In the near future, astronaut Molly Woods embarks on a 13-month solo mission to space. When she returns home to her husband and robot son, she doesn’t return alone … she returns pregnant with an alien child.
This is the basic premise of the new CBS series Extant. In addition to its sci-fi and horror leanings, it has the involvement of legendary director Steven Spielberg as an executive producer, so expect a “sense of awe and wonderment,” says co-executive producer Greg Walker. “Steven’s expertise is crafting very relatable human and emotional stories that have extraordinary and sensational elements to them.”
Alien babies and robot children are perfect ingredients for a science-fiction masterpiece, but Extant is deeply rooted in a family story. In the world of Extant, the future is “not a dystopia, or not a utopia, but in a kind of reality that we all can imagine the future to be,” says Walker. “And the story is set against a backdrop of international paranoia and conspiracy and ultimately tells the story about how this family struggles and how Molly Woods struggles to keep this family extant, meaning not extinct.”
Much about Extant has been shrouded in secrecy. When Channel Guide met with the show’s stars and producers, many of our questions were met with a sly “You’ll have to wait and see …” which is refreshing in a time of online spoilers and information bombardment. Television fans want to be surprised, shocked and delighted, and Extant pledges to do all three.
Extant’s creator and co-executive producer, Mickey Fisher, is a relatively unknown writer, and his inspiration was simple, he says. “I wrote the show I would want to watch.”
Woods, played by Academy Award winner Halle Berry, is at the center of Extant. The show is Berry’s reentry into television; she’s previously starred in several critically acclaimed TV movies but is best known as a megawatt movie star.
The quality of the show was the main factor in Berry’s decision to star on network TV, as she claims, “The best writing now is on television.” And of the special effects, she says, “We got pretty doggone close to doing something that is on par with any film that you’ll ever see.”
Some of that film-like caliber can be credited to Spielberg, who encouraged the production to add big-budget zero-gravity scenes, which weren’t part of Fisher’s original script. Extant shot for three days inside a zero-gravity airplane, an expense that used to be reserved only for blockbuster films, and an experience that delighted Berry. “I had been Storm [in the X-Men franchise], so I was used to flying.” But her experience was in wirework, so the actual feeling of weightlessness was something new. “What surprised me was that when you go upside down, there’s no gravity, so you have no sense of being upside down,” the actress says. “You feel exactly the same when you are upside down as when you are right-side up … and it was a very freeing experience.
“I can really understand why astronauts love to go up there and love to live in that medium and experience. It’s as close to being a bird and having that kind of freedom I think one can ever get.”
Her real-life role as mother to two young children also made this role appealing. “This was a character when I first read it that was so relatable to me, I felt like it was in my DNA.” Walker thinks Molly reflects who Berry is as a woman. “She brings a lot to the character of a woman who can balance her career, the need to be in a relationship with your children and your partner, and the need to fulfill your own desires and goals as a professional.”
Goran Visnjic plays Molly’s husband John, a robotics scientist who has created the world’s first Humanic — the robot of the future whose artificial intelligence mimics a human’s intellectual growth. But somehow, the child-robot’s learning process starts making dramatic developmental leaps, which threatens his humanity and his existence. In Extant, some view intellectually superior robots with free will as extremely threatening and will stop at nothing to eliminate them.
Visnjic enjoys the dramatic aspects of his role. “One of my favorite scenes was when Molly says to me that she’s pregnant and I was like, ‘What?!?!?’” But he also relishes approaching his role as his character, a scientist, would. “No matter how improbable things are,” he says, “you have to believe in the facts. They are scientists, so they are going to come together through all of these conclusions and the process, and they’re going to figure it out in the end. Now, what’s going to happen toward the end of the show, I have no idea, to be honest with you. We’re still wondering what’s happening in the writers’ heads.”
Extant > CBS > Wednesdays beginning July 9
Image © 2014 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: Robert Voets.
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