Gripping science fiction drama, Under The Dome, is set to trap viewers’ attention.
WE’RE all guilty of it. Growing up as children, there’s nothing like spotting a trail of ants and inflicting all kinds of torment on them to pass time.
We send powerful gusts of wind (which usually ends up leaving us out of breath), suffocate them in piles of dirt and let’s not forget another crucial method of torture: flipping an empty glass jar over them.
Oh, how we wish we hadn’t.
In Under The Dome – a 13-episode science fiction drama based on Stephen King’s 2009 novel of the same name – a transparent, impenetrable dome mysteriously descends upon the residents of Chester’s Mill, Maine, in the United States (much like that empty glass jar), cutting them off from loved ones, from food and water supplies, from all mediums of communication, and ultimately, the rest of the world.
Like those poor six-legged creatures, the townspeople are left afraid and confused. Where did the dome come from? Who is behind it? And most importantly, what are their intentions?
Actor Mike Vogel – who prefers to see the dome as a fishbowl – believes the show, at its core, is simply a way to examine human behaviour.
“You put a bunch of fish in a fishbowl and they start banging on the glass – and you see how they react,” said the hunky 34-year-old star.
“You will have a fish that runs away, you will have a fish that starts fighting another fish and eats that fish. And then you will have other fishes that protect the fishes that are about to get eaten.”
Vogel, along with co-stars Dean Norris and Alexander Koch, were fielding questions from international journalists at a press conference for the US hit series at Los Angeles, California.
“The dome is just a device. It’s a device to see what happens when you put people in a pressure cooker situation,” he added.
Norris took Vogel’s views further, suggesting the glossy surface of the dome is perhaps a good way to reflect on what might happen should civilisation fall.
“We are all very civilised, and yet, if something bad should happen, we’d all freak out and wonder where we’d get our food and water and all the niceties. I think there’s something primal about that that attracts us to watch how this little town deals with that,” said Norris.
The 53-year-old former Breaking Bad star also admitted that the idea of living inside a dome in real life would terrify him. “I’m not a big fan of closed spaces ... It takes me a couple of Bloody Marys to get on a plane, if you know what I’m saying,” Norris said cheekily.
Meanwhile, Koch, 25, noted that setting the story in a small, bucolic town like Chester’s Mill adds drama to the show: “Small towns have a lot of secrets. It’s like this cookie cutter society and we want everything to be like Pleasantville.
“Everyone’s really good and nothing goes wrong here. It’s the cities that are filled with violence and murder. But, once the dome comes down, all the secrets come out.”
“Small town, big hell,” a journalist offered. Koch chuckled and agreed.
A townful of secrets
Speaking of secrets, Koch’s character James “Junior” Rennie is hiding, literally, one of the biggest secrets in the town.
In the pilot that aired yesterday, viewers learned that the genial, well-mannered Junior – the son of town politician James “Big Jim” Rennie (portrayed by Norris) – locked up his love interest Angie McAlister (Britt Robertson) in his backyard bomb shelter after suspecting she had an affair.
“I never think of Junior as dysfunctional. He has a good heart, he just has the wrong way of going about things,” Koch said, adding that Junior’s evil ways developed after losing his mother at a young age and could not find comfort in his stern father.
“Junior’s always going to be a character who is teetering on the side of good and bad.”
Koch’s portrayal as the town psychopath is not just convincing, it is spine-chilling at times. Yet, Under The Dome is only the actor’s first major role on television.
As a newcomer – having graduated from theatre school just six months before landing the role – Koch shared he had to audition six times for the part.
“One guy came up to me, looked me up and down and asked, ‘When are you letting that girl out of the basement?” the rising star shared on his first taste of fame, leaving the roomful of journalists in stitches.
While this is Koch’s first big project, Norris on the other hand has been acting since the late 1980s.
The veteran actor played mostly minor roles in movies like Lethal Weapon 2, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Starship Troopers plus guest spots on TV series like NYPD Blue, The X-Files and ER. He shot to fame in his breakthrough role on Breaking Bad as DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent Hank Schrader.
Norris explained his decision to sign on to Under The Dome: “I picked it because it was completely different than Breaking Bad … That was a small, naturalistic, intense show. This is a large, epic science fiction that allows me to stretch different acting muscles.”
In the show, his character, power-hungry Big Jim, rises up and becomes the town’s leader, restoring order from chaos, seeming to save the world. But his murky dealings with some of the townspeople are raising suspicions.
The actor remarked on his penchant for playing characters that are tough and rough around the edges: “I actually like playing unlikeable characters and trying somehow to find a way to make them likeable. It’s a challenge and I enjoy it. For instance, Big Jim has done some bad things, but I’d still vote for him if I had to.”
Dale “Barbie” Barbara, played by Vogel, is no model citizen either. Cold and steely at first glance coupled with his questionable actions, the ex-Special Forces member has landed in hot soup many times.
“You’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette,” Vogel said of his character’s nature. “And, if it takes a few people to get hurt along the way to protect the bigger picture, then that’s what he’ll do.”
The model-turned-actor may look familiar to some, thanks to his roles in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cloverfield, She’s Out Of My League and most recently in the hit TV series Bates Motel.
And Barbie, too, has something to hide. This time – a dead body. In the show’s opening scene, he is seen burying a body at a forest in Chester’s Mill. But just as the outsider is set to leave, the dome descends.
‘Dome’ wasn’t built in a day
It takes two of the most well-known Stephens in the world to bring Under The Dome to life on the small screen – Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg.
The novel’s author, King, has done more than just kept an eye on the TV project.
“A lot of people think he kind of just sold the rights to a project and then moved on to something else. He has been very much involved with this from start to finish, often coming down to the set,” Vogel said. King will be writing the first episode of the second season himself.
What King does so well in words, Spielberg does the same in visuals. Vogel lauds the executive producer: “Steven Spielberg brings to the show an incredible effects team. The special effects you see on the show used to be only reserved for film. And, now you see it every week in a TV show and the rate that they had to cut this stuff together is mind-boggling.”
Much of the special effects work, of course, is in making the dome look as real as possible.
Koch revealed the dome isn’t quite so invincible in reality: “There is an episode where I punched the dome underneath and cut up my hands because I was actually punching Plexiglas.”
And unlike in the TV show, one can hear through the glass. “We can hear through it, fortunately. Otherwise, we’d need earpieces or have Jack Bender (executive producer / director) yell at us,” he joked.
In writing the novel, King originally envisioned the dome as an allegory for the planet and the many man-made ecological issues that plague it. Nature-loving Vogel, who enjoys spending time in the woods, said the show also promotes the idea of conservation in a way that doesn’t come off as “preachy”.
With that said, let’s start by trying not to trap ants in glass jars anymore, shall we?
Under The Dome airs every Wednesday at 9.55pm on RTL CBS Entertainment (HyppTV Ch 616).