History’s delving into world of top-secret UFO investigations with the new dramatic series, Project Blue Book. The 10 episode first season is inspired by true events and stars The Vampire Diaries‘ Michael Malarkey and Game of Thrones‘ Aidan Gillen.
Project Blue Book is based on actual UFO case files including the Gorman Dogfight of Fargo, North Dakota and the Lubbock Lights of Lubbock, Texas. Aidan Gillen stars as college professor Dr. J. Allen Hynek who was recruited by the Air Force to work on Project Blue Book, an operation charged with investigating suspected UFO activity. Michael Malarkey plays Air Force Captain Michael Quinn, a decorated WWII pilot who was selected to run Project Blue Book.
History’s set to premiere Project Blue Book on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 10pm ET/PT. In support of the series’ first season, Michael Malarkey participated in a conference call to discuss his character, his research into the real Project Blue Book, and what viewers can expect from the sci-fi drama.
Can you talk about how much research you did into the real history of what happened and the time period before taking on the role?
Michael Malarkey: “Yes, absolutely. I mean, it’s my job as an actor especially when you’re playing real life people and regarding events that actually happened to do as much research as you can into a condensed time period. I am actually still doing research. I definitely got the bug and I’m pretty far down the worm hole. I’m still obsessively watching documentaries and witness accounts. It’s really changed my mind about the whole thing.
I definitely read a great amount of Edward J. Ruppelt’s book, who was the head of Blue Book at the time and who my character is loosely based on, and I even did research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base because I grew up near there. So, I went back during the holidays and I know some people in the Air Force and I wanted to really immerse myself in this world as well as I could. I even flew a plane. I did some flying lessons. I thought that was important to be able to feel what 3G and 4Gs felt like.
I wasn’t flying when we were going 4Gs, I had my co-pilot Air Force guy doing that, but we did a lot of the maneuvers and things. And, yes, that was intimidating but I felt like it was important for me to know how to deal with situations of extreme duress and keep a cool head, which Quinn does definitely throughout the season.”
You said it changed how you felt. Can you kind of expand on that?
Michael Malarkey: “Well I mean it’s, hands down, a real phenomenon and a real cover up that’s going on. The question at the time was not whether they exist or not in a way from the Air Force standpoint. Instead it was, ‘Were they Russian or interplanetary?’ at least from the powers above. Quinn was not as knowledgeable about everything that was going on. The Generals even had questions and doubts in certain cases, but they whisked it off the table and swept it under the rug.
For me personally, I just haven’t given it an adequate amount of thought. I guess that it’s just one of those things that you hear about and I think especially, you know, I was born in ’83 and this stuff had already been going on and aliens had already become cartoons and devalued as a thing that you would think about.
For me, I don’t know if it’s ‘aliens’ or not but I definitely feel like whatever these objects are in our skies – and I’ve seen a lot of footage, you have to comb through a lot of the fake stuff out there at the moment and people are really good at doctoring things up – but there’s enough legit stuff out there to see that there are intelligent objects moving throughout our skies at various times and very particular, very specific places as well. There’s a lot of sightings over the nuclear facilities and things, and those conclusions are really fascinating of why they would be interested in that.
But there’s also the idea that there are, you know, AI drones from outer space as well. There’s just so much rich material to draw from, and I think that’s the exciting thing about this show is that as much as it is a drama and you do have to take artistic license to be able to tell a story, at the same time hopefully what the show will do is reactivate an incredible interest from people who aren’t as aware of the depths of what’s going on and the truth behind the stories told. The history and it’s reality is huge, and it’s global as well, not just in America.”
What really drew you to the project to begin with?
Michael Malarkey: “I mean just from an actor’s standpoint, this was a type of role I have never played before and I pride myself as being a versatile actor. I want to do as many different kinds of things that I can. For me, the most exciting thing about the project – also from an actor’s standpoint alone – is the relationship between Hynek (played by Aidan Gillen) and myself and how that evolves and grows and mutates. It’s a really fascinating journey. This story is really a story about trust in a way and belief, and not just in what do you believe is going on out there but also who do you trust on the ground.
It’s just an extremely complicated character who has a lot on his shoulders. You know, when you’re in the Air Force or 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 throughout the season when he starts to see more of the conspiracy going on that he is not aware of even though he and Hynek have very top clearance.
I love the period aspect as well. It’s beautifully shot. We have Robert Zemeckis’ team on board, so it just looks like a movie the entire way through. The look is incredible, the character relationships and dramas are multifaceted, and I think it’s just a proper show that’s going to have a very big audience. I truly believe and hope that for this series.
Are we going to delve into Quinn’s relationship with Hynek as the season goes on?
Michael Malarkey: “You definitely see it evolve and I think there’s a real potential for long game here. I know there is some excitement about carrying on and seeing where this ends up – the seasons down the line – which is always exciting to hear when you’re excited about the show you’re working on that everybody wants to carry on with it.
I mean, it’s just such a rich subject, meaning there’s way too many untold stories, let alone this one within it has so many untold stories. And there’s so many things we can do, so that’s pretty awesome.”
Does the season explore how Quinn is swayed more toward Hynek’s perspective?
Michael Malarkey: “Oh yes. I think the cool thing is that Quinn has become accustomed as an Air Force captain to just deal with other Air Force people and we see him looking somewhat awkward in dealing with Hynek’s family and his son and his wife. He’s not used to working alongside the civilian guy. And, also, the way that Hynek breaks down and analyzes everything is not something he is used to either. Which Quinn starts to notice over time, just how brilliant that actually is.
At the beginning, Quinn is really writing Hynek off as this sort of egghead professor, needles him about everything and he still does that to a certain extend as the season progresses. The great thing also is that there are really humorous little nuances in Aidan that I have seen him bring to Hynek – looks and little side comments – and we try to keep it a little fun as well.”
What were your thoughts on this topic before you were approached with this project? What was your reaction when you found out there was such a rich history on this topic and the military’s involvement?
Michael Malarkey: “It’s weird because I was shocked and not shocked at the same time. I’ve always felt like there are things going on beneath the scenes. I was raised in a very small little hippie town called Yellow Springs, Ohio, which is home of Antioch University and it’s very famous for being one of the most liberal colleges in the States. People have extremely open minds there and encourage alternative thought and music and art and everything. I feel like I was blessed in that I’ve always kept an open mind about everything.
I’ll never shut down and just say these are my beliefs. I always believe in being open to changing my opinions. I digress a little bit but, yes, as I said before I was aware of it but not as aware of just how vast the numbers were and how many cases there were. I mean, it was like some 15 to 20% that fell into the unknown category.
The unknown categories are observers who aren’t affected by physical and psychological reports after exhaustive investigations. The thing is the further you go down this rabbit hole, I think anybody who does cannot help but question that something else out there exists and actually believe that it does. I know that word is thrown around a lot but belief to me means believing that it is a legitimate thing that we have not been told about. I think that we’re at a place now as well and I might add that we are almost desensitized to it enough that it wouldn’t cause as much of the panic that initially was thought it was going to cause.
I don’t know if people agree with me on that, but I feel like we’re almost ready for a bit more of the disclosure that we’ve been denied for so many years.”
Hynek stated he was resentful about the Air Force’s negative and unyielding attitude towards the UFO topic. Your character really encapsulates that aspect of the Air Force. Was that a goal of yours to project that?
Michael Malarkey: “Yes, absolutely, I mean, from an actor’s standpoint, one of the most important things for me is we need to believe this guy has been to the war, has killed people and seen his friends be killed and understands the chain of command. It’s almost just boom, second nature, and so I spent a lot of time working on the non-verbal, getting a snappy salute, understanding what it means when you’re speaking to certain officials and the gravitas of all that. That was a very important thing to me to understand and portray.
And I also want to add that it’s important we don’t portray or paint the Air Force as villains here. This has always been an effort to protect the people, although it’s been skewed over time to become more and more corrupt. But I think Quinn very much represents the innocence of that as well, and that’s important to portray.”
What has been your approach to represent the Air Force fairly but at the same time your character is part of this cover up?
Michael Malarkey: “Well, you know, they were told to only answer direct questions from press; the bare facts about what was reported and any information that was collated afterwards was not released. And that’s kind of an important point is that they sent their thesis to the press and then they did their breakdowns later. And as much as you’re aware of the classified papers that were released afterwards and there were doctors as well, some information was redacted.
When you look at the NSA documents in that you can read like six lines on some of the pages and they are all blotted out. But this was all part of the control of information to the masses, which is something we’re still undergoing now. The brilliant thing about doing the show now is that we’re so aware of that entire scheme now. I think if there’s anything we can gain from this current turbulent time it’s that the public is now becoming more aware of the controversy and questioning what they’re being fed. That’s so important, and I hope that our show can show just how that started.”
You did so much research and you really got into this bit of history. Was there anything specific you can point to that changed your mind on UFOs?
Michael Malarkey: “Good question. Man, there’s several things. One of them for me is the case that happened in England at one of our bases out there where you had these crashes that came down and these two witnesses who were American officers working on the base claim to have actually gone up and touched this aircraft, did like a 360 degrees evaluation. The way that they talk about it and the types 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 English police officers came up and they were taking some footage and things – I may be skewing two different cases so forgive me if I am – and their cameras were actually confiscated at the time by the Air Force. That was one where I remember I watched all the in-depth interviews of those guys and it was just like, ‘This is real. These guys aren’t crazy.’
I mean, you have to think that you know a lot of people would write things off as, ‘Oh, they were having hallucinations,’ and stuff but that’s incredibly rare. And that is a major worry if you have pilots having hallucinations.
The other one was there’s a lot of NASA footage from back at a certain time where you can see objects flying into and above our atmosphere and then re-routing and flying in a different direction which by changing directions that definitely..you can infer that that would be an intelligent thing doing that. And ironically after these things started being spotted, the NASA footage, it used to be a live stream and then they started putting it on a delay shortly after that, which I thought also spoke for itself.
I mean, honestly it’s the sheer amount of these tiny little facts, which aren’t tiny at all, that add up. Once you can step back, you know, fly out and look down and see the big picture, you start to connect these things. Or it’s like a Magic Eye, for instance. You remember those books where if you are looking at it in a certain way by stepping back your eyes adjust and you can see the image that’s there, if I can indulge in a metaphor.”
You talked to the Air Force at different times. Can you discuss your interactions and how they helped you form your character?
Michael Malarkey: “Well the thing is, these guys do not like being scrutinized. So, I had to do it in a very covert way. I mean, I was more interested in watching them physically, how they interact with the world physically but also how their brains work and how they explain things. And one of the things that I took away from it is this obsession with the ‘checklist,’ you know? Pilot gets in his plane, he does this, this, this he hits that button, boom. He does this 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 because Hynek is disrupting his checklist of how he does things.
But, yes, it was mostly observing them. They had no idea I was doing that, which is great.”
The show has sort of an X-Files vibe. Have you been a fan of science fiction and is the X-Files comparison fitting?
Michael Malarkey: I watched X-Files and I do love the show. It’s a very different show. I think the thing that makes it different, obviously, 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. I mean, if anything the concept is similar but you also have two very different characters as well. You have a military man and an astrophysicist that are based on real life characters.
We’ve talked about it being sort of like X-Files mixed with a bit of Mad Men but it’s more than that to me. You know, it’s not just its own show. It’s like I think it’s more like a thriller and noir than anything else and I feel like there’s not anything like that 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 bit more. But, I tell you what. If you did turn your TV to black and white, you would still be enraptured by the show.”