The Rising of Falling Skies’ Peter Shinkoda: Part I

Ever since the Falling Skies & Dark Horse Comics signing event at the fifth annual New York Comic Con in October of 2010, where we met co-executive producer/head writer Mark Verheiden, and actors Moon Bloodgood and Noah Wyle, we’ve been preparing for the June premiere of TNT’s Falling Skies.  Eight hour-long episodes have since been televised with every episode revealing only bits and pieces about the lives of the survivors of the 2nd Massachusetts and the aliens that are the cause for survival.  Now, we are left with the final two episodes, “Mutiny” and “Eight Hours”, airing back-to-back this Sunday, August 7th at 9/8c with a Falling Skies marathon starting at 1/12c on TNT.

As a ten episode-long (or short for us fans) season, the story and its cast of characters have been introduced but only at the very surface with hopes for much, much more in the second season.  One of the survivors that caught our eye, who has contributed to the resistance physically more than verbally, is Dai, the quiet survivor with bike and gun skills. Dai’s real world counterpart, actor Peter Shinkoda, may be a new face to Falling Skies viewers but is no rookie to the sci-fi world.  The Canadian via Montreal actor has appeared on both the big (Paycheck, I, Robot) and the small (Dark Angel, Sanctuary, Stargate SG-1, Supernatural) screen, along with the role of Sektor in the web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

Sharon Wong, editor/writer, and Shaun Daniels, writer, of Horror Haven Reviews, were lucky enough to speak with Peter over the phone after having interrupted his lunch of “the best ramen” at L.A.’s Mitsuwa.  Although a “massive” Montreal Canadiens fans, the writers, who are “massive” Boston Bruins fans, were able to overcome their difference with the actor for the sake of the fans.  How?  Peter told Sharon and Shaun that he loves the city of Boston and was able to name towns (Malden, Holliston, North End, Quincy, Cape Cod, P-town), not just tourist landmarks.  Here’s Part I of Horror Haven Reviews’ interview with the actor.

Sharon Wong:  Is it true that your first audition was for Short Round in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?  (Jonathan Ke Quan was cast in the role)

Peter Shinkoda:  Yes.  Within the United States and Canada, there was a [casting] call in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Toronto and Vancouver.  They [casting for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom] had kids between five and fourteen years old brought in from the Toronto area.  It was advertised in the paper and my uncle, an actor spanning over three decades in Canada, had heard about it and knew I had spoken of wanting to be an actor.  My uncle revealed it to my parents, my parents mentioned it to me, I begged to go and we went.  There were hundreds of kids lined up, auditioning five to six kids at a time.  It was great.

SW:  It’s as if you’re fated to work with Steven Spielberg with Falling Skies?

PS:  As a child, I saw all of his movies, especially E.T..  I remember seeing it three times in a row.  My buddies that I saw it with the first time laughed and said I was crazy because we had to be home before it was dark.  My parents would be mad but I defied them, stayed three times and was mesmerized.  I bought so many books on The Making of E.T., Jaws and the novelization of feature films.  I got his books stacked.  Having ended up here, where I am now…it’s crazy.  It must have been fate.

SWFalling Skies is a short TNT series with only ten episodes in the first season and is very different from any other alien television shows on air or cancelled in the last season.  What is it about the concept or even a part of the script that attracted you to Falling Skies?

PS:  It came across my desk, so to speak, and when I got it, it was minimal.  It was two and a half pages of dialogue and didn’t reveal too much.  The audition material was of this scene with Dai doing recon at a post office, looking at shadowy figures behind a translucent Safeway-type grocery store window.  The script describes seeing these Wraith-like creatures (a reference to Stargate Atlantis).  He negotiates his way through the rubble and cars, careful not to step on the corpses.  Dai makes it back to base to report that there’s something out there to the Tom Mason character (played by Noah Wyle).  It urges Tom to go in and take care of it.  That’s all I knew.  And that Spielberg was attached.

It could have been The Color Purple.  I would have played Oprah’s part.  If they want me, I’ll do it.  It’s Spielberg.  When I read the material, I’m going wait, it’s an Asian guy carrying a gun.  He’s on the front lines battling some kind of monster.  Dead bodies are all over the place.  He’s reporting back to the lead guy.  I was like “Hey, this is material that I would go watch and would love to be a part of.”  Like I said, it could have been The Color Purple.  I saw the subject matter, knew it was action and [writer/producer] Robert Rodat wrote it who of course, wrote Saving Private Ryan.  That was enough.  There was nothing that would prevent me from taking that job if I had the chance to take it.

SW:  Dai’s character isn’t very developed in the first season.  Hopefully, in the second.  He’s seen a lot of action like with a gunshot wound in the leg but he’s not much of a talker.  It’s clear that Dai’s comfortable with guns, and getting on a bike and riding out there solo.  He’s got a little of the underlying badass in him but we don’t know much about him.  How do you envision Dai developing?

PS:  I think that he deserves to be more developed but in the end, I’m sure he’s as profound as the other characters.  He’s got all kinds of things going on in his mind; maybe he’s harboring something that’s really painful to him.  Whatever they end up writing to develop him more, I really hope that he talks.  In an earlier interview, I once said that maybe he doesn’t have anybody else.  We’re seeing things with [Captain] Weaver (played by Will Patton) happening.  Not everybody is ready, like there’s some kind of shock.  In the end, he’s driven by something.  I don’t if it’s straight patriotism or [he’s] driven by guilt.  I would love to develop something where he’d have to explain himself…what his feelings are about.

Shaun Daniels:  There a lot of different styles of acting.  Do they [the writers] give you the basics to go on and you as an actor, create the story.  How does that work, the relationship in creating the backstory?

PS:  No, they don’t but they give you a foundation.  I did have a few sit-downs with Robert Rodat and [director] Carl Franklin.  According to [executive producer] Steven Spielberg, he wanted me to bring myself into it.  Dai is based on the final samurai from [Akira Kurosawa’s] Seven Samurai and James Coburn [as Britt] from The Magnificent Seven.  It was funny; he said I could do whatever I want but this is who it’s based on.  This is your job in this series, you’re this guy that shows up.  The analogy he [Robert] gave me was in the one scene [of Seven Samurai] when the samurais come back and they’re surrounded, outmanned, outgunned.  The final samurai, he gets them.  He walks out and you don’t see anything.  It cuts to the morning and one of the [people] comes back and says “Those guys surrounding us, they’re cut down in half.  Somebody went out and killed them.”  Nobody admitted to doing it.  They look over at the seventh samurai, into his eyes, and accuse him of doing it.  Somebody had to do it and he just went back to sleep.  And Robert says that’s who Dai is.  After that speech and those few sit-downs, I got my character and was on my own.  I bring whatever I bring to the table.

SD:  I am a huge fan of Kurosawa and Seven Samurai.  As soon as you said that, it totally makes sense to me.  From an acting standpoint, there’s a lot of CGI work and as an actor, you’re used to having someone stand across from you.  When you’re dealing with CGI, like a stick with a ball on it, what is the challenge of acting when you have to imagine it?  How does that work for an actor?

PS:  Straight imagination.  I think that’s at the core of acting.  When people bring up acting, [they say] you have a great imagination.  You really do.  On the simplest levels when you’re acting, wherever your audience is, maybe the camera or the person standing next to you, you just got to pretend they’re not there or certain things are there.  They use the sphere on the stick a lot for the Mech shots.  For the actors, it’s not as hard as people make it sound.  You’re looking off into the distance, not a specific point but at a certain area.  Put an X on the camera, the pole or mailbox, and you look at it…you can’t really screw that up.  The close-up shots, that’s different.  When you’re in close vicinity with the creature that’s CGIed in, the camera will get closer in to see your expression, your eyeline.  Everybody has to look specifically [at a point] or the shot won’t sell.  That’s when it gets a little more technical.  Lots of those shots will bring in animatronics or animatronics on top of CGI.  All in all, most actors at some point have worked with CGI or green screen and fundamentally, are prepared.

SD:  With the last episode, “What Hides Beneath”, huge things were revealed. [SPOILER ALERT] There was an introduction of other aliens, not just the skitters and mecs.  Did that hit you by surprise or did you already know it?

PS:  It freaked me out, man.  I was like “What?!”.  Even though I was intimate with the production…I had privy to the development, the ongoing shooting, and sat on the pilot for a year, that shocked the hell out of me.  I knew it was massive to the viewing audience.  I haven’t read any reviews this week for that episode but it should have sent some shockwaves.  I did read some blogs last month and people were speculating as to whether that [other aliens] was a possibility or not.  Of course, I did my job and kept my mouth shut.  I couldn’t even tell my manager.  It’s a great and massive development that brings it to a whole new level.  It turns a lot of ideas about the show on edge.

SD:  It creates an interesting dynamic with the skitters being harnessed because you’re fighting an enemy that could have been your child at one point.

PS:  It’s an organism from another solar system that could have been born or made like a vampire with robot fangs.  Who knows what the skitter hierarchy is but it brings a whole other social dynamic.  I thought it was just black or white…they fight us, we fight them.  Whose side are we really on?  It’s kind of reflective of the current world situation.

SW:  If it was you, Peter, in the same situation as Dai, where aliens were invading the Earth, what would your plan be?

SD:  Besides run.

PS:  After ducking from the debris, and if the phones were still working, I would get a hold of my family.  I would evade, survive, regroup and then assess (much like the Falling Skies’ ‘Retreat, Regroup, Return, Revenge’).  If there was any kind of offensive against the attackers then I would be right there.  For sure, I would volunteer for that.  It’s all dependent on where my parents, my family and my closest friends are as they would be first and foremost on my mind.  After I made my peace with them then I’m sure I would go out and put an effort in.

Follow and tweet @PeterShinkoda on Sunday as Peter will be watching the season finale of Falling Skies in real time although he “maybe 15 minutes delayed with my DVR.”

To read more about Peter Shinkoda, log on to Horror Haven Reviews this Wednesday, August 10th for the second half of the interview where all of your questions about Mortal Kombat: Legacy will be answered.  And why does tv and radio personality Riki Rachtman owe his life to Peter?

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