Tonight, Americans have the choice between watching Dancing with the Stars, Monday Night Football, and … a SyFy movie with gay Russian spies on the moon. Curious? You’re not alone: SyFy executives thought the same thing of Bryan Fuller’s newest creation, High Moon. For four years, Fuller and the channel entered into an on-again, off-again relationship. At first it was a pilot, then a miniseries, then back to a pilot, then back to… you get the idea.
“[B]ecause of how strange the development process was at the network, I don’t think anybody was surprised [that it wasn’t made into a series],” Fuller said. “Right before we were ordered, the highest guy at the network told us he didn’t think this was science fiction. So we were like, ‘OK, this is gonna be interesting.’ [laughs] I think the bigger issue with them was just the tone because it was fun…and science fiction for them has to be serious because they need to be taken seriously as a network.” (SyFy declined to comment.)
In the end, Fuller and the network settled on a TV movie that airs Monday night at 9 p.m ET.
EW: High Moon is up against MNF (Eagles vs. Colts) and DWTS. What’s your one-minute pitch to convince Americans to watch your SyFy movie?
BRYAN FULLER: Return with us to a bygone era when science fiction was fun, and see giant human cephalopods, giant robot dinosaurs, [and] gay Russian spies. We need to remind ourselves that the moon is up there and [it’s] still waiting for us to explore it.
Sold. Robot dinosaurs? Were those in The Lotus Caves, the John Christopher book on which the show is based?
[We’re] taking the bare basics … of discovering an alien plant form on the moon and blowing it up. Basically, The Lotus Caves … it’s a children’s book, so the main characters are all, like, 11 and 12, and it’s all about what it’s like to grow up on the moon. I had actually met with the producers of this project a few months before Jim [Danger Gray, writer] did, and they showed me some animatics. And I [wasn’t] particularly interested. And then Jim was like, “I think there’s a fun way to make this James Bond on the moon.” And I was like, “That I can get behind.”
One of the most fun parts of breaking that process with Jim was [when] we were at some point in, like, Act 6 or 7 of a two-hour pilot, and he was like, “I just wish a giant robot would just come along and save the day.” And I was like, “Let’s have a giant robot come along and save the day!” It really was about taking the SyFy motto of “Imagine greater” to literal lengths—and I think we imagined too great. [Laughs]
Interesting choice to have a gay Russian spy when Russia and Ukraine are at odds with each other. Did you originally plan it because of Putin’s stance on homosexuals and how that played out in the Olympics?
It was really inspired about the legacy of gay Russian spies throughout history, so when Putin starts squawking about the gays, it’s just like, “Hey buddy, you probably wouldn’t have gotten half the distance that you did in any of your wars if it hadn’t have been for the homosexual spies under your flag, so cork it!” When all of Putin’s anti-gay rhetoric started to bubble to the surface, we were like, “Great,” because we have two positive Russian gay role models on the show that are bucking stereotypes and also providing the biggest slice of humanity in this moon pie because they’re the ones with the romance that works and genuinely care about each other. … [I]t wasn’t so much a condemnation of Putin’s policies as it was waving the rainbow flag for our gay Russian brothers and sisters who are living under that oppression and resisting it, so we wanted to make sure that the gay Russians who watch the show saw that they were being represented in such a positive way despite everything that was happening in their country right now.
You’re known for your Fullerverse—casting a handful of usual suspects in each of your shows. Aside from Charity Wakefield (Mockingbird Lane), Jonathan Tucker, and Chris Diamantopoulos (both Hannibal) in the cast and Jim Danger Gray (writer) and Adam Kane (director), was there anyone else you wanted for this film who wasn’t available?
Initially, we went to Chi McBride for Peter Macon’s role, but he had just accepted a role on Hawaii Five-0. Then we discovered Peter Macon, who I think is fantastic in the show and delivers all those crazy, absurdist lines like “He’s no Eggs Benedict Arnold” with such perfect aplomb, that I’m thrilled we ended up casting him.
High Moon reminds me a lot of the way nations first approached Antarctica, although one thing missing was a bar. Antarctica even has one of those at the Vernadsky Research Station. Where do the moon colonists eat?
[T]he first time that we meet Stan and Trofim in the Russian mines, that was originally going to be in a big Russian bar that was going to have this elaborate karaoke sequence where you would start with this Bollywood number, and in the middle … was Stan performing in full Indian regalia with all sorts of dancers and spinning scarves, and then Trofim would come in and shut off the [hologram]-karaoke machine, and all of that would go away. But that was one of the first victims to the budget. Oh my god, it was going to be so much fun. He was going to be singing Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” and oh, those darn budgets!
We’ve been cheated out of that scene, so you might as well tell us what happens to the Indians, the eyes, and every other character, since it won’t be a series.
Part of me thinks that when something like this airs, you always hope, “Oh, I hope that it does well and we get to finish the story.” Because we had the miniseries version that … was a complete story where the giant human cephalopod and the eyes and what the Indians were doing with the plant all paid off in really fun ways. … Every question mark you would have had a great payoff in a subsequent episode. I think it’s a ton of fun, and I think what Guardians of the Galaxy showed us is that science fiction can be fun.
If Americans choose DWTS and MNF instead of High Moon, what will you do? We saw the picture with Jodie Foster and the news on American Gods.
It was exciting for me just to meet her because I think she’s a spectacular talent. We have an open-door policy at Hannibal for Jodie Foster to do whatever she wants to do should she want to return to that iconic place that she really cemented herself in so many audiences’ minds with that role. I get why she would be resistant to it, so, there’s no pressure on you, Jodie. We just have an open door if you want to walk through it.
Yes, [American Gods] is very exciting. Michael Green and I are developing that. We’re working very closely with Neil Gaiman, which is exciting, because we’re both big fans of his. The wonderful thing for us, as fans of the book, is being able to platform the book into a television series…because we’re taking things from the book and then looking at them from various angles and also understanding the rules and applying them to other circumstances and really expanding the world and the characters in a way that, I think, is going to bring the book to life PLUS.
Oh, and Hannibal season three starts shooting in five weeks. … One of the beautiful things about working with NBC is that they fully embrace the serialized nature of it and also allowed us to completely change the paradigm in the third season, so that the show is … very much a soap opera. The forensics of the FBI have been left behind relatively, and we are in territory that is so rooted in the characters and their experience and how they are surviving Hannibal Lecter and how they need to find him for closure and also justice.