An all-star cast headed by Aidan Gillen is at MIPCOM this week for the premiere screening of A+E Studios’ new ten-part thriller Project Blue Book. Produced by Robert Zemeckis, the show focuses on the US Air Force’s true-life investigations of UFO sightings in the 1950s.

Gillen, most recently seen in Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders, plays real-life astrophysicist Allen Hynek. Recruited to take part in a top-secret UFO hunting programme, Hynek gradually comes to realise he is at the centre of a dangerous cover-up. Speaking to the MIPCOM News, Gillen said “the show is set in a fascinating period. You have the emergence of the UFO phenomenon, rapid technological advances and post war trauma and optimism.  Combine that with great writing and Hynek’s character and it was a tantalising prospect for me.”

Gillen’s spouse in the show, Mimi, is played by Laura Mennell, most recently seen in the offbeat comedy Loudermilk. She was drawn in by “the beautifully developed characters and scripts. Allen Hynek was such an interesting figure, because he was not your stereotypical UFO enthusiast. He’s intelligent, meticulous and credible.”

Acting as a foil to Gillen is Michael Malarkey, who plays Captain Michael Quinn “an airforce guy who does things by the book. But as the show progresses, he becomes more open in his thinking. For me, the attraction was the script and characters. I love the music and style of this period. It has a Mad Men meets The X Files vibe.”

The pilot was written by David O’ Leary, who then went on to lead the writing of the series alongside showrunner Sean Jablonski. Jablonski said, “I had been intrigued by this area for a long time so David had me with his pilot. But as a writer it was also really fascinating to deal with a character who goes on a journey from skeptic to believer.”

Despite its period setting, Jablonksi believes the show’s subject matter has contemporary relevance: “An agency created by the government to tell people they didn’t see what they saw in the guise of protecting us…concerns about nuclear war on the horizon… people wanting to understand what is ‘out there’ – they all seem like resurgent themes.”

Both Gillen and Malarkey have just come off the back of long-running TV franchises – and look like they might be entering another. For Malarkey, who featured in the final few season of The Vampire Diaries, “it’s exciting to start something right from the outset.” As for Gillen, who depicted Petyr Baelish, in Game Of Thrones: “I really like the changeover period, it’s really liberating. But I don’t think about the long-term commitment. It’s important to focus on the moment. It’s what you do in every tiny piece of the jigsaw that makes it work.”

Filming took place in and around Vancouver in a cold, rainy winter. The location was useful, says Jablonksi, because it could double for many of the different UFO sighting locations in the story. Mennell adds that “the weather also played well into the noir-ish mood of the show.”

The Zemeckis involvement was also exciting for the cast, adds Gillen. “I think we all know him as a master storyteller, but he has also always been a pioneer in terms of effects – used in a subtle way. I’d also give a shout out to the production design which was fantastic. As an actor, it does a huge amount in terms of putting you in the time and place.”

This and more in the MIPCOM News Issue two, read it in full here…

This article was written by Andy Fry and edited for MIPBlog

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