Netflix’s latest sci-fi blockbuster drama is a remake of the cult 1960s series about the Robinsons, a family of colonists shipwrecked on a hostile alien planet. In the update, the story — itself inspired by classic castaway tales Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe, and has spawned the lacklustre 1998 movie starring Matt LeBlanc — now involves a mixed-race clan, with House of Cards’ Molly Parker as the matriarch, and Black Sails’ Toby Stephens as her estranged soldier husband. The original version’s iconic but tacky main-in-a-suit robot companion (called The Robot) too has been given a CG face-lift. The result is a 10-ep show that’s “more Star Wars than Star Trek.” Says showrunner Zack Estrin (Prison Break): “We’re not talking about space politics and trade agreements with aliens, we’re talking about discovery, adventure and wonder.” And you don’t have to be a fan of the original to enjoy Lost in Space. “The heart of this show is about family, and it’s about the struggles of a modern family,” says Parker. “We hope these characters are real and flawed in a way that we can all relate to them.” 8 DAYS sat down with the Robinsons in Tokyo last month to learn more about the show. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
8 DAYS: What sets your Lost in Space apart from the original 1960s series and the 1998 movie version?
MOLLY PARKER (Maureen Robinson): Audiences are so sophisticated now that this show needed to have a kind of massive scope, and to be on a scale that felt like a big adventure, while still carrying forward the spirit of the original. I never saw the movie so I can’t speak for it, but what was great about the original is that it’s about a family in extraordinary circumstances, and that is still what the show is about.
MINA SUNDWALL (Penny Robinson): I think that we’ve modernised both the script and social setting in a way, and we have a lot of very strong female characters who are opinionated and independent.
MAXWELL JENKINS (Will Robinson): In our version, it’s not just about an American family in space — [they’re part of] an international global mission to save humankind.
TOBY STEPHENS (John Robinson): It’s also not like one of those space operas like Star Wars, where it’s just absolutely massive. Forgive me, but you don’t really say you have been in a situation just like Luke Skywalker (laughs). You don’t go, “I’ve been there, Luke! I know exactly what you’re going through!” Also, it’s not as dark and dystopian as Blade Runner. This is its own thing, because it’s always couched in this family, a domestic situation which serves as a kind of centre of gravity. While the rest of the stuff that happens around them is really cool and exciting, it always brings back to these real people.
Was the family chemistry pretty instantaneous?
MINA: No, we hated each other (laughs).
MOLLY: We’re really lucky, because sometimes when you work with kids, it can be very difficult. Maybe the kids don’t really want to be there, or the parents want to be there. But we have a young cast who are such extraordinary people and they come from wonderful families, and they’re not like ‘Hollywood kids’. They’re real kids, and both Toby and I have children about the same age, so it was an easy fit.
TOBY: I’ve had some experiences — not many, thankfully — where you have kids who are cast because they look right, but can’t act (laughs). It’s really difficult when you’re stuck with them. The director is trying to elicit a performance from a child, but there’s just no way that’s going to happen. The thing is that these guys (gesturing at Taylor, Mina and Max) are all in their own right naturally talented. They are also great people who can really act. The combination of those two things immediately meshed, as friends, and just people. That also helped [in the acting] because it’s a weird thing to have them pretending they are my children!
Toby, you were on the pirate drama Black Sails, another big production, for four years. Which was tougher, that show or Lost in Space?
TOBY: Lost in Space was a breeze compared to Black Sails. It’s a really lovely counterpoint after having done Black Sails where I played such a dark character. One of the things I love about Lost in Space is that it’s aspirational without being sentimental. It’s about people trying to survive and trying to be better people. That’s such a positive thing at the moment. These are times where you feel the world is becoming a very dark place. When you turn on the TV, you watch a lot of incredibly dark TV that’s really depressing. Brilliant but depressing. So it’s great to have something that I’m really hoping people would go, “Oh, what a relief! It’s something that I can really enjoy with my family, and also makes me feel good at the end of the day.”
Taylor, Mina, Max, what are your favourite moments shooting the show?
TAYLOR RUSSELL (Judy Robinson): Everything was just so incredible, because they built this beautiful spaceship that was so meticulously and beautifully crafted. [Every nook and cranny] had a purpose. It was like being on a playground. Every day was different and there were a lot of memorable moments. So there’s not one moment particularly that sticks out to me, but I loved all the scenes we had together, especially when there were cold nights and you were not doing them by yourself. Suffering together is better (laughs).
MINA: There are many sequences in the Chariot, which is our vehicle. It’s also another massive piece of machinery that is attached to an actual car. But the first time we started shooting, they told me, “We want Penny to drive the Chariot.” When we started filming, I was 15, and I did not have any experience driving. So I was worried that I would crash it and get fired.
MAXWELL: There are two experiences I’ll never forget. One is going up on top of the glacier. Because those scenes [in Ep 1] where Toby and I are walking on top of the snow, were filmed on a real glacier. And to top it off, it was on the day before my birthday, so it was an early birthday present. Another experience was the zero-gravity stuff where my body was held up by a two-point harness. To pretend that I was weightless, I had to tighten my core and not let my body sag in the harness.
There’s a scene where the Robinsons packed Oreos for an expedition. Oreos? Was that in the script?
ALL: That was scripted!
MAXWELL: And trust me, I was very happy that it was.
MINA: It’s not an endorsement or a brand deal.
TOBY: It’s the little details that make it real. They give it texture, to make them feel like there’s this history that they have together.
Lost in Space and Black Sails are on Netflix.