’s often baffled because of some of the other, more nobler emotions and values such as compassion and empathy. He just doesn’t see any place for it in a world that’s gone so crazy. It’s literally about survival. I don’t think he’s encumbered by such a value system. It’s literally about survival. So I think him being within earshot of a lot of things that the 2nd Mass discusses, he just finds it absolutely ridiculous. Just pick up a gun and pull the trigger. And that’s the end of it.

Q: If he had to put together, not the 2nd Mass but his own kind of, let’s say, Avengers-type supergroup, who would Pope want to fight alongside?

A: [laughs] Oh my God. Jesus, there’s a question. I’ve got no freaking idea … It could be a good guy, it could be a bad guy. What was the character that Mickey Rourke played in the Iron Man series?

Q: Oh, yeah, Whiplash?

A: Yeah, he’d hang out with Whiplash, I think, for the weekend.

Q: Well, certainly the hairstyles are similar.

A: I think him and Whiplash would definitely go out and have a beer every now and again.

Q: How about thoughts on UFOs? Have you ever seen one? Do you believe in them? And why do you think we’re so fascinated with this other life out there?

A: Do I think we’re alone? No. Are we the only ones that have ever been? No. Have I seen things that I can’t explain? Absolutely. Do I know that they were flying saucers in the sky? I don’t know. I’ve seen a couple of things in the sky that absolutely had me baffled. As to whether people are coming down and stealing people out of their homes in the middle of the night and doing anal probes? I don’t know. That might be another subject. But sure, man. I think it’s wonderful.

That’s what science fiction does. It gets you to ponder these questions and these thoughts. It’s a very, very big universe. I’m so blessed to work on such a show that I think, for people, sometimes when you think of alien beings that they would come and somehow be more evolved than us, spiritually and what have you. That may not necessarily be the case. They may not be evolved at all. They may be just as brutal as anything we’ve ever seen on this planet. There’s no telling what’s out there. That’s why you’ve always got to fight the good fight.