EP Glen Mazzara On Building Out The Complex Sci-Fi Mystery


  • MGM+ has launched a new sci-fi show called Beacon 23, based on a series of short stories by Hugh Howey. It is set in a lighthouse in outer space and explores two characters’ struggle for survival and trust.
  • The show stars Lena Headey and Stephan James, who play government agent Aster and ex-military operative Halan, respectively. Their tense dynamic is further complicated by the introduction of Aster’s supervisor and former lover.
  • Glen Mazzara, the EP and co-showrunner, discussed the unique and fresh aspects of Beacon 23, praising Lena Headey’s performance and the immersive production design that creates a physically grounded and terrifying environment.

MGM+ takes on the science fiction genre with its new show Beacon 23, which is based on a series of short stories by Hugh Howey. Fans of sci-fi may recognize that author’s name, as another set of his novels was transformed into the hit Apple TV+ show Silo earlier in 2023. While the recently premiered show shares some similarities with its predecessor, such as a hunt for the truth, the setting is instead a lighthouse in outer space.

Beacon 23 stars Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) as government agent Aster and Stephan James (Homecoming) as ex-military operative Halan. The two of them are stranded on a “Beacon” run by a powerful and mysterious AI, and they must rely on one another to survive despite not being able to trust their companion’s motives. The duo’s tense dynamic was complicated even further in the most recent episode, “Why Can’t We Go On As Three?”, with the introduction of Aster’s supervisor and former lover, Coley (Sandrine Holt).

Related: Lena Headey’s New Sci-Fi Role Is The Perfect Follow-Up To Game of Thrones

Screen Rant interviewed EP Glen Mazzara, who also steps in as co-showrunner in season 2, about the intricate world of Beacon 23 and the commitment its leads have to exploring the complicated stories of their characters.

Glen Mazzara Talks Beacon 23

Screen Rant: Prolific sci-fi writer, Hugh Howey, wrote the short stories for Beacon 23. What inspired you to adapt them into a television series, and what attracted you to the sci-fi genre?

Glen Mazzara: The show was created by Zak Penn who wrote The Avengers and Ready Player One. Zak and I were friendly through some work at the Writer’s Guild. We were both on the board and sat next to each other, so I bumped into him and he said he was working on the show, and I said, “Okay, that sounds great.” I was not familiar with Beacon 23, but I was familiar with Wool, Hugh’s other novel, and I loved it.

I was a fan, so I read Beacon 23. I was like, “Oh, I get this.” I read what Zak was doing with it, I said, “How can I be a part of this?” So, then I joined the show and started working on it. So I’ve always been a huge sci-fi fan. I’ve read sci-fi. Not only watched sci-fi, but read sci-fi since I was a kid. Still reading now and everything.

What interested me about this particular story was that it felt fresh. It felt like two people trapped in a lighthouse on the edge of the galaxy. That’s terrifying. That is like if one thing goes wrong, you’re dead. What’s interesting about our characters is, they have no idea how that Beacon operates. You see the guys got Post-Its on the control center, they are the wrong people to put in that setting. So I love that, I love that they were broken, I love that this felt different. It wasn’t just about some big war coming or whatever, it’s about people trying to figure out how to live in this horrible setting. So, there was just a lot that interested me and I was glad that I was able to join the show.

I was a huge fan of Lost, and Beacon 23 reminds me of the story of the hatch. This cast is incredible, and I want to highlight some of these characters and actors. Lena Headey plays Aster, who has a special connection with the Beacon. Tell me a little bit about Aster.

Glen Mazzara: Aster does have an incredible story, and as the narrative continues, we’ll learn more about her story, who she is, and it’s interesting. She is a person who comes across, you meet her and you think she’s one thing, and then you find another layer. A lot of this has to do with Lena’s performance. I just love Lena’s look in the show, so different from what we saw with her portrayal of Cersei on Game of Thrones, very royal and buttoned up. She looks like a pirate or a biker. Just a badass.

By following her performance, we will come to learn that she is damaged goods, and she has a lot of trouble, and she’s seen a life that is really interesting. We’ll find out what that is, where she’s been. And yet she’s tough. And I wouldn’t ever say she has a soft interior, but she does have a heart. She does have compassion. She’s probably the most human out of anyone we meet on the show, and it was a real pleasure working with her. She’s a very talented actor and just has a lot of nuance.

When I started with season 1, I was cutting the show and a lot of finding the story was, “Wait, what did Lena just do? Let’s push in on that look, let’s see this. Wait. Okay.” And there were actual things that she did that then generated a story for future episodes. So a lot of it was catching up to how good she is. Really, really a stunning performer.

What does Lena bring to the role of Aster that wasn’t on the page? Because with these nuances, you’re completely right, she makes the character completely her own.

Glen Mazzara: She does. And I think she brings life. She brings a depth. You want to know her history. And one of the things when you get a great actor like Lena, you want to know what’s going on behind the eyes, what is she thinking? And so you can see it in the first episode when she comes to, and then she’s asking him questions and she’s catching him and some lies, and she’s putting it together. And she’s like, “Okay, okay. I’m in danger.” And how is she going to deal with it? And I think that story takes surprises, but you can see her putting it together in a way that is very subtle and real.

lena headey in beacon 23 103

Stephan James, who plays Halan, finds Aster in Beacon 23. Talk to me about their relationship and how it’s explored throughout the series.

Glen Mazzara: He plays another broken character. And I think these two characters are kind of thrown together. They can’t trust each other, but they have to trust each other. One, because of the setting. And then two, events start taking place, so they’re constantly learning more about each other, and it’s a constant push-pull. But really to survive, they need each other.

It’s not the usual storyline where it’s like, “I do things one way. You can do things the other way and we’re annoying each other.” These are two broken people, and there are a lot of scenes in which one of them is not sure if they can go on. And the other one’s like, “I got you.” But that’s not really the person you want to get you because they’re even more screwed up.

Each actor really added an intense emotional life to each character, and I just love where they go and how they play with each other. A lot of it was just about in the editing room. A lot of it was just staying with them, just being on them. In a way, we’re trapped on the Beacon with them. And they’re fascinating characters, I think.

Bart is probably, to me, one of the most fascinating characters on the show. He’s voiced by Wade Bogert-O’Brien, and it’s the Beacon’s AI. Tell us a little bit about Bart – or Bartholomew.

Glen Mazzara: Well, Bart is the Beacon’s AI. And Bart went through a process because originally he was voiced by the actor, but there was a different voice. He had a British accent and played more of a disgruntled butler, if you will.

As we started developing the story, we realized that a major theme of the show is about trauma and compassion. We started thinking about Bart’s trauma. So we had the same actor come in after the fact and rewrote some of his stuff and kind of found a more story there. And Bart became a major character. I think when you have this sort of AI droid-type figure, it can play as a servant and sometimes be annoying and that sort of stuff. But he’s a character. He is a fully realized character. He has his own story. He has his own journey, and in a way, he makes mistakes. He learns from his mistakes, he suffers for his mistakes. And so it was a really interesting character and a really interesting process to kind of work on that character after the show was completely in the can.

Natasha Mumba plays Aster’s personal AI, Harmony. What can you tell us about Harmony in Beacon 23?

Glen Mazzara: Harmony starts off as Aster’s personal assistant, let’s say. But as the show continues, we’ll find out that she has a much bigger role than seems, and as she is affected by the human characters, and as she develops and she goes through her own journey and she suffers for what she learns and all of that, I think she has an incredible arc. Very surprising coming out in front of her. One of the things I will ask the audience is that as you watch this show, you think you know what the show’s going to be. You’re wrong. You think you know where the show’s going, you are wrong. There’s no way the audience can figure out what’s happening. We throw curveball after curveball. We changed the game up a lot. Can you tell coming out of episode 3 what episode 4 is going to be? You can’t tell where this is going.

I know how genre fans are. I’ve done genre before, and I know that genre fans. Here’s my take. Genre fans want it to be good, they want to be surprised, and they want to know it’s coming together. Hopefully, we’ve done all three.

stephan james in beacon 23 103

I want to talk about the production design because the Beacon itself feels so immersive. This is one of the best-looking sci-fi production designs I’ve ever seen.

Glen Mazzara: The first time I walked through that set, it takes up several stages, and you really have people running up and down the stairs. When you are filming something and you move from one location to another, it’s a company move. You have to have the crew set up. Moving from one level to another. We had to do that. You would think having everything contained would be easy to shoot. No, it was hard because we needed the show to feel physically real; to feel physically grounded.

I think as the show develops, we start pushing into other corners of the Beacon, and you run the risk of the set becoming secondary. We’ve seen the set, it becomes boring or whatever, you know what I mean? We always wanted it to feel like a house. And we certainly push into that. It should feel like a lighthouse, that it’s being battered by weather or it feels like a haunted house in some episodes, or it feels like this. We wanted you to feel the environment because I think being in a lighthouse on the edge of the galaxy is going to be terrifying. We want it to feel like we could just be swept away at any second. The physicality of the set was important.

That said, we wanted it to feel real. We paid a lot of attention to the lighting, a lot of attention to the set itself, the sound design, all of that, so that many of the screens in the background were done practically, and were shot like that instead of being put in later. There are some things that are put in later, and there are thousands of visual effects shots in the show, but we tried to play it as practically as possible. And to do that, you run the risk of the show feeling cheap. I don’t think we did that. It is a big-budget show, but we didn’t want rely on the visual effects. We wanted the visual effects to support the story. We wanted to play the environment as an environment that our characters were moving in.

Part of the story also is that we all just went through this pandemic, and we were stuck in our homes. We were stuck with people who we loved that were also driving us crazy. And every day starts to feel the same, and things feel surreal. And you say, “Did that just happen yesterday or did that happen a few weeks ago?” So, there’s an element of that without the show being about that, there’s an element about that that setting gave us and the production design gave us.

About Beacon 23

aster & halan in beacon 23

Beacon 23 takes place in the farthest reaches of the Milky Way and follows Aster (Lena Headey), a government agent, and Halan (Stephan James), a stoic ex-military man, whose fates become entangled after they find themselves trapped together inside one of many Beacons that serve as a lighthouse for intergalactic travelers. Every Beacon is run by one highly trained human and a specialized Artificial Intelligence. Aster mysteriously finds her way to the lonely Beacon-keeper Halan, and a tense battle of wills unfolds.

New episodes of Beacon 23 air Sundays at 9pm EST/PST on MGM+.

Source: Screen Rant Plus

  • Beacon 23 Poster

    Beacon 23

    Release Date:

    Lena Headey, Stephan James, Marnie McPhail, Daniel Malik, Cyrus Faird, Sydney Ozerov-Meyer, Hannah Melissa Scott, Tara Rosling

    Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller


    Story By:
    Hugh Howey

    Zak Penn

    Streaming Service(s):

    Daniel Percival, Lewin Webb, Erskine Forde, Oz Scott

    Zak Penn

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