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SYFY WIRE Jupiter's legacy

Jupiter's Legacy star Josh Duhamel teases a 'Shakespearean' superhero family drama

By Bryan Cairns

Saving the planet is nothing new to Josh Duhamel. As Major Lennox, the 48-year-old actor aided the Autobots in defeating the Decepticons in four Transformers movies. The weight of the world, not to mention his family, once again falls on Duhamel’s shoulders in Netflix’s upcoming series, Jupiter’s Legacy.

Based on the 2013 comic book of the same name by scribe Mark Millar and illustrator Frank Quitely, Jupiter’s Legacy follows a group of costumed crimefighters from the 1920s all the way to the present day. After experiencing visions of a mysterious island, Sheldon Sampson, portrayed by Duhamel, chartered a ship and recruited his best friends to go there. It was on the island that the six individuals were bestowed with fantastical abilities. Eventually, upon their return to civilization, they formed the superhero team, the Union of Justice.  

Regarded as Earth’s mightiest hero, Sheldon possesses the power of flight, superstrength, a degree of invulnerability, and telekinesis. He also upholds a strict, albeit outdated, code of ethics. But, even the best of intentions doesn’t always make an individual the ideal champion… or parent. Sheldon and his wife Grace (Leslie Bibb) eventually decide to pass their superhero duties onto their children Brandon (Andrew Horton) and Chloe (Elena Kampouris). But when these two shallow celebrities want nothing to do with their legacy, things spiral out of control.

In December of 2019, SYFY WIRE visited the Jupiter’s Legacy set in Toronto. During a break in filming, Duhamel spoke to a small group of press about being part of a super-dysfunctional family, playing Sheldon at different ages, what separates Jupiter’s Legacy from other superhero fare, and capes. 

Is it a surreal experience playing two different ages and having that makeup applied to you?

Yeah, because my normal look is a guy who looks about 45 years old. I have gray in my beard. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. So, I’m somewhere in between. What you see now is a guy we’re trying to make look like he’s in his early 30s. Hopefully, they have a lot of CGI they can use for that. Then, there’s the older version where I’m, in reality, 120 years old but I look 65 years old. To go between those two is really fun. I’ve had as much, if not more fun, going back into the 30s and that whole period of how they came to be and some of the things and hardships that they went through in order to gain these powers… was as much fun as actually having the powers later on. 

What’s it like going through the life of a guy, but having to do it non-chronologically? Some days you have to stand up straight. “Today I’m 60.” Do you change physically how you act?

There’s a lot of stuff I did to prep for that. It’s in the voice. It’s in the cadence. It’s in Sheldon’s posture. It’s in the way he walks and the battles he’s been through. But, at the same time, he’s not a typical 65-year-old man. He’s actually 120 and a superhero. How do you gauge what that feels like? He still has to be able to do all these things, but he’s slowed down. I don’t think he’s as enthusiastic about it as he was years ago. He’s like that old grizzled vet who just wants to pass the torch on.     

What’s it been like managing a cape as part of the wardrobe?

I’m not really sure what the point of capes are in the whole superhero land in general, other than to look cool. Try sprinting in a big thick cape. It’s nearly impossible. Every time your feet go back, they get caught up and it trips you up every time you try to run. But they look really cool, especially at super-slow motion.

Most of us grow up on a steady diet of superheroes. Was that part of the appeal of doing this project or were there certain elements that you really gravitated towards, whether it’s the material or the character?

The truth is I’ve never been a huge superhero fan. I don’t necessarily go to a lot of these movies. I can appreciate them, and I understand how important they are to culture and what they mean to our business. It’s amazing. So, I wasn’t necessarily looking to do something like this, but I read it and I was more interested in the family saga than anything else. The superhero stuff is a cool byproduct of that. I loved how dark and dysfunctional this family was, how on the surface this guy is the Utopian. There’s a real conflict in his beliefs because he is a man who believes very strongly in what they need to stand for and the beacon they need to be for the people.

He's a guy who on the outside is very rigid in his beliefs. But he also understands there are real reasons why there’s a lot of pushback to this code he lives by and makes everybody else live by, even though most of his crew is like, “Hey, if somebody engages with us, if somebody tries to take us out, we should be able to take them out. Enough of this. This no-kill policy, no matter what, feels unrealistic.” 

It reminds me a lot of Hamlet. It’s very Shakespearean. The family dynamic is unbelievable. It also reminds me a lot of The Lion King, believe it or not. Scar and Mufasa — the two brothers and how they influence Simba. It’s much darker than that, but it’s the same sort of scary dynamic within this family and the struggle for power. 

Jupiter's Legacy key art

It’s funny you say you were not drawn to superhero roles. This is the Superman story that you probably never get to tell, putting it under a critical lens. Was it a case where you weren’t interested in those kinds of superhero stories or was there something missing from them that isn’t missing here?

Yeah, I do believe there is too much political license taken sometimes. We are just supposed to believe that this is this, but why? And what is the aftermath? How does it affect the people around? And do they feel like other people feel or are they these super-beings that are just bulletproof, in all sense of the words? 

This story is very human, and these are humans. My character was a regular human up until the time they developed these powers. He’s seen things and felt things that even his son hasn’t. There’s another dynamic. This is a guy who went through the ‘30s and the Depression and saw his father jump off the roof. He literally lost his mind and has this blind faith to believe there is something greater out there for us. 

He felt all of these things, but then he has kids, who are born with this stuff. It’s kind of like royalty. If your kids don’t ever know anything other than having these [abilities] and being these famous super-people, you can’t blame them for not being in touch with what a normal person might go through on a daily basis. It’s trying to instill the same values in somebody who doesn’t fully understand what you believe. You are just asking him to blindly believe it. And then his daughter is just gone. She doesn’t believe any of it. Sheldon feels like he’s losing his family. He has no idea what his brother is doing. This is a guy who has been in control and in power and been the guy in the center of it for so long, and suddenly feels like the ground around him is shaking. It’s interesting to see a guy that powerful be that vulnerable.

What’s the difference between how normal people parent and how Sheldon approaches being a father? 

It goes back to "with great power comes great responsibility." It’s trying to impart that on your son. He is doing a good job. I don’t think Sheldon tells his son that enough. His son really is trying. I don’t think Sheldon gives him enough credit for how difficult it would be to be the son of that and how you show restraint knowing you can beat the s*** out of anybody you want and basically do whatever you want. How do you show restraint? How do you use these things for good?

That’s part of the beauty of this show. We explore these nuanced family dynamics, which are oftentimes on a bigger scale. At the same time, it’s not any different than what most parents would go through. It’s just a little bit different in what they are dealing with, but it’s still the same stuff. Being this guy, being the Utopian, being the supposedly most powerful man in the world, he still has major insecurities about his ability to parent. That’s an awesome thing to try to play.

All eight episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy premiere May 7 on Netflix.