The Shannon Family. L-R: Jason O'Mara as Jim Shannon, Landon Liboiron as Josh Shannon, Naomi Scott as Maddy Shannon, Alana Mansour as Zoe Shannon and Shelley Conn as Elizabeth Shannon.
The Shannon Family. L-R: Jason O'Mara as Jim Shannon, Landon Liboiron as Josh Shannon, Naomi Scott as Maddy Shannon, Alana Mansour as Zoe Shannon and Shelley Conn as Elizabeth Shannon. Contributed

Aussie landscape shines in TV epic

THE heavy rains that caused this summer's widespread floods were both a blessing and a curse for Steven Spielberg's new TV epic Terra Nova.

The movie-length premiere of the big budget sci-fi adventure series, filmed in the Gold Coast hinterland and at Movie World, features spectacular waterfalls fed by those record rains.

But it didn't just rain, it poured.

And the flooding was one of the factors in the show's delayed premiere in America's autumn TV line-up.

The cast and crew returned to the Gold Coast in May and are wrapping up their last week of filming.

The ambitious series follows the Shannon family, as they takes a coveted spot on the 10th 'pilgrimage' from the year 2149, in which humans have damaged the Earth beyond repair, to a new settlement 85 million years in the past.

It's humanity's second chance to get things right.

But travelling back in time comes with its challenges, not least of which is the variety of man-eating dinosaurs occupying the top of the Cretaceous era food chain.

British actor Shelley Conn plays Elizabeth, the matriarch of the Shannon family, whose medical training earned the Shannons their place at Terra Nova.

Speaking to The Guide from the set, Conn said she would miss her temporary home at popular Gold Coast holiday spot Burleigh Heads.

"I have a real soft spot for that little town," she said.

"It has a village feel, which I love."

Best known for her roles on UK series Party Animals and Mistresses, Conn makes her American television debut in Terra Nova.

"A show like this is the stuff of dreams," said Conn.

"It's so ambitious. It's something I'd never come across, certainly not in a TV show.

"The whole thing felt like a movie.

"I was very interested in the human connotations that were in this show, the questions being raised on how we treat our planet and how we treat one another."

Landing the lead role of Elizabeth was the last thing Conn expected.

"I just thought it was kind of out of my league, to be honest," she said.

"I thought 'this looks incredible but I'm not going to get a look in'.

"I didn't expect to hear back and when I did I thought 'okay, what will I do then?'

"When they started honing in on me as Elizabeth I got excited.

"There were Skype screen tests from London to LA and I eventually flew out to LA this time last year and met Jason (O'Mara).

"We had a great chemistry and the rest is both the future and history."

The Terra Nova cast features a few well known names - two of those being O'Mara, who plays Conn's on-screen husband Jim Shannon, and Avatar's Stephen Lang as Terra Nova's tough-as-nails leader, Commander Nathaniel Taylor.

Rubbing shoulders with O'Mara and Lang is an Australian-heavy ensemble cast, including Australian Idol's Dean Geyer and eight-year-old Alana Mansour as the Shannon family's youngest daughter Zoe.

Conn was full of praise for Mansour, who she reckons has a bright acting future ahead of her.

"At the read-through she followed every line, every beat. She didn't drop a stitch. We were all really impressed," she said.

"It was incredible to see how much she's developed. She's a very thoughtful actress.

"She has great instincts and incredible timing.

"She's incredibly cute and a beauty. She will capture the hearts of the world, no doubt about that."

Executive producer Spielberg has gone to great lengths to distinguish Terra Nova from his blockbuster dinosaur-based film franchise Jurassic Park.

He passed up Hawaii's lush vegetation for the primeval looking, sub-tropical rainforests of south-east Queensland.

He also made sure not to include any of the same species of dinosaurs from Jurassic Park in Terra Nova.

Instead of Velociraptors, the pilgrims have to contend with the fictional Slashers and real-life predator Carnotaurus.

For Conn, it wasn't difficult to imagine a vicious three-metre tall reptile in her scenes.

"When you work in the theatre, you have to do that all the time," she said.

"It's not unusual to look out into an audience and imagine something that's not there.

"It's all part of the job, you use your imagination.

"But it's not that much of a leap of faith. There's a universal thing about dinosaurs.

"We know they did exist, even though they still seem so fantastical. Everybody would know how to react to that."


Terra Nova - Ten - Sunday at 8.30pm

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