Shelley Conn: ‘Speilberg was championing me!’

Mistresses star Shelley Conn battles dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s epic new series! Set in the year 2149 when the Earth is dying, Terra Nova sees a select group – including Shelley’s character, Elizabeth Shannon – chosen to time-travel back 85 million years to start a new colony, thereby saving the human race. Trouble is, they land in the middle of the hunting territory of some pretty scary dinosaurs…

How would you describe Elizabeth and how does she cope with going back in time to start the colony, Terra Nova?

“She’s a high-achieving doctor, wife and mother of three. You meet her at a point in her life when the stakes are very high. Her husband is in prison and she’s offered the chance to go on this incredible pilgrimage which, by most people’s standards, is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, that will change her life for ever – to free her husband and take her entire family to this new world. Terra Nova is also an incredible playground where she gets to do all the scientific research she’s only ever dreamed about. So she’s kind of on a mission to fulfil every wish and every dream of her life.”

Did you ever imagine that, after Mistresses, you’d get a role on such a big American show?

“Never in my wildest dreams. When the audition came through, I read the script and thought it was way out of my league and I’d never have a chance in hell of getting it. I was convinced by those around me to do the audition. It was quite a long process. My first audition was in May and I didn’t get the part until September, so I did a lot of auditions like Skype screen tests, then eventually I flew to LA for a chemistry reading with Jason O’Mara, who plays my husband – the lead character, Jim.”

How involved was Steven Spielberg?

“I didn’t meet him, but he signed off all the casting, so he did see my audition tapes and I know that he was championing me. I feel honoured to have had any tick of approval from him. He’s a man whose work I’ve grown up with and admired, so it’s incredible to me.”

Tell us about the dinosaurs…

“Our dinosaur expert is Jack Horner, the guy who worked on Jurassic Park and developed all those films with Steven Spielberg. All the favourites are there – there are cute ones and scary ones!”

How did you feel about playing mum to a 17 year old?

“I know! It’s definitely new casting for me, but that’s what you crave as an actress. Elizabeth’s the opposite of Jessica from Mistresses. The guy playing my son is actually 20 and I’m 34, so that took some getting my head around!”

You spent six months filming the series in Australia – what was that like?

“Australia is like nowhere else I’ve ever been to. The beaches are incredible and what really hits you about Queensland is the nature. You can go on these very easy hikes and come across the most incredible waterfalls that you can walk under.”

You were there during the flash floods, weren’t you?

“Yes, it was when we were filming the pilot last year. The rain was torrential. Where the exterior set is built for Terra Nova, you have to cross over the tiniest little creek and that completely flooded. But the real flooding set in after we got the shooting done and that was really devastating to Queensland, people’s homes were being washed away. But when we came back to film the rest of the series, there was a real Aussie spirit. Everyone was, ‘Bloody hell, that was kind of crazy wasn’t it? We’ll have to get on with this now’.”

If you could go back in a time machine, would you go back to prehistoric times?

“No, I’d go back to 1999 when I left drama school so I could have a word with my very neurotic brand new actress self and say, ‘It’s going to be OK, don’t worry about it. In a number of years you will be on a fantastic show and everything will be fine.’ That’s where I’d go!”

Terra Nova starts Monday, October 3 at 7pm on Sky1HD

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