EXTANT poster | © 2014 CBS

EXTANT poster | © 2014 CBS

In CBS’ freshmen series EXTANT (which airs Wednesday nights), Halle Berry stars as astronaut Molly Woods, who discovers that she became pregnant during a thirteen-month solo mission in space – a shock to both her and her husband John (Goran Visnjic).

Michael O’Neill plays Molly’s boss Alan Sparks, who becomes extremely interested in Molly’s child. O’Neill, who just finished up a second season on RECTIFY as Senator Roland Foulkes, has a resume that stretches back to 1981’s GHOST STORY, with recent credits including recurring roles on NCIS, NECESSARY ROUGHNESS, VEGAS and BATES MOTEL and features THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and THE GRIM SLEEPER.

O’Neill, a native of Montgomery, Alabama, is in attendance at a party CBS throws for the press at West Hollywood’s London Hotel. He talks poolside about his EXTANT experiences.

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you become involved in EXTANT? Had you worked with executive producer Steven Spielberg before?

MICHAEL O’NEILL: I had done the first TRANSFORMERS film with Mr. Spielberg, so I had some experience with him. And I had worked with CBS on a number of things – VEGAS, THE UNIT I had done with them, so we had a relationship and I couldn’t be more thrilled that it’s come to this specific fruition. It’s a really good company. They’re good people, they’re smart people, and they treat one another well.

AX: Can you talk about your EXTANT character Alan Sparks?

O’NEILL: In the show, NASA has become privatized, it’s the International Space Exploration Agency in the future, it’s no longer a public-owned organization. I’m the head of that organization, so I’m the man who sends [Molly Woods] off into deep space exploration, a thirteen-month solo mission, when the anomaly begins to occur.

AX: And is Sparks’ reaction to the pregnancy that it’s good, bad, weird, run for your lives …?

O’NEILL: The great thing about my character is, in the back story, he was an astronaut himself, so there’s a glorious kind of curiosity he has about this. I think all of us who’ve ever been in space feel like, what would it be like if we could have that anomaly? So I think it’s a good thing – I’m curious about it, I want to know as much as I possibly can.

AX: At the point we meet Sparks, is he more of a businessman, more of a bureaucrat or more of a scientist?

O’NEILL: I’m going to say that he’s in charge. He’s a guy who gets it done. So in that regard, I think he’s a businessman, or he’s in an administrative capacity now. But he would get on one of those things and fly it in a New York minute if they would let him. He’s just aged out.

AX: Is he happy in the job he’s in, or is he looking to leverage it into something else?

O’NEILL: Happy. Really happy. In my back story, I had been on a mission to Mars which went awry, and I was able to get it back, much like Apollo 13, but it was one of the last hurrahs of NASA. So it was because of that that I got drafted to be the head of the International Space Exploration Agency. So I think Sparks is very happy about where he is.

AX: Halle Berry has said that she actually went in the zero-gravity module known as the Vomit Comet. Did you get to do that?

O’NEILL: No, I didn’t. Halle was privy to the engagement much before I was, but I think a good deal about that, because it was one of the litmus tests.

AX: Did you do any research for the role?

O’NEILL: Oh, yeah. The first strike on the canvas was finding out as much as I could about being an astronaut, because that informs this character so much. And there’s a wonderful thing that I say at one point – you know, in the old days, it was just one mission. I just had to get them out there and get them home safe. And now it’s numerous missions that I’m in charge of. So that research started with talking to astronauts, beginning to track the science of it.

AX: Do you work with Halle Berry a lot in this series?

O’NEILL: All the time. I love working with her. Class act, incredibly talented, very, very generous and engaged. I mean, utterly engaged. When you step in to do a scene with her, she’s so available that as an actor, you’re better. You’re just better.

AX: Can you say anything about RECTIFY?

O’NEILL: It’s very interesting. We’re here to talk about CBS, but it’s lovely. CBS was gracious enough to let me finish that commitment.

AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about EXTANT right now?

O’NEILL: Just that I think it’s fascinating. And we do it in [real life as] humankind all the time – when we reach out to something and ping it, what happens if it pings us back?

Related: Exclusive Interview with EXANT co-star EME IKWAUKOR\

RelatedInterview with EXANT producer Greg Walker on the science fiction series

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