'Falling Skies': Colin Cunningham talks about breakout turn as biker/baker baddie John Pope

There are many reasons to watch Falling Skies, TNT’s absorbing summertime sci-fi hit about ordinary folk-turned-warriors surviving – and rebelling against — a devastating alien invasion. Tops on the list: Noah Wyle’s strong central performance and the creepy mystery of the gooey harnesses making docile drones out of captive kids. (Spoiler Alert for anyone who hasn’t yet seen Sunday’s episode: How creepy was that alien-hosted slumber party with Ben and the other harness kids? Didn’t that hair-stroking beastie strike you as nurturing, even parental?) Alas, one of the most enjoyable elements of Falling Skies was (temporarily) MIA last night: Colin Cunningham’s charismatic John Pope, a tack-sharp, politically incorrect, dangerously amoral biker rogue skilled at killing Skitters and quoting literature. And the self-styled “culinary artist” – a bigoted foodie who blanches as paprika-seasoned chicken – can bake some seriously mean bread, too. John Pope — part heartless Road Warrior, part Gordon Ramsay gone totally psycho!

Cunningham’s riveting scenes with Wyle in the second hour of the show’s premiere outing helped distinguish Falling Skies as a drama as much about its complex characters as its explosions and ETs. The actor – whose previous credits include Stargate SG-1 – recently spoke with EW.com about landing the role that has made him a breakout star of the summer TV season and gave a little tease about the season 1 trajectory of the Second Massachusetts’ “reluctant ally.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the part come your way?

COLIN CUNNINGHAM: Through the normal auditioning process, although there was something unique for me about this one. Usually, I never ask many questions about the scale of the project what I am auditioning for. If it’s a small project, I don’t want to get lazy or take it for granted, but if it’s a big thing I don’t want to freak out. So I never ask who’s involved, how big the budget is, etcetera. So I went and did the audition and then got a call back, and it was only at that point did my agent say: “Do you know what this is?” And I said: “Well, some alien thing.” I mean, that much was clear. He said: “Well, it’s TNT and DreamWorks.” I was like: Steven Spielberg DreamWorks? Holy crap! I was glad I didn’t know that going in because I might have choked, and Rob Schneider would have had the role of John Pope.

Sometimes when actors audition, they read for a number of parts, or get cast in a role they didn’t even read for. But you were auditioning for John Pope from the get-go?

Yes. And when I looked at the material, I could tell: This guy is awesome. So when I went into audition, I went in with tattoos, I went in with long hair, I went in with goatee, piercings, the whole nine yards. I have never been one of those actors that’s like: Don’t casting directors have an imagination to see me in the role? Well, no, they don’t! They see all sorts of actors all the time! They’re looking what they’re looking for, and you have to give it to them. That’s always been my philosophy so I went in full guns and got lucky.

Your character exudes a lot attitude, the words come out of you pretty easily on screen – how much of John Pope is improvised?

Oh, not much at all. Especially in those first couple weeks of doing episodes. You got [executive producers] Robert Rodat and Mark Verheiden and Steven Spielberg – it’s not like you need to do any rewriting. That said, the deeper I got into the character, the more I found myself throwing in little things, and no one stopped me. These guys know what they’re doing. They protect their material but trust their actors, and when things are popping, that’s all that anyone cares about.

How would you characterize John Pope?

He’s most certainly an outlaw. He’s a very intelligent man. The other renegades he hung out with may be buffoonish, but he is not. He’s the kind of guy that would get on his Harley Davidson, get into a bar fight, then go to the local strip club, and then finish off the evening by visiting the library and reading some Herman Melville novels. I think that’s why he connected with Noah Wyle’s character in that second episode; they’re both really intelligent guys. He’s able to sit down and have a beer with a guy that can talk about more than just girls and violence or something base and stupid. I think Pope was missing that, needing that.

How would you characterize John Pope’s moral compass?

[Spoiler Alert!] He’s not the nicest guy in the world. He’s certainly an opportunist. He’s entirely and completely out for himself. When it comes to helping the Second Massachusetts, if it’s good for John Pope, he’ll do it. If it isn’t, he won’t. The really interesting thing about Pope is that I don’t think you’re going to get some giant arc where he goes from sinner to saint. I think he’ll go from sinner to sinner with a small glimmer of humanity.

How do you play the charisma of the character? Because he has a ton of intense, attractive attitude.

Well, it’s there on the page. But it was something I generated for the audition. I knew they were having some trouble casting the part, and I just knew – or at least I could imagine – that a lot of other actors would just come in and read this stuff pretty straight. I was like: No! This guy is theatrical. This guy is part Shakespeare’s Puck and part Hannibal Lecter. So I saw him being very animated, very theatrical. A lot of the choices I was making in early episodes, I was just hoping they wouldn’t come back to bite me on the ass, because I did feel I was taking some chances, and was given the latitude to do so. And under the tutelage of our director Greg Beeman and support of an actor like Noah Wyle, we just went for it.

The long scene you had with Noah in the second episode seemed to be pretty crucial for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it told us what kind of show this was going to be. It wasn’t always going to go-go-go action/warring with aliens, which I don’t think a TV show can afford to be, anyway.

No, you’re right. I thought in the moment: This is a lot of talking. A lot of acting. No visual effects, no explosions, no machine guns going off. I thought it was going to be a real litmus test for the show. Can we have this much dialogue, between two people, in a sci-fi show like this?  We were able to make something that was pretty cool. And you know, that’s all Spielberg, too. The hallmark of his work is great characters, because as much as the effects and visuals are amazing, if you don’t care about these people, who gives a damn? It’s about the people, the people, the people. And I think that’s what makes Falling Skies as special as it’s been.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

Comments (39 total) Add your comment
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  • Lucy

    man, he is hot…I love his character!


      he reminds me of the lead singer from Creed. I love Falling Skies, I cannot wait for the next episode. Note how the skitters look like a smaller version of the alien from Super 8, maybe that alien was the recon for the invasion in the tv show, yes I am a nerd/dork/spaz

  • DeeW

    I had all the episodes saved on my DVR & wasn’t sure I’d get into it, but I powered thru them all yesterday and I’m so glad I decided to keep the episodes! Most especially because of the Pope character! It’s great that this interview popped up now because I kept asking myself, “Who IS this guy??” and now I know he’s someone to keep an eye on; he always makes his scenes pop. Gotta love a dangerous character!

    • Sadaqat

      Hi there! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any plberoms with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup. Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

  • Laura G

    John Pope is the best character in the series and it what keeps me intrigued! More Pope!

    • Zoubida

      The vast majority of paonshiriers who attened sedevacatist Masses ended up there because they were scandalized by the Novus Ordo Liturgy or Hierarchy. The tragedy here is that good people have been led to heresy through no fault of their own.I think the best way to defeat sedevacantism is not to debate obsure points from old encyclicals or councils but to address the reality, the real reasons why people end up sedevacantist in the first place, ie; Bad liturgy and Theology in the mainstream Church, not to mention the serious contradictions that do exist between the pre and post conciliar doctrine in the Church (if not in theory, at least in practice).Perhaps Father, you could do a pod-cast and instruct us on what do to in the case of liturgical abuse and priestly disobedience what are the explanations for this in the first place? What can the average parishioner do to preserve their faith in the light of the heresies that do occur on a daily basis in many of our Chapels? If a Priest looks on the surface not to be Catholic, what explanation or help is there for paonshiriers who are scandalized? .the SSPX or Sedevacantist option is a great relief for many who come from Dioceses that do not fully preserve and celebrate the True Faith.

  • MPH

    Pope is an even more blatant ripoff of Sawyer than Noah Wyle is of Jack Shepard. Campbell does not have Josh Holloway’s charisma… Jeff, I am surprised you have not noted this yet.

    • jimmy

      Wow! You are so right! Pope is good but he’s no Sawyer. Wyle is too borning at this point. Too much of a Dad. Not enough edge.

      Moon Bloodgood is a bad actor.

    • tina

      he is like Nic Cage to me, looks like Con Air wigged era.

    • aj

      I think he is sawyer crossed with gaius baltar from battlestar gallactica!

    • Lena120

      Thank you! My friend and I can’t stand the blatant Sawyerisms that this character projects. I’m finding it hard to get into any of the characters. I like Wyle as an actor but he’s boring as a protagonist. There’s not enough edge. I hope they flesh everything out and get better with the second season.

      • Ethan

        You see, it wasn’t to give priority. A gobodye article should be posted right before the new year begins. Since it is not possible to write and publish something at the stroke of midnight on 31st, I gave it a 31st date. This probably caused a misunderstanding. Anyway, most people visiting our site are referred by search engines, so they would have found your post.Also, I told you that I had posted links to the gobodye articles in some forums. Viewers are coming from there. First impression is last impression’, as you said earlier, so if they found the post linked to at the top, there is a greater possibility that they will come back. See, I go through my Google Analytics reports all the time to see the top movers, most viewed pages etc. and I thank you for contributing to this blog’s success, but who doesn’t want to go higher? Let’s not fight’ about this, can we. We all want this blog to prosper.

  • Kal-El

    Spoiler Alert! I love this show.

  • Dinosaur1972

    Always thought he did a good job on Stargate SG-1 … though this role looks like a heckuva lot more fun to play.

    • Dreamrose

      Major Disaster Davis strikes again!

  • Alison

    love john pope!! can’t wait to see more of him!

  • Steve

    Love Colin Cunningham’s portrayal of John Pope – he was missed last night!

    • Sha

      I think that I’d like you to say this to the Pope: Scotland has great aspirations to be a rcfseetpul and tolerant place, in relation to differences in sexuality, gender, religion, ethnicity and choice of preferred football club. Holy Father, we would welcome your acknowledgement of real progress in equality and justice issues in the Scotland and in other parts of the UK. We would welcome your advice as to how to make further progress in all these areas.

  • Denzo

    Agree with DeeW and Laura G. Thanks EW for spotlighting this terrific character and actor. I’m on the fence with the show. It’s too mindlessly obvious to be truly compelling, and if it doesn’t fix itself soon, I don’t think I’ll make it to the end of the season. Already losing interest. Live wire Cunningham, however, is its sole saving grace and the only reason I’m at all interested and still investing my time in this show. His performance, unlike the show itself, is nuanced and dangerous and unpredictable. He’s got charisma and sex appeal to burn, and whenever he’s on the scene, I’m riveted. Like DeeW said, he makes his scenes “pop”. I just wish he were on Game Of Thrones or Breaking Bad or the show Falling Skies wishes it was, The Walking Dead.

  • Carlos

    I hope this series get canceled. It’s awful.

  • jordan

    Agreed. Terrible show.

  • Salty

    I love that Colin has a regular gig again. He was great on SG-1. I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s so laid back and easy to hang out with!

  • Judy

    I genuinely wouldn’t be able to sit through an episode of Falling Skies without the dangling possibility of more Pope scenes! I love him.

    • Sraja

      This is very strong stuff, and the Holy Father is right on teragt! If people who call themselves Catholics would heed this wise shepherd, maybe the collapse of Western civilization can be arrested or reversed. Maybe.Side note: my dad (by 1965 no longer a practicing Catholic) was even then comparing America of the time to Ancient Rome. “Bread and Circuses!” he would say; but few even of his children believed him. This is why I say about myself that I’m a reactionary old crab, and during the 60s on campus I was a reactionary young crab.THANK YOU, Holy Father, Michael Voris, and Mary Anne!–OldBob44

  • zb

    Definitely is a parallel to Sawyer, but not nearly as good as Josh Holloway.

  • javi

    i love this show and colin is a good actor the hole show has good actors and last night episode was awesome i can’t wait for next sunday when they start using the kids as soldiers. thats crazy

    • Nele

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