Your character, Cochise, appears at the end of season 2 of Falling Skies, but at what point did you actually become involved with the show?
So at the end of season 2 you see an alien stepping off a spaceship, and then they cut to black and roll the credits. So it’s a cliffhanger! So, that is my character, but I wasn’t cast yet, so that’s a CG version of me. And at that point, when they filmed that, they didn’t have a clue whether they were going to be renewed for a third season or not, so that left a lot of questions. So when season 3 starts that’s when I start, and I took the character over from there and went off with the creature effects make-up team that puts me together, and the digital effects that make my eyes blink. It does take a village.
But what you’ll find out is, because you’re left with a lot of questions about whether they’re here to help us or hurt us, when we saw my helmet open up and my character’s eyes looking back at Noah Wyle in that little cliffhanger, you saw an alien who looked a little bit more human than the other ones you’ve met on the show so far. I think that bodes well for their relationship. Aliens so far have been bad guys here to hurt or kill humans, kidnap or capture them, but this time it seems that these aliens are here to help and help the humans fight back. Of course there are the skidder rebels who are allied with the humans also, but they’re eight-legged and they don’t speak English. So this is now a welcome relief. They’re someone who has technology that we don’t have, and someone who has a history with the Espheni maybe, and someone who knows what’s going on out there in the universe that we humans don’t know. That’s where their trust and belief comes from. I’ve mainly come with my Volm race to bring this technology and some knowhow and some stories.
So you’re going to find my character talking a lot. When I open my mouth they can’t shut me up. I have a lot of information to share, so a lot of exposition and backstory on the Espheni is going to come out too through my knowedge, and my race’s history with the Espheni. And I think in Episode 4 you’re going to get to know me very well. I have this great long speech with a key guest star played by Stephen Collins, but I don’t want to give away who he’s playing because it’s a fun little twist, and he’s got some pretty key questions for me. And so with Noah Wyle’s character, Tom Mason, I get a big speech and is divulges a lot of information and his history. And you’re going to want to tilt your head and say ‘aww, Cochise is kind of a cute little alien.’
But the question is going to remain, as you look at me through all of the character’s eyes on the show. Some of them, like Tom Mason, trust me and see that I’ve been here to help. Season 3 starts seven months after the season 2 finale, so there’s some time spent that the audience hasn’t seen, and this season opens up with us both on horses, side by side, and shooting at the bad guy aliens. So you know something good has happened here. But you’re going to wonder, and the question’s going to remain; why? What’s in it for me? What’s in it for the Volm race for us to have travelled from afar to help the humans fight back?
Audiences are going to be asking, after spending two seasons with lots of aliens that they don’t trust, why they should suddenly trust these new alien characters.
Exactly, because aliens haven’t been trusted, and they shouldn’t be, on the show. Now there’s one who’s speaking English, and looks more human with two arms and two legs, huh. So if you look at me out of the corner of your eye with a little bit of leer and a little bit of question like Colonel Weaver and John Pope do on the show, you may be getting a better balance of what I might be after. I don’t know, I can’t tell you!
When you signed on, were you told how long your character would be on the show, and what his long-term arc would be?
With television being a writer’s medium, the writers usually are executive producers as well, they really dictate everything that happens and they change their minds on a dime. They could change their decisions with every passing minute. So when I was contacted to be on the show, it was for season 3 with an option to go for two more. I have a three season option. Now, what that means is, that’s their option not mine. They have the option to keep writing for me, or not. So I was guaranteed seven episodes in my first season, so I was guaranteed to be paid for seven shows but whether I did them or not was up to the writers. So you’ll have to keep watching, but I can tell you that it did go well for me, but there are going to be a few turns and twists in the show that make you go ‘uh oh, have we lost Cochise? Is he coming back?’
Were you a fan of the show beforehand?
I was, I watched the show. It’s a summer show in the US, so it was in late July when the show was halfway through season 2 that I got the call. ‘Hey, you’re being considered for this new alien character on the show.’ So only being a fan of the show and knowing the storyline and loving it, that was a great call to get. ‘Ooh, I get to play with all these people. Yay!’ Of course it involves getting into all this make-up, but yeah it’s a fun call to get.
Speaking of the make-up, what exactly does it involve on a day-to-day basis?
Well, first of all, Cochise on Falling Skies is a mercifully short make-up process compared to the things that I’ve done before. When you’re looking at something like my Abe Sapien character from the Hellboy movies, that would be five to seven hours a day. The same with Pan’s Labyrinth, those were five-hour characters, the fawn and the pale man. But when you’re looking at Cochise on Falling Skies, that was two hours to get the complete head to toe look. Its just ridiculpusly short for this kind of thing. But with series television there’s a schedule we have to keep, and what we have to turn around and do the next day, and episode after episode, so they really have to get that down to a workable time.
But my day starts with me in a spandex pair of shorts and a t-shirt that are tight to my skin so that I can just shimmy on the body-suit which is all pre-muscled and pre-made for me, but I need help getting it on. It’s so skin-tight and so form-fitting that I can’t get it on by myself, I need friends to help get dressed! I then have two make-up artists who help put on my face and my head which goes on and all the way down to my neck in three pieces. One big one that goes around the back of my head where my face pops out of. And then my face piece which covers my eyes, nose, and the top of my mouth. Then there’s a bottom lip that goes on to blend in so we can get better movement out of my mouth. So that’s all glued down to my face, and then my accessories go on, like those plasticy looking onion ring things around my shoulders, and that neck piece that looks like a translator. I do speak perfect English in the show, because a lot of exposition comes through me. And they don’t ever explain this in the show, but I am wearing a collar around my neck that looks kind of like a toilet seat with blue lights on it. They did a sound mix on the show that makes my voice sound a little bit lower and more echoey than my real voice, so it sounds like it’s kind of coming through that translating collar.
You’re one of the go-to guys when it comes to delivering these performances through heavy prosthetics. Is there a key to getting your emotions and performance to shine through despite being behind all the make-up?
Oh, I wish I had something brilliant to say right now. I’ll tell you what, this whole side of my career took me by surprise. I didn’t know that playing monsters on film was an option. I’d seen old movies like Frankenstein, The Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, and I was a big fan of all those, but I never really thought about it being an actor in make-up . So getting a performance to come through foam-rubber latex is an art form that I’ve just had to learn. But having a background as a mime, I started that when I was at University many years ago, and being a fan of silent films and Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and being a fan of I Love Lucy and sitcoms like Mayberyr R.F.D. with Don Knotts playing that goofy Deputy Barney Fife, or Gilligan’s Island. Those tall, skinny, goofy guys who were all very physically funny inspired me. You can see a performance happening from head to toe that, once I’d learned as a mime, that whole physicality came out and I learned that there’s a lot that goes beyond verbal. Communication happens from head to toe. But with that, and me being a tall, skinny guy with a small face, it turns out that people love to build things on me, because they can build out and not get too bulky on me. That’s what they tell me anyway. So that whole combo platter leads to, ‘oh, let’s put that guy in make-up and make him into an other-worldly creature.’ So it’s something that I never sought, but it has made a career for me that I never expected but that I’m very happy with.
Falling Skies, Season 3, begins airing tonight (Tuesday 16th July) on FOX.