Channel24 Special Feature
Channel24's Herman Eloff interviewed British-American actor Michael Malarkey about his tough guy role in the mysterious new TV hit that has everyone buzzing.
Cape Town - A dogfight with an alien craft. A mysterious V-shape in the night sky. An alien being emerging from a fiery wreck.
It's strange and spine-chilling sightings like these that prompted the American Air Force to launch a top-secret program named Project Blue Blook in 1952.
The project was rolled out after numerous sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) during the Cold War era. The main objective of the project was to "debunk" as many of the strange happenings in order to avoid a mass panic by the public. It was their job to explain the unexplainable...or at least try.
Project Blue Book, which came to an end in 1969, recorded 12 618 sightings of unidentified flying objects, of which 701 remain unexplained to this day, The New York Times reports.
HISTORY has taken this remarkable true story and has turned it into a gripping TV series that South Africans can now watch first and exclusively on Showmax. The show, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, draws on real case files and historical events to tell the story of the most mysterious time in United States history.
In a one-on-one phone interview, Channel24 got to talk to British-American actor Michael Malarkey about his role as debonair Air Force Captain Michael Quinn in Project Blue Book.
Captain Michael, alongside Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen), is summoned to investigate UFO sightings around the country and use science to discover what really happened. But what do they stand to do when science doesn't have all the answers?
(LOOK UP: Aidan Gillen as Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Michael Malarkey as Captain Michael Quinn in Project Blue Book. Photo: Supplied/HISTORY/Showmax)
'IT STARTS SLOW BUT HEATS UP'
Michael explains the show's ability to draw you in: "It definitely heats up. It's one of those series that starts a little bit slow, because there is a lot of history to unpack and I think it's important to do that, but as the season progresses things start to move a little more fast paced, the stakes get a little higher, and I think it works really well.
"Even moving into this next season, which I know you aren't covering now, it just starts with a bang. I think it's a little bit of a slow burn at first, but the fact that you're hooked from the get-go is great."
'ONE OF THE FIRST FAKE NEWS CAMPAIGN'
Project Blue Book was in a sense one of the first fake news campaigns, Michael explains: "It was designed to control the masses and potential hysteria. I think it's due time that we had a lot more out there about this phenomenon. Especially to people who have just disregarded it over the years as just being some kind of comical little green men, alien phenomenon. Which is only a small thread of the whole story."
'IT'S A SCARY PLACE TO BE, BUT ALSO REALLY IMPORTANT'
Michael agrees that although the show is set in the 1950s, it is perhaps now more relevant than ever: "We're at a time now with social media and the spread of information that people are able to do their own research and be part of these conversations. Also, we're really seeing the fallacy of the system in a way that we haven't before with a lot of things going on that I won't discuss. (Laughs)
"I think people are in a state where they are willing to make up their individual minds more than just adhering to the collective consciousness. I think that is a scary place to be, but it's actually a really important and poignant place to be.
"It's where we can actually instigate change and regain control of a system that is just kind of failing us. I think that is global. This show doesn't really go into that kind of territory, but I think the implications are there."
(MUSIC: Michael Malarkey performs on stage in Rome, Italy. Photo: Roberto Panucci - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
'I WAS LIKE HOOOOLY SHIT'
The 36-year-old star was on tour when he received the news that he was cast in Project Blue Book: "Well, it actually comes as a bit of a funny story. I'm a musician and recording artist, songwriter, myself and I was actually on tour in Europe when I got cast and had to fly straight in for a fitting. So, I basically had done this audition a month-and-so before. Done some other takes. Sent them back-and-forth. And I was like I don't even know if this is happening. Let's go on tour.
"And then they're like; 'Okay, you're coming next week. We start shooting next week'. And I was like hoooly shit. I need to do some research. I had obviously done some preliminary research in preparation for the audition process. But I had to do a lot of cramming. However, I'm an obsessive. So, I like pressure. I just really got to the books."
'IT MESSED ME UP. BUT I'M OKAY NOW'
On preparing for the role, Michael says: "One of the biggest aspects of my job was trying to nail the whole Air Force demeanour and non-verbals and all of that stuff. So, I really delved into that thing. I went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base which I grew up very close to, ironically. Which was the Blue Book headquarters. I did some research there at the base and actually flew a plane. I didn't tell production about that obviously. That was important to me to kind of feel what that was like. Especially because there are some scenes where that happens.
"The Air Force thing and getting into that mindset was a big part of it. My character is loosely based on Captain Edward J. Ruppelt who was the head of Project Blue Book at the time in question. He's kind of a conglomeration of a couple of different characters, but we wanted to have the freedom to push him to the limits in a dramatic way, which when you play a real character you have to be a little more careful with that kind of thing. However, it gave us some free play as far as that goes.
"I read his massive book on UFOs, The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects. I read all of the stuff that was relevant to this particular time period. I watched as many witness interviews as I possibly could from around the time. I tried to initially limit my exposure to what was available at the time, which was actually very hard.
"Now, I've just gone and done my research as far as the phenomenon in general, and I'm completely obsessed with it all. Once you go down this rabbit hole, there's no turning back. You can see why people, like witnesses on the ground, wish that it could just all go away. It encourages people to really think outside the box. It can mess you up, you know. It messed me up. But I'm okay now. So, don't worry about me."
'I'M SUCH A FREE HIPPY KIND OF DUDE'
Each show and character comes with its own set of challenges for every actor, for Michael the trials were part of what made the project so appealing to him: "Challenges are great, aren't they? For me, it's hard to differentiate between what the challenge was and what has been a fun task to overcome. But, I'd say just because I'm such a free hippy kind of dude just getting into that rigidity and mindset is a challenge. Because actually as an actor, your job is to change the way you think.
"You retrain your synapses to make connections or don't make connections that you normally would. So in a way, a lot of it was inhibiting certain instincts of my own in order to be able to play this properly, which became fun.
"But at first, it's like you are actually training yourself to ignore certain instincts in order for the Air Force man instincts to come through. So, I guess that. Which is a challenge for any role I suppose. But it's a lot more specific when you're playing somebody who abides by that many regulations."
(THERE'S SOMETHING OUT THERE: A scene from Project Blue Book. Photo: Supplied/HISTORY/Showmax)
'THIS IS ALL REAL. WITHOUT A DOUBT'
Probably one of the most exciting things of working on Project Blue Book was the endless amount of new things Michael discovered while preparing for his role: "It's all been fascinating. One of the best things about this job is being given a free pass to get obsessive about a certain historical time period or subject matter. Or otherwise, I'd just probably drift along, play music and do my thing, read books sometimes. This is like a very focused research time. Which is great.
"I'm literally constantly having my mind blown when I read certain books about this or listen to certain people talk about it. I think the thing that blew my mind the most, and which is often combed over, is the sheer amount of government officials, servicemen, scientists, astrophysicists – people who are saying things that are basically claiming that this is all real. Without a doubt. Like in a court of law if this were to happen and these people were to come and say this stuff, it couldn't be thrown out. And yet there's this power that the government has to squelch information.
"I guess I've always kind of known that. But seeing it on paper...seeing all the documents with severe redactions...like, you can't even read five lines on some of these pages. It's all been deleted. Yet it's been released to the public, but like that. All these things basically paint a grander picture.
"Even though the tiniest details don't always make sense on the day. When you add them all together, it creates this mural in front of you that keeps on going and you see the full picture. People have to do that kind of research themselves, unfortunately, to do that. What I'm hoping…sorry I've had my coffee this morning…what I'm hoping is that this will encourage a lot more dialogue even though there are certain things and liberties we take dramatically, which has to happen.
"I hope that it will encourage people to go: 'hang on, did that really happen?' and do the research for themselves and see that it does. Because it has really blown my mind and I know a lot about a lot of weird shit. So, I hope people who don't know a lot about a lot of weird shit will look at this and have their minds blown as well."