‘GoT’ Star Aidan Gillen On Aliens, UFOs & Air Force Investigations In ‘Project Blue Book’
“It’s the stuff you can’t explain that’s really interesting.”
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According to Aidan Gillen, his mother is the “most unlikely person” to have a UFO story. Yet in the 1950s in West Ireland, she saw one.
“Smoke, green lights, the whole thing,” says the Irish actor. “I’m open-minded about everything, having seen a few things myself, which I cannot really explain. What I do know is if you’re out there looking a lot, you’re going to see something that surprises you, that scares you or that amazes you … It’s the stuff you can’t explain that’s really interesting.”
Gillen is visiting Australia to promote his latest series, Project Blue Book, where he plays real-life UFO expert Dr Allen Hynek, who was tasked with investigating the “flying saucer” phenomenon by the US Air Force in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. His work went on to define that field of scientific exploration, with Dr Hynek coming up with the close encounter system of identification and even consulting and appearing in Steven Spielberg’s classic film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Gillen says it was “a big film for me growing up”, with he and his friends often heading outside at night and trying to find flying saucers in the sky above Ireland.
“One of the first things I did when I signed on to this was pull out a Blu-Ray I had of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and watch the original theatrical trailer,” he said. “It’s Richard Dreyfuss, Steven Spielberg and Dr Allen Hynek just sitting there being interviewed and discussing it as a real phenomena. I almost took it as a sign: I stuck the DVD in and I instinctively went for the trailer and the first person that came up was Allen Hynek. I was like, ‘How the fuck?’ I didn’t even know he was in there, so that was cool.”
For a lot of performers, playing a real person can bring a lot of added pressure to a role. Although he passed away in 1986, Hynek’s family – including his son, Joel Hynek, who is an Oscar-winning visual effects artist best known for coming up with the camouflage effect in Predator – are actively involved in the film industry. Gillen, however, was “excited” at the prospect, having played several real-life characters, including Irish politician Charles Haughey in mini-series Charlie and famously Mayor Tommy Carcetti in The Wire.
“The day Paul Hynek – one of [Dr Allen Haynek’s] sons – was on the Project Blue Book set, I did go up and, I’m not gonna say ‘apologise’, but I made my case. I said, ‘Look, this is the story and I’m trying to play this role and I know I don’t really look like him…’ Gillen laughs. “They get it, not only because they’re in the media and entertainment business. They’re also interested in their father’s legacy being maintained, so they’re quite generous.”
One of the other big draws for Gillen was the opportunity to play a role that was different from what he’s become known for in the past few years, thanks to the overwhelming global success of Game Of Thrones, where he has been Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish for the last eight seasons.
“I respond to scripts, character, story and having done Game of Thrones for years, this wasn’t a villainous role,” he says. “There were a few of them coming my way and I did a couple, because it seemed like it would be fun to go off to do The Maze Runner in South Africa, and it was.”
One of the other big draws for Gillen was the name Robert Zemeckis. Known for a lot of things in Hollywood, he’s the visionary director and producer behind the Back to the Future trilogy, Cast Away, Forrest Gump, Death Becomes Her and dozens of other film and television projects that have pushed the boundaries of visual storytelling. Serving as executive producer on Project Blue Book, the Oscar-winner’s attachment brought certain Zemeckis hallmarks: lavish visual effects, jaw-dropping production design, sweeping locations, a sci-fi bent and even a real-life hook.
“I knew Robert Zemeckis was involved, which was reassuring because I knew it would look good,” says Gillen. “The production values need to be high on something like this, especially if you’re going to look at it for 10 hours. They did deliver on that.”
Project Blue Book plays like a period noir version of The X-Files, complete with an odd couple investigative duo: Gillen as Dr Hynek and Michael Malarkey as US Air Force Captain Michael Quinn. With season one spanning 10 episodes, Gillen’s face is welcome for television audiences who have grown used to seeing him on the small screen in The Wire and Game of Thrones – but also Peaky Blinders, Queer As Folk, and Love/Hate. Yet he has also carved out a versatile career in film, balancing roles in big budget blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises, King Arthur and The Maze Runner trilogy with smaller, and critically acclaimed projects like Calvary, Sing Street, and Bohemian Rhapsody.
One of the best things about the age of “peak TV”, according to Gillen, is that storytelling in all of its many forms has become more cinematic. “Once upon a time, people didn’t want to do television,” he says. “Then you had companies like Hulu and Netflix and even HBO starting to make stuff and people were like, ‘Are you kidding me? These are the people who do boxing matches’. It really doesn’t matter who makes things anymore, it’s whoever has got the money to make it and make it well. And people will watch it across all different types of platforms, which is the beauty of it.”
With Game of Thrones officially coming to an end and Project Blue Book premiering in the US to millions of viewers earlier in the year, Gillen says he’s intrigued about the next stage of his career. “I don’t think you can ever assume the next thing you do is going to be another Game of Thrones or even The Wire,” he says.
“You can’t expect it to top what you’ve done before, it’s just about finding an interesting character and something I haven’t been in. I haven’t really done much sci-fi stuff, so I thought it would interesting and I like the fact that the people who are into it are really into it.”
(Lead image: The History Channel via SBS On Demand)
The first two episodes of Project Blue Book are now streaming on SBS On Demand. Continue watching Project Blue Book every Thursday on SBS and SBS On Demand.