Carlton Cuse‘s inspiration for his new sci-fi show? World War II-era photos of Parisiennes sipping coffee as Nazi troops marched by. “It was fascinating to us that people in these incredibly extreme circumstances were still trying to go about their normal lives,” Cuse says.
On USA’s Colony, a Los Angeles-based family led by patriarch Josh Holloway deal with what Cuse calls a “mysterious invading force.” Some speculate aliens; Cuse won’t say. But the former Lost showrunner did tell EW how he and Colony co-creator Ryan Condal came up with the idea for the show and what it was like working with Holloway again after a five-year break.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for Colony come from?
CARLTON CUSE: Ryan Condal and I had worked on another project together and then we were just talking about ideas, as writers do, and one of the things that I think we were both sort of fascinated by was this idea of what it would have been like to live in Paris during Nazi occupation and World War II. We were looking at these incongruous images of really well-dressed Parisian women sitting in sidewalk cafes drinking espressos while Nazi stormtroopers were marching down the street. It was fascinating to us that people in these incredibly extreme circumstances were still trying to go about their normal lives.
So we thought, is there a way to do that in a modern context with a little bit of science-fiction spin? So we came up with this idea that, what would happen if Los Angeles was occupied by a mysterious invading force and there are these big metal walls, that run basically where the freeways used to be, that segregate most of Los Angeles off from the rest of the world; and what’s outside those walls, what’s happened to other places, who is this mysterious alien force, what is their intention, why are they here? All of those are great unanswered questions, but the more immediate day-to-day problem that the characters have to solve is, how do we get to by? How do we survive under occupation?
It just felt like it was such a rich area creatively to explore because every country in the world has either been a colony or a colonizer. And this idea of what people will do to each other under these circumstances, and more importantly, what are the compromises that one has to make in order to survive in that kind of an environment, felt worthy of exploring.
What was it like working with Josh Holloway again?
It was awesome. Josh is one of my favorite people in the world. We became great friends during the making of Lost, and to have a chance to work together again, it’s just really kind of a dream come true. It’s something we talked about a lot, but I think that’s what happens: You have these ambitions but it’s hard to find the right project and the right kind of time in both of your lives when there’s a lot of other stuff going on. It just worked out that this project happened to be something that Ryan and I finished just at the time that Josh was really ready to entertain going back and doing something in series television.
Which one of your previous shows would you say this one is the most like?
I think there are some similarities to Lost. I wouldn’t overextend the metaphor, but one of the things that’s really interesting to Ryan and me is this sort of closed storytelling so that when you watch Colony, the curtain is sort of right in front of the characters in the same way that it was in Lost. You sort of never knew what was around the corner. The characters didn’t really know too much about the island or what was going on there. It took a long time for them. It kind of unfolded slowly. There was no single character who was the expert who came in and laid everything all out. I think the same is true here—we’re looking at this weird world in which Los Angeles is now surrounded by these metal walls and life has been completely upended, but what we don’t do is stop and do some giant expositional dump and try to explain it all. Really, you’re just following the characters through this journey. You’re picking up and learning details as you go along.
Can you give me any hints about who or what these outside intruders are? A lot of people are saying they’re aliens.
No. I mean, I can’t. What I will say is what we definitely did not want to do was an alien invasion show. This is not Falling Skies, this is not humans battling aliens with guns. We wanted the show to be a human show wrapped up in a science fiction premise. We’re trying to avoid the tropes of alien invasion shows as we’ve seen them before.
What do you hope people walk away feeling after watching the first episode?
Massive, massive joy on an unparalleled level. [Laughs] As a showrunner, you always want people to like what you do when you tell a story. It’s not complete until you have that sort of communion with an audience. I hope people will really find the story engaging and want to come back and watch this. We’ve worked really hard to tell what we think is a very compelling, twisty and unexpected, engaging journey of these characters through this world. I think it’s really exciting and my sincere hope is that the audience will share the enthusiasm that Ryan and I have for the story and will really get hooked into it. It’s a really fun ride.
An edited version of this interview ran in Entertainment Weekly issue #1371/1372, on newsstands Friday, July 3.
Related: Watch the Lost cast and crew explain the show in 30 seconds.