The Tomorrow People aired its first episode last week, introducing its new version of the 1970s TV series about a group of superpowered human that has manifested among us. Playing one of the title characters is Peyton List, an actress who’s kept plenty busy in recent years with roles on 90210, FlashForward and Smallville, among other series – though she’s probably best known for her role as Jane Sterling on Mad Men.
I sat down with List to talk about what it’s like playing a superhero on The Tomorrow People, the work that goes into those scenes where he character is showing off her teleportation and telekinetic skills and more. We also spoke about Mad Men, the standout episode “Far Away Places” (where Roger and Jane memorably took LSD) and the impending end of that series.
I should note that since this interview was done, we have learned that the final season of Mad Men will be split over the next two years
IGN: We meet the Tomorrow People through Robbie [Amell]’s character, Stephen in the pilot, but he’s obviously just figuring things out himself. Going forward, are we starting to learn a little bit more about Cara and where she’s coming from?
List: We are, we are. We’re sort of learning this as we go along, but the producers and creators’ intentions are to give you the backstory of the Tomorrow People and also the other humans that you see, that you meet in the pilot. They’re going to tell that story. They’re going to flashback and catch you up on how everybody got to each place. So you’ll learn more about Cara and John and their journey in becoming Tomorrow People, the way that you see Stephen’s journey in the pilot.
IGN: How would you describe her though, initially? When we meet her she’s certainly very assertive, and she seems to have learned a great deal at this point.
List: Yeah, when we meet her, she knows who she is. She believes in what she’s doing. It’s always great to play characters who are just deliberate. They believe in what they’re doing, and they make no apologies for it. That’s just it. You walk in and you’re like, “This is just how it’s going to be.” But she hasn’t always been that way. We’re going to see that other side. But in the pilot, it’s so fun because this girl has figured it all out, she can kick some ass, and she’s got control of her powers. This world, she sort of has status in this group of Tomorrow People living underground. So yeah, it’s kind of interesting starting at that level and then working your way backwards.
IGN: You talked about the powers and abilities. First of all, what’s it like doing those scenes when you have to go like this [holding hand forward], but nothing’s going to happen at that moment?
List: The first day, we shot the special effects where you’re doing something with telekinetic power. It’s a bit odd, because you do green screen here and there or you do one little thing, but with this there is so much action and special effects, with the teleporting and that stuff. At first you’re like, “Do I look silly? Is this going to look normal?” But luckily when we were doing the pilot we had this incredible special effects guy, and he was showing us what he was creating. So as you’re doing it, being able to see it, you have so much confidence in it. You’re like, “I can do this!” And when you do it, once they put the special effects in, it looks amazing. So you’re a bit more secure in like, “Yes, I may look foolish while I’m doing this, but once they have the special effects, I look awesome.” So it’s cool, and it’s fun to do those things. You sort of get used to it, and you sort of start to think that way. You’re like, “I’m walking into this fight,” and I would throw a ball of energy at them. That was naturally what I would do, and you’re like, “You wouldn’t do that.” [Laughs] “You can’t do that in real life!” But no, we’re getting used to it, and you sort of think that way.
IGN: Once you get past that technical side of it, though, is there a part of you that just gets to be like, “Wow, I get to play a superhero! This is pretty cool”?
List: It’s kind of amazing, yeah. The teleporting is something we use quite a bit in every episode. So it’s fun just opening a scene and closing a scene, like teleporting in and teleporting out. It’s such an entrance and an exit, you know? Ladies and gentlemen, teleport in!
IGN: What was it like then seeing the finished product of the pilot — you are on the set, you got to see a little bit of how it was going to look — then seeing yourself in those final moments?
List: It’s funny, I don’t think I was ever so nervous about seeing a pilot because we were so invested, so invested in how it looked and how it felt and the world that we wanted people to invest in and believe. So I was kind of a nervous wreck the first time I saw it, but so proud of it as well. So it was very cool seeing everything put together from when you first read the script and you didn’t have the whole cast and crew together, to seeing the end product — in such a short amount of time. You do a film, sometimes you don’t see it for a year, a year and a half. So being able to see your end product cut together within eight weeks or something is special, because you’re still sort of living in that place where it’s still fresh and real and at the front of your mind.
IGN: Stephen’s trying to convince Cara that he had his own reasons for working with Ultra and that he’s aware of the whole situation. For Cara, does she just think that no good can come of this; to just get him out of there as soon as possible?
List: I think she does think that it’s not worth it, that it’s not worth the risk, and that no good can really come of it. But she is in a weird way hopeful for him, that maybe she’s wrong, maybe he can juggle the two, maybe he can be a double agent or whatever he’s planning on doing. I think that comes with when you have a connection with somebody, like you actually feel a closeness with a friend, they’re doing something that maybe you’re like, “This is a terrible idea,” but you secretly hope it all works out well, because you’re like, “Just maybe, maybe it’ll be okay.” Where as John is just like, “This is suicide.” He just washes his hands of him. Where as Cara is still holding out hope that maybe it’ll all pan out okay — or maybe he’ll come to his senses and get out. But it’s sort of one of those things where, if you’re playing with that sort of fire, the further in you are, the harder it is to get out.
IGN: So is that in the second episode? Is that a big topic of discussion – whether you should even deal with him anymore or just let him go?
List: That is exactly where we pick back up, what exactly he is doing at Ultra and what sort of jeopardy that puts the Tomorrow People in, because they’re very, very serious about the secrecy. And the hiding is hiding from — I mean, he’s going into the lion’s den. If they’re able to get information out of him, it could compromise all of the Tomorrow People that are working so hard to stay hidden.
IGN: How is it working with Mark Pellegrino? I’m a big fan of his and the interesting energy he brings to projects.
List: It’s amazing. I’ve been a fan of his since Lost. That was the first time that I really, really sat up and was like, “Who is that actor?” But working with him and seeing him on set is sort of like an entirely different experience. He’s phenomenal and has such a presence, just on set. It’s fun. It’s really fun!
IGN: There are hints of a possible love triangle Stephen/Cara/John love triangle. I have to ask… What are the ages of Cara and John, since we know Stephen’s in high school?
List: They don’t specify our ages. In theory, early twenties. Stephen is obviously 18, somewhere in there. But it’s interesting, I think, because they’re living in this other world; it’s one of those things where I think the age is not really a very big deal as it would be when someone’s like, “Oh, someone’s a freshman.” That’s very different from a junior in high school. There’s this hierarchy, right? I think with The Tomorrow People, there are so few of them and they’re so close that it just kind of blurs the whole age thing. I think it’s also a hierarchy of “who has the best control of their powers.” That’s how you have seniority. Who broke out first? Who’s strongest at each thing? In the pilot we see something with Stephen.
IGN: They’re going into the final episodes of Mad Men. If there was even a possibility — and I know you probably don’t even know right now — but if they said, “Hey, we wanted you back for Mad Men,” do you think you’d be able to jump down from Vancouver [where The Tomorrow People films] and do it?
List: I have no idea. I’m sort of having a hard time wrapping my around the fact that that show is coming to an end. It seems like it’s gone really quickly, but at the same time you’re like, “Well, no, so many things of changed over the years.” The series has taken such an interesting journey, really. But in terms of knowing, I’m the last person to know anything, which I’m kind of okay with because then I never get in trouble. They just keep me in the dark, and then it’s safe, right? It’s just as exciting for me when I find out something on Mad Men, because I had no idea. Works for me.
IGN: Prepping for this interview, I glanced back at my review of the “Far Away Places” episode of Mad Men and was reminded, “Oh, I wrote really nice things about Peyton List in that review!”
List: [Laughs] Oh my God! Thanks!
IGN: On Mad Men, often the supporting cast and the recurring characters, they’re around for awhile, we get to know them — and then there’s an episode that really focuses in on them. When you got the “Far Away Places” script, did you go “Wow, okay! This is going to be interesting”?
List: Yeah, I got that episode, and I’m like, “I’m sorry, we’re doing what? Okay!” But on that show you just trust and you’re like, “He’s a genius,” and roll with it. It seemed like everyone responded really well to that episode. But going in, I’m like, “What are we doing? What?” But no, it was interesting. It was cool.
IGN: Was it fun for you to see the audience’s response? Because people went crazy for that episode.
List: Yeah, yeah. Also, what was crazy about that episode was, you know, when they wrote it, the structure was like a normal episode where you had a storyline and you go to another storyline and another storyline — commercial — another storyline… then, they recut it. When they actually aired it, it was like vignettes, like 20 minutes of this, 20 minutes of this, 20 minutes of this.
IGN: And you go back in time as each story begins, which was really interesting.
List: Right, yeah. So I didn’t know that they were going to do that. That was sort of a different thing that they did when they did that episode. And it was such a different structure than what they were used to doing, but I think the fans seemed to respond to it really well. They’re like, “Yeah, it’s different!” It’s cool. It’s like little shorts, like little short stories.
IGN: We did get to see Jane again this past season, even after she and Roger split up. Suffice to say, if it can work out, you’d hope to be able to say goodbye to that character?
List: Of course, of course. It’s crazy to think you’ve been doing a role for years, and you get very attached to characters. Actors get very attached to characters because you’ve been on the journey with the character in a weird way, especially in television. So yeah, obviously I would love that. But knowing Matt, I think it’s going to be an epic Season 7. I would not be surprised. It’s just, like, the craziest yet.
IGN: This summer in San Diego was your first Comic-Con, right?
List: That was my first Comic-Con.
IGN: So what was it like, the experience of going with The Tomorrow People?
List: It was fun, but it’s odd when you have a show that hasn’t premiered yet. You’re telling people about it, but they’re like, “I think I know, but I don’t really understand.” So it was different, but I did really enjoy — I watched them actually screen it. I was out in the audience, so I could kind of feel the reaction of people seeing it for the first time. It’s one thing when you’re in it and you’ve been invested in it for months and months; it’s hard to be objective. You can’t be more objective than just having a bunch of strangers who don’t care if the show succeeds or fails and getting their true reactions. So I did enjoy that. It was nerve-racking. [Laughs] I don’t think I would recommend it to somebody to do, but it was an interesting experience. It was cool.