We chat with the stars of Netflix’s ‘Lost in Space’ reboot, which features a deadly robot as a father figure and space travel gone wrong
The stars of Netflix's reboot 'Lost in Space' discuss the new show
When Netflix’s reboot of the classic sixties sci-fi Lost in Space launches this Friday, the show will represent something of a change of direction for its two leads. Toby Stephens and Molly Parker play the show’s leading couple, the heads of the space-exploring Robinson family, John and Maureen Robinson, and have both come from a background as, for want of a better phrase, “serious actors”. Stephens has a wealth of stage appearances for the Royal Shakespeare Company under his belt, as well as his leading role as Flint in Starz’ historical drama Black Sails and several BBC historical epics. Parker, meanwhile, has a solid background in indie cinema, including appearances in successful, and often controversial films such as Kissed and The Center of the World.
Stephens concedes that a family-friendly sci-fi might not be the first place you’d expect to find him, but he had a very personal reason for the change in tone: “It’s very much a change, and I think one that was needed,” he says. “When I was reading the script, I realised I’d never done anything my kids could watch, and I figured maybe it’s about time. I didn’t really look at it and think: ‘will it be good for my career? Should I do it?’ I just thought it would be really cool to do some sci-fi.”
Stephens adds that after a gruelling four-year stint on Black Sails, he was ready for a lighter mood: “I’d been doing Black Sails, which was a really dark character and a full-on production,” he says. “Flint’s options were narrowing down because of the choices he was making, and the fact he was on this mission to destroy Britain, but in doing that he was also going to destroy himself and everyone around him. It was just kind of going down into this black hole, very nihilistic. I did that for four years, and after it I was totally destroyed, so it was great to come to this where I wasn’t carrying anything,” says Stephens.
Lost in Space is also his co-star Parker’s first appearance in a sci-fi, and although she’s known for playing strong female characters, she says she tried to bring something a little different to Maureen: “I remember the first conversation I had with the showrunners. I’d read it and the script was good, but the conversation we had was about how to make this woman have a flaw,” she reveals. “She had to have a problem, a secret. People are always saying ‘oh you play strong women,’ and I guess that’s true, but I’m not interested in that for the sake of it. I want to play complex people, and I didn’t want to play the mum. I wanted her to have a life of her own, fears of her own, secrets of her own, and through conversations we had, we just tried to find the places where we could see vulnerability.”
Although the show is a family sci-fi adventure at heart, it does have its serious side too. Some of the show’s messages for its audience are a million miles away from the camp storylines of the sixties original. Stephens explains: “one of the key messages is that humanity has these abilities to think itself out of all sorts of situations, but there’s also this warning to be careful of what you do to this place because you don’t really want to have to go somewhere else.
“You really don’t want to think ‘you know, it’s okay, we’ll trash this planet because in 100 years we can just go somewhere else and trash that one’ – it’s so short sighted. We need to look after this place. Use that amazing capacity we have to think our way out of situations to save this planet, not move to another one.”
The family relationships within Lost in Space are also much more complex than the perfect American family of the source material. Stephens and Parker’s characters are actually estranged at the beginning of the series, and John’s attempts to build bridges with his previously semi-abandoned family are a recurring theme. This leads to an unusual situation whereby John’s youngest son, Will (Maxwell Jenkins) finds an alternative father figure. Rather than a love rival or family member, however, John’s competition for his son’s affections comes from a giant robot: “It was a really cool device to have this weird standoff where this robot becomes to my child what I haven’t provided, and how this affects John. This thing is devastatingly powerful, but also very close to his son. John has become so distant from his son that he’s turning to this robot instead. I found that quite clever on the part of the writers.” Stephens does admit; however, that it was quite a challenge to play these emotional scenes opposite a chunk of metal.
“It was bizarre, but I love that idea of trying to bring a sense of reality to these strange situations, so people can experience it through your character, make them think how they’d react in that kind of situation. If you can ground in some sort of reality, then it gives the robot a sense of reality in a weird way. Otherwise it would just be absurd.”
Also, unusually for a Netflix serial, Lost in Space has a distinctly episodic feel, with each edition a self-contained unit that can be watched by itself just as easily as binged. Doubtless plenty of viewers will binge on multiple episodes, but the show doesn’t feel as if it’s been designed to almost necessitate bingeing. Stephens agrees, and thinks we may be about to see a change in the way audiences consume Netflix content. “We’ve been through a phase of binge watching, but I think that might start to change and take a turn for more subtle storytelling,” he says. “When so much effort and time has gone into a huge production. Like with Black Sails, and you see someone on the tube watching it on their phone, it’s just depressing. I also find that when I binge watch, a lot of the more subtle stuff starts to pass over me, I kind of tune out, so personally I’d like to think we may turn back to a more thoughtful, subtler way of watching.”