Why Michael Malarkey Says New Show 'Project Blue Book' Was 'Written in the Stars' (Exclusive)
When it came to landing Project Blue Book, fate seemed to stepped in for Michael Malarkey.
The Vampire Diaries alum stars alongside Game of Thrones' Aidan Gillen in History's newest drama, which centers on the Air Force's real-life Project Blue Book investigation into unexplainable phenomena from 1952 to 1969. Gillen plays famed astrophysicist Dr. J. Allen Hynek in the series created by David O'Leary, while Malarkey takes on the role of Hynek's partner, Captain Michael Quinn.
Quinn isn't a real person, but he's inspired by one -- Air Force officer Edward J. Ruppelt -- and the rest of Project Blue Book is pretty much as based on reality as one can get in a primetime drama. What drew Malarkey to the show what that focus on fact over fiction -- and Project Blue Book's ties to his past.
"I grew up 20 minutes away from the Project Blue Book Headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, so it felt like a full circle of sorts," he tells ET. "It was like it was written in the stars."
Malarkey, born to an Irish American father and British mother, later returned to England, where he studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and lived in the same area as Gillen -- though, the Project Blue Book co-stars didn't know it at the time. "There's so many coincidences around this show; you'd think it was about aliens or something," he jokes, noting that they've also worked with one of the History show's directors, Alex Graves, separately in the past. It was music, however, not TV, that really bonded Malarkey and Gillen; that, and perhaps their desire to buck the status quo with their new roles.
Gillen, fresh off of Game of Thrones, told ET during a March visit to Project Blue Book's set that he was looking forward to creating a bit of separation between himself and his GOT character, Littlefinger. "It'd be nice to be known, hopefully, for not as a scheming evildoer," he shared. For Malarkey, who had just spent four seasons as vampire Enzo on The Vampire Diaries, it was just important not to get "pigeonholed."
"I am always trying to do a 180 from the last thing I did," he explains. "Obviously, there is a supernatural element [to Project Blue Book] by definition, and we take certain artistic liberties, but it’s a whole different kettle of fish [than The Vampire Diaries]. I suppose it called more on my training in theater than anything I’ve done on TV or film."
"For me, the biggest challenges are often also the most fun aspects of the work. I like to be challenged and to push myself harder than I did on the last job," he continues. Malarkey was challenged in spades while stepping into Quinn's shoes.
The 35-year-old actor immersed himself on research at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base to understand what it was like to get into the skin of an Air Force Man. "I'd go do my shopping as Quinn, do the laundry as Quinn," he recalls. He also did things more adrenaline-filled -- and higher off the ground. "I felt like it was important for me to do flying lessons... I honestly haven't been that terrified in a long time, but wanted to feel what it was like to remain composed under extreme circumstances, because that is one of the integral parts of Quinn's character."
"At the end of the day, you have to soak up all the facts, but it’s more about getting the soul right," he concedes, no matter how much he loves research. "You have to meet the character in the middle."
As for whether Quinn and Hynek meet in the middle on Project Blue Book, that's another story. "We start off very skeptical of one another," Malarkey teases, praising Gillen's "intelligent, warm and actually quite kooky" portrayal of Hynek. "Aiden's a master of bringing a real complexity to his roles, but keeping it brilliantly subtle. He's like a duck on water, so focused and composed, but working his a** off all the time. His interpretation of Hynek is truly brilliant."
Malarkey is equally impressed by how Project Blue Book -- which also stars Laura Mennell, Ksenia Solo, Michael Harney and Neal McDonough -- turned out.
"The great thing about this show, is that the tables are constantly turning. It's a historical thriller noir," he says, calling the series a "career highlight for me," and insisting regardless of viewer's belief -- or non-belief -- in aliens, it's worth tuning into. "Aesthetically speaking, the spec of the show is pure class. It's a proper big-scale show -- one that I think everyone will be able to connect to in some way or another. And it's highly addictive."
Project Blue Book premieres Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.
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