Based on author Justin Cronin’s best-selling trilogy of the same name, the Fox series The Passage follows Federal Agent Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), the man tasked with bringing a young girl named Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney) in to Project NOAH, a secret medical facility where scientists are experimenting with a dangerous virus that could either lead to the cure for all disease or wipe out the human race, as a test subject. When he realizes the extent of what he’s involved in, Wolgast becomes something of a surrogate father to Amy while looking for a way out.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar talked about how hard it was for him to deal with the surprise cancellation of his last Fox TV series Pitch, the appeal of The Passage, making changes from the book series, the banter he shares with the author, the dynamic between Wolgast and Amy, what makes this the most ambitious TV series he’s been a part of, and the journey his character takes this season. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: I have to say that you being a part of the show makes me both happy and sad because as intrigued as I am by The Passage, it also means that Pitch is not on the air anymore.
MARK-PAUL GOSSELAAR: Yeah. I feel the same way. Make sure we get on the petition to do at least a two-hour movie of Pitch. All I’ve gotta do is grow a beard, and I’m ready to go.
When Pitch ended and you were blindsided by the cancellation, and then got this show, what was your headspace like, during that time? Was it hard to get over that, and then jump into something completely different?
GOSSELAAR: Yeah. I told Dan Fogelman, Kevin Falls and the team behind Pitch, which was 20th Century Fox, the same studio that’s doing The Passage, “You guys really fucked me up,” in the sense that it was arguably one of the best projects I had ever been a part of. With he pedigree behind it, the story we were telling and the character that I was playing, I thought for sure that I could hang my hat on it and retire because it was just so good. Dan Fogelman had This is Us, and I was thinking, “Okay, I’m gonna be very comfortable here, for the next six years.” Then, for it to not find an audience was crushing. That was the part that really fucked me up. At that point, you have all of these great cards in front of you, and for it not to be a success, that just messed me up. I thought, “What does a project need for it to work?” Then, The Passage came along. Part of me thought, “Well, this is another script that I read and really fell in love with it and the character. Liz Heldens did an amazing job adapting the book. It’s a character-driven show with this orbiting genre vampire story orbiting around it. But because of what happened to Pitch, could the same thing happen to this show?” You just don’t know because what we’re trying to do is so hard in broadcast. We need people to sit down on the night it airs and I, for one, am not someone that can do that, all the time. I tend to stream everything that I watch, so I understand how hard it is for broadcast television to survive in this environment. The only thing that I can say is that we try to make the best possible product, and I’m so super proud of this product, much like I was with Pitch. I think that this has all of the same qualities, in terms of a show that will hopefully find an audience, because there are so many moving pieces that will attract every type of viewer.
Having read the books and now doing the TV series, as well, can you see why they were having so much trouble figuring out how to turn the material into a movie? Do you feel like you understand why they thought it was better as a TV series?
GOSSELAAR: I think so. I have a development deal with 20th, so I’m constantly looking for IP and reading books, and seeing if I can develop them into a show. Specifically with The Passage, when you read the books, they’re epic. They’re enormous. So, where do you start? How do you tell the story of what is happening in just those books, in the future? How did that begin? Trying to tell that story in 90 minutes for a film is nearly impossible. That works better as a TV series. We have taken the first quarter of the first book and we’ve made 10 episodes out of that. Liz Heldens has taken information that was backstory in book three, and for some of the characters in book two, and brought it into the story that we’re telling in the first season.
Even though your character plays a large part in shaping the story, he isn’t there throughout the books. When you realized that, did you immediately start to come up with ideas to keep him around?
GOSSELAAR: I immediately called Sharon Klein at 20th. I said, “Have you read the books? I’m reading book two, and I don’t see him in there.” She said, “We’re going to change that.” I said, “You can’t change it. That’s the beauty of the story.” They jump to the future and other characters that are involved. She said, “Listen, we’re not getting rid of you.” I said, “Okay, I’d like to know how you’re going to keep him around.” So, Liz told me what they plan to do, and it makes sense. The book goes from present day to 150 years in the future. What happens between those 150 years? There’s a lot of story that we can make up and insert, and still move forward with the story. I know that Liz had talked about Season 2 possibly being the next part of the book, where it will travel forward into the future.