Hot off the news of a Season 2 renewal, HISTORY’s Project Blue Book is heating up as the first season is four episodes away from coming to a close.
Early on, Project Blue Book had a case per episode structure, but as the first season has unfolded, the shadows of the intelligence community have increased, becoming one of the major subplots of the series.
Air Force General Hugh Valentine (Michael J. Harney) and General James Harding (Neal McDonough), have stepped more into the spotlight of late as Dr. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen) and Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey) get closer to the hidden truths.
Secretary of Defense William Fairchild (Robert John Burke) has even intervened, creating a rift between the Generals and the office of President Truman. Monsters and Critics spoke with the indelible Harney, who was recently Warden Sam Healy in Orange is the New Black and also stars in the Oscar-nominated film, A Star is Born.
Not wanting to spoil what’s to come in these upcoming four episodes, Harney couldn’t divulge any details as to where the series is heading but was able to speak about these Generals, who have been composited from real life generals including General William Garland, General. Nathan Twining, and General C.H. Bolander, and their clandestine roles in the then-classified project.
“There’s a real solid attempt to protect the public from any type of mass hysteria,” explained Harney. “So through Professor Hynek, Project Blue Book, and Projects Sign and Grudge prior to that, to justify and explain all of the phenomenon as being natural phenomenon.”
“Whether it be environmental issues, planetary issues, or reflections of light, or nearby aircraft in the area, so long as it was to avoid any mass hysteria. So there was a very strong push for this. So much so, that there was a specific plan that originated, which is now public knowledge, to produce PR on media and other forms to definitely push people into believing that there was nothing to this phenomena. It worked.”
“Even to this day, when people bring up UFOs or extraterrestrial life, they’re looked upon as being half-crazy. That’s the proof that the push worked. It was done under different names and labels, but it was done without common knowledge.”
Valentine and Harding appeared to be pulling all the strings in the series until a new conflict in the ranks of the military started to boil underneath with Secretary of Defense William Fairchild and the office of President Truman working against Generals Valentine and Harding.
“I’m not trying to say I know what went down in the inner workings of the intelligence community of that day, but I have done a lot of reading and watching a lot of footage from high-level security clearance guys who were of the military of that time, and what they talked about,” explained Harney.
“What I gathered, organically, is that we predominantly live in a dualistic point of view. If this is right, this is wrong.”
“In the intelligence community, that’s not always the case. There are numerous factors and variables at play that have to be considered. They have to be balanced and weighted equally and they have to be first and foremost, absorbed and processed in a way that is going to create actions that will protect and serve the country”
“Often times those actions, when it came to extraterrestrials or unidentified flying objects, or more, there have to be studies about what would happen if this came out? I imagine if it did come out, we’d be a real pickle.”
Harney also cautions that the setting of Project Blue Book is the Cold War beginning to heat up. American citizens are panicked into building Bomb shelters in the back yards and performing evacuation drills at schools.
“Fear is becoming woven as a part of our national consciousness. Talking as the models of who I’m doing in the show, the people at the head of that chain to protect and serve, the chiefs of staff, the Air Force, it’s our job to see that fear is tempered in a way that is going to slow people down in that way of thinking and also that it goes away. So we can go back to our cultural norm to seek our freedoms and our goals.”
General Valentine doesn’t do this alone. Many of Harney’s scenes are shared with Neal McDonough, who plays General Harding and whom Harney deeply respects.
“We are very much in touch with the core of what we’re doing as far as individual characters,” Harney shared about their collaboration. “It’s like playing jazz again, and working off of him, he’s working off of me.”
“For me, I’m working with this framework of being a pioneer and creator of what went down in terms of the creation of intelligence divisions in our country, certainly in the Air Force, and Central Intelligence Agency. I’m in the background, participating in military intelligence and White House decision making.”
“Neal’s character, General Harding, is more out in the front lines so far. We both have very specific and detailed responsibilities pertaining to our characters.”
“Our roles in history and in the show are equally important but are very different. Mine is focusing on the intelligence community, but his is more active although he’s aware of what’s happening.’
When historically-based fiction is done right, viewers want to keep exploring after the show is done. What was real, what wasn’t?
Project Blue Book accomplishes that each week, so in doing his own research, how Harney took that action into his own process, as an actor and behaviorist, was studying hours of interview footage of people who were willing to talk about, what a lot of people were not willing to talk about–the investigation into extraterrestrials and UFOs and things that were not common knowledge.
Then he had to separate what he felt was true and what was not true.
“I watched footage of several people for my role,” Harney divulged. “I watched how they move, how they talked, and their interactions are based on their relationships with others”
“For example, I watched one four-minute clip of President Eisenhower’s inauguration as the 13th president of Columbia University, where all the higher-ups came to celebrate that. I watched three or four hours of this one person I am modeling, to see his mannerisms, how he’s moving, to see what I can glean from his personality just from how he’s moving and responding to his peers who are present.”
“Historically, it became clear to me that a lot of the cases, were whitewashed. We weren’t releasing the goods. In all of the cases that we didn’t have explanations for, even some that were supposedly solved, there appeared to be huge holes in the final reports. So much so, that Hynek himself began to believe in the possibility that UFOs may exist.”
And we’ve already seen that transition of Hynek beginning to happen in the first season. He’s no longer chasing the experience of others, and he’s seen just enough to thirst for more information.
Even Quinn cannot simply overlook what he’s experienced. Like anyone who is curious, they’ll dare to be Icarus and fly as close to the sun as possible to get that definitive information.
Project Blue Book airs on Tuesdays at 10/9c on HISTORY.