LOS ANGELES – On one of her breaks from filming “Roswell, New Mexico,” actress Lily Cowles decided to take a road trip to the real place. She felt the town’s eerie vibe.
“It was so open,” she says. “Talk about sky. In Santa Fe, you’re at the base of mountains, so you actually have something to frame the enormity of the universe around you. When you drive out to Roswell, you feel like, ‘I’m on a planet in the middle of the universe and there’s nothing around here.’ It absolutely made me feel like, ‘This is a spooky place where crazy things went down. If aliens were to land, they would land right here in Roswell.’”
Producers chose to shoot the new CW series in New Mexico to give it a lush, original look.
“You point a camera toward the sun and two people kiss and you’re Steven Spielberg,” says executive producer (and director) Julie Plec. “You can put your camera anywhere and you can shoot a vista that you would get in like ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ The scope of the production value is just incredible.”
Even better, Las Vegas, New Mexico, has an old-school look where creator Carina Adly MacKenzie says there are actual stores that look like they belong on a studio lot. “It’s like the hat store next to the boot store next to the bookstore that’s called Home on the Range. For town exteriors, we used the exterior of a little drug story that actually sells milk shakes and it’s all very quaint.”
The look was ideal for a series that follows a woman back home only to discover her teenage crush is an alien who has kept his abilities in check.
Jeanine Mason plays Liz Ortecho, the researcher who returns to Roswell; Nathan Dean Parsons plays the town’s deputy sheriff and the man with a secret.
The series is based on the novel “Roswell High,” which also served as the basis for “Roswell,” a TV series from 1999.
In the new edition, immigration becomes a key issue. Ortecho is the daughter of undocumented immigrants.
“We’re telling the story about the reality of being an undocumented person in America right now,” MacKenzie says. “We’re really excited about the fact that we also have Latinx characters who immigrated legally on the show, too. As for our ‘alien’ aliens, I actually fought to cast them all as white because the overarching thing is they landed here in 1947.”
The aliens – a cowboy, a housewife and a cop – “look like the most ethnically cleansed version of America that you could possibly imagine,” MacKenzie adds. “And they’re holding a secret.”
The series delves into sexuality as well and uses it, Plec says, as the big cover-up.
For Isobel, one of the aliens, “sexuality is a powerful tool that she can use to deflect and to bring back a connection,” says Cowles. “To fit in, it’s a go-to mechanism: ‘I’ll be sexy if I don’t know what else to be.’”
Executive producer Christopher Hollier says the series’ eclectic mix of elements – sci-fi, romance, mystery – keeps it fresh. “Our show really is all about the secrets,” he says. “It’s hard to stand up and say who you are. To me, love is the line in the sand. That sort of is our core. The sci-fi revolves around that.”
MacKenzie says the series purposely shifts from cop-heavy story-telling to a hospital focus the next. “So sometimes we get to be ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ with aliens.”
While the first “Roswell” was shot in Los Angeles, this one wants to embrace the community’s atmosphere.
“Let’s use the desert,” Plec remembers saying. “Let’s at least be cowboys. We can really use it as sort of the wallpaper for the entire series.”
MacKenzie says if there’s a template for “Roswell, New Mexico,” it’s the first season of “Veronica Mars.” “You got some fantastic answers and you got some new windows and doors opening to sort of launch another question.”
Adds Mason: “The way ('Roswell, New Mexico') ends, there’s no world in which people are going to be left satisfied with one season. There’s so much in Season 2 there’s no resting.”
“Roswell, New Mexico” airs on The CW.