On the second day of WonderCon 2018, it was a Robinsons’ affair during the premiere screening of the all-new Lost in Space reboot series. Irwin Allen’s classic TV show has been completely re-imagined with the Robinsons as a more modern family, with personality conflicts and strained emotional bonds set against a stunning sci-fi backdrop. After the screening, Syfy Wire as among the media outlets who spoke with the performers behind the show as they laid out the drama ahead.
In this family, the conflict starts at the top with Toby Stephens and Molly Parker’s updated take on John and Maureen Robinson. From the very beginning of the episode, it’s apparent that the bonds of their love have been tested, and the relationship has been badly damaged. According to Stephens, he and Parker met privately to plan out their emotionally complex dynamic.
“I think we spoke early on,” recalled Stephens. “We had conversations where the both of us agreed that the relationship had to be as real as possible for people to care about the family. The stakes have to be real. You want them to survive, but most of all, you want whatever is going on to be figured out. Also, is it going to be figured out? Are they going to be able to patch things up?”
“And you want it to be romantic,” added Parker. “You want it to have all of those layers and not just be a couple. One of the things that the writers set up is the romance of the show between the parents. If you can set it up at the beginning that you’re not together, then you have somewhere to go.”
As the youngest child, Maxwell Jenkins’ Will Robinson shares several early scenes with his onscreen father. According to Jenkins, he found it very easy to believe in their bond. “I got to work with Toby Stephens in a lot of my scenes,” said Jenkins. “He made acting not quite acting. It was more of a conversation. And it was like I had lived with him as my dad for years and years. And him going away was my reality, because he was so good.”
“[That’s] extremely flattering,” said Stephens when he was told about Jenkins’ remarks. “It is one of those things where we have kids. He’s the same age as my son. I found it very confusing, because I had spent a lot of time filming abroad over the last four to five years. And I’ve been away from my family for a long time. So I can really relate to John in this situation, because I’ve been away from home. And having to be away from my family for months at a time. And not fitting in, and having to find my way back into that. It made it quite easier to believe in the situation...I think Max ended up as an avatar. [laughs]”
The middle child, Penny, is also trying to find her position in the family, according to her portrayer, Mina Sundwall.
“We start with [Penny] feeling a little more left out,” said Sundwall. “Partially because she’s a literature and humanities buff in this science family. But I think as we get put in worse and worse situations, anything can happen. By the end of the season, she’s a little more comfortable with who she is. She finds her place, and we all find how we can thrive off of each other's differences so that we fit together like a family.”
Taylor Russell’s Judy is the eldest daughter, and perhaps the most experienced of the three siblings. However, the first episode is very rough on Judy, and she won’t immediately bounce back from the experience.
“It’s not something that she’s ever been through before,” admitted Russell. “She usually has it pretty together, especially out of the kids in the family. It’s really beautiful to see how that changes the dynamic between Penny and Judy, how it lets their relationship grow. It feels very important and affects Judy in a way you can see. It’s not just this ‘I can do it! I’m a strong, smart kind of girl.’ She also has this vulnerability.”
“There’s this thing in action-adventure movies, where people will go through these life and death experiences,” added series co-creator Burk Sharpless. “And then in the next scene, they’re just making jokes and moving on. One of the things that we wanted to do, to make you the feel the truth of this family together as people was to have the experience shape them. And make them scared, or make them change the way they feel about themselves a little bit. To take the person who was kind of the Katniss Everdeen of the Robinson family, to see what would happen if we pushed her to the absolute limit. How would she rise up again? And to have that take some time.”
Although their role in the pilot episode was minimal, Ignacio Serricchio’s Don West and Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith will come to play large parts in the Robinson family’s saga. In this incarnation, both Don and Smith are essentially con artists, and that sets the stage for a new dynamic between them.
“With Dr. Smith, the difference with Don West is he’s never met anyone who has challenged him like she has,” noted Serricchio. “With other people, he’s finessed his way and manipulated his way to get what he wants. She’s somebody who truly challenges him. He can not read her at all, and that’s worrisome when you’ve got to have your guard up and you’ve got to be super careful. The energy changes with her. He doesn’t feel as loose and funny and sarcastic, because he could give away a lot...because he sees so much of her in him.”
“It’s like Columbo,” continued Posey. “We knew Columbo knew everything that was going on. [Don] knows things that are going on, on the ship. I know things that are going on, on the ship. I have my own plan [and] you don’t quite know what that plan is. About the robot, about the ship, and about how to gain control.”
“There’s a mystery to both of them,” said Serricchio. “The rest of the family are dealing with their things, but they are very open about it. Our thing is, we’re so introverted.”
“And fractured,” interjected Posey. “From the times, and surviving, and how we’ve had to live. Not everyone has had to live that way. The Robinsons haven’t.”
Don’t assume that the Robinsons have no skeletons in their closets. The first episode broadly hints that Maureen’s secret will come back to haunt her later in the season.
“She has a secret, you know,” confided Parker. “She clearly has a secret, and she has done something that she shouldn’t have done. But I would have done it! I think the audience will understand it.”
However, those secrets and lies may pale to the show’s biggest mystery of all: the Robot. The first episode offers no definitive answers about who or what the Robot is, but there’s definitely reason to believe the Robot could put the Robinsons’ lives at risk.
“The story of the Robot is the story of season 1,” said series co-creator Matt Sazama. “One of the things we were trying to do while updating this was have the Robot be an actual character who would change and have an arc as well as the family. The mystery of whether the Robot is good or bad is the story of the season. There will be a definitive answer by the end.”
“Behind-the-scenes, when the Robot was in his ‘nice’ form, there was a guy there,” shared Jenkins. “They had a Robot suit, and that was really awesome because the guy who played the Robot was...a great friend. And when he was in his ‘scary’ form, it was completely computer generated.”
“Who doesn’t want to figure the Robot out?” asked Posey. “I was really excited when I met [the producers] on Skype, and I was like ‘do I get to act with the Robot? Can I have scenes with the Robot?’”
Lost in Space will premiere on Netflix on Friday, April 13.