On Debris, Bryan and Fiona represent humanity as they search for meaning and understanding of space debris.
That kind of representation comes naturally to Jonathan Tucker, who stars as Bryan Benveneti on the NBC series. He’s got his feet firmly planted on the ground. You can see it in his performances, and conversations with him delightfully back up the notion.
Tucker is the kind of guy who thoughtfully answers questions and then asks a few of his own, an engaging presence that turns an interview into an actual conversation.
We had the chance to catch up with him by phone, asking about his role on Debris, how he feels about the show’s future, and even reminiscing a little about Kingdom, now airing on Netflix. We hope you enjoy what he shared with us.
What initially drew you to Debris?
Well, I got a bit of an understanding of the dynamism and the realm of possibility of the sci-fi genre on Westworld and thought that it was something I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore fully.
So when somebody like Joel Wyman, who has navigated those waters so successfully so many times, presents an opportunity in a genre that you want to, as I said, explore. Yeah, it seemed like a fascinating opportunity, so I jumped in there.
And obviously, Joel Wyman is no stranger to this, and it’s hard not to compare Debris right now to Fringe, especially for how much of it we’ve seen.
How do you feel about that comparison? Do you appreciate it?
It always kind of surprises me or frustrates me a little bit when actors are like, “Oh, I never watched that.” Or, “I didn’t want to see it.” Or, “I just wanted to explore this without any other reference point or guide.” But I’m like, “Well, there’s not a single director who ever would say something like that.”
All of the great directors always talk about what references they have, their repertoire, and the scope of what they’ve seen. And it’s not genre-specific. You can pull from any of the great films and television series when you’re building a performance, in any genre, or any sort of a platform.
So I love the comparisons to Fringe. I love that the X-Files is mentioned, or Black Mirror, Men In Black, or the Nolan brothers. Spielberg, vintage Spielberg. I love that we’re discussing Contact and Gravity and all of the different films and stories told around space and alien technology, sci-fi shows, and things like that.
Because everything is communication, everything is a conversation. It’s all kind of a continuation of what has previously come before. So, you can’t be afraid of it.
Do you have a favorite sci-fi show or movie that you look to?
I loved Contact. I thought that was pretty remarkable. And, Debris is certainly a sci-fi show, but it’s not so out there, fantastical. Our show is so grounded, and there doesn’t need to be a huge suspension of belief for so much of what we’re sharing on-screen.
So I find that there’s just a lot of references outside of sci-fi, as well, in terms of discovering new information. Having that paradigm shift in respect to what you’re experiencing or understood of the natural world before this new event or this new piece of information was revealed.
It’s like the big elephant in the room. It’s a big deal in our show, the debris, and it’s also, in some ways, really all just a metaphor.
Right, right. And that’s kind of why I like your choice to compare it to Contact. Although there were certainly science fiction elements, the whole basis of it was what science and fiction could do together.
It was about belief and truth, and understanding yourselves, and trusting each other. The initial case on Debris in the pilot kind of mirrored how the aliens presented themselves in Contact.
If you remember that, whenever Ellie saw her father in Contact, they chose a way of communicating that people would understand.
Yep. That’s absolutely right. And we’re trying to play with these too because the most mysterious part of our world is always us. It’s always ourselves. In some ways, that actually wouldn’t change if we found out that there was intelligent life outside of this planet.
It would, in many ways, redouble our efforts to understand better why we’re here. What kind of a species we are, what’s really important? What changes when you realize that we’re not maybe the supreme beings on Earth. And then, what are the things that stay the same?
Bryan and Finola are going to have to feel each other out, as well, because their bosses are both telling them, “Don’t share beyond what we tell you to share.” And yet, everything that they’re experiencing says that sharing is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.
We ultimately have to trust each other to succeed over the course of the first season. So what seemed like deficits in both of us end up being the tools that we need to access, or to better understand, to win.
And Bryan learns his vulnerability and empathy are real tools and not going to handicap him. And, I think the first five episodes speak to that because it starts to foment that. So we then see Influx do something so extraordinary that we are forced to reconcile the fact that if we don’t trust each other, we will fail.
I could see that that was coming. And that was probably one of my favorite aspects of it. Because, as a person who enjoys character-driven dramas, the chemistry between you and Riann made those two characters work really well.
If you were to describe Bryan Beneventi in a nutshell, how would you describe him?
This is somebody who gets the job done, who will not be deterred by a challenge. He’s got an extraordinary experience in completing his work, primarily overseas, where he served in the Marine special unit called MARSOC, and he ends up seeing Maddox as a real father figure, somebody who really saved his life in combat or overseas.
He has a lot of trauma that he is trying to deal with or bury deep away over the beginning of the first season but recognizes that if he’s really going to be the best version of himself, he has to allow all of himself to be visible.
You’ve been off of network TV for a while. And since it relies on different metrics, how much different is it filming something for a network versus cable or streaming? And how does that difference in how they measure success affect production?
Well, I gave a speech on Monday morning to our crew, which said that we could not allow the experience that we’re having to be correlated to a Nielsen number or how critics perceive us. Life is just too short for us to tie what we’re doing here to those sorts of results.
Rather, we need to focus on the quality of work that we’re doing, keep doing it, and treat each other with honor and kindness and dignity because these are our lives.
I’m spending more time with the dolly grip than I am with my two kids. So we’ve got to make what we’re doing here matter and count, and the idea that somehow other people color the experience based on outside metrics is really unfortunate because it’s no way to live their life.
It’s just no way to live your life. I think it’s not just about acting or shooting television or films. When you come out of an audition, for instance, they base the audition on whether they got a job or not.
And you would never walk out of a show you did on Broadway and base the performance on whether somebody was waiting outside of the stage door with an offer for something else. You just go, “That was a great experience. I really enjoyed myself. I had a good night.” And that’s how you have to live your life.
It’s like the world with social media, not only instant gratification but the ability to tell anybody anything at any time, without really taking the time to understand what it is that you’re saying. It has made a huge impact just on the way that we live.
And it is very easy to allow that — let’s just call it debris for a better term — to change how you see the world. Oh. My goodness. Now I get what Debris is. Oh. That’s interesting!
There you go.
I finally caught up to what you were saying earlier. So what are some of your favorite fan reactions to the premiere?
Well, yeah. I was really surprised by how overwhelmingly positive it was. At least on Twitter. But again, if you subscribe to that and it’s good, you ended up getting caught when it’s bad.
So I think some of the meaningful comments, which were serious, which were plentiful, which were, “Do they know where they’re going? Are they going to give us enough of it? Do they have an engine big enough to get to where they want to go?” And, “Is NBC going to cancel it?”
And I can assure you; we know where we’re going. Joel told me the last line in the first season when we sat down before filming the pilot. And the last scene of the last season.
NBC has been extraordinarily supportive about the show and doesn’t seem to be connecting its success or their support to overnight Nielsen ratings.
I think they appreciate that people are viewing content very differently now. There’s probably a whole group of people who won’t watch Debris until we finish our 13th episode in the first season, then binge the whole thing on Peacock.
Yep. Absolutely. I know from my readers, a lot of people will just wait.
Right. Yeah, because they’ve become accustomed, and if they want to know the answer, they want to just blast through it. They’ve become accustomed to some viewing it on their time, and that makes total sense.
With all of the special effects on Debris, what’s it like to work against things that are not present? You have to really suspend your disbelief as an actor to pretend like you’re watching five bodies twirling around in a little mini-tornado and stuff, I’d imagine. What’s the secret?
You ask a lot of questions. You try a lot of different things. But for a lot of what we’re doing, and I’ve seen this on a few of the best shows that do special effects, they’ll do as much of it as practically as possible.
So, for instance, with the tornado bodies, those guys were on strings on a big piece of construction equipment, and we got to really see them — the same thing with the floating. The more you can do practically, usually the better, but there are other things you can’t do.
And I guess you’re always on this sliding scale of truth, down to truthful. And you want as much of the truth as possible, sometimes you have to settle for something in between, but we do a lot of it practically. And I think it shows on the screen.
Yeah. My final question for you is that, with both you and Frank Grillo premiering something on TV this week, it’s obviously impossible not to look back on Kingdom and what kind of a rotten deal it got with the Audience Network.
With it airing on Netflix now, I’m just wondering if you’re satisfied now with how it all played out, with what you got to experience, and now that it’s getting new life and people get to see all the hard work you’ve put into that. How does this new audience make you feel about the experience?
I mean, it feels great, but also, I think it’s very affirming. Affirming that when you tell a story authentically and honor the characters and the culture, it can resonate with people who either had a misconception of those men in that world or didn’t even know that world existed.
And, I want to tell those sorts of stories for the rest of my life. And I think a lot of executives or studios are reticent.
If you look at the outset of Kingdom, I don’t think many studios or networks or executives would think that a show about MMA and set in Venice would really connect with 60-year-old women in Des Moines, who had three or four kids and maybe a few grandkids. And it does because the things that connect us are so much greater than the things that separate us.
And now that I’m a father, it’s hard for me to experience my son or daughter reaching out and grabbing my finger and think, “Oh, I’m so different from somebody who voted for another candidate than I did, or who speaks a different language, or has a different, religious background, or from a different country.”
Everybody has a mother, everybody has a father, or had one. Everybody is looking for essentially the same things out of the brief time that we have on earth. And we find so many ways to separate ourselves from one another in this weird tribal experience.
And it’s totally not a part of who we are as a species. And I think the stories that we sometimes tell, when they’re told well, bring that to the forefront.
Be sure to tune into new episodes of Debris on NBC on Monday nights at 10/9c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.