Like a fine wine, the CW is only getting better with age. We had the pleasure of previewing the pilot and chatting with the cast of the latest addition to their stellar lineup, The Messengers, at WonderCon. We’ll be bringing you the scoop from the cast, including four of the Messengers themselves–Shantel VanSanten (One Tree Hill), Jon Fletcher (City of Dreams), JD Pardo (Revolution), and Joel Courtney (Super 8)–as well as stars Diogo Morgado (Son of God) and Anna Diop (Everybody Hates Chris), Executive Producer Trey Callaway (Revolution), and Co-Executive Producer and Creator Eoghan O’Donnell (Teen Wolf) throughout the week, leading up to the series premiere (and our pilot review) on Friday (April 17).
Before we get into our first interview, here’s a little more about THE MESSENGERS:
In the New Mexico desert, scientist Vera Buckley (Shantel VanSanten) watches in fascination as a mysterious object plummets to Earth and explodes, sending out a shock wave that briefly stops her heart. But Vera isn’t the only one affected: she’s instantly connected to four other strangers, who also collapse, only to miraculously come back to life hours later. These strangers will soon discover they have one thing in common; destiny has been thrust upon their shoulders. And as the Angels of the Apocalypse, with an impressive array of supernatural gifts, they must now work together to rewrite prophecy and prevent the Beginning of the End.
We talked to Jon Fletcher and Joel Courtney, two of the title Messengers, about their characters’ gifts and growth, the casting process for the show, tackling tough issues on-screen, and more.
Jon plays Joshua, a Texas televangelist’s son and potential successor expecting his first child with his beloved wife… until he becomes a Messenger. “For Joshua specifically, it gets very dark,” Jon said. “For him, it’s an immediate shattering of his whole belief system. When he wakes up, they preach prosperity in the church. It’s this one thing, he loves his dad and he’s looked up to his father, and he’s taught him X, Y, and Z. Then he reawakens having seen the face of God, and it’s just a very different God than he’s been told. He feels like he’s been cheated. His whole belief system just comes crashing down. It’s a very dark journey that he has to go on to come back to the light, you could say.”
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Joel plays Peter, a shy high school student and star swimmer who is just trying to blow off some steam in the pool when he gets hit by the shock wave, causing him to drown (and kickstarting his gift). In the pilot, Peter “is emotionally everywhere–not secure and not strong in any sense,” Joel said. “But he finds that through the stability of the Messengers, who become a family to him, an inner strength and confidence. He really regains control.”
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Obviously, a preacher and a high school student from different states wouldn’t normally have much cause to come together, creating immediate intrigue as to how the Messengers will be united. “I think that is one of the things that is very relatable about the show. This very heightened reality that they are in, it’s about people having to work together to achieve a common goal,” Jon said. “They are all from different backgrounds, different belief systems… It will be a struggle for all of them.” The struggles the Messengers face won’t all be external, either. “[The show] very much delves into everyone’s backstory, and that’s kind of the great thing about the show–it seems like the pilot is very personal journeys for them. Even when they come together and realize what the higher cause is that they’ll work together to face, they’ll still move forward and we’ll find out slowly as it unravels about each person’s personal story: how they ended up getting there, how this is affecting them personally and not just necessarily as the collective,” Jon said.
Joel also talked about how his character in particular starts off in a very different place: “It’s really funny. In the pilot, I never got to work with any other actors–it wasn’t until the second episode.” So what happened when the time came to shoot Episode 2 (months after filming the pilot and waiting to hear that it got picked up)? “We come together and a bomb is basically dropped on us. So we go our own separate ways and come back together,” Joel said.
Speaking of going separate ways, each of the Messengers is introduced to the audience in their own individual worlds, with friends, family, or other established relationships that have nothing to do with their Messenger status. While Joshua’s pre-Messengers ties are a little more complicated (to say the least), Peter has a great relationship with Alice, his best friend at school. With Peter’s new Messenger status, we had to wonder if we’ll see him reconnecting with Alice, his friend and possible love interest, or learning about his family, since he lives in foster care. Joel shared that we won’t be seeing more of Alice in Season 1, but said that he is “actually looking forward to that in hopefully later on seasons.” He added that “family does come into Season 1 for Peter. He does learn his history, where he’s from, a little bit about his parents. In one episode, he learns all of this and it’s very rough on him.”
The Messengers don’t just have to find each other in order to prevent the apocalypse–they also have to learn to master the mysterious gifts apparently bestowed upon them by the shockwave. “We see all of the characters struggle with their gifts,” Jon said. “It’s not just now you’re strong and you can do anything. Consequences will come into play–something else that they will have to navigate while trying to save the world,” he said. The gifts also seem to tie into each character’s inner journey and personality. “When Peter’s gift kicks in, he loses control. So for Peter, that’s what he’s looking for: control,” Joel said.
The show’s pilot is impressively ambitious topic-wise as well, tackling serious issues such as suicide, bullying, and sexuality (and that’s just in one Messenger’s plot line). “It was actually really, really interesting,” Joel said. “Peter had a really dark past that comes back to play in later episodes. It’s a little bit of his family and you learn a little bit of his history about his first suicide attempt, which was also in a pool, which kind of leads them to believe that this was another one. But, he’s a teenager. Teenagers have problems. Bullies, everything. He’s a teenager; he’s learning how to navigate this horrible situation. It’s really awful,” he said.
So, how did Jon and Joel come to be two of the Messengers? Jon hadn’t done much TV before (he comes from theater) but had come out to LA last pilot season and went in for the role with the casting director–something that required some persistence. “I was told I wasn’t right. But I felt like I was. So I put it on tape, myself, and that’s kinda how I got back in and got the part–by being cocky,” he said. However, Jon does feel that his theater background has helped him with TV. “You know, we’re doing the same show, 100 different performances and doing the same thing every night and trying to find variations… I found that really helped me when we were shooting the scene. We’d just get three takes of something; I would try to never do the same take and just give it something else, try something else. So I felt like I was giving them options and not just doing the same thing all the time.”
Check back every day this week for a new interview with the cast and creators of The Messengers.