Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis has long been fascinated by the fusion of historical fact with inventive fiction — I Wanna Hold Your Hand, 1941, Back to the Future and, of course, Forrest Gump are a few of his past projects that memorably embroidered fictional characters over historical events (or, conversely, stitched historical figures into fabricated events of fiction).
“That’s one of the things that really grabs me is starting with history and extrapolating events from that history,” Zemeckis said. “It makes things interesting to me when it’s all melted together. And that is why I fell in love with the pitch for Project: Blue Book from the very start.”
That pitch led Zemeckis to his executive producer role for the new UFO-themed drama Project: Blue Book, which premieres tonight on History with a story device that puts the shadowy series in the middle-ground that lies somewhere between In Search Of and The X-Files as far as its truthiness quotient.
That gimmick that seized Zemeckis’ attention in the pitch meeting: A one-hour scripted drama series that mines each episode’s story directly from the now-declassified cases of the famous “Blue Book” files that collected UFO reports for years.
Documents once stamped “Top Secret” now filed under “High Concept”? Zemeckis jumped at the idea.
“I felt it was a great idea for a TV series with a premise that really lent itself to amazing and compelling stories,” Zemeckis said. “The historical element was very appealing to me.”
The series stars Aidan Gillen as a brilliant professor recruited by the U.S. Air Force to spearhead the military’s clandestine investigations into reports of UFOs and related phenomena. Each episode draws material from the authentic government files that were top secret when they were originally compiled under the Blue Book header.
That now-declassified archive of files spans the years between 1952 (when the U.S. detonated the first Hydrogen bomb) and 1969 (when NASA’s Apollo 11 landed on the moon).
Project: Blue Book mines that redacted history and melds it with public events, conspiracy lore, outright invention — all of which suits the cagey skills of star Gillen, the Irish actor best known as the ever-scheming Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on Game of Thrones.
His other credits include the Fox hit Bohemian Rhapsody (he plays Queen’s manager, John Reid), Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and HBO’s The Wire.
The show also stars Michael Malarkey (The Vampire Diaries), Neal McDonough (Arrow), Laura Mennell (Watchmen), Michael Harney (Orange is the New Black) and Ksenia Solo (Black Swan).
“The challenge, I think, and what makes it interesting is that there are different adventures [from the government files] about these different phenomena,” Zemeckis said. “So these different incidents happen but there’s also this core story that holds it all together and I think that’s pretty unique in television. It’s like having an anthology without having an anthology. That’s exciting. I thought it was the best thing with the project and the most challenging part of the project.”
Zemeckis chuckled the asked if the show’s home on History raises the possibility that some viewers will wonder if they are watching a drama intended as documentary.
“Everybody’s got to get over that,” Zemeckis said “It’s a drama and it’s a period piece. It’s about these characters with a lot of human issues and a lot of intrigue over it. That’s the compelling stuff. Every episode is taken from a case in the files but we just take them and run with them. This isn’t a documentary.”
A visual effects maven, Zemeckis said he is especially pleased with the show’s aesthetics and production values.
“It’s got a distinctive and really, really interesting look, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in a television series before,” Zemeckis said. “I like the design of the series immensely. It’s got all the stuff in it that I like and it captures the feel and look of the 1950s. It’s a great era and the show depicts it beautifully. It’s out of this world.”