The Tomorrow People cast and crew interview
An interview with stars Robbie Amell (Stephen Jameson), Peyton List (Cara Coburn) and Mark Pellegrino (Dr Jedekiah Price) and Executive Producers Phil Klemmer and Danny Cannon.
(The interview is available for reproduction in full or in part)
How would you describe the genesis of this exciting new sci-fi show?
PHIL KLEMMER: I worked with Greg Berlanti on his Emmy-nominated television program, Political Animals. We were on location in Philadelphia and we had just shot the pilot, so we were flying back home. It had been a month of 12-hour days, but Greg nudged me and he wanted to know if I was interested in talking about developing a new show. I remember feeling exhausted and saying, “Are you crazy?” But that’s what makes Greg so great; he never stops. He said to me, “Have you seen The Tomorrow People?” I think it was a show he watched as a kid, so I got the DVDs and I watched them the next time I headed back to Philadelphia. We started to talk about the concept when we were on set. Obviously, our show is very different – but in our down time we kept talking about a cool way to remake the original series. Brick by brick, we built The Tomorrow People.
DANNY CANNON: Warner Bros. said to me, “Are you aware of a TV show called The Tomorrow People?” My response was, “Yes. It was a show in the 1970s and it was based on a David Bowie song called Oh! You Pretty Things. I used to watch it with my sister.” It all started from there.
The Tomorrow People was originally a British children’s television show in the 1970s. How much pressure is there to live up to the expectations of the fans of the original series?
PHIL KLEMMER: There are no obligations. It’s really a question of inspiration. It’s not like it’s so well known in America that we’re going to be lambasted for changing anything in the storylines or plots. I think the sky is wide open, but the original series definitely touched us. Our obligation is to honour the dreams of what it meant to the people who saw it when they were young. I saw it as an adult, so I’ve seen it through fresh eyes – but our show is a different show. I think we’ve created something that's designed for an older audience, but we also want to touch people the way the original did.
Are there going to be any nods or references relating to the original series? Maybe other characters from the original show will turn up in upcoming storylines?
PHIL KLEMMER: Absolutely. It’s awesome to imagine the 1 per cent of the television audience that will understand these references. You always want to keep the 99 per cent totally engaged, but you’re totally going to blow the minds of that 1 per cent. It’s such a thrill. I’ve always loved doing things like that.
TIM the biological computer is a fan favourite from the original British series. How much will we see of TIM in your updated version of the show?
PHIL KLEMMER: TIM will feature in every episode. There was an incredible temp dialogue that Danny contributed. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was perfect for the show. He’s got a great know-it-all snarkiness to his voice. It works really well.
DANNY CANNON: I was in the cutting room and they needed an English voice – and now I’m TIM. For TIM, I spoke the way my mother always wished I would speak, instead of my ‘North London rebel’ accent.
What aspects of the original show appealed to you so much?
DANNY CANNON: The Tomorrow People was about kids from a normal neighbourhood that I recognised, and the kids had London accents that I recognised. They were alienated and made to feel invisible, but they were then told that they were special. Watching the show as a kid, it felt like I was watching people down the block from me. It felt like I was watching people I knew. I related to the characters. They were everybody. There were no leotards and there was no special weaponry. These people had their feet on the ground. They were normal people – but then they found out that they had a special gift.
How does the David Bowie song fit into the show?
DANNY CANNON: The David Bowie song was called Oh! You Pretty Things. The show’s original creator and writer, Roger Price, saw a shift in the youth in the mid-1970s compared to the youth of the 1960s. He noticed how the youth were feeling empowered. The 1970s were all about not cutting off your hair and going into the army. It was about not doing what mum and dad said. The nuclear family had gone and everyone was experimenting and moving forward. There was a sense of freedom and I really related to that. The youth of the 1970s was rebelling against the short hair, post war, public school world. They were growing their hair. They were experimenting with drugs and experimenting with their sexuality. Bowie was revelling in that.
What attracted you to your roles in the first place?
ROBBIE AMELL: I read the script and I thought it was incredible, especially from the point of view of a young actor. This role allows me to play around with super powers, but at the same time it’s a good, dark story that’s grounded in reality. It’s great.
PEYTON LIST: There are way too many things in The Tomorrow People that appeal to me. The story is exciting, entertaining and fast paced. When you’re not even a part of the show and you read the script, you get blown away by it. That’s how I fell for it. On top of that, I think that any girl would want to play my character. She’s strong and she knows herself. She’s got super powers and she’s a bad ass. How cool is that? I love the character, I love the story and I love this group of people we have working on the show. I really enjoy everything about it, so it’s a complete dream job for me.
How did you win the role?
ROBBIE AMELL: How did I get the part? That’s simple: I auditioned. My first audition was for another character, John. I knew [The Tomorrow People executive producer] Greg Berlanti prior to the audition, but he wasn’t in the audition room when I turned up. I had never met [executive producers] Phil Klemmer or Danny Cannon… And after the audition, nobody said a word to me. They had no feedback, so I emailed Greg and said, “I don’t know how it went because nobody said anything, but who knows?” He explained to me that the audition room is always quiet.
PEYTON LIST: I immediately thought, ‘I must get this role. I must be a part of this project.’ Luckily, the timing was right for me. I auditioned and I crossed my fingers. I chose how I wanted to play her and it’s been a very fun process.
How would you describe your characters?
ROBBIE AMELL: Stephen is misunderstood. He’s confused. He’s a badass. He’s a lot of things. Stephen hears a girl talking inside his head. He wakes up in weird places in the middle of the night without any knowledge of how he got there. If these things were really happening to you, you’d be terrified. On top of that, his poor, single mother is working double shifts to pay for his doctors and his shrinks and his pills. It puts a ton of weight on him.
MARK PELLEGRINO: My character is an evolutionary biologist by the name of Dr Jedikiah Price. He’s the head of a super-secret organization called Ultra and they are devoted to destroying the Tomorrow People. That is my character in a nutshell. There is definitely something up with this guy. I’m not sure what’s going on underneath the surface of the character because there are a few things said in the first few episodes that make me think, ‘Where is this guy coming from?’ He seems like a devoted, fanatical person intent on one mission – and yet there are elements of compassion in there that make me think something else is brewing. He’s the uncle of Robbie Amell’s character. Jedikiah grew up with a brother who also had these special powers, so I feel like there are definitely Kane and Abel elements to the story that we will explore in the show. Not everything is noble in Jedikiah. There’s also something human underneath the fanaticism. There’s something fractured that we will touch upon at some point. You don’t get that mad without being broken in some way. Maybe he’s envious or jealous? I don’t know, but we’ll find out as the show progresses.
Did you undertake any specific research for the role?
Peyton, what have you brought to the character from your own personality?
PEYTON LIST: I think everyone brings a bit of themselves to any character, but there’s so much to Cara that a lot of girls can relate to. There are certain things she does that I would never do and there are times when she is much cooler than me – but it’s an interesting journey and I can’t wait to see where she goes.
In the pilot episode, Cara uses telepathy to reach out to Robbie Amell’s character, Stephen. How would you describe the relationship between them?
PEYTON LIST: Cara starts to sense Stephen, so she starts to speak to him and she tries to reach out to him telepathically, seeing if she can make a connection. But what we learn very quickly is that these powers have different strengths and her strength with the telepathy can be stronger with one person or another. With Stephen, her telepathy powers are extremely strong. They can sense each other very easily and they communicate with each other very clearly. That creates a bit of closeness.
Will we learn more about the relationship between Cara and John [played by Luke Mitchell]?
PEYTON LIST: That was something I was very curious about. When the show starts, you don’t know how they got together; they are just together and happy. Well, we will be exploring that in the show. We’ll find out when he broke out and we’ll find out what his story was when she came into the picture. We’ll also find out how they became close, which is really fun.
Mark, you are continually cast as pretty dark characters in a variety of shows. How much of yourself do you bring to the role? And what dark qualities do you possess that allow you to be cast in these roles?
MARK PELLEGRINO: You know what? I would love to ask this question to the people who cast me. “What do you see in me that makes you feel that I’m right for these characters?” I hate to sound like a cliché, but I think there’s something misunderstood about these characters. They are more passionate about getting what they want in life than I am. Maybe some of the casting people see that in me? Maybe they see a tint of fanaticism and that drive to achieve things? From Lucifer [in Supernatural] to Jedikiah [in The Tomorrow People], they all have that in common. They are all men on missions.
You’ve appeared in a number of iconic sci-fi shows including Lost, Being Human, Ghost Whisperer, Chuck and Supernatural. What attracts you to the genre?
MARK PELLEGRINO: I just love the genre. Just by luck, I’ve fallen into shows like this and I couldn’t be happier. I happen to be a huge fan of the genre, as well as a comic book nerd, so it’s perfect for me.
Let’s delve into geekdom for a minute… What are your favorite comic books?
MARK PELLEGRINO: Right now, I’m reading The Walking Dead and Preacher. I love Y: The Last Man and The Stand, too. I also like The Sandman.
Who is your favorite superhero?
MARK PELLEGRINO: When I was growing up, I used to collect The Incredible Hulk comics. I still have a number six The Incredible Hulk in near-mint condition, which is probably worth a little something now. I have always really liked the Hulk. There is something about him that really attracts me to the character. When he gets mad, he becomes so powerful but so innocent. That ambiguity and the way he releases the other side to himself; that passion he releases without consequence. I guess all that stuff really appealed to me as a kid.
What excites you the most about the show?
ROBBIE AMELL: I’m really excited for everyone to see the show because I feel like it fills a void that’s not on television right now. We used to have Heroes on television, which was awesome, and we also had The X-Men – but they are on film only now. The genre hasn’t been done like this before because the special effects are so good. We have movie-quality visual effects on television. The teleports look great. The telekinesis is awesome.
PEYTON LIST: I’m probably most excited about exploring the past of my character. In the current circumstances, I’m also interested in how she changes. I feel like all of our characters are constantly placed at a fork in the road – and then they go right or left. Most of the time, when you’re certain they will go right, they go left. It’s a little disconcerting as an actor because you never know what’s coming up – but at the same time, I’m excited about the unknown with this character.
What’s impressed you the most about the show’s storylines?
ROBBIE AMELL: I really like the fact that the show’s storylines are grounded in reality. That’s what [executive producers] Greg, Danny, Phil and Julie [Plec] always wanted. They wanted it to feel real, and I think they did a great job with that. It makes my job as an actor a little easier because you always want to play a real character no matter how fantastic the circumstances.
What is it like to play a character with such fantastic abilities?
ROBBIE AMELL: I think it’s the dream of every actor my age. You always look for the role you’re going to have fun with, especially one with super powers and action – but you often don’t get a character that’s so dark in the beginning, with such a complex upbringing. However, we do with this show. Stephen became the man of the house at a young age. He had to face the struggle of losing his father and not really knowing why – and he’s never been told why or had it explained to him.
Why did you decide on a high school setting for Stephen instead of college or university?
PHIL KLEMMER: For me, the show is about being on the cusp of change and it’s about evolution. It’s about a coming of age, but I feel like by the time you get to college, you’re more formed in the world. The most fraught period in any of our lives is high school and it’s something that we can all relate to because high school is something that sticks with us our entire lives. It’s the period in our lives when we search for ourselves and start to define ourselves, so it’s much more poignant.
What stunts are you allowed to tackle in the show?
ROBBIE AMELL: When you see the work the stunt team does, you realize you couldn’t be in better hands. I’ve done some stunt training and fight choreography for the role, which has been really exciting – but they do a lot of the work for me.
PEYTON LIST: My character has a lot of action scenes, which is a lot of fun for me. I’ll let you into a secret: I’ve got make-up on my bruises right now! She’s getting active for sure. It keeps me in shape, too. It’s really, really cool.
How would you describe the upcoming season?
ROBBIE AMELL: I think this is a great origin story where Stephen finds out there isn’t anything wrong with him. He’s the next step in evolution. He’s got super powers that are starting to emerge – and maybe his dad isn’t the guy he thought he was. It’s always nice when you surprise an audience. You don’t want people to be able to tell where the story is going. I was blown away by a storyline bombshell that drops in the third episode, so I think these guys are killing it. They are doing an amazing job with the storylines and plots.
PEYTON LIST: It’s a very fast-paced world, but we’re constantly exploring it, which is something that excites me. There is so much depth to this world and there are so many things happening, but we have to make sure that people can keep up with the pace because the audience has to be able to absorb everything. You’ll get to know more about the past of these characters and why they make the decisions they make – and where they are headed.
The Tomorrow People is based on a British children’s television show from the 1970s. Were you aware of the original series?
ROBBIE AMELL: I didn’t watch the show in the 1970s because I wasn’t around back then, but I found a few episodes on YouTube and I watched some clips as soon as I read the script. I knew there were going to be some similarities between the two shows and homages to the original series – but the 1970s show wouldn’t work in modern television. It’s a 1970s TV show and our show is aimed at a very different audience. However, it was really nice to be able to see the original show. They did a ton of episodes in the 1970s and there were storylines that involved things like time travel, so it’s a huge universe that our writers can delve into. It’s nice to know that our writers are able to mix their ideas with stories from the original show. There are a lot of episodes to inspire them.
PEYTON LIST: When we shot the pilot, I just focused on the script that we had because I knew we were bringing a contemporary and fresh feel to the story. After we finished, I went online and looked at clips of the show on YouTube. The clothes alone are fantastic. It’s very 1970s, but it was very interesting and very cool – and they had a lot of good ideas.
MARK PELLEGRINO: I was aware of it, but I’ve never seen it properly. I saw little snippets of it on YouTube, but I haven’t seen a whole episode. I believe the original show was a kids’ show – but our version is definitely more grown up. It has some pretty interesting thematic elements that can be developed.
How do you think fans of the original show will react to the new version of The Tomorrow People?
PEYTON LIST: I feel like people are excited to see a remake because the original show was shot such a long time ago. They will be asking questions like, ‘How will it work in the present day?' So far, the reaction has been really good. Everyone's been very, very nice. And everyone is excited to see it. People have said to me, “I loved the original, so I can't wait to see the new version.” Hopefully, we have enough storylines and themes that tie into the original show that they have some fun with the new show. I can’t wait to find out what they think of our version.
What are the main themes of the new show in the first season?
MARK PELLEGRINO: I tend to think that so many of the better shows on television all boil down to family themes. The Tomorrow People is about the family you choose and the family you don’t choose. It’s also about loyalties. For me, even if we’re dealing with big societal issues, it’s all about family. I also think it’s about prejudices and pre-judgment – and all of the elements that we deal with in the sci-fi realm with impunity. I think they are all going to be part of the show, too. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch unfold.
Which of the show’s storylines or plots excite you the most?
PHIL KLEMMER: When you think about the shows you love and the things that really affect you, those things are only possible after you’ve got to know the characters deeply. One of the things we’ve done in the upcoming episodes is include a lot of backstories for the other characters. If the pilot episode was all about Stephen breaking out, we also find out about Cara [played by Peyton List] and John [played by Luke Mitchell] in the upcoming episodes. We find out about who these people were when they were human beings and I find that fascinating. I think the fans are going to love it.
What story arcs can the audience expect in the first season of the show?
PHIL KLEMMER: We really like the dynamic of Stephen trying to live with one foot in the Ultra world and another foot in the world of the Tomorrow People. He’s got one foot in the human world and another foot in the world of this exciting new species. For a while, we’ll be looking at the complications of him making that impossible balancing act.
What would you say to potential viewers to entice them to watch the new show?
DANNY CANNON: Right now, superhero films are huge. The X-Men franchise is awesome, but I think our show is a much more grounded way to show these themes. Rather than costumes, acrobatics and explosions, this show is about, ‘What if there was something in our DNA that could change somebody?’ The show could be about any kid on any block in any street in any country – and I think that’s great. It’s a super-easy show to relate to. I really like the ‘feet on the ground’ approach to our show.