NBC jumped back into the science fiction realm with the premiere of its enthralling new series Debris, which aired its first episode on March 1st.
Leading the cast is the multi-talented actor Jonathan Tucker. The series follows CIA operative Bryan Beneventi (Tucker) and MI6 operative Finola Jones, played by Riann Steele, as they try and work together and find out why wreckage from a destroyed alien spacecraft has mysterious effects on humankind.
Tucker should be no stranger to most viewers. He recently starred in the critically acclaimed series Kingdom alongside veteran actor Frank Grillo. He’s also had memorable performances in series such as Westworld, Justified, Parenthood, City on a Hill and Snowfall.
We sit down with Tucker to talk about his new series Debris, working with series creator J.H. Wyman and what fans can look forward to with the series.
Pop Culture Principle – Before shooting the pilot, did you have a chance to sit down with J.H. Wyman and did he give you an idea of what he thought the first season would look and the overall bigger picture for the series?
Jonathan Tucker – One of the big concerns when you do a show like this is do they know where they are going? Are they going to satisfy us enough with the details and do they have an engine big enough to get where they want to go and is the network going to cancel them before that? I can confirm the first three. I sat down with Joel and he knows the last line of the first season and knows the final scene of the fifth season.
The mythology really starts to build out about halfway through this first season, which is essentially an origin story. The network has proven themselves to be incredibly supportive and they are not connected to the Nielsen overnight numbers. They seem to understand that people are viewing their content in different ways now and there is probably an entire group of people who could wait until the season ends and binge it on Peacock. I think we are kind of meeting the criticism or concerns of science fiction fans pretty well.
Pop Culture Principle – How much freedom did J.H. Wyman give you in building your character and his backstory?
Jonathan Tucker – A good showrunner wants you to bring as much to the picture as possible. When they are operating from a place of confidence in their own work, then they are not coming from a place of fear which often times manifests itself as ego.
You can then bring the life of the character together. The more information you can share, the more you can involve different departments because the production designers, wardrobe, make-up and props are all going to have a meaningful impact on what the audience sees in the people that are put on screen.
Pop Culture Principle – There are certain aspects of your character that are black and white, but there needs to be a fluidity to the character in order for you as an actor to adapt and change as the season progresses. Would you agree with that?
Jonathan Tucker – That’s absolutely right. One of the great things about doing television versus doing a film is that you get this to put the car on different terrain, if you will. You get all of the experience that you want as an actor in theater with all the fun tools and capabilities in film in television and that means that the character has to continue to develop.
Pop Culture Principle – Your character has a military background which comes with its own set of ideals, thoughts and physicality. For his job investigating these cases, how does that background help him and how can it be a bit of a hindrance for him?
Jonathan Tucker – It’s certainly a hindrance that you can see in the pilot episode with his inability to connect emotionally and not understanding that vulnerability can be a tool and an asset. It’s certainly a part of what he experienced in combat. There are a number of other examples that you will see over the course of the first season that deals with meaningful trauma and PTSD.
Also understanding that the relationships that he made there which hold significant weight, might be very different here in the civilian world. There’s an episode that deals with his background in combat and it’s a terrific episode and gives a lot of context to the character. You won’t see Bryan the same after you watch that episode.
The big thing is, when you serve overseas, you get the job done. When you are in combat, you get the job done and you execute. There is no excuse for failure. Our troops are incredibly creative and have a great game plan and if something changes, they adapt, and I think he sees the world through that prism.
Pop Culture Principle – It’s very interesting because not only are Bryan and Finola trying to build this trust and relationship as partners, but at the same time, they have to keep their guard up and hold back information from each other. Can you talk a little bit about your characters having to walk that tightrope this season?
Jonathan Tucker – This is a partnership not by their own choosing and they are feeling each other out and getting the job done. What we will end up seeing over the course of the first season is that one specific event that is so extraordinary with this particular terrorist group, which is trying to get the debris, that the two lead characters recognize how far this terrorist organization is willing to go and if that they can’t trust each other, then they have no hope at succeeding. So, I think there is a bit of a turning point there around the fourth or fifth episode.
Pop Culture Principle – As the season progresses, will this alien technology lead the characters in this series to ask who we are as a species and question our humanity?
Jonathan Tucker – Absolutely. The show is a conduit to ask exactly that question. In many ways, what are the things that change and what are the things that remain the same. I think you also kind of ask that question to in combat when you see how fragile life is. Things that stay the same are often times your faith, your friendships and family relationships and your sense of duty to those you love and care about. You then start to ask the bigger questions like what are we doing here? If we are not alone, what does this all mean. Those are really compelling questions when big, new information is presented.
Pop Culture Principle – As I am sure you know; fans like to compare shows. Once this show was announced, there were instant comparisons to shows like the X-files and Wyman’s other series Fringe. Do you see these comparisons as a positive for your series?
Jonathan Tucker – It’s helpful to look at the X-files and what worked in the pilot episode for them and what didn’t and what worked over the course of multiple seasons and what didn’t. We are just continuing a conversation and one of the things that you have to appreciate in the world of science fiction is how seriously that the audiences take the work, so you have to appreciate that, and you have to respect them. It’s all about respecting the audience and respecting the characters you are building. The quality of these experiences and these stories have to be independent of reviews and ratings.
Pop Culture Principle – In the pilot episode, the scene were both characters are walking to the plane and Brian says that he’s not use to opening up to people and that this job is about being alone. Although a short scene, it was a very important moment in the pilot. Would you agree?
Jonathan Tucker – That’s my favorite scene in the pilot. It’s just two people walking down a long tarmac holding their bags about to embark on an adventure having just overcome an extraordinary obstacle and kind of connecting and being honest for the first time.
Pop Culture Principle – In an interview with Collider, J.H. Wyman called you the American Gary Oldman. He’s so deep and just astounding, and more people should know that. What are your thoughts on that comment?
Jonathan Tucker – Well, I’m a huge Gary Oldman fan and the comment is very humbling. I think Joel is one of the great people on the planet let alone one of the great writers and I hope to live up to his statement.
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the rest of the first season of Debris?
Jonathan Tucker – All I will say is that I have now read the other scripts and we’ve shot a number of them and all of them are even better than the pilot.
A huge thank you to Jonathan Tucker for taking the time during production of Debris to talk with us. You can catch new episodes of Debris every Monday night at 10/9c on NBC!
**All photos courtesy of James Dittiger/Sergei Bachlakov/Brendan Meadows/NBC/Legendary**