The new CW series STAR-CROSSED introduces a world where aliens have crashed on Earth and been living amongst us for 10 years, though isolated in captivity. With a new government proposal to try to integrate the alien children into a local school system, a young teen girl and boy are reunited and a beautiful love story unfolds. But if only it were only a story of a star-crossed romance; instead STAR-CROSSED features a rich array of characters fleshing out the world of the Atrians and the humans as they try to live together amidst rising tensions of extremists unwilling to trust, understand and integrate the two cultures.
In a press interview, co-creators and executive producers Adele Lim and Meredith Averill previewed what issues the show shall explore and delve into as their teen drama plays out against a backdrop of alien-human rising tensions.
The show is this high school story but it also has cool sci-fi alien mythology. When you were creating the show, which element did you start with?
MEREDITH: I think that certainly the pilot focuses most on building up that epic romance between Roman (Matt Lanter) and Emery (Aimee Teegarden), but as we’ve gotten into series it becomes much more epic and it is about these two races and the warring factions on either side that you really get introduced to. Not that it’s this show, but it becomes almost GAME OF THRONES-y in that there’s two very different worlds that you get to dive into and learn about more. You’re always going back and forth on “I don’t know who to trust, I don’t know which side I’m really on.”
ADELE: I think what’s really exciting is, because in the beginning you watch the pilot and you think, “Oh, high school romance. They’ve just got some different elements.
But what we found when we got into it was we just love the world. It became this big Disney playland for us. You’ve seen the Sector and the whole alien world. It’s different from any sort of alien world we’ve seen on earth before, any depiction of that. Another big revelation was our alien characters. There are all these distinct characters within the alien race and they just pop. The cast brings it. But in terms of who these characters are, I haven’t seen teenage characters quite like this in terms of Roman and being groomed to be a leader, Drake (Greg Finley) and being part of a warrior tribe, Teri (Chelsea Gilligan) and being part of a mystic tribe — these are sort of sexy, amazing, heightened elements that you wouldn’t get with any other teenagers. I don’t think we fully knew it when we started, but writing these characters and having our great actors just became this playland and it came alive. It was exciting!
MEREDITH: The pilot is so much about Roman and Emery. You’re introduced to all the other characters, but we really get to know them so much more throughout the series. Even just the small touches in what Caroline Marx, our wardrober, has done and Katie and Margot, who are our hair and makeup, they just all feel so special and distinct and interesting. We totally have fallen in love with all these characters.
ADELE: One last thing on it — we all remember being teenagers and having heightened feelings, everything’s like “life and death,” and this is one of those things where there actually are “life and death” stakes. And at the same time, you’re still a teenager who’s finding your way in the world and trying to have a connection with that cute boy while all this stuff is swirling around you. How do you deal? That’s been exciting.
Are you sci-fi fans?
MEREDITH: I’m a huge sci-fi fan. I’m a huge BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fan.
People keep saying the show is “Romeo and Juliet” meets “District 9,” but I think this show is like ROSWELL mixed the BSG episodes on New Caprica.
MEREDITH: Yes! Those are my favorite episodes! The New Caprica episodes are amazing. My favorite episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is the one called “Unfinished Business.” Have you ever seen that one? That’s the one with the boxing match. That’s one of the best episodes of television ever. Sorry. We just had to have a moment. [Pause for geek out moment about Fat Apollo.] Thank you so much. That is the best compliment you could give our show. Especially because what we are going to reveal in episode 2 is there are Atrians who are living on the outside who have had their markings removed. So in your love of BATTLESTAR, of course you will liken that to in the world where anyone could be a Cylon, and in STAR-CROSSED anyone can be an Atrian. So that is part of our mythology that we are building up to, and there will be a character that we’ll reveal early on in the season that we have come to know and love and is really an Atrian and what does that mean. Do we trust them?
ADELE: When we were talking to and hiring writers, one of [Meredith’s] tests was she has this cushion in the corner of her living room and it’s this cool yarn cross-stitch crafty thing and it’s a picture of an original Cylon head.
MEREDITH: It’s a cross-stitch Cylon that I got on eBay.
ADELE: It’s this homey little pillow and we were like, “Do you know what that is?”
MEREDITH: No, I wouldn’t ask them. I would just put it in the corner of the room and if someone said something, I was like, gold star!
ADELE: There’s the sci-fi, and the other element that plays, and we don’t do it overtly, is the thing of social issues and social justice and the things that we explore in terms of intolerance, and paranoia of “they’re among us, they’re living here, what do they want from us?” I think it’s a theme that you see playing out now, and having this world. It’s just highlighting something we can all relate to.
MEREDITH: Yeah, and what it is to be the other in high school which I think everybody can relate to in some way. Emery is a little bit “the other” on the first day of school because she has been sick and in the hospital most of her life, so she shares that with Roman’s experience and him walking in. That was what we loved about them, that they have this shared experience on their first day of school.
Do you feel you have to cloak these serious issues in “Hey, this is a fun show!”?
ADELE: Yes, and also, we’re not 20/20 [TV show]. We’re not out to necessarily make a point. We’re out to tell an amazing, epic romantic story, but with touchstones that people can still relate to, like with those social issues. Again, selfishly, it makes for great drama. There are things that play in society now that you feel, like prejudice, and having that light shined on our characters and seeing how they deal with it, seeing how Emery stands up for the Atrians and she’s been sort of on the outside, the hospital girl, when she comes in. So she’s not as bound by peer pressure, and she wants to do what’s right. You see a girl doing something brave in the way that she can. She’s not one of the Atrians who’s battling people, but she is a very brave girl. She’s got that frontier spirit. She’s standing up for what’s right and what she believes in.
Do you worry that you’ll get pigeon-holed as a “sci-fi show, but for ladies”?
MEREDITH: It’s funny, because we’ve heard from the network that some of them feel this is going to appeal more to men and some of them think this is going to appeal more to women, and we love that there’s a disagreement about that because of course there’s the romance and on the poster it’s the two of them with their hands together, so obviously that’s a big part of the show, and it does have this “Romeo and Juliet” sort of epic feel. But there’s action and there’s violence and there’s certainly a lot that the men who love a show like ARROW can certainly find in this show too.
ADELE: Absolutely. And I think that the element of “they’re doing this for girls,” I think the audience can tell when there’s a level of cynicism that, “Oh, they’re just trying to cater to the girls, so they throw some kissy-ness into it.” That’s not how we feel at all. We feel like it’s very organic, and it appeals to Meredith and I, what we’re doing. We don’t feel like there’s a disconnect between the romance and the passion between the characters and the more action-filled parts where they’re battling, because it all comes from the same motivation of standing up for what you believe in, fighting for the people you care for, and it actually each component enhances the other. It builds up the romance when you feel like there’s stakes to it, and when you have an action thing it’s not like “Oh, that’s a cool fight sequence.” No, you’re doing it because you are standing up for the girl you love.
How much of this whole world did you have sketched out when you began the show?
MEREDITH: We had a lot of it at the pilot. We certainly had the backstory, we had the characters, we had the Sector. But in series what has been great and what’s great about television is that it’s a big collaboration and we have an amazing writing staff and they have really helped contribute to the specifics, especially of the Atrians. It’s an entire culture that we got to create, which was awesome. There’s no source material to pull from; it’s ours. So the idea that there are four tribes within the Atrians, that they have their own council, that each of the tribes have their own plants that have their own specific function to how that tribe exists within the species, things like that — that’s what we created in series that we did not have at the pilot at all, and that’s been cool. We have our own language, of course, which is cool, which we love, called Sondiv. The four tribes are the Zwahan, that is the ruling class tribe. Roman is part of that tribe. The Vwasak tribe, that’s the warrior tribe, and Drake belongs to that. The Iwabas tribe, that’s sort of our mystic tribe, that’s what Teri belongs to. And the Swamad tribe, they’re sort of our more working-class, farmers. That’s the tribe that our extras belong to. We haven’t delved too much into that tribe yet, but we will. Zwahan, their plant is cyper. The mystic tribe, their plants have more sort of —
ADELE: They have varied plants, but it could be used helpfully or medicinally, but it also could be used for bad, witchy purposes. Then we have our warrior tribe, and their plants are much more about battle. It’s something we start to explore this season and that we’ll want to explore more in the subsequent seasons. The plants, it’s funny, because we love that our aliens are not creatures who have inherent superpowers. They’re very human in that way and they just have to make do in that way and bring out what’s unique about them. It’s something I haven’t seen.
MEREDITH: All of that we all created as a staff together in series and that’s been cool. Everyone is always coming up with cool little ideas, and about the ship and what we can find on the ship, so it’s still a world in progress in a nice way but certainly you get a sense in the series that it’s a full world that we’ve created.
It feels like you could take this mythology and novelize it rather than the other way around. It’s very full.
ADELE: Not all Atrians know everything about their own culture. There are still a lot of things that are kept from young Atrians and things that are kept from other tribes. There’s still that sense of mystery within their own culture, and so it’s exciting for our kids to learn things about their own alien culture and how it has this effect on the humans. These are just the Atrians that are here on Earth; because of where they came from, the Atrians out there, what their culture was like on their home planet is this whole other thing. For our kids, Earth — Sector and all — is like home. It’s home for them.
Did you plot out the 13-episode arc that you were kind of going to go through?
MEREDITH: Yes, early on, we sat with our staff in the first week and we talked about where we were planning to write to. Kind of the nice thing about 13 episodes for a serialized show is that every episode is chalked full of plot. In a 22-episode show, you always get those episodes that you’re like, “They’re treading water.” So we are treading no water. It’s like a freight-train the full season. I’m also a big fan of answering questions. Like when I’m watching a show I can tell when they had no idea of what they were doing; and with our show, we have always known since the beginning what the final image of the first season was going to be. We’re actually about to start writing the finale next week and it is still that same final image. It is still what we always intended it to be. We pitched it to the CW in May and they loved it. So we have been able to mark it out throughout the whole season. Some things have changed here and there, based on “wouldn’t it be great to see this character here” and “what if we put this character here.” But for the most part, it has been what we have wanted it to be.
ADELE: Also when we started, Meredith had certain things and certain things that sort of stayed true to the original version of the pilot. Like you mentioned, it is like building all these exciting worlds and we’ll continue to build in the second season, but with the finale — what happens in it, it sort of blows the top open and there’s sort of this whole other dimension that we’re excited about exploring as well.
MEREDITH: So think of it as the Season 2 end of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA where you knew you were coming into New Caprica, but then it’s like just a game-changer.
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is paced very similarly, it’s just like constant everything and people die in the second act, like January, and it’s not sweeps.
ADELE: We do have a lot of twists and turns.
MEREDITH: I’m a big fan of pulling up all that cool stuff that you have ’cause you will be able to top yourself. Don’t push it down. We’ll figure it out. BREAKING BAD is one of my favorite shows and they did that all the time. They were like, just pull it up and we’ll top it.
That’s a really brave way to write.
ADELE: It’s that thing of don’t think: “This is the episode the Trags are going to be in and only for 4 episodes.” It’s going to be like: “Just when you think it is one way and then it gets turned on its head in the next episode and we’re going in a whole new direction.”
What’s more fun for you to write: cool sci-fi stuff or the sexy romance?
ADELE: This is going to sound terrible, but my favorite is I love the fight scenes. I love when men step up to each other and really get into it. Men, they have a certain language, even between boys who have been friends for a long time — when they come to a head and when they find themselves on opposite sides and how they deal with that confrontation. I think all our staff likes it. We enjoy the sexier scenes too. It’s so much fun.
MEREDITH: (Laughs) I just wrote something into an outline, where Adele’s like, “I don’t think we can do that.” It was like one character trying to come onto another character and she’s talking about how she wants more of a man in her life, someone who can help open her up, and get inside of her. And Adele came out and said, “I don’t know about this!”
ADELE: I always think that I’m the dirty old lady on staff with all these scenes. But it’s high school, and there’s storage closets and the passion is real.
I saw that scene filming yesterday, where people are being thrown against walls.
MEREDITH: The Teri/Roman scene? Oh, yeah.
ADELE: Didn’t he have his shirt off? You know, it just keeps getting better. If you type “Matt Lanter” into Google, the second thing that comes up is “Matt Lanter shirtless.” And I have to say, I think we earned the shirtlessness. I don’t think any of our scenes are gratuitous where we just throw in sex. We feel like we earn it. It’s like there all these simmering passions are characters have with each other, so when they come together, it’s kind of explosive. You see the sparks. So we earn it. That’s why we just enjoy writing to that. But the mythology and building those stories and actually having to keep the teen element, or more like the fun element, I don’t think it detracts from it. It reminds you that at the end of the day, they are still teenagers. They are not a Navy Seal/Green Beret team out to save the world. They’ve got school to deal with. They’ve got curfews.
The scenes that we’re seeing are in the school, but in a lot of high school shows, they never go to class.
MEREDITH: We see some. We have classrooms.
ADELE: We have cool classrooms. We have cool teachers. They play into our plot. There’s some tutoring going on.
There is a trend amongst new high school shows on television where they are not shown in that slow pacing anymore. They are really accelerated.
ADELE: You’re absolutely right. Even if you think of the old WB high school shows where they take their time, like DAWSON’S CREEK and all of that, which we loved and the romances of it, but it is very liberating to be able to burst into a world of epic adventure and still keep your school as an anchor.
MEREDITH: Very early on in the season the Atrians are given more freedom outside of school, so we’re not confined to only seeing them in the Sector or in school. We will see them in the Mud Bug, we’ll see them outside Edendale. It freed us up a lot, in terms of story, because you can see them around town and still have a curfew in place and have to be back at the Sector at a certain time. But you get to tell more stories with them outside of school, which is great.
Thinking about the first batch of episodes that are going to draw people in. Is there a particular storyline or any really fun thing that stands out for you?
ADELE: It’s hard to pick among your characters, honestly.
MEREDITH: I’m trying to think of something that wouldn’t spoil something.
ADELE: I think our favorite stories are sometimes the unexpected ones. Like with our character Sophia (Brina Palencia), Roman’s sister, I think we have a very special story with her and it’s less about special powers than it is about her trying to find her place in the world. We tell a Jackie Robinson-esque story, which I don’t think you can tell on any other show — trying to gain acceptance and fighting for it. So that was an unexpected delight.
MEREDITH: We have some unexpected sort of pairings, in the terms of romance. Roman and Emery is not our only couple on the show and they are not our only human/Atrian couple on the show. So that’s fun too.
ADELE: In talking about that, it’s the unexpected pairing of people who are most hostile and most distrustful of each other or have contempt for each other, that’s sort of like masking what you know is a secret feeling or chemistry — like a pull and then you see that come together. That’s exciting.
MEREDITH: Some of the characters in the pilot that you didn’t get to spend any time with, like Eric (Jesse Luken), who is the bully who beats up Roman — we like to think of him like our Spike, if you’re a BUFFY fan — and that is sort of where we have taken him this season. Where we started him in one place, but then as we started to learn a little bit more about his background and you start to understand, “Oh, he’s not just an asshole.” There are reasons why he is the way that he is, and we kind of soften him up a little bit without making him too much of a total pussy.
ADELE: Also with our characters, there’s revelations of other sexualities and how that comes across. We feel like, again, in this crazy sci-fi world, it feels very real and very human. Like you’re a young girl and you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you’re doing, and feeling an attraction for somebody and how that plays out.
Do you have a character that you like writing for the most?
ADELE: We love writing for them all. Our cast is kind of like magic.
After working with them, are you kind of putting things into the characters for them?
MEREDITH: I think more so, lately, yes. Because I notice a lot when I’m writing, I can hear them. Like I can hear Titus [Makin]. I hear Natalie [Hall]. We just know what is going to fit them and into certain character mouths.
ADELE: There is a character who — like Meredith point out — there are hidden Atrians in our society and there is one of them who is very unexpected when we discover them, and that character is a joy to write for because it is a totally different aspect than a high school persona and you just see a whole different side to the character without it being an unusual super-arch villain or anything like that. Again, because it is a different alien species and their situation here is so unique, our cast has been amazing in terms of what they bring to it. Like if you are a hidden Atrian, what does that do to your head when you’re hiding your culture and you’re hiding who you are and you’re living among the humans — how do you feel about them — and you’re passing?
Has this person been passing as human for 10 years or is it recent?
MEREDITH: I think we say 6 years.
ADELE: It’s a long time. Let me tell you, when you see who it is . . .
Which episode will that person be revealed then?
MEREDITH: It’s revealed in episode 5.
We will be calling you after episode 5 then!
MEREDITH: I also love writing for our teen girls. I love Taylor (Natalie Hall), Julia, Emery. I feel like because there is not as much of it, we get to take a break from saving the world and our characters get to be kids and have those conversations about the boys that they like, the problems that they are having. I enjoy those scenes so much.
ADELE: She has an excellent ear, like an ability. Like when she writes, it is amazing. Like we talked about DAWSON’S CREEK and the old WB, there’s a banter energy that you get with teenagers that you don’t see in shows about people in their 20’s or 30’s. So I feel like Meredith does an amazing job in terms of bringing it to life and making it light and enjoyable, instead of having it be sort of being unbelievable that all this is still happening in a world where the big epic stuff happens. I like doing the fights stuff, like stabbing and nasty groping. That’s my area of speciality. (Laughs)
Going back to the idea of having the “Cylons amongst us,” when looking at the Sector I had a sense that what we were seeing wasn’t really the Atrian lifestyle because there was too much color. We found out from wardrobe that they are drawn more to black-and-white. So I had a sense that maybe they were covering up their true nature and they were trying to put out a fake image to the public or to the police or whoever is watching. So is there kind of like a hidden world amongst the Atrians where they really live, and that’s their more true culture than what we see in the Sector?
MEREDITH: I think you get to see pockets of the way that they lived on Atria inside the Sector. But you’re absolutely right that if you were just to walk through the market, unless you really looked close, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to see what is something that is purely theirs.
There is so much color in the market of the Sector and yet they won’t wear that. So we have a sense that is for show.
ADELE: Also, it’s one of the smaller details of the Atrians that comes into play in one of our episodes is that they see things that we cannot see in gradiations of color. What comes across to us as black and white and less interesting, to them it could look very different. Also in terms of, first of all, the Sector is not their true world. It’s like an idea of FEMA housing built in an emergency. It’s like FEMA housing/Guantanamo housing built for them that they have kind of made it their own. So you sort of see how they have cobbled together things that they had to make do with. But for the different distinct cultural pockets within the Atrians, like the Trags who are like terrorists, they are very prideful and they have sort of underground lairs. They have their own distinct feel that they do not feel like they have to make pretty for the humans. It’s very distinct. It’s very them. It’s not again like all Atrians look like this. Bearing in mind, for us, just because you’re alien does not mean you have one culture across the board. They have their own distinct look, their own distinct culture, and how they go about doing things. That opens up as the episodes progress and you see it.
There was a lot of chaos and mishmash of stuff in the Sector and that did not ring true for what we had been hearing about the Atrians. It was like: that has to be just a fake show then and there has to be a hidden world that they’re hiding.
MEREDITH: Yeah, and you’ll get to see all of that beyond. The pilot really just barely scratches the surface of what you get to see of the Sector. You get to see part of the market, you get to see the rooftop garden, which is a very special place for Roman and his father. But beyond that, you didn’t get to see what their pods look like. But you’ll be introduced to what their pods look like in episode 2 where you’ll see the Iwabas tribe. You’ll get to see that they have their own garden where they grow their creepy plants. In episode 3, you’ll get to more where the Trags hide out. So you’ll really get to delve into the world that most humans, unless you’re an SEU guard do not get to see.
ADELE: I think the biggest questions are going to be: what are their powers and their worlds? But in staying true to the world that we’ve set up, we’ve put people in an internment camp and when that happens, a lot of your culture gets lost and its how you keep parts of it alive.
To meet all these amazing characters and discover the rich world of the Atrians, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of STAR-CROSSED on Monday nights, starting February 17th at 8:00 p.m. on the CW. You can read more about STAR-CROSSED here: “STAR-CROSSED: Introducing An Alien Tale of Forbidden Romance, Forced Integration, and How Its Story Differs from ROSWELL”
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