Doing interviews for teen magazines with Mark-Paul Gosselaar on the set of “Saved by the Bell” about 30 years ago, it was clear that he had a nice career ahead of him. Even as a youngster, he took his acting job seriously. But this reporter didn’t realize what a great actor he would become until 2001 when Gosselaar was cast in “NYPD Blue” and played scenes opposite Dennis Franz for the last four seasons of the show. Mark-Paul gave performances that blew away any doubts that he is a master at his craft.
Now the former teen idol, who mocked himself at the 2018 Television Critics Association press tour noting he was a “child star,” has a thrilling new show that puts the spotlight on his impressive acting skills.
The Passage is the new Fox series based on author Justin Cronin’s best selling vampire-infused trilogy. It focuses on Project Noah, a secret medical facility where scientists are experimenting with a dangerous virus that could lead to the cure for all diseases. But there’s also the potential to wipe out the human race.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a master at his craft.
In addition to Mark-Paul Gosselaar, The Passage also stars 12-year-old Saniyya Sidney (Fences and Hidden Figures), Vincent Piazza, Brianne Howey, Caroline Chikezie, Jamie McShane, Emmanuelle Chriqui, McKinley Belcher III and Henry Ian Cusick. Ridley Scott is executive producing, along with Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights) who wrote the show, director Matt Reeves, David W. Zucker and Adam Kassan.
Gosselaar plays Brad Wolgast, an FBI agent who is initially tasked with delivering a 10-year-old girl named Amy Bellafonte (Saniyya Sidney) to be part of an experiment that might save the world. But instead, Agent Wolgast rescues the girl from her fate as a test subject for Project Noah. Wolgast becomes a surrogate father to Amy and they go on the run from the scientists and bureaucrats who hunt them down.
Showrunner Liz Heldens explained, “Amy is the key for Project Noah, which is doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, which is trying to prevent an advancing pandemic.” But as the scientists hone in on a cure that could save humanity, their previous test subjects begin to display horrific powers that may allow them to escape which could lead to an unimaginable apocalypse.
The relationship between Gosselaar’s Wolgast and Sidney’s Amy, helps make the thrilling story a cut above other genre productions. At the TV press tour Gosselaar said, “What hooked me was that the relationship with Amy was the heart of the story. I have a 12-year-old daughter. I can relate to the relationship. Then I became a fan of the books after reading them.”
Mark-Paul also talked about bonding with Saniyya. “What helped us with the relationship is that we got to shoot in a linear fashion. So the first scenes we did first were the scenes when we first met. We had the ability to sort of create this relationship as we were shooting. When she first saw me she had no idea about my past, what I had done when I was her age. Now she’s watching episodes of Saved by the Bell, and she’ll announce a ‘time out’ and then give me a ‘time in’ when I’m allowed to do things again. We actually have a pretty good relationship,” Gosselaar said about working with his young co-star who he makes sure has fun and laughs and gets to be a kid on the set.
Something else that’s fun for Mark-Paul is the hand-to-hand combat training for the show. He revealed, “I’ve been a practitioner of jiu-jitsu for many, many years. So there’s a bit of that. I enjoy the sport, and I like all that UFC stuff. And then there’s training with guns. As an actor, you’re always trying to look the part, so anything we can do to enhance that, I’m all game.”
The thrilling series The Passage airs Monday nights at 9pm on FOX. Tune in.
Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 38 years, and was half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.