Shooting a television series during a pandemic is a bit like shooting a nude scene, says actor Jonathan Tucker.
“The focus has always got to be on the story and the characters,” he explains. “You can’t allow all the distractions of what you’re showing your crew (get in the way). You’ve got to be conscious that all the audience is going to see is what you’re shooting.”
For Tucker – and others filming series this year – it’s a big hurdle, particularly since they’ve got to do Zoom table reads, maintain distance on set and wear protective equipment when they’re not shooting.
Now starring in “Debris,” a series about mysterious matter that drops from the sky, Tucker and co-star Riann Steele say they take the protocols in stride, largely because they’re grateful to be working.
“The work is all that really matters,” Tucker says.
For J.H Wyman, the drama’s executive producer, trust is a key factor. Since he’s not on set with the actors, he has to rely on others to offer his guidance. “I’m not with my editors. I’m not with my sound people, so my speakers sound different from someone else’s,” he says. “Being isolated is challenging. But we’re so lucky to be able to continue to make a show. Everybody goes the extra mile to make sure that it’s something we can do because it’s a very serious issue.”
When Wyman writes a scene set in an “open field,” he has to trust those actually in the field return with the footage he's expecting.
“We definitely do a lot of (staring), because that’s sort of the standard look, figuring out, ‘What is this debris about?’” Tucker says. “Once you get through that, this really is an exploration of characters.”
Tucker plays a special forces agent who has suffered from PTSD; Steele is an agent from Great Britain who has lost her parents and wants to continue her father’s work. He created a coalition agency called Orbital which brought the two together. Their goal, Steele says, is “finding a way to trust each other.”
Unlike “The X-Files” or other sci-fi series, the two aren’t on opposite sides regarding alien life.
“It’s not hard to think that there’s something else out there,” Tucker says. “You’ve got our own government siphoning money for UFO research. If you’ve got any basic understanding of statistics and numbers, it would be pretty wild to think that we’re all here by ourselves.”
The debris – which drops regularly – reveals more about who the characters are.
Interestingly, the chunks of matter have the ability to do different things. It can allow people to go through walls or manipulate the weather.
“We are constantly on our toes, trying to track things, figure it out,” Tucker says. The actors frequently call Wyman to ask what the debris can do.
“I think why we’re all really excited by (the series) is because it speaks to things that really aren’t out there right now,” Wyman says.
“Fringe,” a similar series Wyman produced, taught him how to keep audiences engaged. “You’ll have a week-to-week show that people can come back to, but for the real hardcore fans, they’ll understand there’s a plan,” he says. “There’s a feeling like there’s this unseen narrator sort of pushing you silently down this road that’s going to amount to something…and something big.”
Meanwhile, he and the show’s writers have to do their magic from afar.
“The hurdles we have to jump are really miniscule compared to what so many other people are dealing with," Tucker says.
"Debris" debuts March 1 on NBC.