History’s new scripted drama Project Blue Book dives into the United States Air Force’s then-secret investigations into Unidentified Flying Objects from 1952-1969. As revealed in the above exclusive clip, however, part of this new operation was driven by Hollywood’s growing fascination with aliens and UFOs, which was driving the people’s interest and fears about the unexplained phenomena.
“Truman assembled this group to control the narrative on this issue, not Hollywood, and we are losing that word,” says William Fairchild (Gossip Girl‘s Robert John Burke) in the clip, which shows a secret military meeting to discuss the issue at hand. “The public knows there’s something going on now.”
So what should they do about this problem? “Let Hollywood be the distraction,” says General James Harding (Neal McDonough), implying that they’ll continue to handle these many reports of UFOs in secret.
And that’s where Game of Thrones‘ Aidan Gillen and The Vampire Diaries‘ Michael Malarkey come in.
As part Project Blue Book, the Air Force pairs Capt. Michael Quinn (Malarkey) with Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Gillen), a brilliant college professor and astronomer, to investigate the many UFO sightings and other unexplained phenomena. Of course, the pairing isn’t without its bumps as Quinn initially views this assignment as a stepping stone to something better, while Hynek is genuinely curious about it all and isn’t willing to just the let the government sweep things under the rug.
“In a way, it’s kind of a classic pairing — like people who are at odds with each other but come together over time,” Gillan tells EW about the pair’s dynamic.
“My favorite part of the show is the dynamic between Quinn and Hynek, and the incredibly nuanced relationship that starts to develop as the season progresses,” says Malarkey. “Even from the first scene, we can see there’s more to these two guys than meets the eye, at least that meets each other’s eyes. Initially, Quinn views Hynek as this sort of over-intellectual scientist dude and then Hynek views Quinn as this straight up air force dude, and they’re very suspicious of each other from the get-go, I think.”
Malarkey continues, “That dynamic is ever shifting and changing. There’s information that one character will have that the other won’t, and it’s about when, where, and if information is divulged to the other. It’s very much this game of trust and belief, and I think that partially carries the story.”
As the duo continues to look into all of these cases — which are inspired by real UFO cases from the time period — they’ll discover that there’s a larger government conspiracy going on. “What’s great is that the cases are like a spine for us, right? They give you something for the characters to focus on every week, but the larger story we’re telling is this slow unraveling of this realization of, ‘Wow, there’s a larger government conspiracy here to cover up the truth,'” says showrunner Sean Jablonski. “You have this great government cover-up going on while at the same time you have two men who are just desperate to find the truth at the same time.”
Overall, the show is very much about the search for identity. Says Jablonski, “That’s an ongoing journey for everyone. We’re always trying to figure out who we are. From a character standpoint, this idea that you have all of these people desperate to figure out what are these things in the sky, what does this mean, it’s also a reflection from a writer’s standpoint back on the characters about what are they trying to figure out about themselves, what are we going to learn about them? It’s this desperate search for identity and that’s endless and constantly changing based on what happens in your life.”
Project Blue Book — which also stars Laura Mennell and Ksenia Solo, and is executive produced by Robert Zemeckis — premieres Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 10 p.m. on History.