Colin Cunningham on ‘Falling Skies’

The veteran actor tells us about his breakout character from TNT's hit series, Falling Skies.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Falling Skies - Colin Cunningham

In Falling Skies, one of the most memorable characters is the renegade, John Pope as portrayed by Colin Cunningham. While this role is one of the biggest in Cunningham's career, he has had an extensive career in sci-fi and genre films and TV series, including "Flashpoint," "Stargate SG-1," "Eureka," "The 4400," "The Dead Zone," "Elektra," "Andromeda," "The Twilight Zone" and "Dark Angel."

We caught up with Cunningham to talk about his new iconic role as Pope, his insights into "Falling Skies" and some of his past roles.


Crave Online: Can you tell us how you got involved with "Falling Skies"?

Colin Cunningham: I wish I could say that it was some elaborate story but… I could probably think of one but it would be a lie. I auditioned for it man! The only thing that might be unique about it in terms of this being just my own personal story is that I never asked "What am I auditioning for?" If it was just some little dinky thing I don’t want to get lazy going in there, and if it’s something huge I don’t want to psyche myself out. So I never ask what it is. So I’m like, "What is it?" "Eh, it’s an alien thing." "All right great that’s all I need to know, it’s an alien thing, whatever that’s fine."

And then I started doing the work for the audition and trying to come up with something a little different for the part as I see it. And it wasn’t until later that my agent finally said "Collin you know what this is?" and I said "No, I don’t." And he’s like, "well it’s trademarks, it’s TNT. It’s a Spielberg trademark, yeah!" And it was only then that I was like, "Holy Crap!" So I’m glad I didn’t know, because it would have screwed me up!


Crave Online: Is it fair to say that this is one of your bigger roles on TV to date?

Colin Cunningham: Oh most certainly. Not a lot of people can say they’ve got Spielberg on their resume. Certainly. I mean I’ve done a lot, and everything’s always big at the time and you’re always grateful to be working, but of course this is definitely different. In a lifetime I don’t know how many people can say that they’ve worked with Steven Spielberg. Or even TNT. TNT is such a fantastic company and just a great team of people. So you know, I could sit back and say it’s no big deal but that would only make me look like an ass.


Crave Online: How would you define your character, John Pope?

Colin Cunningham: John Pope is an opportunist. It’s the end of the world, 98 percent of humanity is gone. So essentially what’s going to happen, at least what happened on the show, is that people start learning to fend for themselves again. And of course people being the lovely race that they are, there are some good people and there are some bad people. People start to be put together in groups, and John Pope happens to be not the most honest, not the kindest gentlest human being, and it's dog eat dog.

So he, I think reluctantly in a way, starts hanging out with some of the bad guys only because it’s survival. But you can always see that he’s a very intelligent guy. He’s an educated guy, a very very smart guy and he just happens to have surrounded himself with thugs and morons in order to survive. I don’t’ find it very intellectually stimulating for him, where as what’s interesting in terms of Tom Mason, Noah Wyle’s character, he does find something in common with Tom in terms of just their intellect and it’s sort of an odd pairing because you’ve got the renegade leather clad biker dude and you’ve got a former history professor.

And there’s a respect of some kind there. Originally I’m definitely on the other side, but throughout the show John Pope becomes someone that Tom can turn to because he does know where the weapons are. He absolutely knows how to kill aliens, and he’s a smart man.


Crave Online: I thought it was wild that Pope hunts aliens for fun.

Colin Cunningham: Yeah, I get a kick out of that. He’s the kind of guy that’s come close to death so many times that there’s no fear there. And he’s pessimistic, I mean he really doesn’t see the human race triumphing in this particular war. Ultimately everyone’s going to die. So therefore he’s got nothing to lose and gets kicks out of killing these things, which is an incredibly dangerous proposition.


Crave Online: Tell me about your role as Major Paul Davis in Stargate SG-1.

Colin Cunningham: Essentially he was an [exposition] kind of guy. Always coming in and telling them ‘Find the book’ or whatever needs to happen. The situation was always different on the ground when he was there, he was a sympathetic character, it was good, a lot of fun.


Crave Online: You’ve done a lot of sci-fi and genre stuff for the last couple years, like Eureka and The 4400. What keeps drawing you back to it?

Colin Cunningham: The sci-fi genre stuff kind of pops because there are so many fans of those genres. But it’s funny, I’d say it’s overall about 20 percent. I mean I’ve done so much stuff. But the sci-fi stuff naturally is popular now. I was living in Vancouver for a good amount of time, of course there is a lot of US production north of the border so I’ve been happy to get any of it. Even though sometimes people dismiss sci-fi, I think it’s an arrogant thing to do. There’s good and bad everywhere. There are good westerns and bad westerns. But if you look at, say a movie like Alien, to just dismiss that as sci-fi is silly. That’s one of our masterpieces, like Blade Runner. They’re incredible films.


Crave Online: Nobody’s going to forget John Pope. This show is going to be one of your breakout roles.

Colin Cunningham: The writing first and foremost, people say "Oh, what’s it like to be John Pope?" And it all starts with the writer and the writers created him long before I walked into the audition room. When I read it, it was like, "Wow, this is working with great stuff." Because so often we get paid to dignify crappy writing, you know what I mean? And this time around it’s so nice to fill up and work on a script that number one, is really worth your time. And number two, being able to work with actors that are really good at what they do; it’s been a real treat.


Crave Online: Are we eventually going to learn more about John Pope's backstory?

Colin Cunningham: We shall see. There will be little hints here and there. I think the neat thing about the show is that they don’t just throw all that backstory right in your face; you’ve got to get to know these people as the show moves along. And that’s kind of a neat thing. This is the situation, here are the people, and right now we need to survive before we get to know everybody and find out where they grew up as children or any of that kind of stuff. Everybody hits the bricks running and if anything, a lot of the characters, they don’t know each other either. Everybody’s getting to know each other. This horrific event has happened and the time now isn’t to ask, you know, "what sign are you?" or "what’s your favorite color?" it’s for "have you got any bullets?" or "pass the ammo." We’ve got to make it through another day.


Crave Online: Do you have a particular favorite moment from the first season?

Colin Cunningham: I should start thinking about and writing down these things myself so I’m ready when people ask me these things. Well, here’s a memory, even though it’s not just mine. Usually when you’re working on a show, you show up and there’s the set, whatever it is. And with the budgets of television, naturally the sets are very quiet. There’s no surprises I should say.

But you show up at "Falling Skies" in the morning and the set would be a Wal-Mart parking lot. And it’s filled with 200 extras. And another 100 soldiers with weapons, and wardrobe, and hair and makeup and people are bleeding and people are being bandaged. People are trying to cook food out of trashcans and the windows have all been blasted and blown out and there are buses that have been flipped over and on fire, and tanks, and blah blah blah.

And all this is set up for somebody to say a couple lines like "We’re moving out." And you need all that coordination; it takes 12 hours just to do five lines because you’ve got to have all that background. So we would show up at work, sometimes and look around and think, "man this is not a TV show!" I mean it was epic. This is no TV show that any of us have worked on. Feature films, sure, you bet; they’ve got all sorts of great stuff. But you don’t show up on a TV show set and see these things. Two miles, two miles of freeway that’s been locked down! And the asphalts all been chewed up and you’ve got cars that are abandoned and semi trucks that are flipped over, and it’s just mind blowing. Like "Holy Crap!"


Crave Online: Besides Noah, who else have you worked with closely in this season?

Colin Cunningham: In terms of the actual leads on the show, none of them. We’ve all worked with friends; we all know each other through other people. But it’s the first chance I’ve had to work with everybody. I’ll tell you, it’s been an absolute delight, it really has. Working with Noah Wyle – Noah not only sets the tone of the show by being a leader, the lead guy on the show, he’s the guy that sets the tone for the show professionally. And the caliber of acting… you’ve got Will Patton who is just, for me, iconic. To do a scene with Will Patton, there’s a second memory, to be able to do a scene with Will. There’s so much integrity in the work that he’s done since he first started that it’s a real treat to train with these guys. You know, it’s not just some TV show about boobs and hair. There are consequences with what happens on "Falling Skies." It’s really awesome.


Crave Online: Do you have any closing thoughts to give us on Falling Skies?

Colin Cunningham: Well it’s weird man. For me, I’ve got to be careful because I don’t want to end up sounding stupid, but I just approach everything with gratitude. I’m not living in a car and showering at a park. Everything to me was about acting and I just always said [that] If I’m ever actually able to do this for a living I’ll just be one grateful dude. So if anything, I’m just so happy to be here. I wish nothing but success for the show, and I think more genre and specialty actors are going to get a lot of profile. But it’s always the writers and the producers and those behind the camera that do so much work to make us look great. I’ve just never worked with a greater bunch of people so it’s just really cool and I’m happy to be here.