It has all the elements of a winning show from its strong writing or its perfect ensemble cast to the countless artists who work on production design and costumes to not only make you believe you’re watching the 1950s unfold, but are filled with the details that wake up the other senses.
Project Blue Book is more serialized this season, so it’s not just 10 random cases plucked out of the case files. Everything has been built on top of the last episode and progressively added to the depth of the series.
Also letting their guards down are the show’s lead investigators, Dr. J. Allen Hynek (Aidan Gillen) and Captain Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey), experiencing things they cannot pass off as some strange scientific phenomena. They’ve witnessed too much and seen first hand what the government will do to cover up any possibility that aliens exist.
Another positive leap forward has been the growth in Laura Mennell’s character and Allen Hynek’s spouse, Mimi. She is no longer the damsel in distress, sitting and waiting for her man to come home.
Mimi is becoming a modern woman, getting her hands dirty in the underground war of knowledge and has proven herself a valuable asset for both Hynek and Quinn.
Monsters and Critics spoke to Laura Mennell about her character’s evolution and getting out of the Hynek’s home to see what the world of UFOs and little green men have brought her.
Given the structure of each episode is more layered now, and serial in nature the series has taken a big step forward. What’s it been like working within that evolution of the series?
Laura Mennell: You’re right, this season has been exciting because there’s a really great build. We started off with the biggest case of all time, in Roswell. That tied into Area 51 and the mysteries behind that gate.
Another one of the cases we’ve done that I really liked had to do with the CIA and mind control program. Mid-season we had something special that I really, really loved, which was more magical and the tone changes a bit. It gets more and more exciting for sure.
M&C: Until the introduction of the CIA subplot this season, it was mainly Hynek and Quinn vs. the Air Force Generals but this new element increases the scale.
LM: The CIA is becoming more of a threat to Project: Blue Book itself as an entity, right? So that’s an exciting element that they could be our competition. So Project Blue Book isn’t necessarily in a safe zone.
The introduction of the Daniel Banks character is really exciting, played by Jerod Hayes, and it will continue to be fun as we learned about his back story and where he’s coming from. There’s a lot of cool new elements this year.
M&C: Each piece has a place in a bigger story. The CIA initially appeared to be a potential ally that was at least open-minded, while the Generals want no part of strange phenomena.
LM: Yes. There’s truth to that. Daniel was more of an ally and it’ll be fun to see where the audience goes with him after the way the historic Robertson Panel (where Project Blue Book was put in front of a scientific committee to prove their worth to the Central Intelligence Agency and the American public) played out.
M&C: Mimi’s role has increased too this season with more phone conversations with Allen. Talk about those new elements for Mimi and getting a pulse of what civilians were thinking at the time?
LM: It is a really great season for Mimi because last year she was so much more of a damsel in distress because Allen had a new job and all of these things were happening around her household. As far as what Project Blue Book was bringing to her family, she definitely felt like it was a threat, especially because she was kept in the dark.
So it’s nice to have this shift to utilize that strength she found last year when she was faced with many challenges. This year she uses that strength and is arming herself with that information and doing more truth-seeking herself and researches for Allen.
It’s completely different in many ways that starts to take off in episode four and becomes more of a player, and eventually begins working officially for Project Blue Book.
That also gives her more of an understanding and a mutual understanding of what her husband does; he is appreciating her and this knack she has for finding information. She’s empowered by that as well, finding out who she is and that she can be a modern-day woman and get out in the world and out of the kitchen.
M&C: And she’s attending these UFO groups, which offer an interesting cross-section of the American public opinion.
LM: There she meets up with Evan played by the wonderful Keir O’Donnell. He is an interesting guy who definitely has a pulse on non-mainstream UFO information that can be helpful but he definitely baits her with that information.
So Mimi has to work at playing that fine line of being intrigued but not overstepping her boundaries with those morally gray boundaries with her husband and her access to Project Blue Book.
M&C: He’s already asked her to do some pretty intense things.
LM: He doesn’t beat around the bush. [Laughs] Mimi’s definitely intrigued. We’re talking about one of the greatest mysteries of all time, and Evan seems to have a lot of interesting information. So she can’t shut that out, but she also has to be careful and tread lightly as well.
M&C: He’s playing on her emotions, especially that curiosity of why they’re whisking her husband away at all times and asking her what she thinks he is up to.
LM: Yeah, especially being a woman of the 1950s where you’re not normally being taken seriously, necessarily. There have been times when Allen has been away and she’s been left in the dark when Evan starts to play her in that way. There’s maybe a little bit of light manipulation, he has an agenda as well even though he seems like an alright guy.
He’s definitely trying to work those angles and Mimi has been wanting to find a place in the world, he says, “You can make a difference, you could be part of finding the truth of what’s really out there!” That resonates with her, how could it not resonate with anybody? So that’s a real easy connection that he can make with her for sure.
M&C: In Season 1, you were able to speak to Allen’s family to get a sense of who Mimi was then, but because of the increased role she would have on the show, did you reach out or get more information as to her working with Allen in real life?
LM: Yeah, I talked to one of the sons, Paul (Hynek) more than anyone, before we started shooting the season. One thing that really hit home with me when we talked about his mother, in terms of what she meant to Allen and a part of his work.
We’re just starting to touch on that. One thing that they did do together, that she was important in, was brought about the Center for UFO Studies. When Paul would talk about his mom, he would say that in fact, Allen was the figurehead for this organization but at the end of the day, he would have never been able to do it without Mimi.
She was always behind him, organizing, and delegating and getting things done. Paul felt Mimi was very much the heart of that organization and was very supporting and the heart behind Allen and his work.
We don’t go far into the future of that organization, quite yet, but we are starting to see Mimi working with Allen and helping him out and we get to see how much of a supportive force she has for him throughout the years. That’s especially highlighted in the “Close Encounters” episode.
M&C: Because Mimi is more involved this season, did you feel more of an obligation to digging around the actual case files prior to the scripts being written? Did creator David (O’Leary) or executive producer Sean (Jablonski) ask you to dig in on the Hynek research as well?
LM: It’s funny, you head into a new season and I’m talking to Sean and I’m asking him nonstop, “Sean! Sean! What are our cases? I need to start researching! Mimi researched, so I’m going to start researching!”
So I read Witness to Roswell. I read one of Hynek’s books, the UFO Experience, learning more about his close encounters, classification program, stuff like that.
Then the season goes on and you get busy and it’s hard to keep up, but the nice thing is that I was able to learn as the character does. Everything is really new for Mimi so that gave me a lot of ease, in terms of learning what I could because Mimi was as well. I’m in the same space as Mimi in many ways.
M&C: Last season Susie was her support system, but was also a threat. Will she have any support this season or is Allen it?
LM: Yeah, we’re starting to see Mimi work with Allen this season, which is good. She doesn’t necessarily have to lean on him for support. The nice thing about Mimi this season is that she’s becoming an independent spirit.
You’re right, last year she very much was relying on Susie for so much and she was a catalyst for all this change in Mimi and finding that inner strength. It’s sad at the end of the day because Susie had ulterior motives.
I love that Mimi is becoming more independent and self-assured. She’s doing things for herself and not always waiting for Allen’s word. For good or bad, she’s making decisions on her own, which I think is great.
M&C: Mimi even bumps into Allen in a case.
LM: I really loved that episode for Mimi in episode 4 because it is a big deal. She makes decisions on her own and doesn’t wait around for Allen, and is pretty crafty in terms of trying to track down information herself, which is good.
When I read that I thought ‘Oh, great Mimi is getting in there, getting things done, she’s becoming part of a case, that’s amazing!’ I was a little bit giddy when I read that, in fact, I might have been on the way to Comic-Con.
M&C: To me, that was big because this season we feel as if Mimi is part of all of the sets, not just the homestead.
LM: You’re completely right. This season I wasn’t in the Hynek home that much or sadly with Nicholas Holmes who plays Joel but there’s been a conscious effort to get Mimi out of the house, which is a strong choice in many ways, just to help her break that mold as the quintessential 1950’s housewife and do things for herself and go on adventures, get things done.
I was walking into the Project Blue Book Headquarters set and it would be totally bizarre because I’ve only been at the front steps. I’ve never been behind those doors as Mimi or at the generals’ desks. So it’s been nice to switch it up a little. Mimi’s moving around– [laughs] Things are happening for Mimi.
M&C: So much of the subtext and story is told in wardrobe in a period piece like Project Blue Book, what’s been your favorite outfit this season?
LM: I loved everything that (costume designer) Carla Hetland put me in. She is absolutely brilliant but what I did love is that once Mimi went into the field and the world, she’s getting into pants and going Katherine Hepburn-ey, which I thought was pretty cool. Susie has the fancy, amazing glamorous outfits you’d want to wear for an event so I eye those up a little more than Mimi’s wardrobe, but Mimi does have some great stuff.
What your overall impressions of the rest of the season, because considering where it started, it’s hard to imagine it ramping up even more, but you just know it will.
LM: It does! I know, even when I was reading it. How does it get better? You start off with Roswell and that’s a big start.
Then the mid-season point with the Robertson Panel and that felt like a finale. I don’t know how we could top this but we did! The last two episodes are, insane.
I also know there’s a lot of viewers that are wondering what happened to Mimi and Susie. First of all, I miss them as well. My little buddy Ksenia, I love her to pieces, but just be patient. Some really interesting stuff will happen, you just have to take a long breather, it will be a long wait, I will admit. But when we do get back together on screen, there’s some crazy stuff that blew my mind that will happen.
Project: Blue Book is on Tuesday nights at 10/9c on HISTORY.