When "Under the Dome" premieres, viewers will undoubtedly have things to say about the troubled character of Junior Rennie, played by newcomer Alexander Koch. Similarly, Junior's twisted relationship with high school sweetheart Angie (Britt Robertson) takes a somewhat dramatic turn in the premiere, one that differs greatly from the events of Stephen King's novel.
The Huffington Post spoke to both Koch and Robertson on set in North Carolina during the filming of Episode 4, and while Robertson couldn't give many specifics about her role early on in the season -- for reasons that will become obvious later -- Koch spoke candidly about taking on one of King's most memorable characters and the places Junior might go in order to impress his father, Big Jim (Dean Norris). Light spoilers ahead.
I understand that this role was your very first after graduating drama school, which must've been incredible.
Yeah, I'm on cloud nine -- nothing could beat this. When I first got the script and when I was first auditioning for it, I just got the character. I loved it. I knew what I wanted to do with the role, so I just got obsessive about it and was working nonstop. I auditioned for, I think, two months or one and a half months with callbacks, but they were a little nervous because I'm so new. But all throughout the holiday, all throughout Christmas, I was reading the book, reading my script. And my family's like, "You know, you can celebrate Christmas. It's OK." And I'm like, "I just need to work." They're just happy I have a job now and I don’t have just 10 dollars in my bank account. [Laughs.]
What should viewers know about Junior going into the show?
There's differences between our series and the book with Junior and where it's going to go. Junior is the All-American boy gone wrong. He's someone who has a very difficult relationship with his father and with his mother. He is broken from that, had a broken childhood, but he is forced to put on a public persona, and be this face of this high school popular kid -- the jock, the bully -- because his father wants him to. And deep down, that's not really who he is, but he puts on the clothes, he puts on the face and the smile, and that's who he has to be. And it kind of weighs on him after awhile.
His relationship with Angie certainly seems to define him as a character, at least early on. How would you describe his dynamic with her?
Angie is kind of Junior's everything and anything ... his dream. After his mother passed away, he has this obsessive need for someone's love, to get it back, and to get that approval from his father. And when he loses Angie, when she starts to leave him, it's like his whole world gets pulled out from under him and he'll do anything to get it back. And ... this dome is coming down and it's defying any logic so what's to say it isn't the reason that she's acting like this? It's doing something psychologically to her and I'm going to help her. And in a way, if I can save her, I can save my mother.
He also has a fairly pivotal run in with Barbie (Mike Vogel). Can you talk about their interactions?
With Barbie, Junior feels very threatened. He's seen Angie and Barbie together in a brief interaction. And he builds up stories in his mind that something else is going on. He's positive it has something to do with [Barbie], and he has something to do with the dome. He's this outsider who came from nowhere and is just causing all this trouble, and it's all stemming from him. And if Junior can keep Angie away from him, he can save her and then he can figure out what Barbie is doing to cause this.
Aside from your scenes with Angie and Big Jim and the encounter with Barbie, do you have any other major interactions that offered you new insight into the character or that you're excited for people to see?
Yeah, in Episode 3, there's a little bit of a thing with me and Julia [Rachelle Lefevre]. I can't reveal too much. But it gets weird -- not on a weird sexual level. [Laughs.] Not like that, but it's like, "Can I trust her because I've seen her with Barbie? And what is she up to? And what's her game?" My father warns me about her.
What kind of research did you do for the role, outside of the book?
I started very much from the book and just piecing together who I thought the character was. Everyone draws from their own life and building off of that, and I haven't had that crazy of a relationship, but I went off that and I was reading a bunch of different books. I read John Fowles' "The Collector," which is close to that, because someone had mentioned that in one of the auditions. It was an interesting book, and I felt it really connected with the character. Then, I just started watching movies that appealed to me that I thought would be in the vein of Junior.
Did you go back and read any of Stephen King's other work?
Oh, I grew up on Stephen King, reading the books. I love the small town, 1950s feel to it, that nostalgia, and that old America. What happens when something weird starts happening to all these people, something other-worldly, something demonic? And what happens when all these people who are from this world get thrown into it? And how we all strive and try to survive through that. I love the show because it feels like an old "Twilight Zone" episode or something.
How do you think you would react if you were trapped under a dome for real?
Oh, God. I don’t know. I would try my best to do something to help people out and get people to rally together because at that point, you don’t know how long you could be stuck in there. You have to figure out things and start working together to survive. But no kidnapping of girlfriends. I would leave that elsewhere. [Laughs.]
One of the main strengths of the book is that it is very much a study of the human condition and how a person's character is tested in the most extreme circumstances. Do you think Stephen got it right, and any town in a similar situation would react the way the people of Chester's Mill do?
It's tough. You watch CNN and you don’t know. I like to think I'm an optimist, but sometimes chaos overthrows. I think the series is about who we are, who these personas are that we put on and we know our friends and neighbors. And then, once that's all stripped from us, what's the stuff that's underneath that's seething and comes out? And what is that going to do? And what happens when you're up in arms against a neighbor in a struggle to save your own family, to save the people you love? It's tough. I think Stephen King definitely did nail it. It's perfect. I think he said we're all underneath the dome in the world. We're all around each other and we're all struggling to survive. It's just now what happens when it's a small town under a very, very tiny microscope?
Has he been on set much over the course of the first few episodes?
Yeah, every now and then. He came to the script reading and I was so nervous because he's one of my favorite writers, reading "The Shining" as a child. And just after the reading he goes, "Oh, you did a great job in the reading. Too bad you're a twisted little fucker." And I was like, "OK, wow -- he's very funny." And he was so enthusiastic. He was like a little boy. He was getting so enthusiastic about scenes that were a little gory, darkly humorous.
As a newcomer, what has been your favorite part of the role so far?
I was just really working on a process of developing this character that really works for me and just focusing and honing in on that. And just watching all the other people work, watching Dean work -- he's just so spot on. And he can just turn on and be this slimy guy and then, when he's in the front of the town, he can be this charming patriarch who can rally all these families together. And it's interesting. I'm trying to talk less and listen more with everyone because everyone's just coming from different places and I have a lot to learn. And it's been great. Everyone's very sweet and very informative.
Britt Robertson (NOTE: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK AHEAD)
What can you reveal about Angie and her storyline at the beginning of the season?
Angie is a young waitress at the Sweetbriar Rose, which is the local hangout diner, and she works as a candy striper. She's a small town girl who's always dreamed that she would make it out at some point, but hasn't yet; has never had the opportunity. She ends up dating a guy that she's known for a very long time and it's supposed to be a little more casual than he makes it out to be. And because of that relationship, she gets thrown into quite a claustrophobic situation and it's a smaller, enclosed version of the dome. And she's kind of experiencing these horrible circumstances inside a fallout shelter while everyone is dealing with an even larger issue.
Angie's story in the show differs drastically from Stephen King's novel, because she dies in the first few pages ...
Thank God that's not the case. [Laughs.] Obviously, when I read the book, I was a little shocked knowing that my character died and just never came back to life. I kept expecting that she was going to come back to life. I definitely have more to do than the book. And it's actually kind of nice that my character dies early on ... Alex, bless his heart, has to go off of the [book as his] Bible and he has to probably read this thing every other episode. So I'm thankful that I can kind of start with a fresh slate. And it's more challenging because I don’t have as much to go off of, but there's more freedom there. So it's a curse and a blessing, I would say.
Another change from the book is that in the show, Angie's brother is "Scarecrow Joe" (Colin Ford), the computer whizkid, but they weren't related and didn't interact in the novel. What can you say about their relationship?
I do have a scene with Colin, and we're completely unrelated in the book, but I think it is nice, and it was very confusing before I started reading the book and then I was trying to figure out if they are [related]. Our scenes are so funny because I do believe we're very much like brother and sister in real life. I'm always yelling at him and he's always trying to tell me what to do. And I'm just like, "You're 16. Shut up." So it was really fun filming that scene because I just got to do exactly what I do in real life, which is put him in his place, where he needs to be. And I also have a scene with Mike's character, Barbie. So I've had a few scenes with other people, but for the most part, it's just been Alex and I and the old fallout shelter.
In the book, Junior is obviously a very dark and twisted soul. Is he following a similar path on the show?
He's on that path, I would say. I think Alex has done such a great job at transitioning his character from someone that an audience can relate to in the pilot and then, obviously to someone who loses his mind a little and becomes scarier as the scenes go on, and you just see him kind of lose it. He's taking control and he's becoming his father, but he's way more psychologically messed up than his father is, so the potential is there. With Angie, she's known Junior for so long -- they've known each other probably their whole lives, but really well since elementary school. And it's really interesting because she is someone who can read people really well and prides herself on that, so she seess someone who she trusted and understood, to see him turn into this person who she doesn't even understand, she can't rationalize his behavior in any way. It's great because it provides some really interesting conflict and some really cool scenes. But it's very scary to see where it's going to go. He's protecting her and something's wrong with her. Until she becomes better, he's going to make sure that she's safe. And that is crazy.
"Under the Dome" premieres Monday, June 24 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.
"Under the Dome" set interviews:
Mike Vogel as Dale "Barbie" Barbara
Dean Norris as James "Big Jim" Rennie
Rachelle Lefevre as Julia Shumway
Natalie Martinez as Linda Everett
Executive Producer Jack Bender