Sci-fi fans are chomping at the bit for the new CBS drama series, Extant, produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Academy Award winner Halle Berry. The show features Berry as astronaut-scientist Molly Woods, who surprisingly finds herself preggers after being on a solo space mission for 13 months. Equally intriguing is her husband, John (Goran Visnjic), a humanic designer who created a robot child, Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), to complete their family. Essentially, the series is Gravity meets the Immaculate Conception meets Spielberg's own A.I.
“There were so many elements that drew me to the show, but probably the first one was being a mother,” says Berry. "This was a character when I first read it that was so relatable to me. I felt like it was just in my DNA...While I'm not an astronaut or scientist—far, far from it—I still had an understanding about the human quality of this woman and her struggle to not only find time for herself, which is what she loves to do, but also to be a good mother. That's the struggle I have struggled with since my kids were born...She's also strong. She's complicated. I'm complicated. But she has a will to survive, to win. She's good at her heart. And I love playing strong, complicated characters who refuse to be victimized and that's what our Molly is.”
Of course, having Spielberg as producer doesn't hurt either. “When Steven Spielberg came along, a name like that you don't really sneeze at. I know the quality of his work and that he loves this sort of genre. These supernatural kind of stories are right in his wheelhouse. And for me I feel like the best writing now is on television. That's been a real reality that I think all actors have been talking about for years now. But there was always a stigma with going to television. If you do movies, you can't do television and I think that line is becoming very gray,” says Berry.
The decorated actress, who made a name for herself in heavy-hitting films, appreciates the shift in the Hollywood. She says, “What's important now with the way the industry is evolving is that we go where the good material is. If you are an artist you just want to do good work that inspires you, that ignites you, that makes you want to wake up in the morning and go to work and that's what this series and this character has done for me. And the fact that the studio did me a real solid and did this show in Los Angeles so I don't have to leave my family was also another reason to do it. I really want to be home and be a hands-on mom and I get to stay in town and work now and not be a gypsy and travel all over.”
Considering this is a Spielberg vehicle, the series isn't skimping on its special effects budget. “We got pretty doggone close to doing something that is on par with any film you'll ever see,” Berry says. “I like to say Gravity was our benchmark and I think we tried very hard to sort of hit that mark the best that we could. I think our space looks as good. I think our spaceship looks as good. There was no expense spared.
Because Berry has experience playing the weather-controlling X-Men mutant Storm, she's accustomed to doing her own stunts, more specifically flying. “I've had a lot of wire work so putting on that harness and those wires just seemed like something that I was used to doing," says Berry. "I did actually take a real zero G flight, so I have real experience being weightless and understanding what that is. So that sense memory certainly helps me be able to when I have those wires on, to assimilate being in a weightless environment.”
Executive producer Greg Walker adds, “The effects work was extraordinary. Halle is a natural. We shot the zero G stuff over three days, in a way that was beautiful to watch. It's like watching ballet.”
With artificial intelligence, and the arrival of this other extraterrestrial being—Halle’s bundle of joy—there's a treasure trove of stories for the writers to mine from.
"When Molly leaves for the space mission for these 13 long months, John and Ethan are just having that kind of [scientific] relationship and he is a robot, something he created,” says Visnjic. “But by the time she comes back, he actually loves this kid...And that's where all these problems are going to start happening, because he's going to try to affect his life. The kid is getting smarter and smarter...and if that happens are we losing him? Is he going to stay a kid or is he going to become some kind of a super God-knows-what?”
Such a storyline has forced the cast to turn inward, contemplating on the show's implications about humanity. “One of the questions that the series poses is can we teach this child robot to become human? Can we teach it to love? Can we give it free will? Will it act as human beings act over time? And we, as humans, can we love that that is not real, that is sort of fabricated?" says Berry. "And if you believe that love is what makes you human, then that beckons the question, will Ethan, will the robot, ever be able to really love? Will he be able to love Molly and John, his parents? That's what the show is really asking."
Find out the answer when Extant airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m.
Susan Hornik is a contributing writer. She tweets here.