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Extant Creators Talk Series Origins, Halle Berry, Spielberg & Show’s Message

BY Jennifer Griffin

Published 8 years ago

Futuristic new scifi thriller Extant kicks off on CBS from July 9.

Starring Halle Berry, the 13 episode limilted-run series explores the impossible predicament of Molly Woods, an astronaut who returns to Earth after a year in deep space only to discover that she is pregnant.

Set against a futuristic backdrop, the series sets out to explore what it really means to be human as Molly comes to terms with her situation and attempts to reintegrate back into her family routine with husband John (Goran Visnjic) and their AI son.

ScreenSpy spoke with Extant Executive Producer Mickey Fisher and Showrunner Greg Walker last week about the show’s origins, Steven Spielberg’s involvement, inspiration in the form of Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat and more. Highlights from our call follow below.

What inspired Extant?

Mickey Fisher:  It was an idea that I carried around for a few years. It initially started as an idea for a play, a one-person play, about an astronaut aboard a space station who is confronted by the ghost of their past. I got to that point where I eventually wanted to write more complex female characters to really challenge myself. And that idea just – it came back to my mind. It felt right as a way to explore that.

I had the idea of her seeing this guy she loved in her past. And then I had the idea of, “What happens if she doesn’t come home alone?” That was really the spark that set me off writing for a month straight until I figured it out. I cleared everything off the desk and I just focused on that until it was finished.

 

Halle Berry as Molly Woods in CBS Extant. Image © CBS

Halle Berry as Molly Woods in CBS Extant. Image © CBS

There is no shortage of future-fech on the series. Where do you get your ideas from? 

Greg Walker: A lot of it we dream up in the writer’s room. We come up with these ideas ourselves. We try to imagine a future that is accessible and a lot of times what would be a logical evolution of the technology that we have. And then sometimes we invent these things for fun just to bring a little bit of that future life to our world.

But that being said, we do have this sort of mandate, that we gave ourselves early on that we never wanted it to be just about the gadgets. We never want it to be just about the cool stuff, we want it to be about the characters. So it always had to be in service of the story.

 

How involved was Steven Spielberg in this project?

Greg Walker:  Well very involved in the very beginning. I mean even before I was involved, he read Mickey’s script and responded to it. And he brought it under his roof there at Amblin Television and brought Mickey in. And then I joined up. And then we went out and pitched it.

But every step of the way, from the creation of the world after what – you know, the extension of the world post Mickey’s pilot, and through every character development and all the season long arcs, we consulted with Steven and had long conversations with him.

 

Molly sees a familiar but impossible face in deep space. Image © CBS

Molly sees a familiar but impossible face in deep space. Image © CBS

Extant explores dual story lines involving artificial intelligence and extraterrestrials. Was there ever a temptation to pare down the story to involve just one of these themes?

Mickey Fisher:   I was asked the question a lot earlier on that. You know, there were these two big stories; there’s a sort of an extraterrestrial story and then there’s a story about AI, and you know, “Why did I choose to put both of those in the same story when most people would focus on one or the other?” And I kind of just always saw it as that I was writing it about a family and kind of grounding it in a family. And it think that’s pretty rich territory.

As far as like the inspiration for it, I mean I said this a lot about our Executive Producer, Mr. Spielberg, because I was a kid who grew up on Amblin movies and I think in so many ways that I was programmed by those movies. My creativity in a way almost was programmed by those things.

But while I was writing the pilot, because I’m a big Dr. Who fan, I had a Post-it note on the corner of my monitor that was – said, “WWSMD; what would Steven Moffat do?” I think he is a great writer. And I would look at that every now and then when I got stuck and I would ask myself that question, “What would Steven Moffat do?” And the answer was always like, “That he would just write it better.” So I kind of just kept trying to do that!

 

What is Extant ultimately about?

Mickey Fisher:  That’s a good question. For us the underlying theme is this question of what it means to be human. Going back to those sort of two stories, they both speak to that question.  Molly’s story in space, the story about Ethan, the way those two stories intersect it becomes a story about what is human and about how we’re connected to each other, and to the title of the show, Extant. It’s that we’re in existence, that we’re surviving. And how we ensure that what was human survives in the face of these challenges, these sort of pivot points in human history where we’re going to meet extraterrestrials or the rise of this really powerful artificial intelligence.

 

Molly has a powerful encounter in space. Image © CBS

Molly has a powerful encounter in space. Image © CBS

How much research did Halle Berry conduct for the role of Molly?

Greg Walker:  She did a lot of research. She spoke to a NASA consultant, Kady Coleman. And she also went up in the zero G plane, where you can experience weightlessness for short periods of time. So she was a true gamer, she was a die-hard. She went up and really felt what it was like to be in a zero G environment in a real way. And she’d had a lot of experience on the wire work just from her work in X-Men. I’d kind of forgotten about that by the time we were shooting the pilot.

I looked at her late one night while we were shooting all that stuff and I said, “Oh my God, are you okay? This must be exhausting.” And she was like, “I’ve been doing this for a while.”  I’d forgotten that she’d had some experience flying and floating. when you go see her on screen it looks so effortless. She’s so powerful and so emotionally compelling. And there’s this great sort of soulfulness and vulnerability to her.

And then to get to watch her pull that off on the set and to watch her sort of fearlessness take after take, and you know, to watch her process, and she’s very conscientious, she really digs into it with the writers.  To me it’s just like it’s thrilling to watch. And I think people are going to love it. I think again, it’s one of those things that, you know, in movies you go see her once or twice a year, and they’re going to have the opportunity to go on this great 13 hour journey with her, you know, with an actress that people just love.

Extant premieres Wednesday July 9 a9 9/8c on CBS.

Follow @ScreenSpy on Twitter | ScreenSpy on Facebook for more breaking Extant scoop and interviews.

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