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'The Ark': Dean Devlin opens up about 'survival' story in new sci-fi series, as SYFY reveals first footage
The Ark blasts off this February.
Hailing from co-showrunners Dean Devlin (co-writer of cinematic sci-fi touchstones like Stargate and Independence Day) and Jonathan Glassner (co-creator of Stargate SG-1), the new series takes place aboard the Ark One, an interstellar vessel carrying humanity's last hope for survival. When catastrophes befalls the spaceship, killing off a good chunk of its passengers, the survivors must band together in an effort to complete the mission of colonizing a distant planet our species may call home.
Chatting at length about the project for the first time with SYFY WIRE, Devlin reveals the idea for the show was birthed out of a conversation with Michael Wright, former Head of Programming for TNT, TBS, and Turner Classic Movies (Wright now heads up MGM+, formerly known as Epix).
"He was just saying how he loves spaceship shows and [how] there’s not a lot of them anymore," Devlin recalls. "He just always thought it was such a ripe area to have these people locked in this contained environment. After that conversation, I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it. This story came into my head and I just wrote it to see if I could write it. Then I sent it out and SYFY loved it and wanted to go forward with it ... It’s just been one of the most joyful, fascinating, interesting projects I've ever done."
This is Devlin's second television team-up with Glassner after their work on The Outpost, which ran for a total of four seasons on The CW between 2018 and 2021.
"He's like me: he writes as a fan instead of someone trying to figure out what fans like," Devlin says of his creative partner in crime. "He writes to please himself, he writes to do the kind of science fiction that he wants to see [and] that he's not seeing. Our sensibilities — while they're not exactly the same — complement each other really well ... He just brings a wealth of storytelling and character development. A show like The Ark is all about the characters because we're stuck on the spaceship and we're stuck with these people. It’s not a show where you can constantly bring in guest stars, because everybody's on the ship! So it really takes some deft writing to keep it compelling and surprising — and Jonathan's a master of that."
Check out the teaser trailer below:
In terms of casting, Devlin admits he wanted to go for relatively unknown faces, so as to heighten audience immersion. "That's given us the opportunity to really have no baggage with these actors," he explains. "They are the characters for the audience."
The cast of space-travelers includes:
Christie Burke (low-ranking officer Lt. Sharon Garnet), Richard Fleeshman (head of the ship's navigational system, Lt. James Brice,), Reece Ritchie (Lt. Spencer Lane, who believes that only the strong should survive), Stacey Read (Alicia Nevins, a brilliant young woman and member of the Waste Management team), Ryan Adams (Angus Medford, a young man with a green thumb), Christina Wolfe (manipulative psychologist Cat Brandice), Shalini Peiris (Dr. Sanjivni Kabir, the Ark One's chief physician), Miles Barrow (ensign with an identity crisis, Baylor Trent), Pavle Jerinić (the hard-nosed head of security, Lt. Felix Strickland), Tiana Upcheva (Eva Markovic, leader of Ark One's maintenance, engineering, and life support systems), and Lisa Brenner (military veteran, Commander Susan Ingram).
"What people care most about is the characters," Devlin continues. "Do they relate to them? Are they unique? Are they surprising? Are they compelling? Do I love them? Do I hate them? And yes, our plots are important, the stories are important, but it's always secondary to the characters. So the trick is trying to make a diverse group of people who think differently, who act differently, who talk differently. And then to find actors who are compelling; people you want to watch week after week."
Building their own space ship
Production on The Ark kicked off earlier this year at PFI Studios in Belgrade, Serbia, which made it possible to realize the Ark One as a fully tangible location.
"We can afford to actually build these enormous sets. So we even though they're stuck in this environment, we were able to build some really beautiful and large sets to shoot in, so that we don't feel overly claustrophobic watching the show," Devlin says. "But it is a show where we're in with people in a dire situation, where they're not in laser battles with space aliens, they're in survival mode, and they have to deal with the elements around them that are fighting against them. They have to deal with each other [and] don't necessarily agree on the best course forward."
Even though humanity has a long ways to go before it can start traversing the galaxy with ease, the concept of colonizing other planets close to ur own isn't the far-fetched notion it once was. As home world becomes more and more inhospitable from our gross mistreatment of the environment, future generations will almost certainly find themselves forced to seek out another refuge amongst the stars. That refuge could turn out to come in the form of Proxima b, an Earth-like planet 4.2 lightyears away from us, which captured Devlin's imagination during the writing process.
"If we were able to get a ship that could get close to light-speed, we could be there in five, six years," he says. "And suddenly, that opened a lot of possibilities of, ‘What would that adventure be like to get to that planet? What would it take? How much time would we have to develop that technology? And if Earth was failing, and we had to develop it faster than organically, what are the consequences for that?'"
While he's no stranger to storytelling on a cosmic scale, Devlin says The Ark is one of those rare titles that represents his pure, undiluted vision. "This is the first time where I really feel like the show is the thing I wanted to do," he declares. "Where there wasn't a lot of intrusion, there wasn't a thousand people with a thousand ideas that had to be dealt with. So if you love it, give me some credit, if you hate it, it's all my fault. The Ark is the show that I really wanted to make and I'm incredibly proud of it."
Marc Roskin and Rachel Olschan-Wilson of Electric Entertainment serve as executive producers alongside Devlin and Glassner. Jonathan English of Balkanic Media and Steve Lee are producers.
The Ark premieres on SYFY in February 2023.
Want to check out more of Devlin's filmography in the meantime? All three Librarians movies are now streaming on Peacock.