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Once Upon a Falling Sky: An Interview With Jessy Schram

There is something very satisfying about seeing the girl who plays Cinderella be just as deft at handling an automatic weapon as she is at trying on shoes. Jessy Schram of TNT’s Falling Skies is on a hot streak in Hollywood right now, and we just had to get inside her head to get the details on some of our favorite and soon-to-be favorite shows. By all means, please read on, the interview is a real treat… or “Snacker,” if you will.

Nerdist: Going off the Falling Skies cliffhanger from last year, it seems you’re going from being the sideline girlfriend character to playing a really pivotal role going into this next season. How did that extra responsibility feel when you saw it for the first time in the script?

Jessy Schram: Every time I read the script, we really didn’t know where anything was going. When we saw the cliffhanger at the end, it was really special, because, like you had said, I kind of went from being a sidekick, to being a girlfriend, to just kind of being sprinkled here and there, and sort of a way of showing how the aliens communicate. I’ve been used, but I haven’t had too much story, I guess you could say. When I saw that ending cliffhanger, first of all, it was so cool taking Tom onto a spaceship and everything. That was a huge surprise. The first script that came around the second season, they didn’t have any promises for me. It’s not like they laid it out and said, “This is where Karen’s going,” or “This is what we’re thinking.” It was more like, “Hey, are you available for the first episode of the premiere?” “Yes I am.” “Yay! Here’s your part.” Reading it, it’s a huge responsibility that I was given, I’m very thankful for and excited for.

N: It’s interesting, because fans of Falling Skies might look at Season 2 on IMDb, and freak out if they don’t see you in anything after the first episode. But when you actually look at the cast list, it’s just people who have been on top of maintaining their personal IMDb page. Has anybody kind of glommed onto that, or worried about what’s going to happen?

JS: Well, exactly. I mean, you really, you really never know what’s going to happen. That’s definitely a trend that keeps on happening with Falling Skies, is a “no one’s safe” kind of thing. It’s something that I actually have noted the IMDb thing as seeing posts with people being like “Oh, well relax, don’t worry. Karen’s coming back in this episode, or another character that I played is coming back in.” Then, I realize that actually, I almost don’t want it to be updated, because it’s keeping the surprises. I’ve never seen any concern of, like, “Oh, no, I haven’t seen it or anything else!” It’s more like when the prediction of something comes, is when you almost want to hold back, just so it keeps a certain surprise.

N: One of the new things for this second season is the after-show that’s going to live on the Web.

JS: Yes! 2nd Watch!

N: It’s been announced that it’s going to be hosted by Wil Wheaton. Will you be stopping by and visiting?

JS: Yes. Actually, we have shot a couple already. I’m going to be in one that appears later on in the season, after an episode, we’ll say. I will be on the show later in the season with other cast members. Also, after the season premiere, the cast will be there for this first episode. I’ll be included in that.

N: You live here in L.A., but Falling Skies shoots in Vancouver. Being thrown together with a group of actors where you’re all kind of isolated from your homes, does that help inform your performance?

JS: Definitely. The first season, we filmed in Toronto. That was different. We’re filming in Vancouver for this season. We don’t have one set though. Therefore, in season two, we’re always on the move. When you’re doing this, we’re filming from basically the end of July to April or so, so you’re going through the winter season in Vancouver, and it gets really rainy, and it gets to -20 degrees Celsius. And you’re still out there, filming. So the cast and crew are out in that. I think that a lot of the stamina that you need to bring, just on a personal level, of being in weather conditions and doing the night shoots and the hours that we pull, really portrays on-screen as having the edge that we do. I think it also does bring the cast together in a certain way of relying on each other to know the material, and get through things the way that you do. Also, when you’re doing night shoots, and you’re using guns, and all that kind of stuff, you really need to trust each other. But the weather definitely had an effect on our acting, and in the way that we bonded together, I think.

N: Having lived in Seattle, I don’t envy a night shoot in Vancouver.

JS: We’ll have an episode where you’re filming, and then, all of a sudden, it’ll be pouring rain. Or all of a sudden, there’s snow, and it wasn’t there on the other person’s shots. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a snow-filled scene that was never meant to be there.

N: That’s got to create some interesting dynamics.

JS: At like three in the morning! So, I mean the look of this show is really intense and raw. Filming it is intense and raw as well.

N: One last question about Falling Skies: You now have this character that is pivotal. The character has tons of places to go story-wise. Without giving away too much, do you feel this is going to launch you further? Do you feel you’re going to finally get to show off more of what you’re capable of?

JS: Most definitely. Because right off the bat, in this first episode, the premiere of Season Two, Karen’s really done this huge transformation of being part of the 2nd Mass, of being a love interest, a scout and part of the group, to all of a sudden, being harnessed as the vocal chords of the aliens. She really becomes this vessel for the overlords to speak through and used to portray messages. You see the changes in that, as well as when people return with questions that surround that, I guess you could say.

N: As an actress, were there any performances you went back to for reference in approaching Karen in Falling Skies?

JS: Yes. Especially for the finale of Season One, and for this season, I definitely did a lot of looking back at other characters, such as when Ben is first deharnessed, and when Rick is talking and the difference between the two of them, and kind of how they portrayed it. And there’s the young girl that comes to take the little boy away. I look back to all of the things that we’ve already done, and the way that they’ve done things. Also, this season, I’ve rented a couple movies just to expose myself as to what’s even out there. Definitely, we’ve created a character and a vessel that you haven’t seen yet. It was neat to take all of those references, and then create something completely original.

N: We’re also fans of another series you’re on, Once Upon A Time. It’s got to be interesting to be doing all this at the age of 26. How did you react when somebody said, “Hey, we want you to play Cinderella”? What went through your mind?

JS: “Me-e-e-e?” Just the question of “Me-e-e-e?” I was the person who grew up, and Cinderella was by far my favorite character and story. I always thought I was more like Gus Gus. I was always the little sidekick. You know? I was never the princess. I guess I’m like Cinderella in the sense that every girl is, that you can only dream to be, but you never actually imagine yourself as that princess. Cinderella was really fun to portray. I put a lot of pressure on myself, because there’s that thing of “OK, this is an iconic role.” At the same time, Adam and Eddie were very reassuring in the sense of “We’re showing the stuff that you don’t know. This is about the human side of this person.” It was more about relating to yourself, and kind of exploring Cinderella in a way of looking at her home situation and her back story, and everything that goes on. It was really neat to embody that, and think about, like, “If I slept in ashes, and my Dad died, and now I’ve got this evil step-mom,” actually thinking about that, and how you would be. You would be a pretty strong-willed girl. It was fun to look at this fantasy and bring it to reality.

N: You brought an element of sass, which might be the wrong word, that really hasn’t been in Cinderella before, except maybe the Drew Barrymore version. It was quite enjoyable. Are you at all familiar with a comic book called Fables?

JS: Oh, yeah! Thank you so much! I’ve heard of it, but I have not been exposed to it, I’m sad to say. When I was in Vancouver getting ready to film, I’m like, “I need to look up some other stuff.” I started looking up all of the different stories that were on Cinderella, and all the different fables that were out there. It was so interesting to see her portrayed, because it’s a girl who has a very giving heart. She’s very generous, and she just wants to make good out of everything. At the same time, there are some that kind of portrayed this pushover. I’m like, “That’s not Cinderella. Cinderella’s not a pushover. She’s got some balls.”

N: She went to the party! A pushover wouldn’t have gone!

JS: Exactly! She can take care of her own. She can get what she needs to. That was a compliment when you said she held some sass. I’m like, “That’s very good.” Cinderella’s not a pushover. I’m very excited to read Fables, because I love all that kind of stuff.

N: Have you seen yourself in your comic book form in Falling Skies?

JS: I saw last year in the little comic books that were online, and also in the little books that they gave people at Comic-Con. Drew had given me his so I could see it. It’s pretty awesome! The first time I saw it, I’m like, “Here I am! I’m the one with the blonde ponytail! That’s me!”

N: I know the plan was to bring back Cinderella. Do you know how many episodes of Once you’re going to get to do this year?

JS: I’m not sure, because I just signed on to another show that just got picked up called Last Resort. That’s on ABC. It really all depends on the way the schedules match, and the generosity of the network. Traveling from show-to-show isn’t usually heard of. But because it’s all in the family, I’m hoping that if they want to use Cinderella, that I can be on a plane in a second, and that all can work out.

N: Speaking of your new show, a couple of us watched the new trailer a few days ago. After we watched it, we looked at each other and thought, “Those producers have some really big brass cojones.” It’s the idea of a show like that on American broadcast television, that’s not necessarily anti-American but could be perceived as such. Do you ever look at a project like that, and just think, “Is this right for me right now?” How did you perceive the project?

JS: There’s a lot of scripts that will come across your desk. I will fall in love with a lot of the projects, but there’s a lot that I won’t even go out for, or consider, because you do think about that kind of stuff. It’s like, “I want to watch this show, but do I really want to be involved with it? Do I want to portray this and that?” Last Resort is interesting because it’s really about finding the truth. Like you said, it does question orders from America, because it’s an American show. They decide these orders, and then go to an island and declare themselves their own little nation for a while with the power of their nukes. It’s almost setting up their own refugee camp and becoming their own. It questions things. When I read this, I played the wife of Scott Speedman’s character. For me, the main draw of this project was it’s interesting, it’s mysterious. There’s an element of romance to it and longing, and it’s also about finding truth. I’m excited about this project and the character that I portray, because everyone in America has been affected or had someone that’s in the service. What I get to portray through that is the home life and the homeland, what’s back in America while all this controversy is going on on the island. I think it’s a really, really interesting show. You said that you were watching the trailer and thinking, “Damn, these guys have some balls.” When you see the pilot, the pilot’s even better than the trailer. Usually, the trailer will go, and you’re like, “Yeah, I want to watch that.” But you’ll watch this pilot, and you’ll say “Da-a-amn.”

N: The closest thing may be 24, but Jack Bauer was definitely well within the realm of what ‘merica—we call it ‘merica— looks for in a hero. 

JS: With you mentioning 24 and Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Andre Braugher in this is just stunning. He’s really fantastic. What’s interesting is that you’re kind of bringing up, there’s all these people on this island and so many different directions. Who knows who has the patriotism at heart? But also, who has the best integrity and values and morals? It’s really, really interesting. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m just as intrigued as you are.

N: How big of a fan are you of KFC Snackers now?

JS: [LAUGHS] That was one of those projects that came around, and you go, “Do I want to be a part of this?” I’m kidding. I am a fan of fried chicken. Let’s just keep it at that.

N: What’s funny is people in that commercial have gone on to some success.

JS: Oh, yeah! I’ve kept in touch with most people, especially from the Snackers commercial. It’s fun to watch everyone grow on these things. In my earlier days, I did a show called Veronica Mars.

N: Never heard of it.

JS: [LAUGHS] I played Hannah, the girlfriend of Jason Dohring.

N: That was an amazing show. That’s got to be awesome to have on your resume just tucked away.

JS: Everyone said not many people watched it, but the people that did are true fans with huge hearts. They are so supportive. They’re still rooting for a movie to get made. The amount of mail I always get is mainly Veronica Mars fans still, and I was only in four episodes. It’s overwhelming the support from those fans. That’s a show that’s really fun to look and see that every single person that guest starred on there or was part of the main cast is really working on something. It’s really neat.

N: By the way, we liked your Space Camp movie.

JS: [LAUGHS] What’s awesome is everyone says, “Oh, Jessy, you’re working on three shows right now.” I’m also like, “I also did a Space Camp movie.”

N: Was that based on a true story?

JS: It was based on a true story of Mike Kersjes, who lived in Michigan. That all happened in the eighties. And he came by set. He was just a really inspirational man. He’s one that you look at, and you’re like, “I can’t even do one of the things that you do in one day, let alone, like, yeah.” It’s pretty amazing.

N: You’re very active charitably across the border. You work with a charity in Tijuana.

JS: I do! It’s called Corazon de Vida. In the last year, I haven’t been physically able to go as much as I used to. That used to be every weekend for me.

N: Every weekend would be Tijuana?

JS: Every other weekend. And everyone’s always like, “Jessy’s going to party!” And I’m, like, “Actually, I’m going to bring toilet paper on a big bus of people.” It’s called Corazon de Vida. They sponsor 14 different orphanages in Baja Mexico. In Mexico, they don’t honor orphanages or orphans. There’s really no such thing as an orphan. It’s a different system down there. Usually, someone will get kids dropped off on their doorstep (that’s how the “orphanages” get started), and then more people will do that, Corazon de Vida provides them with an education and everyday necessities, as well as some joy and quality of life. The Corazon de Vida has changed my life, literally, as a person and who I am. The kids’ affect on me is more than I’ve affected them in any kind of way.

N: Not to be a downer, but that’s got to be a massive culture shock to go down there.

JS: It is. I noticed, a lot of time in the beginning when going down there, you see the dogs on the rooftops, and shacks of just splintered wood set up in different places. It’s a culture shock to go down there, but even more so is when you come back. I used to find myself walking into a grocery store and feeling really upset or angry, and not really knowing why. I think it’s because we do have so many options. We tend to take that for granted. That doesn’t mean you get down on your knees when you walk into a grocery store and say, “Hallelujah!” It’s just this thing of we have so much, yet we tend to not be happy, yet you’ll go to see someone playing with a stick and a piece of paper and have so much more quality of life. It was a huge culture shock whenever I would come back to the States, because I would just see so much excess.

There’s also a place called The Dream Center here in Los Angeles. They’re a place that has over 50 different missions going on like every single day. There’s a group called Red Eye. They go out into the city, and as opposed to try and change a situation or rid it of different things, they’ll go and try to make the best of it. They did Mother’s Day makeovers on Skid Row, or the Strongest Man contest for Father’s Day. They’ll visit kids with HIV and bring games, or make Fairytale Land, or Senior Citizens Prom. It’s all about hanging out with people that have the same desire to just be a part of something that’s helpful and good. That’s another thing that, since I haven’t been able to get across the border, Red Eye is a really awesome group that asks for nothing in return other than just you giving a little bit of time.

N: You’re an impressive person. We’re just going to put that out there.

JS: [LAUGHS] Thank you! Thank you so much!

You can see Jessy this weekend when Falling Skies returns to TNT on Sunday at 9pm.

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