by Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
WILMINGTON, N.C. - Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! BOOM!
Explosions rattle the grounds of a former U.S. Naval Reserve Center in this Atlantic Coast port town. Standing at a safe distance, the cast and crew of NBC's Revolution, including Billy Burke and Giancarlo Esposito, are grinning like kids in a candy shop, capturing the action on their smart phones.
As the perfectly timed explosions are set off, buildings rigged to "blow up" fall down. Smoke and debris fill the air. Once Wilmington firefighters, on set in case of a malfunction, give the go-ahead, everyone gets ready to film another scene.
Fans of the post-apocalyptic series that takes place in a world without power will have to wait to find out who and what caused the explosions, but it's all part of Revolution's trajectory as the power, at least in a limited capacity, is harnessed.
"The bad guys (now) have power and the good guys don't, and it gives the bad guys an overwhelming advantage," says series creator Eric Kripke. "It was about giving the bad guys the Death Star and giving the good guys crossbows, swords and whatever few guns they're able to scrounge together."
The Revolution saga, which returns Monday at 10 ET/PT, is set 15 years after a blackout that renders everything from computers to cars to airplanes to phones obsolete. When public order breaks down, regions of what was once the United States of America fall prey to militias and despots. The secret to getting the power back appears to be connected to mysterious pendants sought by the good guys, as well as the bad.
Revolution's 10-episode run last fall, on a network that desperately needs more viewers, ranked as the top-rated freshman series among the key younger audience advertisers seek. The series so far averages a total of 8.4 million viewers.
Miles Matheson (Billy Burke) and niece Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) are at the heart of Revolution's story line, as they and their followers including Nora Clayton (Daniella Alonso) and Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth), fight and/or elude Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons), president of the Monroe Republic, who with his militia desperately seeks the pendants so they can use their power to take over what was the continental U.S.
While the episode being shot on this sunny, late winter day won't air until April (the reserve center is standing in for a military encampment in Georgia), the evolution of Revolution since its Nov. 26 midseason finale is inextricably linked to the explosions and their aftermath being filmed this day.
"It kind of becomes a different show now because there is some power," says Burke, wearing Miles' signature brown suede duster. "The set-up for the whole story and the first season was, 'Where'd the power go?' What happened to it? And how do we get it back?' Now we have it and it just gets completely chaotic and way more expansive."
When the season's front half ended last fall, the Mathesons and their followers looked to the skies, where, for the first time, one of Monroe's helicopters rises into the air, guns at the ready. The event sets the stage for everything that will happen as Revolution moves forward.
Until now, most of the action sequences have been propelled by hand-to-hand, door-to-door fighting and homemade bombs. That's not going away, which makes the actors very happy.
"It's kind of like playing cowboys and Indians," says Burke, whose Matheson is the show's swashbuckling anti-hero. He credits stunt coordinator Jeff Wolfe, who worked on the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, for Revolution's organic fighting style.
"It's really sort of like making up dance moves as you go along," Burke says. "Jeff will send me a video of what he's choreographed, usually the day before or day of, and I'll watch it in between takes. Then we'll go and run it a few times and then normally we shoot it within hours."
Esposito also revels in the show's physicality. He plays the militia's Tom Neville, a meek insurance adjuster before the power meltdown, who now does Monroe's bidding as an enforcer who takes a bit too much pleasure from his duties.
"From a young man I loved Flash Gordon," says Esposito (who played drug lord Gus Fring in AMC's Breaking Bad). "I loved The Wild Wild West. I loved all the shows that had action and had all those stunts. I always wanted to be that pseudo action hero."
Wolfe says he's created a fighting style for the show that is far less choreographed than that in the Pirates movies. It combines traditional fencing techniques with mixed martial arts and down-and-dirty street fighting. "That's why I designed the swords with brass knuckles, so that they can actually fight and then hit and punch."
No one's exempt from the show's physicality.
"Charlie very much becomes a warrior," Spiridakos says; many have compared her Charlie to The Hunger Games' Katniss. "She gets a lot tougher. Her biggest battle is, is she going to be able to keep her humanity through all of this or is she going to go to a dark place she might not be able to come back from?"
The bottom line for Kripke, who refers to Revolution as "The Waltons with swords," is its relatability. "When you make a genre show, it's very important to put the genre in the background and focus on the humanity. That's a way to keep it grounded."
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