It’s Monday, April 15, and cast, crew and a contingent of press are inside of a soundstage in Wilmington, N.C., watching a tense scene destined for the CBS summer event series, the 13-episode adaptation of the Stephen King novel, “Under the Dome.”
Premiering Monday, June 24, it chronicles the events in the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, when a transparent dome suddenly appears over it, putting every living thing there in utter isolation.
The large cast includes Mike Vogel (“Pan Am,” “Bates Motel”) as Dale “Barbie” Barbara, an Army veteran in town on a mysterious mission; Rachelle Lefevre as investigative reporter Julia Shumway, whose husband is suddenly nowhere to be found; Ned Bellamy as the Rev. Lester Coggins; Dean Norris as “Big Jim” Rennie, a politician and town bigwig; Alexander Koch as Junior, his disturbed son; Britt Robertson as Angie McAlister, a sharp-witted young woman involved with Junior; and Jeff Fahey as police chief Howard “Duke” Perkins.
Also starring are Colin Ford, Natalie Martinez, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy and Aisha Hinds. Executive producers for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television are Neal Baer, King, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Stacey Snider, Jack Bender (who’s also the showrunner) and Brian K. Vaughan.
“Not only do I love the world, the Stephen King-ness of it,” says Bender in one of a series of pre-lunch interviews, “but I really am fascinated by these people that we get to put under the microscope by this dome.”
Bender previously worked on ABC’s “Lost,” about airline passengers who crash-land on an island, and he sees similarities.
“We’re not going to be politically correct,” he says, “and we’re going to be true to the characters in Chester’s Mill — what’s been created from Stephen’s book — but I do think one of the things that’s cool about this is it speaks to, as did ‘Lost,’ how do we all survive? How do we all live?
“There’s this thin layer of cellophane between us and the other kind of life where all you’re worrying about is survival, which most of us have been blessed not to live.”
For Junior, the landing of the dome intensifies his connection to Angie, but not in a good way.
“He has a father that wasn’t always there for him,” Koch says. “He has issues with his mother that are unresolved. Because of that, he grows this obsessive need, this want of love from someone, and he finds it in Angie.
“Once she goes away, it’s like his whole world is taken out from under him, and he needs to get it back. So he’ll go through drastic measures to get it.”
Just as Junior may have hidden issues that come to the surface, the sardonic Angie is not entirely innocent either.
“The Junior she knows in the pilot,” says Robertson, “is someone she can manipulate, someone she can control, someone she can do whatever she wants with. He’s just this guy who’s taken by her, and she doesn’t feel any real hold over the relationship. She’s just trying to have fun.
“Then she sees the real Junior, and that’s scary for her — not because he’s scary. It’s scary because she didn’t see it. She’s someone who reads people very easily and prides herself on that.
“If he was one way and then became this person that she’s seeing now, who will he turn into eventually? That’s what the dome has done.”
Vogel sees the show as echoing the reality beyond the soundstage.
“We’re dealing with a cataclysmic event here,” he says. “The reason that there’s such a draw to that kind of stuff nowadays is because of the global temperature right now — North Korea off the hinges; Greece off the hinges; Egypt off the hinges; America, the dollar essentially devalued.
“With all these things happening, people have asked themselves this question, ‘What would I do, if? What would I do if that thing happened?’ “
But journalist Julia has a different priority than navel gazing.
“She’s too busy,” says Lefevre, “asking everybody else questions. She’s too busy being a reporter.”
With lunch over and interviews in the can, attention shifts to a violent scene in which Junior has Angie imprisoned in a bunker, and she makes a bid for freedom.
But soon Twitter feeds start humming with breaking news. Over the studio’s Wi-Fi, an iPad becomes a window to the larger world, as the events of the Boston Marathon bombing start to unfold in real time.
For many people in Boston and surrounding communities that fateful afternoon and over the next few days, these “what if” questions became terrifyingly real, resulting in a mix of merciless violence, acts of heroism, fear, joy, shattering sorrow, stunned disbelief and resolute action.
One suspects fictional Chester’s Mill won’t be very much different.