‘The Passage’: Henry Ian Cusick on Lear’s Past & the End of Mankind (VIDEO)

Henry Ian Cusick in The Passage
Erika Doss / FOX

Last week, fans got their first taste of The Passage, Fox’s ambitious attempt to adapt Justin Cronin’s sprawling trilogy about the rise of vampire-like Virals and the potential end of life as we know it.

Most of the action centered on Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Agent Brad Wolgast, who went rogue to protect young Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney) from Project NOAH, the government-backed medical team using human lab rats to test a virus that could cure all of the world’s diseases (so far, not so much).

This week, we find out more about the origins of NOAH, including the past relationship between Henry Ian Cusick’s Dr. Jonas Lear and infected colleague Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane), as well as what this virus could do for folks if it’s successful and why Lear ever agreed to participate in something so ghastly.

Based on what we learn of Lear in Episode 2, I feel like he might be the only noble one at Project NOAH.

Henry Ian Cusick: Wow. Interesting you say that.

He had very pure intentions to start with, and now he’s really the only one who’s actually speaking the truth about how out of hand this has become.

Yes, I think you’re right. His intentions were always to find a cure to help his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. He didn’t know what to do so, he approaches his best friend, Tim Fanning, who’s become a bit of a star. The backstory is, they went to university together. They were great friends, and Lear became a microbiologist, married Liz, and they all knew each other. They were all at university together.

But she does not like him, which I love.

Well, she may have liked him at one point. So that’s kinda backstory.

The experiments at NOAH are so messed up. It’s so Tuskegee Airmen.

It is, yeah. The thing about using condemned criminals, if you gave them the choice and said, “You can either die, take the lethal injection, or you can stay on and become a Viral, which basically means you’ll be locked up in a cage for the rest of your life, you’ll be yearning for blood, you will never see daylight again, you will be experimented on,” would they take that choice? Probably not, I would imagine. The carrot is the cure. If you were a test subject that the experiments were successful on, you will be almost immortal, because you’d be immune to all these diseases.

So it’s a bit of a gamble and there must be a crisis of of conscience. “What am I doing? This can’t be right. I’ve got to save my wife.” So Lear is in turmoil most of the time. And there’s a line in the book when Amy Bellafonte first meets Lear [where he’s described as] some wild-eyed, long-haired, crazed scientist that has just been working in this basement for the past four years trying to find a cure.

That’s very different from your character’s look and from this version of the story, really.

Well, yes. Unfortunately I shouldn’t have said that to you, but when I first joined the show, I came on as a guest and I hadn’t read the book. I thought I was just one-and-done, and then it turned out that they invited me to come and be a regular on the show.  I wish I had read the book, because then I would have messed my hair up and gone a bit wild-eyed.

In this week’s episode, we get more of Lear’s backstory…

And there will be more  later on in the show from [more] characters, including the NOAH subjects, which is one of the cool things we’ve got that I really enjoy. We get to see how they got there.

At what point do you Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Brad interact with Jonas? You guys at Project NOAH are kind of sequestered in your own storyline.

Yeah, we used to joke about that. We’d pass each other on set say, “Hey, what are you up to?” I’d say, “Oh, I’m in a vampire movie. What movie are you in?” And he’d say, “Well, I’m making a father-daughter movie.” [Laughs] So we were very separate for the greatest length of time. As you know from the books, we will all eventually come together, because that’s what the show is about. So we all do eventually. We’re forced into making decisions together.

Can you preview what that’s about?

Well, I think my first meeting with Mark-Paul, I believe, is in episode four. And it’s very fleeting. But I would say, it starts to all go down around episodes seven, eight and nine. Of course by ten, it just goes kind of bonkers.

Caroline Chikezie and Henry Ian Cusick in the “You Owe Me a Unicorn” episode of THE PASSAGE (Erika Doss / FOX)

At some point I’m imagining we’re going to deal with masses of virals?

Hmm. When you say “masses,” how many masses do you mean? This is not a spoiler.If you’ve read the books, you know that by “masses,” we mean the world.

Right. Exactly.

But in our show, we’re still only a quarter way through the first book, even though we jump around a bit. So we’re not even close to that moment yet. At Project Noah, you’ll certainly see a lot more virals that we’ve experimented on and you’ll be introduced some new ones as well.

And there’s no real coming back from this virus, right? Like Fanning and Shauna (Brianne Howey) are pretty screwed.

As a scientist, Jonas would say you never know. If we find a cure, perhaps it could reverse the process and that’s what we’re trying desperately to work on. But for the purposes of the story, you don’t really want it to come to that. Because the virals are the next stage in evolution. They are not an evil thing, they’re just better than humans. The virals see us as the virus, you know.

They could actually be our replacement.

Yes, exactly. They would be the next stage in what takes over the Earth. There was dinosaurs for a while, and then there was mammals, and humans, and then came virals.

The fandoms will kill me if I don’t ask: Will we see you on The 100, or are you in a medically-induced coma for the entire season?

[Laughs] No, you will see me on The 100 and you will find out what happens to Kane. It’s a great show. I mean, we’ve had six great seasons. Anything that runs to six seasons, that’s a hit, I think.

The 100 - Henry Ian Cusick

(Dean Buscher/The CW)

Do you find it weird that you’re now on the second show in a row about the end of the world?

It’s kinda interesting …wasn’t Lost about the end of the world, potentially? I don’t know why I’m drawn to these end-of-the-world stories! I just like shows that have big, high stakes. End-of-the-world shows are fun to be in. I mean, you don’t get bigger stakes than that.

The Passage, Mondays, 9/8c, Fox