Leaving Normal: Roswell's Shiri Appleby and Jason Behr

Life has changed dramatically for five students at Roswell High. Jason Behr and Shiri Appleby abducted Richard Moore for a chat about aliens...

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Alien visitors don’t have to always be evil. As we enter the year 2000, after a decade of series based around paranoia and alien conspiracies, that Close Encounters-like theme has re-emerged in Roswell, a stunning new drama set in the infamous New Mexico town.

The mystery of Roswell has baffled UFO experts for years. It is said that in 1947 a flying saucer crashed in the area and locals found debris that seemed indestructible. The WB’s new series presents an interesting spin on the idea. Based on Melinda Metz’s popular book Roswell High, the show assumes that the crash did actually happen – and that there were survivors.

That fact is revealed in the pilot episode’s opening scenes, in a smalltown diner. After a skirmish between two heavies, a gunshot rips through 16-year-old student waitress Liz (Shiri Appleby). She should have died. A tragedy is prevented by Max (Jason Behr), one of three aliens living in Roswell in the guise of normal humans. Max looks like us and sounds like us. Yet he has some incredible powers, and chooses to use these to save Liz’s life – running the risk of exposing himself and his friends to the authorities.

Broadcast on Wednesday nights following Dawson’s Creek, the show is one of the WB’s hottest new properties of the season and a massive publicity campaign has ensured that Appleby’s face has been seen across the nation. Appleby, who has in reality just turned 22, has been acting since she was four, but has never before starred in a project of the scale of Roswell. How is she coping with fame now? “It’s not something that I’m trying to prepare for,” she sighs. “You just wanna make sure that you are safe. It’s not something I’m really thinking about. It’s not my goal: I’m not hoping to be noticed on the street.”

“Liz is very interested in learning” says Appleby, when asked to describe her character, who must deal with her growing romantic feelings for the dark, enigmatic alien… “She is very innocent, somewhat naive, but with the ability to read what is right or wrong. She has a big crush on this guy but she knows they can’t be together because of the circumstances, but she still hopes. She’s experiencing a whole lot of new things in her life, so it’s exciting to see how she deals with that.”

For his part, Jason Behr has guest shots on Profiler and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as Buffy's vampire-fixated old friend Ford in Season Two's Lie To Me) behind him, plus a six-week recurring role on Dawson's Creek itself

Behr describes Max as, “kind of an outsider in the city of Roswell. Just the very fact of his existence limits his personal relationship with just about anybody. He has a very big secret: he is an alien and he is quietly searching for the truth of the Roswell crash in 1947. He’s just looking for some sort of absolute truth. Looking for his origin.”

In the diner, as the wound in her stomach closes up, the still-groggy Liz must come to terms with what she has just seen. She must also hide the strange, silver handprint embossed on her stomach...

“He can manipulate molecular structure,” Behr explains. “[When Max saved Liz’s life] he kind of regenerated the cells and formed the tissue around the bullet. There are an infinite amount of possibilities of what he can do with that power. They are giving us bits of information as they go along. I think like any teenagers we are discovering our potential as the days go by.”

“The story begins with two different groups of friends in Roswell who are brought together by an unexpected turn of events,” defines Behr. “ It’s the beginning of a new life for Max... You will see a story where two people from different worlds come together accidentally and how they and their own small group of friends deal with that.”

The two young actors share plenty of screen time together as the young wannabe couple and their incredible chemistry is evident on screen. “He is absolutely wonderful,” raves Appleby. “A very gracious gentleman. We have become very good friends and I really admire him. He really holds my hand through a lot of this stuff. He’s a very down-to-Earth and great guy.”

Unlike many shows in the same genre, Roswell is not an action extravaganza. There are minimal effects, as yet no spaceships, no laser guns… Despite the wild premise, at its core this is a series about people, and the fact tha tMax and others are aliens serves as a wonderful allegory for the alienation that everybody can feel within our own society.

“I was always an outsider as a small kid,” offers Behr. “I was four feet eleven in the eighth grade and all my friends were twice my size. I didn’t grow until high school anyway. But I think that we all feel like we don’t fit in from time to time.”

When asked to explain the appeal of shows like Buffy,and Roswell, Behr responds that, “It’s another way to tell a story and deal with relationships. Buffy is very metaphorical. The characters represent something else in high school experiences. With Roswell, we do have somewhat of a metaphorical aspect to it. I think that the WB just has a great knack for good storytelling: cutting edge, cool, hip, stylistic ways of telling stories and it reaches a very large younger audience.”

Thanks to its record-breaking ratings debut it seems almost definite that Roswell will grace the WB’s schedules for some time to come. Already there are signs of a massive fan movement building for the show. In a couple of years time, one might imagine that Roswell could be a phenomenon of The X-Files or Buffy proportions…

Get Xposé #42 for the full seven-page interview feature - with loads of special pictures of the Roswell cast!

Picture © Sue Schneider / Moonglow Photos Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction