Exclusive Interview: Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal on ‘Colony’, ‘Lost’, ‘Bates Motel’, and ‘The Strain’
Posted on Saturday, January 16th, 2016 by Fred Topel
Colony premiered on USA January 14. The new show from Lost producer Carlon Cuse and showrunner Ryan Condal is about an alien occupation in Los Angeles. The aliens have walled off the city and some of the residents are cooperating with the occupiers. At the end of the pilot, we find out (spoiler alert!) that one of the main characters is working with the resistance.
We got a good, long interview with Cuse and Condal when they visited the Television Critics Association the day of the premiere. Cuse also addressed some questions about his other series Bates Motel, The Strain and even a lingering Lost question.
So many pilots feel the need to start from the beginning and tell us everything that led to this, which I think is unnecessary because people will watch later episodes and be able to follow along anyway. What was your decision to start Colony after the occupation and show how people are already living with it?
Cuse: I think it really was driven by the fact that we had previously done a pilot where we had really front loaded it with a lot of exposition. It was also kind of a complicated world and we had made the opposite decision which was to try to explain a lot of the rules of the world in the pilot. By the time we got down the road on the pilot, it really felt didactic and boring. So when we started out talking about this idea, one of the first decisions that we made was: Let’s do the opposite. Let’s only tell the audience the same amount of information that the characters themselves know. These characters have been thrown into this completely strange, arbitrary situation and they don’t know fully what’s happening. Won’t it be more engaging for the audience to be on the exact same ride as the characters?
What was the front-loaded pilot?
Cuse: It was a thing called The Sixth Gun that we shot for NBC that didn’t get picked up.
What corners of the occupation can you explore week to week?
Condal: All corners. That’s sort of the fascinating thing I think about telling a story on a canvas like this is you introduce a world. As Carlton always says, we start the most focused point of the iris and the iris opens up as we go deeper and deeper into the show, and you see more characters. You introduce different corners of the world. As episode two and beyond, the teasers of the show all kind of show you this different little corner of this world from a different point of view. That’s the fun of this. What does this look like now? What does a healthcare facility look like now? What does a supermarket look like now? Those kinds of things in this modern day Los Angeles world, that’s the fun of science fiction.
Carlton has done shows with secrets before. Is there a difference between secrets the characters know and secrets you’re keeping from them?
Cuse: Good question! Yes. There are two types of secrets. There are the secrets that the characters are trying to puzzle out. As a writer you can actually put forth something that the audience knows but the characters don’t and you can kind of play the tension and suspense of that. In Colony, we’re really doing more of the former. We wanted to be really present with the characters, so we tried very hard to make sure that the characters were neither too far in front or too far behind what the audience knows. We tried to dish out the information really just so the audience gets the knowledge just as our characters get the knowledge. The same was actually true, interestingly, with the actors. Josh [Holloway] was very experienced from doing Lost at getting scripts week to week without any sense of what was happening in the future. It was really great on Lost because it made the actors very present. They were just acting that week’s script and in most cases it was because we were still writing the next week’s script. It became something that all the actors on that show embraced. It made them feel very much in the moment of the mystery. So we’re kind of doing the same thing here. The actors are really only reading the scripts just ahead of when they’re shooting them. The difference is that our show is not leading to these mysteries, like who these aliens are, why they’re here, what they’re doing here? That’s not really what Colony is about. Colony is about this family and how are they going to survive this occupation and what is their fate? That’s really what we’re ultimately interested in exploring and that’s where the series is going to stay focused.
Who has more secrets, Will [Josh Holloway] or Katie [Sarah Wayne Callies]?
Condal: I think they both have secrets. I think the big central secret in the show is the fact that Katie’s in the resistance and Will has been co-opted by the occupation and forced to collaborate with them to hunt down the resistance. So the secret that his own wife is in the resistance is the big central drama of the show. Week to week I think the audience is going to be on the edge of their seat wondering what’s going to happen. Is Josh going to find out? When is he going to find out what’s going on with his wife? That’s the central story that the whole show is wrapped around.