Connor Jessup had a big year on “Falling Skies.” As the middle Mason brother Ben, he kind of took charge with his new strength and determination.
Having survived being harnessed by the alien skitters, Ben practically became the 2ND Mass’ secret weapon against the invaders, even if he occasionally bumped heads against his older brother Hal (Drew Roy) and their father, Tom (Noah Wyle) before eventually leaving to join the skitter rebellion against the mysterious Overlords.
Jessup’s real life physical transformation was also pretty hard to miss. When we spoke to via phone, we spoke with him about getting his body ready for season two as well as other moments from his breakthrough season. We even revisited a classic scene from the first season of the series.
CraveOnline: Ben was quite different this year, wasn’t he?
Connor Jessup: Yes, he is. He is, to say the least.
CraveOnline: How did you feel when you started reading the scripts and found out where Ben was going?
Connor Jessup: Last season he was very optimistic, very lighthearted, very young. He was very childish, very innocent. All of his scenes last year were with his family, with his dad, with his brothers. He never really was on the front lines of the action.
I kind of expected more of the same this season. Not that that was a bad thing, I was more than happy to do that, but then I started getting the scripts only a couple weeks before we started shooting. They have Ben suddenly become a fighter, he’s become dark, he’s become hard and cold. He’s become like an action hero. He is on the front lines now, he is fighting.
And it’s such a drastic change, the experience between shooting last year and shooting this year is so different that it’s almost unbelievable. It seems like I’m shooting two completely different projects.
CraveOnline: Had you changed a lot personally between season one and season two?
Connor Jessup: Yeah. When I started season one I was 16 and when I started season two I’m 17. As you know I’m sure from experience, when you’re a teenager, especially in your more formative years, you change a lot over the course of a year, or a year and a half. So I’d done other work. I’d shot a movie. I’d done another year of school. I’d done a lot of travel. So I hadn’t drastically changed, but a lot of my perspective had.
I certainly hadn’t changed as much as Ben had changed, but I certainly did evolve in a certain way. I think it helped me play the character. More life experience is always helpful when you’re trying to play a character. I’m looking forward to having more. I’m still young.
CraveOnline: How old is Ben supposed to be?
Connor Jessup: You know, it’s never really explicitly said. I always kind of guess 16 or maybe 15. It’s TV. I could play 12 and get away with it. On “Friday Night Lights” all the characters are in high school and the actors are like 35.
CraveOnline: That goes back to “Beverly Hills 90210” when they were all 30-year-olds playing high school kids.
Connor Jessup: Yup.
CraveOnline: Was getting involved in more of the action something you wanted to do?
Connor Jessup: Yeah. Last year, I hate to say it, but I was kind of jealous in terms of I would always be staying at school or staying on the set, I’d have these scenes where I’d be talking to people. The scenes would invariably end with something exciting happening, some big explosion happening off screen and these characters all run off to go handle it, and I’m left behind. They would always grab their guns and I was like, “Come on, just give me one.”
This season that’s like all I’m doing. To be able to use the weapons, to be able to be involved in the action, a lot of the time spent filming is spent on action because it’s very time consuming. So as soon as you’re involved in the action scenes, as soon as you become available for them, you suddenly shoot a lot more. So in that way I was also very much excited to do it.
CraveOnline: Did you have to do any new training to prepare for that?
Connor Jessup: Yes. The funny story is I was called up about four weeks before we started shooting, before I read any scripts, by the director and executive producer of the show, Greg Beeman. He’s got a very straight to the point way of talking on the phone, so he basically said, “How you doing, Connor?” I said, “Good.” He’s like, “So this season you’re going to be an action hero, so you have to buff up.” And then he pretty much hung up.
So that was the little kernel he left me with, which is very helpful and scary. And four weeks isn’t very much [time] to get buff, especially if you’d seen me beforehand. So I spent the four weeks just pretty much working out as much as I could, working with a personal trainer, eating a lot of foods that were pretty disgusting, not eating a lot of foods that were really good.
And then when we got to sets, we did combat training, we did weapons training, some of us did motorcycle training. We did a general day of fight training where we just learned how to throw punches and take punches and use weapons and fall and that kind of stuff. Then obviously whenever there’s a specific stunt, you would do training as to how to use a harness, how to jump out this building, how to do this and this and this. So there was specific training and general training before we started.
CraveOnline: As someone who’s been a fan of action movies and TV shows, what surprised you when you actually got to do it?
Connor Jessup: I guess just the monotony of it. After a while it kind of becomes banal. It’s also terrifying. A lot of it is terrifying, especially for me because I’m kind of graceless. The first time you shoot the gun, when you go to gun training you’re super pumped, or I was at least. I’m like oh, this is so awesome. I’m taking every opportunity that I can to just hold the gun and caress it. It’s like a child.
Then as the season goes on, you kind of get sick of it. You’re like, “Oh my God, this gun is so heavy. Oh God, it’s so loud.” You start complaining about things. So you get used to it. You get used to all the craziness going on around you, which is odd. But there’s always something new happening which you’d never seen so you never fully get used to it. It becomes like any job. If you do it enough, you kind of get bored with it I think.
CraveOnline: Well, I never get bored of interviewing TV actors. I mean it, I love this.
Connor Jessup: That’s true and the thing with the show is there are a lot of stuff and there’s a lot of action but it’s all different. It’s never like you have the same action scene over and over and over again. So you can get bored of the specifics, like you can get bored of the guns but you can never really get bored of the action because it’s always different.
CraveOnline: Now that Ben is facing off against Hal more, has that changing your relationship with Drew Roy?
Connor Jessup: Not at all. In fact, you could say yes because we’re doing more scenes together than we did last year, and I’m shooting more than I did last year, I’m also spending a lot more time with him. So we’ve become actually much closer friends than we were last year. Not that we weren’t friends last year. We’ve just become closer.
The great thing about Drew is he’s so easygoing, he’s so laid back and so open to suggestion, so open to any ideas you have. At the same time, he has great ideas himself. So he’s just an easy person to work with and in every sense, he gives a lot and takes a lot. He’s the best kind of actor, so all my scenes with Drew are fun and rewarding to shoot. Despite the tension we have on screen this season, he’s just a cool guy
CraveOnline: Do you still have to do school on set?
Connor Jessup: I do. Well, I had to this year. I don’t have to anymore because I’m graduating soon but this year I have to, yeah, which is difficult because there’s no two mindsets more irreconcilable than the school mindset and the filming mindset.
To go from filming the show immediately into the tutor room to do math or biology is the most jarring change I’ve ever experienced in my life. You can’t do it. You can’t shift gears like that, so it becomes difficult. Also timewise it was difficult when you’re shooting 16 hours a day, five days a week, to try and find time to do school is hard. Inevitably what ends up happening is I have to do a lot of catch up when I get back, once we stop shooting.
CraveOnline: Are there any classes you like?
Connor Jessup: I’m big into social studies, the humanities. I really love history and world issues and philosophy and law. So yeah, the humanities I guess you could say are kind of my bread and butter at school.
CraveOnline: Does that play into “Falling Skies” because Tom was a history teacher?
Connor Jessup: Yeah, before I started shooting I did a lot of reading on the American Revolution because I’d been told that there were going to be a lot of parallels between our show and American Revolutionary history which is something at the time I didn’t know very much about.
What I find interesting about Tom is that he’s kind of an atypical hero because most heroes in action, especially in the alien invasion genre, are in the military or were in the military. It always revolved around the military whereas Tom is very much a civilian and very much an academic. It’s very strange for him to actually be involved in a war instead of just talking and thinking and writing about it. So yeah, he’s an interesting character.
Not that I’m a history teacher, but he’s very much like the real me would be in that situation, except I would probably run in terror instead of actually manning up and fighting. But I think it’d be very difficult to go from an esoteric lifestyle to a very military responsive emotional lifestyle. You’d have to ask Noah but I imagine for him it’s a jarring change for the character and for me in real life, it would be the same change except I would probably end up being one of the first casualties in the war.
CraveOnline: Well, now you have experience.
Connor Jessup: Well, not really. If by experience you mean shooting blank bullets, then yes. Unless aliens can somehow be beaten by shooting blanks at them out of guns or by hitting them with a book, I probably wouldn’t be very much use.
I can’t tie a knot. I don’t really know any survival skills of any kind. I don’t really know how to fix or do anything. I can’t really scavenge or hunt. I can’t really fight. I’m very unphysical and graceless so basically if you save 10 people to be with you in a resistance movement, you would never save me. I’d be the last one.
CraveOnline: Has it been nice in season two that you’ve been with the 2ND Mass almost the whole time, where a big part of the first season was they had to rescue you?
Connor Jessup: Yes, because as you know, for the first season, almost the first five episodes, I’m pretty much a zombie. I could be an extra in “The Walking Dead” for the first five episodes. Not only am I a zombie, I’m really a very background zombie. You see me three times. So by the time I actually became a main character, I was kind of coming in halfway through. I very much felt like I’d missed half the season. Then my part slowly grew over the course of the first season.
Second season, from the very first scene I started off in it and I’m in [almost] every episode. So I’m very much there for the entire duration this time through and I’m not a zombie. I’m actually my character. The entire thing just felt different. It felt like I was much more involved. It felt like I was much more part of the team.
Not that I wasn’t part of the team last year, but when you miss the first half, people tell stories and people talked about things that you weren’t there for. It’s not intentional, but you kind of feel like you missed a lot, where this year I didn’t really feel like I missed a lot. So that was nice. It was also nice, as easy as it is to play a zombie, it’s not very creatively rewarding. So to be able to be involved in a character that has development, and has conversations and dialogue and conflicts and solutions, it’s very exciting.
CraveOnline: Was the removal of the harness an intense scene to shoot?
Connor Jessup: No, not for me at all because to me that was actually probably one of the easiest scenes I’ve ever done because I was just unconscious the entire time. For everybody else, it was the hardest scene ever because they had to run around, they had medical lingo.
Noah picked me up off the bed like 40 times over the course of 12 hours. Everyone was sweating and cursing and stumbling and I was just there lying unconscious. So I had the easiest day ever. I was like sleeping. It was like a massage for me, people putting pressure on my back. So I have fond memories of that scene. I doubt anybody else does.
Even the other guys, even the background who were also rescued, they had to go into seizures. So even they had to do more work than I did. I wish I had more scenes like that. I could catch up on some sleep.
CraveOnline: Was it rough changing locations so many times in season two?
Connor Jessup: Yeah, it is rough. You know, in season one we shot in Toronto. In season two we shot in Vancouver and in Vancouver we don’t really have a set. We don’t really have a central set. Most TV shows have sets, the police office or the hospital that you see all the time that you always shoot on.
On our show we’re locations so we’re always on location. We’re always moving. We’ll spend maybe three or four days max at every location. So you really do get this feeling of running around and never really getting comfortable in any one location. We shoot a lot of nights. We shoot a lot of action. It’s very cold. We shot in the winter. It’s very rainy, it’s very gloomy.
So it’s a hard shoot that way. Physically it feels very draining because of the hecticness of it all, but at the same time it’s rewarding because I think it gives our show a very unique feel. They say that most pilots shoot on location to try and get that gritty real cinematic feel, and then they build their sets. That’s why most pilots are pretty cool. So we kind of maintain that feel throughout our entire show, more so than the last season.
CraveOnline: How long does it take to put the makeup on your back when we see the harness marks?
Connor Jessup: When you actually see my full back, it’s between an hour and three hours depending on the specific circumstance.
CraveOnline: How many pushups did you have to do in how many takes when Ben was first getting strong last year?
Connor Jessup: The funny thing about that scene was because, like I said, I’m incredibly impressively unathletic. So for me the idea of running and doing pushups is kind of like hell. That’s the last thing I can do. Which is funny because this season obviously there’s a lot more of it than last season, so that scene, the pushup scene, every take I did about five or six pushups.
Over the course of all the shots, we did maybe 30-40 takes, but that’s not in a row. That’s over the course of five hours with breaks and various other shots so it wasn’t that bad at all. Movie magic, right?
CraveOnline: I figured if they did 10 takes, they can’t have you do 50 pushups each time.
Connor Jessup: No, no. I’m not method so it’s not like I was like, “I have to do 100 pushups every time we shoot this.”
CraveOnline: Right, we hear you counting but we only see the last few.
Connor Jessup: Yeah, when you come into the scene he’s already at like 99, so the first 99 are off camera.