This Sunday, the first of two upcoming TV series' produced by Steven Spielberg kicks off on TNT. Falling Skies is an unconventional alien-invasion story, picking up months after the initial attack has occurred. Humanity is on the ropes and running scared as these outsiders come in and decimate communities, capturing teenage children who are fitted with special controlling harnesses and put to work as slave labor.
Small pockets of humanity continue to exist, and resist, outside the invaders' sphere of influence. The show centers on one such group, really one family within that group. Tom Mason (ER's Noah Wyle) is a history professor-turned-resistance fighter; he lost his wife in the initial conflict and one of his three sons soon after, taken captive by the aliens and put to work with the rest of the kids. With the show arriving in just a couple days, Spinoff Online jumped at the opportunity to chat with Maxim Knight, the 11-year-old actor who plays Tom's youngest son Matt.
The young actor has been working for a number of years now, with TV appearances on everything from Parenthood to Brothers & Sisters to Criminal Minds. He was excited when he got the Falling Skies role, though; not only was it big step forward, career-wise, it also delivered a fun, alien-fueled premise, a welcome element for the young science fiction fan.
"I like a lot of sci-fi," he revealed. "I like to watch Star Trek when I can and I like Star Wars and all those Star things."
The adults and even some of the older kids on the set get to wield a variety of firearms as they take the fight to the invaders, but Knight has so far been forced to watch from the sidelines. In many ways, his character is the beating heart of the Mason family, the youthful civilian perspective that compares and contrasts with the more militaristic day-to-day of his father and older brother.
Knight didn't participate in any combat training for the first season's run of episodes, but he was able to stay active enough on the set. He also suspects that things might change for his character going into a second season. "I did get to [play] lacrosse and I got to ride a RipStik [as part of the show], but I'm hoping for the second season that I get to use a gun."
The arc of the first season is mostly geared toward the invader, "getting to know the aliens and their weakness," as Knight put it. "There are going to be a lot of surprises and a lot of game-changers," he added, pulling up short of revealing any major plot points. Even the first two episodes lean in that direction, with a few story threads that don't unravel in the way you might expect them to.
Humanity is pretty much backed into a corner when the series opens, but small victories are won in the opening hours. "There always seems to be a light [at the end of the tunnel], but something happens which makes the light seem further away," Knight said of the various twists and turns. "There's always that sense of hope, but you're still going to be really scared. The aliens have a lot of power over us."
Despite the story's dire circumstances, the set is actually a great place to be, as Knight tells it. "The most fun for me has just been to get to work with the amazing cast and to live out these episodes with them because I get to make such great friends," he said. There's a real curiosity too regarding what's going to happen next in the show's sequence of events. "Every new script that we got for each episode was just so exciting, it was like reading a book except pages of the book were held back until the next week."
Knight has been acting professionally since 2007, but he says he's always been a performer at heart. "When I was about 7 years old -- well, younger than that -- I was always performing for people, cracking jokes," he explained. "And I guess it wasn't that annoying because everyone was laughing. I was kind of a big ham, I guess."
Seeing this, Knight's father enrolled him in acting classes, which came with the added benefit of frequent visits from agents and casting directors. The Falling Skies star eventually nabbed a gig that required him to fly from Hawaii to Los Angeles and spend a little time there.
"When we went to LA for the two weeks, we realized that you can't get anything done in LA in two weeks," Knight said. "So we decided to move there."
Looking ahead, Knight sees himself eventually stepping behind the camera as well as standing in front of it. "I really love acting, you know. But I think when I grow older ... the perfect role would be to write and act," he said. "I think that with writing you don't really have any limits. With acting you might not be a very good actor and you might not be able to do every single part that's out there, but with writing you can write anything, anywhere where your imagination will take you."
Before our call ended, I asked Knight -- a clearly driven and bright kid -- if he had any final words for audiences who will be tuning in to TNT this Sunday. Here's what he had to say: "I would like viewers to know that Falling Skies is really about community, and it's about family. This resistance trying to stay together and trying to keep a happy atmosphere even though it's impossible because these aliens, they're taking us captive and they're just destroying our population. The main premise of the show, I think, is Tom Mason trying to just keep his family whole and trying to maintain it. I think that viewers can relate to that."
Falling Skies premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.