This year at Wondercon we got the opportunity to talk to the cast and creators of Netflix’s scifi reboot of Lost in Space. This time around we lose the campy-ness and go with a hard core science fiction story with a lot of family drama and action adventure. The Robinson family, in case you forgot, is made up of Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker), John Robinson (Toby Stephens), Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell), Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall), Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins), Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) and of course Dr. Smith (Parker Posey).
Delving into the story as far as possible without giving away any real spoilers, this is what the cast had to say about their characters and the upcoming 10 episode series.
Whedonopolis: When did you guys know that you were making something absolutely extraordinary?
Maxwell Jenkins: It was probably from the beginning of it I knew I was gonna have a great time filming this. I knew it was gonna be cool. We were up filming on a glacier like 10,000 feet up the day before my birthday and I looked out at the valley and the river that led to the ocean. And I thought “Wow I am really lucky to be a part of this.” And that’s the moment I knew we were doing something special.
Mina Sundwall: I think the second that I started to see a little bit of what all of the writers, all of the producers were seeing in their heads. Because we work with so much green screen and so many different, you know, there’s an X here, there’s an X here, and then look, there’s going to be a crash. There’s going to be something that happens that you can imagine it but I could never possibly see what they were seeing. The second that I got to see inside of somebody’s else’s head was what blew me away.
Taylor Russell: Its gigantic, that’s really the word to describe it. And it’s amazing because we had these days where it was, you’re wearing these spacesuit, they’re really, really heavy. And you have no idea what it’s going to look like on a green screen. It kind of all seems like, what is happening right now? And then you see the results of it, and it is like nothing you could have ever pictured. And it is so worth all of the hours of uncomfortableness and any of the trouble that you went through because it’s such a beautiful show, visually and in every aspect. It really blew my mind when I watched it because it’s just CGI and all, everything, it’s incredible.
Toby Stephens: The thing is, when you’re starting a series, you just don’t know what it is until-
Molly Parker: I’m still not sure.
Toby Stephens: It was actually only when I watched the first episode that I went “oh that’s what it is.” I read the script and I kinda went this is kinda cool, I really like the way they jazzed around with … they’re faithful to the original. It really feels much more real. When you’re filming it, there’re these huge green screens everywhere and you just don’t know what’s gonna … they say “there’s a huge spaceship here” and you gotta take their word for it. Yeah, okay.
There were moments where I saw the robot. When we were first working on the Jupiter. You see the beautiful finish that it had. I was just like, this has been a fantasy of mine since I watched the movie Star Wars when I was a kid. Of wanting to be … I mean I love Star Trek, I love Star Wars, I love the Alien movies, I love 2001. I’m a huge sci-fi kind of fan. Suddenly finding yourself in this situation where you’re going “Shit man, I’m in a spaceship, in a space suit, and I’m playing a real person, and this is like … and I’m working with Molly Parker.”
Kevin Burns (EP): You know, John and I have been at this for a long time. I was the kid who watched it as a child. And I was his age when every week … it was the show that was talked about the next day at school. And then, Batman came on and everybody kind of moved away. But I always loved it. Because it was so imaginative, and so visual. As you get older … you revisit it and you go “I wish the sets weren’t so cardboardy, and I’ve seen that alien monster in six other things now.” You want to have a chance to bring it back to the experience you had when you were a kid. And I think that was the idea. When John and I met he was a motion picture executive at 20th century Fox. I was a television executive doing TV movies. We both shared a love for Irwin Allen properties, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. But Lost in Space was the jewel in that crown …
Now was the right time to bring it back. Not a sequel but re-envision it. To go back to the original, and say “what was it that everybody loved? Why do people still love it 50 years later?” To make sure we don’t lose that. Make sure the family is a real family and doesn’t have to be all geniuses. And I have to say the greatest achievement, whether it’s out of luck or design, is it’s not cynical. We’re not making a show that they think other people will watch. Their making a show they wanna watch, they want their kids to watch. That’s why you connect to this family.
Whedonopolis: When I watched the classic version I was never really afraid of the robot. But this time I’m really afraid of him.
Maxwell Jenkins: It’s like me and my rescue pit bulls. They have a bad reputation and people give them a bad reputation just by the way they look and the way people make them behave. If you’re nice to them and you’re kind to them, they are loyal to you. They are fierce protectors. They are exactly like the robot. And the robots like the Iron Giant, Black Stallion and ET mixed together.
Kevin Burns (EP): He may have an iron giant dynamic but you do feel… this ticking time bomb because you don’t quite know “Is there an agenda?”. Or will exposure to kindness and family, is it nature vs. nurture? And that is the great tension you feel
Whedonopolis: Could talk a little bit about the dynamics of working with the other actors?
Mina Sundwall: The first unit we ever shot together was the opening scene with the crash. And if that’s not a bonding moment … I think we automatically established this family dynamic between us and Molly. Being on set with Molly, it always feel like she has this [ability to tell] that either you need a hug or you’re tired or you get too rowdy and you need a time out. Being with Taylor is quite literally like the sister I never had. We’ve seen each other at our worst and we’ve seen each other at our happiest. It’s lots of fun. Being with Matt is also the younger brother that I get to pick on the whole time. It just feels like we bounce off each other so well in work and in life that it feels natural.
Whedonopolis: The family dynamic is really what sells your show. I mean, it looks magnificent but if we don’t feel something for these characters, we’re not going to keep watching. I was struck by how quickly the family unit became something I really wanted to be a part of, almost like, oh, wow, that’s my family, I want to be there. So how did you guys cultivate that kind of chemistry?
Taylor Russell: I think the base of what they created was enough for us to run with, and you guys put together a really great cast who, I mean, we all have a lot of chemistry. I think our love for each other really shows in the show, but I do think it is a lot about the writing, as well. And I think it’s a combination of both. I think it’s writing and our relationship. I remember the moment we sat down we were all looking at each other because we’re at this round table, wearing our space suits. This is us, we’re the best. You actually build a love that would be different from anybody else on set because you know you’re supposed to be a unit.
Toby Stephens: When Molly and I were first talking about them as a family and their relationship, you’re like, it has to be real. It has to have a kind of texture of … these are real family, this is a real couple. For anybody to care about what happens to them, do you know what I mean? If people don’t identify-
Molly Parker: I think [Maureen & John Robinson] really loved each other and maybe love each other and there are circumstances that have made their life heartbreakingly possible.
Toby Stephens: What’s nice is that, it’s about people trying to be better. I think we really need that. It’s not mawkish or sentimental, it’s just … it’s about people trying to be better people. I like watching that.
Matt Sazama (writer): I will say there is something that you can’t write for or plan, which is just the alchemy of people together and from the very beginning watching you with everyone else in the family, you guys felt like you actually like each other off screen. It had this connection, which, we just got really lucky..
Burk Sharpless (writer): There’s a particular kind of intense connections you feel when you’re with somebody who you both need to help keep you alive, but who’s also a family member. And everybody is sort of pushed to that limit. There’s a specific sort of place that you go that’s really raw, but really connected and I think that was one of the tonal things that we were trying to create, and it was amazing to see it come together.
Whedonopolis: How do you get into a character like Dr. Smith?
Ignacio Serricchio: [Don and Dr. Smith] are so similar individually, they’re both survivors, they both have to make it through life pretty much on their own.
Parker Posey: Self-invented
Ignacio Serricchio: When that happens you really look out for yourself. So it comes off as selfish but it’s more about survival. You have no one else to rely on so then you keep people at a distance. You don’t trust everyone, you create a character within a character, let’s say cuz you wanna protect your true identity. You don’t wanna seem vulnerable. And they’re so similar that we can detect very similar traits. So they check in on each other, they keep each other at a distance. They’re not as free with each other as they could be with other people.
Parker Posey: I think it’s complicated. I think people are complicated. The original Dr. Smith was initially a Russian con artist. So this one has that similar kind of makeup. What makes a spy in a con artist? Dr. Smith is very crafty. Someone on the edge is someone who is broken, who finds herself in the Robinson family in this fantasy of a family that she always wanted to be in. So she’s in this fantasy but she also has this other side that she wants to control, she wants to empower. So she’s conflicted.
Lost in Space will premiere on Netflix on April 13th