BY: PAULETTE COHN
MIKE VOGEL ON HIS NEW SYFY MINI SERIES CHILDHOOD’S END
Mike Vogel just can’t get enough sci-fi. Tonight, he segues from Stephen King‘s Under The Dome to another series based on a classic novel when Syfy premieres Childhood’s End, adapted from Arthur C. Clarke‘s 1953 novel. The six-hour miniseries follows the peaceful invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords, which begins decades of apparent utopia at the cost of human identity and culture. The Syfy take has been updated to modern times.
Vogel plays Ricky Stormgren, the first human to make contact with Karellen (Charles Dance), the ambassador for the Overlords, and, as it turns out, the only one allowed access to him.
“If you’ve read the book, Ricky Stormgren’s like a 60-year-old head of the United Nations”, Vogel says. “So having a guy who is a farmer from Missouri, he’s almost a Moses character, where he very reluctantly is rejecting this idea: “I’m not your guy. I’m not worthy”. And he all of a sudden finds himself pushed to the forefront. They call him the Blue Collar Prophet in our story, who takes this message of the Overlords and becomes an intermediary to the people”.
The message of the Overlords is that under their rule, war, poverty, and disease will all be eradicated from the Earth. And instead, peace, health and prosperity will be created for all of humankind. But it begs the questions: What price will humanity have to pay for this utopia, and why are the Overlords really here?
“In the current climate of political distrust, having a guy who is not necessarily head of the UN, but who is one of us, who is all of us, to carry that message, I think is more relatable to an audience and to the people in our story”, Vogel adds.
In this interview, Vogel also discusses why the book has never been made into a movie previously, how he deals with science fiction coming from a religious background, whether or not he believes it could happen, and more. In addition to a great storyteller, Arthur C. Clarke was a great philosopher. What is the philosophy, in your own words, that he is trying to convey? The book was not made for so many years because for the longest time it was thought to be blasphemous. And, I think, we’ve come to a time where many different belief structures, many different ideologies can take something from this story and look at it with an open mind.
When it comes to utopia, I look at it, as did Ricky, I think, and I say you’re given everything in a wonderful bubble. Everything’s great. But it becomes very homogenized, everyone conforms, and everyone’s the same. And my argument has always been: When you look at a lot of great art, a lot of music, a lot of cultural movements, we don’t necessarily need pain for those things to happen. There will still be pain. But a lot of art and music and such has come out of immense pain, immense struggle, and that’s sort of the question that it asks: Can you have one without the other? You may like that idea of utopia, but if you sacrifice this other stuff, is it worth it?
Do you ever think that this could be true? Absolutely. We talked about if it’s aliens, or God, or insert here whatever you think. If it were true, what are we going to do about it? As humanity, when that mirror’s held up in front of you, you see all the stink and the filth of what we’ve done, at what point is it enough to make us change a lot of our behavior? To change how we treat one another? To start highlighting stories of communities coming together and finding common ground, rather than looking for every divisive, news-grabbing story, because that’s what makes news, but people coming together doesn’t. I think those are the things about a story like this that I go, “If this were true, what are we going to do about it? What if this did happen, what would you think?”.
You attended Philadelphia’s College of the Bible. With a religious background, how do you approach science fiction? It’s interesting because many a night over whiskeys up on the rooftop, Matt (Graham, who adapted the book) and I sat and talked about how blasphemous people thought this was for so long, because the book talks about the eradication of religion. It’s interesting because the Overlords are serving, ultimately, the Overmind. There’s one over them.
To me, this opened up the discussion—as a man with a strong faith—it opened up a discussion of life continuing after this, and what is that, and where is it? It also opens up a discussion for the atheist that goes, “See, all we have is now, so let’s fix now, let’s work on now”. What I love about this is that no matter where you fall on that spectrum, there are incredible things for all of us to learn, and all of us to come together on. I think God created us with an imagination, and for me, science fiction, it’s the ultimate in opening the the idea of what’s possible or not. You can’t go too far, and I love exploring that part of me.
Were you a fan of these kinds of stories when you were growing up? I wasn’t. I’m not particularly a science fiction fan, but to me science fiction sings when the human element is there, when the human story is there. At its heart, that’s what Childhood’s End is, it’s a story about people in very unbelievable circumstances, and how they react to it. That’s exciting to me.