Mike Vogel hasn’t had much time to relax lately. From February 2014 through August 2015, the Warminster-raised actor filmed the final two seasons of CBS’ “Under The Dome” in North Carolina and in between spent four months in Australia working on the new Syfy miniseries “Childhood’s End”.
Last week was particularly hectic, out on the road promoting “Childhood’s End”, which premiered Monday night and continues at 8 tonight and Wednesday. “I literally left on Sunday and didn’t breathe until Friday. They hammered us”, Vogel says Monday morning by phone from his home in Nashville. “It shocked me. I don’t think I ever did this much press for a $200 million movie, let alone this thing. But it’s cool. It shows Syfy is putting its money where its mouth is”.
The cable network’s commitment to the project, the first screen adaptation of the popular 1953 Arthur C. Clarke novel about a peaceful alien invasion, appears to have paid off. The six-hour show has gotten solid reviews and already has received a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for best movie made for television or limited series.
“I didn’t realize when I signed on to it (how big this was)”, says Vogel, a 1998 William Tennent High School graduate. “Last year after “Dome” finished, Syfy approached me, I looked at it and thought, the script’s great, Australia, cool, that will be fun, there are cool, creative people involved, yeah, sounds like a plan. It wasn’t until I was on the airplane flying to Australia and started researching that I realized what I had just signed on to and the place ‘Childhood’s End’ has in the sci-fi genre fandom. There was always the problem, how do you capture everything this book talks about (onscreen)? They’ve been trying for 50 years.
This was Stanley Kubrick’s favorite — he wanted to make it over “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but when you looked at it then, through the scope of things, it would have cost an astronomical amount of money. The effects were not there to do it justice. That’s why now, with all the technology advances, is a great time to do it. When we were filming, I questioned whether we could do it justice, but when I saw the effects, it blew me away. Hats off to Syfy, they spent money on this. It’s literally like watching three movies”.
Vogel plays Ricky Stormgren, the initially reluctant Missouri farmer chosen by the alien Karellen (Charles Dance of “Game Of Thrones”) to be the conduit between the humans and invading Overlords. In Clarke’s book, Vogel points out, his character is actually a Finnish-born, 60-year-old secretary-general of the United Nations, but screenwriter Matthew Graham felt that wouldn’t necessarily play well with modern audiences.
“The crazy and scary thing is how well the ideas from the book hold up 50 years later”, Vogel says. “That said, it’s a completely different climate. Your most trusted messenger from these Overlords to Earth is not going to be a politician. You’d automatically discount that guy in today’s world. So let’s make him an honest, blue-collar farmer from Missouri. That’s who Ricky is, a farmer from Missouri, a uniter, a straight-shooter, not a lot of fanfare, doesn’t like a lot of attention.
When Matt and I were talking about the characters, we based it on the biblical undertones of the story, the relationship between God and Moses. God comes to Moses and says you’re going to be the one to lead the people, and Moses says absolutely not, I’m the wrong guy, I can’t speak properly, I’m not a leader, I’m not the guy. God says that’s exactly why you are the guy.”
While the aliens’ arrival appears to signal a Utopian era for Earth, eventually the humans realize, as Vogel puts it, that nothing comes free. “Ricky comes to see he doesn’t want what they’re selling”, he says. “It becomes sort of like a doomed marriage. Ricky knows he can’t divorce himself from what these guys are doing, but he still wants no part of it”.
Initially, Vogel’s character only interacts with Dance’s character’s voice, speaking his lines in front of a mirror. It was, he acknowledges, an intimidating scenario. “It didn’t dawn on me until a week before we shot it that it was just me in front of a mirror with Charles’ voice”, Vogel says. “I started to panic. When you’re hanging in the wind by yourself, that’s a lot of responsibility. They set up a speaker behind the couch and Charles hid offstage.
We’re about to film and they finally put the speaker on, and all Charles did was inhale and exhale and there was so much weight in just that sigh, I thought, “OK”, we’re going to be good. There’s such gravitas, such class to Charles Dance. When you see him dressed up as Karellen, people will be shocked. He spent four-and-a-half hours in makeup every day, and everything was very practical”.
“Childhood’s End” is Vogel’s second consecutive science-fiction TV project after “Under The Dome”, but the stories — and his characters — are different enough that he doesn’t fear being typecast. “The plan was never to stick to the sci-fi genre”, says Vogel, who has been acting regularly in TV and movies since 2003. “I just look for really good material. I gravitate toward every-man, blue-collar type of characters. That’s in my wheelhouse, because that’s a lot like who I am”.
There will no doubt be more such every-man characters in Vogel’s future. For now, though, he finally has some to relax with his wife, Courtney, daughters Cassy, 8, and Charlee, 6, and son Gabe, 2. “I’ve had the chance to slow down and concentrate on being a dad and husband this fall”, he says. “I’m gearing up for getting some huge stuff jumping again after the holidays. It’s hard for me to sit still. My wife is yelling at me constantly: “You need to learn to enjoy this”. I know she’s right, but it’s hard for me”.
(His children haven’t watched too much of Daddy’s screen work, primarily because it’s not age-appropriate. He tried to show Cassy an episode of his series, “Pan Am”, but “She got as far as seeing me kiss one of the girls and started crying and asking “Why is Daddy kissing somebody who’s not Mommy?”. It’s crazy what they pick up”.)
Vogel did acknowledge how tough it was being away from his family for four months while shooting “Childhood’s End” in Australia. “That was one of the hardest things I had to do”, he says. “I really take my hat off to the men and women of the armed forces. I’m not comparing myself to them at all — nobody’s shooting at me — but to see what that separation is like, as a father, it’s heartbreaking. It just took the already immense respect I have for them and increased it 10-fold”.