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Project Blue Book - Interview - Michael Malarkey

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I had the great pleasure of chatting with Michael Malarkey about his exciting new show, Project Blue Book, premiering on January 8 on History. Be sure to look for my preview for the first episode! Michael plays Captain Michael Quinn (Air Force) who is assigned to the government study, Project Blue Book, to look into possible alien activity and determine if it is a threat to national security and to scientifically analyze the UFO-related data collected. He’s joined by Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones) as Josef Allen Hynek. Hynek was a real person who was an astrophysicist and eventual ufologist. Malarkey’s character is based on Edward J Ruppelt.

What follows is a basic precise of the highlights of the interview. As always, the questions come from Q, and MM is Michael Malarkey.

Q: Did you do research into the history and the time period?

MM: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s my job as an actor, especially when the character is based on a real person. I’m still obsessively watching documentaries and reading eye witness accounts. I read J Ruppelt’s book (The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects). I immersed myself in the period. I even went to an Air Force base and flew a plane! It’s important to know how they deal with extreme situations and still keep a cool head.

Q: Did your research change how you felt about UFOs?

MM: It’s a real phenomenon, and there’s a real cover up going on with the Air Force. The only question is whether it was Russians or Aliens. I hadn’t really thought about it much before getting the part. I was born in ’83 and aliens were already a de-valued thing to society. You have to comb through a lot of the fake stuff, but there’s enough stuff out there to prove it’s real. There are a lot of sightings over nuclear facilities. Maybe they are AI drones from outer space? As much as the show is a drama, at the same time, hopefully, it will re-activate an interest in what’s happening. It’s a global phenomenon – not just America.

Q: What drew you to the part to begin with?

MM: From an actor’s standpoint, this was a type of role I’d never played before, and I pride myself on being a versatile actor, and I want to do as many different kinds of things as I can. For me, the most exciting thing about the project, and also from an actor’s standpoint, is the relationship between Hynek and myself and how that evolved and grows, mutates. It’s a really fascinating journey. It’s really a story about trust, in a way, and belief. Not just whether you believe what’s going on out there but also who you trust on the ground. It’s just an extremely complicated character who has a lot on his shoulders. When you’re in the military, in any branch, you shut up and follow orders, and Quinn is very much doing that at the beginning and fighting with it through the season when he starts to see more of a conspiracy going on that he’s not aware of even though he and Hynek have very top clearance. I love the period aspects as well. It’s beautifully shot with Zemeckis’ team on board, so it just looks like a movie the entire way through. The look is incredible; the character, relationship dramas, are multi-faceted and I think it’s just a proper show that’s going to have a very big audience – I believe – and hope!

Q: How will Quinn’s relationship with Hynek develop?

MM: Strictly romantic! (laughter) Yes. You definitely see it evolve, and there’s a real potential for long game here, and I know there’s some excitement about carrying on and seeing where this ends up several seasons down the line. It’s always exciting when you hear that everyone working on the show wants to carry on with it. It’s such a rich subject. There’s way too may untold stories, let alone this one within it.

I think the cool thing is that Quinn’s accustomed, as an Air Force person, to just dealing with other Air Force people, and we see him as somewhat awkward when dealing with the family, Hynek’s son and his wife, and he’s not used to dealing with or working alongside civilians. And also the way that Hynek breaks down and analyzes everything which is what he notices over time, just how brilliant that actually is. At the beginning, he’s really writing him off as this dottery, egghead, professor and needles him about that – and still does – I mean the great thing also is that there are really humorous little nuances in Aiden and my scenes. We try to keep it a little fun as well.

Q: What were your thoughts before the show and your reactions to the history?

MM: I was shocked and not shocked. I was raised in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and people there have very open minds. They encourage creative thinking, and I believe that I’m always open to changing my opinion. The further you do down the rabbit hole of the research, it’s something you have to believe. It’s a legitimate thing that we haven’t been told about.  We’ve also been so desensitized to it that I think we’re almost ready for the disclosure of the truth.

I worked hard on building the authenticity of the character. I visited an Air Force base and worked a long time on getting a snappy salute, how you address certain members of the military and the gravitas associated with that. We don’t paint the Air Force as villains. They have always tried to protect the public, though it’s been skewed over time to become more corrupt. Quinn represents the innocence of that and that’s important to portray.

They were told (Hynek and Ruppelt) to answer only direct questions from the press with a bare minimum of information. The reports were released later but were heavily redacted. It was all part of the control of information to the masses, but we are all now very aware of that. The public is more aware of the controversy and questioning what they are fed. It’s the original fake news campaign, so very topical today.

Q: There were almost 700 unexplained cases when Project Blue Book was closed. Do you feel like this show is part of the disclosure that is coming this year?

MM: Our show is separate. It’s a tv show, a drama. We are really hoping, however, for a new found interest, and it really has changed my mind. There are definitely UFOs and a cover up. There are lots of informed witnesses like police and military who are trained to report under stress. Often when you came forward, you were ostracized and made to seem crazy.

One of the pitfalls of working in tv is that people will look to us to give them the answers. People look at you on tv and think you are the character you are playing. I’m a Dad, play in a band, and this is my work. I did research and I’m really interested, but I’m not an authority. This is a drama, it’s not reality.

Q: What is it like to work with the other talented actors on this show and one that is produced by Robert Zemeckis?

MM: This is definitely an ensemble piece… everybody is at the top of their game. Aiden and I got on like a dream. It’s great when you have the two leads just understand the work ethic and are both interested. It’s funny… I spent all my twenties in London, I trained there, went to LAMDA, and I used to go to this pub called The Old Dairy on Stroud Green Road, and he used to go to the pub literally across the road. I never met him, but he had a house that was a few hundred yards away from where mine was. There’s a lot of these weird, peculiar synergies about this show that feel just right. And Zemeckis! I can’t think of a better person to be at our helm. His canon of work speaks for itself and the subject matter is right in line with our show.

Q: Was there a particular ah ha moment when you were reading the research? Anything specific that changed your mind?

MM: There are several things. But one was a case that happened in England at one of our bases out there where you had these crafts that came down and you had these two witnesses who were American officers working on the base, who claimed to have actually gone up and touched this downed aircraft, so a 360 degree examination. And with the type of guys that they were, they seemed so lucid… for me that was a big moment. There was also, I believe it was the same case, where some British police officers came up and were taking some footage – I may be skewing two different cases, so forgive me if I am. Their cameras were actually confiscated at the time by the Air Force. I watched all these interviews, and I just thought, these guys aren’t crazy. A lot of people would write things off as ‘oh, they’re having hallucinations’ and stuff, but that’s incredibly rare. To me, that’s a major worry if you have pilots having hallucinations…

There’s also NASA footage from back at a certain time where you can see objects flying at and above our atmosphere and then rerouting and going in a different direction, which by changing direction that is definitely … you can infer that that would be an intelligent thing doing that. Ironically after these things started being spotted, the NASA footage used to be a livestream and they started putting it on a delay after that. Which I thought also spoke for itself. The sheer amount of tiny facts, once you step back, aren’t tiny at all when you add them. If you step back, it’s like a magic eye…

Q: Was there anybody else that you took inspiration from when you created your character?

MM: No. Not really. I like to draw from archetypes in a way. I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth. And I believe every story is told again and again. There’s a reason for that, and these archetypes that we see in these people, we connect to that and have since the beginning of time. I also have a friend of mine – who shall remain nameless – I used certain aspects of him (laughter). Normally, I build it myself. The main thing is Stanislavski’s magic “if.” If I was this person, in this time, under these circumstances, how would I behave? And the most important thing about playing a person in history is finding the connection between you and them.

The worst thing people can do is try to impersonate somebody and I’ve talked about this in previous interviews, but before when I was playing Elvis Presley in the West End for a year. I had a moment that I’ll never forget. I’m singing “That’s Alright Mama,” and I glance down at this couple in the front row and there’s a woman there and she starts crossing her arms and leans over to her husband and because the music’s so loud, she kind of barks it at him, and she says, “he’s too short!” Initially, that was rather demoralizing, but afterwards, I thought, you know what? I bet you a million bucks that if you dug up Elvis from his grave and stuck him on that stage, there would still be skeptics. People have their own connection to Elvis or to any character in history or to any subject in history. We’re going to have a lot of people who have their own beliefs and want the story told in a certain way and we have to remember that we aren’t a documentary. We’re not doing it exactly as it happened because that would make a boring show. We have to make it live and breathe, and we have to see these characters go through things. There were no bugs in the Blue Book headquarters where we can transcribe the exact conversations that happened between Ruppelt and Hynek. So we have to imagine what it would have been like, and tell it in a way that it lives and breathes, which is an important thing for everyone to remember.

Q: Can you talk about how interacting with the Air Force helped you to develop your character?

MM: The thing is, these guys do not like being scrutinized, so I had to do it in a very covert way. I was more interested in watching then physically, how they interact with the world physically and even also how their brains work and how they explained things. And one of the things that I took away from it was this obsession with the “checklist.” You know, a pilot gets in his plane. He does this, this, this. He hits that button, boom. He does an announcement through his microphone, and he takes off. It’s the same every time. Nothing waivers. I wanted to adopt that clinical approach to everything that Quinn does. Boom, boom, boom. If something knocks that out of order, he needs to go in and assess the problem. And the problem is often Hynek in those situations. And that’s what’s maddening to him, is that Hynek is disrupting his checklist of how he does things.
It was mostly observing them, and they had no idea, which was great. They thought I just wanted information.

Q: This show is history, but kind of a hidden history, and it’s wonderful that History has been posting articles about these cases. Information people are probably not aware of. Has that been helpful to you as well?

MM: It’s funny because now, everything they post, I know about because I’ve been doing my own research. However, I feel like so many people don’t, and I really, really appreciate this show being on History for that exact reason. History in general is told by the victors, and it’s all been about what do we want the public to know, what do we want them to feel about our country and themselves. And once you start dipping in and doing your own research, you find that histories often cut corners. I find it fascinating that there are these theories about the pyramids. I watch the Pyramid Code, which is a really fantastic series. There’s a couple moments where you are “really?” but it allows you to question. This whole thing if we do get some kind of disclosure has the potential to topple our understanding about history and the timeframe within which things were happening as well which is… what a crazy thing to be involved in… I’m expecting to be lobotomized! (laughter)

Q: Is there a way for this to be reconciled? Is there a way to get this information out and allow the Air Force and Government to save face after denying this in the past?

MM: You hit the nail on the head right there. I think that is one of the biggest questions that everyone is having. What is going to be the result? And it’s the big unknown. I’m no expert on this, but I would love to hear some people’s answers because that’s the question I’ve been asking too. How would they do this in a graceful way that didn’t completely incriminate them? I think it would have to be done in a way that acknowledged we have been hiding this stuff from you because of “this.” Because we wanted to protect you. I think they do know what some of these things are but some they still don’t. I think there’s only so much we know here on earth, regardless of your position or clearance or anything. Because it is the unknown. There’s all these theories about what these things are and how they can travel so fast, and we look at everything from our own miniscule perspective of science that we’ve learned over the years, but we can look out into the stars and see all these other planets and the way the magic happens out there and how can we ever know how any other intelligent race out there might have adapted and evolved. I mean, life can form under the most extreme conditions. Bacteria, whatever. And who’s to say that there’s not life on these planets that we deem uninhabitable on our own terms?

Q: I thought of X-Files when I first started watching. Did you watch X-Files or see any similarities to other shows – or a progression from them?

MM: I watched X-Files. I do love the show, but it’s a very different show. The thing that makes it different is that this is a real life X-Files. This actually happened. It’s rooted in fact and that’s what makes it stand out. If anything, the concept is similar, but we also have two very different characters. We have a military man and an astrophysicist that are based on real life characters. I’m not shrugging off that correlation because it’s a natural one to make. We talked about it being sort of a bit of X-Files mixed with a bit of Mad Men, but it’s more than that to me. It’s its own show, and I think it’s more like a thriller noir and there’s nothing else like it on tv. It also would have been cool to see it shot in black and white. It would kind of lean into that a little more. If you did turn your tv to black and white, you’d still be enraptured by the show.

It also doesn’t strictly say, Aliens are real! It’s not sitting all the way on the other side of the fence. It will not make anyone who’s not a believer feel completely ostracized. We do leave it open. There’s moments where we think we don’t know what it is and then we find an explanation and vice versa – where we think we know it is and then there’s a little tidbit at the end of the episode that will show that maybe it’s more than it seems. I think it’s important to toe that line and go back and forth. We end up the season on a massive cliffhanger. It just builds and builds. You don’t even feel like hour has passed when you watch an episode. You’ll be able to burn right through them.

Q: I liked the way the different threads weave together to increase the tension: the nuclear arms race and communist paranoia and the ufos. You can see why the Air Force wouldn’t want to escalate what’s already going on.

MM: Absolutely. And this is a time when we thought we could save the world through science. And I think we’re realizing at least now that maybe we got it wrong. Maybe there’s more to it than just straight up intellectual science – if that’s a thing. There’s the mind, the body, and the soul. There are people who are into transcendental meditation, and shamanism, and peyote and all that stuff, and we’re finding out that more of the secrets of the universe are happening with what’s not on paper – with the space between – with the grey matter of relationships. I know I’m going off piece here but I think it’s an important thing to say. Our own perception of what we think we know right here and now is built upon the fact that we thought we could fix everything with just our minds – our intellectual, number-crunching minds, and I think that’s just an incorrect perception.

Q: What initially drew you into the project and what was the process like in becoming this character and joining the project.

MM: It’s actually a bit of a funny story. I’m a recording artist, singer/songwriter – I go by the name Michael Malarkey – check out the music if you like. I was actually on a big European tour with my band and I got the call, and I had to fly out a few days later, so I had to cancel a few dates, and I ended up on the ground completely blind. I’d done some preliminary Wikipedia reading just for the audition just to get some background for the project and everything. But I was going in with very little knowledge of any of this and had to create this character and do my research, so it was like hyper-cram mode when I got there. Luckily, I was working with people who were so enthusiastic about the subject. Sean (Jablonski) and David (O’Leary) were just talking about all these things and filling me in on everything. It just felt like a real team effort where we all just wanted to make this thing the best it could be and as legit as it could be. The fact that it’s history, and you have these fantastic sets and costumes, just allows you to immediately step into that world.

Another thing that happened, the second director that we worked with which was Pete Travis – a fantastic English director. He really had a sense of climbing the deep roots of the characters. I feel like working with him and especially when you have a scene with me on the tarmac with Hynek – and I’m not going to give a spoiler here – but we’re talking about some of Quinn’s past – and that’s what we shot with him and really delved deep with that and I also talked to Sean after that and said hey, if there’s anything that you think would be useful for me to know about Quinn’s character that would affect how I’m playing him throughout the season, please let me know and let’s keep an open dialogue. And he did, and he gave me some information that we’ll find out later in the season that really helped to build this character. It’s always a process. The cool thing about playing a character over multiple seasons is that you are continuing to grow with them and it’s a blessing to have an open dialogue with the people in charge and feel comfortable to just give them a call.

        Look for my preview of the first episode coming in a couple of days! You won’t want to miss this terrific new show. If you like science fiction or history or a good mystery or a thriller – this show has it all with movie-quality cinematography – and terrific performances! Be sure to tune in to Project Blue Book on January 8th at 10pm to History!

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