This weekend, MGM+ premieres its new science fiction series Beacon 23. Set on a lighthouse in the depths of space, Beacon 23 follows Halan (Stephan James) and Aster (Lena Headey), two people who are stranded on the isolated structure and must navigate a tricky personal situation to decide how much they can trust one another. The series is based on the book of the same name by Hugh Howey, the author of Silo, and explores ideas of isolation and community as well as the uncomfortable intersection between humanity and AI.
We spoke with Beacon 23 executive producer Glen Mazzara about everything from how the series stands in conversation with Hugh Howey’s book to how it sets itself apart from other genre shows. Read on for our full interview, or watch it on our YouTube channel below:
DANIEL ROMAN for WinterIsComing: Glen, thanks so much for taking some time out today to talk about Beacon 23.
GLEN MAZZARA: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
WiC: You’ve worked on a lot of different projects like The Walking Dead and The Shield. What was it that drew you to Beacon 23?
GM: Well, what drew me to Beacon 23 is, first of all, I was a fan of Hugh Howey’s work. I had read Wool, and knew he was a terrific writer. I was friendly with Zak Penn who created the show, and I loved his approach…when I first read the material, to me it played as a thriller in space. That was something I hadn’t seen before. Then it starts pushing into very surprising issues about AI, trauma, isolation, you know, things that we had just dealt with during the pandemic, let’s say. And I felt that there was a concerted effort to stay away from usual sci-fi tropes that we’re all aware of, that kind of stuff.
So, the show was just a challenge…it was incredibly collaborative. It was just very surprising to work on, the story was always surprising. And we just really kind of pushed ourselves to be as fresh as possible in the setting. I would honestly say this was the most creative experience I’ve had in my entire career just because I never knew what was coming next. So when I was editing episodes or writing future episodes or working with the actors or whatever…I was able to surprise myself, I think other people were able to surprise themselves, and it was exciting.
There was something different about this show than other shows I’ve worked on. Other shows you work on, you get a sense of what the show is. With this show, it’s like you’re a character on the Beacon trying to figure out what’s going on, you know? And I promise it all comes together…there’s a story. I know how genre fans are, they want what they want; I get it, I’ve written for them before. But this one was just a lot of fun.
WiC: You mentioned you’re a fan of Hugh Howey. Obviously, Beacon 23 is based on a book of five serialized pieces of short fiction that he wrote. I was curious how involved has Hugh been with the series and what has working with him been like?
GM: Well, you know, he has read all the scripts, he’s been to set, we’ve had conversations and…when he and I spoke about, what is the show that he would like to see? What was the show that I would like to do? That kind of stuff, we were completely in sync, you know what I mean?
And then there was one particular episode that, I won’t say which one, but as soon as I saw it and I was really happy with the director’s cut, I said ‘Send that over to Hugh. That’s the show.’ I think I emailed him and everything. I hope he’s happy with where the show ended up and all of that. But I do feel that we were able to honor his intent.
WiC: You have a lot of really brilliant actors working on this show too. I love seeing Lena Heady kind of getting back into her Sarah Connor Chronicles era a little bit; it’s been a while since she’s been in a sci-fi show. What was the process like of casting for the show in general, but specifically finding the leads, Lena Headey and Stephan James?
GM: They were cast before I signed on, and I think people were excited about seeing Lena who obviously we all know from Game of Thrones and, you know, she’s playing Cersei, and playing royalty and kind of button down…and here she’s playing something completely different. We see her tattoos and we see her look and she gets to do a lot of different stuff.
So I was very excited about that, I was very excited about working with her…and a lot of what we did in editing were just kind of…give her the stage. There were certain scenes that she played that then as we were talking about it, it generated more story, you know? So a lot of the creative was catching up to her performance because she just owned that character in such an exciting way.
Same with Stephan. Stephan just brought so much to the character. What I love about these characters is that they both have this, this swagger and this bravado, but there’s so much trauma that they’re carrying, so there’s a deep inner life. But also they don’t really know what they’re doing. [Laughs] It’s kind of funny, you know, when you see Stefan has Post-its on how to run the thing, you know, you’re just like, ‘Oh, they’re in trouble. They’re either gonna save each other, they’re gonna drag each other down.’
So, a lot of that was just those characters and those actors. They did such a great job and I was just very lucky to work with them.
WiC: I haven’t seen all of Beacon 23 yet, but I’m guessing it’s going to cover most of Hugh Howey’s pieces of short fiction that make up the book?
GM: It’s not necessarily a dramatization of the book, I won’t say that. It’s the same setting, it’s the same kind of characters…but one of the things that when you start adapting for a TV show, things just take off. So there are differences there, but I will say that I do think the tone is the same. I do think the world is the same and all of that. But obviously adapting a TV show poses its own challenges. So this is not a close adaptation of the book, I don’t want to say that…but I will say that it’s also not something that’s “inspired by the book.” You know, it’s our version of it.
WiC: That kind of dovetails into the next question I was gonna ask. I was wondering how much of the book this season covered. And hearing you talk about how it’s its own take, it’s not “inspired by,” but it is not sticking strictly to it…I was curious, provided this all goes well and people really enjoy it, if you had plans for and hope to see future seasons? Just because the book is one standalone book. Do you have thoughts about where you’d like to see the series go?
GM: Well, we were fortunate enough to shoot a second season. So we have that in the can and I do have a plan for future seasons. I have a very tight plan for the next season. And I think this is a story that can go on.
So even though the location is the lighthouse…as the show expands, you find out more about the universe around it and about all the different players in that universe surrounding the lighthouse. And so this is a story that I think can go in a lot of different directions.
But I have a future story for a season 3 if we get there that I’m very, very excited to tell. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done, and this is a show that is tough to write and is tough to produce, but…I give credit to Hugh and I give credit to Zack. It’s such a well-conceived world that it’s easy as a writer to generate stories. You can say, “What about this? Oh, this character said this, let’s go there.” And we do that a little bit in the show, but I think it can expand. So I’m excited about it. I think there’s more to this world that I personally want to see and would love to tell.
[Editor’s Note: While Beacon 23 has already filmed a second season, it hasn’t actually been renewed yet for season 2 at MGM+. This is likely due to the fact that the series was originally produced as a joint venture by AMC for the now-shuttered Spectrum Originals streaming platform, before its first season found a new home at MGM+ earlier this year. Hopefully MGM+ moves ahead with season 2, because if Lena Headey had already delivered another badass performance, why wouldn’t they?]
WiC: One last question for you. Keeping things spoiler free: what are you personally most excited for viewers to see in season one of Beacon 23?
GM: You know what, I am most excited for the audience to experience the entire show and to be surprised along the way. I really feel the audience is not gonna be able to guess where it’s going. I believe that the audience is going to love getting the puzzle pieces and be surprised, like, “Wait a minute, how can this possibly fit, what is this about?”
It’s not just that the story is interesting but it’s a different type of storytelling. It really is. And I think that’s something that I haven’t seen on other shows. I watch a lot of genre [shows], I read a lot. I think we pushed the boundaries here, by trusting the audience. This is not a show that, we never sit and really explain anything to the audience. We are trusting the audience to follow the story, to put it together…and I promise the show all comes together. Sometimes people could say, “Oh, I put the pieces together. That was dissatisfying.” I understand that, we’ve all watched those types of shows.
But this is a show that does not talk down to the audience. It’s a show that trusts the audience, and I think that people are smart and people want kind of a fun, entertaining yet sophisticated type of story and I think this delivers.
So I’m excited to see how that plays. I could be wrong, but I do trust the audience and hopefully they have a great experience enjoying the show.
A huge thank you to Glen Mazzara for taking the time to tell us about Beacon 23! This interview has been edited for clarity and length; to watch the uncut version, check out the video interview on the WinterIsComing YouTube channel.
The first two episodes of Beacon 23 premiere on MGM+ on Sunday, November 12 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST. New episodes will follow weekly for the rest of the show’s eight-episode first season.
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