What if you knew you could change the world but no one believed in you? Irish star Jack Reynor plays a rocket scientist (and secret occultist) with a lifelong dream of sending a rocket into space in CBS's new show Strange Angel.
In Strange Angel (CBS All Access) Irish actor Jack Reynor plays the real life rocket scientist (and secret occultist) Jack Parsons, a near maniac with a lifelong dream of sending a rocket into space.
But that's not the half of his boundary pushing instincts. In this sure to be a hit new show set in southern California the 1940's, science is soon married to sex rituals in a show unlike anything you have ever seen.
Parsons, the real life rocket scientist instrumental in sending American astronauts into space is played by Reynor, 26, who is best known for his turn in the Lenny Abrahamson film What Richard Did.
Reynor plays him as an obsessive boundary pusher, which leads him into trouble as often as it leads him toward discovery, finding a remarkable lead role as a real life man who changed world history even as he embroiled himself in the dubious shenanigans of some of the most notorious and feared people of the 20 century (including Scientology's L. Ron Hubbard and the occultist Aleister Crowley).
With his belief in science in one hand and magic in the other, Jack Parsons' contribution to NASA and to human history has been intentionally and scrupulously written out of the history books. But Strange Angel wants to correct that error by reminding us that unlikely people often make the greatest contributions.
At only 26, Reynor's already achieved the kind of acting plaudits that male screen stars twice his age covet. But he's famously ambivalent about the state of Hollywood and most big budget scripts he looks at these days (he freely admits he was nervous of the title role in the recent box office bomb Han Solo, where he was a serious contender for the role).
It's not that he thinks he's better than all of that metroplex fare, it's just that he genuinely cares about the work he tackles and Strange Angel - the kind of absorbing story Hollywood used to make but doesn't any longer - is clear proof of that.
Without a peer in science as well as in his personal life, Jack Parsons would have been an unbelievable character if he hadn't actually existed. No wonder the role caught Reynor's eye, who's on record for his interest in the most original material.
“The guy had this really strong vision for what he wanted to do, and that was to get mankind to the moon. He wanted to do everything it took to get them there. From what I've read about him he was a really spiritual guy too. He saw a line between science and spirituality which is kind of cool to play.”
Onscreen Reynor plays his buttoned down character with a weird glint in his eye, someone waiting for permission to unlock his full potential, which comes via a chance meeting with next door neighbor Ernest Donovan (a wild eyed Rupert Friend).
Donovan, it turns out, is involved with an LA cult that recognizes no law but self gratification. He's the bad boy friend that leads good boys into ruin and Parsons is instantly besotted (and to be honest, a little turned on) by him. Parsons devotedly christian wife Susan (Bella Heathcote) understands Donovan's threat almost immediately but she's powerless to contain it. Jack is an instant convert to Donovan's Satanist commandment, “do what thou wilt.” The die is cast.
“I was a big fan of graphic novels when I was growing up and I came across occult storylines in a lot of those. I was a big fan of 2000AD stuff. That brought me on to writers like H.P. Lovecraft. So the world of occult stories was already familiar to me a bit. I knew about Jack Parsons before I had seen this script and I was interested in space rockets as well. I was struck by how his boyhood ambition had evolved into his interest in rocketry and also into quite frowned upon subjects like the occult and magic. It's interesting where those lines cross.”
Parsons was central in creating rockets that allow us to travel across the world and into space, far beyond what was ever thought possible in his own time. But because of his association with wacky Los Angeles cults his contributions have been written out of the annals of history. “Not a lot of people are familiar with Jack Parsons, far fewer than there should be,” Reynor believes.
It's rare that a script speaks directly to interests he has in his own life, but Strange Angel ticked every box, he says. “California and Los Angels have always been a place where cults thrive. It's got that really strange history about it. People have always been getting into this stuff here but I think there's a very conservative element in the society that consider it taboo.”
California ends in the Pacific Ocean, there's no further to go, the west runs out. No wonder it's a place where people feel free to make themselves (and the world) up as they go. It's also famous for various liberation movements and Parsons dream was to liberate humanity from our little rock in the middle of the solar system so that we might travel toward the stars. You can't say he wasn't ambitious.
One of Parsons closest associates was the fiction writer (and founder of Scientology) L. Ron Hubbard. Strange Angel is aware of the groups reputation for expensive litigation against storylines they don't endorse but neither the writers, directors or Reynor himself is concerned.
“L. Ron Hubbard came to live with Jack Parsons and effectively stole his girlfriend from him. Scientology denies the existence of this woman altogether. I imagine it will come up down the line (probably in season two) and the network will probably deal with it in a fairly direct fashion. There have been many documentaries on Scientology and I think the cat is out of the bag on it, but it will be interesting to see how we approach that whole issue when the time comes.”
Reynor admits he's received some leaflets from Scientology on his front door. He lives he says just down the street from one of their centers. He wonders what it'll be like after they see the show.
Meanwhile his Irishness is a helpful anchor in the profession he has chosen he confesses. “I identify with Ireland and I bring that sense of identity with me everywhere I go. The country becomes so progressive over the last couple of years which is great. I see a lot of good things about Ireland in such a precarious time. I think we have a lot to be proud of ourselves.”
Strange Angel begins on CBS All Access on June 14.