15 years after The WB/UPN’s “Roswell” first premiered, the cast and creator reunited at the ATX Television Festival in Austin to regale a packed theater with their memories of filming the cult alien drama. Stars Shiri Appleby, Jason Behr, Brendan Fehr, Majandra Delfino and Nick Wechsler were on hand, along with creator Jason Katims and several hundred fans who eagerly crammed themselves into the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a trip back to the eventful New Mexico town.
In a surreal turn, “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi — apparently a diehard fan of the short-lived but much-beloved series — flew in from the East Coast specifically to attend the reunion panel, and even asked a question during the Q&A. (The reality star asked whether the cast believes in aliens — Appleby and Delfino said yes, for the record.)
Katims recalled reading the first book in the young adult series that spawned the show and admitted to being “charmed” by the central love story and larger, more mythic themes. “It was an idea I never would’ve come up with on my own,” he admitted. “It seemed like an incredibly romantic idea to me, these two characters, Liz and Max, being in love but having this very real thing that kept them from being together. I’d never worked on anything that had the kind of stakes that this show had… That was the thing that I was drawn to, and I was also drawn to the fun of the idea.”
As with many series in Katims’ oeuvre, “Roswell” primarily explored the inner lives of teenagers, telling personal, character-driven stories in much the same way as “Friday Night Lights” or “Parenthood,” but filtered through a more fantastical, sci-fi lens.
“With everything that I’ve done, it’s always been about– the thing I thought I could bring to the show that’s unique to my voice, is hopefully a way of building these characters so that you were really invested in the relationships and really cared about them, and hopefully if you bought into the premise of the show, you could enjoy it because of the relationships and the connections between [the characters],” Katims explained. He said that his interest in writing teenage protagonists started with his work on “My So-Called Life,” when the writers embraced the idea that “when you’re a teenager, life is an emergency.”
“I think there’s something about writing about that period in somebody’s life that is really compelling to me because it’s a time when we’re really formed, it’s a time where you’re both a child and an adult at the same time,” Katims explained.
The cast agreed that their time on “Roswell” was a formative experience — and in many cases, provided their breakthrough role.
“‘Roswell’ was the first time I had a real story and was given a lead,” said Appleby. “I think I was so excited to have a real character, something to grasp onto. I was at the same age, excited about falling in love for the first time, sort of feeling a little uncomfortable with myself. Jason’s writing is so good, it was so easy to sink into it emotionally — every script I would get that was his, it felt like a really well-written fit for me… I look back on this character and this time with so much fondness.”
Behr agreed, “When I first read the script I was really drawn to the two worlds that Jason put together. There’s a very real, honest human emotional feeling to it, and had all the metaphors of being a teenager and being somebody who was really trying to find themselves … I feel like that’s something everybody wants, to just be seen for who they are and appreciated, and what Jason did so wonderfully in his script was that there’s no hiding in that, there’s no pretense, [Max’s reactions are] just coming from his very naked, honest perspective, and [Liz] gets to see it. Those human elements of just wanting to be understood, I was very drawn to, and then to have the science fiction element that ties it together with these experiences, like a first kiss — what that might look like — we were able to show that in a very different way.”
Fehr admitted that while he had originally auditioned for the role of Max, it was his role as Michael that he had really fought for, because the character was “an outsider of the outsiders.” The actor also considered the job an important learning experience, and seemed to imply that he might’ve done things differently if given the chance.
“I get to look back on all the mistakes I made in terms of how I handled things … you were just a child, there’s a certain level of maturity and experience you don’t have,” Fehr mused. “Looking back on it, it’s taught me how to be a better actor in terms of being professional and appreciating what you have… We were so young — just as a cast, we were all learning at the same time, and if we had been in the place we are now, it would’ve been different. I don’t have any regrets, but I think we all know that we’ve matured in some way that it would be a much more interesting experience — it would be easier on some levels.”
For Delfino, the hardest part of the experience was letting it go: “I had a really hard wake-up call leaving the show, going onto other projects where the writing, the dialogue required so much more from me, workwise, to make it ring true,” she said. “That was a big learning experience where you realize, ‘wow, my first big job was so easy.’ You’d read your dialogue and know it after one pass because it was so exactly what you felt and what you knew, and then you get out there into the business and don’t necessarily encounter that every time… What we were handling was grade-A material.”
Wechsler, now an integral part of ABC’s “Revenge,” admitted that he always doubted his own abilities during his time on “Roswell” and told Katims he was “touched” that the creator gave him a chance.
“I was nervous — I think it shows a bit [in the pilot], that I was feeling my way through it,” he admitted. “I would try to entertain myself — I would find moments to do weird shit, or give it a slightly weird read … I look back on this time so fondly, because I loved not knowing any better. I always felt like, ‘I’m not really an actor.’ I had to learn so much over the course of it, but [Jason] started to tweak it in the direction of my strengths. Once it ended and we went out into the acting workforce, we had a harder time with other dialogue.”
Katims spoke of the actors with a paternal fondness, admitting, “It was an incredibly talented cast, for a lot of them it was a very early role, and that is always really exciting, to work with people at the beginning and to [see them] go from that initial excitement and nervousness to really owning it. The great thing about doing TV to me, is you have a long life and you tell many stories, and the actors just get comfortable in their roles and own those roles and become those characters… you start learning from them who their characters are.”
As for where the characters are now, the cast deferred to Katims’ vision (although Delfino offered, “I’m assuming Maria would have baby aliens? Three or four baby aliens.”)
“It was funny, last night when we all met and I’m talking to all these guys and they’re starting to tell me about their kids and their families,” Katims said. “To me, I’m frozen in time with you guys at a very different part of your life, so that would be the first thing I would think about, if I were gonna tell that story, is what they’ve been through over the last 15 years and catch them at another phase, catch them in adulthood.”