Previewing ASCENSION with Al Sapienza

Ascension - Season 1ASCENSION, Syfy’s three night event miniseries, premieres Monday, December 15, at 9/8c, and I’m here to say that you really should tune in.  It’s 1963, and the US government has launched a covert space mission sending hundreds of men, women, and children on a 100 year journey to populate a new world.  The show is dark and exciting, with class struggles, power struggles, murder, and mystery.  Definitely worth watching.

Someone who agrees you should check it out is series star Al Sapienza (aka the ships Councilman Rose) – he and I had a great chat about what’s coming in the show and why we think people will like it!  Read on for more!

ASCENSION is so good!
I’m so glad you like it!

Everything we’ve heard about it, getting us back to Syfy doing dark, mysterious, exciting shows – what was it about ASCENSION that made you think “Ok, I want to be involved?”
This came around really fast for me.  The concept of this microcosm society, isolated for 51 years without influence of pop culture, political events, the black civil rights movement.  They didn’t know Kennedy was shot, they didn’t know about Watergate.  But society evolved.  Socially, scientifically, they made their own discoveries, they evolved and improved their equipment themselves.  I think that concept and role is fantastic.  I love the idea of the ship, with 600 people on it.  The smartest people, but I also like the idea that it’s now the second generation and they’re no longer the smartest people from Earth.  You could have 600 geniuses, but 100 of their kids could be not very bright.  That’s evolution, natural selection.  That’s DNA, that’s all of those aspects.  Now you have a crew that didn’t choose to be there.  They didn’t volunteer.  Some of them are actually dumb [laughs].  They wouldn’t be fit to go into the American space travel kind of a fire pit, but we’re all stuck in the ship together.  We’re reaching the point of no return and that changes the landscape of everyone’s psychology.  Then when you find out [the big twist that I will not spoil here…], it just blew me away!  Now you have two completely separate societies.  One society that you assume is untouched by the other, but it actually could have been touched by the other.  I loved the project.  I’m really hoping people love it as much as you do – I would love to hear America’s thoughts myself!

There is so many ways it could go – I think that is what makes it exciting.  You really don’t know what is going to happen.  It’s something we don’t get to see a lot.  It felt different from what we’ve seen.
I feel the same way.  I agree with exactly what you said.  When I watched it, I really enjoyed the first two hours.  I’m very optimistic [laughs].  I’m hoping!  The funny thing – I got this job, and it happened really fast.  I read the script, and the next day at noon, I was approved by the network.  That evening, they put me on the last night out of New York on a night where there were thunderstorms to shoot.  The script that they sent did not have the surprise ending, so I didn’t even know the second part of this story.  In fact, they forgot to tell me!  My second day of principal photography shooting, Tricia Helfer looked at me and said “You don’t know! Are you shitting me?” [laughs].

I can only imagine what it was like to shoot something like this – to be in a world untouched by society. Is it something you can research? 
I’m known for researching every single one of my characters; researching what it’s like to be in a different environment or a different job.  This particular job, it’s interesting.  How much do you have to research to forget something?  Kennedy’s assassination changed American, and we have not recovered from it. I truly believe that. The affect he had on people!  He was undoubtedly the biggest star of the 20th Century.  He was bigger than Johnny Carson; he was funnier than Johnny Carson, actually.  You watch him in old press conferences?  He was funnier and quicker than Johnny Carson.  One of the funniest guys around.  He was amazing.  He gave the country hope, and when he died, everything changed.  Everything changed.  How do you play a role where you get that out of your brain, and get the Beatles out of your brain, and Selma out of your brain, and Martin Luther King out of your brain.  It was a reverse process of to try and play “dumb.”  We still have the values of 1963.  It was really fun.  It was more internal concentration than actual research.

Al Sapienza (8)

That makes total sense.  We are informed, we have that knowledge.  The people on the ship don’t get that. 
You know what’s cool?  The second in command of our ship is black, ya know?  Second in Command.  Wow.  We didn’t go through the Civil Rights movement.

I think that it’s an important thing – they’ve evolved in a way without external pressure. They’ve gone through their own movements.
Absolutely!  Structurally and ethically, on every level, basically, they’ve grown.  In the 60s, there weren’t a lot of Africans in England.  If they were African, they were diplomat’s sons, they didn’t have a great presence.  When a white woman went out with a black guy in England, it was like a status symbol; for a white woman to hang around with a black man in the Alabama in 1965, he’d shoot her.  It’s a drastic difference and England is just across the ocean!  So on this ship, they probably will always evolve.

Talk a little bit about working with the cast – we meet you and Tricia in a pretty private moment!  Is this a real relationship or based on moving up?
I play that I’m truly in love with Tricia.  I think that she will come with me.  She comes from the lower decks – the lower decks have constantly evolved by accident.  People that are in sewage and water equipment and food, taking care of the chickens.  They end up being a little bit looked down up.  Tricia came up from the lower decks; so did the Captain. I look at it like they are victims of circumstance and that there is a possibility that she will be happy with me.  I will be the captain of the ship; I’ll take over as Captain and she’ll be happy with me.

They talked a bit when we were in Orlando talking about how this “miniseries” is the beginning – has there been talk about what happens beyond the mini for a full season, more seasons down the line?
There are scripts already written.  That doesn’t mean anything [laughs].  They have the scripts written and if that criteria, whatever that criteria is that Syfy needs to be met, and it meets that criteria, there will be more episodes.  I’d imagine their criteria would be how many people watch it, and what the ratings are, but the scripts are already ready, I was told.  So they are there!

That’s how BATTLESTAR started, with the revamped mini-series.  Look at how many seasons down the line that ended up going.  This reminds of that feel, that space opera.
I hope so!

Ascension - CastWhat else besides ASCENSION do you have coming up that we can look forward to?
If you [tuned] into GOTHAM, I [was] on it.  I also am on a new show, Ed Burns, a show that he created, called PUBLIC MORALS on TNT and that will be out pretty soon.  That’s it for right now.

Do you look for certain roles, or do you play what you feel is fun?  Anything you gravitate towards?  What do you look for first?
I think it makes perfect sense, and I think you’d agree, I look for smart guys.  It’s more fun to play the smart guys.  The smarter a character is, the more fun he is to play.  I’m always looking for characters that have accomplished a lot of life.  That are accomplished and that have complex situations and are smart.  That doesn’t mean I won’t take a character that isn’t!  I love the whole creative process and if I have two scripts in my hand, and one’s a smart character and one’s a dumb one, I play the smart character.  If I have no script in my hand that week, and they say “do you want to play this role,” I say “absolutely!”  I love working.  I love the creative process.  I love being on the set.  I love auditions!  That’s crazy, but I can’t explain it. You’re going in there, the more you prepare, the more you win.  I like winning, too!  I like it all!

What do you get a chance to watch on TV?  Do you have favorites?
I don’t watch TV.  I binge watch when I want to watch something – BREAKING BAD, THE SOPRANOS.  I just like to watch good stuff that people talk about, that do well.  I don’t have time to watch the mediocre stuff!  I won’t sit in front of a TV; I’ll binge watch things I specifically want to watch!

ASCENSION airs Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 9/8c on Syfy.